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Bible croppedThe 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 (as cited below).

Romans 4:6-12

just as David also speaks of the blessing of the one to whom God counts righteousness apart from works:

7 “Blessed are those whose lawless deeds are forgiven,
    and whose sins are covered;
blessed is the man against whom the Lord will not count his sin.”

Is this blessing then only for the circumcised, or also for the uncircumcised? For we say that faith was counted to Abraham as righteousness. 10 How then was it counted to him? Was it before or after he had been circumcised? It was not after, but before he was circumcised. 11 He received the sign of circumcision as a seal of the righteousness that he had by faith while he was still uncircumcised. The purpose was to make him the father of all who believe without being circumcised, so that righteousness would be counted to them as well, 12 and to make him the father of the circumcised who are not merely circumcised but who also walk in the footsteps of the faith that our father Abraham had before he was circumcised.

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Last week’s post focussed on Romans 3, including these important verses:

21 But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law, although the Law and the Prophets bear witness to it— 22 the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe.

In Romans 4, Paul looks at the justification of Abraham, who was also circumcised — albeit some years later after God chose him to be the father of nations.

Paul’s objective was to convince the Jews that circumcision did not confer salvation or righteousness.

That means that Gentiles could also be justified via faith through grace.

Here are the first five verses of Romans 4:

Abraham Justified by Faith

What then shall we say was gained by Abraham, our forefather according to the flesh? For if Abraham was justified by works, he has something to boast about, but not before God. For what does the Scripture say? “Abraham believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness.” Now to the one who works, his wages are not counted as a gift but as his due. And to the one who does not work but believes in[a] him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is counted as righteousness,

Matthew Henry explains (emphases mine):

St. Paul observes in this paragraph when and why Abraham was thus justified; for he has several things to remark upon that. It was before he was circumcised, and before the giving of the law; and there was a reason for both.

I. It was before he was circumcised, Romans 4:10. His faith was counted to him for righteousness while he was in uncircumcision. It was imputed, Genesis 15:6, and he was not circumcised till Genesis 17:1-27. Abraham is expressly said to be justified by faith fourteen years, some say twenty-five years, before he was circumcised. Now this the apostle takes notice of in answer to the question (Romans 4:9), Cometh this blessedness then on the circumcision only, or on the uncircumcision also? Abraham was pardoned and accepted in uncircumcision, a circumstance which, as it might silence the fears of the poor uncircumcised Gentiles, so it might lower the pride and conceitedness of the Jews, who gloried in their circumcision, as if they had the monopoly of all happiness.

John MacArthur has more:

Paul has told us how to be right with God and he said a man is right with God not by what he does but by what he believes, by believing in Jesus Christ and His perfect work. And now it is very important that Abraham be his illustration because this that he has just taught would be unacceptable to the Jewish mind. And so he selects Abraham to make his point.

Let me give you some reasons why. First, Abraham would show the eternal truth of righteousness by grace through faith since Abraham was an Old Testament character. In other words, by using Abraham, Paul is saying this is nothing new, this is something very old. Abraham even preceded Moses. Abraham even preceded the identity of the nation Israel. Abraham really belongs in the patriarchal period, the very primitive time. He appears early on in the book of Genesis. And if Paul can establish that a man in the book of Genesis was saved by grace through faith and not of works, then he has given to us a timeless truth and nothing new at all.

Secondly, he selects Abraham because Abraham is also the supreme example of faith. Nobody in the Old Testament exercised as much or more faith than Abraham. And the New Testament even tells us that Abraham — the book of Galatians tells us — is the father of all who believe. In a very real sense, all who come to God by faith are children of Abraham, who sort of set the standard for faith by believing God in a most incredible way.

Abraham obeyed God without question. He left his extended family to go to a new land. He believed that his wife Sarah would bear a son, even when she had been barren and long past child-bearing age. He was willing to sacrifice his only son for God, although God relented in that test of faith.

Here is a bit more about Abram/Abraham from MacArthur:

Abram was his name first. It means “exalted father.” God changed his name to Abraham which means “the father of many nations,” for He had given him that promise. And it was twofold. Physically from the loins of Abraham would come multitudes of people, millions of people. The Semitic world, Arab and Jew alike, descended from Abraham. Genesis 17, the first 8 verses, talk about how God said Abraham will produce generations of people. In fact, it is said that they would be as the sand of the sea, or the stars of the heavens. He was the father of many, but not only physically, spiritually as well; for he is the father of all those who are of faith. He is the pattern established, and all others who put their faith in God follow the pattern of their father, Abraham.

Galatians makes this abundantly clear. Paul, writing in chapter 3 verse 6, says: “Even as Abraham believed God and it was accounted to him for righteousness, know ye therefore that they who are of faith, the same are the sons of Abraham, and the Scripture, foreseeing that God would justify the Gentiles through faith, preached before the gospel unto Abraham saying, in thee shall all nations be blessed, so then they who are of faith are blessed with believing Abraham.”

So, not only did Abraham in a sense produce physical seed, but as well set the standard for spiritual production. And so, as millions follow his directive of faith, they occupy a place uniquely identified in the Scripture as children of Abraham. And that is because he is the example of justification by faith. And Paul makes that point in Romans and as I noted, he makes it in Galatians because it is so very important.

The Catholic Church and the Anglican Communion have liturgical prayers that mention Abraham as being ‘our father in faith’.

In verses 6 – 8, Paul mentions David in his discourse by citing Psalm 32:1-2. It is further proof that we are justified by faith, not works. None of our works can ever measure up to righteousness, because we are always imperfect, always prone to sin. We need God’s infinite grace at all times.

MacArthur provides the background to David’s life in the context of Psalm 32. David had committed adultery by the time he wrote it:

Now, basically you have in verse 7 a sinner characterized by iniquity and sin, you have in verse 8 a sinner characterized by sin, and in both cases the Lord forgives and does not hold that sin against the person. So, we know that that didn’t happen by works because both verses define the individual as a what? As a sinner. So how can you say a sinner is blessed? Well, you can only say that if he’s been forgiven, or if the Lord does not put his sin to his account, and that is exactly the case. And it doesn’t come by works, it comes by faith. You see, the truly blessed man is the one who is forgiven of his sin. And by the way, this is a quote from Psalm 32 verses 1 and 2. And believe me, at that juncture of David’s life, he knew guilt. He had been involved in an adultery. He had been involved in what amounts to murder. He had desecrated his throne and the sanctity of his own virtue. He was a vile wretched sinner. In Psalm 51, he went through such agony and such pain. He felt as if God had abandoned him. He was under the horrible experience of guilt. He says in Psalm 32 that his life juices dried up, and that’s what happens when guilt occurs. Saliva, one of the life juices, dries up. Anxiety creates pressure in the head that restricts the flow of the blood, another of the life juices. And the lymphatic system is affected and the nervous system is affected and he began to be old before his time and he began to ache in his joints and he began to be sick. Guilt does that.

And then in the midst of all of that he experienced the goodness of God. No wonder he said twice, “Blessed is the man.” “Blessed is the man whose sins the Lord forgives.” “Blessed is the man to whom the Lord does not impute sin.” That’s the truly blessed man. He knows forgiveness. And so David supports Paul’s point. And it’s helpful for us to know that Abraham was a pre-Mosaic figure, David was a Mosaic figure. Abraham predates the clear definition of the Mosaic covenant and so we see that God redeems people pre-Mosaic by faith. David shows us that God redeems people in the Mosaic era by faith. And the New Testament carries it into our own era. Always at all times redemption is a matter of faith resulting in imputed righteousness.

Paul then asks the Jews if imputed righteousness is only for the circumcised, then, how was Abraham included when he was not circumcised yet God found him to be righteous (verses 9, 10)?

Paul answers his question by saying that Abraham’s circumcision was the ‘seal’ of his righteousness before God. Furthermore, as he was righteous in God’s eyes before his circumcision, then, He would consider other uncircumcised men to also be righteous (verse 11).

Therefore, Abraham became not only the father of the circumcised, but also of the uncircumcised who walk in his same journey of obedience in faith through grace (verse 12).

Henry says that sacraments are the seals of the covenant that has been agreed between God and man, thanks to the blood that Jesus shed on our behalf:

The tenour of the covenants must first be settled before the seal can be annexed. Sealing supposes a previous bargain, which is confirmed and ratified by that ceremony. After Abraham’s justification by faith had continued several years only a grant by parole, for the confirmation of Abraham’s faith God was pleased to appoint a sealing ordinance, and Abraham received it; though it was a bloody ordinance, yet he submitted to it, and even received it as a special favour, the sign of circumcision, &c. Now we may hence observe, (1.) The nature of sacraments in general: they are signs and seals–signs to represent and instruct, seals to ratify and confirm. They are signs of absolute grace and favour; they are seals of the conditional promises; nay, they are mutual seals: God does in the sacraments seal to us to be to us a God, and we do therein seal to him to be to him a people. (2.) The nature of circumcision in particular: it was the initiating sacrament of the Old Testament; and it is here said to be, [1.] A sign–a sign of that original corruption which we are all born with, and which is cut off by spiritual circumcision,–a commemorating sign of God’s covenant with Abraham,–a distinguishing sign between Jews and Gentiles,–a sign of admission into the visible church,–a sign prefiguring baptism, which comes in the room of circumcision, now under the gospel, when (the blood of Christ being shed) all bloody ordinances are abolished; it was an outward and sensible sign of an inward and spiritual grace signified thereby. [2.] A seal of the righteousness of the faith. In general, it was a seal of the covenant of grace, particularly of justification by faith–the covenant of grace, called the righteousness which is of faith (Romans 10:6), and it refers to an Old-Testament promise, Deuteronomy 30:12.

What does this mean in a Christian context? The grace God confers on us in the Sacraments enables us to live a holy life, which we are obliged to do in faith.

This is Henry’s caveat about the Jews of Paul’s day and ourselves as Christians:

See here who are the genuine children and lawful successors of those that were the church’s fathers: not those that sit in their chairs, and bear their names, but those that tread in their steps; this is the line of succession, which holds, notwithstanding interruptions. It seems, then, those were most loud and forward to call Abraham father that had least title to the honours and privileges of his children. Thus those have most reason to call Christ Father, not that bear his name in being Christians in profession, but that tread in his steps.

The sacraments and holy ordinances impart grace, although they are not salvific in and of themselves, as MacArthur explains:

Listen very carefully. Many people today are basing their salvation from eternal hellfire on some infant baptism, or some confirmation, or some adult baptism, or some communion involvement, or some religious rite and ceremony. There are many people who call themselves Christians in our society who even would call themselves evangelical, who actually believe that their children are secured eternally for the covenant by infant baptism. And many are hoping in their religious rites, and though they be not circumcision they be basically the same perspective. They parallel …

So, Paul is dealing with a bigger picture than at first we might understand. And he’s dealing with the issue that religious rites and ceremonies do not justify, and when saying that he talks to our time.

Ultimately:

We are saved by grace through what? Faith. These symbols are only symbols and signs. You say, “Well, can I get to heaven if I haven’t been baptized?” Yes. You say, “Then I don’t have to be baptized!” No. “Why?” Because baptism is an act of… You say it: obedience. And if you have confessed Jesus as Lord you will what? Obey Him, and it becomes the point of your testimonyAnd that’s what Paul is teaching us.

Obedience to God characterised Abraham’s life. Jesus was — and is — fully obedient to His Father.

Let us, therefore, obey Him, too.

Next time — Romans 5:20-21

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

Yet, it doesn’t tell the whole story.

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

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

Hebrews 6:1-8

Therefore let us leave the elementary doctrine of Christ and go on to maturity, not laying again a foundation of repentance from dead works and of faith toward God, and of instruction about washings,[a] the laying on of hands, the resurrection of the dead, and eternal judgment. And this we will do if God permits. For it is impossible, in the case of those who have once been enlightened, who have tasted the heavenly gift, and have shared in the Holy Spirit, and have tasted the goodness of the word of God and the powers of the age to come, and then have fallen away, to restore them again to repentance, since they are crucifying once again the Son of God to their own harm and holding him up to contempt. For land that has drunk the rain that often falls on it, and produces a crop useful to those for whose sake it is cultivated, receives a blessing from God. But if it bears thorns and thistles, it is worthless and near to being cursed, and its end is to be burned.

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Last week’s entry discussed the author’s warning against apostasy (Hebrews 5:11-14), in which s/he chided those who were still on the spiritual milk of Christianity when they should have been partaking of meat in their religious journey.

John MacArthur rightly termed such stasis as ‘spiritual stupidity’.

To put it another way, imagine a youngster still being in primary school at the age of 17, when he should be ready to graduate and enter university. What a waste of so many years of education.

Yet, that is what is going on here with Hebrews a) who have converted but are still stuck in the rituals of Mosaic law and b) who have heard the Good News but cannot commit to living a life in Christ.

Our commentators Matthew Henry and John MacArthur differ in their interpretations as to the identity of the target audience in this passage. Henry says the audience is those who have matured spiritually. MacArthur says these verses are intended for those who have not committed their hearts and minds to Christ.

Both are sound interpretations, but I lean towards Henry’s perspective, as the first clause of verse 1 says that the author will now progress to the subject of maturity in Christ.

Henry’s commentary explains (emphases mine):

Why did the apostle resolve to set strong meat before the Hebrews, when he knew they were but babes? Answer. 1. Though some of them were but weak, yet others of them had gained more strength; and they must be provided for suitably. And, as those who are grown Christians must be willing to hear the plainest truths preached for the sake of the weak, so the weak must be willing to hear the more difficult and mysterious truths preached for the sake of those who are strong. 2. He hoped they would be growing in their spiritual strength and stature, and so be able to digest stronger meat.

Henry says that the author did not intend to go through basic Christian doctrine once more, as that should be well established already in both the babes as well as the more mature among them:

neither his time nor theirs must be spent in laying these foundations over and over again.

Henry says the following six principles are essential to Christian doctrine:

These are the great foundation-principles which ministers should clearly and convincingly unfold, and closely apply. In these the people should be well instructed and established, and from these they must never depart; without these, the other parts of religion have no foundation to support them.

1/ Repentance from ‘dead works’ towards works based in faith towards God (verse 1):

Observe here, (1.) The sins of persons unconverted are dead works; they proceed from persons spiritually dead, and they tend to death eternal. (2.) Repentance for dead works, if it be right, is repentance from dead works, a universal change of heart and life. (3.) Repentance for and from dead works is a foundation-principle, which must not be laid again, though we must renew our repentance daily.

2/ Faith towards God — and the works that emanate from it — involves a belief in Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit. We must actively believe in the nature of the Holy Trinity — the Triune God — as well as what Holy Scripture teaches us:

Observe, (1.) Repentance from dead works, and faith towards God, are connected, and always go together; they are inseparable twins, the one cannot live without the other. (2.) Both of these are foundation-principles, which should be once well laid, but never pulled up, so as to need to be laid over again; we must not relapse into infidelity.

3/ The washings of the Christian are different to those mandated in Mosaic law, which were ritual cleansings (verse 2). We have the sacrament of Baptism, which operates both outwardly and inwardly and is received only once:

The doctrine of baptisms, that is, of being baptized by a minister of Christ with water, in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost, as the initiating sign or seal of the covenant of grace, strongly engaging the person so baptized to get acquainted with the new covenant, to adhere to it, and prepare to renew it at the table of the Lord and sincerely to regulate himself according to it, relying upon the truth and faithfulness of God for the blessings contained in it. And the doctrine of an inward baptism, that of the Spirit sprinkling the blood of Christ upon the soul, for justification, and the graces of the Spirit for sanctification. This ordinance of baptism is a foundation to be rightly laid, and daily remembered, but not repeated.

4/ The Christian laying on of hands is no longer that of the Old Testament Jew touching his sacrifice in order to make himself one with it (verse 2), but a renewing gesture used in Ordination and Confirmation so that the Holy Spirit and His many divine gifts would come upon that person. In the case of Confirmation, said gesture signifies full membership in the Church. Again, whether Ordination or Confirmation, this is done only once:

This passing from incomplete to complete church membership was performed by laying on of hands, which was extraordinary conveyance of the gift of the Holy Ghost continued. This, once done, all are obliged to abide by, and not to need another solemn admission, as at first, but to go on, and grow up, in Christ. Or by this may be meant ordination of persons to the ministerial office, who are duly qualified for it and inclined to it; and this by fasting and prayer, with laying on of the hands of the presbytery: and this is to be done but once.

5/ The resurrection of the dead (verse 2), meaning the eventual reunification of body and soul in the afterlife, whether rewarded or punished:

The resurrection of the dead, that is, of dead bodies; and their re-union with their souls, to be eternal companions together in weal or woe, according as their state was towards God when they died, and the course of life they led in this world.

This, as Paul’s testimony indicated during his trials at the end of the Book of Acts, was a belief that ran through the Old Testament and was held to by the Pharisees. Only the Sadducees disregarded it.

6/ Our final reward or punishment is for eternity (verse 2):

Eternal judgment, determining the soul of every one, when it leaves the body at death, and both soul and body at the last day, to their eternal state, every one to his proper society and employment to which they were entitled and fitted here on earth; the wicked to everlasting punishment, the righteous to life eternal.

I daresay we do not hear much about the last two principles, which is why it is important to read and study Scripture independently. Some might be able to find a (dreaded) ‘small group’ to do this, but such a group often requires subscribing to a hive-mind of thought, which might go against what the Bible teaches. This is why I advocate that people do it themselves with good commentaries on hand to illuminate and explain difficult truths.

Verse 3 is interesting. Is the author being self-referential or speaking of the audience? John MacArthur rightly asks us to consider both possibilities:

… interpreting verse 3 is very difficult, even though it’s very brief. Well, let’s just look at it from two angles. The power in verse 3, “And this will we do if God permits.” Now, some people say this refers to the writer of Hebrews. The idea is that the Spirit is saying one – possibly this, that the writer of Hebrews is saying, “I will go on and teach you what I want you to know if God permits Me.” The other interpretation is that He’s saying, “You will go on to maturity if God permits you.”

Now, since there’s no way to be sure which, let’s just take both. For whether you’re talking about salvation or service, it’s all energized by the Holy Spirit. And the writer can say, “I want to go on and say more about this if the Spirit wills, or if God permits, and I want you to come to Jesus Christ, all the way to maturity if God permits.”

You see, really everything revolves around the permission of God. Divine enablement is the issue in every case, and the writer acknowledges that.

In verses 4 through 6, the author gives the Hebrews — and us — another warning about apostasy. If we have heard the Gospel, experienced (‘tasted’) the holy gift that comes from hearing it and have shared in the Holy Spirit, then fall away, God will not restore us to the state where we want to repent.

That is very serious. We know from the Bible that all things are possible with God, yet, God will withdraw His infinite mercy if we persist against Him. This goes back to the discourse by the author of Hebrews about Psalm 95, namely verses 7 and 8:

Today, if you hear his voice,
    do not harden your hearts, as at Meribah,
    as on the day at Massah in the wilderness,

Henry explains that any ability to repent from apostasy must come from God — and that very rarely happens:

The great misery of apostates. [1.] It is impossible to renew them again unto repentance. It is extremely hazardous. Very few instances can be given of those who have gone so far and fallen away, and yet ever have been brought to true repentance, such a repentance as is indeed a renovation of the soul. Some have thought this is the sin against the Holy Ghost, but without ground. The sin here mentioned is plainly apostasy both from the truth and the ways of Christ. God can renew them to repentance, but he seldom does it; and with men themselves it is impossible.

The author of Hebrews then makes a chilling statement: apostasy is akin to crucifying Christ all over again (verse 6). Our commentators differ somewhat on the meaning of ‘once again’ in that verse. It is ‘afresh’ in older translations. Henry takes it as figuratively re-committing the act, whereas MacArthur says:

… the word “afresh” is not best there. It’s really put in there because of a preposition that’s connected to the word “crucify,” but it means to crucify up, not afresh. And that simply means to lift up in crucifixion.

However, both men agree that the ultimate meaning is that those who fall away from Christianity, having experienced it, are denying Christ and are no different to those who shouted out for His death and those who crucified Him.

Of apostates, Henry says:

They declare that they approve of what the Jews did in crucifying Christ, and that they would be glad to do the same thing again if it were in their power. They pour the greatest contempt upon the Son of God, and therefore upon God himself, who expects all should reverence his Son, and honour him as they honour the Father. They do what in them lies to represent Christ and Christianity as a shameful thing, and would have him to be a public shame and reproach. This is the nature of apostasy.

MacArthur examines the issue from the perspective of the Hebrews who had converted but were backsliding or those who had heard the Good News but refused to commit to a belief in Christ as the Messiah. Both were spiritually dangerous places to be:

As far as they’re concerned, the Son of God deserves to be crucified. That’s what it’s all about.

In other words, here’s the point: they came all the way up to the edge of faith. They heard it all; they got all the revelation; they turned, went back to Judaism, which had been guilty of killing Jesus Christ. They took their stand with the crucifiers. They said, “That’s the same verdict that we give.”

And consequently, according to them, Jesus should be crucified. Do you see? They are declaring that they have made a trial of Jesus Christ with all the evidence possible and found Him no true Messiah, turned around, gone back to Judaism. Said, “Jesus is an imposter and deceiver, and He got exactly what was coming.” That’s what that means. They agree with those who killed Jesus, that He was a fake. And they put Him to an open guilt. The word “shame” means guilt. They declare openly that Jesus is guilty.

Now, you can imagine what would happen. Take a Jew that came all the way up here. His friends were persecuting him, really rapping him for this. He turns around, forsakes Christ, goes right back to Judaism. He has declared for all time and for everybody around, “With all the evidence in, friends, Jesus is a fake; I’m going back to Judaism.”

As for Christians in that same dire spiritual state, MacArthur says to those who might have been in his church:

If you come to this place tonight, and you hear the Gospel of Jesus Christ, and you turn your back on Christ, and you walk away, you have done exactly that. You have said, “I’ve heard the evidence. My verdict is the crowd that killed Him was right. I stand with the crucifiers.”

Jesus said, “A man is either for Me, or he’s” – what? – “against Me.” Salvation to that apostate then becomes impossible, for he rejects against full light, and that is incurable. And reserved for such a one is the hottest hell. Everything in this passage could be said of Judas, and his hell must be the hottest of all.

Hebrews 10:29, “Of how much sorer punishment, suppose ye, shall he be thought worthy, who hath trodden underfoot the Son of God, and counted the blood of the covenant, with which he was sanctified, an unholy thing?”

And that’s what an apostate does, comes all the way up and says, “It’s a lot of baloney. Jesus was a fake, and His blood isn’t holy,” turn around and walk back.

You say, “I’d never do that. I’m tolerant. I’ll just kind of stay on the edge for a while.” My friend, if you don’t come to Jesus Christ, eventually you’ll go away from Him. And when you go away from Him in full light, you step into the possibility of impossibility.

In verse 7, the author of Hebrews describes the state of spiritual maturity, as if one’s soul were a field of crops continually refreshed by blessed rain, growing and becoming fruitful in the Lord.

Then he describes the opposite state: the field that is filled with thorns and thistles, fit only for burning (verse 8).

Henry tells us:

God will concern himself no more about such wicked apostates; he will let them alone, and cast them out of his care; he will command the clouds that they rain no more upon them. Divine influences shall be restrained; and that is not all, but such ground is nigh unto cursing; so far is it from receiving the blessing, that a dreadful curse hangs over it, though as yet, through the patience of God, the curse is not fully executed. Lastly, Its end is to be burned. Apostasy will be punished with everlasting burnings, the fire that shall never be quenched. This is the sad end to which apostasy leads, and therefore Christians should go on and grow in grace, lest, if they do not go forward, they should go backward, till they bring matters to this woeful extremity of sin and misery.

MacArthur’s sermon ends with this:

You see, God’s grace falls, but some men bring forth fruit. Others bring forth thorns. I pray God that when the rain of the Gospel of Jesus Christ falls on you, that you’ll issue forth in herbs fit for use.

That, too, is my prayer for all of us.

The exhortation to active faith continues next week.

Next time — Hebrews 6:9-12

Saturday, July 20, 2019 marked the 50th anniversary of Americans landing on the moon!

Marking this anniversary should have been the buzz (pun intended) of the Western world, right?

Instead, people tweeted a variety of negative remarks:

‘Who cares?’
‘This country stinks.’
‘That’s all in the past.’
‘Did it really happen?’

Even one of the commentators on ITV4 who mentioned it during the Tour de France coverage said:

Allegedly.

That’s a sad state of affairs for such a great achievement, one which I remember clearly as a schoolchild at the time. So does a Fox News correspondent:

Commemoration at the White House

I was delighted to see that President Donald Trump and First Lady Melania Trump paid the great heroes their due. As Neil Armstrong has gone to his rest, his family were invited. Good call.

Mrs Trump knocks it out of the park with this one:

I will get to Hollywood and the moon landing further down in the post, but, for now, let us recall one of Astronaut Armstrong’s quotes. Who alive then could forget the ticker tape parade, televised nationwide?

Returning to the White House commemoration, Edwin ‘Buzz’ Aldrin was thrilled:

Hollywood’s take: First Man

I have not seen this film, nor do I intend to do so.

First Man made its debut in August 2018.

As China is buying up much of Hollywood, Senator Tom Cotton (R-Arkansas) asks a pertinent question, given the revisionist nature of the film:

Cotton was not alone.

Conservative columnist Don Surber also made his views known:

Hollywood made a movie about Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin going to the moon. It picked a Canadian actor to play Armstrong …

Then the movie omitted the planting of the AMERICAN FLAG on the moon.

That was the sole purpose of the mission.

This flick shows Hollywood is anti-American.

The House UnAmerican Activities Committee was correct. Communist[s] were taking over Hollywood for propaganda purposes …

This week, John McCain died. I remember that one of the things that kept him alive in Hanoi was the knowledge that we landed on the moon. OK, he thought it was seven months earlier than it was, but Hanoi fed him Fake News but let the truth slip that Apollo 8 made it to the dark side of the moon.

JFK inspired us: “We choose to go to the moon. We choose to go to the moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard, because that goal will serve to organize and measure the best of our energies and skills, because that challenge is one that we are willing to accept, one we are unwilling to postpone, and one which we intend to win, and the others, too.”

He Made America Great Again.

I was 9.

Reagan Made America Great Again.

Trump Made America Great Again.

Hollywood can go to China.

Speaking of Trump, Hollywood and First Man:

As Dinesh D’Souza pointed out, the movie seems to have airbrushed out the Cold War:

Breitbart had more on Gosling on September 1:

Explaining the decision to omit the American flag-planting scene, Canadian actor Ryan Gosling, who stars as astronaut Neil Armstrong, said that the landing “transcended countries and borders” and that it was a “human achievement” rather than an American one.

“I think this was widely regarded in the end as a human achievement [and] that’s how we chose to view it,” Gosling said. “I also think Neil was extremely humble, as were many of these astronauts, and time and time again he deferred the focus from himself to the 400,000 people who made the mission possible.”

On September 3, 2018, Breitbart reported:

Last week, [director Damien] Chazelle dismissed criticism that the omission of the American flag was meant to be a political statement. “To address the question of whether this was a political statement, the answer is no,” the First Man director said in an interview with Variety. “My goal with this movie was to share with audiences the unseen, unknown aspects of America’s mission to the moon–particularly Neil Armstrong’s personal saga and what he may have been thinking and feeling during those famous few hours.”

Buzz Aldrin, the most visible member of the crew today, wasted no time in tweeting the historic photo of the American flag:

He had saluted the flag on the moon (look for his ring finger and pinkie):

The portrayal of Neil Armstrong rankled many Americans. Returning to Breitbart‘s September 1 article, fellow astronauts Aldrin and Chuck Yeager were not happy:

Aldrin indicating disapproval of the film’s anti-American sentiment would provide further embarrassment for its director Damien Chazelle, who has reportedly portrayed frontman Neil Armstrong as a “liberal progressive,” “anti-Trump,” and “non-flag waver.” When asked his opinion about such a portrayal, legendary pilot Chuck Yeager said that it would not reflect the Neil Armstrong he knew.

Yeager tweeted:

What really happened

On the 50th anniversary of the day Apollo 11 launched, Aldrin tweeted:

Even though the text is in French, those who were not alive for the ground-breaking, historic moon landing will enjoy seeing the many photos at L’Internaute, which bring back many fond memories for me.

This 20-minute film by David Woods shows the complete descent that day. Compelling viewing:

A NASA webpage features the video and gives us the following information. Yes, there was drama, too:

Explanation: It had never been done before. But with the words “You’re Go for landing”, 50 years ago this Saturday, Apollo 11 astronauts Aldrin and Armstrong were cleared to make the first try. The next few minutes would contain more than a bit of drama, as an unexpected boulder field and an unacceptably sloping crater loomed below. With fuel dwindling, Armstrong coolly rocketed the lander above the lunar surface as he looked for a clear and flat place to land. With only seconds of fuel remaining, and with the help of Aldrin and mission control calling out data, Armstrong finally found a safe spot — and put the Eagle down. Many people on Earth listening to the live audio felt great relief on hearing “The Eagle has landed”, and great pride knowing that for the first time ever, human beings were on the Moon. Combined in the featured descent video are two audio feeds, a video feed similar to what the astronauts saw, captions of the dialog, and data including the tilt of the Eagle lander. The video concludes with the panorama of the lunar landscape visible outside the Eagle. A few hours later, hundreds of millions of people across planet Earth, drawn together as a single species, watched fellow humans walk on the Moon.

Relive — or find out more about — the moon landing on a special NASA page.

Here are a few front pages. The whole country was buzzing:

If this were fake, would Buzz Aldrin and others be tweeting about it?

Edwin ‘Buzz’ Aldrin

It seems Buzz Aldrin wishes he were younger so that he could fly to Mars:

Here he is making a visit to the pilots on a Delta aircraft:

On a more serious note, Aldrin — a practising Presbyterian — took Communion on the Apollo 11 mission, but the general public did not know.

A 2012 Guardian article has more (emphases mine):

Before Armstrong and Aldrin stepped out of the lunar module on July 20, 1969, Aldrin unstowed a small plastic container of wine and some bread. He had brought them to the moon from Webster Presbyterian church near Houston, where he was an elder. Aldrin had received permission from the Presbyterian church’s general assembly to administer it to himself. In his book Magnificent Desolation he shares the message he then radioed to Nasa: “I would like to request a few moments of silence … and to invite each person listening in, wherever and whomever they may be, to pause for a moment and contemplate the events of the past few hours, and to give thanks in his or her own way.”

He then ate and drank the elements. The surreal ceremony is described in an article by Aldrin in a 1970 copy of Guideposts magazine: “I poured the wine into the chalice our church had given me. In the one-sixth gravity of the moon the wine curled slowly and gracefully up the side of the cup. It was interesting to think that the very first liquid ever poured on the moon, and the first food eaten there, were communion elements.”

Not only that, Aldrin also read from the Gospel of John.

The public never found out until years later. This was because of Madalyn Murray O’Hair‘s objection to the Apollo 8 crew reading from Genesis:

Aldrin had originally planned to share the event with the world over the radio. However, at the time Nasa was still reeling from a lawsuit filed by the firebrand atheist Madalyn Murray O’Hair, resulting in the ceremony never being broadcast. The founder of American Atheists and self-titled “most hated woman in America” had taken on Nasa, as well as many other public organisation[s]. Most famously, she successfully fought mandatory school prayer and bible recitation in US public schools.

After the Apollo 8 crew had read out the Genesis creation account in orbit, O’Hair wanted a ban on Nasa astronauts practising religion on earth, in space or “around and about the moon” while on duty. She believed it violated the constitutional separation between church and state. In Magnificent Desolation, Aldrin explains how astronaut Deke Slayton, who ran the Apollo 11 flight crew operations, told him to tone down his lunar communiqué. “Go ahead and have communion, but keep your comments more general,” he advised. Looking back Aldrin writes that the communion was his way of thanking God for the success of the mission. Yet, later he hinted that he could have been more inclusive:

“Perhaps, if I had it to do over again, I would not choose to celebrate communion.
Although it was a deeply meaningful experience for me, it was a Christian sacrament, and we had come to the moon in the name of all mankind – be they Christians, Jews, Muslims, animists, agnostics, or atheists.”

O’Hair’s case against Nasa eventually fizzled out, but it dramatically changed the tone of the Apollo 11 landing. Aldrin had originally intended a much more pioneering Christopher Columbus-style ceremony on the moon. That was never to be.

Apollo 8’s Genesis message was delivered on Christmas Day 1968, incidentally.

Back now to Apollo 11. Aldrin’s home church still commemorates his out of this world Holy Communion, which was a beautiful way to give thanks to God for His Son and the successful moon landing mission:

at Webster Presbyterian church – the spiritual home of many astronauts – Aldrin’s communion service is still celebrated every July, known as Lunar Communion Sunday. Pastor Helen DeLeon told me how they replay the tape of Aldrin on the moon and recite Psalm eight, which he had quoted on his return trip to Earth (“… what is man that thou art mindful of him”). The church still holds the chalice that Aldrin brought back with him. Judy Allton, a geologist and historian of Webster Presbyterian church, produced a paper, presented at a Nasa conference, arguing that communion could be an essential part of future manned space travel. She claims that rituals such as Aldrin’s communion “reinforce the homelink”.

In 2002, Aldrin did not appreciate being poked with the Bible by an irreverent moon landing denier. Aldrin punched the man. Perth Now recapped what happened:

On September 9, 2002, Aldrin was accosted by conspiracy theorist Bart Sibrel and a film crew outside a Beverly Hills hotel he was lured to on the pretext of being interviewed for a Japanese children’s TV show.

The footage shows Sibrel confronting Aldrin and demanding he swear on the Bible he walked on the Moon, calling the former astronaut out for being a “thief, liar and coward”.

“You’re the one who said you walked on the Moon when you didn’t,” Sibrel says.

Aldrin is also reported to have been aggressively poked with the good book.

The 72-year-old lost his cool and punched the heckler in the jaw.

Pleading self-defence Aldrin was let off by police on the basis of an absence of visible injury and a lack of criminal record.

Believers sided with Aldrin after the regrettable affair, though it could be said his heated response to the heckling provided grist for conspiracy theorists’ mill.

On a lighter note, in 2017, Revolution magazine, which discusses machines of all types, interviewed Aldrin about the watches he and his fellow astronauts wore on the mission. It also covered watches worn by astronauts on other Apollo missions. The brand of choice? Omega:

The Tribute to Apollo 11 45th anniversary limited edition is another phenomenal demonstration of Omega’s ability to thoroughly modernize its design language while retaining a salient link to the past. The watch is configured to evoke the ref. 105.012 Speedmaster worn by Revolution UK14 cover star Buzz Aldrin when he stepped onto the Moon in 1969. While Neil Armstrong was the first man to set foot on the moon, his Speedmaster was left behind in the Lunar Module whose electronic timer had failed. Meanwhile, according to Aldrin, “It was optional to wear the watch [outside of the spacecraft]. Few things are less necessary when walking around on the Moon than knowing what time it is in Houston, Texas. Nonetheless, being a watch guy, I decided to strap the Speedmaster onto my right wrist around the outside of my bulky spacesuit.”

That’s right, he made a conscious decision to strap his Omega onto his wrist because what kind of Space Cowboy would be complete without his most heroic of timepieces? This made his Speedmaster the first watch on the Moon.

Wow. I never gave the astronauts’ watches a thought, especially with regard to the moon landing.

Conclusion

May we never say the moon landing didn’t take place or that it was an unremarkable achievement.

America’s moon landing was indescribable. People all over the world who were alive at the time remember the excitement and awe they felt that day.

We are now in the season of Epiphany, which takes us to Lent at the beginning of March.

The following readings are for the First Sunday after Epiphany — also known as the Baptism of the Lord — in Year C of the three-year Lectionary.

Themes are jubilation and rejoicing in God the Father for sending His Son to save us and bring us to life everlasting.

Emphases mine below.

First reading

We recall how God historically delivered His holy people from captivity, despite their many sins.

Isaiah 43:1-7

43:1 But now thus says the LORD, he who created you, O Jacob, he who formed you, O Israel: Do not fear, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name, you are mine.

43:2 When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you; when you walk through fire you shall not be burned, and the flame shall not consume you.

43:3 For I am the LORD your God, the Holy One of Israel, your Savior. I give Egypt as your ransom, Ethiopia and Seba in exchange for you.

43:4 Because you are precious in my sight, and honored, and I love you, I give people in return for you, nations in exchange for your life.

43:5 Do not fear, for I am with you; I will bring your offspring from the east, and from the west I will gather you;

43:6 I will say to the north, “Give them up,” and to the south, “Do not withhold; bring my sons from far away and my daughters from the end of the earth

43:7 everyone who is called by my name, whom I created for my glory, whom I formed and made.”

Psalm

We rejoice in the Lord God, Creator of the universe and giver of life.

Psalm 29

29:1 Ascribe to the LORD, O heavenly beings, ascribe to the LORD glory and strength.

29:2 Ascribe to the LORD the glory of his name; worship the LORD in holy splendor.

29:3 The voice of the LORD is over the waters; the God of glory thunders, the LORD, over mighty waters.

29:4 The voice of the LORD is powerful; the voice of the LORD is full of majesty.

29:5 The voice of the LORD breaks the cedars; the LORD breaks the cedars of Lebanon.

29:6 He makes Lebanon skip like a calf, and Sirion like a young wild ox.

29:7 The voice of the LORD flashes forth flames of fire.

29:8 The voice of the LORD shakes the wilderness; the LORD shakes the wilderness of Kadesh.

29:9 The voice of the LORD causes the oaks to whirl, and strips the forest bare; and in his temple all say, “Glory!”

29:10 The LORD sits enthroned over the flood; the LORD sits enthroned as king forever.

29:11 May the LORD give strength to his people! May the LORD bless his people with peace!

Epistle

The Apostles ministered to the Samaritans, half-Jews, whom the Jews of the time despised. St Luke wrote the Book of Acts, by the way. His Gospel account of Jesus’s baptism follows.

Acts 8:14-17

8:14 Now when the apostles at Jerusalem heard that Samaria had accepted the word of God, they sent Peter and John to them.

8:15 The two went down and prayed for them that they might receive the Holy Spirit

8:16 (for as yet the Spirit had not come upon any of them; they had only been baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus).

8:17 Then Peter and John laid their hands on them, and they received the Holy Spirit.

Gospel

John the Baptist baptised Jesus. Heaven opened, bringing the dramatic confirmation that Jesus is the Messiah.

Luke 3:15-17, 21-22

3:15 As the people were filled with expectation, and all were questioning in their hearts concerning John, whether he might be the Messiah,

3:16 John answered all of them by saying, “I baptize you with water; but one who is more powerful than I is coming; I am not worthy to untie the thong of his sandals. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire.

3:17 His winnowing fork is in his hand, to clear his threshing floor and to gather the wheat into his granary; but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire.”

3:21 Now when all the people were baptized, and when Jesus also had been baptized and was praying, the heaven was opened,

3:22 and the Holy Spirit descended upon him in bodily form like a dove. And a voice came from heaven, “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.”

Several years ago, I read a Bible commentary that said that we are under no obligation to be baptised. It seems the author did not know his New Testament very well, because there are many references to baptism therein.

If Jesus was baptised, should we not follow His holy example?

In closing, a warning about baptism follows. Child baptism is very important. I know a number of people who returned to the Church in their later years. They raised families while they were not attending church.

Those who did not have their children baptised deeply regretted it.

Those unbaptised children did not want to be christened in their adulthood.

Not one is a believer, either.

I’m not saying that baptism is salvific in and of itself, but it is an important first step in belonging to a church community and, more importantly, is one of the two universally agreed upon Sacraments.

In order to better understand and appreciate St Paul’s ministry, it is helpful to read the first half of Acts 9 carefully.

My past two posts — here and here — went through the background and conversion of Saul of Tarsus in detail.

The painting at left depicts his dramatic Damascene conversion according to St Luke’s account in Acts.

Today’s post looks at what happened after he was blinded and the men around him led him by the hand into Damascus.

The passage below is from the English Standard Version of the Bible. Commentary comes from Matthew Henry and John MacArthur.

Acts 9:10-19

10 Now there was a disciple at Damascus named Ananias. The Lord said to him in a vision, “Ananias.” And he said, “Here I am, Lord.” 11 And the Lord said to him, “Rise and go to the street called Straight, and at the house of Judas look for a man of Tarsus named Saul, for behold, he is praying, 12 and he has seen in a vision a man named Ananias come in and lay his hands on him so that he might regain his sight.” 13 But Ananias answered, “Lord, I have heard from many about this man, how much evil he has done to your saints at Jerusalem. 14 And here he has authority from the chief priests to bind all who call on your name.” 15 But the Lord said to him, “Go, for he is a chosen instrument of mine to carry my name before the Gentiles and kings and the children of Israel. 16 For I will show him how much he must suffer for the sake of my name.” 17 So Ananias departed and entered the house. And laying his hands on him he said, “Brother Saul, the Lord Jesus who appeared to you on the road by which you came has sent me so that you may regain your sight and be filled with the Holy Spirit.” 18 And immediately something like scales fell from his eyes, and he regained his sight. Then he rose and was baptized; 19 and taking food, he was strengthened.

————————————————————————————————

My previous posts discussed how Saul of Tarsus, a Pharisee, devised a grand plan of travelling to Damascus to persecute Christians, only to find himself blinded by the light of Christ and toppled from his horse.

He travelled with a number of men in pursuit of converts whom Saul wanted transported back to Jerusalem for religious trial on charges of heresy. So much for that plan. Our Lord had other ideas, but, first, Saul had to be taught a lesson about his persecution of our Saviour.

Before being struck down, Saul of Tarsus was a nasty little piece of work. (Yes, he was of short stature. His Roman name Paul means ‘little’.) He went around persecuting Christians in Jerusalem. Man or woman, it did not matter. He was involved with the martyrdom of Stephen, after which the disciples (but not the Apostles) fled Jerusalem. Philip the Evangelist went to Samaria and made many converts there. Damascus was also a destination for evangelism, hence why Saul wanted to go there.

Saul and his companions found a place to stay in Damascus. Saul immediately spent three days contemplating his grave sins against Christ to the extent that he could not eat or drink. Physically, he was as helpless as a baby. Spiritually, he was growing: engaging in heartfelt prayer and increasing in divine grace. He was leaving his Pharisaical heritage behind and becoming a Christian.

Verse 10 tells us that the Lord appeared in a vision to a convert named Ananias. Matthew Henry tells us that Ananias was a native of Damascus, not a convert who fled Jerusalem, and that he had occasional visions from the Lord (emphases mine below):

it is said (Acts 22:12) that he had a good report of all the Jews who dwelt there, as a devout man according to the law; he had lately embraced the gospel, and given up his name to Christ, and, as it should seem, officiated as a minister, at least pro hac vice–on this occasion, though it does not appear that he was apostolically ordained

It is probable it was not the first time that he had heard the words of God, and seen the visions of the Almighty; for, without terror or confusion, he readily answers

The Lord told Ananias to go to a street called Straight and to the house of Judas (not Iscariot) where a certain Saul of Tarsus was praying (verse 11). John MacArthur says that Straight is the main avenue in Damascus:

It had a street that ran right straight through the middle of it from the eastern gate to the western gate, straight about three miles long. It’s still existing today. The street’s called Straight there, it’s called Darbal Mospakeem, different name of course. But it’s still there and the street called Straight, at one end of it was the house of Judas. Today some people say that there’s a spot where that house was and supposedly a closet where Saul was praying for those three days, but that’s conjecture.

One might wonder why the Lord did not send one of the Apostles to travel from Jerusalem to minister to Paul. It was no doubt more expedient to employ a local believer and that would also help the Church grow there. Furthermore, as Henry points out:

Surely, because Christ would employ variety of hands in eminent services, that the honours might not be monopolized nor engrossed by a few–because he would put work into the hands, and thereby put honour upon the heads, of those that were mean and obscure, to encourage them–and because he would direct us to make much of the ministers that are where our lot is cast, if they have ordained mercy to be faithful, though they are not of the most eminent.

As we discover in verse 12, the Lord had already given Saul a vision of a man named Ananias who would go to visit him and restore his sight. Saul’s expectations must have been high.

Ananias hesitated, telling the Lord that Saul was notorious for ‘evil’ — persecuting converts in Jerusalem (verse 13). Furthermore, he said that Saul was in Damascus to persecute Christ’s followers (verse 14). So, word had already reached the converts that Saul was going there under the authority of the chief priests in Jerusalem. Jerusalem was the religious centre for Jewish authority, regardless of where Jews lived.

The Lord replied that He intended to use Saul as ‘a chosen instrument’ to minister to Gentile and Jew alike (verse 15). He added that Saul would suffer in His name (verse 16), which he did. He, the one who sought to imprison Christians, would himself be no stranger to confinement. He was instrumental in Stephen’s martyrdom in Jerusalem and would also die a martyr, along with the Apostle Peter, in Rome.

Ananias obeyed the Lord and spoke a precise message, identifying himself, describing Saul’s being struck down and announcing that he would regain his sight and be filled with the Holy Spirit (verse 17).

Note that Ananias laid hands on him (verse 17) — healing hands on someone who had been a believer’s worst enemy. Ananias also addressed the man he was fearing as ‘brother’. What an experience that must have been for both men.

Then, a supernatural event took place: ‘something like scales’ fell from Saul’s eyes and he could see once more (verse 18). This has a double meaning, one that is physical and one that is spiritual.

Did a scale-like substance really fall from Saul’s eyes? MacArthur says no:

Now this is Luke. Luke is a physician and so naturally he chooses a little metaphor that would be medical. He didn’t really have scales as it were as jose in the Greek, not to be confused with the Spanish jose. But it means as if. It was as if he had some medical problem and scales dropped of his eyes. 

Henry takes the verse literally:

Saul is delivered from the spirit of bondage by receiving sight (Acts 9:18), which was signified by the falling of scales from his eyes; and this immediately, and forthwith: the cure was sudden, to show that it was miraculous.

You’re welcome to interpret that as you like. Personally, I would like to think that there was a physical manifestation of a scale-like substance as God’s way of demonstrating to Saul how spiritually blind he had been for the following reason. Recall that Saul was born and raised a Pharisee. Recall how often Jesus told the Pharisees of their blindness — spiritual blindness. I think this was a physical manifestation, a divine way of driving home a point to Saul.

Henry offers this analysis:

This signified the recovering of him, [1.] From the darkness of his unconverted state. When he persecuted the church of God, and walked in the spirit and way of the Pharisees, he was blind; he saw not the meaning either of the law or of the gospel, Romans 7:9. Christ often told the Pharisees that they were blind, and could not make them sensible of it; they said, We see, John 9:41. Saul is saved from his Pharisaical blindness, by being made sensible of it. Note, Converting grace opens the eyes of the soul, and makes the scales to fall from them (Acts 26:18), to open men’s eyes, and turn them from darkness to light: this was what Saul was sent among the Gentiles to do, by the preaching of the gospel, and therefore must first experience it in himself.

The removal of scales would also signify that Saul’s time in judgement and terror had ended:

[2.] From the darkness of his present terrors, under the apprehension of guilt upon his conscience, and the wrath of God against him. This filled him with confusion, during those three days he sat in darkness, like Jonah for three days in the belly of hell; but now the scales fell from his eyes, the cloud was scattered, and the Sun of righteousness rose upon his soul, with healing under his wings.

Ananias then baptised Paul. Baptism is very important. I have read notional Christian websites that say it isn’t, but the New Testament has several mentions of baptism, beginning with Jesus in the Gospels and continuing in Acts. If it were unimportant, these mentions would not exist.

Henry tells us:

He was baptized, and thereby submitted to the government of Christ, and cast himself upon the grace of Christ. Thus he was entered into Christ’s school, hired into his family, enlisted under his banner, and joined himself to him for better for worse. The point was gained: it is settled; Saul is now a disciple of Christ, not only ceases to oppose him, but devotes himself entirely to his service and honour.

MacArthur says:

Baptism is so important people. If you haven’t gotten that message through the book of Acts you haven’t been listening. See? Baptism is critically important. Why? Because it’s a public confession of your identification with the body of believers.

I knew a lady who had strayed from the Church for many years. She married an unbeliever. She never had her daughter baptised. By the time I met her, she had returned to the Church and her daughter was an adult. This lady regretted never having had her daughter baptised as an infant because, later on, it was too late! She broached the subject with her daughter, but the young woman replied, ‘Why? I don’t even believe!’ Baptism confers grace. The lady knew it and regretted depriving her daughter of that grace, thinking it would persuade her to become a believer. But I digress.

In verse 19, St Luke tells us that Paul ate and was strengthened. MacArthur thinks it was a large Christian meal. He says in jest:

And if you know anything about how Christians feed, you can imagine the poor guy was almost sick when it was over.

Quite possibly!

Saul being Saul, he wasted no time in going out into Damascus to preach in Jesus’s name. Christ’s divine intervention transformed the zeal he had in persecuting converts to passionately preaching in His name.

More on that when Forbidden Bible Verses returns at the weekend.

jesus-praying-mount-of-olives-leadedglassworldcomThe evening of Maundy Thursday marks the beginning of the Triduum — ‘three days’ in Latin — the most important days in the Church calendar, which conclude Easter evening.

Find out how Passover was celebrated in Jesus’s time and how important the Last Supper is to Christianity:

John MacArthur on Passover as celebrated at the Last Supper

Passover, the Last Supper and the New Covenant

It is important to know that some Jews held this supper on Thursday and others on Friday, according to John MacArthur (emphases mine):

There actually were two different evenings when the Passover was celebrated. I’ll just leave it at this. The northern people in Galilee celebrated it on Thursday evening while the Judeans, the Sadducees and the people in the south celebrated it on Friday evening. This is perfect, so that Jesus could celebrate the Passover with His friends in Galilee when they celebrated it on Thursday and still die as the Passover lamb on Friday at the time when the southern Judeans were slaughtering their lambs for their Passover. So there are actually two times; on Thursday for those in the north, and on Friday for those in the south. And that’s an important reckoning because there are texts in John’s gospel, in particular, that make it necessary to understand that.

This is because of the difference in the way the two groups of Jews calculated their days:

Study Josephus. Study the Mishnah, the codification of Jewish law and other historical sources. You find that the Jews in the north and the Jewish people in the south, the Galileans say as opposed to the Judeans, had different ways of calculating their days. These chronological aspects have been a wonderful study in anybody’s…anybody who makes an effort to studying this in the New Testament is greatly enriched by it. But in the north, they calculated days from sunrise to sunrise…sunrise to sunrise. That was a day. Whereas in the south, they calculated the day from sunset to sunset. So that’s a very clear distinction. In Galilee, where Jesus and all the disciples except Judas, had grown up, they calculated days from sunrise to sunrise. So the fourteenth of Nissan was sunrise on Thursday to sunrise on Friday. That puts the Passover Thursday night. For the Jews in the south, it was sunset to sunset, so that puts it in late Friday for the southern Jews. Same day calculated two different ways. And that worked well for the Jews.

By the way, the Pharisees tended to go with the northern approach. The Sadducees who were all around Jerusalem tended to go, of course, with the southern approach. What that did was solve a couple of problems. It split the number of animals to be killed into two different periods, Thursday night and Friday night. It also reduced what were called regional clashes cause the southern people didn’t think too highly of the northern people. So it just was easier to have them separated.

Holy Communion stained glass home2romeThe posts below are resources for John’s Gospel, which provides the fullest description of the Last Supper and Jesus’s final discourses to the Apostles:

‘One of you will betray Me’ (John 13)

Maundy Thursday and the Last Supper: Jesus’s words of comfort (John 14)

John 17 — the High Priestly Prayer: parts 1, 2 and 3

These posts discuss the words of consecration, which Jesus used at the Last Supper and continue to be part of Christian liturgy today:

Forbidden Bible Verses — Matthew 26:26-29

Forbidden Bible Verses — Mark 14:22-25

Peter’s three denials of Jesus took place after His arrest. Jesus foretold this when He and the Apostles were at the Mount of Olives that night:

Forbidden Bible Verses — Mark 14:26-31

So much happened that day. The Apostles had no idea what would happen on Friday. But Jesus knew full well, which is why He spent hours in prayer while the Twelve slept nearby.

This post continues the series on Percy Dearmer and his 1912 volume, Everyman’s History of the Prayer Book, published by Mowbray.

It concerns the 1662 Book of Common Prayer (BCP) used in the Church of England.

My first post was on the value of liturgical prayer and the second was about the Anglican Thirty-nine Articles of Religion.

The third discussed how Anglican theology influenced the wording on the title page of the BCP.

This post explains more about the title page of the BCP, from Chapter 3 of Dearmer’s book. Excerpts and a summary follow, emphases mine below.

Dearmer breaks the BCP into five parts, or books:

(1) The Book of Common Prayer
(2) And Administration of the Sacraments,
(3) And other Rites and Ceremonies of the Church according to the use of the Church of England
(4) Together with the Psalter or Psalms of David pointed as they are to be sung or said in Churches
(5) And the Form and Manner of Making, Ordaining, and Consecrating of Bishops, Priests, and Deacons.

He describes the first book as being one of choir services:

Book 1. THE BOOK OF COMMON PRAYER. The “Common Prayer” is the name for those services which are conducted in the choir, (10) Morning Prayer and (11) Evening Prayer, which are therefore called choir services. There were formerly eight such services (see p. 150), and together they are called the Divine Service. Common Prayer also includes (13) The Litany, which is a service of Intercession after Morning Prayer, preparatory to the Holy Communion.

N.B.: Dearmer uses Mattins for Morning Prayer and Evensong for Evening Prayer below.

The second book concerns the sacraments. He explains how two — Baptism and Holy Communion — were decided upon:

Book 2. ADMINISTRATION OF THE SACRAMENTS.(16) Holy Communion at the holy Table or altar, and (17, 18) Baptism, at the font. In these Sacraments— outward signs bringing an inward gracesomething is done: at the altar Christians are fed with the spiritual Body of their Master; at the font non-Christians are admitted into the Catholic or Universal Church. There are other outward signs in which something is done, as Confirmation, Matrimony, and Orders (the Ordination of Ministers); but there was much disputing at the time when the Prayer Book was produced as to the number of the Sacraments, and the English Church therefore contented herself with laying stress on the two great Sacraments of the Gospel, Baptism and Holy Communion, leaving the “five commonly called Sacraments, that is to say, Confirmation, Penance, Orders, Matrimony, and extreme Unction,” in a separate category. There can be little doubt that this was the wisest way of settling an unhappy dispute; and it leaves us free either to include the “lesser Sacraments,” as they are sometimes called, under this head or to class some or all of them among the other Rites of the Church. (See pp. 45, 47.)

A selection of prayers for special occasions follows.

Then comes the section of Scripture readings. That section precedes the rite for Holy Communion:

The Collects, Epistles, and Gospels to be used at the Ministration of the holy Communion, throughout the year,” as they are described in the Table of Contents; the Collects, however, are used also at Mattins and Evensong.

Those readings are the ones which were traditionally used in the earliest Christian denominations until the two- and three-year Lectionaries came into widespread use in the 1970s. It is rare for the celebrant to read them now.

Following the rite for Communion are those for the lesser sacraments and other rites. Note that a small catechism is included, which precedes the liturgy for Confirmation:

Book 3. OTHER RITES AND CEREMONIES OF THE CHURCH. It will be noticed that both the Gospel Sacraments and the “other” Rites, are described as “of the Church,” services, that is to say, not of the Anglican Communion only, but of the whole Church; though their ritual (i.e. the manner of saying) and their ceremonial (i.e. the manner of doing) are according to the English Use. Furthermore, the Title-page does not say “All other Rites”; there are some which are not in the Prayer Book (pp. 47-52), such as the Coronation Service, or the Form for the Consecration of a Church, which are used under episcopal sanction.

These Rites consist of certain of the “five commonly called Sacraments,” namely (20) Confirmation, to which is prefixed (19) the Catechism, which is the preparation for Confirmation, and was only separated from it at the last Revision ; (21) the Solemnization of Matrimony; and (22) the Visitation and Communion of the Sick. Those who, like our brethren of the Eastern Orthodox Church to-day, look for seven Sacraments, will find on p. 45 how two of the lesser Sacraments come under this head, while the seventh is given in Book 5, the Ordinal.

Then follow other Rites, (23) the Order for the Burial of the Dead, (24) the Churching, or Thanksgiving of Women after Child-birth, and (25) the Ash Wednesday service called A Commination.

I wrote about the significance of the Churching of Women a few years ago. The ceremony disappeared in the 20th century because modern women disliked the idea of supplication and spiritual purification. A new ceremony replaced it: Thanksgiving for the Gift of a Child.

Sadly, people complaining about the Churching of Women overlooked the general tenor of the rite which is largely a joyful one, giving thanks for the mother’s health and her return to the congregation.

Back now to Dearmer. After the other rites comes the Psalter:

Book 4. THE PSALTER. The complete Book of the Psalms (26) which form the most essential part of Mattins and Evensong; they are arranged to be “read through once every month,” by grouping them under Morning and Evening Prayer for thirty days.

Two more rites follow. They are for special circumstances:

At the last Revision (1661) two sets of services were added— the Order of Baptism for those of Riper Years (18), and the Forms of Prayer to be used at Sea (27). The latter were inserted after the Psalter: it was doubtless felt that these sea services could not in the main be classed under “Other Rites,” and would be too prominent if printed after Mattins and Evensong. None the less their present position is a strange one, since they cannot be classed under Book 4 or Book 5. It would be better, perhaps, if they were printed among the Appendixes at the end.

Regarding the Order of Baptism for those of Riper Years, it now comes after the Order of Baptism both Publick and Private. Three amendments were made to the BCP: in 1964, 1965 and 1968, one of which no doubt accounts for the move.

The fifth book concerns ordination services:

Book5. THE ORDINAL (28) consists of three services, which were originally printed as a separate book, and published after the First Prayer Book was issued. These still have a Title-page (or half-page) of their own, in which they are described with definiteness and solemnity as ” The Form and Manner of Making, Ordaining, and Consecrating of Bishops, Priests, and Deacons according to the Order of the Church of England.”

I’m learning a lot from reading Dearmer’s book and hope that my fellow Anglicans are, too.

Next time — after Easter — we’ll look at Chapter 4, concerning the wider Church history of liturgy and prayer books for public worship.

This post continues the series on Percy Dearmer and his 1912 volume, Everyman’s History of the Prayer Book, first published by Mowbray in 1912.

My first post was on the value of liturgical prayer and last week’s was about the Anglican Thirty-nine Articles of Religion.

Before I go into Dearmer’s breakdown of the title page of Book of Common Prayer (image courtesy of Wikipedia), I wanted to point out a very important paragraph of his which relates to it.

First, carefully note the wording on the title page of the 1662 BCP.

Dearmer rightly points out (emphases mine below):

A truly admirable description! What a mass of ignorance would be removed if only people knew the Title-page of the Prayer Book! The notion, for instance, that “Priests” are a Roman Catholic institution, and the still common impression on the Continent of Europe that, the Anglican Church at the Reformation gave up the priesthood and is indifferent to Catholic order: the common idea, too, that “Sacramentalism” is a “high-church” idea foisted on to the Protestantism of England: or the notion that our proper use should be the Genevan Use, or the Roman Use, instead of that English Use which the Title-page orders. Certainly many widespread mistakes would never have come into existence had people but read the words that stare us in the face on this Title-page.

That is an excellent point, well made. All Anglicans — especially those who align themselves liturgically with Presbyterianism — should remember it.

The Anglican Church was never intended to be Presbyterian in liturgy or ritual. There is a small but vocal contingent of conservative Anglicans who say it was and would like to make it so even today. Those people point to the Puritans, who adopted a Calvinistic form of Anglicanism.

Bible Hub explains Puritan theology:

It is not too much to say that the ruling theology of the Church of England in the latter half of the sixteenth and the beginning of the seventeenth century was Calvinistic. [1154] The best proof of this is furnished by the ‘Zurich Letters,’ [1155] extending over the whole period of the Reformation, the Elizabethan Articles, the Second Book of Homilies (chiefly composed by Bishop Jewel), the Lambeth Articles, the Irish Articles, and the report of the delegation of King James to the Calvinistic Synod of Dort. [1156]

This theological sympathy between the English and the Continental Churches extended also to the principles of Church government, which was regarded as a matter of secondary importance, and subject to change, like rites and ceremonies, ‘according to the diversities of countries, times, and men’s manners, so that nothing be ordained against God’s Word’ (Art. XXXIV.). The difference was simply this: the English Reformers, being themselves bishops, retained episcopacy as an ancient institution of the Church catholic, but fully admitted (with the most learned fathers and schoolmen, sustained by modern commentators and historians) the original identity of the offices of bishop and presbyter; while the German and Swiss Reformers, being only presbyters or laymen, and opposed by their bishops, fell back from necessity rather than choice upon the parity of ministers, without thereby denying the human right and relative importance or expediency of episcopacy as a superintendency over equals in rank. The more rigid among the Puritans departed from both by attaching primary importance to matters of discipline and ritual, and denouncing every form of government and public worship that was not expressly sanctioned in the New Testament.

The Bible Hub essay goes on to explain the differing views of episcopacy — governing the denomination through bishops — that Anglican clergy had at that time. In short, the Puritans opposed episcopacy, which would have given the Anglican Church a Presbyterian polity.

Bible Hub cites an American Episcopalian, the Rev. Dr. E. A. Washburn, of New York, describing him as a modern-day ‘divine’ (esteemed, very learned theologian), therefore, highly knowledgeable in this subject:

‘The doctrinal system of the English Church, in its relation to other Reformed communions, especially needs a historic treatment; and the want of this has led to grave mistakes, alike by Protestant critics and Anglo-Catholic defenders …

‘The Articles ask our first study. It is plain that the foundation-truths of the Reformation — justification by faith, the supremacy and sufficiency of written Scripture, the fallibility of even general councils — are its basis. Yet it is just as plain that in regard of the specific points of theology, which were the root of discord in the Continental Churches, as election, predestination, reprobation, perseverance, and the rest, these Articles speak in a much more moderate tone …

‘We may thus learn the structure of the liturgical system. The English Reformers aimed not to create a new, but to reform the historic Church; and therefore they kept the ritual with the episcopate, because they were institutions rooted in the soil. They did not unchurch the bodies of the Continent, which grew under quite other conditions. No theory of an exclusive Anglicanism, as based on the episcopate and general councils, was held by them. Such a view is wholly contradictory to their own Articles. But the historic character of the Church gave it a positive relation to the past; and they sought to adhere to primitive usage as the basis of historic unity. In this revision, therefore, they weeded out all Romish errors, the mass, the five added sacraments, the legends of saints, and superstitious rites; but they kept the ancient Apostles’ Creed and the Nicene in the forefront of the service, the sacramental offices, the festivals and fasts relating to Christ or Apostles with whatever they thought pure. Such a work could not be perfect, and it is false either to think it so or to judge it save by its time. There are archaic forms in these offices which retain some ideas of a scholastic theology. The view of regeneration in the baptismal service, decried to-day as Romish, can be found by any scholar in Melanchthon or in Bullinger’s Decades. We may see in some of the phrases of the communion office the idea of more than a purely spiritual participation, yet the view is almost identical with that of Calvin. The dogma of the mass had been renounced, but the Aristotelian notions of spirit and body were still embodied in the philosophy of the time. The absolution in the office for the sick, and like features, have been magnified into “Romanizing germs” on one side and Catholic verities on another … The satire, so often repeated … that the Church has a “Popish Liturgy and Calvinistic Articles,” is as ignorant as it is unjust. All liturgical formularies need revision; but such a task must be judged by the standard of the Articles, the whole tenor of the Prayer-book, and the known principles of the men. In the same way we learn their view of the Episcopate. Not one leading divine from Hooper to Hooker claimed any ground beyond the fact of primitive and historic usage … The Puritan of that day was as narrow as the narrow Churchman of our own.

‘… Lutheranism and Calvinism did each its part in the development of a profound theology. The English Church had a more comprehensive doctrine and a more conservative order. It placed the simple Apostles’ Creed above all theological confessions as its basis, and a practical system above the subtleties of controversy …’

The beginning of the Bible Hub essay summarises Anglicanism well:

The Reformed Church of England occupies an independent position between Romanism on the one hand, and Lutheranism and Calvinism on the other, with strong affinities and antagonisms in both directions

The Reformation in England was less controlled by theology than on the Continent, and more complicated with ecclesiastical and political issues. Anglican theology is as much embodied in the episcopal polity and the liturgical worship as in the doctrinal standards. The Book of Common Prayer is catholic, though purged of superstitious elements; the Articles of Religion are evangelical and moderately Calvinistic. [1142]

In closing, the essay has this gem on the English:

The English mind is not theorizing and speculative, but eminently practical and conservative; it follows more the power of habit than the logic of thought; it takes things as they are, makes haste slowly, mends abuses cautiously, and aims at the attainable rather than the ideal.

Well said. Such characteristics gave us the Church of England and other churches in communion with her around the world.

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.

Matthew 19:3-6

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.”

—————————————————————————————

Last week’s entry discussed the first two verses of Matthew 19, which introduce Jesus’s teachings on divorce.

He was now in Judea, beyond the Jordan, in a region called Perea.

As last week’s post explained, the crowds continued to gather around Him. Among them were the usual groupings of the Jewish hierarchy.

The Pharisees approached Jesus with a question on the legality of divorce for any cause (verse 3). This question was designed to trap and discredit Him.

There was also another angle. The Pharisees were known to divorce their wives for any reason, no matter how trivial. I wrote about this at length in 2014 when discussing Luke 16:18.

Briefly, two schools of Jewish thought existed on the matter. Rabbi Shammai said that divorce was strictly forbidden. Rabbi Hillel said that any trivial reason provided grounds for divorce. Not surprisingly, Hillel’s argumentation was the more popular with the Pharisees.

There is also a third aspect regarding not only the institution of marriage but also the location of this confrontation. John MacArthur says that John the Baptist was held prisoner in Perea, at or near Herod Antipas’s summer home in Machaerus. John the Baptist had warned Herod Antipas about his adulterous relationship with Herodias, who grew very angry with his pronouncements. Her daughter was the one who requested the beheading of this last great prophet of the Bible.

Instead of debating the Pharisees on schools of rabbinical thought, Jesus answered by going straight to the creation story (verses 4 – 6). He cited Genesis 1:27 and Genesis 2:24:

27 So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.

24 Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh.

He asked if they had never read those verses before. They, of course, would have done. Therefore, it was time for Him to remind them of their meaning and import. As Matthew Henry’s commentary states (emphases mine):

Note, It will be of great use to us often to think of our creation, how and by whom, what and for what, we were created. He made them male and female, one female for one male so that Adam could not divorce his wife, and take another, for there was no other to take. It likewise intimated an inseparable union between them Eve was a rib out of Adam’s side, so that he could not put her away, but he must put away a piece of himself, and contradict the manifest indications of her creation.

Subsequent formal marriage ceremony rites symbolise the reuniting of man with woman into one, indissoluble body. This makes the bonds of marriage the strongest of family relationships:

a man must leave his parents, to cleave to his wife. See here the power of a divine institution, that the result of it is a union stronger than that which results from the highest obligations of nature.

it is in a manner equivalent to that between one member and another in the natural body. As this is a reason why husbands should love their wives, so it is a reason why they should not put away their wives, for no man ever yet hated his own flesh, or cut it off, but nourishes and cherishes it, and does all he can to preserve it. They two shall be one, therefore there must be but one wife, for God made but one Eve for one Adam, Malachi 2:15.

Note that God did not make more than one male and one female. His plan and His purpose in doing this should remind us of the fundamentals of couples and their loving bond.

John MacArthur points out what God did and did not do:

He did not make provision for polygamy.  He did not make provision for divorce by making any spare people

When he made them, he made them a male and a female, and that was it.  Not a male and two females, not four folks who could work it out the best way.  Very basic.  So, in the case of Adam and Eve, divorce was not only wrong, it was inadvisable.  Not only that, it was impossible.  It was absolutely impossible.  There were no alternatives.  There was nowhere to go, no one else to talk to, nothing.  That’s the way God meant it.  If it isn’t you two, it isn’t anything.  This is God’s intended creation, a non-optional, indissoluble union …

And just because spares came along as time went on didn’t change God’s original intention, you understand?  It didn’t change it at all.  And God never intended two people to be married and be poking around seeing if they like somebody better.  That is not an alternative that God ever intended, and that’s obvious by virtue of his creation. 

MacArthur explains the word ‘cleave’:

It means basically “to have a bond that can’t be broken.”  It’s a word that’s used really for glue.  It means “to be stuck”  …  It’s a happy stuck and not a sad stuck.  That’s the idea here.  But you’re stuck.  You are cleaving, the idea of glue.  In fact, there’s a translation … where it even uses the word “glue” in Genesis 2 to refer to this.  “A man should be glued to his wife.” 

There also is inherent in the word another thought that takes it into the heart a little more, and it’s sometimes used to speak of pursuing hard after something.  And so you have the idea then of two people who are stuck together, and are so because they pursue hard after each other.  So you have two hearts diligently and utterly committed to pursuing one another in love … Glued in mind, glued in will, glued in spirit, glued in emotion

Malachi 2:16 is relevant in this context, likening divorce to attacking oneself physically:

For the man who does not love his wife but divorces her,[a] says the Lord, the God of Israel, covers[b] his garment with violence, says the Lord of hosts. So guard yourselves in your spirit, and do not be faithless.”

Henry considers that verse and the Greek word used in the ancient text of Matthew 19:6:

From hence he infers, What God hath joined together, let not man put asunder. Note, (1.) Husband and wife are of God’s joining together synezeuxenhe hath yoked them together, so the word is, and it is very significant. God himself instituted the relation between husband and wife in the state of innocence. Marriage and the sabbath are the most ancient of divine ordinances. Though marriage be not peculiar to the church, but common to the world, yet, being stamped with a divine institution, and here ratified by our Lord Jesus, it ought to be managed after a godly sort, and sanctified by the word of God, and prayer. A conscientious regard to God in this ordinance would have a good influence upon the duty, and consequently upon the comfort, of the relation. (2.) Husband and wife, being joined together by the ordinance of God, are not to be put asunder by any ordinance of man. Let not man put them asunder not the husband himself, nor any one for him not the magistrate, God never gave him authority to do it. The God of Israel hath said, that he hateth putting away, Malachi 2:16. It is a general rule that man must not go about to put asunder what God hath joined together.

Next week’s entry will explore why divorce came into being during Moses’s time.

For now, perhaps these verses and this type of explanation should be made more a part of courses undertaken in preparation for marriage. We normally think of the marriage ceremony in church as defining the indissoluble character of such a union.

The greater headline to take away is that the ceremony is secondary in importance to the symbolic fusion of husband and wife in the same way that Adam and Eve were bonded together as two people, the rib once again ‘united’ with the rest into one ‘body’, functioning as one entity together in love.

That pertains to secular wedding ceremonies, too, whether those couples believe it or not.

This is why it is so important we make a careful, deliberate decision before undertaking the commitment and consequences of the marital contract.

Next time: Matthew 19:7-9

Last Supper Byzantine Museum San Giorgio Venice Byz-LastS-BR750 paradoxplace_comThose looking for resources on Maundy — Holy — Thursday and an explanation of Passover and the Last Supper might find the following posts useful:

What is the Triduum?

‘One of you will betray Me’

Passover, the Last Supper and the New Covenant

Maundy Thursday and the Last Supper: Jesus’s words of comfort (John 14, mentions Holy Trinity)

John MacArthur on Passover as celebrated at the Last Supper

John 17 — the High Priestly Prayer: parts 1, 2 and 3

(Image credit: Paradoxplace.com)

The Epistle for Maundy Thursday in Year C of the three-year Lectionary is 1 Corinthians 11:23-26:

11:23 For I received from the Lord what I also handed on to you, that the Lord Jesus on the night when he was betrayed took a loaf of bread,

11:24 and when he had given thanks, he broke it and said, “This is my body that is for you. Do this in remembrance of me.”

11:25 In the same way he took the cup also, after supper, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood. Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me.”

11:26 For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes.

John MacArthur tells us that 1 Corinthians existed before the gospels were written. That makes it:

the first statement of God, in print, regarding the Lord’s Table.  For a full understanding of all of it, you need to read the account in Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John, but here is the earliest account of the institution of the Lord’s Supper, and Paul says it was directly from the words of Jesus.  He Himself instituted it.

In the preceding verses, Paul took his converts to task for abusing Christ’s body and blood. MacArthur explains that:

they were coming to the Lord’s Supper drunk, gluttonous, that the rich were stuffing themselves in a gluttonous drunken manner and withholding from the poor so that they had nothing to eat in the love feast which proceeded the Lord’s Supper in that era.  That they came to the Lord’s Supper hating one another, with factions and divisions and bitternesses and unconfessed sin.  And the result of all of it is in verse 20.  Paul says, “When you come together therefore into one place,” and here’s the literal Greek, “it is impossible that you should eat the Lord’s Supper.”  You may be having something you think is the Lord’s Supper, but that’s an impossibility because of your attitude.  Some of you are drunk.  Some of you are deprived.  Some of you are gluttonous.  Some of you are hating one another.  There is bitterness, there is faction, there is division.  There are class divisions.  There are divisions over theological viewpoints.  There are divisions over every conceivable opinion within the church.  There is no real communion of the believers.  There is no real communion with Christ because of all the sinfulness.  You have debauched, desecrated the Lord’s Supper, and what you’re doing is not the Lord’s Supper.  Whatever you call it, it is not.

On that subject, 1 Corinthians 11:27-32 sound a warning against receiving Holy Communion unworthily, because doing so can be fatal:

27 Whoever, therefore, eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty concerning the body and blood of the Lord. 28 Let a person examine himself, then, and so eat of the bread and drink of the cup. 29 For anyone who eats and drinks without discerning the body eats and drinks judgment on himself. 30 That is why many of you are weak and ill, and some have died.[g] 31 But if we judged[h] ourselves truly, we would not be judged. 32 But when we are judged by the Lord, we are disciplined[i] so that we may not be condemned along with the world.

The verses in between — this year’s Maundy Thursday epistle — are Paul’s explanation of the importance of remembering and proclaiming the Last Supper until Christ Jesus comes again in glory.

He begins by making it clear that the bread and the cup are God-given, not manmade traditions (verse 23). MacArthur says:

In other words, here is a divine reality. 

Matthew Henry’s commentary reminds us that Paul was not among the apostles at the Last Supper, however:

He had the knowledge of this matter by revelation from Christ: and what he had received he communicated, without varying from the truth a tittle, without adding or diminishing.

Paul quoted Jesus’s words regarding His body and blood (verses 24,25). We hear our clergy recite them in the prayers of consecration used in Catholic and mainstream Protestant churches. Paul was putting Holy Communion into an historical context for the Corinthians — and us.

Paul wanted his converts and us to know that whenever we come together to partake of this most blessed Sacrament, we proclaim our Lord’s death until He comes again (verse 26).

As with John 13, from which we have the gospel readings for Spy Wednesday and Maundy Thursday, we find the same juxtaposition of historic events and divine love in the epistle of 1 Corinthians 11.

The Last Supper was Jesus’s and the apostles’ commemoration of Passover. Passover recalls God’s mercy and love in delivering His people from bondage in Egypt when each household sacrificed a lamb. Jesus showed His mercy and love by dying on the cross as the once-sufficient sacrifice for our sins, which is why we call Him the Lamb of God. The night before, even though He knew Judas would betray Him, He washed His apostles’ feet and asked them to follow His example in future. He then broke bread and drank wine with them, recalling Passover and transforming those elements into His body and blood.

MacArthur explains:

If you study the gospels with that in mind, you can pick out just about detail by detail what they’re doing at each point in the Lord’s Supper, the Passover.  Somewhere along the line, at the point of unleaven bread being broken before the meal, Jesus took that bread that symbolized the exodus, broke it and said, “This bread is My,” what?  “Body.”  After the meal He took that third cup, and we know it was after the meal because it says, “After He had supped,” or after He had had supper, it doesn’t mean after He had drunk it first, it means after supper.  He took that third cup and said, “This cup which to you has represented the blood of a lamb at the Passover is no longer representative of that; this cup is My blood which is shed for you.”  And by that, Jesus transformed the Passover into the Lord’s Supper.  And He said, “Now, when you want to remember, you don’t want to remember exodus, you don’t want to remember Egypt anymore, you don’t want to remember Passover when you think of Savior God, when you think of God as deliverer.  You want to remember My death.  The Passover was a great thing that got you out of Egypt and ultimately into Canaan.  My death is going to get you out of bondage to Satan and ultimately into heaven.  The Passover provided for you only a physical release.  My death will provide for you an eternal and spiritual release.”  And when you want a contact point for God as Savior, for God as deliverer, it isn’t going to be the Passover feast, it’s going to be the Lord’s Supper. 

Henry’s commentary tells us:

The things signified by these outward signs; they are Christ’s body and blood, his body broken, his blood shed, together with all the benefits which flow from his death and sacrifice: it is the New Testament in his blood. His blood is the seal and sanction of all the privileges of the new covenant; and worthy receivers take it as such, at this holy ordinance. They have the New Testament, and their own title to all the blessings of the new covenant, confirmed to them by his blood …

Our Saviour, having undertaken to make an offering of himself to God, and procure, by his death, the remission of sins, with all other gospel benefits, for true believers, did, at the institution, deliver his body and blood, with all the benefits procured by his death, to his disciples, and continues to do the same every time the ordinance is administered to the true believers. This is here exhibited, or set forth, as the food of souls. And as food, though ever so wholesome or rich, will yield no nourishment without being eaten, here the communicants are to take and eat, or to receive Christ and feed upon him, his grace and benefits, and by faith convert them into nourishment to their souls. They are to take him as their Lord and life, yield themselves up to him, and live upon him. He is our life, {cf11ul Col 3:4}.

Paul called upon the Corinthians — and us — to partake of the Sacrament frequently with all reverence. It is a remembrance which, as Henry wrote, confers divine grace and eternal life.

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