You are currently browsing the tag archive for the ‘Protestant’ tag.

Holy Spirit as dove stained glassSunday, May 24, 2015, is Pentecost Sunday, traditionally called Whit Sunday.

In the UK, the last Monday in May is Whitsun Bank Holiday. This year is one of those infrequent times when the Church feast coincides with that very weekend.

Pentecost is considered as being the Church’s birthday. The original group of Apostles and disciples were equipped with the gifts of the Holy Spirit, enabling them to preach, teach and heal in the name of Christ. The Church was able to expand during this Apostolic Age, embracing not only Jews but also Gentiles. Although the Apostolic Age ended when the original group left this mortal coil, we, too, receive the same gifts from the Holy Spirit which continue to operate in a quieter though still powerful way. My post from 2010 explains more.

Students of the New Testament know that the Holy Spirit did not come by accident. At the Last Supper, our Lord promised His followers a Helper to enable them to continue His work. My 2012 post has a Lutheran perspective on Pentecost from Martin Luther as well as Pastors Larry Peters and Johnold Strey.

My 2013 post features a Reformed explanation of Pentecost, highlighting a sermon by the Revd P G Mathew, formerly of India. Dr Mathew worked as a scientist before ordination. He is a Reformed (Calvinist) clergyman with three graduate degrees in theology and serves as pastor of Grace Valley Christian Center in Davis, California.

Mathew has another sermon which is apposite for Pentecost, ‘Christ’s Great Commission’. It is particularly apposite for those who feel that our Lord is distant. In the following excerpts, Mathew explains why this is far from the truth (emphases mine):

In John 14:18 Jesus promised his disciples: “I will not leave you as orphans”–meaning as those who are homeless, defenseless, fatherless, and motherless. This is true. He will be with us by his Holy Spirit, and he will be with us always. He will be with us every moment of every day all our days until the end of the age. This means that when we are young he is with us; when we are old he is with us; when we are weak he is with us; when we are strong he is with us; when we are sick he is with us; when we are healthy he is with us; when we are poor he is with us; when we are rich he is with us; when we are attacked he is with us; when we are hated he is with us; when we are beaten he is with us; when we are stoned, as Stephen was, he is with us; when we are martyred he will be with us. He gives grace, doesn’t he? Though we go through the flood and the fire, God will be with us, all the days of our lives …

In Hebrews 13:5 God says “Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you.” Then the writer to the Hebrews says, “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever” (v. 8). To St. Paul this Christ said, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect through weakness” (2 Cor. 12:9). And Paul drew this tremendous conclusion: “When I am weak, then I am strong” (v. 10). In Philippians 4:13 he declared , “I can do everything through who give me the strength.”

God has given us peace in Christ. He said, “I am with you always”–to bless us, to keep us and to give us peace. And in Luke 24:52 it says the disciples who were timid, fearful, and hiding now returned to Jerusalem with great joy as a result of this blessing. They hid no longer. They went into the temple to praise and worship God. The Lord blessed them and gave them peace. He gave them courage and boldness. Soon afterwards they received the Holy Spirit in order to fulfill the great commission beginning in Jerusalem and going to the ends of the earth. [Evangelist] William Carey was right–the Lord expects the commission to continue until he comes again.

Let us, therefore, use the gifts of the Holy Spirit to further the Gospel, through words when we can and through impeccable example when we cannot.

CB064044Disturbing news comes via the Episcopal/Anglican site Stand Firm, which recently explored the discrimination against Christians in the Middle East, specifically, their exclusion from refugee programmes.

A S Haley, who wrote the Stand Firm article, refers us to Philo’s Project which documents the State Department’s refusal to help Christians (emphases mine):

According to a March 26, 2015 article in Newsweek, as many as 1.4 million Christians lived in their ancestral home of Iraq prior to 2003. Now the number of Christians is estimated at anywhere from 260,000 to 350,000, with near half of that number displaced within the country. Newsweek explained that Iraq’s remaining Christians have mostly fled north to safer areas under the control of the Kurdistan Regional Government. “But now ISIS is threatening them there, too.”

[The Rt. Rev. Julian M. Dobbs, bishop of the Diocese of CANA East (Convocation of Anglicans in North America)], accompanied to the State Department by humanitarian Sir Charles Hoare, 9th Baronet Hoare of Annabella, County Cork, informed State Department officials of a plan by one well-known Christian international aid agency to provide safer housing for Iraqi Christians. Christians are trying to survive in unfinished concrete buildings – such as shopping malls – in the Christian enclave of Ankawa rather than in the UNHCR camp with the other refugees, because they are even threatened by some of the Muslim refugees.

The organization purchased used military tents from British troops in Afghanistan to set up on land that had been provided by the local authorities.

These military tents have sanitary facilities. They are cool in summer and warm in winter. However, there is the problem of transporting them from Afghanistan to Iraq. Neither the British nor the US government intends on doing that, even though it involves only one military aircraft to transport the tents:

So instead, the group is working to raise some $778,000 to transport the tents to Iraq by land. Dobbs revealed that the State Department advised him against setting up emergency housing for Christians in the region, saying it was “totally inappropriate.”

Even worse:

Also inappropriate, it seems, is the resettling of the most vulnerable Assyrian Christians in the United States. Donors in the private sector have offered complete funding for the airfare and the resettlement in the United States of these Iraqi Christians that are sleeping in public buildings, on school floors, or worse. But the State Department – while admitting 4,425 Somalis to the United States in just the first six months of FY2015, and possibly even accepting members of ISIS through the Syrian and Iraqi refugee program, all paid for by tax dollars, told Dobbs that they “would not support a special category to bring Assyrian Christians into the United States.”

The United States government has made it clear that there is no way that Christians will be supported because of their religious affiliation, even though it is exactly that – their religious affiliation – that makes them candidates for asylum based on a credible fear of persecution from ISIS. The State Department, the wider administration, some in Congress and much of the media and other liberal elites insist that Christians cannot be given preferential treatment. Even within the churches, some Christians are so afraid of appearing to give preferential treatment to their fellow Christians that they are reluctant to plead the case of their Iraqi and Syrian brothers and sisters.

Meanwhile, Americans are paying for some very interesting things where refugees are concerned (H/T: Stand Firm):

17.   Welfare use is staggering among refugees. Welfare usage is never counted by officials as part of the cost of the program. Yet, when it is included, the total cost of the refugee program soars to at least 10-20 billion a year.

As some Americans are pushed off of time-limited welfare programs many refugees are going on to life-time cash assistance programs. For instance, 12.7% of refugees are on SSI – a lifetime entitlement to a monthly check / Medicaid for elderly or disabled. This rate of usage is at least 4 times higher than the rate of usage for SSI among the native-born population and is reportedly rising from these already very high levels.

Permanent and intergenerational welfare dependence has been allowed to take hold to a significant degree in some refugee groups.

Find latest welfare usage among refugees here (latest data available is from 2009): https://www.acf.hhs.gov/sites/default/files/orr/fy_2009_annual_report_to_congress.pdf

Find table TABLE II-14: Public Assistance Utilization Among refugees who arrived during the 5 years previous to the survey 57.7% are on government medical assistance such as Medicaid, about 25% have no health insurance at all, 70.2% are receiving food stamps, 31.6% are in public housing (an additional percentage is on a public housing waiting list), and 38.3 % are getting cash assistance such as TANF or SSI.

The figure of 57.7% dependent upon government medical assistance is actually an undercount since it excludes children under 16.

18.   Medium size towns, such as Bowling Green, KY, Nashville, TN, Ft. Wayne, IN, Boise, ID and Manchester, NH, are serving as the main reception centers for the refugee program.

19. Refugees are not tested for many diseases, such as HIV.  Refugees are a major contributing factor to TB rates among the foreign-born. TB among the foreign-born now accounts for about half of the TB in America.

20. The money the U.S. spends bringing one refugee to the U.S. could have helped 500 individuals overseas in countries where they currently reside.

21. It has never been reported in the U.S. that 47% of loans made to refugees for transportation to the U.S. are unpaid leaving an unpaid balance of $450 million. This amount – slightly out of date, does not include interest or an unknown amount that has been written off. We will announce the new balance as soon as it is available.

Surely, all this could be better organised and managed? I imagine something similar is going on in the UK.

To cap it all off, Stand Firm‘s A S Haley tells us that church agencies are making money by working with the US government in receiving refugees:

Refugees designated to migrate to the United States are advanced travel money by an arm of the U.S. State Department. They land here, and are placed in the hands of (among other agencies) Episcopal Migration Ministries (EMM), which helps them relocate into specific communities, find jobs, and settle in. Then EMM sees that they repay their travel advances to the Government, and pockets one-quarter of its debt collection proceeds for its trouble.

It’s a nifty racket, and ensures that annually over $300,000 comes into the Episcopal Church’s coffers, to help with its bottom line.  Meanwhile, the U.S. Government reimburses EMM for all of its other refugee relocation expenses, to the tune of some $14 million annually

It turns out that a good portion of the refugees EMM is assisting are not just any refugees, but are Muslims from some of the countries to which America has sent troops, bombs or both: Somalia, Afghanistan, Iraq and (soon) Syria.

… EMM is one of nine major Government contractors engaged in making money to bring in refugees from these war-torn countries, in which the United States has militarily intervened. Five others, along with EMM, operate under the aegis of major American religious denominations: the Church World Service (an umbrella organization), the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society, the Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Services, the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, and the evangelically connected World Relief Corporation.

This is much worse than I could have ever imagined. Meanwhile, our Christian brothers and sisters are left to languish under the very real pain of death.

Last Friday, I featured Martin Luther’s marvellous quotes on nature.

Today’s post looks at what Dr Gregory Jackson, a retired Lutheran pastor, current university lecturer, loving husband and doting grandfather has done to make his garden a haven for fauna.

Before I continue, in Anglican parlance, ‘retired’ means the ordained continues preaching or performing other sacerdotal duties without being in charge of a church or as an associate pastoral leader. Anglican locums are often retired priests without parishes who can still preach sermons, give the Sacraments and preside over services. I am fully aware that Dr Jackson has conducted Sunday and feast day online services for several years. Some have been quoted here. I apologise to him for not being able to explain it in Lutheran terms. Mea maxima culpa! I mean no offence whatsoever.

Now to today’s post. Dr Jackson writes Ichabod, which offers not only an exposé of errant Lutheran teaching but also provides insight into organic gardening, the way God intended it to be.

Recently, he explained how he transformed his garden into a Creature Convention Center (CCC) which includes the

Jackson EZ Bird Swing, just to the left of the feeder, a little above eye level.

and the

Jackson Bird Spa – the mulched area just beyond the CCC, between the trees. Ten bird baths.

What struck me most was what he had to say about birds (emphases mine):

Luther saw birds as God’s professors, because they wake up every morning singing cheerfully, not even knowing where the next meal is coming from. Having nothing to eat, they praise God first.

Shouldn’t we be doing the same?

Also:

Very few of them store food. Blue jays store acorns, but they actually create oak forests by “hiding” the acorns that are most promising for germinationbetter than smart scientists can.

How true!

Before I share two of his outstanding graphics with you below, this is why Dr Jackson transformed his garden:

Of course, I did all this for the grandchildren. That is one great advantage of being a grandparent. I can have fun in my second childhood because I get to see the world again through the eyes of a child.

Enjoy reading his post in full! And kudos to Norma Boeckler for the superb illustration.

 

Bible boy_reading_bibleThe 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.

Matthew 6:22-23

22 “The eye is the lamp of the body. So, if your eye is healthy, your whole body will be full of light, 23 but if your eye is bad, your whole body will be full of darkness. If then the light in you is darkness, how great is the darkness!

—————————————————————

The text of Matthew 5 – 7 comprises the whole of the Sermon on the Mount.

The first 18 verses of Matthew 6 address the way we are to worship and practice our religion. Our Lord said:

“Beware of practicing your righteousness before other people in order to be seen by them, for then you will have no reward from your Father who is in heaven. (Matthew 6:1)

He told us how to pray with the Lord’s Prayer and how to fast:

17 But when you fast, anoint your head and wash your face, 18 that your fasting may not be seen by others but by your Father who is in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you. (Matthew 6:17-18)

The second half of the chapter records Jesus’s instruction about treasure and anxiety as to our daily needs. It ends as follows:

31 Therefore do not be anxious, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ 32 For the Gentiles [heathens] seek after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all. 33 But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.

34 “Therefore do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble.  (Matthew 6:31-34)

With regard to the verses on treasure, they begin with:

19 “Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust[e] destroy and where thieves break in and steal, 20 but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. 21 For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.

and end as follows:

24 “No one can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and money.[f]

Today’s Forbidden Bible Verses lie between the two.

Our Lord told His audience that the eye illuminates and informs the state of the body (verse 22). A healthy eye indicates a healthy body. In the KJV, the word ‘single’ is used for ‘healthy’. ‘Single’ does not mean one-eyed, it means a fully working, normal eye.

Matthew Henry explains (emphases in bold mine):

now if this eye be single, if it make a true and right judgment, and discern things that differ, especially in the great concern of laying up the treasure so as to choose aright in that, it will rightly guide the affections and actions, which will all be full of the light of grace and comfort but if this be evil and corrupt, and instead of leading the inferior powers, is led, and bribed, and biassed by them, if this be erroneous and misinformed, the heart and life must needs be full of darkness, and the whole conversation corrupt.

How we view the world informs our hearts and our minds.

On the other hand, if our eye is unhealthy, we do not understand the world or God’s purpose properly (verse 23). John MacArthur says it is a metaphor for spiritual illness:

if your eye is dark it is black, there’s no light that comes in you perceive nothing. And that’s the way it is with the heart, if your heart is toward God it lights your entire spiritual being, if your heart is toward the material things, toward the treasure of the world the blinds come down of your spiritual perception and you do not see, spiritually as you ought. Tremendous principle. He takes a physical illustration and He says that the eye is like a window, if that window is clean and clear the light floods the body, if the window is blacked out no light enters. This is a spiritual metaphor.

In this, as in so many other parts of the Sermon on the Mount, our Lord is criticising the Pharisees’ practices. MacArthur tells us:

Now for the Pharisees, their heart was in the earth. They were phonies everyway you cut it, their morality was totally external, that’s what chapter 5 was saying. Their humility was nonexistent, instead of being salt and light they were part of the corruption and and the darkness. Instead of believing in the law of God they defied the law of God and substituted for it their own tradition. Instead of having a really internal heart set of principles they had nothing but an external code of sort of semi-spiritual ethics. Instead of having genuine worship they had a false standard and it was pure hypocrisy. Everything about them was outside, external, self-centered, and self‑motivated. And in contrast to that the Lord is saying, you must have a right heart. That’s why in chapter 5 verse 20 the key verse in all the Sermon on the Mount He says, “Your righteousness must exceed that of the scribes and Pharisees.'” Theirs is an external righteousness without a right heart, and what I want is a right heart. So your heart and your treasure go together and both need to be toward heaven. What our Lord is speaking of here is a single minded devotion to God and His causes that is undistracted by the world.

MacArthur says that Jesus gives us three messages about treasure.

The first concerns two treasuries. In this case, we are to resist the urge to pile up possessions which can deteriorate or be stolen. We should be providing for ourselves, our families and the future in self-sufficiency as well as exercising charity towards God’s people:

It is not wrong to accumulate money, it is not wrong to accumulate possessions which are then invested in divine causes and in God’s purposes, and God’s purposes are to care for our family and to care for our extended family in the church and to care for even those who are not of the family of God but have need, and to care for the causes of God around the world, and to invest in souls, those things are needful uses of what God gives us. But to stockpile selfishly accumulating with greed and covetousness, piles and piles of things treasuring up for ourselves on earth these commodities is that which our Lord says not to do

The second — today’s verses — is two visions: one with light or one with darkness. The word ‘single’ (‘healthy’) comes from the Greek word haplous, which means generous. We have seen charity appeals which read, ‘Please give generously’. We have also seen instructions for topical creams which say, ‘Apply liberally’. MacArthur unpacks ‘single’ for us:

It is a word that means generous or liberal. He is saying then, if your eye or your heart, because the eye is illustrating the heart, if your heart is generous your whole spiritual life will be flooded with spiritual understanding ... 

Verse 23, “If your eye is evil, your whole body’s full of darkness.” And there you’re introduced to the evil eye, you’ve heard that phrase, haven’t you? Gave ’em an evil eye.

You know what the evil eye is? That’s a Jewish colloquialism, to mean grudgingly. For example in Deuteronomy 15:9 it talks about when you have a slave and it’s coming to the Jubilee Year and he is to be freed, that you have an evil eye toward him. That is you are ungenerous, stingy and you grudge him that freedom. In Proverbs 23:6 it says, “Eat not the bread of him who has an evil eye.”

The third involves the impossibility of serving two masters. ‘Serve’ in this context comes from the Greek doulos, implying slavery. Yes, we can work two jobs with no problem. However, in our Lord’s time, everyone understood the concept of bond slaves — bondservants — who were bound to one master. They could work for no other:

To be a bond slave, to be the property of a master was to be constantly, totally, entirely, 100% devoted to obedience to that one master, it would be utterly impossible to express that to two different masters.

That’s the illustration used in Romans 6 when it says, “Now that we have come to Christ, we must yield ourselves servants to him.” Because we are His slaves, we are no longer the slave of sin. God can only be served beloved with entire and exclusive devotion, He can only be served with single mindedness and if you try to split it with money you will either hate one or the other.

To conclude on the eye, Henry offers this analysis:

The eye, that is, the aims and intentions by the eye we set our end before us, the mark we shoot at, the place we go to, we keep that in view, and direct our motion accordingly in every thing we do in religion there is something or other that we have in our eye now if our eye be single, if we aim honestly, fix right ends, and move rightly towards them, if we aim purely and only at the glory of God, seek his honor and favour, and direct all entirely to him, then the eye is single[.] Paul’s was so when he said, To me to live is Christ and if we be right here, the whole body will be full of light, all the actions will be regular and gracious, pleasing to God and comfortable to ourselves but if this eye be evil, if, instead of aiming only at the glory of God, and our acceptance with him, we look aside at the applause of men, and while we profess to honour God, contrive to honour ourselves, and seek our own things under colour of seeking the things of Christ, this spoils all, the whole conversation will be perverse and unsteady, and the foundations being thus out of course, there can be nothing but confusion and every evil work in the superstructure … The hypocrite soars like the kite [bird], with his eye upon the prey below, which he is ready to come down to when he has a fair opportunity the true Christian soars like the lark, higher and higher, forgetting the things that are beneath.

However, the metaphor of bad eyesight — poor spirituality — affects not only those accumulating material goods but those who are eager to see them stolen or redistributed. To the latter, materialism is as all-consuming as it is to owner of ostentatious bling. Coveting others’ goods violates the Tenth Commandment (Exodus 20:17):

“You shall not covet your neighbor’s house; you shall not covet your neighbor’s wife, or his male servant, or his female servant, or his ox, or his donkey, or anything that is your neighbor’s.”

Next time: Matthew 7:1-6

Martin Luther had a profound love of God’s creation.

Praying the Gospel features his marvellous quotes on nature:

Our Lord has written the promise of resurrection, not in books alone, but in every leaf in springtime.

God writes the Gospel not in the Bible alone, but also on trees, and in the flowers and clouds and stars.

For in the true nature of things, if we rightly consider, every green tree is far more glorious than if it were made of gold and silver.

Even if I knew that tomorrow the world would go to pieces, I would still plant my apple tree.

The dog is the most faithful of animals and would be much esteemed were it not so common. Our Lord God has made His greatest gifts the commonest.

Be thou comforted, little dog. Thou too in Resurrection shall have a little golden tail.

Anyone who has a garden of his own is truly blessed. To be able to admire one’s own plants, tend to them and provide for birds as well as other fauna is a luxury beyond measure.

I’ll look at another post on nature and gardening soon. It is from Dr Gregory Jackson, author of Ichabod, retired Lutheran pastor, current university lecturer, loving husband and doting grandfather.

For now, here is one of his graphics. I cannot help but agree with him and his wife Chris — ‘Mrs Ichabod’ — who asks:

How can anyone glance at a garden and remain an atheist?

In 2015, Ascension Day falls on May 14.

The Feast of the Ascension is always on a Thursday — 40 days after Easter — and ten days before Pentecost Sunday.

The Sunday between the two is known as Exaudi Sunday, particularly in Lutheran denominations. My 2013 post cites a beautiful sermon from my cyberfriend Dr Gregory Jackson of Ichabod which explains more.

On Ascension Day, the faithful recall Christ’s rising to heaven in order to send the disciples — and us — the Holy Spirit on Pentecost Sunday. From that point, we were — and continue to be — in the ‘last days’, awaiting His coming again in judgement.

My 2013 post on the Ascension ties together Acts 1:9-11 with other passages from the New Testament which demonstrate that Christ will indeed return in glory. This event did not occur with the destruction of the Temple in 70 AD, as preterists would have us believe.

Today’s post looks at a Reformed — Calvinist view — of the Ascension by Dr Kim Riddlebarger, pastor of Christ United Reformed Church (Anaheim, California) and co-host of The White Horse Inn radio broadcast.

A few years ago, Riddlebarger wrote an article for Modern Reformation called ‘Jesus Christ — our Prophet, Priest and King’.

He tells us that John Calvin brought the theological concept of munus triplex to prominence in Protestantism and says that the Lutherans later adopted it. Munus triplex states that Christ’s offices are threefold; He is our prophet, priest and king.

A later Calvinist reformer Francis Turretin took this Christological concept and tied it to the human condition (emphases mine below):

The threefold misery of men introduced by sin — ignorance, guilt, and tyranny and bondage by sin — required this conjunction of a threefold office. Ignorance is healed by the prophetic; guilt by the priestly; the tyranny and corruption of sin by the kingly office. Prophetic light scatters the darkness of error; the merit of the Priest takes away guilt and procures a reconciliation for us; the Power of the King removes the bondage of sin and death. The Prophet shows God to us; the Priest leads us to God; and the King joins us together and glorifies us with God. The Prophet enlightens the mind by the Spirit of illumination; the Priest by the Spirit of consolation tranquilizes the heart and conscience; the King by the Spirit of sanctification subdues rebellious affections. (5)

Riddlebarger provides copious biblical evidence as to why Christ is still our prophet. With regard to the Ascension:

Christ’s prophetic work does not cease, however, with the end of his earthly ministry at his Ascension. As Louis Berkhof notes, Christ “continues His prophetical activity through the operation of the Holy Spirit. His teachings are both verbal and factual, that is, He teaches not only by verbal communications, but also by the facts of revelation, such as the incarnation, His atoning death, the resurrection and ascension.” (7) Christ is the one who sends the Holy Spirit, and as the Spirit of Christ, he is the one who “will convict the world of guilt in regard to sin and righteousness and judgment” (Jn 16:8). As Christ is the Word incarnate, and the central figure in biblical revelation, so too we cannot divorce the work of his Spirit from the written word. Since Christ fulfills the office of prophet, and since he continues to speak to us through his word — and only through his word — the Reformed are very reticent to give any credence to supposed “words from God,” or “words of knowledge” from modern day schwärmer such as Pat Robertson or Benny Hinn who repeatedly make such claims to speak forth Spirit-led utterances.

Throughout the Old Testament we find references to a coming priestly Redeemer ordained by God. Our Lord’s role as high priest did not end when He ascended to Heaven. Riddlebarger explains:

Jesus Christ presently intercedes for us when we sin (1 Jn 2:1-2). While we are correct to focus on what Christ has done for us as our high priest, we must not forget those things he is doing for us even now. He prays for our sanctification (Jn 17:17). He is now our “great high priest who has gone through the heavens,” so too we can now “approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need” (Heb 4:14-16). Even now, our great high priest is building us “into a spiritual house to be a holy priesthood, offering spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ” (1 Pt 2:5). What comfort we can take, knowing that our Lord is in heaven, preparing for us to see his glory (Jn 17:24). For the great high priest who intercedes for us never sleeps nor wearies, he never prays without full effect, and he is ever mindful of our continuing struggles with the world, the flesh, and the devil (Heb 2:18). Jesus Christ is both the author and the finisher of our faith (Heb 12:2). He is our great high priest and the good shepherd, who even now guards his flock. No one shall ever snatch us from his hand (Jn 10:28-29), and nothing will ever separate us from his love (Rom 8:37-39).

Concerning Christ as King, Riddlebarger rightly takes issue with certain Protestants who ask people to make Him their Lord when that is not a matter of human choice and dispensationalists (rapture believers) who purport that His divine kingship does not occur until the end of the world.

Riddlebarger says:

The Scriptures plainly declare that”the Lord has established his throne in heaven and his kingdom rules over it” (Ps 103:19). We don’t make Christ anything — He is the Lord over his creation. His throne is in heaven, and he is king over creation. This kingship is therefore to be seen as”his official power to rule all things in heaven and on earth, for the glory of God, and for the execution of God’s purpose of salvation.” (11) If Christ is not presently ruling in this capacity, we must ask ourselves, just who exactly is minding the store? Reformed theologians usually argue that there are two aspects to this kingly rule. The first is Christ’s regnum potentiae (kingdom of power) and the second is the regnum gratiae. Unlike the dispensationalists, who argue that Christ delays the full manifestation of his rule in this present dispensation, the Reformed argue that Christ presently exercises full dominion over all, even now. He is king and his kingdom is presently a kingdom both of grace and of power. He is in full control and he is ordering all of human history as he sees fit. This means that at his Ascension, Jesus Christ ascended to the right hand of his father and even now rules over all of creation (regnum potentiae) and over his church (regnum gratiae).

He provides numerous verses from Scripture to support this position.

Therefore, the importance of Ascension Day is as follows:

If the Scripture bears witness to Christ (Jn 5:39), then the Holy Spirit, who is Scripture’s divine author (2 Tim 3:16), will open our minds and our hearts to hear our Lord’s voice as we read his word (Jn 16:12-15; Acts 16:14). This is what theologians have historically spoken of as illumination. Since we are blind to the things of God, the Holy Spirit must provide the understanding we need through the Scriptures. Thus, Christ our prophet certainly speaks to us today though the pages of his word. In fact, whenever the minister of the word opens the Scripture for us, there is a profound sense in which Christ our prophet is speaking to us through his word every bit as much as if he himself were standing in our presence and speaking these words audibly. Therefore in Scripture, God’s word written, we find a voice that is certain, not like the extemporaneous musings of those today who claim to speak for God.

Similarly:

The same pattern holds true for Christ’s priestly work. Not only has Christ done what is necessary for our salvation through his sinless life (his active obedience) and through his sacrifice for sin (passive obedience), but at this very moment he has assumed his place at the right hand of his Father where he now intercedes for us

Christ’s kingly office provides us with a wealth of comfort and assurance. For while the nations rage one against another; while the earth groans beneath our feet; while there is sickness, disease, and economic hardship (Mt 24:3 ff.) Even now our Lord is ruling and reigning, until he makes his enemies his footstool (1 Cor 15:22-27). And so while unbelievers may look around at these world conditions and see the apparent chaos as an excuse to scoff, saying “Where is this ‘coming’ he promised?” (2 Pt 3:3-4), the believer can take heart, for the signs of the end are exactly that. The tumult we see around us is, in fact, proof that Christ is reigning and that he is directing all of history toward a great and final consummation, when he will come with great glory with his angels, as the great conquering king (1 Thes 4:13-5:11).

I hope this gives us food for thought and reassurance on Ascension Day.

After Election 2015, London quickly made the segue into a weekend-long remembrance and celebration of victory in Europe in 1945 on May 8.

Ceremonies and celebrations

That Friday afternoon a ceremony took place at the Cenotaph in Whitehall, at which all the party leaders — including those who had resigned just hours earlier — were present.

The Daily Mail‘s Robert Hardman reported:

If Mr Cameron exuded the authority of a man freshly delivered of a clear mandate from the British people, it should also be said that the outgoing leaders of the Labour and Liberal Democrat parties showed great dignity, too. There was no yawning, no fidgeting or the faintest hint of a scowl from two men who had just gone 36 hours without sleep, lost the fight of their lives and, subsequently, their jobs.

Both Ed Miliband and Nick Clegg could have deputed this ceremony to someone else and gone to bed. Instead, both had dressed immaculately – as had Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon. Both joined in all the hymns and prayers (not bad for two professed atheists). Both sang the National Anthem with gusto (unlike Miss Sturgeon, who appeared to chew it instead).

As for the ceremony:

All stood solemnly to attention as Randolph Churchill, 50, a former Royal Navy officer, recited his great-grandfather’s immortal VE Day broadcast: ‘After gallant France had been struck down we, from this island and from our united Empire, maintained the struggle single-handed for a whole year,’ said Mr Churchill.

‘We may allow ourselves a brief period of rejoicing but let us not forget for a moment the toil and efforts that lie ahead.’

The first VE Day was hardly the end of the war for a number of those in active service:

After the party leaders had laid their wreaths, Mr Churchill stepped forward to lay one with former Able Seaman Robert Gale DSM, 92, from Headley, Hampshire. Mr Gale and his landing craft flotilla had been through all the big Allied amphibious landings before VE Day, by which time he found himself in India preparing for the final push against Japan. ‘I was bloody annoyed because they were celebrating the end of their war and we were still fighting out in the Far East,’ he said.

Various events took place in London for the veterans and their families at the weekend. Some were open to the public, who seized the opportunity to wear 1940s attire.

The BBC televised the main events.

Westminster Abbey Service of Thanksgiving

On Sunday, May 10, a special service took place at Westminster Abbey. The Royal Family, religious leaders, military officers, dignitaries and representatives of the political parties (Harriet Harman for Labour, Tom Brake for the Liberal Democrats and Nigel Farage for UKIP) joined 1,000 Second World War veterans and their families.

Canon Dr John Hall led the service.

The Abbey choir sang the processional hymn Praise to the Lord so exquisitely, it was as if we heard the voices of angels.

(I am using the ESV for the Scripture readings below. The Psalm, set to music, no doubt has lyrical variations.)

The first reading was Isaiah 58:6-9a, 11-12:

“Is not this the fast that I choose:
    to loose the bonds of wickedness,
    to undo the straps of the yoke,
to let the oppressed[b] go free,
    and to break every yoke?
Is it not to share your bread with the hungry
    and bring the homeless poor into your house;
when you see the naked, to cover him,
    and not to hide yourself from your own flesh?
8 Then shall your light break forth like the dawn,
    and your healing shall spring up speedily;
your righteousness shall go before you;
    the glory of the Lord shall be your rear guard.
Then you shall call, and the Lord will answer;
    you shall cry, and he will say, ‘Here I am.’

11 And the Lord will guide you continually
    and satisfy your desire in scorched places
    and make your bones strong;
and you shall be like a watered garden,
    like a spring of water,
    whose waters do not fail.
12 And your ancient ruins shall be rebuilt;
    you shall raise up the foundations of many generations;
you shall be called the repairer of the breach,
    the restorer of streets to dwell in.

The choir sang Psalm 107:1-16:

1 Oh give thanks to the Lord, for he is good,
    for his steadfast love endures forever!
Let the redeemed of the Lord say so,
    whom he has redeemed from trouble[a]
and gathered in from the lands,
    from the east and from the west,
    from the north and from the south.

Some wandered in desert wastes,
    finding no way to a city to dwell in;
hungry and thirsty,
    their soul fainted within them.
Then they cried to the Lord in their trouble,
    and he delivered them from their distress.
He led them by a straight way
    till they reached a city to dwell in.
8 Let them thank the Lord for his steadfast love,
    for his wondrous works to the children of man!
For he satisfies the longing soul,
    and the hungry soul he fills with good things.

10 Some sat in darkness and in the shadow of death,
    prisoners in affliction and in irons,
11 for they had rebelled against the words of God,
    and spurned the counsel of the Most High.
12 So he bowed their hearts down with hard labor;
    they fell down, with none to help.
13 Then they cried to the Lord in their trouble,
    and he delivered them from their distress.
14 He brought them out of darkness and the shadow of death,
    and burst their bonds apart.
15 Let them thank the Lord for his steadfast love,
    for his wondrous works to the children of man!
16 For he shatters the doors of bronze
    and cuts in two the bars of iron.

Prime Minister David Cameron read Romans 8:31-39:

31 What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? 32 He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things? 33 Who shall bring any charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies. 34 Who is to condemn? Christ Jesus is the one who died—more than that, who was raised—who is at the right hand of God, who indeed is interceding for us. 35 Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword? 36 As it is written,

“For your sake we are being killed all the day long;
    we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered.”

37 No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. 38 For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, 39 nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.

The Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, gave a brief sermon. He emphasised not only peace but also the reconciliation of peoples that took place after the Second World War.

Military cadets and veterans read out the prayer petitions which followed. Winston Churchill’s great-granddaughter and a veteran shared another reading.

Excerpts from King George VI’s unforgettable VE Day speech were also read:

Armed or unarmed, men and women, you have fought and striven and endured to your utmost. No-one knows that better than I do, and as your King, I thank with a full heart those who bore arms so valiantly on land and sea, or in the air, and all civilians who, shouldering their many burdens, have carried them unflinchingly without complaint.

With those memories in our minds, let us think what it was that has upheld us through nearly six years of suffering and peril. The knowledge that everything was at stake: our freedom, our independence, our very existence as a people; but the knowledge also that in defending ourselves we were defending the liberties of the whole world; that our cause was the cause not of this nation only, not of this Empire and Commonwealth only, but of every land where freedom is cherished and law and liberty go hand in hand.

In the darkest hours we knew that the enslaved and isolated peoples of Europe looked to us, their hopes were our hopes, their confidence confirmed our faith. We knew that, if we failed, the last remaining barrier against a worldwide tyranny would have fallen in ruins.

But we did not fail. We kept faith with ourselves and with one another, we kept faith and unity with our great allies. That faith, that unity have carried us to victory through dangers which at times seemed overwhelming …

There is great comfort in the thought that the years of darkness and danger in which the children of our country have grown up are over and, please God, forever. We shall have failed and the blood of our dearest will have flowed in vain if the victory which they died to win does not lead to a lasting peace, founded on justice and good will.

To that, then, let us turn our thoughts to this day of just triumph and proud sorrow, and then take up our work again, resolved as a people to do nothing unworthy of those who died for us, and to make the world such a world as they would have desired for their children and for ours.

This is the task to which now honour binds us. In the hour of danger we humbly committed our cause into the hand of God and he has been our strength and shield. Let us thank him for his mercies and in this hour of victory commit ourselves and our new task to the guidance that same strong hand.

As his speech shows us, George VI was a devout Anglican, unafraid to speak of the Almighty.

The last hymn was Christ is the World’s True Light, sung to Martin Luther’s Now Thank We All Our God.

Veteran’s walk and lunch

Most of the veterans participating in this year’s VE Day commemorations will not be returning if there is a 75th or 80th anniversary.

They are at least 90 years old now.

After the service at Westminster Abbey, the veterans and their families walked up Whitehall, past the Cenotaph to Horse Guards Parade and, finally, to St James Park for a delightful picnic lunch.

When passing the Cenotaph, they saluted it, remembering their fallen friends and family members. One veteran also blew a kiss.

As I watched these men and women walk, I was struck by their relatively robust health. Although, not surprisingly, a good number of them were in wheelchairs or required walking sticks, there were many who walked unaided — and briskly. This is a testament to the NHS and postwar medical care.

The Prince of Wales — Prince Charles — and his wife the Duchess of Cornwall, Camilla, greeted the veterans when they arrived at Horse Guards Parade to listen to the massed bands before lunch.

One veteran was so thrilled to see them that he leapt out of his wheelchair and rushed to shake their hands. They all talked for a few minutes. The elderly man had difficulty returning to his wheelchair; the two women accompanying him helped him, but it took a few minutes.

The gathering ended with a flypast with the Red Arrows as well as Spitfires and Hurricanes. The Lancaster scheduled to fly was out of service, unfortunately.

The Daily Mail has magnificent photos of Friday’s events and Sunday’s. Looking at them will make you feel as if you were there.

Youngest looking 93-year-old

The BBC interviewed several men and women who saw active service or participated in the war effort.

I shall look at their memories tomorrow.

For now, SpouseMouse and I were amazed to find out that one of the interviewees, Frank Tolley, is 93 years young. He served in Bomber Command and is very physically active. He has very few wrinkles and looks as if he were in his late 60s. More power to Mr Tolley. Whatever he’s doing is working a treat.

Bible ancient-futurenetThe 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 King James Version with commentary by Matthew Henry and John MacArthur.

Matthew 6:7-15

But when ye pray, use not vain repetitions, as the heathen do: for they think that they shall be heard for their much speaking.

Be not ye therefore like unto them: for your Father knoweth what things ye have need of, before ye ask him.

After this manner therefore pray ye: Our Father which art in heaven, Hallowed be thy name.

10 Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done in earth, as it is in heaven.

11 Give us this day our daily bread.

12 And forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors.

13 And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil: For thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, for ever. Amen.

14 For if ye forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you:

15 But if ye forgive not men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.

——————————————————————-

I’m using the King James Version today because the prose is more traditional and beautiful than the modern translations of the Lord’s Prayer.

The Sermon on the Mount continues. It encompasses Matthew 5 through Matthew 7.

Luke 11 also features the Lord’s Prayer but in a different context. In Luke’s account, the disciples saw Jesus praying and one of them requested (Luke 11:1):

Lord, teach us to pray, as John taught his disciples.

The disciple was referring to John the Baptist.

In Matthew’s account, Jesus gave instructions to His audience, the disciples — and us — on how to pray.

He tells us not to use the ‘vain repetitions’ of the pagans (verse 7). Modern translations use the word ‘Gentile’. Essentially, the connotation means non-Jew.

Matthew Henry recalls that the Old Testament recounts pagan prayers:

Baal’s priests were hard at it from morning till almost night with their vain repetitions O Baal, hear us O Baal, hear us and vain petitions they were …

Lip-labour in prayer, though ever so well laboured, if that be all, is but lost labour.

John MacArthur cites the pagans of the ancient world:

in the New Testament it says in Acts 19 that for two hours the multitudes stood in theater and screamed “great is Diana of Ephesians, great is Diana of Ephesians, great is Diana of Ephesians.”  They kept saying it over and over for two solid hours. 

Our Lord tells us we have no need to engage in such lost labour, because God our Father knows our needs (verse 8).

Jesus gives the crowd an ancient Jewish prayer, to which He adds only one new line. Henry explains (emphases mine):

Most of the petitions in the Lord’s prayer had been commonly used by the Jews in their devotions, or words to the same effect: but that clause in the fifth petition, As we forgive our debtors, was perfectly new, and therefore our Saviour here shows for what reason he added it, not with any personal reflection upon the peevishness, litigiousness, and ill nature of the men of that generation, though there was cause enough for it, but only from the necessity and importance of the thing itself. God, in forgiving us, has a peculiar respect to our forgiving those that have injured us and therefore, when we pray for pardon, we must mention our making conscience of that duty, not only to remind ourselves of it, but to bind ourselves to it.

Why did our Lord repeat a prayer the Jews already knew?

So many were the corruptions that had crept into this duty of prayer among the Jews, that Christ saw it needful to give a new directory for prayer, to show his disciples what must ordinarily be the matter and method of their prayer, which he gives in words that may very well be used as a form as the summary or contents of the several particulars of our prayers.

We do not need to rely solely on what Christians call the Lord’s Prayer, however, as Jesus presents it, it is a perfect prayer for the following reasons.

I am giving but brief extracts from Henry’s commentary below, which is an excellent exposition of what is the world’s best known prayer. I recommend reading it in full.

In verse 9, Jesus tells us how to begin. ‘Our’, not ‘my’, Father is said because we are acknowledging that God created not only us as individuals, but all of humanity. We are bound together in this commonality:

Intimating, that we must pray, not only alone and for ourselves, but with and for others for we are members one of another, and are called into fellowship with each other.

The word ‘hallowed’ is part of the prayer because of God’s infinite greatness, holiness and majesty:

We give glory to God it may be taken not as a petition, but as an adoration as that, the Lord be magnified, or glorified, for God’s holiness is the greatness and glory of all his perfections. We must begin our prayers with praising God, and it is very fit he should be first served, and that we should give glory to God, before we expect to receive mercy and grace from him. Let him have praise of his perfections, and then let us have the benefit of them.

We then acknowledge our present, temporal location, which we hope improves through our obedience to God’s will, as well as His heavenly kingdom (verse 10):

that it might be done on earth, in this place of our trial and probation (where our work must be done, or it never will be done), as it is done in heaven, that place of rest and joy. We pray that earth may be made more like heaven by the observance of God’s will (this earth, which, through the prevalency of Satan’s will, has become so near akin to hell), and that saints may be made more like the holy angels in their devotion and obedience. We are on earth, blessed be God, not yet under the earth we pray for the living only, not for the dead that have gone down into silence.

We ask for provision of our daily needs — ‘bread’ (verse 11). This is a short yet significant petition because:

Every word here has a lesson in it: (1.) We ask for bread that teaches us sobriety and temperance we ask for bread, not dainties, not superfluities[,] that which is wholesome, though it be not nice. (2.) We ask for our bread that teaches us honesty and industry: we do not ask for the bread out of other people’s mouths, not the bread of deceit (Proverbs 20:17), not the bread of idleness (Proverbs 31:27), but the bread honestly gotten. (3.) We ask for our daily bread which teaches us not to take thought for the morrow (Matthew 6:34), but constantly to depend upon divine Providence, as those that live from hand to mouth. (4.) We beg of God to give it us, not sell it us, nor lend it us, but give it. The greatest of men must be beholden to the mercy of God for their daily bread, (5.) We pray, “Give it to us not to me only, but to others in common with me.” This teaches us charity, and a compassionate concern for the poor and needy. It intimates also, that we ought to pray with our families we and our households eat together, and therefore ought to pray together. (6.) We pray that God would give us this day which teaches us to renew the desire of our souls toward God, as the wants of our bodies are renewed as duly as the day comes, we must pray to our heavenly Father, and reckon we could as well go a day without meat, as without prayer.

We go on to ask for God’s forgiveness and pray that we forgive each other in the same generous, compassionate manner (verse 12):

This is connected with the former and forgive, intimating, that unless our sins be pardoned, we can have no comfort in life, or the supports of it. Our daily bread does but feed us as lambs for the slaughter, if our sins be not pardoned. It intimates, likewise, that we must pray for daily pardon, as duly as we pray for daily bread ...

Note, Those that come to God for the forgiveness of their sins against him, must make conscience of forgiving those who have offended them, else they curse themselves when they say the Lord’s prayer. Our duty is to forgive our debtors as to debts of money, we must not be rigorous and severe in exacting them from those that cannot pay them without ruining themselves and their families but this means debt of injury[;] our debtors are those that trespass against us, that smite us (Matthew 5:39,40), and in strictness of law, might be prosecuted for it we must forbear, and forgive, and forget the affronts put upon us, and the wrongs done us and this is a moral qualification for pardon and peace

We conclude by asking to be delivered from temptation and sin (verse 13):

Negatively: … It is not as if God tempted any to sin but, “Lord, do not let Satan loose upon us chain up that roaring lion, for he is subtle and spiteful Lord, do not leave us to ourselves (Psalm 19:13), for we are very weak, Lord

Positively: … “Lord, deliver us from the evil of the world, the corruption that is in the world through lust[,] from the evil of every condition in the world[,] from the evil of death from the sting of death, which is sin: deliver us from ourselves, from our own evil hearts: deliver us from evil men, that they may not be a snare to us, nor we a prey to them.”

The King James Version concludes with the Doxology, not in many of the modern translations:

… these are encouraging: “Thine is the kingdom thou hast the government of the world, and the protection of the saints, thy willing subjects in it ” God gives and saves like a king. “Thine is the power, to maintain and support that kingdom, and to make good all thine engagements to thy people.” Thine is the glory, as the end of all that which is given to, and done for, the saints, in answer to their prayers for their praise waiteth for him. This is matter of comfort and holy confidence in prayer.

And, let us not forget ‘Amen':

Lastly, To all this we are taught to affix our Amen, so be it. God’s Amen is a grant his fiat is, it shall be so our Amen is only a summary desire our fiat is, let it be so: it is in the token of our desire and assurance to be heard, that we say Amen. Amen refers to every petition going before, and thus, in compassion to our infirmities, we are taught to knit up the whole in one word, and so to gather up, in the general, what we have lost and let slip in the particulars. It is good to conclude religious duties with some warmth and vigour, that we may go from them with a sweet savour upon our spirits. It was of old the practice of good people to say, Amen, audibly at the end of every prayer, and it is a commendable practice, provided it be done with understanding, as the apostle directs (1 Corinthians 14:16), and uprightly, with life and liveliness, and inward expressions, answerable to that outward expression of desire and confidence.

Our Lord concluded His lesson in prayer with the exhortation to forgive others so that God will show us the same mercy (verse 14), because if we do not forgive others, He will not forgive us (verse 15).

It is worth remembering Matthew 6:6, included in the Lectionary:

But when you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you.

John MacArthur says:

And I believe if you pray in those terms, the end of verse 6 says, “He will reward you.”  He will reward you.  You know, E. L. Moody once said, that he got so many blessings from God that one day he prayed a very short prayer.  This was it, “Stop God, Amen.”  That was it.  Too much, too much.  Maybe that day would come when we might say stop God, because we’re drowning in His blessing if we learn how to pray as Jesus teaches here. 

MacArthur also gives us the origin of the word ‘barbarian':

when the Greeks spoke the Greek word wanted to speak of one who was not cultured, they used the word barbaros because all of the uncultured people with foreign languages were unintelligible to them and it sounded like all they were say was bar, bar, bar, bar, bar, bar.  And so barbaros became the word for barbarian.

Interesting!

Let us pray the Lord’s Prayer with renewed fervour now that we know more about its petitions!

Next time: Matthew 6:22-23

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 (Divorce and Remarriage, Parts 1, 2 and 3).

Matthew 5:31-32

Divorce

31 “It was also said, ‘Whoever divorces his wife, let him give her a certificate of divorce.’ 32 But I say to you that everyone who divorces his wife, except on the ground of sexual immorality, makes her commit adultery, and whoever marries a divorced woman commits adultery.

——————————————————————

Matthew 5, 6 and 7 recount Jesus’s entire Sermon on the Mount. We often stop at the Beatitudes, but the three chapters have difficult verses, many of which we ignore in our own notionally Christian lives.

Our Lord’s objective was to pierce the self-righteousness of the Jewish leadership and impress upon those who heard Him preach that the ordinary Jews were not to imitate the hierarchy’s example. They invented a number of get-out clauses for their own sinful convenience.

Last week’s post looked at Matthew 5:25-26, verses which urge us to come to an arrangement with those who accuse us of wrongdoing. Where we can mend the relationship, Jesus urges us to do so rather than risk a judgement by a court — or an eternal one by Him on the Last Day. We are to resist anger, grudges and bitterness.

Today’s passage is preceded by His condemnation of lust and adultery:

Lust

27 “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ 28 But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lustful intent has already committed adultery with her in his heart. 29 If your right eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away. For it is better that you lose one of your members than that your whole body be thrown into hell. 30 And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away. For it is better that you lose one of your members than that your whole body go into hell.

The message is not so much to remove our right eye or hand — traditionally considered by the Jews to be the most powerful body parts — but to pray for the divine grace and Spirit-inspired fortitude to avoid temptation.

Today’s two verses are found elsewhere in the New Testament. I wrote about Mark 10:10-12 in 2012 and Luke 16:18 in 2014. Both of those posts discuss the rampant divorce, particularly among the Jewish leaders, which had been escalating throughout the Old Testament era to Jesus’s day.

From the beginning, God made a covenant with Israel, the precursor of Christ’s with His Bride, the Church. Nothing could break the Old Covenant, despite God’s punishments of His people; in the end, after repentance, He forgave them and showed them mercy. In the Christian era, despite false teaching and apostasy, nothing shall ultimately come between Christ and the Church.

The covenant started with the creation and union of Adam and Eve. John MacArthur explains how this works in a context of couples, which they then marred with Original Sin, the tensions of which exist today (emphases mine):

Now prior to the fall marriage was pure bliss, the man was the head, the woman was the help meet. The man’s headship was a loving, caring provision of understanding. The woman’s being a help meet was a loving, caring submissiveness to the one who was given as her leader. It was beautiful, her heart was totally devoted to him, his heart was totally devoted to her, and according to Genesis 1:27 and 28, they ruled together, they ruled together. But that ended …

… literally what happened was in the fall man was elevated to rule in the house, to rule in the home. He’d had a soft kind of dominance before, held had a loving, caring approach before but now he is set in a place of ruling with authority. [‘Mashal’] is a different word than the word for rule in Genesis 1:28, completely different word, completely different concept. A new dimension of his rule has come about. The woman then is made immediately subordinate to the man.

People say, oh there’s too much male chauvinism in the world, and they’re exactly right and this is why. Because of the curse and because woman led in the sin God set man over her to control her, to subdue her as it were, to be her head. And frankly without Jesus Christ it can be very abusive, I agree, sinful man has been chauvinistic, I’m the first one to agree, only in Christ, only in the Spirit can a right kind of headship be restored and that’s the meaning of Ephesians chapter 5. Only in Christ, apart from that there will be oppressiveness. On the other hand, man is installed in this case as a ruler and woman, it says, her desire shall be to her husband.

In Moses’s time, adultery began to become a problem. In fact, so much so that he allowed a bill of divorce, which in the Jewish religion is called a get. Deuteronomy 24:1-4:

Laws Concerning Divorce

24 “When a man takes a wife and marries her, if then she finds no favor in his eyes because he has found some indecency in her, and he writes her a certificate of divorce and puts it in her hand and sends her out of his house, and she departs out of his house, and if she goes and becomes another man’s wife, and the latter man hates her and writes her a certificate of divorce and puts it in her hand and sends her out of his house, or if the latter man dies, who took her to be his wife, then her former husband, who sent her away, may not take her again to be his wife, after she has been defiled, for that is an abomination before the Lord. And you shall not bring sin upon the land that the Lord your God is giving you for an inheritance.

From this, we understand three things: divorce is permitted because of a wife’s  ‘indecency’, remarriage can lead to another divorce and excessive adultery would have led to defiling the land God gave to His chosen people.

Although stoning was allowed and took place in cases of adultery, as time passed, it was done less and less.

A certificate of divorce became the norm. Note that it had to be written out. This was to eliminate impulsive decisions taken in anger. A husband couldn’t tell his wife he was divorcing her, he actually had to be able to write such a statement. Most men could not write in that era and, for this reason, divorces were relatively rare.

On the other hand, the Jewish leaders, being educated, were able to add new meanings to the word ‘indecency’. From an original context of adultery, it came to encompass anything which displeased the husband: his wife’s looks, her ability to cook, her family and so on. Although the leaders presented themselves as following every aspect of the law, they created various means of twisting it to fit their own appetites. By the time our Lord began His ministry, divorces among the Jewish elite were frequent.

Therefore, although Jesus acknowledged that divorce is allowed (verse 25), He said that improper divorce is akin to adultery (verse 26). It may be driven by lust for another, fornication. Ultimately, remarriage often involves marrying a woman to whom a man has no right.

Matthew Henry explains:

He reduced the ordinance of marriage to its primitive institution: They two shall be one flesh, not to be easily separated, and therefore divorce is not to be allowed, except in case of adultery, which breaks the marriage covenant but he that puts away his wife upon any other pretence, causeth her to commit adultery, and him also that shall marry her when she is thus divorced. Note, Those who lead others into temptation to sin, or leave them in it, or expose them to it, make themselves guilty of their sin, and will be accountable for it. This is one way of being partaker with adulterers Psalm 50:18.

Thinking about divorce today, our reasons for undertaking it are similar to the Jewish hierarchy’s, especially the notion of ‘irreconcilable differences’.

MacArthur sums it up this way:

the point that the Lord is making is just know when you go in you’re going in on the right terms with a commitment to stay there. Because divorce proliferates adultery.

Jesus elaborates on this in Matthew 19, which we will look at in due course, as it is also not in the Lectionary. It seems its compilers and editors did not wish to offend our delicate sensibilities. Matthew 19:3-9:

And Pharisees came up to him and tested him by asking, “Is it lawful to divorce one’s wife for any cause?” He answered, “Have you not read that he who created them from the beginning made them male and female, and said, ‘Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh’? So they are no longer two but one flesh. What therefore God has joined together, let not man separate.” They said to him, “Why then did Moses command one to give a certificate of divorce and to send her away?” He said to them, “Because of your hardness of heart Moses allowed you to divorce your wives, but from the beginning it was not so. And I say to you: whoever divorces his wife, except for sexual immorality, and marries another, commits adultery.”[a]

The message for us is to take marriage seriously. It would be a mistake to marry for sexual attraction alone, although that seems to be an overriding reason for many couples. We need to look at long-term compatibility and pragmatism: cooking, housekeeping, cleanliness, managing money, child-rearing, restraining impulses (anger), avoiding addiction (gambling, drink, drugs) and so on.

The Catholic Church has a lengthy pre-marital course lasting several weeks. This used to be called Pre-Cana and now goes under another name. I knew a couple who attended it in the 1980s. They were shocked at how ill-matched and ill-prepared some of the other couples in their class were. It was not unusual for couples to argue during the courses. Some engagements were broken as issues regarding children, money and gambling came to light. 

I am not sure how strict certain Catholic parishes are on these pre-marital classes now. I know of a couple who were able to claim an excused absence for several of them. After a few years of marriage, they recently divorced. The husband ran off with another woman.

This is only one example of many proving our Lord’s point about divorce.

Regarding the marital covenant and the parallel with God’s covenant with His people, the Old Testament has examples of how serious this is. He will reject our praises and worship. Could this be one reason why our churches are emptying? MacArthur cites Malachi 2:

Judah Profaned the Covenant

10 Have we not all one Father? Has not one God created us? Why then are we faithless to one another, profaning the covenant of our fathers? 11 Judah has been faithless, and abomination has been committed in Israel and in Jerusalem. For Judah has profaned the sanctuary of the Lord, which he loves, and has married the daughter of a foreign god. 12 May the Lord cut off from the tents of Jacob any descendant[e] of the man who does this, who )brings an offering to the Lord of hosts!

13 And this second thing you do. You cover the Lord‘s altar with tears, with weeping and groaning because he no longer regards the offering or accepts it with favor from your hand. 14 But you say, “Why does he not?” Because the Lord was witness between you and the wife of your youth, to whom you have been faithless, though she is your companion and your wife by covenant. 15 Did he not make them one, with a portion of the Spirit in their union?[f] And what was the one God[g] seeking?[h] Godly offspring. So guard yourselves[i] in your spirit, and let none of you be faithless to the wife of your youth. 16 “For the man who does not love his wife but divorces her,[j] says the Lord, the God of Israel, covers[k] his garment with violence, says the Lord of hosts. So guard yourselves in your spirit, and do not be faithless.”

The Book of Hosea tells the story of an adulterous marriage with eventual reconciliation. Hosea 1:2-11:

Hosea’s Wife and Children

When the Lord first spoke through Hosea, the Lord said to Hosea, “Go, take to yourself a wife of whoredom and have children of whoredom, for the land commits great whoredom by forsaking the Lord. So he went and took Gomer, the daughter of Diblaim, and she conceived and bore him a son.

And the Lord said to him, “Call his name Jezreel, for in just a little while I will punish the house of Jehu for the blood of Jezreel, and I will put an end to the kingdom of the house of Israel. And on that day I will break the bow of Israel in the Valley of Jezreel.”

She conceived again and bore a daughter. And the Lord said to him, “Call her name No Mercy,[a] for I will no more have mercy on the house of Israel, to forgive them at all. But I will have mercy on the house of Judah, and I will save them by the Lord their God. I will not save them by bow or by sword or by war or by horses or by horsemen.”

When she had weaned No Mercy, she conceived and bore a son. And the Lord said, “Call his name Not My People,[b] for you are not my people, and I am not your God.”[c]

10 [d] Yet (P)the number of the children of Israel shall be like the sand of the sea, which cannot be measured or numbered. And in the place where it was said to them, “You are not my people,” it shall be said to them, “Children[e] of the living God.” 11 And the children of Judah and the children of Israel shall be gathered together, and they shall appoint for themselves one head. And they shall go up from the land, for great shall be the day of Jezreel.

MacArthur explains:

Hosea is to become a dramatization; he is going to enact in his life a great drama to illustrate great spiritual truth. Now here’s what Hosea was to do, Hosea was to marry a woman, a woman by the name of Gomer, and having married her, discover that she had become a prostitute or a harlot. And in spite of that he was to be faithful to his vow, no matter what the pain, no matter what the unfaithfulness, no matter what the excruciating agony, no matter what the price he was to be faithful to his harlot, prostitute, debauched, vile wife, no matter what she did, why? Because this was a pageant to demonstrate how faithful God would be to His wayward wife, Israel. And it sets for us the standard of relationship in a marriage as it is the image for God’s relationship to His people ...

Now I do not believe for a moment that God forced her into her harlotries to be an illustration. I believe God worked in His sovereignty with her own will. But the heart of the story is that dear Hosea was to be faithful and forgiving no matter what she did. In fact as we go into the story we find out that when she went into harlotry he actually paid her bills, because he felt so bound by the vow he had made when he married her, he followed her around paying her bills.

Ultimately, Gomer failed in her adulterous pursuits, and Hosea persevered in preserving his marriage:

here in a sense is a husband who is chastening and judging all the while and supporting, so that she stays alive.

And you see exactly this in God’s relation to Israel. God on the one hand is judging and chastening and dealing with Israel, on the other hand God is the very life of the nation, right? You look at Israel today, and God is chastening the land of Israel and yet at the same time God is the sustenance of that people. And so Hosea works with this ambivalence, a wife who is a prostitute and a harlot, and he wants so much for her to be judged and he wants so much for her to be condemned in this so she’ll return and yet he, he goes along because of the vow that he has to her as a husband and he makes sure her needs are met. Incredible commitment …

The point is God’s unchanging love for Israel is based on the permanent promise He made which is based upon His character. And so even though Israel became a harlot, God said I’ll bring her back, even though she bore children of harlotry God said I’ll change their names. And so it was that Hosea was to live the illustration of an adulterous wife to be brought back, to be brought back to a place of blessing.

In closing, I wanted to bring to light research MacArthur cited in his sermons. He wrote and preached them in 1978. Even then, the damage divorce brings was becoming crystal clear.

Armand Nicholi, MD, a psychiatrist who is also on the faculty of Harvard Medical School, looked at the effect divorce and parental absence had on families. His research appeared in a 1978 edition of Christianity Today. He warned:

Certain trends prevalent today will incapacitate the family, destroy its integrity and cause its members to suffer such crippling emotional conflicts that they will become an intolerable burden to society. If any one factor influences the character development and emotional stability an individual, it is the quality of the relationship he or she experiences as a child with both parents.

And:

Conversely if people suffering from severe non-organic emotional illness have one experience in common, it is the absence of a parent through death, divorce, etc. A parent’s inaccessibility either physically, emotionally or both can profoundly influence a child’s emotional health.

Moving around was also problematic, and some of this was driven by divorce. Nicholi’s research published in 1978 revealed that:

50% of the U. S. population lived at a different address 5 years ago. Consequently young people have no sense of roots, have no concept of extended friendships.

Nicholi saw the 1970s reality and correctly predicted a stark future:

The trend toward quick and easy divorce, and the ever increasing divorce rate subjects more and more children to physically and emotionally absent parents. The divorce rate has risen 700% in this century, and it continues to rise. There is now one divorce for every 1.8 marriages. Over 1 million children a year are involved in divorce cases, and 13 million children under 18 now have one or both parents missing.

First, the quality of family life will continue to deteriorate, producing a society with a higher incidence of mental illness than ever before. 95% of our hospital beds will be taken up by mentally ill people. This illness will be characterized primarily by a lack of self-control. We can expect the assassination of people in authority to be frequent occurrences. Crimes of violence will increase, even those within the family, the suicide rate will rise. As sexuality becomes more unlimited more separated from family and emotionally commitment the deadening effect will cause more bizarre experimenting and widespread perversion.

We’re seeing and living this out today.

Our Lord is perfect in all things, including His exhortations about marriage and divorce. Why do we continue to ignore Him?

Next time: Matthew 6:7-15

 

Bible oldThe 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.

Matthew 5:25-26

25 Come to terms quickly with your accuser while you are going with him to court, lest your accuser hand you over to the judge, and the judge to the guard, and you be put in prison. 26 Truly, I say to you, you will never get out until you have paid the last penny.[a]

—————————————————————

This passage comes from the Sermon on the Mount, which includes not only the Beatitudes from Matthew 5:3-11 but also the rest of Matthew 5 as well as Matthew 6 and Matthew 7!

Jesus delivers a lot of hard-hitting messages in this lengthy sermon comprising three chapters.

The preceding verses to today’s are as follows:

Anger

21 “You have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not murder; and whoever murders will be liable to judgment.’ 22 But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother[c] will be liable to judgment; whoever insults[d] his brother will be liable to the council; and whoever says, ‘You fool!’ will be liable to the hell[e] of fire. 23 So if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, 24 leave your gift there before the altar and go. First be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift.

Therefore, if we are angry at someone — even if we have a nonviolent grudge against them — we are to mend our fences with them before worshipping.

If we make these overtures and the other person does not accept them, then we have done our best and cannot change their minds. We can still pray that divine grace brings them a change of heart in time.

There is something insidious and destructive about anger and grudges. Our Lord says:

whoever insults[d] his brother will be liable to the council; and whoever says, ‘You fool!’ will be liable to the hell[e] of fire.

When we destroy — and continue to destroy — a person’s reputation unjustly and unreasonably, we are in danger of being condemned ourselves when we reach the Final Judgement. Let’s make up now!

On the other hand, some of us have business associates, neighbours or, worse, family members who conduct character assassinations against us. Note the word ‘assassinations’ in that commonly used turn of phrase. Christ says that such harsh words and thoughts in chronic anger are tantamount to murder. Food for thought.

John MacArthur has an interesting take on this with regard to church worship. Even when he gave this sermon on Matthew in 1978, he was already getting requests for the contemporary folderol (trifling thing) so in vogue these days: better aesthetics, modern music and so on to bring in more people.

His response was as follows (emphases mine):

The way to increase the meaningful worship is to get the people out who don’t have any business being here, because there’s something wrong.  You know, I believe that every Sunday there are people who come here, husbands and wives who have bitterness between the two of them and they try to worship God, and God doesn’t want anything to do with it.  I believe there are families that come where there’s animosity from the kids toward the parents or the parents toward the kids and God isn’t interested in their worship

I believe that there are times when we come to church and there is a feeling against somebody else in the fellowship, or a neighbor in the street or somewhere, and we know there’s a bitterness.  We do absolutely nothing about it.  There’s a fellow Christian that we don’t particularly care for and something has happened, and we let that thing settle in a bitterness.  And the Bible says, “Go away.  You offer nothing to God.  He is not interested in your worship.  It’s a sham.” 

Psalm 66:18 says, “If I regard iniquity in my heart, the Lord will not hear me.”  First Samuel 15:22 says, “Has the Lord as great delight in burnt offering and sacrifice, as in obeying the voice of the Lord?  Behold, to obey is better than sacrifice, and to hearken is better than the fat of rams.” 

This brings us to Matthew 5:25 in which Jesus exhorts us to arrive at an agreement with our accuser on the way to court, lest the judge impose a greater penalty than we had anticipated.

Worse, should we find ourselves imprisoned, we will not be released until we have paid our last penny in recompense (verse 26).

Although those verses have practical application, the more pertinent message is about our spiritual state. If we are angry — including bitter — or have not attempted to reconcile ourselves with those who feel similarly towards us, then, we are vulnerable to judgement on that fateful Last Day.

Longtime readers of Forbidden Bible Verses might find this passage sounds familiar. I covered it in an exposition of Luke 12:57-59 in July 2014:

Settle with Your Accuser

 57“And why do you not judge for yourselves what is right? 58 As you go with your accuser before the magistrate, make an effort to settle with him on the way, lest he drag you to the judge, and the judge hand you over to the officer, and the officer put you in prison. 59I tell you, you will never get out until you have paid the very last penny.”[a]

The verses about never getting out until we have paid the last penny implies ‘never’.

Matthew Henry warns:

It is a fearful thing to be thus turned over to the Lord Jesus, when the Lamb shall become the Lion. Angels are the officers to whom Christ will deliver them (Matthew 13:41,42) devils are so too, having the power of death as executioners to all unbelievers, Hebrews 2:14. Hell is the prison, into which those will be cast that continue in a state of enmity to God, 2 Peter 2:4. [5.] Damned sinners must remain in it to eternity[;] they shall not depart till they have paid the uttermost farthing, and that will not be to the utmost ages of eternity: divine justice will be for ever in the satisfying, but never satisfied.

What sort of hell are we talking about? I am still researching the nature of this place. Whether it is literal fire or an existential emptiness devoid of God’s presence which the condemned constantly seek, it will be eternally unpleasant.

MacArthur offers this insight:

Now you notice the word “hell fire” at the end of verse 22?  It’s a very serious word, the word “hell.”  The Greek word translated “hell” here is the word gehenna, and I want to tell you about it.  It’s fascinating.  Gehenna is a word with a history.  Gehenna is used and translated “hell” very commonly.  It’s Matthew 5:22, 29, 30, Matthew 10:28, Matthew 18:9, 23:15, and 23:33, Mark 9, Luke 12.  It’s used in James.  It’s a very common word.  It means “hell.”  But gehenna – now listen – is a reference to Hinnom, gehenna is a form of Hinnom.  It means the valley of Hinnom

When we were in Jerusalem, it was pointed out to us where the valley of Hinnom was.  It is southwest from Jerusalem.  It’s very easy to see.  It’s there today.  It is a notorious place.  I’m going to read you a little of its history.  It was the place where Ahaz had introduced into Israel the fire worship of the heathen god Molech to whom little children were burned in the fire.  “He burned incense in the valley of the son of Hinnom, and he burned his children in the fire.”  Says 2 Chronicles 28:3.  Further, Josiah the reforming king had stamped out the evil worship of Molech in the place of Hinnom, and ordered that the valley should be forever after an accursed place.  Because of what had gone on, because it had been defiled, because in the valley, there had been the fire of Molech. 

Now in consequence of this, the valley of Hinnom bore that curse throughout all of Israel’s history.  It became a place where the Jewish people dumped their garbage.  The valley of Hinnom was the garbage dump of Jerusalem.  And what they had there was a public incinerator that burned all the time, all the time, all the time, never went out, never went out.  And when Jesus referred to gehenna or hell and described the eternal state of the wicked as gehenna, what He was saying is it is an eternal, never ending fire, in an accursed place, where the rubbish of humanity will burn and be consumed.  Vivid language. 

Always, says the historian, the fire smoldered in Hinnom, and a pall of thick smoke lay over Hinnom at all times, and it bred a loathsome kind of worm which was very hard to kill.  That is what our Lord refers to in Mark … “where the worm dies not.”

So gehenna, the valley of Hinnom, became identified in peoples’ minds as a filthy, vile, accursed place where useless and evil things were destroyed, and Jesus used it as a vivid illustration of hell.  And He says if you’re even angry and if you ever say a malicious word to sort of put down some person, or worse than that if you ever cursed them as it were to hell, you are as guilty and as liable for eternal hell as a murderer is.  And so Jesus attacks the sin of anger, the sin of slander, and the sin of cursing, and with it He destroys their self-righteousness. 

I know people who have held grudges against a family member — sometimes members — for decades. The grudges extend through their offspring and grandchildren. The latter say, ‘I don’t even know what it’s about, only that we’re not supposed to talk to them.’

In other cases, the person who refuses to put the grudge aside makes sure that every other family member knows what the grudge is about, sometimes exaggerating and embellishing the circumstances. The notional villain of the piece tries to make up with the family member guilty of character assassination. The angry family member refuses to put bitterness aside. Even worse, this person deprives the family of unity and the isolated person of familial love and affection, which sometimes leads to intense loneliness.

Worse, is that the person leading the hate campaign perceives himself or herself as being saintly and righteous. It happens all the time. To them, this post is dedicated. May they seek reconciliation and, if this is impossible, may they ask for divine forgiveness — then worship God in full peace.

Next time: Matthew 5:31-32

© Churchmouse and Churchmouse Campanologist, 2009-2015. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Churchmouse and Churchmouse Campanologist with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.
WHAT DOES THIS MEAN? If you wish to borrow, 1) please use the link from the post, 2) give credit to Churchmouse and Churchmouse Campanologist, 3) copy only selected paragraphs from the post -- not all of it.
PLAGIARISERS will be named and shamed.
First case: June 2-3, 2011 -- resolved

Creative Commons License
Churchmouse Campanologist by Churchmouse is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 UK: England & Wales License.
Permissions beyond the scope of this license may be available at https://churchmousec.wordpress.com/.

Enter your email address to subscribe to this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

Join 640 other followers

Archive

Calendar of posts

May 2015
S M T W T F S
« Apr    
 12
3456789
10111213141516
17181920212223
24252627282930
31  
Bloglisting.net - The internets fastest growing blog directory
Powered by WebRing.
This site is a member of WebRing.
To browse visit Here.

Blog Stats

  • 786,317 hits
Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 640 other followers