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

Yet, it doesn’t tell the whole story.

My series Forbidden Bible Verses — ones the Lectionary editors and their clergy have omitted — 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.

Acts 19:11-16

The Sons of Sceva

11 And God was doing extraordinary miracles by the hands of Paul, 12 so that even handkerchiefs or aprons that had touched his skin were carried away to the sick, and their diseases left them and the evil spirits came out of them. 13 Then some of the itinerant Jewish exorcists undertook to invoke the name of the Lord Jesus over those who had evil spirits, saying, “I adjure you by the Jesus whom Paul proclaims.” 14 Seven sons of a Jewish high priest named Sceva were doing this. 15 But the evil spirit answered them, “Jesus I know, and Paul I recognize, but who are you?” 16 And the man in whom was the evil spirit leaped on them, mastered all[a] of them and overpowered them, so that they fled out of that house naked and wounded.

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Those who are familiar with the Book of Acts, which St Luke wrote, know that sorcery was not unknown as an attack on the earliest churches:

Acts 8:14-25 – Philip, Simon Magus, sorcery, money, divine gifts, God, Holy Spirit, Peter, John

Acts 13:4-7 – Barnabas, Saul of Tarsus, John Mark, Cyprus, Sergius Paulus, Bar-Jesus, Elymas

Acts 13:8-12 — Paul, Elymas, magician, sorcerer, Paulus Sergius, conversion, blindness, miracle, doctrine, Cyprus

Acts 16:16-18 — Paul and the fortune-telling slave girl in Philippi; he drove an evil spirit out of her

In last week’s entry about Paul’s ministry in Ephesus, the Apostle had to withdraw from the synagogue because of all the evil Jewish resistors spoke against the truth about Christ Jesus.

This week’s passage, which immediately follows in Acts 19, reveals that the spiritual situation grew worse in Ephesus. This is not the whole story, which will conclude in next week’s post.

We see here that a great spiritual tension was building between good and evil.

On the good side, God worked through Paul to work ‘extraordinary miracles’ (verse 11).

Was this the first time or were these particular healing miracles? Matthew Henry’s commentary has this analysis (emphases mine below):

I wonder we have not read of any miracle wrought by Paul since the casting of the evil spirit out of the damsel at Philippi; why did he not work miracles at Thessalonica, Berea, and Athens? Or, if he did, why are they not recorded? Was the success of the gospel, without miracles in the kingdom of nature, itself such a miracle in the kingdom of grace, and the divine power which went along with it such a proof of its divine original, that there needed no other? It is certain that at Corinth he wrought many miracles, though Luke has recorded none, for he tells them (2 Corinthians 12:12) that the signs of his apostleship were among them, in wonders and mighty deeds. But here at Ephesus we have a general account of the proofs of this kind which he gave his divine mission. 1. They were special miracles–Dynameis ou tychousas. God exerted powers that were not according to the common course of nature: Virtutes non vulgares. Things were done which could by no means be ascribed either to chance or second causes. Or, they were not only (as all miracles are) out of the common road, but they were even uncommon miracles, such miracles as had not been wrought by the hands of any other of the apostles. The opposers of the gospel were so prejudiced that any miracles would not serve their turn; therefore God wrought virtutes non quaslibet (so they render it), something above the common road of miracles. 2. It was not Paul that wrought them (What is Paul, and what is Apollos?) but it was God that wrought them by the hand of Paul. He was but the instrument, God was the principal agent.

These miracles were so extraordinary that when people touched Paul’s skin with garments and took them home to their loved ones afflicted by illness or demons, those ailing were also cured (verse 12). That was truly extraordinary.

Thinking back to Christ’s ministry, the lady with the 12-year haemorrhage was cured when she touched His garment. If there were other instances, the Gospel writers did not record them.

Returning to Paul as a conduit for God’s healing power, John MacArthur says that the people pressing garments against him did not understand that God was working through the Apostle. They thought he had some sort of personal power, similar to that of a magician or sorcerer:

The people in Ephesus were very, very superstitious. And when they saw these miracles going on, coming out of Paul, they assumed the power was Paul’s.

MacArthur says that people picked up handkerchiefs which Paul used to wipe his brow while making tents:

the word “handkerchief” means “sweat cloth.” Those people who work, artisans or anybody in the crafts or anybody who did manual labor in those days, carried about these cloths with which they would wipe their brow and sometimes tie around their head. Well, they got Paul’s old, dirty, crummy sweat cloths! And they attached so much healing power to Paul, they figured if they get ahold of those sweat cloths, that that could work the same thing for them. And you know what? In spite of their superstition, God went ahead and did His miracles! Because God was in the business of confirming the Word, and He never let their superstitions violate what He was gonna do.

Seeing this, some Jewish exorcists who travelled from town to town to perform notional exorcisms for money, thought they could replicate divine healing miracles by invoking Jesus’s name (verse 13). These were not converts. They were just going to use what they thought was a magic incantation. Henry describes their appeal in that era. They were around in Jesus’s time, too:

They strolled about to tell people their fortunes, and pretended by spells and charms to cure diseases, and bring people to themselves that were melancholy or distracted. They called themselves exorcists, because in doing their tricks they used forms of adjuration, by such and such commanding names. The superstitious Jews, to put a reputation upon these magic arts, wickedly attributed the invention of them to Solomon. So Josephus (Antiq. 8. 45-46) says that Solomon composed charms by which diseases were cured, and devils driven out so as never to return; and that these operations continued common among the Jews to his time. And Christ seems to refer to this (Matthew 12:27), By whom do your children cast them out?

MacArthur gives us the origin for the historian Josephus’s claim:

in the Book of Tobit, the heart and liver of a miraculously caught fish are burned in the ashes of incense, and the resulting smell and smoke are supposed to drive away the demons. Josephus, who was a very intelligent person, a noted Jewish historian, told of a cure in which a demon was drawn through the nostrils of a demoniac by the use of magic root supposedly prescribed by Solomon. And there are other rabbinical writers who reflect the same fanciful magic superstitions.

Now, it may have been true that in the Old Testament time, demons were expelled through prayer, fasting, if Matthew 17:21 is true and if it is belonging in the manuscript. It may be true, and I’m sure God did answer prayer and demons were cast out in the Old Testament.

The men trying this incantation in Ephesus were the seven sons of a Jewish high priest, Sceva (verse 14). It did not work for them, because a) they had no belief in Jesus and b) were preying on the vulnerable in their trade. Henry explains:

They said, We adjure you by Jesus whom Paul preaches; not, “whom we believe in, or depend upon, or have any authority from,” but whom Paul preaches; as if they had said, “We will try what that name will do.”

However, the evil spirit answered them, saying that it knew Jesus and recognised Paul, but asked who they were (verse 15).

Worse came when the man with the evil spirit leapt up and overpowered the phony exorcists. The evil spirit worked through the afflicted man to the extent that the charlatans were injured and left his house naked (verse 16).

MacArthur says that not all seven sons of Sceva were in the house when the incident happened:

the old manuscript also includes the word “both” here, which indicates there were probably only two of the seven there. “And overcame them both and prevailed against them.” The demon was powerful, strong. And they fled out of the house naked and bleeding. Wounded.

MacArthur says that Satan played a violent trick on them, even though they were his servants. That incident further demonstrates that Satan is no friend of humankind.

Matthew Henry concludes with this:

This is written for a warning to all those who name the name of Christ, but do not depart from iniquity. The same enemy that overcomes them with his temptations will overcome them with his terrors; and their adjuring him in Christ’s name to let them alone will be no security to them.

Both commentators say that there is only one way to overcome Satan — lively faith and true repentance.

Henry has the short version:

If we resist the devil by a true and lively faith in Christ, he will flee from us; but if we think to resist him by the bare using of Christ’s name, or any part of his word, as a spell or charm, he will prevail against us.

MacArthur’s version is longer, based on personal experience:

We had this illustrated to us when we were working with this one girl who had all these devils that were speaking, and all this thing was going on, and the phenomenon was very unusual; and I tried to cast those demons out. “Get out!” You know? “Name of the Word!” They didn’t go. Some of the other guys on the staff tried, and they couldn’t do it either, which made me feel better. But none of us could get ’em out.

Let me give you a simple statement. All of the efforts to cast out demons are useless if that person doesn’t confess and repent of sin. Okay? Listen to this, then. If the person confesses and repents of sin, all of the efforts to cast out demons are unnecessary. So if you want to be real clear about it, it’s never a question of casting out the demons. It’s a question of repenting of the sins. If the person involved repents of the sin that allowed Satan to get a grip on them, then you don’t need somebody there doing all this other stuff. If they won’t repent of the sin, then it doesn’t matter what you do! You stand there ’til you’re blue in the face trying to cast out demons; but if that person’s harboring prolonged sin in their life, those demons have a place. Well, that’s all we’re trying to say.

Today, many Christians have become so preoccupied with Satan and so preoccupied with demons, and now Christians are having these new deliverance ministries that are growing up where you can go and get delivered. One guy had to pay $3,500.00 to get delivered. Found out he didn’t get delivered at all; he got bilked

And you say, “Well, you mean that we should never have Christians come around and pray?” Yeah, well, maybe that’s all right, but maybe they ought to be really talking about sin, not demons. Maybe we need to rebuking sin; maybe we need to be getting people to deal with sin.

I think so many times this whole thing of demons is a big copout. “Well, the demon made me do it, the demon made me do it.” Satan. You’re not dealing with your own sin. You’re not dealing with the issue of your nature. Your old sin nature. Confession, repentance, submission to the Word, submission to the Spirit removes the power of Satan.

Just another thought on this. Of all of the ministries of the body, of all of the responsibilities that we have toward one another, there is no statement or command to go around and cast demons out of each other! It says love one another, teach one another, edify one another, admonish one another, nurture one another, comfort one another, build up one another, reprove one another, rebuke one another, and so forth and so forth and so forth; but it doesn’t say cast demons out of one another.

That’s – beloved, I can comfort you and so forth and so on, but you don’t need me to take care of Satan in your life. I can’t do that, ’cause I can’t be holy for you. You got it? That’s your problem! Now, I can rebuke your sin, and I can give you wise counsel about your sin, and I can admonish you about your sin, but I can’t be holy for you. And if you’re gonna deal with Satan, that’s yours to do! And if I do all the exorcism in the world in the Name of Jesus Christ and there’s still harbored in your life, it’s unnecessary – I mean, it’s ineffective – and if there’s no sin in your life, then it’s unnecessary. If you have confessed and repented and submitted to the Truth of God, you’re clean.

Oh, you don’t have anything to fear. No. You have all victory over Satan

I don’t need to worry – I can’t do much about demons in you, but every man can about himself. That’s the issue. The apostolic day was confirming the Word; that was different. Today, every Christian has the resources to take care of his own problem. But I don’t think we can walk up to unbelievers and cast demons out. If an unbeliever comes to Jesus Christ, He alone can cleanse. By faith.

I hope this gives people a nugget of truth about overcoming serious sin and Satan.

What happened afterwards in Ephesus will be the subject of next week’s post.

Next time — Acts 19:17-20

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Speaking of children, a social epidemic that seems to be rampant is that of child trafficking and exploitation.

The British ‘grooming’ cases are by now well known. Sadly, such tragic depravity continues because of local corruption (perpetrators, police, politicians) and the refusal to prosecute destructive ‘cultural norms’.

The United States also has a problem with child trafficking and exploitation. I wonder if it started in the early 1980s. Many of us remember that was when missing children’s photos began appearing on milk cartons.

Children Missing From Care is the source of the sad statistic that one in seven of 25,000 runaways in 2017 was likely to be a victim of child sex trafficking. Of that number, 88 per cent were in the care of social services when they went missing. This appears to be down from one in six runaways in 2016 who were trafficked.

Therefore, progress is being made, albeit very slowly.

Children Missing From Care is part of the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children.

There is a federal law against child trafficking and exploitation:

Enacted in September 2014, the Preventing Sex Trafficking and Strengthening Families Act, P.L. 113-183 (H.R. 4980) requires the States to report each missing or abducted foster child to law enforcement and to the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children.

The Bringing Missing Children Home Act, a portion of the larger Justice for Victims of Trafficking Act of 2015, P.L. 114-22, was enacted in May, 2015. Among other improvements related to record-keeping, this legislation amended federal law to ensure that law enforcement agencies respond appropriately and coordinate with NCMEC and social service agencies when a child goes missing from foster care.

For many years prior to the passage of these important laws, NCMEC has successfully partnered with social service agencies in several states and local jurisdictions by assisting and supporting their efforts to locate and return missing children to safe places. Please see Resources for Social Services for additional information regarding reporting requirements, steps to take when a child in care goes missing and how NCMEC can assist.

Unfortunately, putting an end to this horrific practice is unlikely to end soon. It is lucrative and involves many people, including government employees. In 2016, FBI Anon commented on 4chan (see here, here and here). This is what he said about child trafficking, particularly in California. The State is complicit (image courtesy of 8chan):

In January 2018, Newsweek published an article on this topic: ‘We Have Set Up a System to Sex Traffic American Children’ (image courtesy of 8chan):

A lawyer, Michael Dolce, wrote the article. He is Of Counsel at Cohen Milstein, and a member of the firm’s Catastrophic Injury practice group.

What struck me about the article was Dolce’s conclusion, which echoes the aforementioned FBI Anon quote (emphases mine):

We need law enforcement consistently prosecuting those who fail to report child abuse and runaways in a timely manner so we can find them before the pimps do. From cases of child abuse victims I have represented, I can name dozens of adults who knew of abuse in institutional care, but failed to report it.

Not one of them was arrested, even when I asked law enforcement to do it. And we must fire child welfare officials accountable for their role. I have never seen an official be fired in any case; in fact, I’ve seen one responsible official get a job promotion.

With or without the Internet, predators will continue to find vulnerable children to build the sex trade. Until we address the source of the victims, this will continue to be the truth we create for our nation’s youth.

True. (This is the same in the UK, by the way.)

This is why President Trump is intent on putting a stop to this (image courtesy of 8chan):

There is another element to this, which is child sacrifice. 8chan can be crude at times, but it also a fertile place for morality and the occasional Bible commentary, such as the following:

Question: “What does the Bible say about child sacrifice?”

Answer: The horrific practice of child sacrifice has been committed throughout the world for thousands of years. Generally, the sacrifice of a child was intertwined with the worship of a pagan deity, often a fertility god. Worshipers sought to obtain a blessing from their god(s) or to confirm or complete a vow taken in the name of the god.

Ancient Aztecs, Incas, and a few other peoples in South and Central America practiced child sacrifice. The same for the Druids of Europe. The city of Carthage in North Africa contains evidence of child sacrifice related to the worship of Ba’al Hammon, a god imported from Phoenicia. Many Roman writers refer to this barbaric act in Carthage.

The Bible contains the heart-breaking tale of child sacrifice practiced in the name of Molech (also spelled Moloch or Molek), a god of the Ammonites. Molech worship was practiced by the Ammonites and Canaanites, who revered Molech as a protecting father figure. Images of Molech were made of bronze, and their outstretched arms were heated red-hot. Living children were then placed into the idol’s hands and died there or were rolled into a fire pit below. Some sources indicate a child might also be “passed through the fire” prior to the actual sacrifice in order to purify or baptize the child. Molech worship occurred in the Hinnom Valley near Jerusalem. Because of this, the valley became associated with the idea of Tophet, or hell (Isaiah 30:33; Jeremiah 19:12; Mark 9:45).

God prohibited Israel from child sacrifice in general and Molech worship in particular. Leviticus 20:2-5 states, “Say to the Israelites: ‘Any Israelite or any foreigner residing in Israel who sacrifices any of his children to Molek is to be put to death. The members of the community are to stone him. I myself will set my face against him and will cut him off from his people; for by sacrificing his children to Molek, he has defiled my sanctuary and profaned my holy name. If the members of the community close their eyes when that man sacrifices one of his children to Molek and if they fail to put him to death, I myself will set my face against him and his family and will cut them off from their people together with all who follow him in prostituting themselves to Molek.’” Many other Old Testament passages affirm God’s zero-tolerance for child sacrifice.

Sadly, King Solomon became involved in this horrendous practice, as recorded in 1 Kings 11:4-11, “As Solomon grew old, his wives turned his heart after other gods, and his heart was not fully devoted to the LORD his God, as the heart of David his father had been. He followed Ashtoreth the goddess of the Sidonians, and Molek the detestable god of the Ammonites. So Solomon did evil in the eyes of the LORD. . . . On a hill east of Jerusalem, Solomon built a high place for Chemosh the detestable god of Moab, and for Molek the detestable god of the Ammonites. . . . The LORD became angry with Solomon because his heart had turned away from the LORD, the God of Israel, who had appeared to him twice. Although he had forbidden Solomon to follow other gods, Solomon did not keep the LORD’s command.”

Later, the evil king Manassah offered his own son as a sacrifice (2 Kings 21:6), as did King Ahaz (2 Chronicles 28:1-4). The people of Judah participated in this crime against their own sons—a sin so “detestable” that God said it had never even crossed His mind (Jeremiah 32:35). Child sacrifice was one reason for the Babylonian captivity (verse 36).

Some critics of the Bible point to the story of Abraham, who laid his son Isaac on an altar and prepared to sacrifice him as directed by God (Genesis 22:1-14). However, in this case, God was testing the obedience and faith of Abraham. God stopped him from actually following through and provided a ram as a substitute sacrifice.

Today, child sacrifice is practiced throughout the world. There has been a resurgence of child sacrifice in Uganda. Witch doctors have been implicated in the mutilation and death of children who were killed in an effort to bring good fortune and wealth to those willing to pay for it. There is also a correlation between child sacrifice and modern-day abortion. Unprecedented numbers of children have been “sacrificed” at the hands of abortionists for the sake of convenience, immorality, or pride. Hundreds of thousands of babies have been killed so that their parents can maintain a certain lifestyle. God hates “hands that shed innocent blood” (Proverbs 6:17), and we can be sure that God will judge this horrendous sin.

Whether trafficking, exploitation and/or sacrifice, I pray that God guides law enforcement and government officials to rout this indescribably egregious practice against children.

Once that happens, we will be amazed to discover that people we hold in high esteem — politicians, captains of industry and celebrities — are not only involved but also networked together, often internationally.

I also pray for the helpless victims, wherever they might be in the world. May God heal their wounds, mental and physical.

Have we considered the scriptural accuracy of ‘stairway to heaven’?

This graphic from Reddit explains it beautifully:

This is what Jesus said (Matthew 7:13-14), emphasis mine:

13 “Enter by the narrow gate. For the gate is wide and the way is easy[a] that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many. 14 For the gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life, and those who find it are few.

Not too long ago, I had a conversation with someone who is the son of a prominent cleric, now deceased. When he spoke at length about accepting sexual depravity in our modern era — Christian tolerance in changing times — I had to remind him of those verses. I doubt it did any good, but we need to know what the Bible says and to speak up about such things.

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

Yet, it doesn’t tell the whole story.

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

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

Acts 8:14-25

14 Now when the apostles at Jerusalem heard that Samaria had received the word of God, they sent to them Peter and John, 15 who came down and prayed for them that they might receive the Holy Spirit, 16 for he had not yet fallen on any of them, but they had only been baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus. 17 Then they laid their hands on them and they received the Holy Spirit. 18 Now when Simon saw that the Spirit was given through the laying on of the apostles’ hands, he offered them money, 19 saying, “Give me this power also, so that anyone on whom I lay my hands may receive the Holy Spirit.” 20 But Peter said to him, “May your silver perish with you, because you thought you could obtain the gift of God with money! 21 You have neither part nor lot in this matter, for your heart is not right before God. 22 Repent, therefore, of this wickedness of yours, and pray to the Lord that, if possible, the intent of your heart may be forgiven you. 23 For I see that you are in the gall[a] of bitterness and in the bond of iniquity.” 24 And Simon answered, “Pray for me to the Lord, that nothing of what you have said may come upon me.”

25 Now when they had testified and spoken the word of the Lord, they returned to Jerusalem, preaching the gospel to many villages of the Samaritans.

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Last week’s entry discussed the ministry of Philip the Evangelist (not the Apostle) in Samaria. Those verses also introduced a magus — magician, sorcerer — called Simon, more about whom later.

Simon had a hold on the Samaritans because of his sorcery. He called himself great and people came to believe that he had God-given gifts, partly because of the hype he told about himself.

Philip, on the other hand, truly had divinely-given gifts of preaching and healing. He worked miracles among the Samaritans. He also brought them to Christ and baptised them.

Simon was one of those who was baptised and continued to follow Philip. However, John MacArthur explains:

He thought Philip had another particular bag of tricks that maybe he could lay hold of and he ought to get in on this baby so he figured I’ll join up. But he looked at salvation as a commodity to be added to his bag of tricks …

One gift that Philip did not have was the ability to confer the Holy Spirit on his converts. Matthew Henry says that Philip himself had received the Holy Spirit, but lacked the power to bestow those gifts. Henry also thought that only certain Samaritans were chosen to receive those gifts, possibly those who would go on to lead the Church in Samaria:

We have reason to think that Philip had received these gifts of the Holy Ghost himself, but had not a power to confer them; the apostles must come to do this; and they did it not upon all that were baptized, but upon some of them, and, it should seem, such as were designed for some office in the church, or at least to be eminent active members of it; and upon some of them one gift of the Holy Ghost, and upon others another.

Therefore, once word reached the Apostles, who remained in Jerusalem, that Philip was baptising Samaritans, they sent Peter and John to ask that the Holy Spirit descend upon the converts (verses 14-16).

Recall that the Holy Spirit worked particularly powerfully through Peter, who was able to discern the hidden truth behind false converts, namely Ananias and his wife Sapphira, who pledged to make an important donation to the new church in Jerusalem then held some of the money back. They thought no one would ever find out, until Peter confronted them. Both dropped dead from the shock of being discovered.

John had been the closest to Jesus and his Gospel is testimony to His understanding of our Lord being the light in a very dark world, one which rejected — and rejects — Him.

As Henry explains, they were the foremost of the Twelve and went to help Philip, setting an example for clergy to follow (emphases mine below):

Two apostles were sent, the two most eminent, to Samaria, 1. To encourage Philip, to assist him, and strengthen his hands. Ministers in a higher station, and that excel in gifts and graces, should contrive how they may be helpful to those in a lower sphere, and contribute to their comfort and usefulness. 2. To carry on the good work that was begun among the people, and, with those heavenly graces that had enriched them, to confer upon them spiritual gifts.

The two Apostles laid their hands upon the people who then received the Holy Spirit (verse 17). Henry tells us:

The laying on of hands was anciently used in blessing, by those who blessed with authority. Thus the apostles blessed these new converts, ordained some to be ministers, and confirmed others in their Christianity.

Henry says that the Samaritans who had received the Holy Spirit began speaking in tongues.

Simon watched this take place and thought it was some kind of gift he could purchase, so he offered them money, as if it were something he could be trained to perform (verse 18). He did not understand that this gift came only from God. The Apostles were but conduits.

Simon himself had not received the Holy Spirit in this blessing. Whether that was because of Peter and John’s discernment or something Philip told them about Simon, we do not know. Henry points out that:

He does not desire them to lay their hands on him, that he might receive the Holy Ghost himself (for he did not foresee that any thing was to be got by that) …

MacArthur thinks Simon followed Philip just to maintain his own exalted status as a sorcerer:

I think three things, at least, number one he continued because he wanted to maintain a following. If all of his followers went to Philip he figured he’d go with them because he wanted to be associated with what was going on. Second thing, people would associate the power with him if he stayed next to Philip. I’ll just believe that Philip had Simon on his tail all the time and it might have even been that whenever Philip was doing the miracles Simon was doing some hocus-po[c]us in the background so people would think he was in on it. And the third reason he hung around was he was looking for an opportunity to figure out how to buy this power because the sorcerers would exchange their tricks and their incantations for money and he figured I’ll get in on this deal, surely Philip’s in the same thing I’m in. That’s what makes me believe that Simon was not a conscious fraud that he actually believed that he was doing. He figured he’d buy Philip’s tricks. And he went through the rigmarole to get in. But he had a wrong view of salvation, external.

Peter turned on Simon Magus. Again, whether the Holy Spirit was giving him the ability to seek out Simon’s heart, we cannot say, but Peter discerned that Simon’s heart was not with Jesus, God or the Holy Spirit. MacArthur says:

He saw [him]self egotistically he saw salvation externally and he saw the Spirit economicallyhe thought he could buy the Holy Spirit. He thought that was the magical power he needed. Now to him the Holy Spirit was just another one of these demons that he trafficked in and so he just figured he’d buy into this one

As soon as Simon offered money to buy this gift (verse 19), Peter rebuked him, saying that God’s gift cannot be bought with money (verse 20).

Peter did not stop there. He told Simon that he was unworthy because his heart was not right with God (verse 21). Peter then told Simon he had better repent and pray that God would forgive him (verse 22).

Peter treated Simon harshly because, as MacArthur explains:

He didn’t want the sanctifying power of the Holy Spirit within, did he? He was a vile, demon infested individual. He wanted the power of capturing people with more miracles. In fact, the word simony which is an ecclesiastical word comes from this man’s name and it means the illegal buying and selling of ecclesiastical offices. There use to be in the big structures of the church, if you wanted to be a bishop you paid somebody off and you got the job. So Simon had a high view of himself and a low view of God. He thought he was some great one, he thought God was some kind of cheap commodity to be bought like a bag of tricks to add to his repertoire. He didn’t understand the glory of God.

Henry sums Simon up:

He was ambitious to have the honour of an apostle, but not at all solicitous to have the spirit and disposition of a Christian. He was more desirous to gain honour to himself than to do good to others.

MacArthur tells us that ‘wickedness’ (verse 22) in Greek is:

Kakia – general evil.

Our two commentators differ on interpreting Peter’s words about repentance and forgiveness in Simon’s case.

MacArthur thinks that Peter believed God might not forgive such heinous sin:

Peter’s acknowledging that he doesn’t know whether God will forgive him. You know, that you ought to repent of your sins not because God will forgive you but because your sin is rotten. That’s enough reason to repent of it and then hope that He will forgive you.

However, Henry puts Peter’s doubt on the sincerity of Simon’s repentance:

When Peter here puts a perhaps upon it, the doubt is of the sincerity of his repentance, not of his pardon if his repentance be sincere. If indeed the thought of thy heart may be forgiven, so it may be read. Or it intimates that the greatness of his sin might justly make the pardon doubtful, though the promise of the gospel had put the matter out of doubt, in case he did truly repent: like that (Lamentations 3:29), If so be there may be hope.

Peter hadn’t finished in his stark admonition of Simon. He used an expression which might be strange to us (verse 23):

you are in the gall[a] of bitterness …

Henry says that means as bitter as bile (gall) and comes from the Old Testament:

They are in the gall of bitterness–odious to God, as that which is bitter as gall is to us. Sin is an abominable thing, which the Lord hates, and sinners are by it made abominable to him; they are vicious in their own nature. Indwelling sin is a root of bitterness, that bears gall and wormwood, Deuteronomy 29:18. The faculties are corrupted, and the mind embittered against all good, Hebrews 12:15. It intimates likewise the pernicious consequences of sin; the end is bitter as wormwood.

Simon, overcome by Peter’s rebuke, asked the Apostle to pray for him that God might refrain from pouring out His wrath on him (verse 24). However, as MacArthur points out:

he’s just saying – Do something to save my hide. He’s still not repenting. There no forgiveness asked for, no confession, no self-judgment, no acknowledging sin, no exhibit of confidence in the Lord, no asked forgiveness, no nothing.

Baptism, in Simon’s case — and countless others since — did and does not confer salvation. Depending on denominational belief, baptism washes away original sin but does not remove man’s inherent sinful nature and/or it makes us one in the Christian community. That said, it confers grace and we should be ever mindful that it signifies we should be walking with Christ, not away from Him.

Note that when Peter and John had laid hands on the Samaritans and preached to them, they left, but continued to spread the Gospel to the villages they passed through on their return to Jerusalem (verse 25). Henry offers this advice:

In their road home they were itinerant preachers; as they passed through many villages of the Samaritans they preached the gospel. Though the congregations there were not so considerable as those in the cities, either for number or figure, yet their souls were as precious, and the apostles did not think it below them to preach the gospel to them. God has a regard to the inhabitants of his villages in Israel (Judges 5:11), and so should we.

What then of Simon Magus? According to the Wikipedia entry, much has been written about him throughout history. The first Doctors of the Church considered him to be the root of all heresies. As such, he is still an important figure to the Gnostics, perhaps the movement’s originator.

Historians of that era also wrote about Simon Magus.

Some of those who wrote about him said that Simon was able to levitate and/or fly at will. There are several ancient legends about him.

Hippolytus wrote that after Peter confronted Simon, the latter was thrown into despair. He renounced his faith and continued with sorcery. He sailed to Rome, where Peter confronted him once more.

Justin Martyr wrote that Simon was famous during the reign of Claudius and that a statue was erected to him on an island in the Tiber with the following inscription:

Simoni Deo Sancto, “To Simon the Holy God” (Apologia, XXVI).

Simon had his followers, called Simonians. He documented his own set of beliefs for them to follow. Epiphanius wrote that Simon twisted Holy Scripture:

Epiphanius further charges Simon with having tried to wrest the words of St. Paul about the armour of God (Ephesians 6:14–16) into agreement with his own identification of the Ennoia with Athena. He tells us also that he gave barbaric names to the “principalities and powers,” and that he was the beginning of the Gnostics. The Law, according to him, was not of God, but of “the sinister power.” The same was the case with the prophets, and it was death to believe in the Old Testament.[citation needed]

The versions of Simon’s death are varied. Some say he was crucified and/or flayed alive.

The apocryphal Acts of Peter says Simon was levitating and Peter — and possibly Paul — prayed that God would stop him. Simon then fell and broke his leg in three parts. The people began stoning the magician, who had to be carried out of Rome during the night and taken to a nearby town, where he died after two local surgeons were unable to save him.

A church in Rome claims to be built on the place where Simon fell:

The church of Santa Francesca Romana, Rome, is claimed to have been built on the spot where Simon fell. Within the Church is a dented slab of marble that purports to bear the imprints of the knees of Peter and Paul during their prayer. The fantastic stories of Simon the Sorcerer persisted into the later Middle Ages,[39] becoming a possible inspiration for the Faustbuch and Goethe’s Faust.[40]

Whatever the case, Simon Magus put himself above God and claimed to be His Son. He was a very bad man.

Next time — Acts 9:19b-22

Bible read me 1The 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.

Acts 5:7-11

After an interval of about three hours his wife came in, not knowing what had happened. And Peter said to her, “Tell me whether you[a] sold the land for so much.” And she said, “Yes, for so much.” But Peter said to her, “How is it that you have agreed together to test the Spirit of the Lord? Behold, the feet of those who have buried your husband are at the door, and they will carry you out.” 10 Immediately she fell down at his feet and breathed her last. When the young men came in they found her dead, and they carried her out and buried her beside her husband. 11 And great fear came upon the whole church and upon all who heard of these things.

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Last week’s post concerned the first part of this shocking episode: Ananias’s death, a sentence God carried out through Peter for deceiving Him and the Holy Spirit.

If you haven’t already read it, I strongly recommend doing so, because it concerns the sometimes fatal folly of humans trying to pull one over on the Holy Trinity. Not recommended. In the case of Ananias, it was his sin unto death: the last one before God decides to pull the plug on someone’s life in cases of egregious offence.

Acts 5:6 tells us that young men wrapped up Ananias’s body and carried it out — implying out of the city — for burial. Matthew Henry explains that they:

buried it decently, though he died in sin, and by an immediate stroke of divine vengeance.

Three hours later after the death of Ananias, Sapphira, his wife, walked in (verse 7). She did not know what happened nor that Peter, the Apostles and others present knew the two had consciously not given all the money from their property sale to the congregation. They kept some back for themselves.

Given those circumstances, both our commentators surmise that she thought she was in for a lot of love, given the donation. She was, in John MacArthur’s estimation:

expecting to get in on the laurels.

Henry tells us that all this took place at Solomon’s Porch of the temple in Jerusalem, because the next few verses took place there, the subject of next week’s entry about the signs and wonders done.

He thought that the original idea came from Sapphira herself:

perhaps … first in the transgression, and tempted her husband to eat this forbidden fruit.

Peter confronted her about the amount of money from the property sale. She agreed with what he said (verse 8) and, therefore, lied to him. He then asked her a question similar to the one he posed to Ananias (verse 9). How could the two of them have agreed to test the Holy Spirit? He then told her that the men who buried her husband were ready to take her body, too!

Henry explains the couple’s thought process (emphases mine):

Ananias and his wife agreed to tell the same story, and the bargain being private, and by consent kept to themselves, nobody could disprove them, and therefore they thought they might safely stand in the lie, and should gain credit to it. It is sad to see those relations who should quicken one another to that which is good harden one another in that which is evil …

That they agreed together to do it, making the bond of their relation to each other (which by the divine institution is a sacred tie) to become a bond of iniquity. It is hard to say which is worse between yoke-fellows and other relations–a discord in good or concord in evil.

Peter made sure that, before Sapphira breathed her last, she was aware of her sin — testing the Holy Spirit:

It seems to intimate that their agreeing together to do it was a further tempting of the Spirit; as if, when they had engaged to keep one another’s counsel in this matter, even the Spirit of the Lord himself could not discover them. Thus they digged deep to hide their counsel from the Lord, but were made to know it is in vain. “How is it that you are thus infatuated? What strange stupidity has seized you, that you would venture to make trial of that which is past dispute? How is it that you, who are baptized Christians, do not understand yourselves better? How durst you run so great a risk?”

Henry gives us examples from the Old Testament where people tested God:

That they tempted the Spirit of the Lord; as Israel tempted God in the desert, when they said, Is the Lord among us, or is he not? after they had seen so many miraculous proofs of his power; and not only his presence, but his presidency, when they said, Can God furnish a table? So here, “Can the Spirit in the apostles discover this fraud? Can they discern that this is but a part of the price, when we tell them it is the whole?” Can he judge through this dark cloud? Job 22:13. They saw that the apostles had the gift of tongues; but had they the gift of discerning spirits? Those that presume upon security and impunity in sin tempt the Spirit of God; they tempt God as if he were altogether such a one as themselves.

As soon as Peter made Sapphira aware of her sin, she dropped dead at his feet (verse 10). It could be a combination of being found out and the sudden knowledge that her husband dropped dead was too much for her. All this, in Henry’s words:

struck her as a thunderbolt and took her away as with a whirlwind.

The Holy Spirit was working powerfully through Peter, giving him the discernment, the right words to say and the most effective delivery.

Henry advises us not to consider every sudden death as being divine punishment:

We must not think that all who die suddenly are sinners above others; perhaps it is in favour to them, that they have a quick passage: however, it is forewarning to all to be always ready. But here it is plain that it was in judgment.

He also does not think they were eternally saved, either:

Some put the question concerning the eternal state of Ananias and Sapphira, and incline to think that the destruction of the flesh was that the spirit might be saved in the day of the Lord Jesus. And I should go in with that charitable opinion if there had been any space given them to repent, as there was to the incestuous Corinthian. But secret things belong not to us. It is said, She fell down at Peter’s feet; there, where she should have laid the whole price and did not, she was herself laid, as it were to make up the deficiency.

The young men, having just returned, came in to remove her body to bury it beside her husband’s. Henry points out:

it is not said, They wound her up, as they did Ananias, but, They carried her out as she was, and buried her by her husband; and probably an inscription was set over their graves, intimating that they were joint-monuments of divine wrath against those that lie to the Holy Ghost.

Not surprisingly, those who learned of these deaths from attempting to deceive God and the Holy Spirit were struck with ‘great fear’ (verse 11).

This whole event really should be in the three-year Lectionary. If it scares people — the clergy’s great and near-universal fear — so much the better!

We in the West have such a blessing of creature comforts that we have forgotten the wrath of God! Woe betide us!

MacArthur says:

Oh, there are lessons here, what are they? God hates sin. Especi­ally sins in Christians’ lives. Second, God punishes sin. I Peter 4:17, says Judgement must begin at the house of God. And if God cares about the sins of the saints that much and punishes them that stringent­ly, I say to you who are unbelievers, beware of the judgement of God upon you. And so we see lessons, powerful, speaking to our hearts.

Some will wonder whether the Apostles kept the money that Ananias brought them. Henry thought so:

I am apt to think they did … What they brought was not polluted to those to whom they brought it; but what they kept back was polluted to those that kept it back.

The tone of Acts 5 changes in the verses that follow and we return to the glorious wonders that the Holy Spirit made possible in the earliest days of the Apostolic Era.

Next time: Acts 5:12-16

Bible read me 2The 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.

Acts 5:1-6

Ananias and Sapphira

But a man named Ananias, with his wife Sapphira, sold a piece of property, and with his wife’s knowledge he kept back for himself some of the proceeds and brought only a part of it and laid it at the apostles’ feet. But Peter said, “Ananias, why has Satan filled your heart to lie to the Holy Spirit and to keep back for yourself part of the proceeds of the land? While it remained unsold, did it not remain your own? And after it was sold, was it not at your disposal? Why is it that you have contrived this deed in your heart? You have not lied to man but to God.” When Ananias heard these words, he fell down and breathed his last. And great fear came upon all who heard of it. The young men rose and wrapped him up and carried him out and buried him.

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The story of Ananias and Sapphira is one of the most dramatic and instructive in the New Testament with regard to Christian living.

In last week’s post, I cited the final verses of Acts 4, which concluded a description of the generous spirit of giving among the new Christians, filled with the Holy Spirit on and after the first Pentecost. No one was in need or want.

Those who could do so volunteered to sell property and give the proceeds to the disciples to be used for the benefit of the quickly growing community of converts, which, thanks to Peter’s bold evangelism, probably exceeded 20,000 at this point. Scripture gives us the numbers of men. John MacArthur asks us to add on extra for women and children.

Acts 4 ends with this:

36 Thus Joseph, who was also called by the apostles Barnabas (which means son of encouragement), a Levite, a native of Cyprus, 37 sold a field that belonged to him and brought the money and laid it at the apostles’ feet.

Of this gentleman, MacArthur says (emphases mine):

Now Joseph was, verse 36, by the apostles nicknamed or surnamed Barnabas. Now Barnabas means the son of consolation, encouragement or exhortation. Apparently Barnabas or Joseph had the gift of exhortation, so they just called him, son of exhortation. And he plays an important part. You remember Barnabas was the man who accompanied the apostle Paul later on in his first miss­ionary journey. Barnabas in chapter 11 verses 22 and following is giv­ing a little counsel, and it’s kinda a beautiful thing to see. Apparent­ly a beloved fellow, you remember he and Paul had a little falling out over John Mark and they parted ways, ’cause Barnabas was such a loving soul, he just couldn’t give up on John Mark. So apparently he was a very dear, a very precious man, and so here he is, his name is Barnabas and he was a Levite and that’s interesting because the Levites were the priestly family, they couldn’t own any property. You say, well how did he get this property? Well, I think it’s another indication that the Old Covenant had passed away. The Old Covenant passing away, then freed the Levites from the bondage of the old law, and he had the right then to own property. And so apparently he’s purchased this, now if he was a Levite he wouldn’t be very wealthy ’cause a priest didn’t make any money, they pretty much lived off of what other people supplied them. And so this was a big thing to him and perhaps he had saved and scrimped and all the way along to be able to have this. He was from the country of Cyprus. Well it says in 37, “Having land, he sold it, and he brought the money, and laid it at the apostles’ feet.” Isn’t that interesting? That was something that probably was his whole lifetime investment, if any history of the Levites is any indic­ation. And he sold it and just said here, you do with what you want.

That brings us to today’s verses. Note that verse 1 begins with ‘but’. Think in terms of ‘however’, signifying something of an opposite nature to come. Matthew Henry explains:

The chapter begins with a melancholy but, which puts a stop to the pleasant and agreeable prospect of things which we had in the foregoing chapters; as every man, so every church, in its best state has its but.

We discover that Ananias and his wife Sapphira sold a piece of property. Furthermore, both husband and wife knew that Ananias was going to withhold some of the proceeds for themselves (verse 2).

When Ananias brought the portion of the proceeds for the apostles to do with as they saw fit, Peter asked why he lied to the Holy Spirit because his heart was now filled with Satan (verse 3).

Both MacArthur and Henry say that the couple wanted to appear to be as good as Barnabas. It seemed they thought they were on to a win-win situation — a deceptive one. They pledged to the apostles they would donate all the proceeds but knew from the start they would hold some back for themselves. No one would ever know, right?

Henry contrasts the rich young man who encountered Jesus and this couple:

It was commendable, and so far it was right, in that rich young man, that he would not pretend to follow Christ, when, if it should come to a pinch, he knew he could not come up to his terms, but he went away sorrowful. Ananias and Sapphira pretended they could come up to the terms, that they might have the credit of being disciples, when really they could not, and so were a discredit to discipleship.

MacArthur describes what probably happened before the sale:

You see, they had vowed to the Holy Spirit and publicly in front of the congregation that they were going to sell this thing and give it all to the Lord. That was the physical action; it was a lie, they lied to God and to men, and ah, that’s really what Peter says at the end of verse 4, is that you didn’t only lie to men, but you lied to God. So they just put a big lie on. That was really the physical act sin, but behind every physical act sin, watch this, is a mental attitude sin, and the mental attitude sin was, was the secret sin, you know like Lewis Sperry Chafer says, secret sin on earth is open scandal in heaven. They thought they were sneaky. And the mental attitude sin was this, hypocrisy based on a desire for spiritual status. I’ll say it again, hypocrisy based on a desire for spiritual status. You see they wanted to be elevated in the minds of everybody else, spiritually, they wanted everybody to think they were super spiritual. And they believed that they would be applau­ded for sacrifice and they could save a little cash at the same time.

By the way, Ananias is alone before Peter. (We’ll get to Sapphira next week.)

Peter asked Ananias why he contrived in his heart to lie — not to man but to God (verse 4). Henry says that the Holy Spirit drove Peter to this truth and to say it aloud:

The Spirit of God in Peter not only discovered the fact without any information (when perhaps no man in the world knew it but the man and his wife themselves), but likewise discerned the principle of reigning infidelity in the heart of Ananias, which was at the bottom of it, and therefore proceeded against him so suddenly.

Some may ask if Ananias changed his mind after making the sale. Henry surmised that if such were the case:

Peter would have taken Ananias aside, and have bidden him go home, and fetch the rest of the money, and repent of his folly in attempting to put this cheat upon them …

However:

he knew that his heart was fully set in him to do this evil, and therefore allowed him not space to repent.

Peter, filled with the Holy Spirit, could discern that Satan had entered Ananias and could corrupt the new, fledgling set of Christians. MacArthur explains:

Hypocrisy was the dirty sin, hypocrisy was the mental attitude sin, the core sin, creating the impression they were giving all, and they were really pious, and they were really spiritual. And dear ones, this is Satan’s initial move to the inside, to corrupt the church, the sin of hypocrisy among Christians.

Peter’s words were true, because when Ananias heard them, he dropped dead (verse 5). Furthermore, those who heard of what happened were struck with ‘great fear’.

Peter convicted Ananias of lying to the Holy Spirit (verse 3) and of lying to God (verse 4).

Ananias received divine judgement — death sentence — for his grave sins.

MacArthur says:

You say, how did he die? I’ll tell ya how he died. He died by judicial act of God’s judgement. You say, well what were the physical causes? I think the shock of the whole thing just stopped his heart, right then. I think his conscience was so struck with the horror of what Peter had just said that he just stopped living.

Had Ananias received the Holy Spirit previously? Henry thought it possible:

1. … Some think that Ananias was one of those that had received the Holy Ghost, and was filled with his gifts, but, having provoked the Spirit to withdraw from him, now Satan filled his heart; as, when the Spirit of the Lord departed from Saul, an evil spirit from God troubled him. Satan is a lying spirit; he was so in the mouth of Ahab’s prophets, and so he was in the mouth of Ananias, and by this made it appear that he filled his heart.

2. The sin itself: He lied to the Holy Ghost; a sin of such a heinous nature that he could not have been guilty of it if Satan had not filled his heart.

Some will wonder if this really took place. MacArthur gives us an example from English history:

English history records for us the account of the Dean of Saint Paul’s who went in to see Edward [I], and Edward [I] was so mad, he looked at him with a glare that struck him so hard that he fell over dead. Now if Edward [I] can do that, I think God can do it

Therefore:

I think God just brought to the attention of Ananias such a flagrant, blatant act of sin at such a shocking moment of time and he was so discovered, that instead of having to go out and kill himself, he just stopped his heart, dead. In sheer fear and terror.

MacArthur cites other examples in the New Testament whereby God takes people out when they are sinning against Him egregiously. I have broken these up into separate paragraphs so that we all can read them more easily:

Does God actually kill Christians? Yes, He does. Not always though, but He does. You say, you mean that God would actually take the life of a Christian? Yes. You say, What gives you belief in that? I’ll tell you, it’s simple; it’s right in the Word of God. And if the Bible says it, I believe it, and as somebody said, that settles it. [I] Corinthians 11, and you listen well, talking about communion, the Lord’s Table, “He that eateth and drinketh unworthily, eateth and drinketh judgement to himself.” You come to the table of the Lord as a Christian and your heart’s not pure, you’re com­ing and you’re going to eat and you’re going to do it unworthily, unless your heart is clean and there’s no open sin in your life. Listen, he says some of you are doing this and, “For this cause many are weak and sickly among you, and many sleep.” … actually taken the lives of some of you Corinthians because of the way you come to the Lord’s Table.

Let me give you another one. It’s [I] John 5:16 says this, “If any man sees his brother (Christian) sin a sin which is not unto death, he shall ask, and he shall give him life for them that sin not unto death. There is a sin unto death; I do not say that he shall pray for it.” You say, what is the sin unto death? It’s that last sin that a sinning believer commits when God says, that’s it, I’ve had it, you’re comin’ home. It’s the straw that broke the camel’s back, and sometimes a Christian lives in sin, and God finally just says, I’m sorry, that’s all, and takes him outta the world. That’s ultimate discipline.

Let me show you one other passage, maybe you never thought of it in this light, but I read it to you in this light. James 1:18, “Of His own will begot He us (he says) with the word of truth, that we should be a kind of first fruits of His creatures.” God begot us, to be a living example to the world of what His creatures oughta be, you see? We’re to be examples, that’s why He saved us and left us here, now watch, verse 21, well verse 19, let’s go right through it, “Wherefore, my beloved brethren, (now to whom is he speaking when he uses those words, Christians or non-Christians? Christians, he says my beloved brethren, let every man be swift to hear, and slow to speak, and slow to wrath; For the wrath of man worketh not the righteousness of God. (listen) Wherefore, (here you are beloved brethren, God has called you to be examples, so do this) put away filthiness overflowing of wickedness, and receive with meekness the engrafted word, which is able to save your souls.” Do Christians need to do something to have their souls saved? No, that’s a problem isn’t it? It’s not a problem if you understand the Greek word for “souls” is also the word for lives. You know what he’s saying? Put the wickedness out of your life, put the filthiness out of your life, receive the Word, or you’ll die. That’s what he’s saying. That’s how strong God spoke in the early church. If you want to save your lives, ya better get into the Word and put away the filthiness. Now that’s serious stuff.

God will not be mocked.

Atheists do not have a get-out clause by saying, ‘Well, I don’t believe in God. I’m okay.’ No, they are not ‘okay’. Divine judgement concerns everyone.

Verse 6 tells us that Ananias’s corpse was wrapped up and the young men removed it from the congregation to bury it.

MacArthur says they took him out of the city for burial.

To be continued next week.

This really should be in the three-year Lectionary. Can’t you just imagine theologians and clergy saying, ‘Well, we don’t want to scare anyone off’?

Christians have it too easy these days. We ignore or rationalise the hard truths of Holy Scripture because ‘they’re not nice’.

I would suggest that if clergy actually preached from the Bible as John MacArthur does, our mainline denomination churches would have the attendance they did in the 20th century. It sounds paradoxical, but MacArthur proves my case with his huge congregation. No church growth malarkey for him, just the word of God.

Next time: Acts 5:7-11

 

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

Yet, it doesn’t tell the whole story.

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

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

Matthew 18:7-9

Temptations to Sin

“Woe to the world for temptations to sin![a] For it is necessary that temptations come, but woe to the one by whom the temptation comes! And if your hand or your foot causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away. It is better for you to enter life crippled or lame than with two hands or two feet to be thrown into the eternal fire. 9 And if your eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away. It is better for you to enter life with one eye than with two eyes to be thrown into the hell[b] of fire.

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Matthew 18 opens with Jesus’s teaching the disciples about the dangers of sin and temptation, for ourselves and those around us.

In Matthew 18:1-4 He says that believers must become as humble as children. He was responding to the disciples’ question about the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. This is more evident in the parallel passages of Luke 9:46-48 and Mark 9:33-37. The latter, incidentally, is in the three-year Lectionary.

Matthew 18:5-6 deals with the gravity of people causing believers to sin. Jesus said it would be preferable for them to have a millstone around their neck and drown in the middle of the sea. As my post explains (see link), drowning was a horrifying punishment that was unknown to the Jews until the Romans came to rule over them.

Jesus went on to say — today’s passage — that it would be better to remove an eye or a limb that causes us to sin rather than be condemned to hell.

Matthew records similar words from Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount. Matthew 5:29-30 relates to lust. Those verses are part of the Gospel for the Sixth Sunday after Epiphany in Lectionary Year A: 5:21-24, 27-30, 33-37. Note the gaps. I covered the missing verses in 2015:

Matthew 5:25-26 – Sermon on the Mount, Jesus, anger, sin, holding grudges, improper worship because of interpersonal conflict

Matthew 5:31-32 – Sermon on the Mount, Jesus, adultery, divorce, marriage

Jesus’s words in today’s reading concern all sin. Of the repetition Matthew Henry says:

Note, Those hard sayings of Christ, which are displeasing to flesh and blood, need to be repeated to us again and again …

Jesus begins by using the word ‘woe’, a warning of judgement and condemnation (verse 7). Although temptation is a constant in our fallen world, God does not overlook sin.

In saying that if our hands, feet or eye cause us to sin we should remove them (verses 8, 9), He is not asking us to literally cut them off but to do whatever we have to in order to avoid temptation. Henry explains (emphases mine):

The outward occasions of sin must be avoided, though we thereby put as great a violence upon ourselves as it would be to cut off a hand, or pluck out an eye. When Abraham quitted his native country, for fear of being ensnared in the idolatry of it, and when Moses quitted Pharaoh’s court, for fear of being entangled in the sinful pleasures of it, there was a right hand cut off. We must think nothing too dear to part with, for the keeping of a good conscience.

St Paul wrote often of mortification of the flesh; following on from Matthew 18:9, it would be better to enter heaven with mortified flesh and less sin rather than to enter hell with an intact body full of sin.

Again, the point is to make a total break with what we can see that tempts us, avoid going to places that cause us to sin and avoid using our hands in sinful ways. And woe to us if we cause others to also sin.

These warnings also pertain to unbelievers, whether they like it or not. All will be judged on that fateful final day.

John MacArthur explains:

if you’re in sin, the pattern is there being demonstrated to others…It’s a simple principle. Take drastic action when getting rid of whatever causes you to sin. Take drastic action. Don’t flirt with it. Get rid of it. That’s why Paul says in 1 Corinthians 9:27, “I beat my body to bring it into subjection, you know. I’d do anything. I beat my body rather than allow it to move into sin.”

Jesus isn’t dealing with some kind of wooden, literal, literalism where all the disciples would be stumps at this point, and so would all of us; but He is simply, in a metaphorical way, saying, “Deal dramatically and drastically with your sin.” Nothing is so precious that it should be maintained if it leads us to sin

This is why St Paul wrote so insistently about avoiding sin. His words echo Jesus’s, but we do not hear or heed these warnings often enough.

MacArthur summarises the first nine verses of Matthew 18 for Christians this way:

Every Christian is one with Christ; and, when you receive a Christian, you receive Christ. The peril is that, if you offend a Christian by causing them to sin through your seduction, through your indirect provocation, through your example of evil, through your misused liberty, or through your failure to give righteous direction to that life, if you cause them to sin, it would be better for you to be drowned immediately that to do that; because the price for doing that is so high. Instead of doing that, take drastic measures to deal with your own sin. The bottom line is this. Why would a Christian want to assist Satan in his work of tempting God’s children to do evil? You wouldn’t, would you? I wouldn’t.

Pleasure is always nicer than avoidance. There was a song from the 1970s, if I remember rightly, that had the line ‘How can something so wrong feel so right?’ That is exactly what Jesus is talking about here. Avoid sin, avoid the near occasion of sin.

Next time: Matthew 18:10-14

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

Yet, it doesn’t tell the whole story.

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

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

Matthew 18:5-6

“Whoever receives one such child in my name receives me, but whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin,[a] it would be better for him to have a great millstone fastened around his neck and to be drowned in the depth of the sea.

————————————————————————————————

These two verses continue on from Matthew 18:1-4, about the necessity of believers to become as humble as children. Jesus was responding to the disciples’ question about the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. This is more evident in the parallel passages of Luke 9:46-48 and Mark 9:33-37. The latter is in the three-year Lectionary.

In order to better illustrate His point, Jesus put a small child in their midst (Matthew 18:2). In verse 5, we read ‘one such child’ in the context of being kind to him. Are we to understand that He is referring to that toddler and others like him?

John MacArthur says no (emphases mine):

the little child in verse 4. What little child is that? It’s the one who humbles himself as the illustration of the child. What in verse 3, “Becoming as a little child.” In other words, he’s talking about the same little child that entered the Kingdom, the same little child whose humility made him great, is the same little child that you’re to receive. It is the spiritual little child, the believer, the one that comes to Christ. It’s not talking about the infant. It’s talking about how you treat one of God’s children who came to Him in humility, who came to Him in simple childlike faith, which was the whole point, as we saw, of verses 3 and 4 in our study last week. No matter how lowly that child is, no matter how humble, no matter how lacking in sophistication, no matter how lacking in power or in fame or in grandeur, no matter if it is an ignoble, if it is the poor, if it is the least among men. That little one who belongs to Jesus Christ, even one such one, is to be received as if you are receiving Jesus Christ Himself. So how you treat Christians is how you treat Him

He can’t be talking about physical children, micron, little, tiny infants can’t believe in Him. He’s talking about those believers who are classified in this whole chapter as infants or childlike.

However, all children of God — old and young, having reached the age of reason — are to be treated properly in not leading them to sin. Matthew Henry has this explanation:

Their believing in Christ, though they be little ones, unites them to him, and interests him in their cause, so that, as they partake of the benefit of his sufferings, he also partakes in the wrong of theirs. Even the little ones that believe have the same privileges with the great ones, for they have all obtained like precious faith.

The consequences for causing believers of any age to sin is extremely serious. That person will wish s/he had been drowned with a millstone tied around his neck instead (verse 6). Jesus implied that the punishment will be the lake of fire, hell. Henry tells us:

Note, 1. Hell is worse than the depth of the sea for it is a bottomless pit, and it is a burning lake. The depth of the sea is only killing, but hell is tormenting. We meet with one that had comfort in the depth of the sea, it was Jonah (Matthew 2:2,4,9) but never any had the least grain or glimpse of comfort in hell, nor will have to eternity. 2. The irresistible irrevocable doom of the great Judge will sink sooner and surer, and bind faster, than a mill-stone hanged about the neck. It fixes a great gulf, which can never be broken through, Luke 16:26. Offending Christ’s little ones, though by omission, is assigned as the reason of that dreadful sentence, Go ye cursed, which will at last be the doom of proud persecutors.

MacArthur says:

You would be better off dead than alive offending a Christian, making ’em sin. You see, God is not only concerned that we not sin, but that we not make other people sin….Better you should be dead. Beneficial you should be dead. Profitable that you should be dead rather than do that. Preferable. The language here is really vivid.

He explains why Jesus chose the millstone to illustrate His point:

… the millstone. Literally, in the Greek, mulassanikas, the mule stone or the ass’s stone. This is not the little one you had in the house. This is the one that was pulled by the mule, the one that Sampson was tied up to when he was grinding grain in his blindness. A beast had to pull it. A massive, huge stone, weighing tons. Huge would come into their minds when they heard mulassanikas.

It would be better if you took a stone like that, tied it around your neck, and, literally, in the Greek, it says drowned far out in the open sea. Taken way out with a stone weighing tons around your neck and poonk, and I mean you’d go to the bottom like a rocket

The notion of drowning was intended to shock His disciples. The Jews did not drown people. However, the Romans did:

Jews didn’t drown people for any kind of crime. It was, to them, a horrible, unimaginable punishment. And to be drowned all alone with a millstone around your neck in some far off region of the ocean was terrifying. The Romans did that. The Jews didn’t…That’s what Jesus says would be better for you, a lonely, terrorizing, shocking, painful end to your life. You would be better off dead with the worst kind of death imaginable than to offend a Christian, to cause that Christian to sin.

The effect on the disciples must have been stunning. They had just been arguing about who among them was the greatest and Jesus put a stop to that foolish talk promptly:

Oh, what a lesson. I can imagine there were a few gulps in the room, because the disciples had been around there for a while making each other jealous, envious, bitter, resentful, hateful, proud, self-seeking, causing each other to sin. So the thought is marvelous. Those who come into God’s Kingdom are small infants. They’re children. They’re the weak. They’re the lowly, and their own resources are limited. They’re children. They’re infants, and infants need care, and they need protection, and they need guarding, and they don’t need exposure to danger. Children are lowly. They’re weak. They need to be cared for. They need to be protected. God expects that with his family, and we must never cause His children to sin. It is an enormous crime, enormous.

The apostles later forgot the lesson and raised the question of who among them was the greatest at the Last Supper, no less (Luke 22:24-30).

There are two types of sin, that of commission and that of omission.

Sins of commission involve active temptation:

… the first way we make people sin is by directly tempting them. That’s right. Satan can use us. The world can use us. The flesh can use us to be the direct source of temptation. We know that. We’ve had people who come to us and say, “Let’s do this.” “Well, that’s not right to do.” “I know, but we’ll get away with it.” From the time you’re little, you hear that deal. “Oh, listen, we paid enough tax in that last year, honey. I mean just go ahead and put it down. I know we didn’t have a right claim that deduction, but put it down anyway. They’ll never know.” And so you have led someone into sin. Better you should be drowned in the middle of the sea.

Or you let your children expose themselves to garbage and filth on television or at the theater or wherever, in the things they read. You are leading that child. Better you should be dead. Or maybe in your business, you’re getting your employees involved in that which is illegal and illicit and not right, and you’re causing those who are Christian employees in your business to do things that are not right. Better you should be dead than seduce God’s people. Young man take a young girl out and try to get to compromise her virtue. Better you should be drowned, my friend, than that you should steal the virtue of some lovely young girl…

The Bible has many examples of sin emanating from temptation. God punished all of those sinners, from Jereboam to Jezebel, as they led others into sin.

Sins of omission involve turning a blind eye to certain situations which result in physical or emotional pain. Ignoring a friend or family member’s anxiety is one example. That anxiety can lead them to drink, drugs, self-harm or suicide. Postponing the spiritual guidance of young children in our care is another. I know parents who leave that to teachers, because they cannot be bothered. That can lead to immorality, nihilism and/or atheism in an adolescent. A manager who does nothing about bullying in the office is also guilty in not only encouraging a dysfunctional atmosphere but encouraging, even indirectly, an employee’s hurt and loneliness.

Americans and Britons are enjoying a three-day holiday weekend. The Americans have Memorial Day (remembering those who died in the armed forces) and the British celebrate Whitsun (Pentecost) — now Spring — Bank Holiday Monday. Let’s make sure we enjoy these days in the the way He would wish. As the Lord’s Prayer says:

Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.

Next time: Matthew 18:7-9

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 15:10-20

What Defiles a Person

10 And he called the people to him and said to them, “Hear and understand: 11 it is not what goes into the mouth that defiles a person, but what comes out of the mouth; this defiles a person.” 12 Then the disciples came and said to him, “Do you know that the Pharisees were offended when they heard this saying?” 13 He answered, “Every plant that my heavenly Father has not planted will be rooted up. 14 Let them alone; they are blind guides.[a] And if the blind lead the blind, both will fall into a pit.” 15 But Peter said to him, “Explain the parable to us.” 16 And he said, “Are you also still without understanding? 17 Do you not see that whatever goes into the mouth passes into the stomach and is expelled?[b] 18 But what comes out of the mouth proceeds from the heart, and this defiles a person. 19 For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false witness, slander. 20 These are what defile a person. But to eat with unwashed hands does not defile anyone.”

——————————————————————————————-

In last week’s passage, which immediately precedes today’s reading, the Pharisees and scribes confronted Jesus over His lenience in allowing the disciples to eat without first washing their hands.

Jesus cited Isaiah and called them hypocrites for instituting manmade laws whilst ignoring God’s Law.

It is likely that He was alone with them for that exchange. Then He turned to the people (verse 10) in order to teach them that ingesting certain foods would not defile them, but what emerged from their mouth — sinful statements from a dark heart — did defile them (verse 11).

It is interesting that neither Matthew’s nor Mark’s accounts of Jesus lifting dietary laws is included in the three-year Lectionary. What were the editors and compilers thinking? It is becoming increasingly important for Christians to know these passages to explain to those of other world religions — and even to each other. Sects such as Seventh Day Adventists and Mormons eschew all manner of food and drink in order to maintain notional spiritual purity.

Mark’s account (Mark 7:17-20), about which I wrote in 2010, actually says:

(Thus he declared all foods clean.)

The disciples then went to Jesus and asked Him if He was aware that the hierarchy were offended by His words (verse 12). They had not grasped — or refused to understand — that He was among them now. He was their Messiah. Therefore, the Old Covenant ritual purity, part of the preparation of God’s people, could now be set aside.

Jesus responded that any plant not of God’s making would be uprooted (verse 13). Matthew Henry’s commentary explains:

Not only the corrupt opinions and superstitious practices of the Pharisees, but their sect, and way, and constitution, were plants not of God’s planting … The people of the Jews were planted a noble vine but now that they are become the degenerate plant of a strange vine, God disowned them, as not of his planting. 

Both Henry and MacArthur say we must guard against the same thing happening in our churches. Where we find such situations, we must avoid them.

Jesus said to leave such false teachers and hypocrites — the blind — alone (verse 14). This implies that God will exercise divine judgment on them. His next sentence implies condemnation: the blind — hypocritical false teachers — leading the blind — the duped — will end up in the pit.

John MacArthur says (emphases mine):

… they are not only offended by the truth, but destined for judgment …

Remember the parable of the wheat and the tares, where God sowed the wheat, and the enemy, Satan, came and sowed the tares. So He’s saying that the ones that God doesn’t plant will be rooted up, or judged. His message to them was judgment on the hypocrites. The only person that God in Christ really blasts in the New Testament, where you get the person along with the sin, is the spiritual hypocrite. For the rest, He’ll hit the sin; but in the case of the hypocrite, He’ll hit the person with his sin. So He says that they’re destined for judgment, and it’s almost the same as the parable of the wheat and the tares; they are going to get rooted up. Remember that it says they will grow together until the judgment, and then the Father will separate them. If they aren’t His, they’ll be rooted up.

Notice the beginning of verse 14, a very important statement. “Let them alone.” That is a hard statement. What does that mean? It really can be translated, “Stay away from them.” Anyone who pretends to represent the true religion, or know God, or to know the truth, but his inside is not true, stay away from him.

What does that mean? One, it’s the staying away of judgment. Hosea 4:17 says, “Ephraim has joined idols; let him alone.” It’s almost as if they are abandoned to judgment. Secondly, it’s the staying away in terms of, “Don’t you act as the judge.” Remember how we saw that in the wheat and the tares? They said, “Should we rip the tares out?” And He said, “That’s not your job; the angels will come in due time and do that. Your job is to proclaim the message of the Kingdom. We’ll take care of the judgment. Don’t try to rip them up.”

Henry has the same perspective but adds this:

They were confident that they themselves were guides of the blind (Romans 2:19,20), were appointed to be so, and fit to be so that every thing they said was an oracle and a law “Therefore let them alone, their case is desperate do not meddle with them you may soon provoke them, but never convince them.”

Peter asked for an explanation (verse 15). Jesus was somewhat exasperated that they, His closest followers, still did not understand (verse 16). However, being a patient, tireless teacher, He went on to explain.

Jesus answered by saying that it does not matter what we put into our mouths, because, eventually, we expel it and it is gone (verse 17). The crucial aspect is what emanates from the heart because it is this which eventually comes out of our mouths (verse 18).

It includes more than words. There are also evil thoughts and evil acts (verse 19). Those, He says, are what defile us. Eating with unwashed hands has nothing to do with defilement (verse 20).

Henry has a useful list of what we must avoid:

First, Evil thoughts, sins against all the commandments. Therefore David puts vain thoughts in opposition to the whole law, Psalm 119:113. These are the first-born of the corrupt nature, the beginning of its strength, and do most resemble it. These, as the son and heir, abide in the house, and lodge within us. There is a great deal of sin that begins and ends in the heart, and goes no further. Carnal fancies and imaginations are evil thoughts, wickedness in the contrivance (Dialogismoi poneroi), wicked plots, purposes, and devices of mischief to others, Micah 2:1.

Secondly, Murders, sins against the sixth commandment these come from a malice in the heart against our brother’s life, or a contempt of it. Hence he that hates his brother, is said to be a murderer he is so at God’s bar, 1 John 3:15. War is in the heart, Psalm 4:21; James 4:1.

Thirdly, Adulteries and fornications, sins against the seventh commandment these come from the wanton, unclean, carnal heart and the lust that reigns there, is conceived there, and brings forth these sins, James 1:15. There is adultery in the heart first, and then in the act, Matthew 5:28.

Fourthly, Thefts, sins against the eighth commandment cheats, wrongs, rapines, and all injurious contracts the fountain of all these is in the heart, that is it that is exercised in these covetous practices (2 Peter 2:14), that is set upon riches, Psalm 62:10. Achan coveted, and then took, Joshua 7:20,21.

Fifthly, False witness, against the ninth commandment this comes from a complication of falsehood and covetousness, or falsehood and covetousness, or falsehood and malice in the heart. If truth, holiness, and love, which God requires in the inward parts, reigned as they ought, there would be no false witness bearing, Psalm 64:6; Jeremiah 9:8.

Sixthly, Blasphemies, speaking evil of God, against the third commandment speaking evil of our neighbour, against the ninth commandment these come from a contempt and disesteem of both in the heart thence the blasphemy against the Holy Ghost proceeds (Matthew 12:31,32) these are the overflowing of the gall within.

Now these are the things which defile a man, Matthew 15:20. Note, Sin is defiling to the soul, renders it unlovely and abominable in the eyes of a pure and holy God unfit for communion with him, and for the enjoyment of him in the new Jerusalem, into which nothing shall enter that defileth or worketh iniquity. The mind and conscience are defiled by sin, and that makes every thing else so, Titus 1:15. This defilement by sin was signified by the ceremonial pollutions which the Jewish doctors added to, but understood not. See Hebrews 9:13,14,1 John 1:7.

These therefore are the things we must carefully avoid, and all approaches toward them, and not lay stress upon the washing of the hands …

All of these heinous sins are committed today in abundance, as if they are perfectly normal behaviours. We excuse them, even when we do not commit them ourselves. We say, ‘Some people can’t help it.’ No, but it shows how hard-wired we are to sin rather than hard-wired to embrace holiness.

The more we pray and the closer we stay to the Word, the less likely we are to commit these sins. Let us pray for grace so that we may have more faith and more sanctification.

Finally, it is a shame that this reading — and Mark’s — are not part of the three-year Lectionary. Christians are missing out on important lessons, not just about ritual cleanliness or food, but, more importantly, sin.

Next time — Matthew 15:29-31

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

Yet, it doesn’t tell the whole story.

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

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

Matthew 9:1-8

Jesus Heals a Paralytic

And getting into a boat he crossed over and came to his own city. And behold, some people brought to him a paralytic, lying on a bed. And when Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralytic, “Take heart, my son; your sins are forgiven.” And behold, some of the scribes said to themselves, “This man is blaspheming.” But Jesus, knowing[a] their thoughts, said, “Why do you think evil in your hearts? For which is easier, to say, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say, ‘Rise and walk’? But that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins”—he then said to the paralytic—“Rise, pick up your bed and go home.” And he rose and went home. When the crowds saw it, they were afraid, and they glorified God, who had given such authority to men.

————————————————————————————————-

Accounts of this miracle also feature in Luke’s and Mark’s Gospels.

I wrote about Luke 5:17-26 two years ago. That post includes a discussion of all three accounts. Mark’s version — Mark 2:1-12 — is actually one of the readings in the three-year Lectionary.

Matthew’s account is somewhat abbreviated by comparison. In verse 1, we read that Jesus was in His own city. Matthew 8 ends with the healing miracle of the two men with demons in the Gadara region. That was on the other side of the Sea of Galilee. The townspeople were afraid of Jesus after He sent the demons into the pigs which then ran off a cliff into the sea. The people asked Him to leave. He and His disciples sailed back home. They were now in Capernaum — probably at Peter’s house — as we know from Mark 2:1:

1 And when he returned to Capernaum after some days, it was reported that he was at home.

Matthew does not mention the setting for this miracle, but Mark and Luke do. Mark 2:2 tells us:

2 And many were gathered together, so that there was no more room, not even at the door. And he was preaching the word to them.

The first sentence of Luke 5:17 says:

17 On one of those days, as he was teaching, Pharisees and teachers of the law were sitting there, who had come from every village of Galilee and Judea and from Jerusalem.

Matthew tells us that Jesus saw the faith of those who brought the paralytic before Him and that He pronounced the man’s sins forgiven (verse 2). Luke and Mark describe the extent of this intense faith. Luke 5:18-19:

18 And behold, some men were bringing on a bed a man who was paralyzed, and they were seeking to bring him in and lay him before Jesus, 19 but finding no way to bring him in, because of the crowd, they went up on the roof and let him down with his bed through the tiles into the midst before Jesus.

Mark 2:4:

4 And when they could not get near him because of the crowd, they removed the roof above him, and when they had made an opening, they let down the bed on which the paralytic lay.

One can imagine the commotion that must have caused.

While the idea of climbing on to someone’s roof sounds alarming to us, the houses in Jesus’s time had ladders or some sort of staircase to the roof where people often gathered in warm weather.

As for the forgiveness of sins, the King James Version has a lovely wording of Jesus’s absolution in verse 2 (emphases mine below):

Son, be of good cheer; thy sins be forgiven thee.

As my post on Luke’s account says, not every illness was or is a result of sin, although this man’s paralysis was. John MacArthur says in his corresponding sermons for Luke and Matthew that it is possible this man had syphilis, which can result in paralysis.

That our Lord calls the man ‘son’ shows His true affection for and spiritual adoption of him. John MacArthur looks at the original Greek equivalent:

The word teknon could probably be translated child.  It’s a term of infinite tenderness.  Here is a man who is overwrought with his sin.  It’s been thrown at him from the social viewpoint, it’s bubbled up inside of him from the guilt of his own soul, he knows he is a sinful man, he believes that this man has the power of God, he has the faith as a sinner to put himself in the presence of a holy God and take his chances, and he is afraid.  That is why the Lord says to him, “Don’t be afraid.  Take courage.”  It simply means stop being afraid.  There’s nothing to fear.  The man is afraid because he’s a sinner.  But how wonderfully does the Lord say to him, “Child,” a word of tenderness.  How thrilling to face the Holy One, conscious of your sickness, conscious of your sin, in grief and terror and fear and hear Him say, “Child.”  That’s the tenderness of Christ, to love the sinner, even though He was offended by his sin.

Not surprisingly, the scribes accused Him of blasphemy (verse 3). Jesus replied by asking why they think in such an evil way and which would be the easier to utter: forgiveness or healing (verses 4 and 5). John MacArthur offers this analysis:

Which is easier?  Well they’re stuck.  You notice they don’t give any answer.  There is no answer because neither is easier.  Both are impossible to men; both are possible to God.  “Which is easier, to say, ‘Thy sins are forgiven thee’; or to say, ‘Arise and walk?’”  Well they knew they couldn’t say either one, but He could say both.  He can do either with the same divine ease.  They’re both just as easy to Him.  God doesn’t sweat doing anything.  Only God can heal.  Only God can forgive.  And they were the ones who taught that disease and sickness was the result of sin, so the two things were inseparable: One who could heal disease could forgive sin and one who could forgive sin could heal diseases.  If they thought about it, their own theology told them that.  So He says, “Which is easier, to forgive or to heal?”  And the answer is that neither is easier.  Both are impossible to them.  They’re impossible. So the Lord is saying, “Look.  You’re stuck.  If I can do them, if I can do one I can do the other.  And if I can do the other I’m not a blasphemer, I’m God.”  They were trapped.  They knew He could heal and when He said, “Is it easier to forgive?” they couldn’t say yes because it wasn’t.  Only God could do that and only God could do the other.  Just shows you that their rejection was a willful rejection against the truth.  If Jesus put away sickness, disease, and demons, and disasters, and death, He could certainly deal with sin.

Jesus then went on to say that He would show His divine authority not only by forgiving the man’s sins but also healing him (verse 6). The man picked up his bed and went home (verse 7).

Matthew Henry explains:

He that had power to remove the punishment, no doubt, had power to remit the sin. The scribes stood much upon a legal righteousness, and placed their confidence in that, and made no great matter of the forgiveness of sin, the doctrine upon which Christ hereby designed to put honour, and to show that his great errand to the world was to save his people from their sins.

When I was a child, I always wondered why Jesus told the man to pick up his bed and not hand it to him out of mercy. Henry says Jesus had a reason for this instruction:

Now, 1. Christ bid him take up his bed, to show that he was perfectly cured, and that not only he had no more occasion to be carried upon his bed, but that he had strength to carry it.

Unlike the Gadarenes, the crowd’s response was very different. Of course, this can be explained by the crowd’s religious knowledge and belief. Although only a handful of them probably ever believed that Christ was their Messiah, they knew this miracle came from God and felt a righteous awe (verse 8). Henry tells us:

Though few of this multitude were so convinced, as to be brought to believe in Christ, and to follow him, yet they admired him, not as God, or the Son of God, but as a man to whom God had given such power. Note, God must be glorified in all the power that is given to men to do good.

MacArthur makes this distinction about the onlookers:

This fear, this phobos, this reverential awe of God, is the substance out of which all Christian behavior is to come.  They glorify God and so should we, but they did it because they feared God, they reverenced, they were in awe of His presence.  That’s the right response.  I hope you have such awe of Christ.  So Jesus forgives sin; the greatest message we have to give.  All I can say to you is I hope you’ve had that forgiveness.  When the crowd was split there were those who were forgiven and those who were furious.  It doesn’t tell us about another group, but they were there too, those that were fickleThey just took it in and walked away

I can add nothing to the conclusion of his sermon:

Christ offers forgiveness, blocks out all the past, washes away all sins; plural is the word here, past, present, future.  The greatest news you’ll ever have.  It’s available to you.

Next time: Matthew 9:14-17

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