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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Bible evangewomanblogspotcomThe 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 (here and here).

Matthew 8:14-17

Jesus Heals Many

14 And when Jesus entered Peter’s house, he saw his mother-in-law lying sick with a fever. 15 He touched her hand, and the fever left her, and she rose and began to serve him. 16 That evening they brought to him many who were oppressed by demons, and he cast out the spirits with a word and healed all who were sick. 17 This was to fulfill what was spoken by the prophet Isaiah: “He took our illnesses and bore our diseases.”

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The miracles recounted thus far in Matthew 8 took place just after Jesus gave His Sermon on the Mount.

We read about His cleansing of the leper and His healing of the centurion’s young servant from a distance. Both men exhibited great humility and faith. The leper said that Jesus had the power to cleanse him should He choose to do so. The centurion told Jesus that he was unworthy to have Him in his house but if He only said the word the servant would be healed.

Jesus then went to Simon Peter’s house and healed his mother-in-law of fever. Afterward, He healed many who had demons and diseases.

Mark’s and Luke’s Gospels carry the same accounts. I have highlighted differences to Matthew’s below. First, Mark 1:29-34, a three-year Lectionary reading:

Jesus Heals Many

29 And immediately he[f] left the synagogue and entered the house of Simon and Andrew, with James and John. 30 Now Simon’s mother-in-law lay ill with a fever, and immediately they told him about her. 31 And he came and took her by the hand and lifted her up, and the fever left her, and she began to serve them.

32 That evening at sundown they brought to him all who were sick or oppressed by demons. 33 And the whole city was gathered together at the door. 34 And he healed many who were sick with various diseases, and cast out many demons. And he would not permit the demons to speak, because they knew him.

Secondly, Luke’s verses, about which I wrote in June 2013 — Luke 4:38-39 and Luke 4:40-41:

38 And he arose and left the synagogue and entered Simon’s house. Now Simon’s mother-in-law was ill with a high fever, and they appealed to him on her behalf. 39And he stood over her and rebuked the fever, and it left her, and immediately she rose and began to serve them.

40Now when the sun was setting, all those who had any who were sick with various diseases brought them to him, and he laid his hands on every one of them and healed them. 41 And demons also came out of many, crying, “You are the Son of God!” But he rebuked them and would not allow them to speak, because they knew that he was the Christ.

In Matthew’s account, it was Jesus who saw that Peter’s mother-in-law was stricken by fever (verse 14). It is not necessarily a contradiction. It could be that Matthew wanted to get straight to the nub of the miracle.

Then there is the greater controversy of what happened when. Why does this miracle appear in a seemingly different chronology in the Gospels? This was debated even in the 17th century, when Matthew Henry lived:

They who pretend to be critical in the Harmony of the evangelists, place this passage, and all that follows to the end of Matthew 8:14-9:38 before the sermon on the mount, according to the order which Mark and Luke observe in placing it. Dr. Lightfoot [Bible scholar] places only this passage before the sermon on the mount, and Matthew 8:18, &c. after.

Wherever it occurs, the important thing is that it happened.

As I explained in my commentary on Luke’s account, mentioning the synagogue meant that it was the Sabbath and a lunch would surely have followed. John MacArthur made that observation and said the same when he preached about Matthew’s verses (emphases mine):

the other gospels tell us it was on the Sabbath, and they had been to the synagogue.  In fact, all of these, as I said, may have happened the same day. And they went over to Peter’s house.  You know, they do what we do.  They go to synagogue or church, and then they go home and have dinner, but they were having a problem there.  The other writer, Mark it is, tells us that Andrew was there, and James was there, and John was there; so you got Peter, Peter’s wife, James, John, Andrew, and Jesus.  You got six people, and they got a real tragedy.  How can you have Sabbath dinner when mother-in-law is sick?  Right?  That’s what mother-in-law’s for, right? How can you possibly have a decent meal?  Plus it puts a damper on the whole operationSo the others come to Jesus, according to Mark’s account, and they say, “Come on home with us and heal her so we can have dinner.” So, you know: first things first.  You know, why not?  Nothing wrong with service; give her an opportunity to serve.  “When Jesus was coming into Peter’s house, He saw his wife’s mother lying and sick with a fever.”  Peter was married.  We know that, because 1 Corinthians 9, he says later on his ministry, Paul says, it’s not wrong for Peter in his ministry to lead about a wife, which means that she traveled with him in some of his ministry.  And so here is his mother-in-law.

Matthew says that Jesus touched the woman’s hand, she was healed and rose to serve Him (verse 15). The implication is that the healing was, as Luke says, ‘immediate’. We can assume lunch was a rather grand affair of relief and gratitude:

I’ll bet she whipped up bagels and gefilte fish or whatever … like they’d never had.  St. Peter’s fish, maybe, that comes out of that sea.  That’s what they call it now.  But they had a great time.

Not only did Jesus heal a relative of Peter’s, but that relative was also a woman — an inferior to the male. MacArthur explains that this miracle was a criticism of the thinking of that era, particularly among the Jewish leaders:

Now, the Jews used to get up, the Pharisees used to get up, and they said the same thing every morning.  This was their standard statement:  “I thank Thee that I am not a slave, a Gentile, or a woman.”  They believed that lepers and Gentiles and women, sort of in the same category.  They had a very low view of women; and for Jesus to throw in a healing of a woman, you see, is just another indictment.  And a mother-in-law, I mean, you know, that’s even going beyond. So He is, He is really slapping in the face … all their tradition.

Some Christian men do not seem to have understood this, either. They, too, view women as less than human. Do an online search on Paul’s verses and others. You can read for yourselves. I find it hard to pray for such men.

Then began a rather charged evening of healing the sick, including those afflicted with demons (verse 16). Jesus spoke to rid the afflicted of their demons and healed all those who were sick. Whilst Matthew and Luke do not state where this took place, Mark says that the whole city was gathered at the door! It must have been Simon Peter’s house.

Matthew mentions a verse from the prophet Isaiah to indicate that Jesus is indeed the Messiah (Isaiah 53:4):

Surely he has borne our griefs
    and carried our sorrows;
yet we esteemed him stricken,
    smitten by God, and afflicted.

Before I go into the first half of the verse, observe how even today the world — unbelievers, agnostics — considers Jesus ‘smitten by God, and afflicted’. Isaiah is telling us that this is wrong. Still, how do we convince people of that?

MacArthur says that if there were no original sin, there would be no continuing sin, disease or death. This leads mockers — unbelievers and agnostics — to conclude that if one believes in Christ, one should never be stricken with the common cold or cancer.

Yet, that, too, is an incorrect conclusion. MacArthur says:

Christ died for our sins, not our sicknesses.  The gospel is good news about forgiveness, not health … Christ took away our sin, not our sickness.  He died on the cross for our sin. 

That said, by restoring people’s physical or mental health our Lord was providing a preview of the kingdom to come when we shall all be made perfect:

Matthew opens up to us the fact that the statement, “He took our infirmities and bore our diseases,” extends from the sin problem to the sickness problem.  Yes, there’s healing in the atonement. Yes, there’s wholeness there, but only in so far as it comes to us in the fullness of salvation, the redemption of our bodies when we’re glorified in His eternal kingdom. And so we see here that what you have really is just a taste of the kingdom, just a preview of the kingdom.  Yes, someday He will bear our sicknesses away.  Someday He will carry our infirmities all away and this is a taste of that, which was said by the prophet IsaiahYou see?  The great Word!

However, as I have said before, our Lord also showed His infinite mercy in creative miracles. As He is all divine and all human, He knows how humanity suffers. MacArthur observes:

So there’s a sense in which He took our infirmities and took our diseases by feeling with us the pain that they bring.  Secondly, I think there’s a sense in which He took our infirmities and took our sicknesses in that He felt the root of them. 

I have highlighted MacArthur’s words on Christ’s miracles, faith and sin:

If you can deny that He’s God in the face of these things, it is not because there is no evidence.  It is because there is no faith in your heart, and there’s no faith there because your heart is bound by sin.

Enough said.

Next time: Matthew 8:18-22

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.

Matthew 8:5-13

The Faith of a Centurion

5 When he had entered Capernaum, a centurion came forward to him, appealing to him, “Lord, my servant is lying paralyzed at home, suffering terribly.” And he said to him, “I will come and heal him.” But the centurion replied, “Lord, I am not worthy to have you come under my roof, but only say the word, and my servant will be healed. For I too am a man under authority, with soldiers under me. And I say to one, ‘Go,’ and he goes, and to another, ‘Come,’ and he comes, and to my servant,[a] ‘Do this,’ and he does it.” 10 When Jesus heard this, he marveled and said to those who followed him, “Truly, I tell you, with no one in Israel[b] have I found such faith. 11 I tell you, many will come from east and west and recline at table with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven, 12 while the sons of the kingdom will be thrown into the outer darkness. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.” 13 And to the centurion Jesus said, “Go; let it be done for you as you have believed.” And the servant was healed at that very moment.

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A parallel account of this miracle is in Luke 7:1-10. I have highlighted the differences in bold:

Jesus Heals a Centurion’s Servant

After he had finished all his sayings in the hearing of the people, he entered Capernaum. Now a centurion had a servant[a] who was sick and at the point of death, who was highly valued by him. When the centurion[b] heard about Jesus, he sent to him elders of the Jews, asking him to come and heal his servant. And when they came to Jesus, they pleaded with him earnestly, saying, “He is worthy to have you do this for him, for he loves our nation, and he is the one who built us our synagogue.” And Jesus went with them. When he was not far from the house, the centurion sent friends, saying to him, “Lord, do not trouble yourself, for I am not worthy to have you come under my roof. Therefore I did not presume to come to you. But say the word, and let my servant be healed. For I too am a man set under authority, with soldiers under me: and I say to one, ‘Go,’ and he goes; and to another, ‘Come,’ and he comes; and to my servant, ‘Do this,’ and he does it.” When Jesus heard these things, he marveled at him, and turning to the crowd that followed him, said, “I tell you, not even in Israel have I found such faith.” 10 And when those who had been sent returned to the house, they found the servant well.

Whether the centurion sought our Lord in person or sent local Jewish elders is less important than the fact that this Gentile — pagan — had not only a deep humility but true faith that Jesus was fully capable of healing the sick from a distance.

To better appreciate this miracle and the centurion’s mindset, it is useful to try and place oneself in that era. A supplicant centurion, even via emissaries, was surprising as was Jesus’s agreement to heal the servant. Matthew’s passage also includes our Lord’s prediction about the Jewish people and Gentiles.

Looking at verse 5, the backdrop is Capernaum, which Jesus had just entered. It is likely that this, as well as the cleansing of the leper, occurred shortly after He had concluded the Sermon on the Mount nearby.

A centurion approached Jesus. This was every bit as astonishing as the leper who, a short while beforehand, told Jesus that He could cleanse him if He saw it appropriate. That appeal was an exercise in humility.

Just as the leper was an outcast, so was the centurion. The centurion, a Roman military officer, would have commanded 80 to 200 men. Rome stationed centurions throughout the empire’s territories. Their presence was a constant reminder of domination.

John MacArthur says that Israel’s centurions were local men — Gentiles — therefore, pagans (emphases mine):

The soldiers of the Roman occupation army were not really sent from Rome.  They were trained in the community or the area where they were being occupied. And what they did, according to history, what they did in Palestine was they found non-Jewish people in that area and they drew them into the Roman army and trained themThis man in Capernaum was, no doubt, a soldier under the troops of Antipas. And if he was a non-Jew living in this area, it is highly likely that he was a Samaritan. And if it was bad to be a Gentile, the worst kind of Gentile was a Samaritan, because a Samaritan was a Jew who had intermarried into Gentile lines, and that was to sacrifice his Jewish heritage, the worst imaginable kind of Gentile half-breed.

So here you’ve got a guy who’s a Gentile.  He’s the worst kind of Gentile, a Samaritan.  He’s the worst kind of Samaritan.  He is a member of the occupation forces of the Roman army who are oppressing Israel.

Yet, this man, as Luke tells us, built a synagogue for his local congregation. MacArthur says the ruins of the temple still exist, even if Capernaum as a town no longer does:

He loved their nation, and he built them a synagogue in Capernaum.  I’ve been in Capernaum.  I’ve stood in the ruins of the synagogue there.  They say the footings of the synagogue came from this day, and maybe they were purchased by this very centurion.

Now back to Matthew’s account. In verse 6, the centurion appealed to our Lord, telling Him that his servant is at home ‘suffering terribly’ from paralysis.

The ESV defines ‘servant’ here as ‘bondservant’, someone who owed a debt to the master which was to be paid off through slavery. MacArthur says that the servant could have been a child:

“Lord, my, [He used the word pais in the Greek, which means my child] my child lies at home sick of the paralutikos.”  He’s a paralytic, sick of the paralysis, grievously tormented, or suffering tremendously or suffering severely.  Now, the word pais is used here, and it means child.  Luke uses the word doulos, which means bond slave. And the question comes up: Was he his child or his bond slave?  The answer is it was rather common to have a child slave in the house, a young boy. And that’s what it was, a boy servant, a boy slave. And so he says, “My boy slave is at home sick of the paralysis.”  We don’t know whether it was polio or whether it was a nervous system or brain disorder or a tumor.  We just don’t know; but he was paralyzed and in tremendous pain.

Jesus immediatly responded that He would go to the servant and heal him (verse 7). This was unthinkable in view of the Jews’ impressions of Gentiles, the lowest of the low who would never inherit the kingdom of God. Jesus would have been in the midst of a crowd, so onlookers must have been shocked or confused. MacArthur explains:

They believed that, before the kingdom came, all the Gentiles would be destroyed.  That’s right.  If you read the, some of the apocryphal literature like 2 Baruch, chapter 29, it pictures the, what they believe is going to be the great feast, where all the Jews will sit down with Messiah … The great messianic banquet; and never, for a moment, did they believe that Gentiles would be reclining at the table with them.

Furthermore:

They wouldn’t … use—a Gentile utensil.  They, they believed that Gentiles aborted their babies and threw them down the draft in the house.  Therefore, the house was polluted by a dead body, and they had all kinds of strange things that the rabbis had invented to keep them apart from the Gentiles.

For this reason, and also out of profound personal humility, the centurion declined Jesus’s gracious offer (verse 7).

Instead, he said that Jesus needed only say the word in order for the servant to be healed (verse 8).

The centurion was in awe of Jesus. He discusses his own situation — commanding soldiers — and, in this (verse 9), is saying that he recognised His authority. The unspoken subtext is that Jesus’s power and authority are infinitely greater than his own. Hence, the humility of his appeal. He dared not to invite Jesus to his home. He did not feel worthy.

Jesus immediately contrasted this Gentile’s faith and recognition with what He had found among His own people whom He came to save (verse 10).

He then issued a strong warning that many, unknown to the Jews, would inherit the kingdom of heaven (verse 11), whilst those expecting to be there would instead be cast into ‘outer darkness’ where there is ‘weeping and gnashing of teeth’ (verse 12).

And, as we read in John MacArthur’s analysis of the first several chapters of Matthew’s Gospel, Jesus left the Jews in order to teach and heal the Gentiles, establishing His Church among their number.

Returning to the centurion, Jesus instructed him to return home where he would find the servant healed — just as he believed (verse 13):

And the servant was healed at that very moment.

As Christians we can take several lessons from this, if not for ourselves, for others. Citations below are from Matthew Henry’s commentary.

1/ God owes us — miserable sinners that we are — no favours. May we therefore approach Him and His Son in humility and supplication for divine mercy and grace. The centurion, like the leper, recognised this. Note how they both approached Jesus. The leper: should You see fit to do so, You can heal me. The centurion: I am not worthy of Your presence in my house, but just say the word and my servant will be healed.

The centurion came to Christ with a petition, and therefore expressed himself thus humbly. Note, In all our approaches to Christ, and to God through Christ, it becomes us to abase ourselves, and to lie low in the sense of our own unworthiness, as mean creatures and as vile sinners, to do any thing for God, to receive any good from him, or to have any thing to do with him.

2/ Our Lord recognises our caring about others. The centurion’s servant was a slave who could have been put out of the house or neglected. There were many others who could have replaced him. Yet, the centurion was careful to seek Jesus’s help, even though the slave was on the bottom rung of society.

A charitable regard to his poor servant. We read of many that came to Christ for their children, but this is the only instance of one that came to him for a servant [he] sought out the best relief he could for him the servant could not have done more for the master, than the master did here for the servant.

We can extrapolate ‘servant’ for others who are equally deserving of our charity.

3/ This is also a spiritual analogy, relating to the state of the souls in our care.

We should thus concern ourselves for the souls of our children, and servants, that are spiritually sick of the palsy, the dead-palsy, the dumb palsy senseless of spiritual evils, inactive in that which is spiritually good, and bring them to the means of healing and health.

4/ May we never neglect the virtue of humility before Christ and our fellow man.

He does not say, “My servant is not worthy that thou shouldest come into his chamber, because it is in the garret ” But I am not worthy that thou shouldest come into my house. The centurion was a great man, yet he owned his unworthiness before God. Note, Humility very well becomes persons of quality. Christ now made but a mean figure in the world, yet the centurion, looking upon him as a prophet, yea, more than a prophet, paid him this respect. Note, We should have a value and veneration for what we see of God, even in those who, in outward condition, are every way our inferiors.

5/ Personal humility ties in with deep faith.

The more humility the more faith the more diffident we are of ourselves, the stronger will be our confidence in Jesus Christ.

6/ The centurion showed us that power of Christ knows no bounds.

This centurion believed, and it is undoubtedly true, that the power of Christ knows no limits, and therefore nearness and distance are alike to him. Distance of place cannot obstruct either the knowing or working of him that fills all places.

7/ Christ answers the call, whatever social status, of those with faith: leper or centurion.

Christ’s humility, in being willing to come, gave an example to him, and occasioned his humility, in owning himself unworthy to have him come. Note, Christ’s gracious condescensions to us, should make us the more humble and self-abasing before him.

8/ As was true with the Jews of Jesus’s time, not everyone who considers himself a member of the Church will be saved. We are in for some surprises:

Note, When we come to heaven, as we shall miss a great many there, that we thought had been going thither, so we shall meet a great many there, that we did not expect.

9/ Do we put our temporal comforts above our relationship with Christ? Are we in danger of putting ourselves in peril for eternity, a concept which is difficult for us to understand?

They shall be cast out from God, and all true comfort, and cast into darkness. In hell there is fire, but no light it is utter darkness[:] darkness in extremity the highest degree of darkness, without any remainder, or mixture, or hope, of light not the least gleam or glimpse of it it is darkness that results from their being shut out of heaven, the land of light they who are without, are in the regions of darkness yet that is not the worst of it, there shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth. 1. In hell there will be great grief, floods of tears shed to no purpose anguish of spirit preying eternally upon the vitals, in the sense of the wrath of God, is the torment of the damned. 2. Great indignation: damned sinners will gnash their teeth for spite and vexation, full of the fury of the Lord seeing with envy the happiness of others, and reflecting with horror upon the former possibility of their own being happy, which is now past.

With our busy schedules, let us ensure we make time to pray, even in the most unlikely places: the walk to a bus stop or railway station, when crossing the car park on the way to the office, whilst we are preparing dinner or doing household chores.

May we also develop the faith and humility of the centurion.

Next time: Matthew 8:14-17

hiding thebreakthroughorgOne of the most disappointing things believers encounter online are Christian sites that further conspiracy theories.

It is one thing to alert others about evil in this world which comes from corrupt and powerful people. It is quite another to continue to encourage those vulnerable in the faith to think that they should be living in fear because of it.

Certainly, there are places in the world — Africa and the Middle East — where Christians are suffering and dying for their Saviour.

We in the West, on the other hand, are keyboard warriors for real or extrapolated scary events and threatening people. If have fallen into this trap whilst professing to be Christians, aren’t we putting man above our Lord?

Encouraging other believers to be afraid is a denial of Christ. In fact, it is one of the Devil’s best works. By cloaking conspiracy theories as being biblical, those new to or shaky in Christianity see a bogeyman around every corner. They forget Christ’s power over sin and sinful man. Instead, they gravitate towards unbelief by feeding on conspiracy theories.

The Sola Sisters, two women who came to the faith in adulthood, explore falsehoods connected with Christianity. In 2015, they wrote extensively about and against conspiracy theories.

In one of these posts, ‘Christians and Conspiracy Theories: Witnessing, Romans 1 and An Appeal (Part 4)’ they say (emphases in the original, purple one mine):

What is the end-game for it? What lost people need is not a dissertation on evil. They need Christ. They need the gospel message. They need to be helped to understand what sin is, and then told that they need to repent and believe on Christ for the forgiveness of sins.

Let’s keep our eyes on the Christ, and make sure we’re keeping our hearts pure, and making sure our time is being spent on a BALANCED study of the Scriptures.

“All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the servant of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.” (2 Tim 3:16-17) 

“Finally, brethren, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.” (Phil 4:8)

“But in your hearts revere Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect.” (1 Peter 3:15)

“The path of the righteous is like the morning sun, shining ever brighter till the full light of day.” (Prov 4:18)

So let’s keep the main thing the main thing. Preach Jesus Christ and him crucified. And when souls are saved through the preaching of the gospel, those new believers WILL leave behind the trappings of the world of their own accord, because He who has begun good work in them will bring it to completion, will He not?

A few other Bible verses come to mind (emphases mine):

The Lord foils the plans of the nations; he thwarts the purposes of the peoples. (Psalms 33:10, NIV)

Do not call conspiracy everything that these people call conspiracy; do not fear what they fear, and do not dread it. (Isaiah 8:12, NIV)

And of whom have you been afraid, or feared, that you have lied and not remembered Me, nor taken it to your heart? Is it not because I have held My peace from of old that you do not fear Me? (Isaiah 57:11, NKJ)

But seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness … (Matthew 6:33, KJV)

Those of us alarming others about conspiracy theories would do well to realise that every moment we spend concentrating on them removes our focus from Christ Jesus.

We would do well to ask ourselves if we are doing the Lord’s work or Satan’s.

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

Excerpts follow, emphases mine:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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 8:1-4

Jesus Cleanses a Leper

1 When he came down from the mountain, great crowds followed him. 2 And behold, a leper[a] came to him and knelt before him, saying, “Lord, if you will, you can make me clean.” And Jesus[b] stretched out his hand and touched him, saying, “I will; be clean.” And immediately his leprosy was cleansed. And Jesus said to him, “See that you say nothing to anyone, but go, show yourself to the priest and offer the gift that Moses commanded, for a proof to them.”

—————————————————————————-

This miracle took place after Jesus gave the Sermon on the Mount, not far from Capernaum. It also resumes the widespread healing recorded at the end of Matthew 4, which I covered in April 2015.

As we saw last week, the crowds were in awe of His authority. They followed Him afterward (verse 1). That did not indicate that all — even most — of them were going to follow His teachings. Most were merely intrigued and curious.

A leper approached our Lord (verse 2). This was unheard of. Those diagnosed with leprosy had to isolate themselves from the rest of the population and when anyone walked past say, ‘Unclean’.

Leviticus 13 details what the Lord told Moses and Aaron about leprosy. A priest had to diagnose the condition and attempt to cure it. Not every skin condition was leprosy, hence the lengthy descriptions therein of what it is and what it is not.

As a disease Matthew Henry explains leprosy’s severity, its connection to personal sin in the Old Testament and how Christ is the only One who can heal and save us (emphases in bold mine):

This is fitly recorded with the first of Christ’s miracles, 1. Because the leprosy was looked upon, among the Jews, as a particular mark of God’s displeasure: hence we find Miriam, Gehazi, and Uzziah, smitten with leprosy for some one particular sin and therefore Christ, to show that he came to turn away the wrath of God, by taking away sin, began with the cure of a leper. 2. Because this disease, as it was supposed to come immediately from the hand of God, so also it was supposed to be removed immediately by his hand, and therefore it was not attempted to be cured by physicians, but was put under the inspection of the priests, the Lord’s ministers, who waited to see what God would do. And its being in a garment, or in the walls of a house, was altogether supernatural: and it should seem to be a disease of a quite different nature from what we now call the leprosy. The king of Israel said, Am I God, that I am sent to, to recover a man of a leprosy? 2 Kings 5:7. Christ proved himself God, by recovering many from the leprosy, and authorizing his disciples, in his name, to do so too (Matthew 10:8), and it is put among the proofs of his being the Messiah, Matthew 11:5. He also showed himself to be the Saviour of his people from their sins for though every disease is both the fruit of sin, and a figure of it, as the disorder of the soul, yet the leprosy was in a special manner so for it contracted such a pollution, and obliged to such a separation from holy things, as no other disease did and therefore in the laws concerning it (Leviticus 13:1-14:57), it is treated, not as a sickness, but as an uncleanness[;] the priest was to pronounce the party clean or unclean, according to the indications: but the honour of making the lepers clean was reserved for Christ, who was to do it as the High Priest of our profession he comes to do that which the law could not do, in that it was weak through the flesh, Romans 8:3.

Note that the leper knelt before Jesus and said that He had the power to cleanse him, should He see fit to do so (verse 2). It is possible that, even though he was not allowed to go anywhere or interact with anyone, he overheard conversations about Jesus from passersby.

Jesus responded by touching the leper (verse 3). This was also unheard of. Leprosy is highly contagious. He then verbally agreed to the man’s request: ‘I will; be clean’.

The man was completely cleansed straightaway. This was true of all of our Lord’s healing — what theologians refer to as creative — miracles. People were restored to immediate full health.

From a physical and social perspective, the Gospels show us our Lord’s temporal mercy. The leper, and others, had disorders which prevented them from engaging with life and people.

From a spiritual perspective, the appeals from the afflicted and resulting creative miracles show that only Christ has the power to deliver us from sin.

Matthew Henry explains:

Sin is the leprosy of the soul[;] it shuts us out from communion with God, to which that we maybe restored, it is necessary that we be cleansed from this leprosy, and this ought to be our great concern. Now observe, It is our comfort when we apply ourselves to Christ, as the great Physician, that if he will, he can make us clean and we should, with an humble, believing boldness, go to him and tell him so. That is, (1.) We must rest ourselves upon his power we must be confident of this, that Christ can make us clean. No guilt is so great but that there is a sufficiency in his righteousness to atone for it no corruption so strong, but there is a sufficiency in his grace to subdue it. God would not appoint a physician to his hospital that is not par negotio–every way qualified for the undertaking. (2.) We must recommend ourselves to his pity we cannot demand it as a debt, but we must humbly request it as a favour “Lord, if thou wilt. I throw myself at thy feet, and if I perish, I will perish there.”

Jesus instructed the cleansed man to go to the priest, without talking to anyone else beforehand, and offer the requisite sacrifice (verse 4).

Did the man do so? Mark 1:40-45, a three-year Lectionary reading, tells us that he couldn’t stop himself from telling others about his cleansing.

Luke 5:12-16, which I wrote about in July 2013, does not say whether the leper went to the priest or whether he told anyone else about it. In any case, word spread rapidly, necessitating Jesus’s retreat to desolate areas as He was besieged by crowds. My post on Luke’s account of the leper’s cleansing cites John MacArthur’s sermon in which he surmised that Jesus might have wanted the man to go to the priests for some breathing space. It would have taken them a week, in line with Leviticus 13, to pronounce the man as being cleansed.

John MacArthur gave his sermon on Matthew’s account of the leper in the 1970s. He says that what we call leprosy today is actually Hansen‘s Disease. Whilst the two are somewhat different, they are also similar:

Diseases can take different forms.  Some can be eliminated altogether, and so we don’t really know if it was exactly the same. But it seems best to assume, from the description of Leviticus 13 … that it was extremely similar; and the only real comparison that we can draw to whatever this disease was will come from our understanding of the disease of leprosy.  Throughout the history of study of these things, most people have drawn that parallel

This disease, leprosy, as it’s called in the Bible, was no doubt picked up in Egypt.  Most of the classic writers feel that leprosy originated in Egypt and, by the way, it is caused—they now know in medical science—by a bacillus or bacteria called mycobacterium leprae.  And this disease has been found in at least one mummy that’s been uncovered in Egypt and it’s manifest on the physical body (because of the mummification) that this particular person did have leprosy. So we know it stretches way back into ancient times.  This disease then, of course, as the children of Israel were in the land of Egypt, was transmitted to them; and when they came into the Promised Land, they carried this disease with them.

Now, it was a problem, because of the horror of the disease itself. And so God, as he built in many laws to the life of Israel to protect them from plagues and things, gave them laws to deal with leprosy, so they would not contract this disease. 

MacArthur also told his congregation that Hansen’s Disease exists in the United States. This was its status in the 1970s:

By the way, you might also be interested to note that it is on the rise in the United States of America, and the state that leads America in incidents of leprosy is CaliforniaTen years ago, we had thirty to forty new cases a year, and now we’re over 300.  So it can be controlled also today by what is called DDS Dapsone, I think it’s called.  It’s some kind of a drug that is used, and it can only control the superficial elements of leprosy.  It can’t eliminate it altogether, because it’s one disease that you can’t kill.  It’s there till you die, as far as they can tell.  There may be some cases, but normally, that’s the way it runs.

His sermon explains how it is contracted today:

Leprosy is passed—and I read this just in an up-to-date LA Times journal thing on, on the, on the medical analysis of Hans[e]n’s disease—leprosy is passed when it is inhaled through the airIt comes from the mouth into the mouth.  That’s one way it is passed, and that’s why, when he goes around, he covers his mouth.  Also, they found that people have contracted leprosy when they have both touched the same object; that the bacillus can exist on the same object.  For example, they have cases where people have gone in to get tattooed, and when they were tattooed by the same needle, they came up with the same kind of leprosy

This is what happens:

The first thing that leprosy does, it attacks—apart from its physical symptoms, what you see, the patchiness and so forth—it attacks the nervous system and immediately anesthetizes the limbs.

People say, “Well, their noses just fall off, and their fingers fall off.”  Not really.  Part of the problem is, when they lose all their feeling, they literally rub their extremities off.  They found in the leprosarium in Carville, Louisiana, in the United States, that when they’ve studied people who have leprosy that this is what happened.  For example, a man who has leprosy has ill-fitting shoes, and because he can’t feel that they’re ill-fitting at all, they rub his toes off.  And a woman who works with her hands finds that she rubs her fingers off, because she has no sensitivity to what’s happening to her hands.  And they rub their faces the same way; and you add to that that leprosy further attacks the bone marrow.  It infects, then, the blood supply. The bones begin to shrivel, and as the bones shrivel, they draw the skin and the tissue in so that they appear to have fingers like claws and feet like claws that do the same thing.  And there is then that oozing that occurs, as well as the skin disease has its infection; and all of that combined when, when you use those infected, atrophying fingers, results in rubbing them off.  Horrible thing.  They literally lose their limbs.

It attacks the eyes and brings blindness, the teeth, and they fall out.  It attacks the internal organs so that sterility occurs.  Frankly, it’s not that painful. It’s just the most ugly thing imaginable in the world.  Starts with a white or pink patch on the brow, the ear, the, the nose, the chin or the cheek.  Then it begins to spread and becomes spongy, tumorous, bulbous, swellings all over the face.  Then it becomes systemic, and that’s when it begins to come into the liver and the bone marrow, the blood supply.  You lose your feeling, blindness.

Leprous suppurations emit a strong, unpleasant odour, repulsive to those around them.

We can well understand how it is seen to be a curse. Sin, too, is a curse. Our only Physician is Christ our Lord:

I see in this an analogy.  This text, to me, is analogous to a conversion.  Follow this thought in conclusion: leprosy, ceremonial unclean, demonstration of sin, it’s just like sin.  Sin is pervasive.  Sin is ugly.  Sin is loathsome.  Sin is communicable.  Sin is incurable.  Sin makes you an outcast. But the leper came with confidence.  Why?  Because he got desperate enough over his leprosy, right?  That’s how conversion happens.  People don’t get saved unless they get desperate over the loathsomeness of the disease of sin.  And, beloved, that is so missing in the evangelism of our time.  The man came.  He lost all the social stigma.  He lost all of the fear of being ostracized.  He didn’t care about that anymore.  He was overwhelmed with the loathsomeness of his disease.  Coming to Christ is not getting on the bandwagon.  It’s being wretched and knowing it.

Next time: Matthew 8:5-13

hiding thebreakthroughorgOur Lord’s final teaching in the Sermon on the Mount concerns our spiritual foundation (Matthew 7:24-27):

Build Your House on the Rock

24 “Everyone then who hears these words of mine and does them will be like a wise man who built his house on the rock. 25 And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house, but it did not fall, because it had been founded on the rock. 26 And everyone who hears these words of mine and does not do them will be like a foolish man who built his house on the sand. 27 And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell, and great was the fall of it.”

This reading is included in the three-year Lectionary. However, it bears close examination.

True conversion and obedience have been an intractable problem since the earliest days of the Church. Heresy entered quickly, some (Simon Magus) thought it was magic, others applied legalism instead of grace and, for many decades now, some Christian leaders have attempted to make the Church a worldly institution.

Matthew Henry explains how Jesus set out this teaching to the multitude (emphases mine). Henry died early in the 18th century and in his ministry encountered the same mindsets as clergy do today:

The hearers of Christ’s word are here divided into two sorts some that hear, and do what they hear others that hear and do not. Christ preached now to a mixed multitude, and he thus separates them, one from the other, as he will at the great day, when all nations shall be gathered before him. Christ is still speaking from heaven by his word and Spirits, speaks by ministers, by providences, and of those that hear him there are two sorts.

(1.) Some that hear his sayings and do them: blessed be God that there are any such, though comparatively few. To hear Christ is not barely to give him the hearing, but to obey him. Note, It highly concerns us all to do what we hear of the saying of Christ. It is a mercy that we hear his sayings: Blessed are those ears, Matthew 13:16,17. But, if we practise not what we hear, we receive that grace in vain. To do Christ’s sayings is conscientiously to abstain from the sins that he forbids, and to perform the duties that he requires. Our thoughts and affections, our words and actions, the temper of our minds, and the tenour of our lives, must be conformable to the gospel of Christ that is the doing he requires. All the sayings of Christ, not only the laws he has enacted, but the truths he has revealed, must be done by us. They are a light, not only to our eyes, but to our feet, and are designed not only to inform our judgments, but to reform our hearts and lives: nor do we indeed believe them, if we do not live up to them. Observe, It is not enough to hear Christ’s sayings, and understand them, hear them, and remember them, hear them, and talk of them, repeat them, dispute for them but we must hear, and do them. This do, and thou shalt live. Those only that hear, and do, are blessed (Luke 11:28; John 13:17), and are akin to Christ. Matthew 12:50.

(2.) There are others who hear Christ’s sayings and do them not their religion rests in bare hearing, and goes no further like children that have the rickets, their heads swell with empty notions, and indigested opinions, but their joints are weak, and they heavy and listless they neither can stir, nor care to stir, in any good duty they hear God’s words, as if they desired to know his ways, like a people that did righteousness, but they will not do them, Ezekiel 33:30,31; Isaiah 58:2. Thus they deceive themselves, as Micah, who thought himself happy, because he had a Levite to be his priest, though he had not the Lord to be his God. The seed is sown, but it never comes up they see their spots in the glass of the word, but wash them off, James 1:22,24. Thus they put a cheat upon their own souls for it is certain, if our hearing be not the means of our obedience, it will be the aggravation of our disobedience. Those who only hear Christ’s sayings, and do them not, sit down in the midway to heaven, and that will never bring them to their journey’s end. They are akin to Christ only by the half-blood, and our law allows not such to inherit.

The first group builds a spiritual house on the rock of Christ. The second on sand, where they fall prey to temptation and experience problems with faith.

John MacArthur examines the latter group in detail. Note that some appear to be saved and, in reality, are not:

apart from hypocrites, there are two categories of the deceived in the church, the superficial and the involved.  The superficial are the ones who call themselves Christians because when they were little they went to church or Sunday School or they got confirmed or made a decision, quote/unquote, “for Christ”  …

Then there’s the involved who are deceived and they’re a much more subtle and serious group.  They’re in the church up to their neck involved, and they know the gospel, they know the theology but they don’t obey the Word of God.  They live in a constant state of sinfulness.  Now, how does a deceived person know he’s deceived?  How can we spot such a person?  Let me give you some keys, and I want you to think these through

Now, not everybody in these keys that I’m going to give you is really deceived but these are good indicators that someone might be deceived.  If you want to spot someone who’s deceived, look first of all for someone who’s seeking feelings, blessings, experiences, healings, angels, miracles.  Why?  Chances are they’re more interested in the byproducts of the faith than they are the faith itself.  They’re more interested in what they can get than the glory God can get.  They’re more interested in themselves than in the exaltation of Christ.

Secondly, if you’re looking to see who might be deceived, look for people who are more committed to the denomination, the church, the organization than to the Word of God.  Their kind of Christianity may be purely social …

Thirdly, look for people who are involved in theology as an academic interest.  And you’ll find them all over the colleges and seminaries of our land.  People who study theology, write books on theology, absolutely void of the righteousness of Christ.  Theology for them is intellectual activity.

Fourthly, look for people who always seem stuck on one overemphasized point of theology.  This is the person who bangs the proverbial drum for his own little area, some crazy quirk.  And it usually is not some great divine insight.  They’d like you to think that they are so close to God they have a great divine insight no one else has.  The fact of the matter is they’re seeking a platform for the feeding of their ego.  Watch for people with a lack of balance

And one other thought.  When you look for somebody who might be deceived, look for someone who is overindulgent in the name of grace, overindulgent in the name of grace.  Lacks penitence, a true contrite heart, and so forth.  Now, they all may be deceived and on the broad road to destruction, thinking all the while they’re going to heaven

This is a pretty wide net. I’ve fallen foul of at least one of these in years past!

Those of us with websites presenting a ‘Christian’ perspective, even in a secular context, bear a heavy responsibility.

How are we representing Christianity? Are we repelling people unnecessarily through legalism or a misreading of the Bible? Are we discussing the grace and peace of Christ?

Or are we placing the power of man above the power of God? Some of us do by dwelling on things that cannot be fully substantiated. Some of us alarm others unnecessarily about the world, whether that be climate change or conspiracy theories. Others write as if they are carrying a king-size banner of faith when they actually have deep-rooted personal unbelief or issues to resolve.

Are we permanently angry or fearful? Are we banging on about the same earthly thing all the time and not moving on to speak of our Lord? Are we reading the Bible, the Reformers and men of true faith or are we studying what panicked sect leaders have to say? Are we seeking the eternal truth or a dark thrill?

How have our inner lives changed over the past five years? The past ten? Are our preoccupations dark or are they of hope in Christ?

Is ours a foundation of rock or is it one of sand?

May we:

Pray for balance.

Pray for personal faith.

Pray for sanctification.

Pray for increase of all of these.

Pray, pray, pray.

In closing, a thought from John MacArthur on conversion in this sermon from the 1970s:

Christianity has become so superficial.  It just galls me to hear some of the presentations of Christ that are supposed to be legitimate.  Sermons that have absolutely nothing to do with the gospel, and then you give an invitation at the end and people are accepting who knows what. 

There’s no deep plowing, there’s no spadework, there’s no foundation, there’s no brokenness of heart.  Arthur Pink says, “If I have never mourned over my waywardness then I have no solid ground for rejoicing”  …

Dig deep, the one who digs deep empties himself of self-righteousness, empties himself of self-sufficiency, knows he has nothing, knows he’s not commendable, overwhelmed with his sin …  He makes the maximum effort to place the Word of God in his heart that he might not sin

He is interested in a genuine love relationship with Jesus Christ, not a routine of spiritual activity.  He does not build on visions.  He does not build on experiences.  He does not build on supposed miracles.  He builds on the Word of God, and he builds for God’s glory not his own.

Listen.  Many people want spiritual power, look at Simon [Magus] in Acts 8.  He wanted to buy the power of the Spirit of God.  And Peter says, “Your money perish with you,” you phony.  Many people want the power.  They just aren’t interested in living according to God’s standards.  They’re a sham; they’re building on sand.  They want to know what Jesus can do for them.  They want the goodies, chasing signs and wonders, not committed to Christ at all.

May we carefully consider the state of our souls and our personal faith in a humble, contrite way.

Bible openThe 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 7:28-29

The Authority of Jesus

28 And when Jesus finished these sayings, the crowds were astonished at his teaching, 29 for he was teaching them as one who had authority, and not as their scribes.

——————————————————————–

These verses conclude the Sermon on the Mount recounted in Matthew 5, 6 and 7.

Jesus’s final Sermon on the Mount message, which I’ll go into tomorrow, was the instruction to build one’s house on a solid foundation of rock rather than an unstable one of sand (Matthew 7:24-27). It is an analogy of faith, obedience and salvation contrasted with one of hypocrisy and condemnation.

Afterward, Matthew’s Gospel tells us the ‘crowds were astonished at his teaching’ in this greatest of sermons (verse 28) and sensed His ‘authority’, very much unlike what emanated from what their scribes (verse 29).

These are positive and negative verses. In one sense, they are encouraging to read. On the other hand, they also point to rejection.

Matthew Henry’s commentary explains (emphases mine):

Now, 1. They were astonished at this doctrine it is to be feared that few of them were brought by it to follow him: but for the present, they were filled with wonder. Note, It is possible for people to admire good preaching, and yet to remain in ignorance and unbelief to be astonished, and yet not sanctified.

And:

2. The reason was because he taught them as one having authority, and not as the scribes. The scribes pretended to as much authority as any teachers whatsoever, and were supported by all the external advantages that could be obtained, but their preaching was mean, and flat, and jejune: they spake as those what were not themselves masters of what they preached: the word did not come from them with any life or force they delivered it as a school-boy says his lesson but Christ delivered his discourse, as a judge gives his charge. He did indeed, dominari in conscionibus–deliver his discourses with a tone of authority his lessons were law his word a word of command. Christ, upon the mountain, showed more true authority, than the scribes in Moses’s seat. Thus when Christ teaches by his Spirit in the soul, he teaches with authority. He says, Let there be light, and there is light.

John MacArthur preached on these verses in the 1970s:

What was the response this day?  A great revival, tremendous conversions?  No.  Verse 28, “It came to pass, when Jesus had ended these sayings, the people were – ” converted.  No?  No they weren’t converted.  They were “astonished; For he taught them as one having authority, not as the scribes.”  All they did was analyze it

They were astonished.  We could use a lot of words for that.  It means they were awed, they were amazed, the were dumbfounded, they were bewildered.  But I looked it up in the Greek text, and it literally means they were struck out of themselves or they were struck out of their senses.  In the vernacular, it blew their minds

It blew them away that anybody could stand up there and say all of those things with such power, exousia, authority, such power, such dynamic and not do it like the scribes.  And how did the scribes do it?  They just quoted other people.  They were fallible and they stacked up a lot of other fallible people as their source.  Jesus just flat out said it, and it blew them away. 

They had never heard such wisdom, they had never seen such depth, they had never understood such scope.  Every dimension of human life was touched in an economy of words that was breathtaking.  They had never heard such deep insight into the law of God or the sin of man.  They had never heard such fearful warnings about hell, hellfire and judgment. 

They had never heard anybody who so confronted the religious leaders of the time.  They were utterly shocked that He didn’t use anybody else as an authority but seemed to stand upon His own authority.  And that’s where it ends.  They were shocked

But that’s not the way it ought to end for you.  You should be more than shocked, more than amazed.  You should be converted.  That’s what Jesus is after.  They never heard anybody speak the truth like He did.  They never heard anybody speak of divine matters with such clarity.  They never heard anybody speak with such love.  They never heard anybody speak with such absolute utter and total power and authority. 

But they didn’t respond the right way.  I mean, they couldn’t believe that a Man would say He was the fulfillment of the law, that a Man would say He was the determiner of righteousness, that a Man would say He was the corrector of the scribes and Pharisees.  They couldn’t believe that a Man would claim to be the way of life, that a Man would claim to be God Jehovah, that a Man would claim to be judge of all, the one who could come and make judgment on everybody.  They couldn’t believe that a Man like this could say He was the King.  And all they got was astonishment

The Sermon on the Mount is much more than the Beatitudes and the Golden Rule. It includes many difficult teachings which should reach all of us at our core. It should point to our examining our own spiritual state. It should encourage us to ask ourselves whether we are truly obedient to Christ’s teachings.

Do we accept some and not others? If so, can we call ourselves Christians? Do our lives reflect obedience or rejection?

Whilst much of the Sermon on the Mount is in the three-year Lectionary, some passages are not. I have written about these over the past few months. What follows is a recap with links. All can be found on my Essential Bible Verses page:

Matthew 5:25-26 – anger, sin, holding grudges, improper worship because of interpersonal conflict

Matthew 5:31-32 – adultery, divorce, marriage

Matthew 6:7-15 – Lord’s Prayer

Matthew 6:22-23 – the eye lamp of the body

Matthew 7:1-6 – judging others, pearls before swine

Matthew 7:7-11 – ask and you shall receive

Matthew 7:12-14 – Golden Rule, enter by the narrow gate, wide gate leads to destruction

Matthew 7:15-20prophets, sheep’s clothing, ravenous wolves, pastors, clergy, a tree and its fruit

May we study and meditate on these. If we haven’t already, may we experience true conversion and obedience.

Next time: Matthew 8:1-4

Bible evangewomanblogspotcomThe 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 (‘Beware of False Prophets’, Parts 1 and 2).

Matthew 7:15-20

A Tree and Its Fruit

15 “Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves. 16 You will recognize them by their fruits. Are grapes gathered from thornbushes, or figs from thistles? 17 So, every healthy tree bears good fruit, but the diseased tree bears bad fruit. 18 A healthy tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a diseased tree bear good fruit. 19 Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. 20 Thus you will recognize them by their fruits.

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These verses are part of the Sermon on the Mount, the content of which is in Matthew 5, 6 and 7.

This passage ties in with and follows on from last week’s, which concerns the narrow gate.

Jesus tells His audience to beware of false prophets (verse 15) who come in an agreeable appearance — sheep’s clothing — but who are, in reality,  ravenous wolves, evil and soul-destroying.

John MacArthur unpacks what our Lord means. ‘Beware’ is (emphases mine):

a severe word.  Literally, in the Greek it means, hold your mind back from.  Don’t ever expose your mind to the influence of a false prophet.  Don’t pay attention to, give heed to, follow, notice, devote yourself, don’t even put your mind in his vicinity.  They’re dangerous, they pervert the mind, they poison the soul.  You see, we see the results of what they do in 2 Peter: “Many people follow their pernicious ways.” 

He explains ‘sheep’s clothing':

The wool of the sheep, when it was sheared, was made into cloth for garments; the mark of a shepherd was he wore a wool cloak.  Israel is much like California; the evenings are very cold, even in the summer it cools down, and they needed that.  The idea is not that he comes dressed like a sheep; the idea is that he comes dressed like a what?  Shepherd, wearing the garment made from the sheep. Sheep’s clothing is just another term for wool.  And so as the false prophet wore the garment of the prophet, the false shepherd wears the garment of the shepherd.  It isn’t that we’re dealing with a sheep who’s infiltrated, it is that we’re dealing with a shepherd who has infiltrated. 

Britain’s left-wing Fabian Society has a stained glass window which has a wolf dressed in sheep’s clothing (image here, above the globe the men are forging). Admittedly, that is a secular image, yet they’re being honest about themselves! Avoid them and all their works, including the Labour Party and London School of Economics! But, I digress.

In verse 16, Jesus says that we will recognise them by their fruits and asks His audience, by way of simple illustration, whether grapes can be gathered from thornbushes or figs from thistles. It is impossible. He develops this further by discussing good and bad fruit (verse 17), the former coming from healthy trees and the latter from diseased ones (verse 18).

Diseased trees are cut down and burned (verse 19). In other words, false prophets will be eternally condemned.

Therefore, we can judge prophets — these days, clergy — by their fruits (verse 20). Those bearing bad fruit might be greedy or lustful.

Just as bad if not worse, and increasingly common these days, are those who lead us from the narrow gate. Are they preaching salvation? Are they telling us to repent? Are they encouraging us to examine our sin? Are they preaching Christ crucified? Are they presenting Christ biblically in their sermons? Are they teaching us about the doctrines of grace and mercy? If not, they are wolves.

Liberation theology, economic justice, environmental worship, syncretism (combining other deities with Christianity) and many more postmodern aberrations are signs of wolves.

We have many wolves in our midst, sometimes whole denominations full of errant clergy taught at seminaries which promote false, worldly, un-Christian, unbiblical teachings.

In many ways, many clergy of our era are rather similar to Christ’s era with self-righteous, false, dangerous Pharisees and scribes. Whilst the Jewish leaders of our Lord’s day prescribed legalism for everyone but had lax rules for themselves, our clergy teach us that anything goes. Both are equally bad. Our errant clergy are responsible for leading their flocks to eternal condemnation, unless those people pray for discernment and leave for another congregation with a true shepherd.

In closing, Matthew Henry has this advice for evaluating clergy:

What do they tend to do? What affections and practices will they lead those into, that embrace them? If the doctrine be of God, it will tend to promote serious piety, humility, charity, holiness, and love, with other Christian graces but if, on the contrary, the doctrines these prophets preach have a manifest tendency to make people proud, worldly, and contentious, to make them loose and careless in their conversations, unjust or uncharitable, factious or disturbers of the public peace if it indulge carnal liberty, and take people off from governing themselves and their families by the strict rules of the narrow way, we may conclude, that this persuasion comes not of him that calleth us, Galatians 5:8. This wisdom is from above, James 3:15. Faith and a good conscience are held together, 1 Timothy 1:19,3:9. Note, Doctrines of doubtful disputation must be tried by graces and duties of confessed certainty: those opinions come not from God that lead to sin: but if we cannot know them by their fruits, we must have recourse to the great touchstone, to the law, and to the testimony do they speak according to that rule?

It’s not a sin to walk away from a church with a false prophet — pastor — at its head. In fact, one is doing the right thing provided one continues to pray often and study Scripture during a search for godly preaching.

Ignore false teachers who say you must stay with their churches or you are condemned. They will try to intimidate members of the congregation who see through them. I once knew someone like that. Fortunately, he retired not long afterward. We now have a vicar who preaches and teaches the Word of God.

Next time: Matthew 7:28-29

It’s been a long time since I’ve tagged a post with ‘Church of Gaia’.

Yet, this syncretic sinfulness remains alive and well.

My reader Underground Pewster recently wrote about prayer petitions from the Episcopal Church’s Blue Book, likely to be used at their General Convention which started on June 25, 2015 and ends on July 3, 2015.

What he cites reads as if it were written by people who have a death wish for humanity (emphases in the original):

Most of what follows comes from the SUPPLEMENTAL MATERIALS From the STANDING COMMISSION ON LITURGY AND MUSIC (SCLM)

A Litany for the Planet: 

On rocks and minerals that form the foundations for life,
Creator, have mercy.
On volcanoes and lava flows that reveal the power of earth’s core,
Creator, have mercy…

I for one pray that God will show no mercy on volcanoes and lava flows. Was that prayer written by the guys who run the lava flow cruises or helicopter rides in Hawaii?

On micro-organisms of endless variety, the complex and the simple,
Creator, have mercy (
pp 248-9)

I hoped this one would go away when I pointed it out three years ago, but I guess we will soon be praying for multidrug resistant tuberculosis along with botulism, salmonella, and HIV.

Too right! What are these people thinking?

And it gets worse. The Blue Book promotes syncretism — combining Christianity with other religions’ deities — strictly anathema. In this case, the Episcopal Church has a prayer to the Native American Great Spirit, Gitchi Manadoo. It can be found in the Blue Book on p. 243 in “Prayers of the People Honoring God in Creation”, Form 2. Briefly:

[Gichi Manidoo,] Great Spirit God,
we give you thanks for another day on this earth.
We give you thanks for this day
to enjoy the compassionate goodness of you, our Creator.

Whoa!

Underground Pewster investigated further and discovered the following information on native-languages.org. Two brief excerpts follow, with more on Pewster’s admirable post:

Gitchi Manitou is the great creator god of the Anishinaabe and many neighboring Algonquian tribes. The name literally means Great Spirit, a common phrase used to address God in many Native American cultures.
As in other Algonquian tribes, the Great Spirit is abstract, benevolent, does not directly interact with humans, and is rarely if ever personified in Anishinabe myths–

Also:

It is Gitchi Manitou who created the world, though some details of making the world as we know it today were delegated to the culture hero Nanabozho.

Hmm.

We do need to be careful about whom we are addressing our prayers and supplications. Although certain tribes consider the Great Spirit and the Christian God to be the same, He is not.

Another thing Episcopalians would do well to remember is that (emphases mine in purple):

the same SCLM geniuses who are foisting Gitchi Manitou on us are the ones who prepared the liturgies for same sex marriages

Underground Pewster followed this post up with a round-up of Episcopalian Summer Solstice services which appeal to their inner Druid.

To show the falsehood of such services, Pewster has helpfully provided a lengthy quote from St Augustine of Hippo’s Confessions, part of which is cited below. Those unfamiliar with Augustine’s personal story should note that he came to Christianity well into adulthood after years of libertinism and paganism. This is part of what he wrote about Creation:

I asked the earth; and it answered, “I am not He;” and whatsoever are therein made the same confession. I asked the sea and the deeps, and the creeping things that lived, and they replied, “We are not thy God, seek higher than we.” … I asked the heavens, the sun, moon, and stars: “Neither,” say they, “are we the God whom thou seekest.” And I answered unto all these things which stand about the door of my flesh, “Ye have told me concerning my God, that ye are not He; tell me something about Him.” And with a loud voice they exclaimed, “He made us.” … I asked the vast bulk of the earth of my God, and it answered me, “I am not He, but He made me.”

As Christians, it is essential that we remember the Creation story in Genesis, Jesus’s references to God as Creator in the Gospels and keep St Augustine’s quote in the forefront of our minds.

May we never fall into the trap of syncretic worship and break the First Commandment.

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