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May everyone reading this enjoy a very happy Christmas!

The painting above dates from 1622.  It is called Adoration of the ShepherdsGerard (Gerrit) van Honthorst, a Dutch Golden Age painter, studied in Italy and took his influences from Caravaggio’s use of chiaroscuro, as you can see from the way the light plays on the Holy Family and the shepherds.

You can find out more in the following post:

Happy Christmas, one and all! (John 1:1-17)

For more on John 1, see:

Christmas Day — John 1:14 (with commentary from Matthew Poole)

Lutherans might appreciate these posts:

Martin Luther on the birth of Jesus

A Lutheran defence of Nativity scenes and crucifixes

These are also helpful:

Christmas prayer intentions

Jesus’s nature as depicted in Christmas carols

The_Donald‘s contributors have been discussing our Lord Jesus in some of their posts. This year, a few of them have rediscovered Christianity. In this post (sadly, language alert), someone cited Isaiah 53:1-6:

53 Who has believed what he has heard from us?[a]
    And to whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed?
For he grew up before him like a young plant,
    and like a root out of dry ground;
he had no form or majesty that we should look at him,
    and no beauty that we should desire him.
3 He was despised and rejected[b] by men,
    a man of sorrows[c] and acquainted with[d] grief;[e]
and as one from whom men hide their faces[f]
    he was despised, and we esteemed him not.

4 Surely he has borne our griefs
    and carried our sorrows;
yet we esteemed him stricken,
    smitten by God, and afflicted.
5 But he was pierced for our transgressions;
    he was crushed for our iniquities;
upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace,
    and with his wounds we are healed.
6 All we like sheep have gone astray;
    we have turned—every one—to his own way;
and the Lord has laid on him
    the iniquity of us all.

In the midst of our celebrations, may we always remember and be ever grateful for the one sufficient sacrifice our Lord made for us.

Let us pray that more people will come to Christ this year. I was moved by what The_Donald’s posters had to say. Here are five separate comments, the last of which is the Roman Catholic Grace:

Cold Case Christianity. Powerful stuff from a life long atheist and veteran homicide detective. Powerful evidence of Christ. I used to be hardcore atheist and specifically anti-theist. I couldn’t deny the evidence presented. And ultimately – what if someone is wrong about believing in God (for real) – worst case scenario you become a better person. Worst case scenario for atheism is way worse. That was only a small step on an ongoing walk but it spoke to me.

It’s really sad that someone who only desired the best in people would make people angry. He led such a life of self-sacrifice, that I desire my character to be like His.

And if God be for us, who can stand against?

But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was on him, and by his wounds we are healed.

Bless us, o Lord, and these thy gifts for which we are about to receive. And from thy bounty, through Christ our Lord, amen.

Today’s painting is ‘The Nativity’ by Federico Barocci (Baroccio), who was born in the first half of the 16th century and died in 1612. He painted ‘The Nativity’ in 1597. I found this thanks to The Four Mass’keteers and featured it in my 2009 Boxing Day post.

All being well, we have now finished our Christmas cards and present wrapping. We can now focus on our Saviour’s humble birth on earth. Past posts of mine may be helpful in this respect:

The Christmas story in Matthew’s Gospel (hermeneutics)

Christmas Eve — Matthew 1:18-25 (with commentary from Albert Barnes)

The Christmas story according to St Luke

The Christmas story in Luke’s Gospel (hermeneutics)

Angel imagery in Christmas carols (Dr Paul Copan on how the Bible portrays them)

I hope your Christmas Eve is pleasant and peaceful.

Yesterday’s post contained O Antiphons for December 17 and 18, the first two days of the Octave before Christmas.

Each day from the 17th through the 23rd has an O Antiphon connected with it: verses from the Old Testament that foretell the birth of the Christ Child. The O Antiphons date back centuries before the Reformation — to the reign of Charlemagne. That said, Protestants will also find these verses useful in contemplation of Christmas Eve and Christmas Day.

The O Antiphons spell out SARCORE. These are an aide memoire, because, reversed, they spell out in Latin ero cras, which means

I shall be [with you] tomorrow.

The Bible verses behind SARCORE — ero cras — are as follows:

  1. “O Sapientia, quae ex ore altissimi…” (O Wisdom from on high…)
  2. “O Adonai et dux domus Israel…” (O Lord and leader of the house of Israel…)
  3. “O Radix Jesse qui stas in signum populorum…” (O Root of Jesse who stood as a standard of the people…)
  4. “O Clavis David et sceptrum domus…” (O Key of David and scepter of our home…)
  5. “O Oriens, splendor lucis aeternae…” (O Dayspring, splendor of eternal light…)
  6. “O Rex gentium et desideratus…” (O longed-for King of the nations…)
  7. “O Emmanuel, rex et legifer noster…” (O Emmanuel, our king and law-giver…)

On Day 3, the faithful contemplate the Root of Jesse. Jesse was David’s father. Isaiah 11 gives us the prophecy, discussed in the following posts of mine:

The O Antiphon for December 19

December 19: a second O Antiphon for this day

This is why Matthew made a point of recording Jesus’s genealogy at the beginning of his Gospel. He wanted the Jews to know that He came into the world as a descendent of Abraham, our father in faith, through King David and other famous people in the Old Testament — saints and sinners — establishing Him as the Messiah, as Scripture prophesied:

Matthew 1:1-17 – Jesus’s genealogy

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On another subject, a charitable one, some US military personnel cannot afford the cost of plane fare to return home for the holidays.

Americans can help make Christmas a time of reunion with their families by donating to the charity Let’s Bring ‘Em Home, which has been in existence since 2001:

One Two Three Four Five Six Seven Eight Nine Ten Eleven Twelve Thirteen Fourteen FIFTEEN years ago I asked some of you folks for help with an idea I had. My idea was to gather up a few dollars and buy some plane tickets to allow some deserving young soldiers the opportunity to spend Christmas with their families …

As always, we exist exclusively on donations, and as our administrative fees were all the way down to 3.66% last year, LBEH is a charity that you can be sure as much of your donation is going directly to our military’s benefit as possible! The folks who run LBEH — including myself — are volunteers! So remember… Lots of donations = lots of airplane tickets = Lots of happy soldiers! And as always, your donations are TAX DEDUCTIBLE!

This short video, made by a serviceman who contributes to The_Donald, records his own surprise homecoming for the holidays. It’s a moving little film. Have a tissue handy!

So, if you can, please help give other men and women serving the United States the chance to come home for Christmas.

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.

Matthew 26:30-35

Jesus Foretells Peter’s Denial

30 And when they had sung a hymn, they went out to the Mount of Olives. 31 Then Jesus said to them, “You will all fall away because of me this night. For it is written, ‘I will strike the shepherd, and the sheep of the flock will be scattered.’ 32 But after I am raised up, I will go before you to Galilee.” 33 Peter answered him, “Though they all fall away because of you, I will never fall away.” 34 Jesus said to him, “Truly, I tell you, this very night, before the rooster crows, you will deny me three times.” 35 Peter said to him, “Even if I must die with you, I will not deny you!” And all the disciples said the same.

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The Last Supper had just ended (verse 30).

Jesus had sent Judas away long before then and commemorated Passover with the remaining eleven apostles in instituting the Sacrament of His Body and Blood.

Passover supper concluded with a hymn, a sung Psalm. John MacArthur tells us:

After the main meal of the lamb, the bitter herbs, and the sauce, the unleavened bread, they would take a cup, then they would sing the hallēl, which would be the latter part of the hallēl, Psalm 115 to 118.  Then they would take the fourth and final cup, and then they would sing the final song, which was Psalm 136, called the great hallēl.  And every verse in Psalm 136 ends with the same line, “For His mercy endureth forever – for His mercy endureth forever – for His mercy endureth forever” – every one of them.  So they would have sung that. 

Hallēl means ‘to praise’. Hallelujah is is the plural imperative of hallēl.

MacArthur describes the walk Jesus and the apostles took to the Mount of Olives. We often think they were alone in a quiet Jerusalem. However, as it was Passover, the streets were teeming with faithful Jews (emphases mine):

… the leaving was very significant.  It was nearly midnight.  They go out of this upper room, down the stairs, out into the street, and the city is alive as if it was midday.  It is alive because it is Passover time.  It is the time of the feast of unleavened bread, and there’s activity everywhere and people are hurrying around.  Some are in the midst of eating their Passover meal.  Remember, the Galileans and the Pharisees ate it late Thursday night.  Some are still eating it, so the lamps are burning in the houses.  Some are getting ready to have it the next day, the Judeans and the Sadducees, and so, they’re getting the preparations ready.

The temple gates will be thrown open at midnight for the special festival.  And so people are surging toward the temple wanting to get in that place.  Visitors are everywhere; people negotiating for a place to have the Passover the next day, who had come from out of town, animals being collected and carried all around to be sacrificed the next day.  It’s alive, even though it’s night, and so they’re pushing their way, no doubt, through this kind of crowd at night, down the eastern slope of the temple mount.  They’ve crossed the Kidron valley, where the little brook is running as full as it ever runs because of winter rain, and it’s even more full because of the blood of all the thousands of animals that have been slain, and the blood runs out the back of the temple, down the slope, into the stream to be carried away.  And so the disciples, eleven of them now, and Jesus cross that in the dark, and they ascend the Mount of Olives, headed for a very familiar place that they have gone to many times called the Garden of Gethsemane, which means “olive press;” Mount of Olives, many olive trees, and a place called olive press.

People in the city didn’t have gardens in the city.  There was no place for that.  They had gardens out on the slopes around the city, and they would cultivate those, and those would be the gardens that belonged to the people that lived in the city.  And Jesus went to a familiar place, and they were headed for that place, but it must have been up the slope a ways, and as they went up they needed to stop and rest – maybe in a similar place that they had stopped the night before when He gave them the great Olivet Discourse of Matthew 24 and 25 on His Second Coming. 

Jesus had something important to tell the apostles. He told them they would ‘all fall away’ because of Him that night (verse 31). Some older translations, such as the Bible Matthew Henry used, say ‘shall be offended’. In modern English, the connotation is ‘to desert’.

To illustrate His point, He cited Zechariah 13:7. I’m going to highlight that below and give you subsequent verses to better put it into context:

“Awake, O sword, against my shepherd,
    against the man who stands next to me,”
declares the Lord of hosts.

Strike the shepherd, and the sheep will be scattered;
    I will turn my hand against the little ones.
In the whole land, declares the Lord,
    two thirds shall be cut off and perish,
    and one third shall be left alive.
And I will put this third into the fire,
    and refine them as one refines silver,
    and test them as gold is tested.
They will call upon my name,
    and I will answer them.
I will say, ‘They are my people’;
    and they will say, ‘The Lord is my God.’”

MacArthur explains Zechariah in the prophet’s context then in Jesus’s. Note that MacArthur is using another version of the Bible, but the words will make sense in the same way:

In Zechariah 13, Zechariah is talking about some false prophets who will be wounded in their idol houses.  He’s talking about false prophets that God is going to come and wound in their idol houses.  In other words, God is going to judge false prophets.  And the prophet is speaking against those false prophets, who are worthy only of the judgment of God.  And then he comes right behind that in verse 7 and says, “I will smite the shepherd and the sheep of the flock shall be scattered abroad.”  And it might seem at first that he’s referring here to a false shepherd, that God is going to come down and smite a false shepherd – makes sense – and scatter all of the followers of that false shepherd.  And we might think that, except for the clear interpretation of Christ, who says, “The smiting is Me, and the flock is you.”  And so the smitten shepherd of Zechariah 13:7 has to be the Messiah, and the scattered flock has to be His people.  And if you understand that, you understand the meaning of Zechariah 13:7, and it makes sense out of that passage, especially as you look a little closer to it.

Now, look at Zechariah 13:7 for just a moment, and I’ll show you some interesting things.  It says, “Awake, o sword,” and this is God, Jehovah God speaking, “Awake, O sword, against My shepherd.”  Now, that tells you right away that it’s not a false prophet.  God is not slaying a false prophet whom He calls “My shepherd,” God’s personal representative.  God says, “My sword will slay My shepherd” – “Awake, O sword, against My shepherd.”  And then this most interesting phrase, “And against the man,” and he uses a Hebrew word here that is not the normal word, not the generic word, but means “mighty man” or “man of great strength.”  So first of all, the shepherd to be slain is called “the shepherd of God, My shepherd, a mighty shepherd.”  And then it says, “Who is My fellow.”  Literally, “the mighty man of My union,” or “the mighty man equal to Me.”  Marvelous statement, isn’t it?  Who is equal to God?  Christ.  Who was God’s shepherd?  Christ.  Who is the mighty shepherd?  Christ.

So clearly, Zechariah is turning a corner from the false, saying, “Yes, God will wound the false shepherd in the house of his idol, but God will also wound the true shepherd, and His sheep will be scattered as well.”  And the end of the verse, “And I’ll turn My hand on the little ones,” there will be a remnant – there will be a remnant.  What Zechariah was saying is the day is coming when God is going to smite His own shepherd, the Lord Jesus Christ, and the sheep are going to be scattered.  Now, the sheep I believe Zechariah has in mind is the nation Israel.  Israel went into chaos after the death of their Messiah.  Seventy A.D., the city was destroyed, the temple and everything else, and they’re still in the same chaos resulting from the rejection of Messiah.  But the disciples being scattered were sort of the first phase of the chaos that hit the nation Israel.  So Zechariah sees God smiting the shepherd, the nation disintegrating, and the first phase of it the Lord applies to this group of His own disciples, who will be scattered.

Jesus then said that when He was raised, He would go before the apostles into Galilee (verse 32). He was not only telling them what would happen but also making sure they were not filled with despair. Matthew Henry explains the verse in light of Zechariah:

Though you will forsake me, I will not forsake you though you fall, I will take care you shall not fall finally: we shall have a meeting again in Galilee, I will go before you, as the shepherd before the sheep.” Some make the last words of that prophecy (Zechariah 13:7), a promise equivalent to this here and I will bring my hand again to the little ones. There is no bringing them back but by bringing his hand to them. Note, The captain of our salvation knows how to rally his troops, when, through their cowardice, they have been put into disorder.

Then Peter piped up with another grand pronouncement of his loyalty and fidelity (verse 33). He said his faith was so much deeper than everyone else’s that night. They might fall away but he would remain steadfast until the end.

But Jesus knew what was going to happen, and it was not as Peter imagined. Jesus told him that before the rooster crowed, Peter would deny knowing Him three times (verse 34).

If you’re familiar with cockerels, they start crowing very early, between midnight and three in the morning, known to the ancient Jews as the rooster crow. Therefore, Peter’s denials would come in relatively quick succession that night.

Peter, however, was adamant in his loyalty. The other apostles also pledged their fidelity (verse 35).

The rest of the chapter — indeed, the rest of Matthew’s Gospel — is in the three-year Lectionary.

However, let’s remind ourselves of how events unfolded.

Jesus asked Peter, James and John to wait for Him while He went off alone to pray (verse 36):

39 And going a little farther he fell on his face and prayed, saying, “My Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as you will.”

What unspeakably deep sorrow He must have experienced at that moment.

Yet, when He returned, Peter, James and John were asleep:

40 And he came to the disciples and found them sleeping. And he said to Peter, “So, could you not watch with me one hour?

Jesus’s next words were — and continue to be — pivotal:

41 Watch and pray that you may not enter into temptation. The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak.”

The flesh is always weak. That has been an enduring fact starting with Original Sin.

Satan is always on hand to prey on our weakness. He doesn’t sleep. This is why we need to be alert, on guard against temptation.

Jesus went off to pray a second time. Even after his admonition about being watchful:

43 And again he came and found them sleeping, for their eyes were heavy.

He went off a third time to pray. When He returned, the apostles were asleep.

Jesus told them to rest later (verse 45):

46 Rise, let us be going; see, my betrayer is at hand.”

This should have been enough to penetrate and concentrate their minds, but it wasn’t.

Jesus had not finished speaking when a crowd of high priests and scribes armed with swords and clubs appeared with Judas (verse 47):

48 Now the betrayer had given them a sign, saying, “The one I will kiss is the man; seize him.” 49 And he came up to Jesus at once and said, “Greetings, Rabbi!” And he kissed him. 50 Jesus said to him, “Friend, do what you came to do.”[f] Then they came up and laid hands on Jesus and seized him.

‘One of those’ with Jesus — Peter, as John 18:10 identifies him — drew his sword, but Jesus told him to put it away:

52 Then Jesus said to him, “Put your sword back into its place. For all who take the sword will perish by the sword.

He said He does not need earthly defence; He has His Father in heaven and legions of angels (verse 53).

Matthew 26 ends with Peter’s three denials in the early hours of Good Friday morning:

Peter Denies Jesus

69 Now Peter was sitting outside in the courtyard. And a servant girl came up to him and said, “You also were with Jesus the Galilean.” 70 But he denied it before them all, saying, “I do not know what you mean.” 71 And when he went out to the entrance, another servant girl saw him, and she said to the bystanders, “This man was with Jesus of Nazareth.” 72 And again he denied it with an oath: “I do not know the man.” 73 After a little while the bystanders came up and said to Peter, “Certainly you too are one of them, for your accent betrays you.” 74 Then he began to invoke a curse on himself and to swear, “I do not know the man.” And immediately the rooster crowed. 75 And Peter remembered the saying of Jesus, “Before the rooster crows, you will deny me three times.” And he went out and wept bitterly.

Parallel verses for today’s reading are found in Mark 14:26-31.

Parallel verses for Matthew 26:34 are found in Mark 14:30, Luke 22:34 and John 13:38. Note that the links I have supplied are all from my Forbidden Bible Verses series. This means they do not appear in the three-year Lectionary. More’s the pity, because they teach us a valuable lesson as Christians.

It is hard not to be suspicious of churchgoers who boast of their faith. A few have commented on this site. They make themselves sound better than everyone else, just as Peter attempted to elevate himself above the other apostles. Matthew Henry has this observation:

Note, It argues a great degree of self-conceit and self-confidence, to think ourselves either safe from the temptations, or free from the corruptions, that are common to men. We should rather say, If it be possible that others may be offended, there is danger that I may be so. But it is common for those who think too well of themselves, easily to admit suspicions of others. See Galatians 6:1.

Peter was so puffed up with himself because he was in his comfort zone. No doubt boastful churchgoers are also in their own bubble. They live in a safe place. They have a roof over their heads. They feel no outside threat. They have food, family and friends. They have a church and a congregation they love. Their needs are met, which gives them a prideful, false confidence about their faith. Henry warns us:

Note, 1. There is a proneness in good men to be over-confident of their own strength and stability. We are ready to think ourselves able to grapple with the strongest temptations, to go through the hardest and most hazardous services, and to bear the greatest afflictions for Christ but it is because we do not know ourselves. 2. Those often fall soonest and foulest that are most confident of themselves. Those are least safe that are most secure. Satan is most active to seduce such they are most off their guard, and God leaves them to themselves, to humble them. See 1 Corinthians 10:12.

We need to be careful in Christian witness when we talk about ourselves!

Even John MacArthur grapples with human weakness, so we should all pay attention to what he says on the matter:

As much as we would like to think of ourselves as strong Christians, the fact of the matter is that, in and of ourselves, we are weak.  We would like to think that we could never be caught in a situation where we would deny the Lord, where we would deny His Word, where we would be ashamed to name His name or to be associated with Him.  But the truth of the matter is from time to time, we do just exactly that.  We are caught in an environment of unrighteousness, and we say nothing.  There is a time to speak of Christ, and we do not speak.  There is a time when someone would identify us as a Christian, and we shun such an identification for fear of social pressure or social ostracization.  There are times when we should be bold for the cause of Christ, and we are anything but bold.

I remember when I was young I used to think about how it would be when in the future I went to serve the Lord, and should He call me to a very difficult place, I was faced with death or denial of Christ.  I had read missionary stories about those people who affirmed their faith in Christ all the way to death, and I wondered whether I would do that, and I wanted so desperately to believe that I would.  I really wanted to be able to say, “I’d do that – I’d name Christ right down the wire, and if they were going to burn me at the stake, I’d keep naming the name of Christ.”  I wanted so much to be able to say that about myself, but I really had a lot of doubts.  And what gives me the doubts, and did then and still does, is that there are times when I don’t even say what I ought to say in a situation far less intimidating than death.  There are times when we just retreat from the identification with Christ that we should have.  There are times when as disciples, we desert, we go AWOL, we defect for shame’s sake.  We’d rather not be identified with Jesus Christ.  We just don’t want to step out and stand firm

How true.

America is the last bastion of Christianity, but the number of agnostics and atheists there is growing. It might become taboo one day to say one is a Christian, especially if one lives in a big city. It can affect the number of friends one has and even one’s employment.

There is a price to pay for Christianity, even when one lives in the West. I know. I have experienced it in the UK more often than not.

In closing, this is my final post on the Gospel of Matthew.

Let us recall how it ends. The Great Commission — which holds true for us — is Jesus’s command to the disciples after the Resurrection (Matthew 28:18-20). Note that He preceded them to Galilee (Matthew 28:16-17) as He said after the Last Supper (Matthew 26:32):

18 And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19 Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in[b] the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”

May God grant us His heavenly grace and may the Holy Spirit give us the fortitude to witness for the Gospel, through Jesus Christ our Lord, our only Mediator and Advocate. Amen.

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Next week, I will begin a study of the Book of Acts. There we will see what happened to Peter and Paul in their respective ministries.

Next time: Acts 2:12-13

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

Yet, it doesn’t tell the whole story.

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

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

Matthew 26:26-29

Institution of the Lord’s Supper

26 Now as they were eating, Jesus took bread, and after blessing it broke it and gave it to the disciples, and said, “Take, eat; this is my body.” 27 And he took a cup, and when he had given thanks he gave it to them, saying, “Drink of it, all of you, 28 for this is my blood of the[a] covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins. 29 I tell you I will not drink again of this fruit of the vine until that day when I drink it new with you in my Father’s kingdom.”

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Now we are in Thursday of our Lord’s final Passover Week, which corresponds to the Christian Holy Week.

Before discussing this transition from Passover to the Sacrament, we can be sure this feast took place on a Thursday. John MacArthur says (emphases mine):

at that time in the history of Israel, Passover was celebrated both on Thursday and on Friday because the customs in Galilee differed from the customs in Judea.  And so, the Lord on Thursday evening celebrates a Galilean Passover Day, and yet there is another Passover Day on Friday which means that Jesus can keep the Passover one day and die during the Passover as the Passover lamb the next day.  And God had arranged history and tradition and custom and circumstance to make that a reality.

Matthew’s account of the events of the Last Supper are briefer than Luke’s or John’s. We’ll look at Luke’s Gospel now. Incredibly, after this meal, the disciples got into another argument as to who was the greatest. Jesus once again brought them down to earth, telling them they were not to lord themselves over others. After all, He — the greatest of all — was serving them (Luke 22:24-27):

25 And he said to them, The kings of the Gentiles exercise lordship over them, and those in authority over them are called benefactors. 26 But not so with you. Rather, let the greatest among you become as the youngest, and the leader as one who serves. 27 For who is the greater, one who reclines at table or one who serves? Is it not the one who reclines at table? But I am among you as the one who serves.

John’s Gospel gives us the washing of the feet. For whatever reason, the Twelve neglected to wash their feet when they entered the room, a social norm as discussed in last week’s post. Jesus humbled Himself to do it. Remember that Peter objected, and, in His reply, Jesus said that not all were clean (John 13:3-11):

Jesus, knowing that the Father had given all things into his hands, and that he had come from God and was going back to God, rose from supper. He laid aside his outer garments, and taking a towel, tied it around his waist. Then he poured water into a basin and began to wash the disciples’ feet and to wipe them with the towel that was wrapped around him. He came to Simon Peter, who said to him, “Lord, do you wash my feet?” 7 Jesus answered him, “What I am doing you do not understand now, but afterward you will understand.” 8 Peter said to him, “You shall never wash my feet.” Jesus answered him, “If I do not wash you, you have no share with me.” Simon Peter said to him, “Lord, not my feet only but also my hands and my head!” 10 Jesus said to him, “The one who has bathed does not need to wash, except for his feet,[a] but is completely clean. And you[b] are clean, but not every one of you.” 11 For he knew who was to betray him; that was why he said, “Not all of you are clean.”

Returning to Matthew, at this point, Judas admitted that he had betrayed Jesus (Matthew 26:21-25):

21 And as they were eating, he said, “Truly, I say to you, one of you will betray me.” 22 And they were very sorrowful and began to say to him one after another, “Is it I, Lord?” 23 He answered, “He who has dipped his hand in the dish with me will betray me. 24 The Son of Man goes as it is written of him, but woe to that man by whom the Son of Man is betrayed! It would have been better for that man if he had not been born.” 25 Judas, who would betray him, answered, “Is it I, Rabbi?” He said to him, “You have said so.”

Matthew does not mention details of this moment, but John does. The Apostles asked Jesus who the betrayer was (John 13:26-30):

26 Jesus answered, “It is he to whom I will give this morsel of bread when I have dipped it.” So when he had dipped the morsel, he gave it to Judas, the son of Simon Iscariot. 27 Then after he had taken the morsel, Satan entered into him. Jesus said to him, “What you are going to do, do quickly.” 28 Now no one at the table knew why he said this to him. 29 Some thought that, because Judas had the moneybag, Jesus was telling him, “Buy what we need for the feast,” or that he should give something to the poor. 30 So, after receiving the morsel of bread, he immediately went out. And it was night.

Many will want to know if Judas stayed for the main feast of the Last Supper. MacArthur says that he did not:

Jesus got rid of him before they actually ate the meal because he should have no part, should he, in the Lord’s Table.  So, he was dismissed.  What a scene of preparation as Jesus has the final Passover.  After that, of course, verse 26 says, “And as they were eating.”  They went back to the meal, back to the Passover.

Now on to today’s passage in Matthew. Verse 26 gives us the blessing and words still used today in Catholic and mainline Protestant prayers of consecration and remembrance. Christ’s giving of His own body meant that His ultimate sacrifice would replace the Jewish mandate of Passover. Matthew Henry explains:

Christ is to us the Passover-sacrifice by which atonement is made (1 Corinthians 5:7) Christ our Passover is sacrificed for us. This ordinance is to us the passover-supper, by which application is made, and commemoration celebrated, of a much greater deliverance than that of Israel out of Egypt. All the legal sacrifices of propitiation being summed up in the death of Christ, and so abolished, all the legal feasts of rejoicing were summed up in this sacrament, and so abolished.

The words of Jesus in verse 27 are equally included in the aforementioned prayers of consecration and remembrance. Jesus went on to say that His was the blood of the covenant — the New Covenant — poured out for many — meaning Gentiles, too — for the forgiveness of sins (verse 28). This was not a one-time exclusive offer to the Apostles, but an everlasting one for those they would minister to and to the countless generations after them, wherever they were — and are — in the world.

Below are excerpts of Henry’s analysis of the Sacrament, the new ordinance.

First, of the bread, the body of Christ:

We have here the institution of the great gospel ordinance of the Lord’s supper, which was received of the Lord. Observe,

I. The time when it was instituted–as they were eating. At the latter end of the passover-supper, before the table was drawn, because, as a feast upon a sacrifice, it was to come in the room of that ordinance …

II. The institution itself. A sacrament must be instituted it is no part of moral worship, nor is it dictated by natural light, but has both its being and significancy from the institution, from a divine institution it is his prerogative who established the covenant, to appoint the seals of it …

1. The body of Christ is signified and represented by bread he had said formerly (John 6:35), I am the bread of life, upon which metaphor this sacrament is built as the life of the body is supported by bread, which is therefore put for all bodily nourishment (Matthew 4:4,6:11), so the life of the soul is supported and maintained by Christ’s mediation.

(1.) He took bread, ton aptonthe loaf some loaf that lay ready to hand, fit for the purpose it was, probably, unleavened bread but, that circumstance not being taken notice of, we are not to bind ourselves to that, as some of the Greek churches do. His taking the bread was a solemn action, and was, probably, done in such a manner as to be observed by them that sat with him, that they might expect something more than ordinary to be done with it. Thus was the Lord Jesus set apart in the counsels of divine love for the working out of our redemption.

(2.) He blessed it set it apart for this use by prayer and thanksgiving. We do not find any set form of words used by him upon this occasion but what he said, no doubt, was accommodated to the business in hand, that new testament which by this ordinance was to be sealed and ratified. This was like God’s blessing the seventh day (Genesis 2:3), by which it was separated to God’s honour, and made to all that duly observe it, a blessed day: Christ could command the blessing, and we, in his name, are emboldened to beg the blessing.

(3.) He brake it which denotes, [1.] The breaking of Christ’s body for us, that it might be fitted for our use He was bruised for our iniquities, as bread-corn is bruised (Isaiah 28:28) though a bone of him was not broken (for all his breaking did not weaken him), yet his flesh was broken with breach upon breach, and his wounds were multiplied (Job 9:17,16:14), and that pained him … [2.] The breaking of Christ’s body to us, as the father of the family breaks the bread to the children. The breaking of Christ to us, is to facilitate the application every thing is made ready for us by the grants of God’s word and the operations of his grace.

(4.) He gave it to his disciples, as the Master of the family, and the Master of this feast it is not said, He gave it to the apostles, though they were so, and had been often called so before this, but to the disciples, because all the disciples of Christ have a right to this ordinance and those shall have the benefit of it who are his disciples indeed yet he gave it to them as he did the multiplied loaves, by them to be handed to all his other followers.

(5.) He said, Take, eat this is my body, Matthew 26:26. He here tells them,

[1.] What they should do with it Take, eat accept of Christ as he is offered to you, receive the atonement, approve of it, consent to it, come up to the terms on which the benefit of it is proposed to you submit to his grace and to his government.” Believing on Christ is expressed by receiving him (John 1:12), and feeding upon him, John 6:57,58. Meat looked upon, or the dish ever so well garnished, will not nourish us it must be fed upon: so must the doctrine of Christ.

[2.] What they should have with it This is my body, not outosthis bread, but toutothis eating and drinking. Believing carries all the efficacy of Christ’s death to our souls. This is my body, spiritually and sacramentally this signifies and represents my body. He employs sacramental language, like that, Exodus 12:11. It is the Lord’s passover … We partake of the sun, not by having the bulk and body of the sun put into our hands, but the beams of it darted down upon us so we partake of Christ by partaking of his grace, and the blessed fruits of the breaking of his body.

Of the cup, the Blood of Christ:

2. The blood of Christ is signified and represented by the wine to make it a complete feast, here is not only bread to strengthen, but wine to make glad the heart (Matthew 26:27,28) He took the cup, the grace-cup, which was set ready to be drank, after thanks returned, according to the custom of the Jews at the passover this Christ took, and made the sacramental-cup, and so altered the property. It was intended for a cup of blessing (so the Jews called it)

This cup he gave to the disciples,

(1.) With a command Drink ye all of it. Thus he welcomes his guests to his table, obliges them all to drink of his cup …

(2.) With an explication For this is my blood of the New Testament. Therefore drink it with appetite, delight, because it is so rich a cordial. Hitherto the blood of Christ had been represented by the blood of beasts, real blood: but, after it was actually shed, it was represented by the blood of grapes, metaphorical blood so wine is called in an Old-Testament prophecy of Christ, Genesis 49:10,11.

Now observe what Christ saith of his blood represented in the sacrament.

[1.] It is my blood of the New Testament … The covenant God is pleased to make with us, and all the benefits and privileges of it, are owing to the merits of Christ’s death.

[2.] It is shed[:] it was not shed till next day, but it was now upon the point of being shed, it is as good as done. “Before you come to repeat this ordinance yourselves, it will be shed.” He was now ready to be offered, and his blood to be poured out, as the blood of the sacrifices which made atonement.

[3.] It is shed for many. Christ came to confirm a covenant with many (Daniel 9:27), and the intent of his death agreed. The blood of the Old Testament was shed for a few: it confirmed a covenant, which (saith Moses) the Lord has made with you, Exodus 24:8. The atonement was made only for the children of Israel (Leviticus 16:34): but Jesus Christ is a propitiation for the sins of the whole world, 1 John 2:2.

[4.] It is shed for the remission of sins, that is, to purchase remission of sins for us. The redemption which we have through his blood, is the remission of sins, Ephesians 1:7. The new covenant which is procured and ratified by the blood of Christ, is a charter of pardon, an act of indemnity, in order to a reconciliation between God and man for sin was the only thing that made the quarrel, and without shedding of blood is no remission, Hebrews 9:22

Jesus concluded this institution of the New Covenant by saying that the next time they will share ‘this fruit of the vine’ will be in His Father’s kingdom (verse 29).

Therefore, although He ate with the disciples after the Resurrection (Acts 10:41), this was a significant feast in which He instituted a new ordinance — the Sacrament — for the New Covenant.

MacArthur explains verse 29 this way:

there’s a reaffirmation in verse 29 of His Kingdom promise.  I’ll do it with you in My Kingdom.  And I believe when Jesus comes, and we enter into His Kingdom, we’re going to do this with Him.  We’re going to celebrate this with Him.  We’re going to remember His sacrifice together and I’m not sure that we won’t do that forever and ever and ever and ever throughout all eternity in some marvelous way that He has designed, for it’s an unforgettable and glorious redemption, never, never to be ignored, always to be celebrated.

So, He says, do this, in effect, until I do it with you in My Father’s Kingdom.  But the emphasis is: I’m going to come back and drink it with you again.  All three gospels, by the way, state that the Lord said that.  This is a wonderful, wonderful thing that He assures us all that He’s coming to set up His glorious Kingdom.  And then, in verse 30 it says they sung a hymn.  Literally, the Greek says they hymned, they hymned.  What was that?  Well, they had already sung Psalm 113 and 14.  They probably sung another 15 maybe, 16.  Then, there was a fourth cup and then they might have sung 117, 118 and went to the Mount of Olives.  And so, the final Passover; and so, the institution of the Lord’s Supper. 

Receiving the Sacrament, Communion or the Supper — however we might refer to it in our respective churches — is the most powerful and greatest available means of grace Jesus Christ gave us through His one, sufficient oblation on the Cross.

Having asked forgiveness of our sins and reconciled with our neighbours as necessary, let us not hesitate to receive this divine nourishment for the soul on a regular basis with humility and thanksgiving.

Next time: Matthew 26:30-35

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 26:6-13

Jesus Anointed at Bethany

6 Now when Jesus was at Bethany in the house of Simon the leper,[a] a woman came up to him with an alabaster flask of very expensive ointment, and she poured it on his head as he reclined at table. And when the disciples saw it, they were indignant, saying, “Why this waste? For this could have been sold for a large sum and given to the poor.” 10 But Jesus, aware of this, said to them, “Why do you trouble the woman? For she has done a beautiful thing to me. 11 For you always have the poor with you, but you will not always have me. 12 In pouring this ointment on my body, she has done it to prepare me for burial. 13 Truly, I say to you, wherever this gospel is proclaimed in the whole world, what she has done will also be told in memory of her.”

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Matthew 26 begins in Wednesday of Jesus’s last Passover Week, which corresponds to the Christian Holy Week.

Today’s passage, however, is a flashback. It recounts an event that took place on the Saturday before, after Jesus raised Mary and Martha’s brother Lazarus from the dead. Verse 13 gives us the reason for inserting this flashback — in Jesus’s own words.

Jesus was dining at Simon the Leper’s house (verse 6). Jesus had already healed him, otherwise, Simon would have been living outside of Bethany away from healthy people. John MacArthur tells us that this was a very special occasion (emphases mine):

Leprosy in that day was incurable. The only cure for leprosy was Jesus Christ. So it’s pretty obvious that Simon was a recipient of the healing power of Christ. And one way he could show his loving gratitude to Christ was to offer Him a supper. Oh the excitement would be unspeakable. You wouldn’t even believe it. Simon a former leper, outcast of outcasts, now having the Healer, God in human flesh, in his own home and hosting Him and inviting Mary, Martha, and Lazarus to be a part and all twelve of the disciples. This is a good group for supper, approaching twenty people. And there may have been others, we don’t know. But Mark writes of it, and Matthew writes of it, and so does John, because it is a very important occasion.

With Lazarus alive once again as well, the atmosphere must have been one of unspeakable joy and gratitude.

As everyone reclined at dinner, ‘a woman’ approached Jesus to anoint him with a precious ointment in an alabaster flask (verse 7).

There are a few things to explain about this verse.

Everyone in the ancient world reclined to eat. An article from ScienceNordic tells us that this might have been to aid digestion. It’s a bit like stretching out on the sofa but propping yourself up enough to eat and drink while watching television:

“We think pressure on the antrum – the lower portion of the stomach – has a lot to do with discomfort after a meal,” says [Jørgen] Valeur, a senior resident at Oslo’s Lovisenberg Diakonale Hospital …

According to the researchers, if you recline on your right side, the lower part of the stomach expands so you feel stuffed, but if you lie on your left side, the load on the antrum is reduced.

“It’s fair to assume that a person can actually alleviate the discomfort after a meal by lying on the proper side,” says Valeur.

Matthew left the woman unidentified, which poses difficulties for readers after his time, as we can see from Matthew Henry’s commentary:

The woman that did this, is supposed to have been Mary, the sister of Martha and Lazarus. And Dr. Lightfoot [Bible scholar of the era] thinks it was the same that was called Mary Magdalene.

However, MacArthur says she is Mary — Martha and Lazarus’s sister — and not Mary Magdalene. A similar story in Luke 7:36-39 features another woman and a different Simon. Simon was a common name in that time. The Simon in Luke 7 was a Pharisee:

36 One of the Pharisees asked him to eat with him, and he went into the Pharisee’s house and reclined at the table. 37 And behold, a woman of the city, who was a sinner, when she learned that he was reclining at table in the Pharisee’s house, brought an alabaster flask of ointment, 38 and standing behind him at his feet, weeping, she began to wet his feet with her tears and wiped them with the hair of her head and kissed his feet and anointed them with the ointment. 39 Now when the Pharisee who had invited him saw this, he said to himself, “If this man were a prophet, he would have known who and what sort of woman this is who is touching him, for she is a sinner.” 40 And Jesus answering said to him, “Simon, I have something to say to you.” And he answered, “Say it, Teacher.”

MacArthur says:

it’s a different incident in chapter 7. And the woman who does the anointing is different. It isn’t Mary; it’s a wicked, sinful woman, in that case. But Matthew, Mark and John record this incident.

The parallel accounts are Mark 14:3-9, and John 12:1-8, both of which are included in the three-year Lectionary. So, yes, this event is included in readings for public worship. Mark and Matthew did not name the woman, but John did. Mark has the scene at Simon the Leper’s house but John has it at Martha, Mary and Lazarus’s home.

Here is Mark’s version:

Jesus Anointed at Bethany

3 And while he was at Bethany in the house of Simon the leper,[a] as he was reclining at table, a woman came with an alabaster flask of ointment of pure nard, very costly, and she broke the flask and poured it over his head. There were some who said to themselves indignantly, “Why was the ointment wasted like that? For this ointment could have been sold for more than three hundred denarii[b] and given to the poor.” And they scolded her. But Jesus said, “Leave her alone. Why do you trouble her? She has done a beautiful thing to me. For you always have the poor with you, and whenever you want, you can do good for them. But you will not always have me. 8 She has done what she could; she has anointed my body beforehand for burial. And truly, I say to you, wherever the gospel is proclaimed in the whole world, what she has done will be told in memory of her.”

Here is John’s:

Mary Anoints Jesus at Bethany

12 Six days before the Passover, Jesus therefore came to Bethany, where Lazarus was, whom Jesus had raised from the dead. So they gave a dinner for him there. Martha served, and Lazarus was one of those reclining with him at table. 3 Mary therefore took a pound[a] of expensive ointment made from pure nard, and anointed the feet of Jesus and wiped his feet with her hair. The house was filled with the fragrance of the perfume. But Judas Iscariot, one of his disciples (he who was about to betray him), said, “Why was this ointment not sold for three hundred denarii[b] and given to the poor?” He said this, not because he cared about the poor, but because he was a thief, and having charge of the moneybag he used to help himself to what was put into it. Jesus said, “Leave her alone, so that she may keep it[c] for the day of my burial. For the poor you always have with you, but you do not always have me.”

About the mention and non-mentions of the woman’s name, MacArthur has this:

Matthew doesn’t tell us, and I don’t know why; we have no reason to know why he didn’t tell us except the Holy Spirit knew what John was going to say and it wasn’t repeated here for whatever reason. Some say it wasn’t mentioned by Matthew because he wrote so early in 50 that he was afraid there might be repercussions on Mary for what she had done. John, who wrote 40 years later, didn’t care because the scene had changed and she wouldn’t have been in such a difficult position. But that’s speculation.

Mark’s Gospel was written first, so Mary would have been alive and well, as she was when Matthew wrote his subsequently.

The alabaster ‘flask’ is translated as ‘box’ in older editions of the Bible. Some foreign languages, such as French, use ‘box’ (boîte) for a squat jar, e.g. of jam or olives.

The flask’s ointment was very expensive. MacArthur tells us:

It’s really a bottle made out of alabaster, very thin, and it would be a very fat or round bottle with a very narrow neck, and it would be corked or plugged at the top. And inside of it was very precious perfume. How precious? A year’s wages, Mark tells us, 300 denarii, which would be a year’s wages…very, very costly.

You say, “Why did they even have it?” Well, they must have been a somewhat wealthy family to even have something like that …

Because of the lack of hygiene, hosts put this on their guests before eating in a group so no one would offend others with their odours. Recall that when people entered a house the first thing they did was to remove their sandals and wash their feet. The next thing would have been the application of a perfumed oil or ointment, or nard, as Mark and John wrote.

It is possible that the nard in all four accounts was so highly concentrated, hence the expense, that a little went a long way. Perhaps the contents in the flask would have lasted for years. Therefore, to put all of it on Jesus’s head looked wasteful and extreme (verse 8). Naturally, the disciples reacted the way we would today (verse 9): ‘That could have been sold and the proceeds given to the poor!’

Jesus disapproved of their reaction, praising the woman (verse 10). We would do well to highlight verse 11:

For you always have the poor with you, but you will not always have me.

The woman was worshipping her Lord and Redeemer. We should be worshipping more rather than putting all our effort into serving the poor. While we can lessen the effects of poverty, we will never be able to eradicate it.

What does every catechism say about our purpose on earth? My childhood catechism says: ‘God made me to know Him, to love Him and to serve Him in this world.’ Before service we have the concept of worship in ‘know Him’ and ‘love Him’. Service comes third. Matthew Henry says:

Sometimes special works of piety and devotion should take place of common works of charity. The poor must not rob Christ[;] we must do good to all, but especially to the household of faith.

Note in this story that Mary performed an act of worship in her anointing of Christ. Henry explains:

1. As an act of faith in our Lord Jesus, the Christ, the Messiah, the anointed. To signify that she believed in him as God’s anointed, whom he had set king, she anointed him, and made him her king. They shall appoint themselves one head, Hosea 1:11. This is kissing the Son.

2. As an act of love and respect to him … Note, Where there is true love in the heart to Jesus Christ, nothing will be thought too good, no, nor good enough, to bestow upon him.

MacArthur explains this generous worship:

Most of us worship…let’s see, what can I afford this week; I’ll give that, that won’t affect me. We know very little about this, this unrestrained adoration where you just crush the narrow neck of that alabaster bottle and pour its contents all over Jesus effusively, profusely. She was pouring out her love, her heart of compassion, her devotion. She was honoring the One that was going to die and rise again for her salvation, to bear her sin. She did it for you, for me; we all should have done it. We all, if we had been there, knowing what we now know, would have poured out everything on Him, too. She understood what the disciples didn’t want to understand. She wasn’t bound up in wanting to get right into the kingdom and have the glory. She apparently understood more of Jesus’ teaching then they did. She symbolizes the effusive, profuse, magnanimous outpouring of love that God desires.

Jesus went on to say that Mary was preparing Him for burial (verse 12). Did she really know that He was going to die very soon?

I mean, why shouldn’t she know He was going to die and rise, His enemies knew that. His enemies said, “Look out for this guy. He says He’s going to die, and He says if He dies in three days He’ll rise.” If they knew it, why shouldn’t she know it? She knew. She couldn’t prevent His death, she wouldn’t prevent His death. His death was for her and for all other sinners, so she poured out her love. And the word “half poured” is a very strong term—lavish, profuse.

It is ironic that the Twelve, who spent three years with Him, did not understand this. Yet, Mary did.

You would have thought that the Apostles would have been the ones worshipping Jesus to the extreme. They did not. They thought of the waste of fragrant ointment.

Mary was the one who worshipped Him more fully than can be imagined.

And even afterwards, they still did not grasp what she had done in that sense — or what was about to happen in a week’s time.

Jesus concluded by saying that wherever the Gospel is preached, this story will be told in her memory (verse 13), meaning that hers is the example Christians are to follow. This is why the Epistles all emphasise worship of Jesus Christ over everything else.

If we truly and fully understood what our Lord Jesus did for us via His death and resurrection we, too, would be worshipping the way Mary did that evening.

That’s something for many of us, myself not least, to seriously think about.

We can worship outside of church as well, in our private devotions. I can better understand why some great preachers got up at dawn to pray for four hours before beginning their day. It was not a tick-in-box activity of ‘doing something’ but something they wanted to do — every day. The Holy Spirit was working through them, revealing the Eternal Truth. Perhaps we shut out the Spirit a bit too much. We’re too busy or too distracted by worldly things.

Until today, I never really grasped what Jesus said about Mary and His criticism of Martha earlier in His ministry. To my mind, ensuring Jesus had something to eat and drink was just as important as sitting in His presence. Now, thanks to this event, which happened days before the Crucifixion, I understand. MacArthur reminds us:

In chapter 10 of Luke, and verse 42 it is, Jesus said about Mary that Mary has chosen the better part. You remember that. Worship is better than service. Learning better than doing. Sitting at the feet of the Savior, better than business.

If only more Christians — especially clergy in their sermons — explained Mary in this manner, we would all understand. May we learn and follow her example.

Next time: Matthew 26:26-29

Bible read me 2Matthew 24:1-36 was one of my early Forbidden Bible Verses postings, dating from January 2010, before I began studying each of the Gospels methodically.

It is unfortunate that the three-year Lectionary compilers omitted this passage from the set of readings for public worship.

While verses 1 and 2 and 15 to 22 pertain to the destruction of the temple, the rest of the verses concern what will happen in the world until the end of time: wars, natural disasters, famines, plagues (pestilences), earthquakes and persecution.

Jesus also warns us against false prophets, including those who say they are He.

People ask why terrible things happen. Jesus says these are inevitable until the end of time (verses 27-36), which no one can predict:

35Heaven and earth shall pass away, but my words shall not pass away.

36But of that day and hour knoweth no man, no, not the angels of heaven, but my Father only.

The parallel entry is Mark 13:3-13 — also excluded from the three-year Lectionary! Unbelievable. These are essential readings for everyone.

Next time: Matthew 26:6-13

Bible GenevaThe 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 23:29-33

29 “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you build the tombs of the prophets and decorate the monuments of the righteous, 30 saying, ‘If we had lived in the days of our fathers, we would not have taken part with them in shedding the blood of the prophets.’ 31 Thus you witness against yourselves that you are sons of those who murdered the prophets. 32 Fill up, then, the measure of your fathers. 33 You serpents, you brood of vipers, how are you to escape being sentenced to hell?

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This is the seventh and final woe — condemnation — that Jesus pronounced on the scribes and Pharisees.

Previous posts discuss the first and second woes as well as the third (continued here), fourth, fifth and sixth.

Today’s reading recounts the worst judgement that Jesus placed on the scribes and Pharisees. Once again, He called them hypocrites (verse 29). This was because they presented themselves as being holy and pure but were filled with sin and hardness of heart inside.

They feigned reverence for the prophets whose graves they rebuilt and decorated, claiming that had they lived in the time of the prophets — when their fathers (ancestors) did — they surely would have followed those Old Testament martyrs.

Jesus rightly called them out on implicating themselves in mentioning their fathers, ancestors, who took part in killing those same prophets they refused to follow (verse 30). He condemned them because here He was, the Messiah whom the prophets foretold, and — once again, like their fathers — they planned to kill Him (verse 31). Let them therefore continue to fulfil that unspeakable sin, ‘the measure of your fathers’, so deeply offensive to God (verse 32).

Matthew Henry observes that it is easy to honour prophets — and, in our time, saints — because, like the scribes and Pharisees, we were not alive back then to heed their warnings against sin. Those warnings would have cut us to the quick and angered us in their truthfulness. As Henry puts it, translating a Latin saying (emphases mine):

Note, Carnal people can easily honour the memories of faithful ministers that are dead and gone, because they do not reprove them, nor disturb them, in their sins … They can pay respect to the writings of the dead prophets, which tell them what they should be but not the reproofs of the living prophets, which tell them what they are. Sit divus, modo non sit vivus–Let there be saints but let them not be living here.

How true.

It is easy for us to say that had we been alive when Christ was physically present, we surely would have followed Him. Henry explains why we deceive ourselves with such reasoning. We do not even heed faithful ministers of the Gospel in the present day:

Note, The deceitfulness of sinners’ hearts appears very much in this, that, while they go down the stream of the sins of their own day, they fancy they should have swum against the stream of the sins of the former days that, if they had had other people’s opportunities, they should have improved them more faithfully if they had been in other people’s temptations, they should have resisted them more vigorously when yet they improve not the opportunities they have, nor resist the temptations they are in. We are sometimes thinking, if we had lived when Christ was upon earth, how constantly we would have followed him we would not have despised and rejected him, as they then did and yet Christ in his Spirit, in his word, in his ministers, is still no better treated.

As for the scribes and Pharisees, John MacArthur interprets Jesus’s judgement plainly:

Jesus says, you are a witness to the fact that you indeed are a son of those who killed the prophets … Well, what were they right there, right then plotting to do? … Kill Him. I mean, they were so consumed with their own lying deceit that they didn’t even see the reality of the fact that they were killing one greater than the prophets, the son of God. Verse 32, “Fill up then the measure of your fathers.” What does He mean? Do it. Go ahead. You’re scheming to kill the greatest prophet of all. That’ll fill up the full measure of the murderous attitude of your people against God’s messengers. Do it.

You ought to underline verse 32

Jesus concluded His discourse on the woes by calling these truly wretched men ‘serpents’ and ‘brood of vipers’ and asking them how they could escape ‘being sentenced to hell’ (verse 33). ‘Blind’ men, ‘hypocrites’ and now ‘brood of vipers’; all the terms from the seven woes fit perfectly. We would expect no less from our Saviour.

MacArthur says Jesus pointed out that these men were dangerously false teachers. He cautions us against similar men and women who subvert and corrupt the Gospel message:

They kept people out of heaven. What does a true spiritual leader do? What? Brings them into heaven. They did all they could to send people to hell. To make them as evil as possible, double sons of hell. What does a true spiritual leader do? He is used by God to make men not hellish, but what? Righteous. They subverted the truth. What does a true spiritual leader do? Leads people into truth. They appeared pious, but only used people for their own gain. What does a true spiritual leader do? He serves people, meets their needs. They contaminate everybody they touch. What does a true spiritual leader do? He makes holy anyone he touches. And they proudly thought themselves to be better than everybody else. What does a true spiritual leader say? I am the least of all the chief of sinners. God help us to be true spiritual leaders and to avoid these false leaders. People beware[,] would you? Beware. Be thankful God’s given you true leaders.

Therefore, let us pray for divine grace, spiritual fortitude and for discernment.

Understanding what the Bible says, particularly the New Testament, will help us to know false teachers when we see them.

Next time: Matthew 24:1-36, followed by Matthew 26:6-13

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 23:27-28

27 “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you are like whitewashed tombs, which outwardly appear beautiful, but within are full of dead people’s bones and all uncleanness. 28 So you also outwardly appear righteous to others, but within you are full of hypocrisy and lawlessness.

——————————————————————————————-

This is the sixth of seven woes Jesus pronounced on the scribes and Pharisees.

Previous posts discuss the first and second woes as well as the third (continued here), fourth and fifth.

Jesus condemns them, calling them whitewashed tombs: brilliantly white on the outside but full of decay on the inside.

That analogy described the state of their hearts and souls. These men looked holy and pious but were filled with the worst kinds of sin (verse 28). By steering the faithful away from Jesus, whom they so hated, they were also keeping them from knowing God. In addition, they had their temple racket, described in the aforementioned woes, which was nothing short of extortion. Matthew Henry explains:

God is jealous for his honour in his laws and ordinances, and resents it if they be profaned and abused.

… they were at this time plotting to murder Christ, to whom all the prophets bore witness.

The Jews had a practice of whitewashing tombs, because touching one meant that person was unclean for seven days (Numbers 19:16):

Whoever in the open field touches someone who was killed with a sword or who died naturally, or touches a human bone or a grave, shall be unclean seven days.

Painting them white was akin to a huge ‘DO NOT TOUCH’ sign.

Henry tells us (emphases mine):

And it was part of the charge of the overseers of the highways, to repair that whitening when it was decayed. Sepulchres were thus made remarkable, 2 Kings 23:16,17.

John MacArthur has more on this practice, especially important before Passover. A person travelling to Jerusalem for that feast could not participate in certain rituals if he accidentally touched a tomb, because that act would have made him unclean:

On the 15th Avadar, which is the month of March in Israel in the time of our Lord, there was a very unusual custom. It was right after the spring rains and the rains that came washed away many things. One of the things they washed away was white-wash. You say where was white-wash used? It was on walls, it was on houses sometimes, but most specifically the Jews used to white-wash the tombs. They would white-wash those limestone caves and limestone tombs where people were buried, the more prominent people were buried that way. And the reason they did that was because in preparation of Passover, along the roads and the hillsides where people would be traversing, they feared that people might inadvertently touch a tomb and thus be defiled. And because of the ceremonial cleansing process necessary, they could void out certain activities in the Passover season.

And so to accommodate the Passover visitors who might not know where the tombs were and also just to keep the rest of the people clear of them, they went around the city of Jerusalem with white-wash. In some cases, they white-washed the entire tomb, historians tell us. In other cases, they just painted white-washed bones on the outside so that people wouldn’t touch them lest according to Numbers 19:16, they’d be ceremonially defiled.

The lesson here is to pray often for divine grace so that we remain pure in heart and mind. A pure interior will reflect itself in our outward behaviour and demeanour.

Similarly, we must avoid false teachers — and other leaders — who present themselves as being holy yet have dark souls and depraved hearts.

Satan doesn’t present himself as being evil. He masquerades as being respectable.

Henry warns against hypocrisy, which he saw as the worst sin of all:

Hypocrisy is the worst iniquity of all other. Note, It is possible for those that have their hearts full of sin, to have their lives free from blame, and to appear very good.

He reminds us that God sees and knows all things.

Nothing is hidden from the Almighty:

what will it avail us, to have the good word of our fellow-servants, if our Master doth not say, Well done? When all other graves are opened, these whited sepulchres will be looked into, and the dead men’s bones, and all the uncleanness, shall be brought out, and be spread before all the host of heaven, Jeremiah 8:1,2. For it is the day when God shall judge, not the shows, but the secrets, of men. And it will then be small comfort to them who shall have their portion with hypocrites, to remember how creditably and plausibly they went to hell, applauded by all their neighbours.

Next time: Matthew 23:29-33

Bible spine dwtx.orgThe 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 23:25-26

25 “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you clean the outside of the cup and the plate, but inside they are full of greed and self-indulgence. 26 You blind Pharisee! First clean the inside of the cup and the plate, that the outside also may be clean.

——————————————————————————————-

This is the fifth of seven woes — judgements — that Jesus pronounced on the scribes and Pharisees.

Previous posts discuss the first and second woes as well as the third (continued here) and fourth.

In this woe, Jesus aptly compared the scribes and Pharisees to a cup and plate which look clean on the outside but are filthy on the inside. They were concerned how pious and prayerful they appeared to each other and to the average Jew. Yet, inside, they were corrupted by greed and excess.

Jesus called them hypocrites for this (verse 25). Matthew Henry explains (emphases mine):

They were all for the outside, and not at all for the inside, of religion. They were more desirous and solicitous to appear pious to men than to approve themselves so toward God.

In speaking of greed and self-indulgence, Jesus was referring to their system of encouraging costly sacrifices and gifts (see the third woe links in my second paragraph). They had a racket going. John MacArthur tells us:

It all is so religious and everything in it and on it was gained by extortion

Extortion, by the way, is the word harpage. It means to plunder or rape; they are rapists … it says they are full of extortion, and notice this word, excess. That means unrestrained desire for gain; acarsia. And unrestrained desire for gain; a lack of self-control. So the Lord is saying they appear so scrupulous. They appear so religiously meticulous. They appear so pious in their system and everything they serve you was gained with their filthy desires. Gained by the abusive people. They are greedy rapists and robbers who steal and plunder the souls and the money and the hearts and the minds and the goods of everybody they can touch.

Jesus was condemning their practice of making their racket look holy and ceremonial, when, in fact, it was an abomination before God.

Therefore, He exclaimed, ‘Blind Pharisee!’ (verse 26). They were spiritually blind to their deep sins of extortion and greed. Henry tells us:

They thought themselves the seers of the land, but (John 9:39) Christ calls them blind … Self-ignorance is the most shameful and hurtful ignorance, Revelation 3:17.

This is why He told them, in speaking of the clean inside of the cup and the plate, to examine their hearts. A pure heart is reflected in pure thoughts and actions. Henry applies this to Christians:

Note, the principal care of every one of us should be to wash our hearts from wickedness, Jeremiah 4:14. The main business of a Christian lies within, to get cleansed from the filthiness of the spirit. Corrupt affections and inclinations, the secret lusts that lurk in the soul, unseen and unobserved, these must first be mortified and subdued. Those sins must be conscientiously abstained from, which the eye of God only is a witness to, who searcheth the heart.

MacArthur applies these verses to false teachers:

So prevalent today, the false spiritual leaders become rich, they become fat, they become wealthy with their paraded piosity and they have the heart of a thief.

Henry’s analysis of Jesus’s words applies equally to laity and false teachers. This is beautiful and true:

Observe the method prescribed Cleanse first that which is within not that only, but that first because, if due care be taken concerning that, the outside will be clean also. External motives and inducements may keep the outside clean, while the inside is filthy but if renewing, sanctifying grace make clean the inside, that will have an influence upon the outside, for the commanding principle is within. If the heart be well kept, all is well, for out of it are the issues of life the eruptions will vanish of course. If the heart and spirit be made new, there will be a newness of life here[,] therefore we must begin with ourselves [that] first cleanse [,] that which is within[;] we then make sure work, when this is our first work.

Next time: Matthew 23:27-28

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