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John F MacArthurYesterday’s post started with Matthew 13:50, in which our Lord spoke of the ‘weeping and gnashing of teeth’ that takes place in hell.

In 1982, John MacArthur delivered a sermon on Matthew 13:47-52:

The Parable of the Net

47 “Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a net that was thrown into the sea and gathered fish of every kind. 48 When it was full, men drew it ashore and sat down and sorted the good into containers but threw away the bad. 49 So it will be at the end of the age. The angels will come out and separate the evil from the righteous 50 and throw them into the fiery furnace. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.

New and Old Treasures

51 “Have you understood all these things?” They said to him, “Yes.” 52 And he said to them, “Therefore every scribe who has been trained for the kingdom of heaven is like a master of a house, who brings out of his treasure what is new and what is old.”

MacArthur’s sermon is called ‘The Furnace of Fire’. In it, he explains the nature of hell.

As I said yesterday, our modern notion of hell has been watered down greatly since the 19th century. Most Christians believe it will be a place of mental torment where the damned long for God forever.

But could there be other sensory elements to hell, ones which mankind would prefer to overlook or to explain away because they are too horrifying to contemplate? MacArthur thinks so.

He says that Jesus talked about how horrible hell would be. The Gospels have many references about eternal condemnation. These can be found in Matthew 5, Matthew 8, Matthew 23 through 25, Mark 9, Luke 6, Luke 12 and Luke 16.

Jesus said more about fire than mental torment, although permanent insanity could well be the end result of going to hell. Yet, many theologians and clergy choose to gloss over this fact. It would be better if they were to  say that hell is like Dante’s Inferno and advise us to read it. However, they would probably say that Jesus was using allegory in talking about hellfire. I doubt many believe in hell as Jesus described it.

Degrees of torment

Like Dante, MacArthur believes there will be degrees of punishment in hell (emphases mine):

You have in hell a place of relieved torment of body and soul in varying degrees …  In other words, for some people, hell will be worse than others.  For all who are there, it will be horrible.  It will be ultimate suffering. 

There will be no relief for that, but there will be even more severe degrees of suffering for some.  It says in Hebrews 10, “Of how much more severe punishment shall they be thought worthy who have trodden underfoot the Son of God and counted the blood of the covenant an unholy thing.”  People who have stepped on Jesus Christ, who have rejected his cross, will know a greater hell than those who have not. 

There will be degrees, just as there will be degrees of reward in heaven.  We saw that, also, I think, in Matthew chapter 11, when it said, “It will be more tolerable for Sodom than for you.”  In other words, it’s only relative.  It isn’t going to be tolerable for anyone, but it will appear to be more tolerable for them than for you because of what you have experienced. 

You had Jesus Christ in your city, they didn’t.  You rejected Him with more light; therefore, hell will be more severe for you.  And then you have, of course, that incredible parable in Luke 12 where the Lord says, “To the servant who knew and didn’t do right, many stripes.  To the servant who didn’t know and didn’t do right, a few stripes.”  So hell will be unrelieved torment of body in soul in varying degrees.  And John Gerstner says, “Hell will have such severe degrees that a sinner, were he able, would give the whole world if his sins could be one less.”

Darkness

MacArthur reminds us that the Bible speaks of darkness when referring to hell:

the Bible defines it as darkness, outer darkness.  That is deep-pit darkness, darkness that’s way out from the light, impenetrable darkness, darkness that closes in.  And it is darkness without the hope of light forever.  Have you ever been in the darkness and longed for the daylight? 

Have you ever been in the darkness and longed for someone to turn a light on?  To be in that encroaching, encompassing, moving kind of darkness and know that for all the eons of eternity, you will never see light is how our Lord describes hell.  Unrelieved darkness forever, with no hope of the light, no hope of the dawn. 

Fire

Yes, there is fire:

And the Bible also says it is a fire.  Now, it is not a fire that we would know as fire, to burn something in this world.  But fire is God’s way of describing it because it is a tortuous, unrelieved kind of fire, more terrible than any fire that we would ever know.  But fire describes the torment of the damned; blackness describes the torment of the damned, no light, no light ever, ever.  No relief from the suffering, the agony and the pain, forever.  And there’s only two times in all of Scripture that we have any insight into how people respond to hell. 

Torment of the body

MacArthur mentions Jesus’s cautionary story about the Rich Man and Lazarus (Luke 16:19-31). Dives did nothing to help poor, sickly Lazarus who ate the scraps from his table. When Lazarus died, he went to heaven. When Dives died, he went to hell. There Dives suffered from everlasting thirst:

24 And he called out, ‘Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus to dip the end of his finger in water and cool my tongue, for I am in anguish in this flame.’ 

Abraham refused. The rich man then asked him to send someone who had died to his brothers, so they might be warned of the torment to come. Abraham replied that the rich man’s brothers had Moses and the prophets to warn them. Ultimately:

31 He said to him, ‘If they do not hear Moses and the Prophets, neither will they be convinced if someone should rise from the dead.’”

Torment of the soul

MacArthur says:

it is a place of unrelieved torment for both body and soul, for both body and soul.  Soul being the inner part. 

The new body built for hell

MacArthur explains that the human body as God created for life on earth would not be able to resist hellfire.

So, when the Last Judgement takes place, just as those going to heaven will have a new glorified body, those going to hell will have a new body fit for eternal damnation:

When a person dies now, their soul descends into that torment.  In the future, there will be a resurrection of the bodies of the damned.  They will be given a transcendent body that will then go into a lake of fire.  It will be a body not like the body we have now.  It will be a very different one.  They will be resurrected just like we will, as Christians. 

We will be resurrected because this body could never live eternally in heaven, right?  We have to have a transcendent body, a glorified body, a different body, and so do the damned.  And they will be raised, John 5, they will be raised in new bodies for the single purpose of being punished forever in those bodies. 

That’s what the Bible says, tormented forever.  They have to have a body to fit that eternal torment.  And that’s why Jesus in Matthew 10:28 said, “Fear not them that can destroy the body, but fear him who is able to destroy both soul and body in hell.”  You see, hell is soul and body. 

Some people think it’s just bad memories.  No, it isn’t just bad memories.  It isn’t just the inner thinking processes; it is that body as well.  Transcendent, eternal bodies, greater than anything we have on this earth, are going to be given to the damned so that they can suffer in those bodies forever.  And that’s the only reason that they’ll have those bodies

With the present body, man couldn’t endure hell … the body that we have now would be consumed in a moment.  So as God fits the redeemed with new bodies for heaven, He fits the damned with new bodies for hell.

The worm and fire forever

We know that the ‘worm dieth not’ and that the fire never goes out. This describes the Jewish Gehenna. Was Jesus addressing His people allegorically or literally?

MacArthur explains:

Now what did He mean by that?  When a body goes into the grave, into decay, worms descend into that body.  And they begin to consume that body, and the worms will die when the food is gone.  So once the body is consumed, the worms die.  But in hell, the worms never die because the body, though it is continually being consumed, is never consumed.  So the worm never dies. 

In other words, the Lord was saying the unrelieved torment of body goes on and on.

And:

it says, also, the fire is not quenched.  Now a fire always goes out when the fuel is gone.  But the fuel will never be gone.  Though the burning goes on, the fuel is never consumed.  And so you have unrelieved torment of body and soul.

Conclusion

Do enough of us think about hell or is it something we can explain away?

Is it more than the great existentialist void many of us have been taught to believe?

For all the time we spend rationalising hell, maybe it is time we gave Jesus’s warnings more thought. We — inherently sinful men and women — are telling each other that hell is a state of mind. Our Lord described it differently.

If contemplating the hell He described is a horrifying thought, He meant us to clearly understand it’s not a place we want to spend eternity. Repent, pray for faith and for continual grace.

John F MacArthurMy examination of the readings for Christmas 2 two weeks ago cited a sermon from John MacArthur.

In ‘A Church for the New Millennium’ he spoke about the incomprehension church growth theorists express with regard to the success of his Grace Community Church.

In other words, how could they increase their numbers without using the seemingly all-essential — in reality, unholy — principles of church growth?

Church growth in that context requires incorporating worldly values into the Church. It is big at Fuller Theological Seminary. I’ve written about it before.

MacArthur has never resorted to such falsehood. Yet, his congregation started from a small, local one nearly 50 years ago and, today, has thousands of people attending on any given Sunday.

He began by explaining the seeming urgent conundrum of modernising the Church. Emphases mine below. There has been a:

Tremendous amount of discussion on what it’s going to take for the church to reach this generation. The generation itself is incessantly being defined and redefined. Familiar terms – yuppie generation, the generation X and all of those kinds of terms are used to describe something of the cultural attitudes and mor[e]s of our society which are moving so very rapidly and churches are scrambling to try to react and find a place of relevancy in the culture under the fear that if they don’t, they will not be able to reach that culture.

It was some months ago now, quite a few months ago, that I told you about a book which I read, which has become very popular among church leaders that essentially says the church is going to be out of existence in the next 50 years if it doesn’t re-invent itself. By the mid-21st century, the church could literally be out of existence unless it redefines itself in terms of cultural expectations.

He rightly said that this was the wrong approach:

The church continually trying to redefine itself under the terms that are defined by culture, puts itself in a very difficult position since culture is going in the wrong direction to start with and it’s going there very, very rapidly.

In his congregation:

We have always believed at Grace Community Church that the church is defined not by the culture but by the scripture. That it is God who defines the church not the society around us. And certainly not the prince of the power of the air, who is the source of the culture, morays attitudes and philosophies so even religious. So we are different than other churches.

In fact:

I received a great compliment recently from somebody who said[,] you know the thing that’s remarkable about Grace Community Church is that while everything in our society seems to be changing rapidly over the years, you haven’t changed at all. In fact, he said to me you are doing the same things you used to be doing in about the same way you used to be doing them. And I said this is true. And of course, the question comes up aren’t you concerned about being relevant? Well I’m only concerned really about being obedient to scripture and leaving the consequences to the Lord. So you know we’ve never been caught up in this scramble to try to adjust to the culture. And our church has grown and that’s kind of turned us into something of a curiosity.

This has flummoxed Fuller, which offers courses such as Theology and Hip Hop Culture:

We used to have the people from Fuller Seminary come here with the Church Growth classes and because our church was the fastest growing church and the largest church in Los Angeles, they of necessity would bring students here to show them a rapidly growing church and then they stopped doing that because they said we confused the students because we had no regard. We don’t have any information about how churches grow and we grew anyway. And that was confusing so they felt that selective research that reinforced their point was more useful for them and so they stopped coming here.

That is so sad, and I’m posting on it today because it reminds me of a reading from Matthew 13 coming up next (link goes live Saturday night UK time).

To draw a parallel, the Fuller faculty and students were exposed the truth of a good church then chose to ignore it in favour of their own flawed, worldly theory! It is appalling that their students are no longer taken as part of coursework to see Grace Community Church’s authenticity and faithfulness to Holy Scripture. That is a very serious and deliberate oversight on the part of Fuller faculty. It is a sin to twist a divine blessing into a manmade falsehood.

However, Grace Community Church’s natural growth thanks to the faithful preaching of Scripture has puzzled many other adherents of the church growth movement:

This church has been the subject of magazine articles and thes[e]s. Doctoral dissertations have been written on our church and on my preaching. There have been all kinds of reports about our church seminars, newspaper articles, journals, tapes, books, all undertaken to analyze our church. And our ministry ha[s] been examined and analyzed every way possible. Studied, labeled, categorized, copied. We have been blessed. We have been cursed. We have been defended. We have been ignored. We have been endowed. We have been publicized and we’ve even been sued. So just about a little of everything has come against us and the church itself can be rather simply defined in a lot of ways.

The definition includes:

the word church. That’s what we are. We aren’t anything else but a church. That is what we are. By definition we are a church. And if you understand that word means then you understand what this church is. That is the key to understanding Grace Community Church. It is the key to our identity. We are not like any other institution in the world. We are absolutely and utterly unique. And when you understand church, then you have a definition of what we are and what are to be in the world.

And it is really an unchanging definition. It is no different for us in the 20th century than it was in the 2nd century AD. It is not different for us than it was in the 10th century. It is no different for us than it was in the 15th century or any other century. We are defined by a divine designation church, not by anything cultural, not by anything contemporary, not by anything that society developed but rather by the word church, which is biblical.

MacArthur gave this sermon in 2000. It is sad to think that the church growth movement has been around for decades and shows no signs of abating. Fuller isn’t the only institution promoting it. Rick Warren — possibly their most famous alumnus alive today — does, too.

Fuller’s reach is a long one. Many Lutheran churches in America believe there is a winning formula in church growth.

So do Anglican churches here in England, although it is not referred to as such, however, we are seeing an ever-increasing number of ‘programmes’ and the deadly ‘small groups’. ‘Do, please join,’ our clergy and churchwardens exhort. Everyone needs to be ‘involved’!

It doesn’t work. I went to my Anglican church’s midnight service at Christmas last month. It was only a third full. Twenty years ago to the day — 1995 — it was standing room only. Making the C of E ‘relevant’ has brought down numbers dramatically.

Back to the biblical meaning of ‘church’:

The word church in the New Testament is from a Greek word ekklesia that is a noun that comes out of a group verb kaleo, which means to call. So ekklesia is simply the called, the called ones, those called together, those according to Romans 8:28 called according to God’s purpose. We are called together. In Ephesians 4:1, Paul says I therefore the prison of the lord and treat you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling with which you have been called. You are the called because you’ve had a calling. And the church is simply the called ones. We are the assembly of the called. This was a very ordinary Greek word by the way. Very ordinary Greek word so it can be any assembly of any people called together for anything …

We are not a human organization built by good people. We are not a human organization designed by well-intentioned people. We are not a human organization basically constructed around some tradition. We are a group of people summoned together by God himself for his purposes. So we can say this the church is an assembly of people called by God. We are an assembly of people called by God …

We have been called by God together. Romans 1:6 you also are the called of Jesus Christ to all who are beloved of God in Rome called together as saints. And you find this in 1 Corinthians, 1 Thessalonians, 2 Timothy, 1 Peter, 2 Peter, 1 John and other places. Even Hebrews 3:1 talks about our heavenly calling and heaven is really a synonym for God.

Therefore:

It is not our church. It is not my church. It is not the pastor’s church. It is not the elder’s church. I have to tell you, it’s not even your church. It’s Christ’s church. He ordained it. He builds it. He leads it. We are simply called into it and he is the caller.

And this explains really all the goodness, all the blessing, all the success, all the power, all the things that we have seen by way of spiritual richness. It has all come from God. The weaknesses of our fellowship, the failures of our church on the other hand are the marks of humanness. Where you see us weak and failing is where you see the hand of men and women. The weak human vessels God has chosen do show up in the weak elements of life in the church. We fail because of us, not him. We succeed because of him, not us. So when you come to Grace Church and you want to analyze why it is what it is and when you want to find some pathway to success that might be repeatable somewhere else, you are going to find it very difficult. Because wherever we have succeeded it is because God has done a mighty work and wherever we have failed it is because the imprint of human hands is on this place.

Ultimately:

The successes then cannot be easily defined. They cannot be easily analyzed. They cannot be easily canned and they cannot be easily reproduced and repeated because they are the work of God who is the caller of the called. The failures, yes, you can find those and you can certainly can repeat those. People can come to Grace Church and analyze our failures and go back and repeat them. But when they come and try to analyze our success and go back and repeat that, it’s really impossible because the Lord is the one who has caused the blessing and the success. The Lord is behind the power and the impact of the church. And he is not easily defined, analyzed, canned and repeated.

So what I’m saying is that Grace Community Church has been blessed only as we have functioned as God’s called people, not some human organization, not with some unusual level of human leadership or some unusual level of the power of persuasive speech. That is not what has caused this church to become what it is. That is not how we define ourselves and that is no reasonable explanation of the blessing of God. Wherever God moves, the flowers have always bloomed. Wherever we walk, they always die.

In closing:

what I’m concerned about today is so many people in the ministry who under this pressure to somehow let the culture define them are ceasing to be the church. You can look at some of those places and they may call themselves the church and there is a church in there somewhere. There’s a community of the called in there somewhere not to be confused with what is visible. We never wanted to have somewhere hidden the midst of a visible human organization a real church. We wanted the real church to be visible. The single great goal then for the church through all its life has been to let God be at work and to allow the church to be the church. We don’t want the culture to define what we are. We don’t want the society around us to define what we are. We want to be whatever it is that God wants us to be. That’s what we want to be. Nothing less and nothing more.

Fuller, Warren, their followers and the rest of the church growth movement will never understand that simple, biblical principle.

May we choose our congregations wisely.

John F MacArthurThe past few weekends I have been writing about Jesus’s healing — creative — miracles in Matthew 8 and 9:

Matthew 8:1-4 – Jesus, creative miracle, leper

Matthew 8:5-13 – Jesus, creative miracle, centurion, faith, humility

Matthew 8:14-17 – creative miracles, Jesus, Peter’s mother-in-law

Matthew 8:23-27 – Jesus, storm, miracle, Sea of Galilee, faith

Matthew 8:28-34 – Gadarene swine, miracle, demons, Jesus

Matthew 9:1-8 – healing miracle, creative miracle, paralytic, sin, Jesus

Matthew 9:18-26 – Jesus, miracles, Jairus’s daughter, death, sleep, woman with blood issue, resurrection, healing

Matthew 9:27-31 – Jesus, miracles, healing, two blind men, physical blindness, spiritual blindness, faith, Capernaum

Matthew 9:32-34 – Jesus, miracles, healing, deaf mute possessed by demon, Capernaum

John MacArthur’s sermon, ‘Miracles of Sight and Sound’, explains how St Matthew wanted us to think of Jesus with regard to His miracles, events in the Old Testament and ancient biblical prophecy. Excerpts follow, emphases mine:

Matthew’s purpose in writing is to tell us: that Jesus is that Messiah; that that someday has arrived; that Christ is the promised King; that He is the One who can right the wrongs, who can reverse the curse, who can establish the kingdom, who can destroy the enemy.  He is the One.  And in order to convince us that Christ has the power to do that, in chapters 8 and 9, Matthew marks His miracle power, and he doesn’t do it in a random manner.  He marks His miracle power, I believe, insofar as it is associated with Old Testament prophecy There were many miracles that Jesus did—Matthew selects nine of them in chapters 8 and 9, three sets of three—and, in these miracles, I see the fulfillment of Old Testament prophecy.  And Matthew was saying, “This is the Messiah.  He fulfills the prophecy.  The prophecy says He will do all of this in the kingdom, and He has given you a preview of it all.”  The kingdom will evidence His power over disease, His power over death, His power over the elements, His power over the earth; and in His first coming, He gave previews of all of those.  Now remember that of the nine miracles, the first three deal with disease,  the second three deal with disorder, and the third primarily with death.  And there’s some overlap, but that’s just kind of a general focus.

Genesis

After Adam and Eve committed what is known in the Church as Original Sin — the disobedience which caused every human afterward to sin by instinct — God promised redemption for mankind:

in Genesis, chapter 3, no sooner had man fallen than God gave the promise that there would come One who would be called the Seed of the woman; and that very One would bruise the serpent’s head.  And so from that time on, the Old Testament was filled with promises that God would bring a Deliverer, that God would bring a King, and that that King would restore the kingdom, would establish again the rule of God, would wipe out disease and death and pain and illness and sorrow and war and fighting.  And the prophets would again and again and again repeat that He’s coming: the Anointed Son, the King of kings, the Satan-Conqueror, the Death-Defeater, the Sin-Destroyer, the Healer.  The Jews know Him as the Messiah, the Anointed One, the Prophet, Priest, and King surpassing all others.

Isaiah

MacArthur cites passages from the prophet Isaiah which proclaim that the Messiah would save and restore God’s people. He says these are pertinent to the first three healing miracles.

Isaiah 33:22-24:

22 For the Lord is our judge; the Lord is our lawgiver;
    the Lord is our king; he will save us.

23 Your cords hang loose;
    they cannot hold the mast firm in its place
    or keep the sail spread out.
    Then prey and spoil in abundance will be divided;
    even the lame will take the prey.
24 And no inhabitant will say, “I am sick”;
    the people who dwell there will be forgiven their iniquity.

Isaiah 57:19 (second half of the verse):

“… Peace, peace, (AI)to the far and to the near,” says the Lord,
    (AJ)and I will heal him.

Therefore:

As there was no disease before the Fall, there will be no disease after the restoration.  Now, if Jesus Christ is the One who has the power to do that, He must be able to demonstrate such power, and that is why Matthew shows us that He has power over disease.

Isaiah 35 prophesies a restored topography of the Earth. MacArthur says that Matthew wanted us to connect this with Jesus’s calming the storm on the Sea of Galilee when the disciples feared for their lives. This is what Isaiah 35:4 says:

Say to those who have an anxious heart,
    “Be strong; fear not!
Behold, your God
    will come with vengeance,
with the recompense of God.
    He will come and save you.”

Isaiah 29:18 speaks of the restoration of sight and hearing:

In that day the deaf shall hear
    the words of a book,
and out of their gloom and darkness
    the eyes of the blind shall see.

We can also draw a spiritual meaning from those verses, that the Holy Spirit will open our eyes and ears to saving faith.

Daniel

MacArthur associates Matthew’s accounts of deliverance — casting out demons — with verses from the Book of Daniel. These also pertain to his raising Jairus’s daughter from the dead. Therefore, Jesus has power over sin and death.

Daniel 12:2:

And many of those who sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake, some to everlasting life, and some to shame and everlasting contempt.

From these verses — merely a few examples of the scriptural foretelling of the arrival of Christ as Lord — we learn that He did not come to earth randomly.

Conclusion

There are Christians who mistakenly say that we should not study the Old Testament. Ironically, they do, for the verses which condemn certain sins. That is not wrong, but there are many New Testament verses which cover abomination and depravity which lead to eternal death.

A true Christian will read the Old Testament in light of how God and His prophets attempted to guide the Israelites to be ready for the Messiah and what we can expect from Him.

The Old Testament points to Christ throughout.

Scripture is alive, historical and full of meaning. May we study it closer in our walk with the Lord.

John F MacArthurYesterday’s post looked at Matthew 8:18-22, wherein Jesus told a scribe who wanted to follow Him that (verse 20):

And Jesus said to him, “Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head.”

In his sermon on that passage, John MacArthur explained the meaning of the ‘Son of Man’ as follows (emphases mine):

I love the statement:  “The Son of Man hath not where to lay His head.”  The Son of Man first appears in Daniel 7:13.  Daniel prophesied that the Messiah would be Son of Man, and Jesus came and said, “I’m Son of Man.”  Do you know how many times that’s used in the gospels?  Eighty times!  Jesus affirmed He was the Son of man.  What is it?  It’s a term of humiliation.  Son of God speaks of deity; Son of Man of His humiliation.  He’s saying, “In my humiliation I don’t even have what foxes have, and the foxes were very common in those parts of the world in those times, and they would burrow little holes in the ground.  And birds were everywhere and they had their nests, and He said, “I don’t even have that.”  In my humiliation I don’t have the basic comforts of life and if you’re going to follow me you’re going to have to be willing to give that up.

Again, as MacArthur says, which I covered in my post, the Lord might not ask us to give up material and familial comforts at all, however, if circumstances beyond our control demand that we do so in order to follow Him, then we must. However:

He may not want to take away your personal possessions.  He may not want to take away your personal relationships.  But you have to be willing to let him if He wanted to, you see?  That’s the affirmation of His Lordship in your life.  If you come, saying, “I’ll come, but I’m hanging on to this, I’m hanging on to this, I’m hanging on to this,” and you give Him half a heart, you get nothing.  If you offer Him everything, He may allow you to keep the portion.  He may give you more than you have.  It’s the willingness that is the issue.

Something to consider. How willing are we to truly follow Christ?

John F MacArthurIn his sermon on Matthew 8:1-4, which I referred to in yesterday’s post, John MacArthur helpfully explains the structure of St Matthew’s Gospel, designed to show us the deity of Christ Jesus.

Excerpts follow, emphases mine:

First chapter: genealogy.  That attested to the legal qualifications of the Messiah.  Second chapter: birth, and all of the fulfillment of prophecy attested to the prophetic qualifications of the Messiah.  And then you come to His baptism: attested to the divine approval of His messiahshipThen you come to the temptation: attested to His spiritual qualifications to be the Messiah.  Then you come to the sermon [on the Mount]: His theological qualifications. And now you come to the miracles, the most essential qualification of all, the proof that He is God.  He’s God.

By the way, chapter 8 begins where chapter 4 left off; the sermon is stuck in the middle. But when we closed chapter 4, do you remember what He was doing? Verse 23?  “And Jesus went all about Galilee, teaching in the synagogues and preaching the gospel of the kingdom, and healing all manner of sickness and all manner of disease among the people.  And His fame went throughout all Syria.  And they brought unto Him all the sick people that were taken with divers diseases and torments, and those who were possessed with demons, those who were epileptic, those who had paralysis, and He healed them.  And there followed Him great multitudes of people from Galilee and Decapolis and Jerusalem and Judea and beyond the Jordan.”  You see, this is right where He left off, isn’t it?  He went up in a mountain, preached a sermon, came down, and started it all over again.  Thousands, uncounted numbers of healings, and He healed all who came to Him.

The first miracle recorded in Matthew’s Gospel is the healing of the leper. MacArthur describes the pattern of miracles in Matthew 8 and 9 and the narrative through Matthew 13:

The 8th chapter through the 12th chapter is really, in many ways, critical to the understanding of the life of Christ and the message of Matthew.  For in this section, Matthew records a series of miracles performed by Jesus Christ.  There are countless thousands of miracles that are done, nine of which he singles out as examples of the power of Jesus Christ. They are really His credentials as the Messiah.  They are those signs which point convincingly to His deity, for only God can do the things that He does.  The sad part is that, after the miracles in chapters 8 and 9, after the preaching that occurs following that, the Jews conclude in chapter 12 that Jesus is of the devil. That was their conclusion.  So in many ways this becomes the heart of Matthew’s message.  Christ does everything possible to manifest His deity, and they conclude exactly the opposite. And then in chapter 13, He turns from the Jews toward the establishment of a Gentile church.  This is a monumental section of Scripture.  Now you’ll notice that it begins with three miracles:  miracle of healing the leper in the first four verses; healing the man with paralysis, verses 5 to 13; and the woman with fever in verses 14 and 15.  This is the opening triad of miracles.  There are nine miracles in these two chapters.  They come in three sections of three:  three miracles, then a response; three miracles, then a response; three miracles, then a response; all designed to manifest the deity of Jesus Christ.

Miracles, you see, were God’s way of attesting to the deity of His Son.  They are creative miracles.  They manifest power that is only defined by the essence of God.  They are things that man could never do.  They are supernatural. 

I will continue to write about the miracles in Matthew 8 as they have been omitted from the three-year Lectionary, widely in use for public worship.

However, understanding more about how Matthew structured his Gospel will help those of us new to the Bible to better understand and appreciate it.

John F MacArthurOne of John MacArthur’s recent blog posts discussed the importance of private Bible reading and meditation in line with Scripture.

His method for understanding the New Testament is to read each chapter 30 times. He has done this himself successfully.

Alternatively, one can always read the whole Bible over the course of a year. Grant Horner, one of MacArthur’s employees — a professor of English at The Master’s College — has a reading schedule which takes only 30 minutes a day. The various passages read like newspaper or magazine articles. Old and New Testament readings are interspersed. I followed this myself and it works beautifully. I read the whole Bible a few years ago and only regret I didn’t do so earlier.

MacArthur is correct in saying that the more we read the Bible, the better we grasp its meaning. I would recommend the Grant Horner method first, then, after having read the whole Bible, read each chapter of the New Testament 30 times. The same can then be done with the Old Testament.

Now onto MacArthur’s thoughts on private Bible reading and personal meditation. Excerpts follow, emphases mine:

you ought to have God’s Word running around in your mind all the time. If you’re reading a portion of the New Testament thirty times in a row, as previously suggested, it will penetrate and shape your thinking. It should lead to meditation

The word meditate can evoke thoughts of empty minds and eastern religions. But it is more likely that Hindus and Buddhists borrowed the term from the Bible … From the time of Joshua’s military conquest of Canaan, we hear the Lord instructing His people to meditate on God’s Word (Joshua 1:8). So what does meditate mean? Biblically, it means to focus your mind on one subject.

In Deuteronomy, God tells His people that they should bind His words, “as a sign on your hand and they shall be as frontals to your forehead. You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates” (Deuteronomy 6:8–9). God says He wants His Word everywhere.

David highlighted the role meditation plays in our sanctification when he wrote the first Psalm. The blessed man is one who meditates both day and night on God’s law rather than seeking counsel in the fellowship of unbelievers (Psalm 1:1–3). It is the key to his perseverance and fruitfulness as a child of God.

Meditation is no less needed today. We live in a culture that continually assaults us with distractions through billboards, television, the Internet, and more. God says that we should keep His Word perpetually in front of our eyes, filling our minds and conversations wherever we go.

This is marvellous advice for the week ahead. May it become a lifelong practice.

John F MacArthurYesterday’s Forbidden Bible Verses examined Luke 17:20-27, wherein Christ discusses the kingdom of God.

In Matthew 24, our Lord explained that the world would endure many travails before that time.

Today, many believers over the age of 50 wonder what happened to our secure Western world where, even when people didn’t attend church often, our societies respected biblical values.

John MacArthur’s monthly letter for September 2014 discusses the Church’s travails today. Excerpts follow, emphases mine:

Perhaps, like me, you grew up in America when there was widespread, cultural Christianity. There was a kind of Christian consensusTo some degree, people understood the church, the Bible, and the gospel.  They accepted the Judeo-Christian ethic.  While most people weren’t genuine Christians, there was still superficial acceptance—or, at least, tolerance—of a cultural Christianity in politics, business, education, and public life.

But where are we today?There is no more cultural Christianity; there is no collective Christian consensus wielding any significant power in this country.  In fact, the more biblically that true Christians speak and live, the more they are being labeled as extremists, homophobic, intolerant, and guilty of hate crimes.  We are now aliens.  And I think we can all foresee a day when being a faithful Christian will cost us or our children dearly, and in ways we couldn’t have imagined just a decade ago.  I think we’re closer than ever to living in conditions like the people did in the book of Acts.

His letter says that the first Christians, a number of whose experiences feature in Acts, led difficult lives with some dying as martyrs for the faith.

Although many mainstream American clergy would say that Western churchgoers are far from being persecuted, the trend in Europe is towards a continuous denigration of Christianity which started in the last century and ramped up gradually after the Second World War. The same trend is coming to the United States, just at a slower rate of speed.

MacArthur also takes issue with churchgoers who think along extremist lines as well as those who adopt an everyone-is-saved outlook:

For years I’ve been concerned by the church’s pursuit of cultural change through political and social activities.  Large swaths of Christians have placed enormous time, energy, money, and hope in the wrong placesHand in glove with that thinking, superficial, cultural Christianity has blurred the clear lines between the kingdom of heaven and the kingdom of this world, and has softened the hard demands of the gospel, making professing Christ easy and without cost.  As a result, churches have been filled with highly religious, superficially moral, self-righteous people who don’t understand the gospel and are self-deceived about their true spiritual state.

We’re in a lot of trouble, certainly.

That said, MacArthur sees a silver lining now that Christianity stands in such sharp relief against an increasingly secular world.

His solution is a simple yet powerful one:

Scripture teaches and church history confirms that the Body of Christ is most potent and most effective when it simply speaks and lives the gospel without equivocation or apology.  With the mask of superficial Christianity gone, I believe the best days for the spread of the true gospel are ahead of us.

The gospel advances by personal testimony to Christ, one soul at a time.  When the church acts like the church; when shepherds preach Scripture and confront error with clarity and boldness; when believers are sanctified, built up, and equipped in truth; people are saved.  And that’s when the culture truly changes—nothing transforms the culture like genuine conversion.

As Christ said (Luke 17:21):

the kingdom of God is in the midst of you.

MacArthur echoes this:

Our confidence is in Christ and His perfect, powerful Word.  Nothing brings us greater joy than seeing that confidence spread in and through God’s people, to His glory and honor.

I know a vicar who is determined that his congregation do something ‘big’ and bombastic (in the nicest sense of the word) for their local community. Thankfully, no one has contributed any suggestions as to what this might be. Still, he perseveres because he says that our God is a ‘great, mighty’ God. Therefore, they must do something works-based to show their faith.

So wrong on so many levels!

Isaiah 64:6 says:

But we are all as an unclean thing, and all our righteousnesses are as filthy rags; and we all do fade as a leaf; and our iniquities, like the wind, have taken us away.

If this vicar and his congregation were to adopt MacArthur’s long-standing approach of preaching and teaching nothing but Christ through Holy Scripture, then they truly would be honouring a great and mighty God. This doesn’t mean giving sermonettes and handing out tracts on street corners, but it does require that believers competently answer questions on what they believe and why they believe it. This involves prayer and regular Bible reading. The latter, in particular, moves us away from error and easy-grace Christianity.

May the wisdom of the Holy Spirit prevail upon them and us to adopt John MacArthur’s decades long — and highly successful — one-soul-at-a-time conversion to biblical Christianity.

May God continue to bless those converts and those who have returned to the faith after a long absence.

It is likely that lapsed Christians and Christian doubters are unfamiliar with God’s ever-present grace, His gift to us.

If they became acquainted with it, it is probable that many would return to the Church, perhaps by way of a different denomination or independent congregation.

Last week’s posts addressed doubt:

Doubt and spiritual assurance

Want assurance? Start reading the Bible

Why doubt inhibits assurance

These and similar posts are on my Christianity / Apologetics page under the first heading, Apologetics Corner.

Other posts on the same page explain more about people and concepts mentioned below. New readers may wish to look up posts under the following tags — pietism, Arminius and semi-Pelagianism — for more information.

This post concerns understanding grace within the biblical context.

The Reformers saw it as a monergistic process with God working good through undeserving sinners. That is a simplistic definition, however, it points to scriptural evidence that we are incapable of doing good on our own and must rely on God for all of it.

Post-Reformation, some denominations from Anabaptists and pietists to Methodist and Wesleyans and theologians such as Jacob Arminius thought that this definition of grace sounded too harsh. In turn, they separately devised synergistic principles by which man would co-operate with God through his own power and divine grace. Essentially, man must ‘do’ certain ‘good’ things and refrain from ‘bad’ things (eating certain foods, going to the cinema), otherwise, he is not fulfilling his part of God’s bargain. This is called legalism; it can lead to semi-Pelagianism.

Roman Catholics follow a similar synergism. The state of grace after Confession or Communion is a fleeting one, brought to a rapid end with our first subsequent sin.

Yet, as we shall see, Scripture does not bear this out.

Monergists — those Christians holding to biblical definitions as explained by Luther and Calvin — define grace as ‘unmerited favour’ or as an acronym: God’s Riches At Christ’s Expense.

In his book The Gospel According to the Apostles (2000) the well known American pastor John MacArthur defines grace more completely.  ‘What is Grace?’ — an excerpt from the book — includes his definition of grace as follows (emphases in bold mine throughout, italics in the original):

the free and benevolent influence of a holy God operating sovereignly in the lives of undeserving sinners.

MacArthur explains his reasoning:

Grace is not merely unmerited favor; it is favor bestowed on sinners who deserve wrath. Showing kindness to a stranger is “unmerited favor”; doing good to one’s enemies is more the spirit of grace (Luke 6:27-36).

Grace is not a dormant or abstract quality, but a dynamic, active, working principle: “The grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation…and instructing us” (Titus 2:11-12). It is not some kind of ethereal blessing that lies idle until we appropriate it. Grace is God’s sovereign initiative to sinners (Ephesians 1:5-6).

Grace is not a one-time event in the Christian experience. We stand in grace (Romans 5:2). The entire Christian life is driven and empowered by grace: “It is good for the heart to be strengthened by grace, not by foods” (Hebrews 13:9). Peter said we should “grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ” (2 Peter 3:18).

Grace confirms the righteousness of God’s laws in the Ten Commandments. Just as importantly:

Grace has its own law, a higher, liberating law: “The law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has set you free from the law of sin and death” (Romans 8:2; cf. James 1:25). Note that this new law emancipates us from sin as well as death.

MacArthur concludes:

That is the good news of the gospel! God has acted to set us free from sin — not just the consequences, but its very power and presence. One day we will never know the experience of temptation, a stray thought, a misspoken word, a false motive. Guilt will be gone, and with it shame, and “so we shall always be with the Lord” (1 Thessalonians 4:17).

In the meantime, we enjoy the liberation from sin’s cruel power and defiling influence. God has enabled us, through grace, to “deny ungodliness and worldly desires” so that we can enjoy a sensible, righteous, and godly life in the present age (Titus 2:12). 

Therefore, regular prayers requesting more grace will go a long way in our attempt to repent from and overcome sin. Divine grace will also strengthen our relationship with our Lord and God.

Grace is a very powerful weapon against the devil. The more we pray for it, the more we will receive. The more assurance we will have and the more fruits of faith will we bear.

Doubters, take note!

 

John F MacArthurOne of the more popular maxims of today’s Church is ‘let go and let God’.

This is a relatively recent saying. Its origin is unclear; regardless, John MacArthur says this equivalent of ‘Don’t worry, be happy’ is unbiblical.

In ‘The Person and Power of God in Your Spiritual Growth’ he explains why. A few excerpts follow, emphases mine below:

The first key to God’s work in our sanctification is His personhood

Most pagan deities are described as impersonal, remote, and indifferent. That is not surprising, because false gods are fabricated by men out of fear and superstition. Even those that have personal characteristics are not portrayed as desiring fellowship with their worshipers. And understandably, their worshipers have no desire to fellowship with them.

The God of Scripture has unimaginable love for fallen, sinful mankind, which has rebelled against Him, blasphemed Him, and vilified Him. He has such great love for them “that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life. For God did not send the Son into the world to judge the world, but that the world might be saved through Him” (John 3:16-17). It is not the Lord’s will “for any to perish but for all to come to repentance” (2 Peter 3:9).

For those who belong to Him, the God of Scripture has even greater love and the closest of personal relationships. Throughout Scripture, God is referred to as His people’s Father—on a national level in the Old Testament (cf. Isaiah 63:16, 64:8), and individually in the New (cf. Matthew 5:16, 45, 48; 6:1, 9; 23:9). Adam and Eve, Moses, and many other Old Testament saints spoke with God directly. “The Lord used to speak to Moses face to face, just as a man speaks to his friend” (Exodus 33:11).

The second essential truth emphasized in Philippians 2:13 concerning God’s part in believers’ sanctification is His divine power. Above all else, it is God “who is at work” (Philippians 2:13) in the lives of His children. He calls them to obey, and then, through His sovereign power, energizes their obedience. He calls them to His service, and then empowers their service. He calls them to holiness, and then empowers them to pursue holiness.

God Himself is the believer’s supreme and indispensable resource and power. The wonder of all wonders is thatit is God who is at work” (Philippians 2:13) in them. Paul summed it up in Colossians 1:29 when he said, “I labor, striving according to His power, which mightily works within me.”

Note that our relationship with God is intensely personal. No other world faith can offer this one-on-one rapport.

Furthermore, the idea that God expects us to be passive or inactive individuals — the way ‘Let go and let God’ is often interpreted — has no foundation in Scripture.

John F MacArthurMany unbelievers and some lukewarm believers think that fearing God is unhealthy.

They also think that God is somehow ‘bad’ for encouraging this fear.

Yet, the fear of which the Bible speaks is an awe that we mere mortals, prone to sin, cannot comprehend.

To believers, ‘fear’ and ‘dread’ differ in meaning from the way we understand these familiar words in a secular context.

John MacArthur has a useful blog post on the subject called ‘The Gravity of Sin’, well worth reading in full.

The section called ‘The Fear of the Lord’ stood out for me and it might help us explain this holy fear to others (emphases mine):

Although God is loving, merciful, and forgiving, He nevertheless holds believers accountable for disobedience. Like John, Paul understood well that “if we say that we have no sin, we are deceiving ourselves and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:8–9).

Knowing that he serves a holy and just God, the faithful believer will always live with “fear and trembling.”

An important Old Testament truth is “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom” (Psalm 111:10; cf. Proverbs 1:7, 9:10). It’s not the fear of being doomed to eternal torment, nor a hopeless dread of judgment that leads to despair. Instead, it’s a reverential fear, a holy concern to give God the honor He deserves and avoid the chastening of His displeasure. It protects against temptation and sin and gives motivation for obedient, righteous living.

Such fear involves self-distrust, a sensitive conscience, and being on guard against temptation. It necessitates opposing pride, and being constantly aware of the deceitfulness of one’s heart, as well as the subtlety and strength of one’s inner corruption. It is a dread that seeks to avoid anything that would offend and dishonor God.

 

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