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advent wreath stjohnscamberwellorgauReadings follow for the Second Sunday of Advent, December 8, 2019.

These are for Year A in the three-year Lectionary used in public worship.

Emphases below are mine.

First reading

Isaiah prophesies the coming of the Messiah, who would come from the family line of Jesse, David’s father. Jesse was a herdsman of modest means. Samuel sought David among Jesse’s eight sons to succeed Saul. Long before Jesus was born on earth, David’s family line had become obscure, hence the phrasing of verse 1. Note that the Messiah would be the Lord of Gentiles as well as the Jews. Many will recognise other famous verses in this passage.

Isaiah 11:1-10

11:1 A shoot shall come out from the stump of Jesse, and a branch shall grow out of his roots.

11:2 The spirit of the LORD shall rest on him, the spirit of wisdom and understanding, the spirit of counsel and might, the spirit of knowledge and the fear of the LORD.

11:3 His delight shall be in the fear of the LORD. He shall not judge by what his eyes see, or decide by what his ears hear;

11:4 but with righteousness he shall judge the poor, and decide with equity for the meek of the earth; he shall strike the earth with the rod of his mouth, and with the breath of his lips he shall kill the wicked.

11:5 Righteousness shall be the belt around his waist, and faithfulness the belt around his loins.

11:6 The wolf shall live with the lamb, the leopard shall lie down with the kid, the calf and the lion and the fatling together, and a little child shall lead them.

11:7 The cow and the bear shall graze, their young shall lie down together; and the lion shall eat straw like the ox.

11:8 The nursing child shall play over the hole of the asp, and the weaned child shall put its hand on the adder’s den.

11:9 They will not hurt or destroy on all my holy mountain; for the earth will be full of the knowledge of the LORD as the waters cover the sea.

11:10 On that day the root of Jesse shall stand as a signal to the peoples; the nations shall inquire of him, and his dwelling shall be glorious.

Psalm

David wrote this Psalm not long before he died. He wrote it for his heir and successor Solomon, yet, when writing it, he understood that he was also prophesying the Messiah. Matthew Henry said that prophecy gave David comfort as he knew not all would be well with subsequent generations of his family.

Psalm 72:1-7, 18-19

72:1 Give the king your justice, O God, and your righteousness to a king’s son.

72:2 May he judge your people with righteousness, and your poor with justice.

72:3 May the mountains yield prosperity for the people, and the hills, in righteousness.

72:4 May he defend the cause of the poor of the people, give deliverance to the needy, and crush the oppressor.

72:5 May he live while the sun endures, and as long as the moon, throughout all generations.

72:6 May he be like rain that falls on the mown grass, like showers that water the earth.

72:7 In his days may righteousness flourish and peace abound, until the moon is no more.

72:18 Blessed be the LORD, the God of Israel, who alone does wondrous things.

72:19 Blessed be his glorious name forever; may his glory fill the whole earth. Amen and Amen.

Epistle

Note Paul’s emphasis on Christ’s welcome to the Gentiles and his mention of Jesse, His earthly ancestor. Verse 9 cites Psalm 18:49. Verse 10 comes from Deuteronomy 32:43 and verse 11 from Psalm 117:1.

Romans 15:4-13

15:4 For whatever was written in former days was written for our instruction, so that by steadfastness and by the encouragement of the scriptures we might have hope.

15:5 May the God of steadfastness and encouragement grant you to live in harmony with one another, in accordance with Christ Jesus,

15:6 that together you may with one voice glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.

15:7 Welcome one another, therefore, just as Christ has welcomed you, for the glory of God.

15:8 For I tell you that Christ has become a servant of the circumcised on behalf of the truth of God in order that he might confirm the promises given to the patriarchs,

15:9 and in order that the Gentiles might glorify God for his mercy. As it is written, “Therefore I will confess you among the Gentiles, and sing praises to your name”;

15:10 and again he says, “Rejoice, O Gentiles, with his people”;

15:11 and again, “Praise the Lord, all you Gentiles, and let all the peoples praise him”;

15:12 and again Isaiah says, “The root of Jesse shall come, the one who rises to rule the Gentiles; in him the Gentiles shall hope.”

15:13 May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that you may abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.

Gospel

This is Matthew’s account of John the Baptist’s ministry in preparing Jew and Gentile for Jesus’s ministry. John the Baptist gave us the model for Advent, a time of preparation for the coming of Jesus. Repentance was one of his principal exhortations, along with baptism. Last week’s Gospel reading was about John’s father Zacharias prophesying his son’s vocation. John the Baptist took lifelong Nazirite vows, which meant that he lived primitively in order to devote himself to God more fully.

Matthew 3:1-12

3:1 In those days John the Baptist appeared in the wilderness of Judea, proclaiming,

3:2 “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.”

3:3 This is the one of whom the prophet Isaiah spoke when he said, “The voice of one crying out in the wilderness: ‘Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight.'”

3:4 Now John wore clothing of camel’s hair with a leather belt around his waist, and his food was locusts and wild honey.

3:5 Then the people of Jerusalem and all Judea were going out to him, and all the region along the Jordan,

3:6 and they were baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins.

3:7 But when he saw many Pharisees and Sadducees coming for baptism, he said to them, “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come?

3:8 Bear fruit worthy of repentance.

3:9 Do not presume to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our ancestor’; for I tell you, God is able from these stones to raise up children to Abraham.

3:10 Even now the ax is lying at the root of the trees; every tree therefore that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.

3:11 “I baptize you with water for repentance, but one who is more powerful than I is coming after me; I am not worthy to carry his sandals. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire.

3:12 His winnowing fork is in his hand, and he will clear his threshing floor and will gather his wheat into the granary; but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire.”

I wonder how many clergy will preach on that tomorrow.

Hell deniers will say ‘unquenchable fire’ is a figurative use of words.

John the Baptist was a powerful preacher and his teachings spread widely around the civilised world at that time. He had many followers, even after his death. The Book of Acts records apostolic encounters with people who had not heard of Jesus but adhered to John’s teachings.

Bible penngrovechurchofchristorgThe three-year Lectionary that many Catholics and Protestants hear in public worship gives us a great variety of Holy Scripture.

Yet, it doesn’t tell the whole story.

My series Forbidden Bible Verses — ones the Lectionary editors and their clergy omit — examines the passages we do not hear in church. These missing verses are also Essential Bible Verses, ones we should study with care and attention. Often, we find that they carry difficult messages and warnings.

Today’s reading is from the English Standard Version with commentary by Matthew Henry and John MacArthur.

Hebrews 8:1-7

Jesus, High Priest of a Better Covenant

Now the point in what we are saying is this: we have such a high priest, one who is seated at the right hand of the throne of the Majesty in heaven, a minister in the holy places, in the true tent[a] that the Lord set up, not man. For every high priest is appointed to offer gifts and sacrifices; thus it is necessary for this priest also to have something to offer. Now if he were on earth, he would not be a priest at all, since there are priests who offer gifts according to the law. They serve a copy and shadow of the heavenly things. For when Moses was about to erect the tent, he was instructed by God, saying, “See that you make everything according to the pattern that was shown you on the mountain.” But as it is, Christ[b] has obtained a ministry that is as much more excellent than the old as the covenant he mediates is better, since it is enacted on better promises. 7 For if that first covenant had been faultless, there would have been no occasion to look for a second.

——————————————————————————————————-

Last week’s post concluded the Hebrews author’s discussion of Psalm 110:4 and the universal priesthood of Christ which God the Father bestowed upon Him via an oath, something He did with no earthly priest.

The author, inspired by the Holy Spirit, intended to persuade Jewish converts and those Jews who had heard of Jesus that He is the Messiah. The author wanted his audience to leave Judaism behind fully and focus on Christ.

Hebrews 7:22 says:

This makes Jesus the guarantor of a better covenant.

Chapter 8 picks up on that thought and further expands upon it. Jesus is the Great High Priest, because He sits at the right hand of God in heaven (verse 1).

John MacArthur explains the importance of sitting at the right hand of God in a way that a Jewish person would have understood (emphases mine):

there were always two scribes before the judges of the Sanhedrin. One scribe sat on the right hand, and the other scribe sat on the left hand. And it was always the business – watch this – of the scribe who sat on the right hand to write the acquittals, and it was always the business of the scribe on the left hand to write the condemnations. The Bible says that Jesus came, in John chapter 3, verse 17, not to – what? – condemn the world, but that the world through Him might be saved. Hence, His place is never on the left hand but always on the right hand for He writes the pardons for His own.

That detail of information makes us appreciate His placement at the right hand of God. Jesus Christ is on our side. He is our only Mediator and Advocate with the Father.

Matthew Henry’s commentary says:

He sits on the right hand of the throne of the Majesty on high, that is, of the glorious God of heaven. There the Mediator is placed, and he is possessed of all authority and power both in heaven and upon earth. This is the reward of his humiliation. This authority he exercises for the glory of his Father, for his own honour, and for the happiness of all who belong to him; and he will by his almighty power bring every one of them in their own order to the right hand of God in heaven, as members of his mystical body, that where he is they may be also.

What an uplifting thought. What joyful confidence we can have in Jesus in this life and the next.

The author of Hebrews goes on to say that Jesus is a minister in ‘the holy places’ — Heaven — where the true tent (tabernacle, Holy of Holies) is, a sanctuary that God, not man, created (verse 2).

Henry explains:

The tabernacle which was pitched by man, according to the appointment of God. There was an outer part, in which was the altar where they were to offer their sacrifices, which typified Christ dying; and there was an interior part within the veil, which typified Christ interceding for the people in heaven. Now this tabernacle Christ never entered into; but, having finished the work of satisfaction in the true tabernacle of his own body, he is now a minister of the sanctuary, the holy of holies, the true tabernacle in heaven, there taking care of his people’s affairs, interceding with God for them, that their sins may be pardoned and their persons and services accepted, through the merit of his sacrifice. He is not only in heaven enjoying great dominion and dignity, but, as the high priest of his church, executing this office for them all in general, and every member of the church in particular.

Jesus took His seat when He ascended into Heaven. MacArthur words this beautifully:

He passed through the heavens and so forth. So, Jesus Christ, having accomplished His work, finished it, passed through the heavens – the stellar heavens, atmospheric heavens – entered into God’s heaven, sat on the throne. What a High Priest.

MacArthur says that this elaboration was probably meant to assuage any anxiety the Jewish converts might have felt about abandoning Judaism:

The emphasis in the book of Hebrews is repeatedly on the fact that Christ is at the right hand of God. And I think the purpose of it is to assure those who were deprived of the temple services in Jerusalem that they didn’t need to worry about what was going on, on earth in the shadowy realm, because they had a real priest in the real Holy of Holies, in the real heaven of God, who was there for them, ministering and interceding. So, the crowning argument for the superior priesthood of Jesus Christ and his exaltation to heaven, to sit with the Father, that is the glorious sum of everything else that shows us He is, indeed, a superior priest.

Not only that, however. He sits in the true tabernacle, the real, heavenly Holy of Holies:

He doesn’t fool around in a skin tent like the tabernacles, nor does he minister in a physical building on earth. Those temples have all crumbled long ago. His temple is in heaven. He ministers in the real Holy of Holies.

The author then mentions the particular office and duties of His priesthood (verse 3).

Henry says that He accomplished these largely during His Crucifixion and Resurrection, because He:

had himself to offer, his human nature upon the altar of his divine nature, as the great atoning sacrifice that finished transgression, and made an end of sin once for all; and he has the incense of his own righteousness and merits too to offer with all that his people offer up to God by him, to render them acceptable.

Now He intercedes for us and guides us.

The next two verses describe the Jewish priesthood by means of contrast. Jesus could not be a priest on Earth because He did not come from the correct tribe; He came from Judah, which was not given the priestly remit (verse 4). Furthermore, the earthly tabernacles the priests ministered in were but mere shadows of the glorious, true one in Heaven. God instructed Moses to build a tent — a tabernacle —  in a precise way to serve as a temporal shadow of the heavenly one (verse 5).

MacArthur explains the author’s use of ‘true’ and ‘shadow’:

And so it is that God has a Holy Place in heaven, and that’s where Jesus ministers. Notice He calls it the true tabernacle. And the word “true” is not here used in an opposite sense from false. He is not saying the true tabernacle as opposed to the tabernacles of the heathen or the temples of the heathen idols. He is using the word “true” in contrast with something that is shadowy and unreal. The difference between a typical shadowy, temporary thing and the true one. The true one is abiding, solid, and real

Christ ministers in the heavenly sanctuary, the Holy of Holies where God is. He doesn’t minister in a shadowy temple on earth

the Greeks always thought in terms of two worlds: one was the real world, and the other was the unreal. And you may have studied about Plato, and you may have studied a little bit of the Aristotelian polemic and some of the things that had to do with philosophy in those days, and you probably ran across this kind of a dual concept especially that was the basic doctrine of Plato. But Plato always said somewhere there was [the] real, and that what we saw was only the unreal. This world of space and time was a world of shadows. It was a world of copies – pale copies at best. A world of unreal reflections. But somewhere there was a real world

Now, this was a kind of a Greek philosophy. This is only a shadow world. Somewhere there’s a real world …

Now, the writer of Hebrews is saying very much the same thing. He is not a Greek philosopher; he is speaking the revelation of God, but in a very real sense, the Greeks weren’t too far off. There is a real world. This is not the real world. In terms of God’s revelation of the old covenant, it was shadows and types and pictures, and reflections all from the pattern which is heavenly, you see?

The earthly temple, the earthly tabernacle is a place that is only a copy of the real temple of God. Earthly worship is only a remote reflection of real worship when we get to heaven. The earthly priesthood is only an inadequate shadow of the real priesthood.

Therefore:

Jesus is superior to Aaron number one because He’s seated, and number two, because He serves in a superior sanctuary, not pitched by men, but pitched by God. He serves in the real sanctuary. Tremendous truth.

Also, this makes Christ’s priesthood in the New Covenant vastly superior to — ‘much more excellent than’ — anything the Levite priests could accomplish in the Old Covenant because His universal priesthood is ‘enacted on better promises’ (verse 6). He is there, with His Father, interceding with Him on our behalf, continuously.

And, if there were any doubt in the Hebrews’ minds, the author says that, if the priesthood of the Old Covenant matched up to that, it would still have been in force. However, as any rational person can conclude, it was inferior to the eternal priesthood conferred upon Jesus in the New Covenant (verse 7).

The author continues with a further proof from Jeremiah, which will be the subject of next week’s post.

For now, it is such a blessing to be able to write about the Book of Hebrews during the season of Advent. The Sunday readings for the next few weeks, today being the first, include Old Testament prophecies about Christ and the Church. Studying Hebrews concurrently removes any doubt that Jesus is Lord. He is much, much more than ‘a good man who lived 2,000+ years ago’.

If young people — with the help of a mature family member — studied the Book of Hebrews before or shortly after Confirmation, they would understand the essential nature of Jesus. The same holds true for adults. We would no longer see a drop in church attendance or a lapse in faith. Christians would understand why they believe in Jesus and why He lives and reigns forever.

Furthermore, more of us would be able to competently answer the question, ‘Why are you a Christian?’

There would also be minimal shifts by Christians towards Hebraic movements that purport to get Christianity back to Jewish roots. The Book of Hebrews proves why that is not only completely unnecessary but also erroneous.

This book is unbelievably uplifting, and all the more so at this time of year.

Next time — Hebrews 8:8-13

advent wreath stjohnscamberwellorgauReadings follow for the First Sunday of Advent, December 1, 2019.

These are for Year A in the three-year Lectionary used in public worship.

Emphases below are mine.

First reading

Isaiah prophesies the Messiah and the Church. Matthew Henry’s commentary on these verses is illuminating. Note the mention of Judah in the first verse; Jesus’s earthly parents came from that tribe. Verses 2 and 3 alludes to Gentiles — ‘all the nations’, ‘many peoples’ — being brought into the faith. ‘House of Jacob’ in verse 5 refers to Israel both in a physical and a spiritual sense. Matthew Henry says that verse 4 refers to a) the historically peaceful time into which Jesus entered our world and b) to the peaceful period that will come again one day.

Isaiah 2:1-5

2:1 The word that Isaiah son of Amoz saw concerning Judah and Jerusalem.

2:2 In days to come the mountain of the Lord’s house shall be established as the highest of the mountains, and shall be raised above the hills; all the nations shall stream to it.

2:3 Many peoples shall come and say, “Come, let us go up to the mountain of the LORD, to the house of the God of Jacob; that he may teach us his ways and that we may walk in his paths.” For out of Zion shall go forth instruction, and the word of the LORD from Jerusalem.

2:4 He shall judge between the nations, and shall arbitrate for many peoples; they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more.

2:5 O house of Jacob, come, let us walk in the light of the LORD!

Psalm

It was during David’s reign that Jerusalem became the holy city. God’s people met in Jerusalem for three great religious feasts, and David intended this Psalm to be sung during those times.

Psalm 122

122:1 I was glad when they said to me, “Let us go to the house of the LORD!”

122:2 Our feet are standing within your gates, O Jerusalem.

122:3 Jerusalem built as a city that is bound firmly together.

122:4 To it the tribes go up, the tribes of the LORD, as was decreed for Israel, to give thanks to the name of the LORD.

122:5 For there the thrones for judgment were set up, the thrones of the house of David.

122:6 Pray for the peace of Jerusalem: “May they prosper who love you.

122:7 Peace be within your walls, and security within your towers.”

122:8 For the sake of my relatives and friends I will say, “Peace be within you.”

122:9 For the sake of the house of the LORD our God, I will seek your good.

Epistle

Paul exhorted the Romans not to waste valuable time. They were to perfect themselves as Christians by turning away from sin and embracing holiness.

Romans 13:11-14

13:11 Besides this, you know what time it is, how it is now the moment for you to wake from sleep. For salvation is nearer to us now than when we became believers;

13:12 the night is far gone, the day is near. Let us then lay aside the works of darkness and put on the armor of light;

13:13 let us live honorably as in the day, not in reveling and drunkenness, not in debauchery and licentiousness, not in quarreling and jealousy.

13:14 Instead, put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to gratify its desires.

Gospel

Jesus spoke of His second coming in judgement. He calls upon us to be ready at all times.

Matthew 24:36-44

24:36 “But about that day and hour no one knows, neither the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father.

24:37 For as the days of Noah were, so will be the coming of the Son of Man.

24:38 For as in those days before the flood they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, until the day Noah entered the ark,

24:39 and they knew nothing until the flood came and swept them all away, so too will be the coming of the Son of Man.

24:40 Then two will be in the field; one will be taken and one will be left.

24:41 Two women will be grinding meal together; one will be taken and one will be left.

24:42 Keep awake therefore, for you do not know on what day your Lord is coming.

24:43 But understand this: if the owner of the house had known in what part of the night the thief was coming, he would have stayed awake and would not have let his house be broken into.

24:44 Therefore you also must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an unexpected hour.

Someone said to me last week that he remembered Advent being a gloomy time.

Yes, it is a gloomy time, as we are called to prepare ourselves spiritually for Christ’s ministry among mankind.

We should think of it as it happened historically, with John the Baptist preparing Jew and Gentile for his cousin Jesus’s ministry. John called upon everyone he met to repent (turn away from sin), give to others in charity and be baptised. Even our Lord Jesus was baptised by John, although He had no need to repent.

As children attending Catholic school many years ago, my classmates and I were told by our teachers to use Advent as a time of spiritual preparation for Christmas. We attempted to do away with bad habits or do something a bit extra for others (rather than ourselves). It is not a bad idea at all.

When I became a Protestant, I discovered that this was not a tradition in their churches. Yet, it seems worthwhile to follow John the Baptist’s teaching as his father Zacharias prophesied it. Zacharias’s prophecy was in one of last week’s readings for Reign of Christ Sunday (Luke 1). Zacharias spoke first of Jesus (in Mary’s womb at the time), then his newborn son John, as follows:

1:68 Blessed be the Lord God of Israel, for he has looked favorably on his people and redeemed them.

1:69 He has raised up a mighty savior for us in the house of his servant David,

1:70 as he spoke through the mouth of his holy prophets from of old,

1:71 that we would be saved from our enemies and from the hand of all who hate us

1:76 And you, child, will be called the prophet of the Most High; for you will go before the Lord to prepare his ways,

1:77 to give knowledge of salvation to his people by the forgiveness of their sins.

1:78 By the tender mercy of our God, the dawn from on high will break upon us,

1:79 to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the way of peace.”

At the very least, it is useful to contemplate the themes of the Sunday readings for the next few weeks of this new Church year. It will make Christmas Day a much more profound experience.

Bible treehuggercomThe three-year Lectionary that many Catholics and Protestants hear in public worship gives us a great variety of Holy Scripture.

Yet, it doesn’t tell the whole story.

My series Forbidden Bible Verses — ones the Lectionary editors and their clergy omit — examines the passages we do not hear in church. These missing verses are also Essential Bible Verses, ones we should study with care and attention. Often, we find that they carry difficult messages and warnings.

Today’s reading is from the English Standard Version with commentary by Matthew Henry and John MacArthur.

Hebrews 7:20-22

20 And it was not without an oath. For those who formerly became priests were made such without an oath, 21 but this one was made a priest with an oath by the one who said to him:

“The Lord has sworn
    and will not change his mind,
‘You are a priest forever.’”

22 This makes Jesus the guarantor of a better covenant.

—————————————————————————————————–

Last week’s entry discussed the perfect and everlasting priesthood of Jesus Christ after the order of Melchizedek.

The unknown author of Hebrews, inspired by the Holy Spirit, cites Psalm 110:4 (verse 17). God is speaking to His Son:

The Lord has sworn
    and will not change his mind,
“You are a priest forever
    after the order of Melchizedek.”

In order to better understand verse 20, here are the previous two verses:

18 For on the one hand, a former commandment is set aside because of its weakness and uselessness 19 (for the law made nothing perfect); but on the other hand, a better hope is introduced, through which we draw near to God.

The author refers to the imperfect nature of the Levitical priesthood, which was based on genealogy rather than character. Melchizedek preceded the Levite priests and was also a king. He blessed Abraham (Genesis 14), and from that, God began delivering His promised blessings to our father in faith and his descendants.

The author is saying that God ended the priesthood of the Old Testament and made a New Covenant with us through Jesus Christ. He did this through an oath (verse 21), one that He never made with the Levite priests.

Therefore, the New Covenant a) replaces the Old Covenant and b) is unparalleled by any other priesthood (verse 22). As such, the Hebrews whom the author addresses can have every confidence in Jesus as the Great High Priest.

John MacArthur explains, referring to the veil over the Holy of Holies, which only the high priest could see once a year for a few seconds on the Day of Atonement. After the Crucifixion, God rent the veil in the temple in Jerusalem, meaning that Jesus became our Mediator and Advocate with God the Father. People finally had access to God. Emphases mine below:

We saw that Aaron’s priesthood was limited because it couldn’t provide one thing that was primary; it couldn’t provide perfection. And another term for perfection is what? Access to God. Aaron’s priesthood could not bring men to God. All through the ministry of Aaron and the Levites, the veil remained. Right? There never was access to God. The one thing men needed most couldn’t be provided by Aaron. Therefore, there had to come another priest who could bring access to God, a priest after a different order, and that is Jesus Christ. And David, in Psalm 110:4, when he made the statement concerning Messiah, “Thou art a priest forever after the of Melchizedek,” was prophesying that when Messiah did come, He indeed would be a priest after a different order” …

The goal of our faith is access to God. The goal of Christianity is to bring men into the presence of God: that Jesus Christ could do; Aaron could not. The veil always remained. But in Christ, the [ve]il was – what? – was rent and access was made. And in verse 19 of chapter [7], we go into the presence of God where our forerunner has entered, verse 20, and we are anchored there. That’s something Aaron couldn’t do.

The design for us is that we have access to God.

Matthew Henry’s commentary tells us:

There is a change in that covenant of which the priesthood was a security and the priest a surety; that is, a change in the dispensation of that covenant. The gospel dispensation is more full, free, perspicuous, spiritual, and efficacious, than that of the law. Christ is in this gospel covenant a surety for us to God and for God to us, to see that the articles be performed on both parts He, as surety, has united the divine and human nature together in his own person, and therein given assurance of reconciliation; and he has, as surety, united God and man together in the bond of the everlasting covenant. He pleads with men to keep their covenant with God, and he pleads with God that he will fulfil his promises to men, which he is always ready to do in a way suitable to his majesty and glory, that is, through a Mediator.

This post is appearing fortuitously on Reign of Christ Sunday in 2019, the final Sunday in the Church year. The readings are here.

Christ reigns as King; this day used to be known as Christ the King Sunday.

Christ also reigns as Great High Priest.

He reigns as both forevermore.

In that sense, He is like Melchizedek, who was both king and priest. Melchizedek did not inherit his priesthood. He was a priest because of his excellent character.

Aaron and the other Jewish priests were never kings.

Jesus Christ is both King and Priest, sitting at the right hand of God the Father Almighty.

He is our guarantor of salvation.

MacArthur explains:

Jesus Christ Himself engaged as the guarant[o]r in the service of the Father says to the Father, “Charge to my account whatever my people do, and I will fully pay their debts. Whatever they owe; I’ll pay it.” He’s the guarantee so that our covenant with God can never be violated. Every time we bring a debt to bear, Jesus pays it. And therefore, the covenant is maintained. You see?

Our covenant with God cannot ever be broken, because as soon as a debt exists, Christ pays it. Isn’t that a fantastic thing? Wrapped up in that is the security of the believer. He pays every debt instantly upon its being owed. He is the surety of a better covenant. And dear ones, there was no such surety in the old covenant. When you blew it, you had to come crawling back all by yourself. But in Jesus Christ, we have the surety of a better covenant. He is our guarantee; not only is He willing to be, better than that, He’s able. I like that part. Right? And God is completely satisfied with His performance. The only question remaining is are you satisfied with Him? He is the surety of a better covenant. If you’re satisfied with Him and what He’s done in your behalf, that’s all you need. He takes care of the covenant.

I hope that this gives us a lot to think about as we contemplate Christ the King today.

And, as we are one week away from Advent, it is worth considering the previous posts from Hebrews 7 about the universal priesthood that Christ represents: the priestly order of Melchizedek, Melchizedek and Abraham, Jesus compared to Melchizedek and His eternal, sufficient and superior priesthood.

The closing verses of Hebrews 7 are read on one of the Sundays in Pentecost (Year B of the three-year Lectionary). They provide more insight into the perfection of Jesus. These, too, will help to heighten our experience of Advent as a time of spiritual preparation as we recall our Lord’s earthly birth in a month’s time:

23 The former priests were many in number, because they were prevented by death from continuing in office, 24 but he holds his priesthood permanently, because he continues forever. 25 Consequently, he is able to save to the uttermost[a] those who draw near to God through him, since he always lives to make intercession for them.

26 For it was indeed fitting that we should have such a high priest, holy, innocent, unstained, separated from sinners, and exalted above the heavens. 27 He has no need, like those high priests, to offer sacrifices daily, first for his own sins and then for those of the people, since he did this once for all when he offered up himself. 28 For the law appoints men in their weakness as high priests, but the word of the oath, which came later than the law, appoints a Son who has been made perfect forever.

A Son who humbled Himself to be amongst mankind and who gave Himself in obedience to the Father as the one perfect and sufficient sacrifice for our sins.

May we be ever grateful.

Next time — Hebrews 8:1-7

November 24, 2019 is the final Sunday of the Church year.

December 1 is the First Sunday of Advent and the beginning of a new Church year. It is also the beginning of a new Lectionary year.

The final Sunday of the Church calendar used to be known traditionally as Christ the King Sunday. It is now called Reign of Christ Sunday. The emphasis is on Christ the King, as prophesied in the Old Testament and manifested in New Testament writings.

These are for Year C in the three-year Lectionary used in public worship.

There are alternate readings, including a Gospel reading used as a Psalm substitute, as per the Vanderbilt Lectionary Library home page:

  • First reading and Psalm
    • Jeremiah 23:1-6
    • Luke 1:68-79
  • Alternate First reading and Psalm
    • Jeremiah 23:1-6
    • Psalm 46
  • Second reading
    • Colossians 1:11-20
  • Gospel
    • Luke 23:33-43

Emphases below are mine.

First reading

Jeremiah did not prophesy as much about the Messiah as did Isaiah, however, this is clearly one of those prophecies. Verses 5 and 6 are highly significant, as Jeremiah prophesied at a time when a new branch of David’s family seemed unlikely. Note also that He would come from the tribe of Judah, which was not the tribe from which the Jewish priests came.

Jeremiah 23:1-6

23:1 Woe to the shepherds who destroy and scatter the sheep of my pasture! says the LORD.

23:2 Therefore thus says the LORD, the God of Israel, concerning the shepherds who shepherd my people: It is you who have scattered my flock, and have driven them away, and you have not attended to them. So I will attend to you for your evil doings, says the LORD.

23:3 Then I myself will gather the remnant of my flock out of all the lands where I have driven them, and I will bring them back to their fold, and they shall be fruitful and multiply.

23:4 I will raise up shepherds over them who will shepherd them, and they shall not fear any longer, or be dismayed, nor shall any be missing, says the LORD.

23:5 The days are surely coming, says the LORD, when I will raise up for David a righteous Branch, and he shall reign as king and deal wisely, and shall execute justice and righteousness in the land.

23:6 In his days Judah will be saved and Israel will live in safety. And this is the name by which he will be called: “The LORD is our righteousness.”

Psalm substitute

This passage from Luke’s Gospel shows us the imminent fulfilment of Jeremiah’s prophecy. Zacharias, John the Baptist’s father, being filled with the Holy Spirit, spoke these words after his son’s birth. He spoke first of Jesus, who was stirring in Mary’s womb at the time. Then he spoke of his newborn son John, who would prepare the people for Jesus.

Luke 1:68-79

1:68 “Blessed be the Lord God of Israel, for he has looked favorably on his people and redeemed them.

1:69 He has raised up a mighty savior for us in the house of his servant David,

1:70 as he spoke through the mouth of his holy prophets from of old,

1:71 that we would be saved from our enemies and from the hand of all who hate us.

1:72 Thus he has shown the mercy promised to our ancestors, and has remembered his holy covenant,

1:73 the oath that he swore to our ancestor Abraham, to grant us

1:74 that we, being rescued from the hands of our enemies, might serve him without fear,

1:75 in holiness and righteousness before him all our days.

1:76 And you, child, will be called the prophet of the Most High; for you will go before the Lord to prepare his ways,

1:77 to give knowledge of salvation to his people by the forgiveness of their sins.

1:78 By the tender mercy of our God, the dawn from on high will break upon us,

1:79 to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the way of peace.”

Psalm

It is thought that David wrote this Psalm in praise of God after his victorious battles with neighbouring nations. Matthew Henry says that Martin Luther, when discouraged, sang this Psalm. ‘Selah’ means ‘heed these words’.

Psalm 46

46:1 God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble.

46:2 Therefore we will not fear, though the earth should change, though the mountains shake in the heart of the sea;

46:3 though its waters roar and foam, though the mountains tremble with its tumult. Selah

46:4 There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God, the holy habitation of the Most High.

46:5 God is in the midst of the city; it shall not be moved; God will help it when the morning dawns.

46:6 The nations are in an uproar, the kingdoms totter; he utters his voice, the earth melts.

46:7 The LORD of hosts is with us; the God of Jacob is our refuge. Selah

46:8 Come, behold the works of the LORD; see what desolations he has brought on the earth.

46:9 He makes wars cease to the end of the earth; he breaks the bow, and shatters the spear; he burns the shields with fire.

46:10 “Be still, and know that I am God! I am exalted among the nations, I am exalted in the earth.”

46:11 The LORD of hosts is with us; the God of Jacob is our refuge. Selah

Epistle

Paul concisely, yet beautifully, summarises the everlasting majesty and mercy of Jesus Christ.

This perfect distillation of doctrine is what all Christians must believe.

Colossians 1:11-20

1:11 May you be made strong with all the strength that comes from his glorious power, and may you be prepared to endure everything with patience, while joyfully

1:12 giving thanks to the Father, who has enabled you to share in the inheritance of the saints in the light.

1:13 He has rescued us from the power of darkness and transferred us into the kingdom of his beloved Son,

1:14 in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.

1:15 He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation;

1:16 for in him all things in heaven and on earth were created, things visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or powers–all things have been created through him and for him.

1:17 He himself is before all things, and in him all things hold together.

1:18 He is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, so that he might come to have first place in everything.

1:19 For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell,

1:20 and through him God was pleased to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, by making peace through the blood of his cross.

Gospel

Luke’s account of the Crucifixion is harrowing. It ends with the comforting promise of Jesus to the repentant thief.

Luke 23:33-43

23:33 When they came to the place that is called The Skull, they crucified Jesus there with the criminals, one on his right and one on his left.

23:34 Then Jesus said, “Father, forgive them; for they do not know what they are doing.” And they cast lots to divide his clothing.

23:35 And the people stood by, watching; but the leaders scoffed at him, saying, “He saved others; let him save himself if he is the Messiah of God, his chosen one!”

23:36 The soldiers also mocked him, coming up and offering him sour wine,

23:37 and saying, “If you are the King of the Jews, save yourself!”

23:38 There was also an inscription over him, “This is the King of the Jews.”

23:39 One of the criminals who were hanged there kept deriding him and saying, “Are you not the Messiah? Save yourself and us!”

23:40 But the other rebuked him, saying, “Do you not fear God, since you are under the same sentence of condemnation?

23:41 And we indeed have been condemned justly, for we are getting what we deserve for our deeds, but this man has done nothing wrong.”

23:42 Then he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.”

23:43 He replied, “Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in Paradise.”

What a powerful set of readings to consider during the week ahead.

Christ our King lives and reigns now and forevermore.

Bible readingThe three-year Lectionary that many Catholics and Protestants hear in public worship gives us a great variety of Holy Scripture.

Yet, it doesn’t tell the whole story.

My series Forbidden Bible Verses — ones the Lectionary editors and their clergy omit — examines the passages we do not hear in church. These missing verses are also Essential Bible Verses, ones we should study with care and attention. Often, we find that they carry difficult messages and warnings.

Today’s reading is from the English Standard Version with commentary by Matthew Henry and John MacArthur.

Hebrews 7:15-19

15 This becomes even more evident when another priest arises in the likeness of Melchizedek, 16 who has become a priest, not on the basis of a legal requirement concerning bodily descent, but by the power of an indestructible life. 17 For it is witnessed of him,

“You are a priest forever,
    after the order of Melchizedek.”

18 For on the one hand, a former commandment is set aside because of its weakness and uselessness 19 (for the law made nothing perfect); but on the other hand, a better hope is introduced, through which we draw near to God.

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Last week’s entry discussed the Hebrews author’s explanation of a change in priesthood — from the Jewish (Aaron) to the universal (Melchizedek) — with Jesus Christ as our everlasting Great High Priest.

The theme of today’s passage is Jesus Christ as ‘a better hope’.

Hebrews 7:14 says:

14 For it is evident that our Lord was descended from Judah, and in connection with that tribe Moses said nothing about priests.

From that, the author goes on to say that another priest has arisen in the likes of Melchizedek — a universal priest. The author is referring to Jesus (verse 15).

John MacArthur points out that Scripture tells us this early on — in Genesis 49:10 (emphases mine):

10 The scepter shall not depart from Judah,
    nor the ruler’s staff from between his feet,
until tribute comes to him;[a]
    and to him shall be the obedience of the peoples.

MacArthur says:

Verse 15, “And it is yet far more evident: for after the similitude of Melchizedek, there ariseth another Priest.” Far more evident. In other words, the evidence – the logic is overwhelming that the Levitical priesthood is now obsolete. It’s evident. It’s as evident as is the fact that Jesus came from Judah, which is also evident, Genesis 49:10 tells us Messiah would be from Judah. Even the genealogy of Jesus, if anybody wanted to check into it, they all have to find out is that He went to – His parents went to Bethlehem to pay their taxes, which meant they were from the tribe of Judah. “Bethlehem, though thou be little among the sons of Judah,” said Micah, “out of thee shall He come forth who is to be ruler over my people Israel.” So, it was evident that He came from Judah. It was more evident, because of that, that the whole Levitical system had been set aside, and after the similitude of Melchizedek, there arises another priest, a greater priest. The priesthood of Christ was no temporary thing; it was sufficient; it was permanent; it was abiding. It was the fulfillment of prophecy.

Jesus evidently, obviously fulfilling that promise. So, He says, “Don’t cling to Judaism. In effect it’s defunct. We have a superior Priest.”

MacArthur draws our attention to two words in verse 15: ‘another’ and ‘arises’.

With regard to ‘another’, he explains the Greek used in the original:

Now, watch this word “another.” Mm-mmm, that’s interesting. “It is far more evident for after the similitude of Melchizedek, there arises another priest.” Now, in the Greek there are two words for “another.” We may have talked about them before. This word here is heteros. There is one word for another allos, and it means another of the same kind. This one, heteros means another of a different kind. Let’s assume that I wanted to get rid of my Volvo. I don’t want to get rid of it necessarily, but let’s assume, for illustration, that I did. So, I drive my Volvo down to the car dealer, and I drive it in, and I say to the car dealer, “I would like to trade my Volvo for another Volvo.” That would be allos Volvo. But let’s say I say to the man, “No, this time I’m not happy; I want to trade my car for another car; my Volvo for, say, a Rolls Royce.” I mean why not? It’s only an illustration; live it up.

In the first case, I’m trading a Volvo for a Volvo. That’s the same thing. In the second case, I’m saying, “I don’t like my Volvo; I want another kind of car that’s different than mine.” That is the word used here. We do not have another priest just like the other ones; we have another One who can do what the other ones couldn’t do. That’s the point of another – a rich, rich word showing the distinction between Christ and Aaronic priests. So, another priest had to come, and it was evident that He did, not like Aaron, but a different priest of a different order, who could do what Aaron couldn’t do.

Moving on to ‘arises’, he says:

There’s a wonderful note on that word – anistatai – this won’t mean anything to some of you. Paul will understand this. It’s a present middle indicative. And what it comes from is anistēmi, which means to arise. But anything in the middle voice is reflexive. That means to arise by myself. No Aaronic priest could ever use that in the middle voice, “There ariseth by himself another priest.” No. No. He would arise by virtue of his mother and father, not of himself. In other words, the Aaronic priest would have to say, “I am a priest not by myself, but because I’ve inherited the right.” Jesus said, “I just arose a Priest by Myself.”

Let me give you another thought. Anistēmi is used in Acts 2:32 to refer to His resurrection. He Himself raised Himself from the dead. And so, when that little word says that there ariseth another priest, He arose and declared Himself a priest uniquely on His own character, and He arose from the dead to establish that He indeed was a Priest. What an exciting thing to get into the words and see what God is really saying.

So, a different priest.

The Hebrews author, inspired by the Holy Spirit, reminded his audience that the Jewish priesthood depended upon heredity and physical perfection, to a degree, whereas Christ’s priesthood is dependent upon His indestructible life (verse 16). He lives and reigns forever.

MacArthur describes the ordination ceremony of Jewish priests:

To be a priest, you had to be a pure descendant of Aaron, and there were at least 142 physical blemishes that could disqualify you. Those were the only disqualifications. If you made it through as a physical specimen, it didn’t matter what you were spiritually, you were in. You can read Leviticus 21 and you’ll find some of those qualifications.

The ordination ceremony is outlined in Leviticus 8, and it goes like this: first of all, the man who was being inducted into the priesthood was bathed in water to be ceremonially clean. All external. All physical. He was clothed in four priestly garments: the linen knee breeches, long linen garment, the girdle, and the bonnet or the turban. He was anointed with oil. He was dabbed with sacrificial blood on the tip of his right ear, his right thumb, and his right big toe. Every single item in the whole deal had to do with his physical body. It was all a fleshly rule. It was all a physical issue. And once he had been ordained, he had to go through certain washings and anointings with oil and had his hair cut a certain way and so forth and so on. It was all physical. It had nothing to do with character, ability, personality, or holiness at all. Their whole ministry was physical. Even in chapter 9, verse 13, it indicates this, “For if the blood of bulls and goats, and the ashes of an heifer sprinkling the unclean, sanctifieth to the purifying of the” – what? – “flesh.” You see? The whole thing was physical. It was only physical. And all these things make up the law of a fleshly commandment. They were priests because of bodily rules. It had to do with their physical body. Watch this, “Who is made” – verse 16 – “not after the law of a fleshly commandment, but after the power of a indestructible life.” That’s a different kind of priest isn’t it? Nothing to do with the physical body, but to do with eternal power. That’s the kind of priest Jesus was.

In the case of the Levitical priesthood, no matter how ill suited he was and reluctant to take the office, the law made a man a priest by his pedigree. It was outside compulsion. In the case of Jesus Christ, it was the inside compulsion of a life that couldn’t dissolve, of an eternal kind of power. He was a Priest by eternal power. He had an inward priesthood. Not a physical claim, but an eternal claim. And thus, by His eternal power, He can do what no priest could ever do; He can give us access to God.

The author cites Psalm 110:4 (verse 17), the only other mention of Melchizedek in the Old Testament. God is speaking to His Son:

The Lord has sworn
    and will not change his mind,
“You are a priest forever
    after the order of Melchizedek.”

The author of Hebrews says that the old law regarding priesthood was set aside because it could not achieve anything of lasting benefit (verse 18).

Matthew Henry explains:

The Levitical priesthood brought nothing to perfection: it could not justify men’s persons from guilt; it could not sanctify them from inward pollution; it could not cleanse the consciences of the worshippers from dead works

As such, the author says the old law made nothing perfect, but that, with Christ, we have ‘a better hope’ and, through Him, we are finally able to draw near to God (verse 19). The veil in the temple, shielding the Holy of Holies, was rent upon His death on the Cross. That meant Christ became our only Mediator and Advocate with God the Father.

Indeed, Christ offers a far better hope than Aaron or any of the other priests of the Old Covenant.

MacArthur analyses verses 18 and 19 for us:

He takes us to God and anchors us there. And that no Aaronic priest could ever do. He is the one who brings us to perfection. His priesthood, based upon eternal power, accomplishes access to God.

And that is the theme of verses 18 and 19. This is the climax of the text. Aaron is replaced by Christ. Let me read you 18 and 19, correcting the punctuation so it become clear. “For there is verily an annulling of the commandment going before for the weakness and unprofitableness of it.” God set aside the old standard. Now watch – now put a parenthesis at the beginning of verse 19 – “For the law made nothing perfect” – close parenthesis – but the bringing in of a better hope, by which we draw near unto God.” Or you chose “and.” Let me read it this way, “For there is verily an annulling of the commandment going before for the weakness and unprofitableness of it (for the law made nothing perfect) and the bringing in of a better hope” – cross out “did” – “by which we draw near unto God.” You see?

God says, “I am setting aside the old one, and I’m bringing in a new one.” And in the new covenant, you have – what? – access to God. Now the word “disannulling” – athetēsis – has to do with the doing away of something that is established. It is used, for example, of annulling a treaty; of annulling a promise, a law, a regulation; of erasing a man’s name from something. It has to do with removing what is established. The whole paraphernalia of the sacrificial system, the whole ceremonial system is wiped out. It is annulled; it is done away with. God wipes it out. And he wiped it out for good in 70 A.D. when He destroyed the temple.

The old system could reveal sin; it could cover sin; it could give a relative measure of drawing near to God, but not full perfection; it brought nothing to conclusion. But the priesthood of Jesus Christ made all that Israel looked forward to a reality: access to God.

Many of us have been brought up in the Christian faith all our lives. So often, we have taken it for granted, myself included. This is why I appreciate reading Hebrews. It reminds me of the great gift and the great hope that God has given us in His Son, Jesus Christ, our Lord.

Privately, I plan to reflect upon Hebrews during the weeks of Advent, which will make the prophecies of the Sunday readings even clearer and more profound.

The theme of priesthood in light of Psalm 110:4 continues next week.

Next time — Hebrews 7:20-22

Below are the readings for the Twenty-second Sunday after Trinity — the Twenty-third Sunday after Pentecost — November 17, 2019.

These are for Year C in the three-year Lectionary used in public worship.

Emphases below are mine.

First reading

There are three choices for the first reading this week.

1/ These verses from Isaiah 65 are among the most beautiful in the Old Testament. They relate not only to God’s promises to His people upon release from their captivity but also — and in a greater sense — to His promises to the future Church.

Isaiah 65:17-25

65:17 For I am about to create new heavens and a new earth; the former things shall not be remembered or come to mind.

65:18 But be glad and rejoice forever in what I am creating; for I am about to create Jerusalem as a joy, and its people as a delight.

65:19 I will rejoice in Jerusalem, and delight in my people; no more shall the sound of weeping be heard in it, or the cry of distress.

65:20 No more shall there be in it an infant that lives but a few days, or an old person who does not live out a lifetime; for one who dies at a hundred years will be considered a youth, and one who falls short of a hundred will be considered accursed.

65:21 They shall build houses and inhabit them; they shall plant vineyards and eat their fruit.

65:22 They shall not build and another inhabit; they shall not plant and another eat; for like the days of a tree shall the days of my people be, and my chosen shall long enjoy the work of their hands.

65:23 They shall not labor in vain, or bear children for calamity; for they shall be offspring blessed by the LORD– and their descendants as well.

65:24 Before they call I will answer, while they are yet speaking I will hear.

65:25 The wolf and the lamb shall feed together, the lion shall eat straw like the ox; but the serpent–its food shall be dust! They shall not hurt or destroy on all my holy mountain, says the LORD.

2/ Isaiah foretells the forgiveness of God to come, just as He delivered the Israelites from Egypt.

Isaiah 12

12:1 You will say in that day: I will give thanks to you, O LORD, for though you were angry with me, your anger turned away, and you comforted me.

12:2 Surely God is my salvation; I will trust, and will not be afraid, for the LORD GOD is my strength and my might; he has become my salvation.

12:3 With joy you will draw water from the wells of salvation.

12:4 And you will say in that day: Give thanks to the LORD, call on his name; make known his deeds among the nations; proclaim that his name is exalted.

12:5 Sing praises to the LORD, for he has done gloriously; let this be known in all the earth.

12:6 Shout aloud and sing for joy, O royal Zion, for great in your midst is the Holy One of Israel.

3/ Malachi 4 is the last book of the Old Testament. Matthew Henry’s commentary says that God sent Malachi to reprove His people for neglecting to maintain the rebuilt temple post-captivity and for their impiety during worship services there. As the last prophet of the Old Testament, his words here also prophesy the Messiah’s final coming in judgement. Centuries passed between Malachi and John the Baptist.

Malachi 4:1-2a

4:1 See, the day is coming, burning like an oven, when all the arrogant and all evildoers will be stubble; the day that comes shall burn them up, says the LORD of hosts, so that it will leave them neither root nor branch.

4:2a But for you who revere my name the sun of righteousness shall rise, with healing in its wings.

Psalm

Psalm 98 prophesies the coming Church that the Messiah will institute, bringing Gentiles into that holy community.

Psalm 98

98:1 O sing to the LORD a new song, for he has done marvelous things. His right hand and his holy arm have gotten him victory.

98:2 The LORD has made known his victory; he has revealed his vindication in the sight of the nations.

98:3 He has remembered his steadfast love and faithfulness to the house of Israel. All the ends of the earth have seen the victory of our God.

98:4 Make a joyful noise to the LORD, all the earth; break forth into joyous song and sing praises.

98:5 Sing praises to the LORD with the lyre, with the lyre and the sound of melody.

98:6 With trumpets and the sound of the horn make a joyful noise before the King, the LORD.

98:7 Let the sea roar, and all that fills it; the world and those who live in it.

98:8 Let the floods clap their hands; let the hills sing together for joy

98:9 at the presence of the LORD, for he is coming to judge the earth. He will judge the world with righteousness, and the peoples with equity.

Epistle

This is the conclusion of 2 Thessalonians prior to the final verses of benediction — blessing — to the faithful. These are Paul’s instructions to them. Note, in particular, verse 10 in the exhortations to work diligently and avoid idleness.

2 Thessalonians 3:6-13

3:6 Now we command you, beloved, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, to keep away from believers who are living in idleness and not according to the tradition that they received from us.

3:7 For you yourselves know how you ought to imitate us; we were not idle when we were with you,

3:8 and we did not eat anyone’s bread without paying for it; but with toil and labor we worked night and day, so that we might not burden any of you.

3:9 This was not because we do not have that right, but in order to give you an example to imitate.

3:10 For even when we were with you, we gave you this command: Anyone unwilling to work should not eat.

3:11 For we hear that some of you are living in idleness, mere busybodies, not doing any work.

3:12 Now such persons we command and exhort in the Lord Jesus Christ to do their work quietly and to earn their own living.

3:13 Brothers and sisters, do not be weary in doing what is right.

Gospel

Here Jesus foretells the coming destruction of the temple and, afterwards, what will happen on Earth in general before the end of the world. In the meantime, believers are to endure persecution yet stand firm in the faith.

Luke 21:5-19

21:5 When some were speaking about the temple, how it was adorned with beautiful stones and gifts dedicated to God, he said,

21:6 “As for these things that you see, the days will come when not one stone will be left upon another; all will be thrown down.”

21:7 They asked him, “Teacher, when will this be, and what will be the sign that this is about to take place?”

21:8 And he said, “Beware that you are not led astray; for many will come in my name and say, ‘I am he!’ and, ‘The time is near!’ Do not go after them.

21:9 “When you hear of wars and insurrections, do not be terrified; for these things must take place first, but the end will not follow immediately.”

21:10 Then he said to them, “Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom;

21:11 there will be great earthquakes, and in various places famines and plagues; and there will be dreadful portents and great signs from heaven.

21:12 “But before all this occurs, they will arrest you and persecute you; they will hand you over to synagogues and prisons, and you will be brought before kings and governors because of my name.

21:13 This will give you an opportunity to testify.

21:14 So make up your minds not to prepare your defense in advance;

21:15 for I will give you words and a wisdom that none of your opponents will be able to withstand or contradict.

21:16 You will be betrayed even by parents and brothers, by relatives and friends; and they will put some of you to death.

21:17 You will be hated by all because of my name.

21:18 But not a hair of your head will perish.

21:19 By your endurance you will gain your souls.

The season of Advent is approaching, and these readings give an idea of the readings to come during those weeks before Christmas — a mixture of joyful ones for the faithful and warnings for unbelievers.

Charity towards all is a central tenet of Christianity.

Jesus said (Matthew 25:40):

And the King will answer them, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers,[a] you did it to me.’

Christians pioneered hospitals across Europe in the Middle Ages.

The earliest European universities were also Christian.

Sunday School began in Britain as a means of educating poor children in the three Rs as well as the Bible.

Until the mid-20th century, Christian organisations and religious orders provided charity, which now, in many cases in the West, has been taken over by State-run programmes, e.g. welfare.

Therefore, I am happy to report the following statistic from the United Kingdom. Although few Britons go to a Sunday service these days, local churches play an important part in the nation’s well-being.

Personally, where caring for others is concerned, I would much rather see churches involved than the State. Churches provide help rather than a lifestyle, although, admittedly, many attending these programmes could well be on some form of benefit:

The next two items come from Surrey, a county just south of London:

The next tweets are about church-oriented support for children nationwide:

Of course, charity from churches has its detractors:

It is good to know that churches are still helping the young, the vulnerable and the needy — no questions asked.

What’s wrong with that?

Bible kevinroosecomThe three-year Lectionary that many Catholics and Protestants hear in public worship gives us a great variety of Holy Scripture.

Yet, it doesn’t tell the whole story.

My series Forbidden Bible Verses — ones the Lectionary editors and their clergy omit — examines the passages we do not hear in church. These missing verses are also Essential Bible Verses, ones we should study with care and attention. Often, we find that they carry difficult messages and warnings.

Today’s reading is from the English Standard Version with commentary by Matthew Henry and John MacArthur.

Hebrews 7:11-14

Jesus Compared to Melchizedek

11 Now if perfection had been attainable through the Levitical priesthood (for under it the people received the law), what further need would there have been for another priest to arise after the order of Melchizedek, rather than one named after the order of Aaron? 12 For when there is a change in the priesthood, there is necessarily a change in the law as well. 13 For the one of whom these things are spoken belonged to another tribe, from which no one has ever served at the altar. 14 For it is evident that our Lord was descended from Judah, and in connection with that tribe Moses said nothing about priests.

—————————————————————————————————————–

Last week’s entry delved deeper into the universal priesthood of Melchizedek, a king and priest to whom Abraham paid homage and a tithe (Genesis 14). Melchizedek, in turn, blessed him. That is all we know about Melchizedek. After that, the next few chapters of Genesis reveal how God blessed Abraham.

These are the important verses from that entry (emphases mine):

It is beyond dispute that the inferior is blessed by the superior.

One might even say that Levi himself, who receives tithes, paid tithes through Abraham, 10 for he was still in the loins of his ancestor when Melchizedek met him.

Aaron and all the Jewish priests were descended from Levi.

As John MacArthur points out, Melchizedek preceded the Levitical priesthood and was a universal priest of God-fearing men. Similarly, Jesus, who was not of the Levites, is a universal priest according to the order of Melchizedek:

You see, Melchizedek wasn’t a priest by any physical standard. He was a priest because of his character. And in that sense, he pictures Jesus Christ. And Jesus Christ can do what Aaron couldn’t do; he takes us into the presence of God, and He anchors us there.

Although Hebrews is aimed at early Jewish converts who could not leave ceremonial and ritual law behind as well as at Jewish people who were still mulling over whether Jesus is Messiah, we Christians have much to learn from this book, which explains the eternal pre-eminence of Christ as King and Great High Priest.

It is important for every Christian to understand that Jesus accomplished what the Levite priests could never do, and that was to break down the barrier to God. Recall that, before the destruction of the temple, only the high priest could enter into the tabernacle, the Holy of Holies, once a year on the Day of Atonement and only for a few seconds because even he was not worthy of being there.

At the Crucifixion, after Jesus died on the Cross, God rent the veil of the tabernacle, meaning that people would come to Him through His Son, who had made the full, perfect, sufficient sacrifice for our sins.

MacArthur explains:

Drawing near to God is the goal of Christianity. That’s the whole point. This is the essence of Christianity. This is its highest experience. This is the design of God for Christianity: access to His presence. Coming into His presence with nothing between. And I think sometimes we forget this. Christians look at their Christian life usually in three or at least three ways. Some look at their Christian life, and they see Jesus Christ only as a means to salvation and personal happiness. And that’s about how they look at their Christian life: they’re looking for happiness; they’re on a quest for security. They found Jesus; there’s their happiness; there’s their security. And that’s about as far as it ever goes.

Other people look at their Christian life like this: they see it as a relationship to Jesus Christ, and they seek to know Christ better. Now, that’s fine, just as number one was fine. But still, they haven’t grasped really what Christianity is. It’s not just security and happiness; it’s not just knowing Jesus Christ deeper and deeper.

Thirdly – and this is the key; this is what Christianity really is – some Christians understand that Christianity is drawing nigh unto God. That is the essence of Christianity. That’s what it is. The fullest expression of our faith is to enter into the presence of God, into the Holy of Holies, and to sit on the throne with Him. That’s the fullest expression of our faith.

Jesus is the door to God, and in a sense, many Christians fellowship with the door and never get into the Holy of Holies. We need to understand that the design of God, in our faith, is to bring us into a full kind of access to the God of the universe.

With regard to Hebrews 7, beginning with today’s verses and continuing to the end of the chapter, the author, inspired by the Holy Spirit, uses Psalm 110:4 as an illustration of Christ’s universal priesthood:

The Lord has sworn
    and will not change his mind,
“You are a priest forever
    after the order of Melchizedek.”

First, the author examines the Levite priesthood, supreme to the Jews of that time. He asks his audience to consider whether, if it were so perfect, even though those priests were the ones to uphold Mosaic law, why there would be a need for any other priesthood, one after the order of Melchizedek (verse 11). If one form of priesthood is perfect, surely, there is no need for another.

Yet, those priests had to continue offering sacrifices, generation after generation. Therefore, it could not have been perfect.

As Matthew Henry points out, it was a framework for the future, one that, by necessity, would come to an end:

They could not put those who came to them into the perfect enjoyment of the good things they pointed out to them; they could only show them the way.

MacArthur directs us to Psalm 110:4 (above):

If God had intended the Aaronic priesthood to introduce the age of perfection, the time of perfect access to God, why would He then have prophesied Messiah to be a priest of a different order?

You see, when God set aside Israel, that was no accident. God had planned that way back in the Old Testament, even before the world began. God knew Messiah would be a different priest, because He knew the Aaronic priesthood was imperfect.

Jesus supercedes any Jewish priest — and Mosaic Law — because He is now our Great High Priest. As the author of Hebrews says, a change of priesthood necessitates a change in the law (verse 12).

Henry explains:

That therefore another priest must be raised up, after the order of Melchisedec, by whom, and his law of faith, perfection might come to all who obey him; and, blessed be God, that we may have perfect holiness and perfect happiness by Christ in the covenant of grace, according to the gospel, for we are complete in him

a new priesthood must be under a new regulation, managed in another way, and by rules proper to its nature and order.

MacArthur discusses the Greek used in the original text, meaning ‘to replace’:

So, if there’s going to be a different priesthood, “For the priesthood being changed, there is made of necessity a change also of the law.” Now, the idea of change here, metatithēmi, means to put one thing in the place of another. You don’t add Christianity to Judaism; you take away Judaism and you put Christianity in. You replace it. The priesthood of Melchizedek was not added to Aaron’s; it replaced it. You see it there, “For the priesthood being changed” – metatithēmi, replacing another one. Aaron’s is defunct. It says, then, “There is made of necessity a change also of the law.”

The ‘law’ as discussed here relates to the ceremonial and ritual law of the Old Testament. The Ten Commandments, which mandate that we love God above all and that we love our neighbour as ourselves, still stand.

MacArthur tells us:

Certainly there’s not a doing away of God’s moral law; it’s not all of a sudden right for us to say, “Well, we’re under the new covenant. We may now commit adultery, steal, lie, covet, etcetera, etcetera, take the Lord’s name in vain.” No, God does not set aside his moral law.

The author of Hebrews moves on to Jesus, saying that He did not descend from a line of Old Testament priests (verse 13). He came from the tribe of Judah, and Moses never said anything about priests coming from that group of people (verse 14).

So, the priest has changed, the priesthood became universal and Mosaic law became obsolete.

Henry says:

This change of the family shows a real change of the law of the priesthood

the high priest of our profession holds his office by that innate power of endless life which he has in himself, not only to preserve himself alive, but to communicate spiritual and eternal life to all those who duly rely upon his sacrifice and intercession

the priesthood of Christ carries in it, and brings along with it, a better hope; it shows us the true foundation of all the hope we have towards God for pardon and salvation; it more clearly discovers the great objects of our hope; and so it tends to work in us a more strong and lively hope of acceptance with God. By this hope we are encouraged to draw nigh unto God, to enter into a covenant-union with him, to live a life of converse and communion with him. We may now draw near with a true heart, and with the full assurance of faith, having our minds sprinkled from an evil conscience. The former priesthood rather kept men at a distance, and under a spirit of bondage.

That bondage was one of sin, but also one of ceremony and ritual, as MacArthur explains. As we saw during my series on Acts, the tensions between Jews and Christians were palpable, not unlike those that the new converts of Hebrews had endured:

some who had come to Christ, were still worshiping at the temple, still hanging on to the ritual of the old system. And the setting aside was extremely difficult for the Jews to grasp. In fact, so difficult that it was the reason they stoned Stephen and they vented their wrath on Paul on that very basis. The issue of setting aside the old.

And even some believers, even some who had been redeemed obstinately contended that the Mosaic system still remained in force. And you had to go through all the rigmarole of the Levitical priesthood still. I think that’s the issue in Acts – yes – 21:20, “And when they heard it, they glorified the Lord, and said unto Him, ‘Thou seest, brother, how many thousands of Jews are there who believe; and they are all zealous of the law.’” There were Jews being saved but not breaking with the old system. It was the same contention that caused so much trouble in the early Church you remember. The early Church was always being harassed by the Judaizers; that’s the word that means certain Jews who came in and tried to impose the whole Old Testament system on the Christians. They were telling the Christians you had to be circumcised, and you had to go through the Aaronic priesthood, and you had to go through all the sacrifices and so forth. And the book of Galatians is really written as kind of a reaction to that. And in Galatians chapter 4, verse 9, writing to this very problem, he says, “But now, after you have known God, why are you turning to the weak and beggarly elements unto which you desire again to be in bondage?” You already have access to God, why do you want to back out of the Holy of Holies and go through the ritual in front of the veil again? You see?

He says, “You observe days, and months, and times, and years.” You’re back into the old ceremonies. Chapter 5 he says, “Stand fast, therefore, in the liberty with which Christ has made us free, and be not entangled again with the yoke of bondage.” Don’t go back to the old rituals, the old system. You’ve been turned loose. “For in Jesus Christ” – verse 6 – “neither circumcision avails anything, nor uncircumcision” – that isn’t the issue any longer. That’s over with.

The Transfiguration illustrates this issue, as MacArthur explains. This is exceptionally important to remember:

Mark 9, listen to it, “And Peter answered and said to Jesus, ‘Master, it’s good for us to be here’” – he’s up on the mountain – “‘let us make three booths, one for thee, and one for Moses, and on for Elijah.’” – now watch – “For he knew not what to say” – which was often his problem ; it never seemed to stop him from saying anything – “for they were very much afraid.” Peter just kind of blurted it out. Now watch. “And there was a cloud that overshadowed them: and a voice came out of the cloud, saying, ‘This is My beloved Son: hear Him.’” Now watch. “And suddenly, when they had looked around about, they saw no man any more, except Jesus only.”

God said, “Don’t listen to Moses and Elijah; this is my Son,” do what? – “hear Him.” You see, in a sense, God was illustrating that the old covenant had passed. And after the thunderstorm – after the cloud or whatever it was had vanished, they saw Jesus only. That’s the point. The old system is defunct.

I’d never thought about it that way, but that’s an excellent point — and one I’d not read or heard of before. I understand the Transfiguration much better now.

In next week’s reading, the author continues to discuss Psalm 110:4. More insights will follow.

Next time — Hebrews 7:15-19

Below are the readings for the Twenty-first Sunday after Trinity — the Twenty-second Sunday after Pentecost — November 10, 2019.

These are for Year C in the three-year Lectionary used in public worship.

There are two choices for the First Reading and Psalm. I have differentiated these by using blue in the headings for the alternative option.

Emphases below are mine.

First reading

This reading from Haggai, who prophesied after captivity had ended, discusses the rebuilding of the temple. Solomon’s temple had been destroyed 70 years before and not many could remember its splendour. The prophet encouraged the workmen but also alluded to what would make the temple truly great: the future coming of the Messiah, Jesus Christ.

Haggai 1:15b-2:9

2:1 In the second year of King Darius, in the seventh month, on the twenty-first day of the month, the word of the LORD came by the prophet Haggai, saying:

2:2 Speak now to Zerubbabel son of Shealtiel, governor of Judah, and to Joshua son of Jehozadak, the high priest, and to the remnant of the people, and say,

2:3 Who is left among you that saw this house in its former glory? How does it look to you now? Is it not in your sight as nothing?

2:4 Yet now take courage, O Zerubbabel, says the LORD; take courage, O Joshua, son of Jehozadak, the high priest; take courage, all you people of the land, says the LORD; work, for I am with you, says the LORD of hosts,

2:5 according to the promise that I made you when you came out of Egypt. My spirit abides among you; do not fear.

2:6 For thus says the LORD of hosts: Once again, in a little while, I will shake the heavens and the earth and the sea and the dry land;

2:7 and I will shake all the nations, so that the treasure of all nations shall come, and I will fill this house with splendor, says the LORD of hosts.

2:8 The silver is mine, and the gold is mine, says the LORD of hosts.

2:9 The latter splendor of this house shall be greater than the former, says the LORD of hosts; and in this place I will give prosperity, says the LORD of hosts.

Psalm

This week, there is a choice of two Psalms to accompany the reading from Haggai.

Matthew Henry’s commentary says that Psalm 145, as it comes near the end of the book of Psalms, is designed to encourage older people to consider Heaven, as they are in their advanced years. However, that does not preclude the rest of us from praying it and meditating upon its content.

Psalm 145:1-5, 17-21

145:1 I will extol you, my God and King, and bless your name forever and ever.

145:2 Every day I will bless you, and praise your name forever and ever.

145:3 Great is the LORD, and greatly to be praised; his greatness is unsearchable.

145:4 One generation shall laud your works to another, and shall declare your mighty acts.

145:5 On the glorious splendor of your majesty, and on your wondrous works, I will meditate.

145:17 The LORD is just in all his ways, and kind in all his doings.

145:18 The LORD is near to all who call on him, to all who call on him in truth.

145:19 He fulfills the desire of all who fear him; he also hears their cry, and saves them.

145:20 The LORD watches over all who love him, but all the wicked he will destroy.

145:21 My mouth will speak the praise of the LORD, and all flesh will bless his holy name forever and ever.

The other choice, Psalm 98, prophesies the kingdom of the Messiah and its inclusion of Gentiles.

Psalm 98

98:1 O sing to the LORD a new song, for he has done marvelous things. His right hand and his holy arm have gotten him victory.

98:2 The LORD has made known his victory; he has revealed his vindication in the sight of the nations.

98:3 He has remembered his steadfast love and faithfulness to the house of Israel. All the ends of the earth have seen the victory of our God.

98:4 Make a joyful noise to the LORD, all the earth; break forth into joyous song and sing praises.

98:5 Sing praises to the LORD with the lyre, with the lyre and the sound of melody.

98:6 With trumpets and the sound of the horn make a joyful noise before the King, the LORD.

98:7 Let the sea roar, and all that fills it; the world and those who live in it.

98:8 Let the floods clap their hands; let the hills sing together for joy

98:9 at the presence of the LORD, for he is coming to judge the earth. He will judge the world with righteousness, and the peoples with equity.

First reading – alternate

Job looks forward to his heavenly reward in the life to come.

Job 19:23-27a

19:23 “O that my words were written down! O that they were inscribed in a book!

19:24 O that with an iron pen and with lead they were engraved on a rock forever!

19:25 For I know that my Redeemer lives, and that at the last he will stand upon the earth;

19:26 and after my skin has been thus destroyed, then in my flesh I shall see God,

19:27a whom I shall see on my side, and my eyes shall behold, and not another.

Psalm – alternate

David wrote this Psalm when he was besieged by his enemies and knew that only God could come to his aid.

Psalm 17:1-9

17:1 Hear a just cause, O LORD; attend to my cry; give ear to my prayer from lips free of deceit.

17:2 From you let my vindication come; let your eyes see the right.

17:3 If you try my heart, if you visit me by night, if you test me, you will find no wickedness in me; my mouth does not transgress.

17:4 As for what others do, by the word of your lips I have avoided the ways of the violent.

17:5 My steps have held fast to your paths; my feet have not slipped.

17:6 I call upon you, for you will answer me, O God; incline your ear to me, hear my words.

17:7 Wondrously show your steadfast love, O savior of those who seek refuge from their adversaries at your right hand.

17:8 Guard me as the apple of the eye; hide me in the shadow of your wings,

17:9 from the wicked who despoil me, my deadly enemies who surround me.

Epistle

Readings from 2 Thessalonians continue. Paul warns his flock not to be deceived by false prophets.

2 Thessalonians 2:1-5, 13-17

2:1 As to the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ and our being gathered together to him, we beg you, brothers and sisters,

2:2 not to be quickly shaken in mind or alarmed, either by spirit or by word or by letter, as though from us, to the effect that the day of the Lord is already here.

2:3 Let no one deceive you in any way; for that day will not come unless the rebellion comes first and the lawless one is revealed, the one destined for destruction.

2:4 He opposes and exalts himself above every so-called god or object of worship, so that he takes his seat in the temple of God, declaring himself to be God.

2:5 Do you not remember that I told you these things when I was still with you?

2:13 But we must always give thanks to God for you, brothers and sisters beloved by the Lord, because God chose you as the first fruits for salvation through sanctification by the Spirit and through belief in the truth.

2:14 For this purpose he called you through our proclamation of the good news, so that you may obtain the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ.

2:15 So then, brothers and sisters, stand firm and hold fast to the traditions that you were taught by us, either by word of mouth or by our letter.

2:16 Now may our Lord Jesus Christ himself and God our Father, who loved us and through grace gave us eternal comfort and good hope,

2:17 comfort your hearts and strengthen them in every good work and word.

Gospel

Jesus put down the folly of the Sadducees, who did not believe in life after death. Marriage is an institution meant for this life; it will no longer exist in the next. Jesus’s teaching appeared in an old episode of Larry David’s Curb Your Enthusiasm several years ago. Larry told his Gentile wife that they would no longer be married in the next life. She became very angry, indeed. He said, ‘But, it’s true!’

Luke 20:27-38

20:27 Some Sadducees, those who say there is no resurrection, came to him

20:28 and asked him a question, “Teacher, Moses wrote for us that if a man’s brother dies, leaving a wife but no children, the man shall marry the widow and raise up children for his brother.

20:29 Now there were seven brothers; the first married, and died childless;

20:30 then the second

20:31 and the third married her, and so in the same way all seven died childless.

20:32 Finally the woman also died.

20:33 In the resurrection, therefore, whose wife will the woman be? For the seven had married her.”

20:34 Jesus said to them, “Those who belong to this age marry and are given in marriage;

20:35 but those who are considered worthy of a place in that age and in the resurrection from the dead neither marry nor are given in marriage.

20:36 Indeed they cannot die anymore, because they are like angels and are children of God, being children of the resurrection.

20:37 And the fact that the dead are raised Moses himself showed, in the story about the bush, where he speaks of the Lord as the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob.

20:38 Now he is God not of the dead, but of the living; for to him all of them are alive.”

These readings reflect the approach towards the end of the Church year and towards Advent. They invite us to contemplate the arrival of our Lord on Earth and His coming again in glory in future to judge the living and the dead.

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