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The Third Sunday after Trinity is July 3, 2022.

Readings for Year C can be found here.

The Gospel reading is as follows (emphases mine):

Luke 10:1-11, 16-20

10:1 After this the Lord appointed seventy others and sent them on ahead of him in pairs to every town and place where he himself intended to go.

10:2 He said to them, “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few; therefore ask the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest.

10:3 Go on your way. See, I am sending you out like lambs into the midst of wolves.

10:4 Carry no purse, no bag, no sandals; and greet no one on the road.

10:5 Whatever house you enter, first say, ‘Peace to this house!’

10:6 And if anyone is there who shares in peace, your peace will rest on that person; but if not, it will return to you.

10:7 Remain in the same house, eating and drinking whatever they provide, for the laborer deserves to be paid. Do not move about from house to house.

10:8 Whenever you enter a town and its people welcome you, eat what is set before you;

10:9 cure the sick who are there, and say to them, ‘The kingdom of God has come near to you.’

10:10 But whenever you enter a town and they do not welcome you, go out into its streets and say,

10:11 ‘Even the dust of your town that clings to our feet, we wipe off in protest against you. Yet know this: the kingdom of God has come near.’

10:16 “Whoever listens to you listens to me, and whoever rejects you rejects me, and whoever rejects me rejects the one who sent me.”

10:17 The seventy returned with joy, saying, “Lord, in your name even the demons submit to us!”

10:18 He said to them, “I watched Satan fall from heaven like a flash of lightning.

10:19 See, I have given you authority to tread on snakes and scorpions, and over all the power of the enemy; and nothing will hurt you.

10:20 Nevertheless, do not rejoice at this, that the spirits submit to you, but rejoice that your names are written in heaven.”

Commentary comes from Matthew Henry and John MacArthur.

This is a long exegesis requiring a cup of tea and perhaps a snack.

Today’s reading follows on from last week’s, which was about the Samaritans’ rejection of our Lord’s planned visit, the fury of James and his brother John at the refusal and the Lord’s subsequent refusal to accept three potential disciples.

What we learned about Luke 9 was that it represents a turning point in Luke’s account. Jesus has but one year of ministry left; what we discover through to Luke 19 is how He trains and prepares His disciples for His imminent death.

‘After this’ — meaning after Jesus turned down the three offers of discipleship from men who were deeply flawed with internal conflicts — He appointed 70 — some translations say 72 — disciples, sending them in pairs to towns and places where He intended to visit (verse 1).

These disciples were heralds, or, in today’s parlance, advance men.

There are some numbers in the Bible that are referred to as divine numbers, because they have a religious significance. The number three is significant for the Persons of the Trinity. Twelve is another: the twelve tribes of Israel, the twelve Apostles.

Matthew Henry’s commentary explains the significance of 70:

As in the choice of twelve apostles Christ had an eye to the twelve patriarchs, the twelve tribes, and the twelve princes of those tribes, so here he seems to have an eye to the seventy elders of Israel. So many went up with Moses and Aaron to the mount, and saw the glory of the God of Israel (Exod 24 1, 9), and so many were afterwards chosen to assist Moses in the government, in order to which the Spirit of prophecy came unto them, Num 11 24, 25. The twelve wells of water and the seventy palm-trees that were at Elim were a figure of the twelve apostles and the seventy disciples, Exod 15 27. They were seventy elders of the Jews that were employed by Ptolemy king of Egypt in turning the Old Testament into Greek, whose translation is thence called the Septuagint. The great sanhedrim consisted of this number.

In the beginning of Luke 9, Jesus had already given the Apostles His own gifts, sending them out to preach and heal. Now it is the turn of these 70 or 72 disciples.

Jesus sent them out in pairs for mutual support: physically, emotionally and spiritually.

Jesus said that the harvest was plentiful but the workers to gather it were few; therefore, it was important to ask the Lord of the harvest for more labourers to gather the harvest (verse 2).

Henry says that the harvest refers to lost souls, those whom the Jewish hierarchy neglected. The disciples were to bring them to salvation, especially with the presence of Christ in the region:

They must be duly affected with the necessities of the souls of men, which called for their help. They must look about, and see how great the harvest was, what abundance of people there were that wanted to have the gospel preached to them and were willing to receive it, nay, that had at this time their expectations raised of the coming of the Messiah and of his kingdom. There was corn ready to shed and be lost for want of hands to gather it in. Note, Ministers should apply themselves to their work under a deep concern for precious souls, looking upon them as the riches of this world, which ought to be secured for Christ. They must likewise be concerned that the labourers were so few. The Jewish teachers were indeed many, but they were not labourers; they did not gather in souls to God’s kingdom, but to their own interest and party. Note, Those that are good ministers themselves wish that there were more good ministers, for there is work for more. It is common for tradesmen not to care how few there are of their own trade; but Christ would have the labourers in his vineyard reckon it a matter of complaint when the labourers are few. (2.) They must earnestly desire to receive their mission from God, that he would send them forth as labourers into his harvest who is the Lord of the harvest, and that he would send others forth; for, if God send them forth, they may hope he will go along with them and give them success. Let them therefore say, as the prophet (Isa 6 8), Here I am, send me. It is desirable to receive our commission from God, and then we may go on boldly.

Matthew’s account also includes our Lord’s mention of the harvest.

John MacArthur tells us about that and the gut-wrenching compassion that Jesus, in His humanity, felt for the lost souls:

Go back to verse 35, Matthew 9:35.  Jesus was going about all the cities, all the villages, and this is in Galilee.  And He was teaching in their synagogues.  He was proclaiming the gospel of the kingdom, healing every kind of disease, every kind of sickness.  “And seeing the multitudes, He felt compassion for them, because they were distressed and downcast, like sheep without a shepherd.  Then He said to His disciples, ‘The harvest is plentiful, but the workers are few.'” That statement was born of His compassion. It was born of His compassion.  Everywhere the Lord went in His ministry, and particular in Galilee, but everywhere else the Lord went in His ministry, He was moved with compassion.

For example, if you go through Matthew, you see Matthew 14:14 in addition to this, Matthew 15:32, Matthew 18:27, Matthew 20 verse 34, and it will say, “The Lord was moved with compassion, the Lord felt compassion.”  Luke 7:13, “The Lord was moved with compassion.”  And again other places in Luke; this is just a sampling.  The Lord moved through His ministry literally overcome with compassion.

Now this word is the strongest word for “compassion” in the language, the Greek language.  It refers to a deeply felt sympathy.  It refers to a deep pain that comes from empathy or affection.  You feel this one.  It actually comes from a root word that has to do with abdominal painYou feel it in the pit of your stomach where suffering emotions are felt even by folks like us.  What it’s saying is the Lord felt an aching in His stomach.  It is to say the Lord was nauseated physically.  You see Him, for example, at the tomb of Lazarus in the 11th chapter of John and the picture of Him there is first He’s sobbing and then He’s groaning, and then He bursts out into tears and then He shudders over the plight of sinners when He sees the reality of a dead Lazarus and a weeping Mary and Martha.  And it’s not all this agony simply over Lazarus and Mary and Martha because He was going to raise him from the dead and stop all the pain, but it’s the agony of seeing that as an illustration of the horrendous suffering in the world.  Lazarus was an illustration of what all of humanity goes through.  And Jesus literally sobbed, groaned, burst into tears, and shuddered with agony

MacArthur tells us of the horrifying plight of the lost souls, the lost sheep, that Jesus saw through that compassion:

Isaiah said about Him, “He would be a man of sorrows, acquainted with grief.”  And Matthew, as I said, uses the strongest word for “compassion,” one that indicates that the Lord had a deep ache, a pain, a nauseating churning in His stomach over the future condition of the unregenerate, as well as their present state.  Look back at that passage in Matthew.  It says He saw them as distressed and downcast, eskylmenoi and errimmenoi. Those two words mean worn out, exhausted, or literally flayed, skinned, like sheep whose shepherds had not only exhausted them, not fed them, but then flayed them, as it were, injured them, wounded them.  The second word, errimmenoi, means thrown down, lying prostrate, totally helplessHe looked at the sheep of the shepherds of Israel, the scribes and the Pharisees and religious leaders and their sheep were not healthy, they were not well fed, they were not well watered, they were not well cared for, they were literally wounded and injured, they had been attacked and assaulted and left for near dead by their evil false shepherdsAnd these people would have some kind of vague craving for satisfaction and not have any idea how to find it.  As Psalm 111:4 says, “The Lord is gracious and full of compassion.” That’s describing God, and here is God in human flesh and His heart is literally achingOn another occasion He wept over the city of Jerusalem, the ache was so profound.  He looks at the people of Israel and He sees them like flayed, mangled corpses.  They’re sort of like road kill sheep who have been totally destroyed by their own shepherds.  And there they lie bewildered and desolate.  They have been treated mercilessly.  They have been devoured by their own shepherds, as Jesus said of the Pharisees in Matthew 23:13.  And so He is so overwhelmed with sympathy for them that He says to His disciples, “The harvest is plentiful but the workers are few.”

However, there is another meaning to ‘harvest’ and that is one of burning chaff during the time of reaping. The farmer saves the good crops and burns whatever was unproductive. This refers to judgement.

MacArthur has more:

The Jews knew about a harvest. They knew about a harvest. The prophets had talked about a harvest. In fact, Joel chapter 3 verse 12, “Let the nations be aroused and come to the valley of Jehoshaphat. I’ll sit to judge and all the surrounding nations, put in the sickle for the harvest is ripe. Come tread, for the winepress is full, the vats overflow, for their wickedness is great. Multitudes, multitudes in the valley of decision, for the Day of the Lord is near in the valley of decision. The sun and the moon grew dark. The stars lost their brightness as the Lord roars from Zion.” That…That’s the harvest. It’s the harvest of the final judgment. And that’s why the compassion of the Lord is excited because He sees these people on a path to devastation. He sees them not only in their stricken condition, but in their disastrous future. He looks ahead, down human history, as it were, and He sees many who will be literally devastated, depressed and destroyed by false leaders, false shepherds. And His heart aches over them because they’re headed for the final harvest and it is a harvest of judgment. The New Testament follows that imagery. The Lord Himself in Matthew 13 verse 30 talks about the wheat and the tares growing together and He says they will grow together until the harvest. And the time of harvest will come, I’ll say to the reapers, “Gather up the tares. Bind them in bundles to burn them. But gather the wheat into My barn.” Again, the harvest is the end of the age when the angels gather together God’s people and put them in His kingdom, that’s the barn, and gathers together the ungodly and they burn forever in hell. That is clearly explained later in Matthew 13 verse 39. “The enemy who sowed the tares is the devil. The harvest is the end of the age and the reapers are angels. Therefore just as the tares are gathered up and burned with fire, so shall it be at the end of the age. The Son of Man will send forth His angels, they’ll gather out of His kingdom all stumbling blocks, all those who commit lawlessness, cast them into the furnace of fire. In that place, there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.” That’s the harvest … It’s not a harvest that we often think about like there are all those souls that need to be harvested for the gospel. That’s not the imagery. The imagery is this, these unredeemed, unconverted people, deceived and left destitute by their false religious leaders and fake shepherds, are headed toward a harvest of judgment and it is a massive harvest. It is a worldwide harvest. It reminds us again that few there be that find the narrow way. The mass of humanity are headed toward a divine harvest.

And in verse 14 of chapter 14 of Revelation, we read further and more specifically about that harvest. Listen to these gripping words, “I looked and behold, a white cloud. Sitting on the cloud was one like a Son of Man, having a golden crown on His head and a sharp sickle in His hand.” That was the tool of harvest. “And another angel came out of the temple crying with a loud voice to Him who sat on the cloud, ‘Put in your sickle and reap because the hour to reap has come because the harvest of the earth is ripe.’ And He who sat on the cloud swung His sickle over the earth and the earth was reaped.” The next few verses carry the imagery. “Another angel came out of the temple which is in heaven. He also had a sharp sickle and another angel, one who had the power over fire came out of the altar and called with a loud voice to the one who had the sharp sickle and said, ‘Put in your sharp sickle and gather the clusters from the vine of the earth because the grapes are ripe.’ And the angel swung his sickle to the earth and gathered the clusters from the vine of the earth and threw them into the great winepress of the wrath of God.”

The harvest is associated with wrath. Wrath at the end of the tribulation, wrath at any point at the coming of Jesus Christ, it is the wrath of God at the end of time. And so the Lord looks at the people and His heart is just overturned. He is literally sick in His stomach because He sees the future all the way out to the great, horrific wrath of the final harvest. And to compound the matter, back to verse 2, the laborers are few. You’ve got this mass of humanity moving toward judgment and only a few laborers, only a few.

Therefore, prayer was — and remains — important:

That leads to a second essential motive and that is prayer.  You stand there and say, “Well how are we going to do anything about it?”  And the Lord says in verse 2, “Therefore,” in consequence, “beseech,” beg, plead with “the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into His harvest.”  You don’t just pray for the salvation of people. You do that, 1 Timothy 2 makes it clear. “Pray for all men, for kings and those in authority, and everybody else to be saved.” You don’t just do that though. You pray that the Lord will raise up more missionaries, that the Lord will save more and send more.  By the way, the Lord of the harvest, isn’t that an interesting phrase?  Who is the Lord of the harvest?  The judge.  John 5:22 to 29 says, “The Father has committed all judgment to Christ.”  So Christ is going to be the judge.  Christ is the executioner.  This is amazing.  The Lord Himself, the Lord of the harvest says, “Pray to Me and ask Me to send laborers to go out to deliver people from Me.”  It’s amazing.  It is the Lord Himself in 2 Thessalonians 1, the Lord Jesus, who is “revealed from heaven with His mighty angels in flaming fire, dealing out retribution to those who do not know God, to those who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus.”  It is Jesus who is the Lord of the harvest.  It is Jesus who is the one who comes back with the sword in his mouth.  It is Jesus who brings the sickle along with the angels who attend His return.  It is Jesus who is the judge.  It is Jesus who is the executionerAnd it is also Jesus who is the one who hears your prayer and sends the people to deliver those who are perishing from His execution.  You can put it this way. Pray to Jesus to send somebody to deliver people from Jesus.  Pray to the Son of God and ask Him to send more messengers to reach this great harvest to deliver them from the Son of God.  Saved from what?  Saved from hell, yes.  But saved primarily from the God who sends you there and the God who sends you there has delegated that authority to His Son, so the Son says, “Pray to Me and ask Me to send messengers to preach a gospel so sinners can be delivered from Me.”  Amazing.  Amazing depth and profundity.

Jesus told His disciples to go on their way; He was sending them out like lambs into the midst of wolves (verse 3).

In other words, they were to expect rejection, possibly persecution.

However, as Henry says, one of the gifts that Jesus gave the disciples was courage, which would give them fortitude and perseverance:

They must set out with an expectation of trouble and persecution: “Behold, I send you forth as lambs among wolves; but go your ways, and resolve to make the best of it. Your enemies will be as wolves, bloody and cruel, and ready to pull you to pieces; in their threatenings and revilings, they will be as howling wolves to terrify you; in their persecutions of you, they will be as ravening wolves to tear you. But you must be as lambs, peaceable and patient, though made an easy prey of.” It would have been very hard thus to be sent forth as sheep among wolves, if he had not endued them with his spirit and courage.

In the next several verses, Jesus, as He did with the Twelve, instructs the disciples on how to evangelise, beginning with their personal behaviours.

They were not to carry any purse — money bag — or bag for clothes and possessions, no extra pair of sandals; furthermore, He told them not to greet anyone along the way (verse 4).

With regard to material possessions, they were to go with what they had on them already and nothing more. They were to trust that He would ensure they would have what they needed.

With regard to refusing to greet strangers along the way, this refers not to a simple greeting of ‘Hello’ or ‘Good day’ but developing a relationship with people, which could prove to be a distraction.

MacArthur says that Jesus implied urgency with these instructions:

The Lord just collects seventy who have denied themselves, taken up their cross, followed Him. They are genuine and true believers. They have entered into His kingdom. That’s enough, go your way and tell them I’m coming. The mission is immediate. It is urgent. The time is short. The cross is only months away. There are many, many, many villages and towns all across Judea and Perea, across the Jordan, that need to be ready for His coming and they need a full explanation of who He is so that when He gets there they’ll be ready to receive what He has to say. Evangelism is immediate. And I say this, if you are a Christian, I don’t care if you were saved five years ago or you were saved yesterday, start today with your ministry of evangelism. It’s urgent. Today is the day of salvation, 2 Corinthians 6. This is the time, don’t wait.

Henry cites a precedent in the Old Testament for going on a mission without a bag and not to greet strangers along the way:

They must not encumber themselves with a load of provisions, as if they were going a long voyage, but depend upon God and their friends to provide what was convenient for them: “Carry neither a purse for money, nor a scrip or knapsack for clothes or victuals, nor new shoes (as before to the twelve, ch. 9 3); and salute no man by the way.This command Elisha gave to his servant, when he sent him to see the Shunamite’s dead child, 2 Kings 4 29. Not that Christ would have his ministers to be rude, morose, and unmannerly; but, (1.) They must go as men in haste, that had their particular places assigned them, where they must deliver their message, and in their way directly to those places must not hinder or retard themselves with needless ceremonies or compliments. (2.) They must go as men of business, business that relates to another world, which they must be intent in, and intent upon, and therefore must not entangle themselves with conversation about secular affairs. Minister verbi est; hoc age—You are a minister of the word; attend to your office. (3.) They must go as serious men, and men in sorrow. It was the custom of mourners, during the first seven days of their mourning, not to salute any, Job 2 13. Christ was a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief; and it was fit that by this and other signs his messengers should resemble him, and likewise show themselves affected with the calamities of mankind which they came to relieve, and touched with a feeling of them.

MacArthur tells us more about the ancient meeting of greeting someone:

greeting in the ancient Near East was a big event kind of thing. You stayed and you got involved. Don’t depend on friendships to sustain you. Don’t depend on making relationships with people so that they provide for you. Don’t…don’t go the human route. Just go, don’t stop to make relationships, and know this, I will provide even if you have no human relationships to depend on. That’s the great lesson of trust. You’re going to have to be cared for by strangers you don’t even know, people you haven’t even cultivated a relationship with. This is just trust. You go, you trust, wherever God sends you, you go, you preach the gospel, you leave the results to the Lord. If you have nothing, you go, He provides. If you have everything, you go, you use what you have and if you ever come to a point where you have need, you know He’s going to step in and make provision. Don’t worry about the friendship side of it. Keep the message clear … But it is interesting that this was not friendship evangelism which may be…some people may overrate. I think friendship evangelism is good, you should evangelize your friends, but I don’t think you should wait to evangelize someone until after you’ve made a friendship. I don’t think that’s necessary. People are saved by the power of the gospel, not by the power of a friendship.

Jesus told them about where they were to stay and how to handle the initial greeting at those homes.

The disciples were to proclaim peace to that house (verse 5). If someone there shared in that peace, it remained with them, but if someone refused the offer of peace, it would return to the disciples (verse 6).

Henry says:

“You will meet with others that are no ways disposed to hear or heed your message, whole houses that have not one son of peace in them.” Now it is certain that our peace shall not come upon them, they have no part nor lot in the matter; the blessing that rests upon the sons of peace shall never come upon the sons of Belial, nor can any expect the blessings of the covenant that will not come under the bonds of it. But it shall return to us again; that is, we shall have the comfort of having done our duty to God and discharged our trust. Our prayers like David’s shall return into our own bosom (Ps 35 13) and we shall have commission to go on in the work. Our peace shall return to us again, not only to be enjoyed by ourselves, but to be communicated to others, to the next we meet with, them that are sons of peace.

Where they did find a home of peace, the disciples were to stay there and not seek another abode; they were to eat and drink what was provided, as that was to be their only wage (verses 7, 8).

Henry says that we should learn not to be fussy about our hosts’ food nor, as did some of the ancient Jews, enter into rigid beliefs about nourishment:

Be thankful for plain food, and do not find fault, though it be not dressed according to art.” It ill becomes Christ’s disciples to be desirous of dainties. As he has not tied them up to the Pharisees’ superstitious fasts, so he has not allowed the luxurious feasts of the Epicureans. Probably, Christ here refers to the traditions of the elders about their meat which were so many that those who observed them were extremely critical, you could hardly set a dish of meat before them, but there was some scruple or other concerning it; but Christ would not have them to regard those things, but eat what was given them, asking no question for conscience’ sake.

MacArthur has more about our Lord’s proscription on moving from house to house and taking a wage. That is how false prophets made their money:

This was all about authenticating the integrity of the messengers because it was very typical of false prophets, false teachers everywhere who were itinerant, they were like ants, they were all over everywhere And they were looking for the…for the most comfortable situation They were looking for the place where they could get the most money.  They would go into a place; they would go into a home. They would take whatever the home had to offer They would then go somewhere else They would keep moving up the ladder, taking money from as many as they could and bettering their circumstances That was the pattern.  False teachers are always in it for the money They’re always in it for filthy lucre How often do you meet a false teacher, long-term false teacher who hasn’t managed to make money off his lies and deceptions?  That’s why they do what they do.  Some of them make an awful lot.

Typically the itinerant preachers would take advantage of as many people as they could, as many houses as they could and as many comforts as were available Jesus says when you find a worthy place, you find a son of peace, for the sake of fellowship, for the sake of comfort, for the sake of discipleship and for the sake of integrity and sincerity and honesty and as an example that sets you apart from false teachers, stay there, don’t seek a better place Don’t seek any other food than what they give you.  If the food is meager, so be it; if it’s unappetizing, tough luck.  If it’s different than you’re used to, you’ll have to learn to endure it.  Whether it’s clean or unclean, whether it’s idol food, whether it’s a Jewish house or a Gentile house, stay there, accept the accommodations and accept the food Don’t be discontent.  Let them see that you live for the peace gospel; you don’t live for your own personal gain This will set you apart from false teachers very rapidly.

Jesus said that, where people accepted them, the disciples were to cure the sick telling them, ‘The kingdom of God has come near to you’ (verse 9).

What does that message mean?

MacArthur says that the kingdom of God is moving throughout human history, but especially for those sons and daughters of peace, because the long-awaited Messiah was in their midst and would be in person soon:

It has arrived. Eggiz is the Greek verb. It has arrived and nothing can stop it I don’t know if I can give you the picture, but the kingdom is moving and it’s moving through human history and finally the acceptable year of the Lord has arrived, the Messiah is here, the kingdom has come in the fullness of the very King Himself And for the people who were sons of peace, this was the fulfillment of all their dreams, all their aspirations, all their hopes, all their longings, all their desires The kingdom had come for their peace The kingdom had come for their peace.  It’s here now today and for all who believe in the King and submit their lives to Him, all who repent of sin, trust Christ and submit to Him, they enter into the kingdom.  The kingdom is peace to them.  We have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.  When you embrace the King, you enter the kingdom of peace.

However, for those places that did not welcome the disciples (verse 10), Jesus told them to shake the dust off their feet in that place — in the traditional Jewish way — and warn them, ‘Yet know this: the kingdom of God has come near’ (verse 11).

That warning was to be made public, as MacArthur explains:

Don’t steal away quietly in the night. “Go out in the streets and say…” Go right in the middle of the street in that place and make a public announcement.  Expose that rejection at the widest level possible.

The idea is not to pronounce some quiet judgment on rejecters but a public judgment.  Declare openly God’s absolute displeasure with that rejection Make it as public as it possibly can be made.  And make it known that they have rejected the King and the kingdom of peace and then say this, verse 11, “Even the dust of your city which clings to our feet, we wipe off in protest against you.” Can you imagine that vivid thing going on?  They stand in the middle of the town wiping off the dirt from that town from their feet?  That in the ancient Near East was the most demonstrative expression of disdain.  When the Jews went into a Gentile country and came back, they shook the dust off their garments. They washed the dust off their feet so they didn’t bring Gentile dust into the holy land.  That showed their hatred, their disdain for the Gentiles.  And here are the servants of the King, the kingdom messengers, missionaries who came in with the message of grace and a message of peace and a message of salvation and they leave town with a message of judgment, of warning, of condemnation, of disdain, a message literally of punishment We will have nothing to do with you and symbolically, of course, and neither will the King, except to treat you in this same way with the same disdain and the same rejection that you have treated Him.  “If they don’t receive you” means as back in chapter 9 verse 5, “as for those who do not receive you as you go out from that city, shake off the dust from your feet as a testimony against them.”  The apostles did it and now the seventy are doing it Show God’s displeasure openly before the whole town and do it with an abject lesson.

MacArthur says that this applies even today:

It is literally the testimony of God against those rejecters that they are acting out.  You can’t let people sort of come into the church and hear the gospel, or go to them and give them the gospel and then they don’t receive and quietly go away It demands a strong, final gesture, effort, proclamation of the reality of the implications of that rejection That is the last appeal, you see.  You have to understand what you’re doing.

As I was saying in talking to a prominent person not too long ago, at the end of our two-hour conversation, I just said, “You have to understand the consequences. You have to understand the consequences.  To reject Jesus Christ is to be rejected by Jesus Christ and that is to spend all eternity in torment in the punishments of hell.”  I don’t discharge my responsibility if I don’t say that That in itself, while a statement of judgment, is also a last appeal.

So this is the message and this is the messenger’s responsibility Find those who hear, give them the truth, and the kingdom will come in peace.  When you find those who don’t hear, you give them the truth and the kingdom will still come but will come in punishment.  Look at the end of verse 11, how interesting, “Yet be sure of this,” even where a rejection occurs, “be sure of this, the kingdom of God has come near.”  You know, the picture is this, folks, the kingdom of God is moving inexorably through history and you are either getting swept up in the kingdom or crushed by it That’s it.  It is the dominant reality in existence in the spiritual realm.  The kingdom of God is moving. It is moving through the world and it is gathering those who bow to the King in peace and it is crushing those who reject it.  That is the gospel It is good newsBut it is the worst news to those who refuse it The kingdom moves.  Preach the kingdom.  It’s no effort to change the strategy.  There’s no effort to…nothing here that says, “You know if they reject you, go back and retool the gospel.  Hang around and make some friends.”  It doesn’t say that.  Give the gospel, the gospel is the gospel When heard is either believed or rejected When believed it brings peace When rejected it brings punishment But be sure of this, you will not avoid the kingdom.  You will not avoid the King.  Every human being, whoever has lived on the planet will stand one day before the King and either that King will say, “Enter into the joy of your Lord,” or He will say, “Depart from Me, you workers of iniquity.”  But He will render the final judgment on everyone because there’s only one King in the world, there’s only one King in the universe, the King of kings and Lord of lords.  His kingdom is for peace or it is for punishment It is for salvation, forgiveness and heaven, or sin, guilt, judgment and hell.  We are this generation’s kingdom missionaries and God calls us to this same challenging task.

Now we get into some of the Lectionary’s sins, the omitted verses. Their omission proves MacArthur’s point. We can’t just have the positives, we also have to have the warnings. Here they are:

12 I tell you, it will be more bearable on that day for Sodom than for that town.

13 “Woe to you, Chorazin! Woe to you, Bethsaida! For if the miracles that were performed in you had been performed in Tyre and Sidon, they would have repented long ago, sitting in sackcloth and ashes. 14 But it will be more bearable for Tyre and Sidon at the judgment than for you. 15 And you, Capernaum, will you be lifted to the heavens? No, you will go down to Hades.[b]

In verse 12, Jesus meant that any town that rejected His imminent arrival and the word of His disciples would suffer a worse judgement than Sodom.

Henry says that this is because Sodom rejected Lot’s warnings but these towns were rejecting the Messiah and Lord of all who was ministering to the people:

The Sodomites indeed rejected the warning given them by Lot; but rejecting the gospel is a more heinous crime, and will be punished accordingly in that day. He means the day of judgment (v. 14), but calls it, by way of emphasis, that day, because it is the last and great day, the day when we must account for all the days of time, and have our state determined for the days of eternity.

As for verses 13 through 15, you can read more about the significance of our Lord’s mention of them. This is my post from Forbidden Bible Verses, which are also Essential Bible Verses:

Luke 10:13-15 – condemned towns: Chorazin, Bethsaida, Capernaum; Sodom, Tyre and Sidon

Because the people in these towns actually saw and heard Him, yet disbelieved or were indifferent, Jesus says their punishment will be greater than that of Sodom, Tyre and Sidon.

Jesus explained the judgement by saying that whoever rejects the disciples rejects Him and that anyone who rejects Him rejects He who sent Him, meaning God the Father (verse 16).

MacArthur elaborates on the meaning of that verse:

If you think it’s going to be bad in eternity for the people who rejected the law of Moses, it’s going to be worse for the people who’ve rejected Jesus Christ.  There are degrees of punishment in eternityThere are degrees of suffering in hellAnd the more you know about the gospel and reject it, the severer will be your punishment.

To make it very practical, if you’re a non-believer, being in this church and hearing the gospel is high-risk behaviorYou’d be better off to climb Everest in a snowstorm or jump out of an airplane with a parachute with a huge hole in the middle of it.  Or better yet, jump out of an airplane with an umbrella than to sit in this church and listen to the gospel because the implications of rejecting it are so severe forever.  Don’t just come here, sit, know more and more about the gospel and continue in your rejection and not expect to be eternally held accountable for that rejection.  The severest eternal punishment belongs to those who rejected the most exposure to the gospel.

You say, “Why are you telling all this to us?”  Because this is exactly the point of the text.  Let’s go back to Luke 10.  This is the point of this text.  Let me pick up the text in verse 12, Luke 10:12.  “I say to you, it would be more tolerable in that day for Sodom than for that city.  Woe to you, Chorazin, woe to you, Bethsaida, for if the miracles had been performed in Tyre and Sidon which occurred in you, they would have repented long ago sitting in sack cloth and ashes.  But it will be more tolerable for Tyre and Sidon in the judgment than for you.  And you, Capernaum, will not be exalted to heaven, will you?  You will be brought down to Hades,” or hell.  “The one who listens to you listens to Me.  The one who rejects you rejects Me.  And he who rejects Me rejects the One who sent Me.”

The message here is very clearThere are comparative punishments in hell.  The more exposure you have to the glory of Christ, the more potential judgment you will receive if you reject it.

Turn over to the 11th chapter of Luke. This is not an isolated teaching from Jesus, it is oft repeatedIn the 11th chapter of Luke verse 29, the crowds were increasingHe began to say this generation is a wicked generation.  It seeks… It was a religious one, it was steeped in Judaistic religion, but it was wicked by Jesus’ judgment.  “It seeks for a sign and yet no sign shall be given it but the sign of Jonah for just as Jonah became a sign to the Ninevites, so shall the Son of Man be to this generation.  The queen of the south shall rise up with the men of this generation at the judgment and condemn them because she came from the ends of the earth to hear the wisdom of Solomon and behold, something greater than Solomon is here.”

This is an interesting statement.  Jesus is saying the queen of the south, the pagan, Gentile queen at least was so stunned and struck by the glory of Solomon as to come and give honor to Solomon, and here when a pagan woman gave honor to a great king like Solomon, she demonstrated the appropriate response to the glory of a man.  You, who are Jews, who are the people of God’s promise, cannot even give honor to one far greater than Solomon who comes to youAnd so in the Day of Judgment the queen of the south, that is to say a pagan, is going to stand up to your condemnation She showed an attitude toward a man that you didn’t even show toward the Son of God.  You’ll be condemned even by what she did.

Luke’s account then gives us a glimpse of joy as the disciples returned rejoicing that, when they invoked the Lord’s name, even the demons submitted to them (verse 17).

Henry says:

Though only the healing of the sick was mentioned in their commission (v. 19), yet no doubt the casting out of devils was included, and in this they had wonderful success. 1. They give Christ the glory of this: It is through thy name. Note, all our victories over Satan are obtained by power derived from Jesus Christ. We must in his name enter the lists with our spiritual enemies, and, whatever advantages we gain, he must have all the praise; if the work be done in his name, the honour is due to his name. 2. They entertain themselves with the comfort of it; they speak of it with an air of exultation: Even the devils, those potent enemies, are subject to us. Note, the saints have no greater joy or satisfaction in any of their triumphs than in those over Satan. If devils are subject to us, what can stand before us?

MacArthur expands on the theme of joy:

Joy is the operative word. We’re going to talk about joy here. The seventy returned with joy. Nobody died in this effort. They were willing. They came back and after going out in all these towns and being rejected in many places, being certainly put out of town, run off, having to give warnings, shake dust off their garments, pronounce judgment. They also had spiritual success. There also, as always, was a remnant out there that responded positively. They gave up their lives. They gave up their comfort, their money, their popularity. And what they got in return for that was joy. They returned after their first effort into these various towns and villages all over the place where Jesus was going to eventually come. And they were full of joy. And we ask the question immediately, “Where did the joy come from?” In the light of such a demanding call to discipleship, where did the joy come from? …

Reason number one: divine power over Satan’s kingdom, divine power over Satan’s kingdom. Verse 17, “And the seventy returned with joy saying, ‘Lord, even the demons are subject to us in Your name'” …

The key phrase, “in Your name.” That is, by Your power. There was no other power that could command demons. You remember the exorcist in the 19th chapter of Acts, they were trying to cast out demons and the demons said, “Jesus we know, and Paul we know, but who are you?” You have no authority over us. It may…it may not have been that they even particularly went to cast out demons, it doesn’t say when it tells about the power they had back earlier in chapter 10. It says in verse 9, “They had power to heal the sick.” It doesn’t say specifically that they were given power to cast out demons, they may have been. But it may well have been that when they were preaching the gospel, the power of the gospel was delivering people who responded and believed and therefore the demons were thus overpowered and perhaps manifestly so. They saw the power of Christ flowing through them, conquering the power of Satan …

In other words, you’re going to invade the kingdom of darkness and rescue the souls of men and womenPaul says that was my commission and I was obedient to it.  Well who wouldn’t be?  What a calling.  And it’s true for us.  I mean, think of how your life really should matter.  When you go out and faithfully proclaim the gospel of Jesus Christ, you literally invade the kingdom of darkness to rescue the souls there.  Through your faithfulness to the proclamation of the message, the power of God flows to awaken the dead, give sight to the blind, and rescue the perishing as the old hymn put it, out of the kingdom of darkness, literally, Colossians 1:13, transferring them from the kingdom of darkness into the kingdom of God’s dear Son.  This is what we do.  Is that cause for joy?  To have your life matter like that?  What else matters?

Jesus said that He knew of their success against the powers of darkness, telling them that He saw Satan fall from heaven like a flash of lightning (verse 18).

MacArthur explains the Greek words from the original manuscript:

You guys were out there, you were preaching, people were hearing, they were being delivered.  I was watching.  I was watching, theōreō in the imperfect tense. I was a spectator continuously.  It’s not talking about a one-time event, the fall.  Not talking about a one-time event, the temptation.  Not talking about a one-time event, the future, although I think He saw the future fall of Satan in that.  I think that was in certainly in His mind and in His view.  But for this moment He was saying, “I was watching Satan fall from heaven like lightning.”  Have you ever been in a lightning storm?  Sha-koom! And then it’s black.  Sha-koom! And then it’s black.  Choo! And then it’s black. And choo! It’s black.  And I was watching you.  Satan in a final flash and then the soul was rescued and he was goneThen I saw it again.  Then I saw it again.  Then I saw it again.  Then I saw it again.

Jesus told the disciples that He had given them authority over all unpleasant beasts, such as snakes and scorpions — synonymous with evil spirits — and over the power of the enemy; therefore, nothing could hurt them (verse 19).

‘See’ in that verse is sometimes translated as ‘Behold’, an emphatic word that demands attention.

MacArthur has more on this verse:

The thought might be, “You know, we could get ourselves in trouble with the forces of hell and that might not be too good.”  So immediately in verse 19 Jesus says this, “Behold,” a startling fact is coming, that’s why He uses this term “behold.”  “Behold, I” love that, the divine sovereign Lord have given you, perfect tense in the past with continuing effect, I have permanently given you exousia, dominance, right, authority, “power to tread upon serpents and scorpions and over all the power of the enemy and nothing shall injure you.”  Wow!  They might not like you and they might want to stop you but they can’t.  I, the sovereign divine Lord, have given you permanently as My own the power and dominance that gives you the right to tread upon serpents and scorpions.  Sounds like the Marine image, doesn’t it?  Serpents and scorpions… He’s not talking about the literal animals, bugsThat’s metaphorical for demonsSatan is viewed as a serpentIn the book of Revelation chapter 9, demons have tails like scorpions and a scorpion king over them. The angel of the abyss called Abaddon and Apollyon.  In Revelation 16 demons are like slimy frogs.  These deadly kinds of creatures, serpents and scorpions, are metaphors for the subtle, sneaky, deadly demons.  Those are well-known symbols, by the way, of evil spirits.

Jesus concluded by saying that, while that power was a real cause for joy, there was a greater one: the fact that their names were written in heaven (verse 20). Therefore, they would know salvation.

MacArthur explains the reference to names written in a book, an ancient custom of the time:

In Jewish thinking there was a Book of Life. Exodus 32:32 and 33 talks about it, Psalm 69:28 talks about it, Isaiah 4:3, Daniel 12:1, Revelation 3:5, Revelation 13:8. There was a Book of Life and God has written the names of His own in the book.  That’s the way they did it in ancient timesIn towns they had a book and all the citizens who were in good standing were in the bookGod has a book and all the citizens of heaven have their name thereAnd He says your names are there because you’re My true disciplesIf you’re going to rejoice supremely, rejoice in that.

I would like to close with an observation from MacArthur which is particularly pertinent to atheists and agnostics.

People have said to me, ‘He’s your God, not mine. I have nothing to fear from a so-called Last Judgement.’

MacArthur explains that unbelievers live in a kingdom, just as believers live in the kingdom of God. Both kingdoms will fall under divine judgement:

… when you become a Christian, you enter a kingdom.  In fact, the apostle Paul in Colossians 1:13 says you’re delivered out of the kingdom of darkness into the kingdom of His dear Son.  Lest people get the wrong idea, if you’re not in the kingdom of God, that doesn’t mean you’re free, you’re just in the kingdom of darkness and you’re under another sovereign, and that sovereign is Satan and you’re a slave to sin Everybody lives in a kingdom You just live in the kingdom of darkness or the kingdom of light, the kingdom of Satan, or the kingdom of the Savior.  You live in a kingdom.  You are subject to the authority and the power of the enemy of your soul, or you are subject to the authority and power of the Savior of your soul.  You are either in the kingdom that ends up in hell, or the kingdom that ends up in heaven.  You’re either a slave to sin, or a servant of righteousness.  Don’t be under any illusion that somehow coming into the kingdom of God takes away all your freedom You really have no freedom except the freedom to sin You can choose your poison, that’s all.

This is how you must view the spiritual realities of life

I wish when we preached the gospel we talked more about it like that We talk so much about sharing Christ, like you’re inviting people to get in on something that’s the sort of superficially enjoyable What we’re asking people to do is to come into a kingdom and submit their lives entirely to a King, an absolute monarch who has the right to determine everything without our consultation and who has revealed His will to us in the pages of the Word of God and calls on us to live in absolute submission and obedience to that revelation.  It’s not about your self-satisfaction. It’s not about your self-promotion or your self-fulfillment. It says: We’ve been saying about self-submission and self-suicide, it’s the end of you because you’ve had enough of you. You refuse to associate any longer with the person you are.  You’re sick of the kingdom of darkness, you’re sick of the kingdom of sin and Satan and you are now ready to submit yourself to the benevolent, gracious, loving Lord and King Jesus Christ who will give you forgiveness of your sins and the promise of eternal blessing in His perfect kingdom.

There is a sense in which God is King over the whole universe, His kingdom rules over all, Psalm 103 says.  But we’re not talking about that sort of universal kingdom, the realm of His creation.  We’re talking about the spiritual kingdom in which He rules over the souls of those who have come to Him through Christ This is what we preach, but we preach a kingdom and nothing less and we preach a King and no one less and this King is an absolute monarch.  That is why it says in Romans 10 that if you want to be saved, you must confess Jesus as (what?) Lord.  And Lord is the name above every name.  Lord is the name in which every knee bows.  Lord is a synonym for King.

My sincere thanks to anyone who made it this far, however, this reading has several eternal truths which needed exposition and explanation.

May everyone have a blessed Sunday.

The First Sunday after Trinity is June 19, 2022.

Readings for Year C can be found here.

The Gospel reading is as follows (emphases mine):

Luke 8:26-39

8:26 Then they arrived at the country of the Gerasenes, which is opposite Galilee.

8:27 As he stepped out on land, a man of the city who had demons met him. For a long time he had worn no clothes, and he did not live in a house but in the tombs.

8:28 When he saw Jesus, he fell down before him and shouted at the top of his voice, “What have you to do with me, Jesus, Son of the Most High God? I beg you, do not torment me”

8:29 for Jesus had commanded the unclean spirit to come out of the man. (For many times it had seized him; he was kept under guard and bound with chains and shackles, but he would break the bonds and be driven by the demon into the wilds.)

8:30 Jesus then asked him, “What is your name?” He said, “Legion”; for many demons had entered him.

8:31 They begged him not to order them to go back into the abyss.

8:32 Now there on the hillside a large herd of swine was feeding; and the demons begged Jesus to let them enter these. So he gave them permission.

8:33 Then the demons came out of the man and entered the swine, and the herd rushed down the steep bank into the lake and was drowned.

8:34 When the swineherds saw what had happened, they ran off and told it in the city and in the country.

8:35 Then people came out to see what had happened, and when they came to Jesus, they found the man from whom the demons had gone sitting at the feet of Jesus, clothed and in his right mind. And they were afraid.

8:36 Those who had seen it told them how the one who had been possessed by demons had been healed.

8:37 Then all the people of the surrounding country of the Gerasenes asked Jesus to leave them; for they were seized with great fear. So he got into the boat and returned.

8:38 The man from whom the demons had gone begged that he might be with him; but Jesus sent him away, saying,

8:39 “Return to your home, and declare how much God has done for you.” So he went away, proclaiming throughout the city how much Jesus had done for him.

Commentary comes from Matthew Henry and John MacArthur.

This is the famous story of the Gadarene Swine, covered in the three Synoptic Gospels, Matthew, Mark and Luke.

I wrote about Matthew’s version in Forbidden Bible Verses and also in my Apologetics Corner series, here and here.

In Luke 8, just before this tremendous episode, Jesus had calmed a sea storm. The disciples had been terrified by its power. Jesus rebuked them for having such little faith.

Matthew Henry’s commentary states:

5. Christ’s business is to lay storms, as it is Satan’s business to raise them. He can do it; he has done it; he delights to do it: for he came to proclaim peace on earth. He rebuked the wind and the raging of the water, and immediately they ceased (v. 24); not, as at other times, by degrees, but all of a sudden, there was a great calm. Thus Christ showed that, though the devil pretends to be the prince of the power of the air, yet even there he has him in a chain.

6. When our dangers are over, it becomes us to take to ourselves the shame of our own fears and to give to Christ the glory of his power. When Christ had turned the storm into a calm, then were they glad because they were quiet, Ps 107 30. And then, (1.) Christ gives them a rebuke for their inordinate fear: Where is your faith? v. 25. Note, Many that have true faith have it to seek when they have occasion to use it. They tremble, and are discouraged, if second causes frown upon them. A little thing disheartens them; and where is their faith then? (2.) They give him the glory of his power: They, being afraid, wondered. Those that had feared the storm, now that the danger was over with good reason feared him that had stilled it, and said one to another, What manner of man is this! They might as well have said, Who is a God like unto thee? For it is God’s prerogative to still the noise of the seas, the noise of their waves, Ps 65 7.

Henry introduces our Gospel reading:

II. His power over the devil, the prince of the power of the air. In the next passage of story he comes into a closer grapple with him than he did when he commanded the winds. Presently after the winds were stilled they were brought to their desired haven, and arrived at the country of the Gadarenes, and there went ashore (v. 26, 27); and he soon met with that which was his business over, and which he thought it worth his while to go through a storm to accomplish.

Luke tells us that the country of the Gerasenes is opposite Galilee (verse 26).

John MacArthur describes the scene for us:

Starting in verse 26, they sailed, remember now, the storm was stilled by Jesus, they finished their little trip across the north section of the lake, the Sea of Galilee, really seeking some rest from the huge crowds that just literally never left Jesus alone. Jesus had gotten in a boat with the apostles and disciples. There were a lot of other boats. There was a little flotilla of followers of Jesus going away for some rest and perhaps some private instruction. Jesus, remember now, from this point on in His ministry in Galilee spoke only in parables and only to His own disciples did He explain their meaning so there was always a public meeting and then a private meeting when the explanation was given. So off they went following Jesus on a clear night only to find that a storm came up. Jesus stilled the storm. It had blown them off course so they have to sort of regroup, head the direction they need to go and they arrive there probably just at daybreak, sailing to the country of the Gerasenes which is opposite Galilee. It’s opposite the Galilee which had to do primarily with the western part, the western shore of the Sea of Galilee. So they’re across on the eastern shore to the country of the Gerasenes.

I just need to comment on that. Luke and Mark use Gerasenes. Matthew calls them Gadarenes. Some Greek texts use Gergesenes. I don’t want to get into a big convoluted explanation of all of that. I think it’s relatively simple. There was a town there about six miles due east called Gerasa, or Gergesa, hence the Gerasenes, or the Gergesenes. The modern name is Kersa. There was another town called Gadara which explains why some of the writers refer to it as Gadara. Gadara was further south down the lake and further inland. It wasn’t on the edge of the lake and so it doesn’t provide the right topography to be the place where the pigs ran down the hill into the lake. Gadara, however, was a larger town and gave the name to the region, so that Gerasa or Gergesa was a town in the country of the Gadarenes. So, all of these terms essentially describe the same area. The focus is on the town of Gergesa or Gerasa because it suits the incident so perfectly. There are around Kersa, modern Kersa, in the hillsides many tombs still to this day to be seen and there is a slope that descends to the lake where the pigs could run…tombs being the place where this man was dwelling.

MacArthur says that the demons Jesus encountered during His ministry were unusual in both the Old and New Testaments:

It is a curiosity to me that if you go through the Old Testament you’re not going to find demon-possessed people with the exception of the very unique situation in the 6th chapter of Genesis where the sons of God and cohabitated with the daughters of men, that unique situation where apparently some fallen angels came upon some women. Apart from that… And those demons, you remember, according to what Peter said and Jude said were put into everlasting chains for doing that. But apart from that you don’t have any demon-possessed people in the Old TestamentYou have a lying spirit, you have the appearance of a medium in connection with the demon, but you don’t have people manifesting that they’re full of demons.  Interestingly enough that after the four gospels you only have two occasions, Acts 16 and Acts 19, where you have a demon-possessed situationAnd it’s never even referred to in the epistles of the New Testament, never referred toIt wasn’t an issue in the churches to which the apostle Paul wrote, or John wrote, or Jude wrote, or Peter wrote or James wroteBut in the life of Christ and in the three years of His ministry there is a manifestation of demon possessions that is unlike anything in all of human history, to be exceeded only by the manifestation of demonic power in the time yet to come called the Great Tribulation, just prior to Christ’s Second ComingAnd God Himself will aide that manifestation by opening up the pit of hell and the place of bound demons called the pit, the bottomless pit, the abussos, the abyss and letting it belch out some demons who have been bound there so that there is a greater force of demons in the time of the tribulation than ever before and they are allowed to run rampant over the earth in ways prior to which they have been restrained.

At His Second Coming, Jesus will subdue Satan and his angels.

Returning to our text, when Jesus reached land, a demon-possessed man from the city went to meet Him. It had been a long time since the man wore clothes; he lived not in his house but in the tombs (verse 27).

Students of the Gospels will ask whether there was one man or two.

MacArthur says:

In Matthew 8:28 Matthew says there were two men. There were two men.  He had a compatriot, perhaps equally demon possessed and equally bizarre, and equally deadly and dangerous. But in all the accounts, the one man becomes the focus, so we really don’t know what happened to the second man.  Two of them appeared. The focus of the story is on one man.  Perhaps he was included in the deliverance, perhaps he was not.

MacArthur says the man was naked because he was possessed by these many demons and was far removed from his right mind:

I like to think of this man, I guess the best word I can think of to use is maniac. The definition of maniac is a person exhibiting extreme symptoms of wild behavior. And that’s exactly what you have here. This man is so out of control as not to even be defined in human terms. It’s just so bizarre, so far beyond … Here we’re going to see the greatest exhibition of power over the forces of hell to this point in Scripture. Jesus vanquishes this mass of demons in this horrific individual

Anybody without Christ then is under the rule of Satan and under the influence of his demons and therefore anybody who is a sinner who is not protected by salvation through Jesus Christ is therefore vulnerable. What the entry points are, I’m not sure I can be explicit about in every case. I can say this, that as you study the Scripture, idolatry seems to be a way to throw the door open. Tampering in the occult seems to be a way to throw the door open. But that is not so say the most tormented people were necessarily the worst sinners. This is a Gentile man outside of Israel, so he was involved, if in any religion at all, in some pagan religion. It may have been, as most of them were occultic, and that may have thrown the door open to him, but he’s not any worse. In fact, as the story ends, the people who are the worst people in the story are the townspeople who were sane enough to bind this man up but not willing to believe in the man who delivered him, the God-Man Jesus Christ. So who is really the maniac?

I don’t know that there’s any way to say except that God allows Satan to do his work and demons have their agenda. And within God’s allowance, they pick and choose who they will. It isn’t that these people are worse sinners because what happens to them is not just an expression of their evil heart; it is for them a demonic torment. This man wasn’t happy about his condition, he was tormented by it

Now the person is not necessarily more evil and that gives entrance to the demon, but once the demons come in then evil becomes accelerated. Evil becomes manifest in some cases beyond what can even be discussed or described or understood humanly. They can become so infested by demons, so literally dominated by forces of unclean spirits as to conduct themselves in ways as we’ve been pointing out, that are absolutely beyond description humanly. And that’s this man. Let’s look at some of the characteristics of his conduct.

First of all, it says he hadn’t put on any clothing for a long time. You say, “Well that’s really strange. What’s that about?” Well it’s about perversion. It’s about shamelessness. You remember in the 19th chapter of Acts, I think it’s about verse 16, the evil spirit there pounces on these people and strips off their clothes? From the time that Adam and Eve sinned there has been a shame associated with human nakedness because from the time of their sin on they had lustful and perverted thoughts. And they knew that. And immediately the first thing they did was make coverings. But theirs was only temporarily made out of leaves. God came, killed an animal which is a picture of His Son who had become the final covering, and He covered them with a more permanent garment. And from then on uncovering someone’s nakedness was tantamount to sexual evil. That little phrase “uncovering someone’s nakedness,” you find it in the Pentateuch. It’s tantamount to sexual perversion and evil. The Bible is very clear about clothing and about modesty and about covering. Nakedness is a sign of shamelessness. It is a sign of sexual perversion. I’m talking all the way from the naturalists at the nudist colony to the pornographers at the other end and everything in between. It’s aberrant. But not only was it aberrant, it was also a torment for the man. It gets cold and it gets hot and there are extremes of weather in that part of the world. This was a kind of torment for him as the demons had dominated him and turned him into a shameless, perverted, evil person …

Now it says he was not living in a house but he was living in tombs. Obviously you couldn’t have somebody like this in a house. What would we do with him today? What would we do with somebody like him? We’d put him in prison, right? We’d put him in prison and then you have to isolate him so they can’t get near anybody, or put him in a padded cell. I remember some years back when people who behaved like this were put in straight-jackets. Remember that? I’ve seen people in those things in mental institutions. Now today what is done with people who have this kind of potentiality is they put them on drugs and when they slaughter a bunch of people, such as the Andrea Yates thing, we say the problem was, “She didn’t take her medication.” Demons can’t be medicated but since the human body can be medicated, it becomes less useful to them when it’s medicated. But in those days they couldn’t control them with medication. They didn’t have a mental institution to put them in. They didn’t have a padded cell to put them in.

Furthermore, he was suicidal.  He was a danger to himself.  Mark 5:5 says, “Night and day he was gashing and hacking at his naked body with sharp stones.”  He was mutilating himself because Satan is a murderer, is he not?  He is a killer.  He is an abaddon, he is a destroyer.  And his demons are the same.  Here is a man literally taking sharp rocks and gashing his body.  Mark 5:3 and 4 says nobody could control him. The demon power was too great.  He was violent and he was not only harmful to himself but he frankly was absolutely deadly to other people because he had murderous intentIn the account in Matthew it says he along with his friend, the two of them, were so exceedingly violent that no one could pass by the road.  You couldn’t even walk along the road below where they were because they were so violent they would come screaming down the hill.  It says they would scream, they would shriek, run down the hill nakedness with the intention of doing harm, taking life.  They are really the most manifest bearers of the mark of satanic personality.  They would then stay up in their tombs, as we’ll see, and when people came on the road, screaming and shrieking in nakedness they would run down the hill with the intent to attack, to maim and to kill.  This is what Satan wants to do.

When the man saw Jesus, his demons spoke through him, saying to our Lord, ‘What business do you have with me, Jesus, Son of the Most High God? I beg You, do not torment me’ (verse 28).

Note that even demons recognise that Jesus is Lord. Put that to your atheist and agnostic friends sometime. See how they react.

Demons know that they are living on borrowed time. One day, Jesus, through the power of God, will defeat them permanently.

Henry explains:

4. They are much enraged against our Lord Jesus, and have a great dread and horror of him: When the man whom they had possession of, and who spoke as they would have him, saw Jesus, he roared out as one in an agony, and fell down before him, to deprecate his wrath, and owned him to be the Son of God most high, that was infinitely above him and too hard for him; but protested against having any league or confederacy with him (which might sufficiently have silenced the blasphemous cavils of the scribes and Pharisees): What have I to do with thee? The devils have neither inclination to do service to Christ nor expectation to receive benefit by him: What have we to do with thee? But they dreaded his power and wrath: I beseech thee, torment me not. They do not say, I beseech thee, save me, but only, Torment me not. See whose language they speak that have only a dread of hell as a place of torment, but no desire of heaven as a place of holiness and love.

5. They are perfectly at the command, and under the power, of our Lord Jesus; and they knew it, for they besought him that he would not command them to go eis ton abyssoninto the deep, the place of their torment, which they acknowledge he could easily and justly do. O what a comfort is this to the Lord’s people, that all the powers of darkness are under the check and control of the Lord Jesus! He has them all in a chain. He can send them to their own place, when he pleaseth.

MacArthur tells us:

“What do I have to do with You, Jesus, Son of the Most High God?”  I’m telling you, the demons’ theology is orthodox. They know who Jesus is.  There were disciples there who weren’t sure.  The demons know.  It is a strange and bizarre testimony to the reality of who Jesus Christ is.  “What do I have to do with You, Jesus, Son of the Most High God?”  It’s very much like that other demon in the 4th chapter who said essentially the same thing.  In chapter 4 the demon said, “What do we have to do with You, Jesus of Nazareth. I know who You are, the Holy One of God.”  And here in an amazing way God gives testimony to the identity of His Son through demons, amazing.

By the way, they are timeless, they are ageless.  They were created at one time. They do not reproduce. They are as old as creation.  They have vast knowledge. They were originally holy angelsThey have vast knowledge of the personality of God and the Godhead, and they knew exactly who Jesus was.

“What do I have to do with You, Jesus?  What’s this all about?”  As if to say, “Why are You here?  What’s this about?  I beg You, do not torment me.”  He calls Him, “Son of the Most High God.”  We’ve discussed that term because it was used in chapter 1. When the angel came to announce the birth of the Messiah, he said He would be the Son of the Most High God and God would give to Him His kingdom.  It’s a New Testament term taken from the Old Testament. The Most High God is El Elyon. It means “God, the sovereign one, God the sovereign Lord.” And so what they’re saying is, “Son of the sovereign Lord.”  Often in the Old Testament “the Most High God” is followed by the statement, “possessor of heaven and earth.”  They know this is the Lord of heaven and earth. This is the Creator God in human form.  This is God the Son, the One who is Most High.  The demons knew Him well.  Even Satan knew Him well.  Remember back in chapter 4 when Satan confronted Him, he said, “Since You are the Son of God,” do this, do this.  Since You are the Son of God do this, do this.  The devils know exactly who He is.

The demons had said that to Jesus because He commanded them to leave the man; the unclean spirit they made up within him caused him to break his shackles, which the townspeople had put him in, and go out into the wilderness, or the desert, in some translations (verse 29).

Jesus asked the man for his name, and the demons replied through him, ‘Legion’, for they were many (verse 30).

The demons numbered themselves as soldiers in the Roman Empire. The size of a Roman legion varied throughout the centuries, but, much of the time, there were more than 3,000 men in a single legion.

How this poor man must have suffered through the years, day after day. It’s horrible.

Because they knew the power of Jesus, they begged Him not to send them to the abyss, where they are eventually doomed in defeat (verse 31).

Their destiny is ultimately under our Lord’s control at all times. Note that they had to ask His permission not to go into the abyss.

On the hillside, a herd of swine were feeding, so the demons begged — yes, begged — His permission to enter them; Jesus granted them permission (verse 32).

MacArthur says:

they didn’t want Him to send them, verse 31, to the abyss, to the abussos, the bottomless pit. It’s called the bottomless pit in the book of Revelation, you read about it in chapter 9, chapter 11, chapter 17. “Don’t send us into the abyss.” That is the present place of demon incarceration. As many demons as there are in the world, thankfully by the goodness of God, His providential common grace, not all the demons that exist are running loose in the world. In fact, 2 Peter 2:4 and Jude 6 and 7, both those places tell us that the demons that possess the people described in Genesis 6 were at that time put in everlasting chains and sent to that bottomless pit from which they will never be released. So there are eternally, or permanently bound demons, ultimately in the end they will all go to the final incarceration in the lake of fire. But there are today bound demons who are bound permanently. Also in this abussos, this bottomless pit there are some demons bound temporarily because in the ninth chapter of Revelation we find in the time of the Great Tribulation to come, God’s going to open up that bit and belching out of that pit are going to come forth some demons to add to the demon force that runs amuck on the earth during the time of the Great Tribulation when Satan has his final heyday under Antichrist. But there is a place where many of the demons are currently incarcerated so that their power is in some way limited in the world. These demons say, “We don’t want to go there before the time. Don’t send us there yet, we want our freedom. Please don’t send us there.”

Henry’s commentary raises an interesting point about the herd owners’ loss of an occupation:

When the devil at first brought man into a miserable state he brought a curse likewise upon the whole creation, and that became subject to enmity. And here, as an instance of that extensive enmity of his, when he could not destroy the man, he would destroy the swine. If he could not hurt them in their bodies, he would hurt them in their goods, which sometimes prove a great temptation to men to draw them from Christ, as here. Christ suffered them to enter into the swine, to convince the country what mischief the devil could do in it, if he should suffer him.

Therefore, this was a demonstration that the demons affected not only the poor man, but others in that town, who probably were a bit sanctimonious about themselves with regard to his plight.

The demons left the man and entered the swine, then the whole herd rushed down the steep bank into the lake, where they all drowned (verse 33).

Henry says:

No sooner had the devils leave than they entered into the swine; and no sooner had they entered into them than the herd ran violently down a steep place into the lake, and were drowned. For it is a miracle of mercy if those whom Satan possesses are not brought to destruction and perdition.

When the swineherds saw what had happened, they ran into the city and adjoining countryside to tell everyone (verse 34).

It was an extraordinary event, as MacArthur explains:

Two thousand pigs careening down a hill, drowning? By the way, from what I’ve read, pigs can swim. But the point was, the demons slaughtered them all. Why? Well, first of all, to show that the man had been delivered, visual, physical proof. Secondly, to reveal the deadly intent of demons to kill. Also, as I said, to reveal the power of Jesus over the kingdom of darkness. That was a tremendous and dramatic illustration that this man had been delivered because the pigs acted in the kind of frenzy and self-destruction that characterized the man. They became maniac pigs. The testimony is convincing. This man definitely had demons. They’re gone because the pigs are behaving like the man did.

And that’s what people concluded. Verse 34, “When the herdsmen saw what had happened, they ran away and reported in the city and out in the country.” They were eyewitnesses. Whoever was working for the owner of the pigs, these men who were taking care of 2,000 pigs, they saw what happened, they reported it in the city and out in the country. The bottom line is it’s another way to say they couldn’t stop talking about it. Everywhere they went they...I mean, they had never seen anything like this in their entire lives, they were probably experienced with pigs and pigs don’t just uniformly all at once dive off a cliff and kill themselves. The most powerful, startling, amazing event of their lives by far and they spread it everywhere. They can’t stop talking about it, everywhere they went they said, “It…it’s inexplicable.” They heard the conversation between Jesus and the man, at least they saw the conversation going on because it says the pigs were nearby. They knew about this man, if they herded pigs in that area they knew about that man, they knew about the maniacal character of that man. And all of a sudden this thing takes place and it’s just the most amazing thing ever. And so they become heralds, as it were, telling everybody about it.

Naturally, people began coming to the site where this had happened, and they saw Jesus, with the now fully restored man, also fully clothed, sitting at His feet; they were afraid (verse 35).

MacArthur brings us back to the terror that people felt when Jesus performed other miracles and calmed storms. They instinctively knew that they were in the presence of the Most High God, and they were ashamed of their own weaknesses, especially their sins:

Well the reaction at the end of verse 35, “They became frightened,” from the word phobeo from which we get phobia. They were terrified is basically what it was. Here again we see the same thing. We see it all the way through the gospel of Luke, people who realize they’re in the presence of the power of God are scared, frightened, traumatized, terrified. And it is so throughout particularly this chapter, back in verse 25 when Jesus stilled the storm, stopped the wind and the waves. It says they were fearful, they were frightened there, they were panicked there. We see it throughout the rest of the chapter as we will note later that people are literally terrified every time Jesus does a miracle, whether it’s a healing or the raising of a dead person, it creates a certain amount of terror in people because they know they’re in the presence of the power of God and that is a holy presence and they are sinful people.

That leads us then to the third power demonstrated here, the damning power of sin…the damning power of sin. The demons exert a power, the Lord Jesus brings His great delivering power, but we also see the terrible damning power of sin. It is the nature of sin to blind. It is the nature of sin to hate the truth. It is the nature of sin to reject proof. It is the nature of sin to resist righteousness. It is the nature of sin to cling tightly to the love of iniquity. Here you have irrefutable evidence that Jesus is the power of God. Here you have a miracle that is so massive that demonstrates not His power over the physical realm, but His power over the supernatural realm, His power over the spiritual world, His power over the forces of evil, to deliver men from evil. You see this without any argument, without any debate. They don’t discuss it. They don’t debate it. They know what has happened. It terrifies them.

Those who had seen the miracle told these people how Jesus had healed the man (verse 36).

Interestingly, instead of thanking Jesus for restoring local peace at long last and inviting Him to stay, they all told Him to leave; they were that frightened. So, He went into the boat and left (verse 37).

Henry makes this observation:

Those lose their Saviour, and their hopes in him, that love their swine better.

They displayed the same spiritual blindness as did the Jewish hierarchy.

MacArthur expands on their extraordinarily negative response:

instead of saying “thank you,” and “how do we get delivered?” you notice verse 36, “Those who had seen it reported to them how the man who was demon possessed had been made well.” This is an interesting verse. They want to know what happened…what happened…give us the details…how did this happen? They’re terrified of Jesus, what’s going on here? And so those who had seen it told them the full story of how the man who was demon possessed had been made well, esothe(?), from sozo, had been saved…sozo-to be saved. How the man had been delivered. And they gave them the full story, details of which aren’t given to us. I’m sure they said, “Well, you won’t believe how it happened. The guy came down the hill and…” And they, they must have been, as I said earlier, close enough to see the engagement and the encounter and to even hear what went on. The man had been delivered, not just from Satan, but I believe he’d been delivered from sin, or at least he was, when those people heard the discussion, beginning to awaken to the forgiveness and the salvation that Jesus had offered which I believe became completed, and I’ll show you why in a moment.

You know, you think sinners would really be convinced if you just had a powerful enough miracle. No, no, you don’t understand the power of sin. You know, if you could just figure a clever enough way to pronounce the gospel, if you could just figure an attractive enough way to present Jesus Christ, if you could just get a powerful enough exhibit of the life of Jesus Christ and His miracle might, boy, people would really be convinced. No…no, the damning power of sin just obliterates reality. The idea that sinners will be convinced by a powerful miracle…a powerful miracle isn’t true.

Well what did the Jews do? They saw miracle after miracle after miracle after miracle after miracle for three years. And at the end of that time what did they do? They wanted Him dead. The Gentiles weren’t any different. I can’t imagine a more powerful, clear example of the saving power of Jesus Christ than this. I can’t imagine a more dramatic event than sending thousands of demons out of a man with a word. And the proof of it in the drowning of this herd of pigs. I…rationally you’ve got to fall down and say, “This is the power of God.” But the truth of the matter is, this is hard soil back from Jesus’ story in the eighth chapter verses 5 and 12, hard soil, the seed of the truth falls just like falling on concrete, it doesn’t penetrate.

What was their reaction? Verse 37, “All the people,” apparently without exception, “All the people of the country of the Gerasenes and the surrounding district, everybody.” Apparently you’ve got a big crowd out there. “All of them asked Him to depart from them. Go away.”

Why? “For they were gripped with phobe, you know, fear megala, great fear, massive fear. What were they terrified of? After all, hadn’t He brought safety where there was danger? Hadn’t He brought peace where there was chaos? What was to be afraid of? What was to be afraid of was they knew they were in the presence of God? They knew they were seeing the great power of God and they knew it was a holy power, a purging, purifying, cleansing power that dispensed with evil and they therefore knew that they were exposed to sinners. And loving their evil so much they wanted to get rid of the intimidation. Even Peter had that reaction when Jesus commanded the fish to come to his boat and he said in Luke 5:8, “Depart from me, O Lord, for I am a…what?…sinful man.” It’s the intimidation of holiness in the presence of sin that causes them to want Jesus to go away. Instead of saying, “Thank You, thank You for delivering us, could You go up and get his friend up there, that other guy and do to him what You’ve done to this man? And could You tell us how we can be delivered from whatever satanic influences exist in our lives? And could You tell us how we can be forgiven of our sin? And could You tell us how this holy power could come upon us?”

They don’t say that. There’s not a word of thanks for the deliverance from the danger of the man. They see Jesus as a greater danger than that man. They would rather have a maniac than the Son of God. They would rather be terrified by Satan than terrified by God. They would rather endure the presence of demonic danger than the presence of divine deliverance. They preferred the unholy to the holy. They preferred a tomb dweller over the Lord of life. Just like Israel. They were not asking Jesus to go away because He messed with their economy, killing their pigs. They weren’t asking Him to go away because they were materialists and not spiritualists and they were mad at Him for what He had done. The whole town and the whole region wanted Him to go away because they were terrified of His holiness. You know, the world is really comfortable with pigs and maniacs, but it’s not comfortable with Jesus Christ, is it? Not the Son of God. David Gooding writes, “What a sad comment on man’s fallen and unregenerate state it is that man should feel more at home with demons than with the Christ who has the power to cast them out. Who would try to help a criminal or a drunkard, or if they should prove incorrigible would want the one imprisoned and the other put into a hospital find it embarrassing and somewhat frightening if that criminal or drunkard is saved by Christ and turned into a wholesome regenerate disciple.” That’s really true…it’s really true. They would rather have a maniac than a Christian. They would rather have the presence of Satan than the presence of Christ. This is the blindness and the damning darkness and ignorance of sin.

And so, sad note, it says verse 37, “He got into a boat and returned.” He never came back, by the way. One time…one day…one occasion…they said, “Get out.” He got into a boat and went back to Capernaum. Was it an insult? Yes. It was more, it was a damning rejection and Jesus never ever came back.

Not surprisingly, the man who had been healed begged Jesus to allow him to be a disciple, but Jesus sent him away, saying (verse 38) that he should return to his home and declare how much God has done for him. Obediently, the man went away, proclaiming to the city just how much Jesus had done for him (verse 39).

Henry says that it is possible that the man’s words might have gained traction once the Gerasenes recovered from what had happened:

Perhaps Christ knew that, when the resentment of the loss of their swine was a little over, they would be better disposed to consider the miracle, and therefore left the man among them to be a standing monument, and a monitor to them of it.

MacArthur says that Jesus told the man to stay because he would be the only witness in that place:

He’s the first Gentile missionary…the maniac who became a missionary. And as I said, if he knew enough to be saved, he knew enough to tell somebody else. And if that man had left with Jesus, there would have been no witness in that place. Here was grace in the face of rejection. Jesus sent him back to his own people and He said to him, “Describe what great things God has done for you, and he went away proclaiming throughout the whole city what great things Jesus had done for him.” How interesting. You tell them what God has done, he told them what Jesus had done because Jesus is God. He became a witness. When I get to heaven I want to ask him how successful he was, how fruitful. He went proclaiming throughout the whole city, kerusso, preaching throughout the whole city. This is personal evangelism, the story of what the Lord had done. Mark 5:20 says, “Everyone was amazed…amazed.”

Well that’s what Jesus does. He turns maniacs into missionaries. It shows us the power of the demons, the power of the delivering Lord, and the damning power of sin. What a story. 

Perhaps we, too, are the only witnesses where we live:

If you have been delivered, you too are a missionary, amen? Tell the story.

I always wonder what sort of sermon I will hear when this Gospel passage is read. Perhaps you do, too.

I hope we will not be disappointed on Sunday morning.

The Fourth Sunday after Epiphany is January 30, 2022.

Readings for Year C can be found here.

The Gospel reading is as follows (emphases mine):

Luke 4:21-30

4:21 Then he began to say to them, “Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.”

4:22 All spoke well of him and were amazed at the gracious words that came from his mouth. They said, “Is not this Joseph’s son?”

4:23 He said to them, “Doubtless you will quote to me this proverb, ‘Doctor, cure yourself!’ And you will say, ‘Do here also in your hometown the things that we have heard you did at Capernaum.'”

4:24 And he said, “Truly I tell you, no prophet is accepted in the prophet’s hometown.

4:25 But the truth is, there were many widows in Israel in the time of Elijah, when the heaven was shut up three years and six months, and there was a severe famine over all the land;

4:26 yet Elijah was sent to none of them except to a widow at Zarephath in Sidon.

4:27 There were also many lepers in Israel in the time of the prophet Elisha, and none of them was cleansed except Naaman the Syrian.”

4:28 When they heard this, all in the synagogue were filled with rage.

4:29 They got up, drove him out of the town, and led him to the brow of the hill on which their town was built, so that they might hurl him off the cliff.

4:30 But he passed through the midst of them and went on his way.

Commentary comes from Matthew Henry and John MacArthur.

We pick up the story of our Lord’s visit to his hometown synagogue in Nazareth where we left off last week.

Verse 21 implies that Jesus preached a sermon — ‘he began to say to them’ — the text of which is not included in this account.

Imagine having Jesus, the Messiah, preach to you and yours. It would be marvellous, to say the least. Words really couldn’t describe it.

Everyone was amazed, a word Luke used often, at what Jesus said, asking if He was Joseph’s son (verse 22).

That verse signifies that a change of mind was coming. They liked what Jesus said but wondered how He could say that Scripture was being fulfilled through Him when He was one of their own, a humble man.

Matthew Henry’s commentary says:

They said, Is not this Joseph’s son, and therefore his extraction mean and his education mean? Some from this suggestion took occasion perhaps so much the more to admire his gracious words, concluding he must needs be taught of God, for they knew no one else had taught him; while others perhaps with this consideration corrected their wonder at his gracious words, and concluded there could be nothing really admirable in them, whatever appeared, because he was the Son of Joseph. Can any thing great, or worthy our regard, come from one so mean?

‘Mean’ means ‘humble’ in that context.

Recall that the Jews were eager for a temporal Messiah. John MacArthur posits that some might wonder why Jesus did not cite Isaiah 61:2 in full (see last week’s reading), the second half of which says that God will avenge the wrongs done to His people.

MacArthur says:

They were speaking well of Him.  And what was behind that well speaking?  Well they were in awe of the gracious words which were falling from His lips.  I mean, there may have been some things that they were wondering about in His message.  I mean, they must have…some of them must have wondered why He stopped reading there in verse 19. Why did He stop reading in the middle of Isaiah 61:2, “The favorable year of the Lord,” and He stopped when the rest of the verse said, “And the day of vengeance of our God?”  Why did He leave the vengeance out?  Some of them probably were wondering about that.  Let me be very honest.  They were very eager for the Messiah’s coming. Honestly, they were as eager for the Messiah to come and wreak vengeance on their Gentile enemies as they were for Him to come and bring salvation to Israel.  They hated their oppressors.  It must have bothered some of them that Jesus stopped there and didn’t say anything about the day of vengeance. After all, had John the Baptist himself in his ministry about which they all knew, John the Baptist had said, “When the Messiah comes He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with (what? Fire) an unquenchable fire of judgment.”  So, even John had talked about that.

Being omniscient, Jesus knew what the congregation was thinking. They wanted to see a miracle, just as He had performed them in nearby Capernaum (verse 23).

Henry explains that the people thought that our Lord’s preaching was a prelude to one of His miracles:

They were pleased with Christ’s gracious words, only because they hoped they were but the introduction to some wondrous works of his. They wanted to have their lame, and blind, and sick, and lepers, healed and helped, that the charge of their town might be eased; and that was the chief thing they looked at. They thought their own town as worthy to be the stage of miracles as any other; and why should not he rather draw company to that than to any other? And why should not his neighbours and acquaintances have the benefit of his preaching and miracles, rather than any other?

Henry points out that, although our Lord’s miracles were of a physical nature, there was always a spiritual healing behind them:

They were designed to cure people of their unbelief;–“Now why should not the disease of unbelief, if it be indeed a disease, be cured in those of thine own city as well as in those of others? Whatsoever we have heard done in Capernaum, that has been so much talked of, do here also in thine own country.

This is where the Nazarenes’ thinking begins to get complicated.

First, Jesus wanted to focus on salvation for everyone He encountered. Now was not the time for His Father’s vengeance.

MacArthur tells us:

Christ had no intention of overturning the power of Herod. He had no intention of kicking open the prison doors, of wreaking havoc and divine vengeance on the ungodly. This was the time for the age of salvation. The day of vengeance will come after the day of salvation.

And maybe there were some in the synagogue who were wondering why He didn’t read that and comment on it. He didn’t, because that was future. The day of salvation was present. He wasn’t there for vengeance on anyone, He was there for salvation. And through His whole life He didn’t express vengeance. He was there for salvation for anyone and everyone who recognized that they were poor, prisoners, blind and oppressed.

Secondly, the Nazarenes thought of themselves as already saved through their observance of Mosaic law. They did not see unbelief or sin as being one of their problems:

At this point they are in awe of His communication ability. And they are stirred, believe me, because they heard the truth presented as clearly as it could ever be presented. They understand exactly what He said and, believe me, they understand what He meant by what He said because He spoke so perfectly clear. And you know what the message to them was? Salvation is available for the poor, the prisoners, the blind and the oppressed. And they’re the only ones who will be saved. They got the message. If they wanted salvation, they had to confess their spiritual destitution, their spiritual poverty, their spiritual blindness, their spiritual bondage, their spiritual oppression.

They weren’t about to do that. Are you kidding me? That is the last thing they were about to do. They were righteous. They were noble. They worshiped the true and living God. They went to the synagogue. They gave their tithes. They fasted. They were like that Luke 18 Pharisee. They were the people of God. They were like Paul, and I read it in Philippians 3, they were circumcised and they had their tribal pedigree and they were of the people of Israel and they were traditionalists and they were ceremonialists and they were zealous for the law and they kept the law as blamelessly as they could. They aren’t the poor, the prisoners, the blind, and the oppressed

And so, in self-defense they begin to think. The problem is not us. We just can’t buy this message. How do we know He’s the Messiah?  And they just put up a wallWe don’t know that He’s the MessiahAnd so Jesus reads their minds. That’s what He did.  That’s not a problem for Him.  Back in John 2 when He was in Judea it says that the people came to Him but He didn’t commit Himself to them, John 2:24, because He knew what was in them.  Omniscience, He read their minds.  And so He says to them in verse 23, “No doubt you will quote this proverb to Me, ‘Physician, heal yourself!  Whatever we heard was done at Capernaum, do here in your home town as well.'”

… You know, words of salvation were offered to them, forgiveness, good news, release, light, sight, but they had to be willing to admit they were the poor, prisoners, blind, and oppressed. That is absolutely unthinkable, unthinkable. No such confession is ever going to rise out of their hearts, their hard hearts are filled with pride and self-righteousness and religiosity. They would never accept the fact that they were the poor, prisoners, blind, and oppressed. And Jesus knew that because Jesus knew their hearts. He knew that.

MacArthur explains ‘physician, heal thyself’, a saying that is still in use today:

… Jesus says, “I know exactly what you’re saying, in your mind you’re…you’re saying, “Physician, heal yourself?”  This was a proverb that was well known. It’s actually the Greek word parabolē, which means “parable,” but parabolē has a broad meaning. It could include a proverb or an axiom. And it’s a fair axiom.  I mean, it’s a normal thing.  If you’re going to trust somebody to be a physician, you want some proof that he can…he can heal.  And so that’s what they say.  It’s a way of saying, prove your claims. Before we’re going to believe on You, before we’re going to believe that You’re the Messiah, You better do some miracles here like You did down there in Capernaum.

Then Jesus dropped a bombshell, saying that no prophet is well received by his own people (verse 24), in evidence throughout the Bible, culminating in His own crucifixion.

Henry says that people want to look up to an outsider, not someone they already know:

By a plain and positive reason why he would not make Nazareth his headquarters (Luke 4:24; Luke 4:24), because it generally holds true that no prophet is accepted in his own country, at least not so well, nor with such probability of doing good, as in some other country; experience seals this. When prophets have been sent with messages and miracles of mercy, few of their own country-men, that have known their extraction and education, have been fit to receive them. So Dr. Hammond. Familiarity breeds contempt; and we are apt to think meanly of those whose conversation we have been accustomed to; and they will scarcely be duly honoured as prophets who were well known when they were in the rank of private men. That is most esteemed that is far-fetched and dear-bought, above what is home-bred, though really more excellent. This arises likewise from the envy which neighbours commonly have towards one another, so that they cannot endure to see him their superior whom awhile ago they took to be every way their inferior. For this reason, Christ declined working miracles, or doing any thing extraordinary, at Nazareth, because of the rooted prejudices they had against him there.

Jesus continued, knowing that the congregation would get very upset, as MacArthur says:

They aren’t the poor, the prisoners, the blind, and the oppressed. That’s got to be somebody else, that…that’s the Gentiles.

Jesus cited two instances where God’s prophets served the Gentiles rather than His own people.

Jesus reminded the Nazarenes that, during Elijah’s time, a drought plagued God’s people for three and a half years and a famine overtook the land (verse 25). Elijah sought out a widow, not among the Jews, but among the Gentiles in Sidon (verse 26).

MacArthur relates the story, explaining that God’s judgement had to do with His people worshipping Baal under the rule of King Ahab, yet God directed Elijah to the heart of the Baal-worshippers, Sidon, to meet the only believing widow there:

So it’s a time in Israel, apostate, they’re worshiping Baal, they’ve turned from the true God, the true and living God, they’re worshiping false gods. There are many widows. God sends a judgment on Ahab, a judgment on Israel and it’s a three and a half year droughtWidows are dying, the special care of God are these widows, not enough food to feed your own children let alone to give it away to some widow. That’s the situation. That is a judgment of God. First Kings 17, that judgment comes through Elijah, he drops on the scene out of nowhere and he announces this judgment. The judgment comes and it is a judgment on the idolatry, the Baal worship of Ahab and the people of Israel …

Sidon was Gentile territory on the north coast of Israel, Tyre and Sidon, the two familiar cities. Tyre and Sidon in that Gentile region, Zarephath was a town in between the two, Tyre and Sidon, a Phoenician city. The area was the home… This is even more amazing. The area was the home of the father of Jezebel. You know what his name was? Ethbaal, he was so devoted to Baal He named himself after Baal. Ethbaal means “Baal is alive.” And Ethbaal was such a wicked man he murdered his predecessor and he was a priest as well as being a king. He was the king of Phoenicia, Tyre and Sidon, he was the king, he was a Baal-worshiping king, he was also a priest in the temple of Melqart and Astarte, two of the deities in the pantheon of Baal worship. This is the most wretched thing imaginable. This is the father of the apos…of the apostasy, in a sense, in Israel because he’s the father of Jezebel who came and polluted Israel worship when she married Ahab, and so forth. And so here God sends His prophet to a woman from the home region of Jezebel, a Gentile widow. That famine… That area, by the way, was also affected by the famine. Food supply was low …

… God sends Elijah in this midst of all this famine over to Zarephath, to this widow. This is a widow who believes in the true God. The text of 1 Kings 17 indicates that. She says, “The Lord God of Israel lives.” She gives testimony. Somebody had witnessed to her about the true God of Israel and she trusted in the true God of Israel. She is a pagan Gentile widow in the midst of a pagan godless area but believes in the true and living God. And so to her goes the prophet of God rather than to Israelites. Her food supply was down to one little bit of flour and one little bit of oil, enough to make one cake, right? One scone, if you will, one biscuit … And he says to her, first of all, “Could you get me some water?” Huh. And then he says when she’s going to get the water, “Can you also take what you’ve got left and make me a meal?” Huh. This is a stranger, she’s never met this guy in her entire life, he walks in and says, “Take what you’ve got, that’s all you’ve got and make me a meal, I am the man of God, I am from the God of Israel.” She knows the God of Israel lives. She says it, “The Lord God of Israel lives.” Well, I’m from the God of Israel and I’m going to ask you, if you will, to take all that you have left, your last meal before you die, starve to death, and she had a son as well, and give it to me.

Now, you know, if she had been in the synagogue at Nazareth, she would have probably said, “Oh no, no, no. Aha, not on your life. How do I know you’re a man of God? How do I know whether you’re going to take that one thing and you’re going to do with that one thing something that’s going to provide for me all the rest of my life? How do I know that I can trust you? Could you please fly up in the air and spin around, could you do a few healings? Could you do some magic somewhere? I need to see something so that I can believe.”

That wouldn’t have proved anything if he had spun up in the air and done some amazing things, if he had done some healings or whatever, it wouldn’t have proven anything. The only way she would ever know whether God would supply all she ever needed was to take the little that she had and trust it to him. She figured that out, by the way. She wasn’t in the synagogue in Nazareth and it was probably a good thing or she might have been influenced by the crowd attitude. She probably thought like this, “Well, I only have one little cup left, one little bit of oil, that’s all I’ve got. If I give it to him and he is a man of God, then I’ll have life. And if he’s not, I’ll just have one less meal and die half a day sooner. I’m going to die anyway, what have I got to lose?” Pretty good thinking, isn’t it? “All I’ve got is one meal left. I’m destitute. I’m desperate. I’m in poverty. I have nowhere to turn. If I don’t trust the God of Israel who lives, if I don’t trust the man of God, I’m dead anyway, what’s half a day longer? But if he is the man of God, and if God did send him, then I have life.” The only way she would ever know was not if he went up in the air and spun around a few times, not if he went out and healed some people, the only way she would ever know that the God of Israel would give her all she would ever need was if she took what she had in her poverty and trusted him with it. She did.

And you remember the story? She made the little cake, the prophet ate it and the next thing that happened was her barrel was never empty. Remember that? It just was supernaturally filled all the time. And the cruse of oil was never empty. It just kept getting filled and filled and filled. That’s an analogy of spiritual life and supply. She took the little that she had, she gave it to the man of God and in return she got life, permanent life. And then…and the Lord did another amazing thing. Her son got sick and died, remember? And he raised her son from the dead just because she trusted the tiny bit that she had. She knew that she was the poor, the prisoner, blind, and the oppressed. And Jesus was saying to those Jews, “Let me tell you something, you may be Jews, you may be part of Israel, you may be the people of the covenants and the people of the Messiah, but I’ll tell you this, God will save an outcast Gentile widow who admits her spiritual destitution before He’ll save you.”

MacArthur then tells the story of Elisha and Naaman the Syrian from 2 Kings 5-7. God had passed another judgement on His Baal-worshipping people, this time with leprosy, which, at that time, comprised a number of debilitating and/or contagious skin diseases:

Elisha followed Elijah and that was a time, 850 to 790 B.C., disease was a major problem. Leprosy is a sort of a categorical word. It’s a broad term. It identifies various ancient skin diseases, everything from superficial diseases to serious diseases. It may also include what is today called leprosy, but really by that most people mean Hansen’s disease, but it included all kinds of diseases of the skin described in Leviticus 13. They tended to be disfiguring diseases, usually contagious diseases. They made the victim unclean, cut off from all fellowship, all social activity, cut off from the families and isolated because of the contagion that was believed to be a part of these diseases, and Israel had many, many such people with these diseases, many of them. It was in the time of Elisha, and they didn’t like Elisha, he didn’t have any honor in his own…in his own country any more than Elijah did. The people were still worshiping Baal, they were still turning their backs on the true and living God and along came leprosies everywhere and in verse 27, “There were many lepers in Israel in the time of Elisha the prophet and none of them was cleansed but only Naaman the Syrian”

… Naaman was a commander-in-chief of a section known as Aram. He was a soldier. He was a… He was a big-time soldier. He commanded a set of troops that were always raiding Israel. They would come across the border and they would fight and they would terrorize and raid Israel and they would take prisoners and haul the prisoners back to Syria. He was a Gentile. He was a Gentile and worse than that, he was a leper, he had leprosy, he was unclean, he was despicable on every count. On one of his raids he took captive, this is in the stories in 2 Kings 5, first fourteen verses, you can read it yourself, he took back this girl, one of his captives and she became a servant in his house to help his wife. She had a great attitude, she knew about his leprosy and she said to him, “You need to go find the man of God, Elisha, because God can heal you.” And you know what happened? He began to believe in the power of the God of Israel and so eventually through some situations, I won’t go into all of it, he wound up meeting Elisha. Here is an enemy, a Gentile, somebody who has sacked and attacked and killed and plundered Israel and he’s a leper. This is the outcast of all outcasts. And Elisha says to him, “The God of Israel is willing to heal you. All you have to do is go over to the river and go down seven times”he was furious, he was a man of honor and a man of stature and a man of dignity and a man of nobility and he isn’t going to humble himself in some kind of humiliating deal and go dump himself down seven times in some dirty river. He even says, “We have clean rivers in my area, I’m not going in your dirty river.”

So he goes back and his servant says, “Well, better a dirty river and a clean Naaman, huh?” And he starts to think about it and he had second thoughts. And he realizes his desperation and he realizes there’s no relief and there’s no cure and there’s no healing and there’s nothing except the God of Israel. Is the man of God really the man of God? Is God really truly God? Is this really His prophet? How will I ever know that? How am I going to know that that’s true unless I do what He says? I have to take my desperation, my destitution, my disease, I have to go over there. I have to do what the man tells me to do. If I do what the man tells me to do, then I’ll know whether he’s the man of God, right?

So he goes over there and he does his seven ducks in the dirty river and guess what? Clean!

When the Nazarenes heard these stories, they were filled with rage (verse 28).

MacArthur says of the two stories, beginning with the widow from Sidon and then Naaman:

You know, the Jews didn’t like this story, I can tell you, and as Jesus starts to tell it, they start to get angry. Why is He bringing that ugly story up? God, the God of the fatherless and the widow, God, the God who cares about the widows, there was a famine in the land for three and a half years and the people were dying and the widows were dying and God never cared for any of the widows. We don’t like that story at all. They were familiar, believe me, with 1 Kings 17, very familiar with it. And if you think that was bad, that Elijah was sent to none of those Jewish widows, this was worse. He was sent to Zarephath in the land of Sidon to a woman who was a widow there. Now this is worse. Why? This woman in the land of Sidon, hang on, is a Gentile. It’s bad enough to be a woman in Jewish tradition at this time, it’s far worse to be a Gentile woman. But to come from Sidon, that is unthinkable. How could God ignore the Jews of Israel? But then how could He possibly send His prophet to go minister to a Gentile widow in, of all places, Sidon?

Oh boy, you’re sitting in the synagogue, you’re saying, “This is not going well. So we are worse than a Gentile widow from Jezebel’s hometown. We are worse than a Syrian Gentile leper. This is intolerable.”

In verse 28, “All in the synagogue were filled with rage as they heard these things.” Let me tell you something, there’s nothing worse than spiritual pride, is there? You know, the Lord had said, “You know, I come to save, this is it. But I can only save the poor, and the prisoners, and the blind, and the oppressed. That’s all I can save and it doesn’t matter whether they are a Gentile woman or whether they are a Syrian leper, it doesn’t matter who it is, it just matters that they see their bankruptcy, their destitution, and they come to Me like the man who said, ‘Lord, I believe, but could You help my unbelief?’ And they may not know everything there is to know and their faith may not be full, but if they’ll just come in their desperation and say, ‘I don’t have a choice, here’s all I have and see what I can do with it.’ Then they’ll know that I’m the Messiah, right?”

The Nazarenes were so filled with their own spiritual pride that they got up, physically got Jesus out of town, led him to the brow of the local hill and tried to hurl Him off the cliff (verse 29).

Henry says that they were incensed to think that the Gentiles, unclean as they were, could be saved:

Their pious ancestors pleased themselves with the hopes of adding the Gentiles to the church (witness many of David’s psalms and Isaiah’s prophecies); but this degenerate race, when they had forfeited the covenant themselves, hated to think that any others should be taken in.

(2.) They were provoked to that degree that they made an attempt upon his life. This was a severe trial, now at his setting out, but a specimen of the usage he met with when he came to his own, and they received him not. [1.] They rose up in a tumultuous manner against him, interrupted him in his discourse, and themselves in their devotions, for they could not stay until their synagogue-worship was over. [2.] They thrust him out of the city, as one not worthy to have a residence among them, though there he had had a settlement so long. They thrust from them the Saviour and the salvation, as if he had been the offscouring of all things. How justly might he have called for fire from heaven upon them! But this was the day of his patience. [3.] They led him to the brow of the hill, with a purpose to throw him down headlong, as one not fit to live. Though they knew how inoffensively he had for so many years lived among them, how shining his conversation had been,–though they had heard such a fame of him and had but just now themselves admired his gracious words,though in justice he ought to have been allowed a fair hearing and liberty to explain himself, yet they hurried him away in a popular fury, or frenzy rather, to put him to death in a most barbarous manner. Sometimes they were ready to stone him for the good works he did (John 10:32), here for not doing the good works they expected from him. To such a height of wickedness was violence sprung up.

However, Jesus passed through their midst and went on His way (verse 30).

MacArthur says he does not know how Jesus did this:

We don’t know how that happened. Some miraculous way He just was gone.

However, Henry gives us a few possibilities:

Either he blinded their eyes, as God did those of the Sodomites and Syrians, or he bound their hands, or filled them with confusion, so that they could not do what they designed; for his work was not done, it was but just begun; his hour was not yet come, when it was come, he freely surrendered himself. They drove him from them, and he went his way.

Henry concludes that Jesus passed judgement on his fellow townspeople:

He would have gathered Nazareth, but they would not, and therefore their house is left to them desolate. This added to the reproach of his being Jesus of Nazareth, that not only it was a place whence no good thing was expected, but that it was such a wicked, rude place, and so unkind to him. Yet there was a providence in it, that he should not be much respected by the men of Nazareth, for that would have looked like a collusion between him and his old acquaintance; but now, though they received him not, there were those that did.

Jesus did return to Nazareth 18 months later for a final time, as MacArthur tells us:

In verse 24 He says, “Truly I say to you, no prophet is welcome in his hometown.”  “Amen” is what the word is in the Greek, “I solemnly assure you.”  It’s an idiom for “I’m telling you the truth, this is really true. No prophet is welcome in his hometown, no prophet is dektos, accepted in his hometown.  All experts are from out of town, aren’t they?  It’s more of that “familiarity breeds contempt.”  And You know, there’s a bit of a concession here. I think Jesus is making a bit of a concessionHe’s saying to them, “I can see that it’s hard for you to get past the fact that I’m a local guy, that I grew up here and that I am Joseph’s son and Mary’s boy and that this is my synagogue and you saw me here all those years of my life.  I understand that.”  There’s a bit of a concession there.  And I think there’s a bit of…there’s a bit of mercy in that in Jesus’ case.  I understand that no prophet is welcome in his hometown. That, by the way, is a phrase He repeated a year and a half later when He came back again to that synagogue. He says the same thing as recorded in Matthew 13:57 and Mark 6:4.  He also used it as recorded in John 4:44.  So there were a number of times when He referred to this.

Why don’t people believe in God through His Son?

MacArthur has the answer:

There’s only one reason why people who know the gospel don’t accept Christ. It is because they do not see themselves as the poor, the blind, the prisoners, and the oppressed. Do you see it? That’s always the problem. It’s always the problem.

Salvation has always been that way, folks. It’s always been that God will save Jew or Gentile when they come to a point of spiritual destitution and they know it

You want to know whether Jesus can save you from hell? Ask Him. Give Him your life, that’s the only way you’ll ever know. You can see all the miracles under the sun, false miracles or whatever, you can see the whole parade of stuff. It’s not going to convince you. There’s only one way to know that Jesus can save your soul from hell and change your life and send you to eternal heaven with all your sins forgiven and that is to take your meager, little, wicked life and hand it over to Him and see what He does with it.

In closing, MacArthur has two excellent observations on Jesus and His miracles.

The first is that no one around at the time ever questioned their validity:

Let me tell you something as you study the New Testament.  Never does the Jewish population or the Jewish leaders question Jesus’ miracles, never.  They never question them.  In John 11:47 the Pharisees, the chief priests said, “This man is doing miracles.” They never questioned that.  That was not a question in their minds.

The second is that, despite all the miracles He performed — too many to be included in the Gospels — the people still wanted Him to die:

Jesus banished disease from the whole land of Palestine and they put Him on a cross.

There is much to ponder in this Gospel story in the week ahead.

We can think about the horrible consequences of spiritual pride, and we can contemplate the false self-sufficiency of unbelievers. Both groups always know better.

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

Yet, it doesn’t tell the whole story.

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

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

2 Corinthians 6:14-18

The Temple of the Living God

14 Do not be unequally yoked with unbelievers. For what partnership has righteousness with lawlessness? Or what fellowship has light with darkness? 15 What accord has Christ with Belial?[a] Or what portion does a believer share with an unbeliever? 16 What agreement has the temple of God with idols? For we are the temple of the living God; as God said,

“I will make my dwelling among them and walk among them,
    and I will be their God,
    and they shall be my people.
17 Therefore go out from their midst,
    and be separate from them, says the Lord,
and touch no unclean thing;
    then I will welcome you,
18 and I will be a father to you,
    and you shall be sons and daughters to me,
says the Lord Almighty.”

———————————————————————————————–

Last week’s post concerned the greater glory of the New Covenant compared with the Old Covenant, which is no more.

In today’s reading, Paul addresses the Corinthians’ syncretic (false) religion combining Christianity with idolatry.

John MacArthur describes their situation, exacerbated by false teachers (emphases mine):

When a person becomes a believer they are transported out of one world into another And shuttling back and forth is absolutely unacceptable And that is precisely what the Corinthians were trying to do.  Having named the name of Christ, identified with Him, come into the church, they were still hanging on to their own idolatry, their old pagan ways

Corinth was dominated above the city by an acropolis, a high mountain on top of which was the temple to the false deities which engaged itself in pagan ritual and worship and priestess prostitution This temple not only was the center of that religion, but from it disseminated its religious viewpoints and ideologies through the entire culture of Corinth It was a part of everything in life Holidays, festivals, celebrations and so forth.  And it was a constant pull to the Corinthians to fall back into those old patterns And they did

Additionally, the false teachers had come in and they had brought a quasi-Christian syncretism and eclectic religion which took Christianity, a little bit of Jewish legalism and some pagan religion, and melted it all together and offered it as the truth And that compromise had found its way into the Corinthian church and found an audience and some of them were listening and believing and accepting it.  You see, the false teachers wanted to make Christianity more popular, less demanding, less distinct, less narrow, less offensive, less different, less exclusive so they’d get more people in on it, so they could get more money, which is always what false teachers want

And so here is the Corinthian church, new and fresh and being assaulted by pagan religion around it You couldn’t separate the social life from the religion You couldn’t separate the historical life of that village in terms of its patterns from the religion.  And that village that became a city bore all of the signs of the religion that moved in its growth.  It was a full-blown pagan system down to the very core And it was hard to sort it out

To be involved at all in the life of the culture was to be involved in the paganism, unless you made a very clean break The Corinthians didn’t do it And as I said, then add to that the confusion of the false teachers

It’s very much like modern Christianity today, by the way, that seeks to blend Christianity with popular culture, wants to make Christianity more popular, less different, more palatable, less offensive, less narrow, less exclusive.  And the result of it is that true Christianity and the purity of God’s Word gets corrupted by compromise, and the church can become useless and shameful and blasphemous in mocking the truth

With that in mind, Paul instructs the Corinthians to have nothing to do with unbelievers, asking what partnership righteousness has with lawlessness or light with darkness (verse 14).

The answer is none; the two are mutually exclusive, as MacArthur says:

The terminology is clear.  One of those worlds is marked by righteousness, light, Christ, believers, and the presence of God The other is marked by lawlessness, darkness, Satan, unbelievers, and the presence of false gods And these two worlds are utterly different and distinct, so much so that they are mutually exclusive. 

They cannot work together in common partnership; they cannot fellowship together They are not in harmony with one another One is old; the other is new.  One is earthly; the other is heavenly.  One is deadly; the other is life giving.  One is wicked; the other holyOne is built on lies; the other is all truthOne perishes and the other lives eternally.

Paul then is making it clear that believers can’t live in both worlds Certainly, John said this in his first epistle, 1 John, when he clearly identified this disparity between the two worlds with these familiar words, “Do not love the world, nor the things in the world.  If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him.”  Mutually exclusive worldsYou can’t be in both at the same time.

MacArthur explains that lawlessness in the Bible is used to describe unbelievers:

Question number one, “For what partnership have righteousness and lawlessness?”  Partnership is metoch It’s the only place it’s used in the New Testament, it’s really a synonym for the word Koinonia, which means partnership It means a common sharing together, the common engagement in a common effort And obviously righteousness and lawlessness can’t join hands in the same enterprise Righteousness is that which pleases and honors God Lawlessness is that which displeases and dishonors God Righteousness is doing what is right.  Lawlessness is doing what is wrong. 

Believers are classified in the Bible as righteous The righteousness of Christ has been imputed to us ... God has covered us with the righteousness of Christ which includes the forgiveness of sins.  On the other hand, unbelievers are lawless, unrighteous.  Their sins are not forgiven.  There is no possible partnership for those two very opposite categories.

What about unbelievers?  In what way are they lawless?  Well it simply means they do not abide by God’s law They violate it, they rebel against it, and they disobey it And the Bible characterizes unbelievers as lawless They will be damned to eternal punishment because they are lawless, because they are unrighteous, because they violate God’s law and there is no possible cure for that violation because they do not come to the Savior who alone provides forgiveness.  So they die, as Jesus said, in their sins and are punished eternally

Jesus classifies them that way For example, in Matthew 7:23 He says to those who claim to know Him, “I never knew you, depart from Me – ” and here’s His characterization of those to be judged – “you who practice lawlessness.”  The pattern of their life is an ongoing, constant, uninterrupted, violation of God’s law, God’s command, God’s will and God’s Word. 

Therefore, Paul’s primary purpose of that verse is to make it clear that the unrighteous should not be involved with leadership positions in church.

MacArthur has more. He gave this sermon in 1995:

What we’re talking about here is any linking together with an unbeliever in any religious or spiritual enterprise That’s what we’re talking about.  We’re not talking about mutual funds; you can rest easy.  We’re not talking about you should quit your job cause you work with non-believers We’re not talking about Christians pulling out of the school because he doesn’t have a Christian teacher We’re not talking about leaving your neighborhood We’re not talking about any of that.  We’re talking about a spiritual enterprise, worship, ministry, evangelism.

Religious cooperation between the kingdom of darkness and the kingdom of light is ridiculous Why would we want to give Satan access?  You say, “Is this…is this a problem?”  Is this a problem?  This is Satan’s number one ploy.  I remember when I was a student in college I was first confronted with the fact that huge massive evangelistic endeavors were being held in America And the committees were made up of Christians and non-Christians, people who believed the Bible and people who denied the Bible and were theological liberals And I wasn’t particularly profound, believe me, at that age .. But it was in those years and I was asking, “How can they do that?  I don’t understand how you can bring unbelievers and believers together in a common spiritual enterprise.”  It doesn’t make any sense.  I mean, why would you invite Satan in?

We still have that today Satan still endeavors to encroach.  Recently we had the Promise Keepers event in Los Angeles And right around the time of the Promise Keepers, I picked up the Los Angeles Times and found that the Cardinal…the Catholic Cardinal had affirmed everything about the Promise Keepers and encouraged all the parish priests to take all their men That was followed in an article, I think a day later, by the local Mormon bishop who said that he was encouraging all the Mormons to go What does that say about Promise Keepers?  Nothing.  What it says about Satan is everything That’s always been his approach He doesn’t want to fight it; he wants to what?  He wants to join it

If we are married to unbelievers, we should not divorce them, because God hates divorce.

However, Christians looking for a spouse should be careful, nonetheless.

MacArthur relates this true story:

I’ll never forget a young man with whom I had a close association in seminary, one of the most tragic things.  We were dear friends We participated in all kinds of activities together.  He was headed to the ministry, as I was.  We graduated from Talbot Seminary the same year.  He married a Buddhist It wasn’t long until there was a Buddhist altar in his house It wasn’t long until he had abandoned the faith One wife.  You know, whenever I see men who are notably in the mainstream of the church and evangelicalism, and all of a sudden they seem to fall off into some serious deviation or error, I always want to ask, “What is the wife like?”  Certainly in many, many cases, if not most, that’s where Satan’s subtleties enter in.

Paul goes on to ask what accord Christ has with Belial, or Satan, and what portion does a believer share with an unbeliever (verse 15).

The answer, again, is absolutely none.

Matthew Henry’s commentary states another important consideration about a forming a close relationship with an unbeliever:

Believers are made light in the Lord, but unbelievers are in darkness; and what comfortable communion can these have together? Christ and Belial are contrary one to the other; they have opposite interests and designs, so that it is impossible there should be any concord or agreement between them. It is absurd, therefore, to think of enlisting under both; and, if the believer has part with an infidel, he does what in him lies to bring Christ and Belial together.

What a terrifying way to lay out the truth of the matter.

The next three verses — 16 through 18 — are a summary of four verses from the Old Testament.

MacArthur tells us:

“Just as God said I will dwell in them and walk among them, and I will be their God and they shall be My people.”  And by the way, that mosaic of Old Testament texts is the blending together of statements made in Leviticus 26:11 and 12, Jeremiah 24:7 and Ezekiel 37 and 27 He is just taking what is the Old Testament teaching and sort of pulling it together in a mosaic and summarizing it, and saying God says He will dwell in His people and walk among them and be their God and they’ll belong to Him.  We are the temple of the living God. 

Paul asks what agreement the temple of God has with idols, stating that we are the temple of the living God, as He said, ‘I will make my dwelling among them and walk among them, and I will be their God, and they shall be my people’ (verse 16).

MacArthur says:

I love the fact that He is called the living God as over against the dead idols That’s a common expression with Paul in contrast to dead idols.  He uses it in Romans, 2 Corinthians, Thessalonians and 1 Timothy.  Any joining to unbelievers is putting idols in the temple of God, or putting the temple of God in an idol temple It is blatantly, overtly, intolerably sacrilegious And he confirms it with that little phrase, “Just as God said.”  And if you do that, you are openly, flagrantly assaulting what God has said. 

Paul continues his scriptural summary, saying that the Lord says to be separate from unbelievers and touch no unclean thing (verse 17), a reference to idols. Then He will welcome us.

Henry has another stern warning:

There is a great deal of danger in communicating with unbelievers and idolators, danger of being defiled and of being rejected; therefore the exhortation is (2 Corinthians 6:17; 2 Corinthians 6:17) to come out from among them, and keep at a due distance, to be separate, as one would avoid the society of those who have the leprosy or the plague, for fear of taking infection, and not to touch the unclean thing, lest we be defiled. Who can touch pitch, and not be defiled by it? We must take care not to defile ourselves by converse with those who defile themselves with sin; so is the will of God, as we ever hope to be received, and not rejected, by him.

Paul concludes, saying that, if we do these things, the Lord Almighty will be our Father and we will be His sons and daughters (verse 18).

Henry asks:

is there a greater honour or happiness than this? How ungrateful a thing then must it be if those who have this dignity and felicity should degrade and debase themselves by mingling with unbelievers! Do we thus requite the Lord, O foolish and unwise?

Here’s a question that many will probably want an answer to: can we take unbelievers to church?

MacArthur says that we definitely can do so:

You say, “Do you mean unbelievers shouldn’t come to church?”  No, I don’t mean that.  I pray God that they will, and when they do that they’ll be saved What I mean is church isn’t to be designed to make pagans feel comfortable That is not its purpose.  They should be starkly held to accountability for their sins when they enter into the place of worship And they should feel uncomfortable and disconcerted.

So, what can we do about unbelievers we know and love?

Pray, pray and pray again that God draws them to Himself through Jesus Christ. I have been praying for months for someone I know to come to the faith. I will continue to do so. It is a long-term project of mine.

Next time — 2 Corinthians 8:1-6

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.

Romans 11:16-24

16 If the dough offered as firstfruits is holy, so is the whole lump, and if the root is holy, so are the branches.

17 But if some of the branches were broken off, and you, although a wild olive shoot, were grafted in among the others and now share in the nourishing root[a] of the olive tree, 18 do not be arrogant toward the branches. If you are, remember it is not you who support the root, but the root that supports you. 19 Then you will say, “Branches were broken off so that I might be grafted in.” 20 That is true. They were broken off because of their unbelief, but you stand fast through faith. So do not become proud, but fear. 21 For if God did not spare the natural branches, neither will he spare you. 22 Note then the kindness and the severity of God: severity toward those who have fallen, but God’s kindness to you, provided you continue in his kindness. Otherwise you too will be cut off. 23 And even they, if they do not continue in their unbelief, will be grafted in, for God has the power to graft them in again. 24 For if you were cut from what is by nature a wild olive tree, and grafted, contrary to nature, into a cultivated olive tree, how much more will these, the natural branches, be grafted back into their own olive tree.

——————————————————————————————————-

Last week’s post discussed Paul’s explanation of why the Gentiles were brought into the Church and his delight in ministering to them.

Now Paul tackles a very important topic: our attitude towards the Church and other people, especially the Jewish community and those with no faith.

Paul begins by speaking of the ancient offering of the firstfruits, referencing Numbers 15. John MacArthur explains this ceremonial part of Mosaic law (emphases mine):

Follow verse 16 to begin with, and Paul’s logic here is unarguable. “For if the first fruit be holy, the lump is also holy and if the root be holy, so are the branches.” Now let’s just take the first little analogy he gives. If the first fruit be holy, the lump is also holy. Now this comes from Numbers chapter 15, back in the Pentateuch, verses 17 to 21. And I’ll just read you a portion of that. “Of the first fruits of your dough.” D-o-u-g-h, referring to that which they would use to make bread. “Of the first fruits of your dough you shall give to the Lord an heave offering in your generation.” In other words, the objective was that each time dough was prepared for baking bread among the Jewish people, a little piece of that dough was pulled off the larger portion and that little piece of dough was to be given to the Lord, which is to say it was taken to the temple or it was given to the priest. And it became sustenance for the priest. But it was an offering given to the Lord. It was a first fruits. You pulled off a little and you gave it to the Lord. God was always teaching them how that everything really belonged to Him. Everything really was consecrated to Him. Everything was set apart to Him. And when they took off a little piece of that larger lump and gave it to the priest, it was a symbolic way of saying, “Yes, I offer all of this to the Lord. I want this all to be set apart unto Him. I want it all to be consecrated to Him and this symbolizes that desire.” All the dough then was dedicated in the act of giving a small portion. It was a way of saying, “Thank You, I realize this is Your provision, all of it. I offer it back to You in the sense that as it nourishes my body, I offer myself to You. I want it to nourish me to do Your will and Your purpose and the things that would honor Your holy name.” And each little piece was a symbol of the dedication of the whole. And that’s what he’s saying. If the first fruit is set apart, and “holy” here means set apart, consecrated, devoted to God, separated, if you will, the idea of consecrated from profane use to the use of God, he says if the first fruits is set apart then the whole lump is consecrated. See that? If the first fruits is set apart, it is saying, the whole lump is consecrated. That is the sense.

Now the second analogy in verse 16 is this. If the root is set apart, so are what? The branches. It’s the same idea. If one part of a thing is consecrated to the Lord, so are the branches. If you go out in your field and you say, “I’m planting this tree and I’m putting this little seedling in, as its roots go down I dedicate it to the Lord,” then all that comes out of that is going to be dedicated to Him as well. “I put it there for Your glory, for Your honor, I want everything that comes from it to nourish me that I may serve You more fully.” And so in the dedication of the root, there is the implication that the branches belong to God as well. So when any small part is devoted to the Lord, it is emblematic that the whole is devoted to the Lord. That’s essentially a principle that was very much a part of Jewish thinking.

For example, when they came and gave the first fruits of their grain to the Lord, they were saying, in effect, “This is but a representative token of the fact that I dedicate all my grain to You.” When they gave the Lord the first fruits, as it were, of their week and they came in on the Sabbath day and they say, “We want to give our…this day to You, we want to acknowledge that time belongs to You and worship belongs to You,” it was like consecrating all of their time. When they gave an offering of money to the Lord it was like saying, “This is but emblematic that all of that which I possess would be for Your glory,” see. And I trust that you think that way when you give as well.

That idea also appears when some Christians bring food to be blessed by a priest on Holy Saturday for their dinner on Easter Sunday. In the Polish culture, it is a long-standing, traditional practice.

Paul goes on to say that, when some of the branches of an olive tree — his analogy for the Church, the community of all believers — go bad, they are replaced with grafted on branches which are healthy (verse 17). Paul is referring to the Gentiles as being the grafted-on branches.

Matthew Henry explains the profundity of that verse:

Those that are grafted into the good olive-tree partake of the root and fatness of the olive. It is applicable to a saving union with Christ; all that are by a lively faith grafted into Christ partake of him as the branches of the root–receive from his fulness. But it is here spoken of a visible church-membership, from which the Jews were as branches broken off; and so the Gentiles were grafted in, autois–among those that continued, or in the room of those that were broken off. The Gentiles, being grafted into the church, partake of the same privileges that the Jews did, the root and fatness. The olive-tree is the visible church (called so Jeremiah 11:16); the root of this tree was Abraham, not the root of communication, so Christ only is the root, but the root of administration, he being the first with whom the covenant was so solemnly made. Now the believing Gentiles partake of this root: he also is a son of Abraham (Luke 19:9), the blessing of Abraham comes upon the Gentiles (Galatians 3:14), the same fatness of the olive-tree, the same for substance, special protection, lively oracles, means of salvation, a standing ministry, instituted ordinances; and, among the rest, the visible church-membership of their infant seed, which was part of the fatness of the olive-tree that the Jews had, and cannot be imagined to be denied to the Gentiles.

Paul then counsels the Gentiles to avoid pride in being grafted in (verse 18). Instead, they should be thankful for the immense privilege they have received in becoming members of the Church. That holds true today. He says that, as members of the Church, we do not support the root; rather, the root supports us!

Therefore, we should realise that faithless branches were removed so that we could be grafted on (verse 19).

Henry extends this all the way back to Abraham, who along with his descendants, incidentally, features largely in the readings from Genesis in the season after Pentecost this year (2020, Year A). He is our father in faith. Henry says:

Abraham, the root of the Jewish church, is not beholden to thee; but thou art greatly obliged to him, as the trustee of the covenant and the father of many nations. Therefore, if thou boast, know (this word must be supplied to clear the sense) thou bearest not the root but the root thee.”

MacArthur agrees with that and has more on Abraham and his descendants:

who were the first fruits? Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Joseph, the fathers, the patriarchs. And I believe he has, of course, here mainly in mind Abraham. And if God set apart the first fruits, then He was setting apart the whole lump. And if God set apart the root, who was Abraham, then He’s setting apart the branches. In other words, this is Paul’s way of saying, “You Jews know very well that a part of a thing consecrated intends to say that the whole is consecrated. And if God sets apart the root and God sets apart the first fruit in the case of Abraham and the fathers, it is to say that He has consecrated to Himself the whole.” It’s a beautiful thought.

This is why Israel will come to be grafted into the Church, which Paul explains later in Romans 11. Jews have been coming to Christ throughout history, of course, but, as I wrote last week, mentioning MacArthur’s citation of Revelation 7, the day will come when 144,000 of them, drawn from all twelve tribes of Israel, will believe in Christ then evangelise en masse throughout the world.

Paul goes on to say that, although faithless branches were removed so Gentiles could be grafted on, the Gentiles should consider this in fear — awe (verse 20). We should never take our standing in the Church for granted.

If we become faithless, God can cut us off, too (verse 21).

Henry sounds this warning, which seems apposite, considering the state of today’s churches which worship political movements instead of the Lord:

The patent which churches have of their privileges is not for a certain term, nor entailed upon them and their heirs; but it runs as long as they carry themselves well, and no longer. Consider, (1.) “How they were broken off. It was not undeservedly, by an act of absolute sovereignty and prerogative, but because of unbelief.” It seems, then, it is possible for churches that have long stood by faith to fall into such a state of infidelity as may be their ruin. Their unbelief did not only provoke God to cut them off, but they did by this cut themselves off; it was not only the meritorious, but the formal cause of their separation.

Paul counsels us to remember God’s kindness in grafting us onto the Church. His kindness extends to us as long as we are faithful (verse 22).

If we lose our faith, Paul says, God can remove us from the Church and graft on those who were previously mired in unbelief but who later came to believe (verse 23).

Matthew Henry offers this summary:

The sum of our duty, the condition of our happiness, is to keep ourselves in the love of God. Fear the Lord and his goodness. Hosea 3:5.

Paul says that Israel will be grafted on to the Church. They are the natural branches of the tree God created for Himself, whereas Gentiles are wild branches (verse 24).

MacArthur says:

The final restoration then, listen, of Israel is guaranteed by the consecrating love of God for Abraham. It is implied in God’s love of Abraham and His setting Abraham apart as a covenant progenitor …

And if there’s to be no future for the nation Israel, then what Paul is saying here is just not true. But it is true and there is a place for Israel.

MacArthur concludes his sermon by putting the emphasis on faith:

What is the issue here? The issue is one simple thing. Faith, isn’t it? Jew or Gentile, if you believe in the Lord Jesus Christ, you’re grafted into the place of blessing, where the life of God flows through and produces fruit. … Those Jew and Gentile, along with all the others of all the ages who have come to faith in God, who have embraced the Savior, are grafted in, be they natural branches or unnatural, they’re in the place of blessing. The issue for you is faith. Do you believe in the Lord Jesus Christ? … I hope you do. Let’s bow in prayer.

Father, we… We even said more than we intended tonight but oh how wonderful it is. Your Word, we love it, thank You for it. Thank You for the great confidence in our hearts that faith is the issue. O we know You’re a sovereign God and we know that You make choices out of that sovereignty, but, Lord, You repeat so often that faith is the issue and “Him that comes unto Me,” said Jesus, “I will in no wise cast out.” And so anyone coming with faith to embrace Christ will be received. We thank You for that. We pray there might be hearts even now opened in faith to Christ. Now, Father, do send us from this place with happy hearts, fulfilled because we have been participants of the kingdom, we have been branches of blessing, to bear much fruit for the glory of the Father. May we be all that You want us to be. Fill our hearts with love for You and for those that need to know You, and we’ll thank You for what You’ll do in each life, for Christ’s sake. Amen.

I haven’t read this passage from Romans privately for a long time. Henry’s and MacArthur’s exegeses have helped me to realise how profound Paul’s words truly are.

Let us pray for those who have not yet converted that they may see the Light that is Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns forever.

Next time — Romans 11:25-28

Bible ourhomewithgodcomThe 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.

Romans 11:7-10

What then? Israel failed to obtain what it was seeking. The elect obtained it, but the rest were hardened, as it is written,

“God gave them a spirit of stupor,
    eyes that would not see
    and ears that would not hear,
down to this very day.”

And David says,

“Let their table become a snare and a trap,
    a stumbling block and a retribution for them;
10 let their eyes be darkened so that they cannot see,
    and bend their backs forever.”

———————————————————————————————————————-

Last week’s post discussed Paul’s reminder to his Jewish converts that their forefathers had disobeyed God from the time of Moses, yet He always keeps the remnant of His faithful — His elect — from generation to generation.

Matthew Henry tells us (emphases mine below):

This is called a remnant according to the election of grace; they are such as were chosen from eternity in the counsels of divine love to be vessels of grace and glory.

Paul reminded his audience that the people of Israel, with hardened hearts, did not find what they were looking for, although the elect did (verse 7).

Having a hardened heart can be spiritually perilous, as Henry explains:

Some are chosen and called, and the call is made effectual. But others are left to perish in their unbelief; nay, they are made worse by that which should have made them better. The gospel, which to those that believed was the savour of life unto life, to the unbelieving was the savour of death unto death. The same sun softens wax and hardens clay. Good old Simeon foresaw that the child Jesus was set for the fall, as well as for the rising again, of many in Israel, Luke 2:34.– Were blinded; eporothesan–they were hardened; so some. They were seared, and made brawny and insensible. They could neither see the light, nor feel the touch, of gospel grace. Blindness and hardness are expressive of the same senselessness and stupidity of spirit. They shut their eyes, and would not see; this was their sin: and then God, in a way of righteous judgment, blinded their eyes, that they could not see; this was their punishment.

To reinforce the reminder, Paul cites Isaiah 29:10

For the Lord has poured out upon you
    a spirit of deep sleep,
and has closed your eyes (the prophets),
    and covered your heads (the seers).

… and Isaiah 6:9 (verse 8):

And he said, “Go, and say to this people:

“‘Keep on hearing,[a] but do not understand;
keep on seeing,[b] but do not perceive.’

That is the worst place to be in this life, the worst judgement from God.

Henry tells us this was true in Isaiah’s time, in Christ’s time and extends to the present day:

this hardening work has been in the doing; some among them have been blind and senseless. Or, rather, ever since the first preaching of the gospel: though they have had the most convincing evidences that could be of the truth of it, the most powerful preaching, the fairest offers, the clearest calls from Christ himself, and from his apostles, yet to this day they are blinded. It is still true concerning multitudes of them, even to this day in which we live; they are hardened and blinded, the obstinacy and unbelief go by succession from generation to generation, according to their own fearful imprecation, which entailed the curse: His blood be upon us and upon our children.

Paul concludes his message to the Jewish converts by paraphrasing Psalm 69:22-23 (verses 9, 10):

22 Let their own table before them become a snare;
    and when they are at peace, let it become a trap.[a]
23 Let their eyes be darkened, so that they cannot see,
    and make their loins tremble continually.

Henry says that, in those verses, David foretold the suffering of Christ from His own people:

David (Romans 11:9,10), quoted from Psalms 69:22,23, where David having in the Spirit foretold the sufferings of Christ from his own people the Jews, particularly that of their giving him vinegar to drink (Romans 11:21, which was literally fulfilled, Matthew 27:48), an expression of the greatest contempt and malice that could be, in the next words, under the form of an imprecation, he foretels the dreadful judgments of God upon them for it: Let their table become a snare, which the apostle here applies to the present blindness of the Jews, and the offence they took at the gospel, which increased their hardness. This teaches us how to understand other prayers of David against his enemies; they are to be looked upon as prophetic of the judgments of God upon the public and obstinate enemies of Christ and his kingdom. His prayer that it might be so was a prophecy that it should be so, and not the private expression of his own angry resentments. It was likewise intended to justify God, and to clear his righteousness in such judgments.

Those who continue to reject God cause God to impose this judgement, as John MacArthur explains:

they were hardened by some outside power, some outside force. And that force is none other than God Himself. They were hardened by God. You say, “Does God harden people?” Well do you remember chapter 9 verse 18, “Therefore hath He mercy on whom He will have mercy and whom He will, He hardens.” And who was his illustration in chapter 9? Who is the illustration of God hardening? Who was it? Pharaoh, God hardened Pharaoh …

When God hardens it is a result of a process of willful rejection of true righteousness, a process of hardening, hardening, hardening, hardening … When God moves in with judicial, final, judgmental, condemning, hardening of the heart, it is as a result and response to a continual process of willful rejection. It is a judicial thing that comes to those who continue to reject, who continue to reject, who continue to reject.

However, God always has His remnant of believers.

Later in the chapter, we will see that Paul says this rejection of much of Israel is only temporary, until the Gentiles are fully in God’s fold.

Paul addresses the Gentiles in the next part of Romans 11.

Next time — Romans 11:11-15

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

Yet, it doesn’t tell the whole story.

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

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

Hebrews 4:6-11

Since therefore it remains for some to enter it, and those who formerly received the good news failed to enter because of disobedience, again he appoints a certain day, “Today,” saying through David so long afterward, in the words already quoted,

“Today, if you hear his voice,
do not harden your hearts.”

For if Joshua had given them rest, God[a] would not have spoken of another day later on. So then, there remains a Sabbath rest for the people of God, 10 for whoever has entered God’s rest has also rested from his works as God did from his.

11 Let us therefore strive to enter that rest, so that no one may fall by the same sort of disobedience.

———————————————————————————————–

Last week’s entry discussed God’s denial of eternal rest to unbelievers, using Psalm 95 as a reference point.

These verses conclude the dissertation by the author of Hebrews on Psalm 95 and the disobedient, wilful Israelites in the desert.

To better understand this in terms of the author’s Jewish audience, John MacArthur lays out the context of the importance of Mosaic law (emphases mine):

this is an important message for the Jew because the Jew prided himself on the fact that he had the information. He figured all I got to do is have the law, and I’m in. I don’t have to worry about obeying as long as I possess it. Which is ridiculous, but in Romans chapter 2, listen to the argument. Verse 25, “For circumcision verily profiteth, if you keep the law.” The Jew would say, “Well, we’re circumcised! Us! Doesn’t that get us automatically in? I mean, we’re circumcised.” He says, “Well, circumcision’s good if you keep the law.” It’s like the guy, you know, who went into the ring and before every fight he made the signs of the cross, you know. And one guy said, “Does it help?” He says, “It does if you can fight.”

it’s like a cop pulling you over to the side of the road and he says, “You just went through three red lights. You were speeding.” And you say, “I’m sorry, officer. You can’t give me a ticket. I have a copy of the California state code of laws. I own one. I own a book on how to drive. I’m sorry, I’ve got all the information. I’m not responsible. You can’t punish me. I know the information.” That doesn’t mean anything. That makes you all the more responsible. And in Romans chapter 2, “Circumcision profiteth if you keep the law, but if you’re a breaker of the law, your circumcision is made uncircumcision.” And they were rejoicing over the fact that they possessed the law, figuring that’s all that matters, you know, we’ve got the law.

That said, original audience notwithstanding, as I have written several times before, the Book of Hebrews also has vital messages for Christians:

Some people say, “Well, I go to church.” That doesn’t mean anything. Going to church doesn’t make you a Christian any more than being in a garage makes you a car. That has nothing to do with it. And the whole issue is faith. The whole issue’s not activity. It’s faith. And unless the information is mixed with faith, it profits you nothing and you need to beware because you may come short of rest. But when somebody hears the word of God and believes it, then they’re saved.

In verse 6, the author addresses the Jews who converted to Christianity but were nonetheless torn by clinging to their former faith. Their families were angry with them and civil authorities were persecuting them, too. They were losing heart in their conversions, just as a number of Israelites turned away from God in the desert on the way to the Promised Land, Canaan. Their wilfulness in the desert caused God to desert them, just as they had deserted Him. That is a powerful judgement, and one that lasts forever. This is what the author is warning about.

Hence, the citation of Psalm 95 in verse 7. The word ‘today’ has an urgency about it. If we hear God’s voice today, may we not harden our hearts against Him. We do not know what tomorrow will bring. We have no claim on tomorrow, only God does.

The author then speaks of a Sabbath rest. There was a prescribed day of rest — the Sabbath — for the Israelites to praise and worship God (verses 8,9). The Lord rested on the seventh day after He created the universe (verse 10). We are commanded to follow His example.

There was also the concept of Canaan as a place of rest for those who believed in God and obeyed His commands on the long way there.

Matthew Henry reminds us that part of the Old Testament day of rest was also devoted to praying for God to send the Messiah — our Redeemer — to them:

(1.) From God’s finishing his work of creation, and so entering into his rest (Hebrews 4:3,4), appointing our first parents to rest the seventh day, to rest in God. Now as God finished his work, and then rested from it, and acquiesced in it, so he will cause those who believe to finish their work, and then to enjoy their rest. (2.) From God’s continuing the observance of the sabbath, after the fall, and the revelation of a Redeemer. They were to keep the seventh day a holy sabbath to the Lord, therein praising him who had raised them up out of nothing by creating power, and praying to him that he would create them anew by his Spirit of grace, and direct their faith to the promised Redeemer and restorer of all things, by which faith they find rest in their souls. (3.) From God’s proposing Canaan as a typical rest for the Jews who believed: and as those who did believe, Caleb and Joshua, did actually enter into Canaan; so those who now believe shall enter into rest.

Then the author leads on from temporal rest to eternal rest. Again, the author warns against disobedience in this life, because eternal rest is only for the faithful (verse 11). On that day, our earthly duties to God and to our neighbour come to an end.

Henry explains:

(4.) From the certainty of another rest besides that seventh day of rest instituted and observed both before and after the fall, and besides that typical Canaan-rest which most of the Jews fell short of by unbelief; for the Psalmist has spoken of another day and another rest, whence it is evident that there is a more spiritual and excellent sabbath remaining for the people of God than that into which Joshua led the Jews (Hebrews 4:6-9), and this rest remaining, [1.] A rest of grace, and comfort, and holiness, in the gospel state. This is the rest wherewith the Lord Jesus, our Joshua, causes weary souls and awakened consciences to rest, and this is the refreshing. [2.] A rest in glory, the everlasting sabbatism of heaven, which is the repose and perfection of nature and grace too, where the people of God shall enjoy the end of their faith and the object of all their desires. (5.) This is further proved from the glorious forerunners who have actually taken possession of this rest–God and Christ. It is certain that God, after the creating of the world in six days, entered into his rest; and it is certain that Christ, when he had finished the work of our redemption, entered into his rest; and these were not only examples, but earnests, that believers shall enter into their rest: He that hath entered into rest hath also ceased from his own works as God did from his, Hebrews 4:10. Every true believer hath ceased from his own works of righteousness, and from the burdensome works of the law, as God and Christ have ceased from their works of creation and redemption.

The gravity and import of this cannot be overemphasised.

John MacArthur says that the whole of the Bible is about restoring mankind to the beautiful rest that Adam had in the Garden of Eden before Original Sin. Adam did not have to do anything but enjoy God and His creation. He was at rest with God. Then, the serpent tempted Eve with a false promise of knowledge. Ever after, Adam had to work. Eve knew the physical pain of childbirth which, no doubt, would have been a breeze had she not fallen into sin.

This is what MacArthur says about God’s wish to reconcile mankind with Him — in rest. He started with Adam and progresses to the present day:

God said, “It’s done, and I’ve made a wonderful world for man. And I’ve plopped him down there, and I’ve given him a wife, and now everything is set. And I’m going to let him enjoy his relationship with me.” And Adam was walking and talking with God. He was at rest. He was in God’s rest. He leaned on God. He had no anxieties. He had no worries. He had the complete freedom, the fellowship with God. He was living in God’s rest. God had finished his work, and God rested. That’s what it says in verse 3 at the end. “Although the works were finished from the foundation of the world, for He spoke in a certain place of the seventh day in this way,” – and this certain place is Genesis 2, 1 and 2 – “And God did rest the seventh day from all his works.”

Now, stay with me on this. You’re going to have to use your brain for a minute. “My rest,” – verse 3, right? – “My rest,” – right in the middle of verse 3 – “Is defined as the rest which began when God finished his works and rested on the seventh day.” That it. It’s right there, a definition. God’s rest began right after the sixth day of creation. God was satisfied. He was infinitely satisfied and He rested, and He said, “Well, man, you can enter into my rest. I’ve made you a lovely world. You and I are going to get along. It’s just fellowship from here on out. You’re going to enjoy my rest.”

And there was only one condition. What’s always the condition for God’s rest? One word; what is it? Faith. Believe. What happened? Did Adam and Eve believe God or did they believe Satan? They believed Satan’s lies, didn’t they? Satan came down and started impugning the Word of God, and pretty soon Eve thought, “Hmm, I don’t know about this. Sure looks good. Maybe God’s, I don’t know – I’d like to be smart like that too and know good and evil.” And Satan kept working on her, and she disobeyed. And what happened? Immediately, unbelief forfeited what? Rest.

And you know what happened, Adam was restless. No longer did he walk and talk in the cool of the day. He started making clothes and hiding behind trees, didn’t he? Sneaking around with Eve, trying to stay out of the sight of God. You see what happened immediately, unbelief brought the forfeiting of rest and it was over with. And God’s great rest that he’d provided for His creation, man, was lost. You know what the history of the Bible is and the history of men? It’s the effort of God’s part to try to get man to get back into His rest.

Now, God had to do one other thing to make it available to man, and what was that? He had to accomplish the taking care of sin. And so the coming of Jesus Christ took care of the sin issue, and through that death of Christ, men may enter back into God’s rest. And even the people who lived before Jesus were saved on the basis of what God was going to do in Christ, right? We who were saved on this side of the Cross are saved on the basis of what God has done in Christ. But Christ bore sins, past and future. So, through Jesus Christ, God’s rest still continues, and men may still enter into His rest, and the history of God’s dealing with men is an attempt on God’s part to get men to enter His rest of which Canaan was a symbol.

And so God finished His perfect work, and man blew it. And man became restless because of unbelief. And verse 5 says, “And in this place again,” – and they’re quoting Psalm 95 – “They shall not enter into my rest.” God says, “Because of unbelief, man can’t enter.” God provided a rest on the seventh day, and it‘s been going on ever since, and the only people who ever enter into it are those who believe.

My friends, I believe in my heart that those people who sinned in the wandering in the wilderness not only forfeited Canaan but unless they exercised personal faith in God sometime through those 40 years, they forfeited eternal life of which Canaan was only a symbol. And so God swears that because of unbelief, men will not enter his rest.

I really hope that we think about that, not only today but also in future.

Speaking of rest, there was a time when shops were closed on Sundays. If they opened, it was in the morning. Everyone had a day of rest.

In the 1970s, shopping malls in the US began to open on Sundays. I can’t criticise that too much, because, after church, we would go to the mall.

In the 1980s, many US states that had ‘blue laws’ — no or limited Sunday openings — rescinded them, leaving shops free to open on the day of rest. I continued to go to the mall after church. By then, it was something one did.

Now, decades later, I wonder why so many of us do not observe a day of rest.

Barring those of us who have to work on Sundays — and I was obliged to do plenty of that in my time — there are seemingly endless Sunday obligations that do not include church. In fact, the timing of sports practice, to give but one example, precludes church attendance in many cases, at least here in the UK.

Do we no longer rest on a Sunday because we no longer attend church? Or do we no longer attend church because we cannot bring ourselves to rest? Or is church that ‘bad’ theologically that we no longer attend?

More and more people no longer attend church — or spend time reading the Bible and praying — yet, more and more people are restless. They cannot bear to a) be alone, b) sit in silence or c) relax.

Many Westerners, I would posit, are not at rest because they are not at rest with God in their daily lives.

Let’s quickly look at the rest of Hebrews 4.

The verses following today’s reading are severe. This is a Year B reading for a Sunday during the season after Pentecost. These verses say that everyone comes under divine scrutiny, if not judgement. This passage clearly disproves what atheists say:

12 For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart. 13 And no creature is hidden from his sight, but all are naked and exposed to the eyes of him to whom we must give account.

That should be engraved on every church.

After that, the author begins a dissertation on Jesus Christ as the Great High Priest. Much of this section, which runs beyond Chapter 4, is in the Lectionary, thankfully.

The author gives an ideal introduction, inspired by the Holy Spirit, revealing Christ’s mercy in His divinity and His humanity:

Jesus the Great High Priest

14 Since then we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession. 15 For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. 16 Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.

Absolutely! Would that we recalled that verse more often.

Hebrews is an unsung book, yet, it is one with so many essential lessons for us as Christians. Read it and rejoice, with thanksgiving!

Next week’s reading introduces a warning against apostasy in light of redemption through our Great High Priest.

Next time — Hebrews 5:11-14

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.

Hebrews 4:1-5

Therefore, while the promise of entering his rest still stands, let us fear lest any of you should seem to have failed to reach it. For good news came to us just as to them, but the message they heard did not benefit them, because they were not united by faith with those who listened.[a] For we who have believed enter that rest, as he has said,

“As I swore in my wrath,
‘They shall not enter my rest,’”

although his works were finished from the foundation of the world. For he has somewhere spoken of the seventh day in this way: “And God rested on the seventh day from all his works.” And again in this passage he said,

“They shall not enter my rest.”

—————————————————————————————————————

Last week’s entry was about the unknown author’s warning about rebellion against God and unbelief leading to eternal condemnation rather than eternal rest.

The same theme continues, again, with the author’s citation of Psalm 95.

Even though we do not know who wrote Hebrews, we can be sure the Holy Spirit was at work.

The contextual background is the Israelites’ rebellion in the desert on their way to the Promised Land. The Hebrews author says that, as the Messiah came to Earth, the Jewish audience — most of whom were converts to Christianity — has a greater share of rest and eternal life, therefore, they mustn’t lose it.

John MacArthur sums it up well (emphases mine):

Unbelief forfeits rest. And the word rest used back there in Psalm 95, which is being quoted here, has reference to entering a land of Canaan. Resting from the wanderings and the persecution in Egypt, and so forth and so on. It’s the rest of finally getting into your own land, not being persecuted, not being pressured, not being killed, not being made slaves. It’s rests from all of that. And they never entered into that promised rest because of unbelief. That’s the basic principle of this whole passage. Nobody experiences God’s rest apart from faith. That’s the key to entering into rest.

Now, if you go back to Moses’ situation in Numbers chapter 14, you find in verses 22 and 23 these words, “Because all those men have seen my glory” – this is God talking to Israel in the wilderness – “They’ve seen my miracles which I did in Egypt and in the wilderness, and they have tempted me ten times and have not harked to my voice. Surely they shall not see the land which I swear unto their fathers. Neither shall any of them that provoked me see it.” God said “Because you’ve never believed me but you’ve constantly thought you needed to put me to the test. You’ve never accepted me, you always wanted to prove me. You’ve never believed. You’ll not enter the land.” And the Bible says their carcasses would die in the wilderness.

Now, even under Joshua – of course you realize that was a whole generation that died off. Then the younger generation when into the land. But even when the younger generation went into the land, they did not enjoy the full rest that God had planned for them. And the reason they didn’t enjoy that full rest was simply because when they got into the land, instead of doing what God told them to do and believing God in obedient faith, they rejected God’s information to them. And God said, “Because of that, I’m going to drive you right back out of the land.” And that’s exactly what he did at a later time.

So even the generation that went into the land never experienced full rest. It was a hassle all the time. Fighting against every imaginable group, and they got messed up from beginning to end of their time in the land. So, there was no rest in either Moses’ case or Joshua’s case, the people who died in the wilderness or who entered the land because of unbelief. And may I say this? There is still a rest available. The rest of Canaan pictures a divine spiritual rest that comes by faith in Jesus Christ. It’s a picture of salvation rest. And that salvation rest, as we shall see in a moment, is still available. But it is only available to those who believe God, who commit themselves in faith to him.

Israel never entered full rest because of their unbelief, and Moses couldn’t make it happen, and Joshua couldn’t make it happen. But God has a rest far greater than Canaan. God has an eternal rest. It’s available to you by faith in Jesus Christ. And it takes a greater than Moses and a greater than Joshua to make it a reality. And that greater than both is Jesus Himself.

The author warns again against unbelief in Hebrews 4:1: no backsliding, otherwise, God will withdraw the promise of eternal rest.

Note the word ‘fear’ in that verse. That is the fear of God and His fair judgements. He blesses us so abundantly, yet so many of us turn from Him in adversity. This was the situation that the Jewish converts found themselves in. As serious as those were, the persecution and rejection were temporal. Being more concerned over temporal difficulty, as awful as it was for some, they had taken their eyes off the goal — eternal life through faith in Jesus Christ.

Verse 2 is just as crucial for us as it was for the Hebrews of the early Church. We all hear the same Gospel message of the Good News, but it does not meet with faith in all who hear it.

Matthew Henry’s commentary elaborates:

We do not mix faith with what we hear; it is faith in the hearer that is the life of the word. Though the preacher believes the gospel, and endeavours to mix faith with his preaching, and to speak as one who has believed and so spoken, yet, if the hearers have not faith in their souls to mix with the word, they will be never the better for it. This faith must mingle with every word, and be in act and exercise while we are hearing; and, when we have heard the word, assenting to the truth of it, approving of it, accepting the mercy offered, applying the word to ourselves with suitable affections, then we shall find great profit and gain by the word preached.

I read online of people who are so subsumed in spiritual doubt that they cannot extricate themselves from it. They spend their time navel gazing over past sins, surely forgiven. That is some of Satan’s finest work: urging someone to navel gaze and wilfully ignore the promise of the Word, Jesus Christ.

I have run across a few personally. I have urged them to pray for more grace and faith. I have encouraged them to read the Bible, over and over. Unfortunately, they ignored my advice at the time. Perhaps their circumstances have improved since then. I certainly hope so.

Pray for more faith. Pray for more grace. God will surely grant it, through His Son.

How does one pray? One begins with the Lord’s Prayer. One also petitions God, through Jesus, for a good day, for help in case a problem arises, for personal safety and health not only of ourselves but also of our loved ones. One works up the frequency of prayer, sometimes reciting prayers from church or Bible verses (e.g. the Psalms).

St Paul prayed unceasingly.

Reading the Bible regularly helps to increase the frequency of prayer. My favourite books, in order, are the Gospel according to John, the Book of Acts and the Book of Hebrews. I cannot recommend them too often. Start with those three. Read the Lectionary readings for each Sunday. Understand how the Old Testament and the Old Covenant promised the New Testament and the New Covenant, respectively. Do this often and soon it becomes part of a daily routine.

In verse 3, the author once again reminds the Hebrew audience of Psalm 95, wherein God withdraws rest from those who have turned away from Him. May that never happen to us. We must continue in a ‘lively faith’, as the old Anglican and Episcopalian liturgies say.

Henry explains the delicate balance of faith, backsliding and unbelief:

Observe, 1. Grace and glory are attainable by all under the gospel: there is an offer, and a promise to those who shall accept the offer. 2. Those who may attain them may also fall short. Those who may attain them may also fall short. Those who might have attained salvation by faith may fall short by unbelief. 3. It is a dreadful thing so much as to seem to fall short of the gospel salvation, to seem so to themselves, to lose their comfortable hope; and to seem so to others, so losing the honour of their holy profession. But, if it be so dreadful to seem to fall short of this rest, it is much more dreadful really to fall short. Such a disappointment must be fatal. 4. One good means to prevent either our real falling short or seeming to fall short is to maintain a holy and religious fear lest we should fall short. This will make us vigilant and diligent, sincere and serious; this fear will put us upon examining our faith and exercising it; whereas presumption is the high road to ruin.

The author points out that God also rested — on the seventh day (verses 3, 4). Now we enter into the notion of temporal — everyday — rest during our lifetimes. God also commands us to follow His example: keep holy the Sabbath Day. That means a temporal rest from our labours but also contemplation and praise of God for the promise of eternal spiritual rest.

MacArthur says:

So, when the Bible says here in Hebrews 3 and 4 that God offers you rest, it means … A new relationship with God that is multi-faceted … It’s full. It’s blessed. It’s sweet. It’s satisfying. It’s peaceful. And this is exactly what God is offering to every man, and this is exactly what was pictured in the Canaan rest that Israel never understood and never entered into because of unbelief.

The author again warns against rejecting God and ending up in a state of unbelief (verse 5). Once that happens, God’s promise of rest is over, because the unbeliever has broken with faith.

Henry explains further:

they shall never enter into this spiritual rest, either of grace here or glory hereafter. This is as certain as the word and oath of God can make it. As sure as God has entered into his rest, so sure it is that obstinate unbelievers shall be excluded. As sure as the unbelieving Jews fell in the wilderness, and never reached the promised land, so sure it is that unbelievers shall fall into destruction, and never reach heaven. As sure as Joshua, the great captain of the Jews, could not give them possession of Canaan because of their unbelief, notwithstanding his eminent valour and conduct, so sure it is that even Jesus himself, and captain of our salvation, notwithstanding all that fulness of grace and strength that dwells in him, will not, cannot, give to final unbelievers either spiritual or eternal rest: it remains only for the people of God; others by their sin abandon themselves to eternal restlessness.

Many theologians throughout history have said and continue to say that all are saved and that Hell is empty. Millions of people believe it. My theory is that such people are trying to make excuses for themselves and others, trying to assuage their own consciences.

However, Scripture does not tell us that all will be saved. It never has, no matter how we try to parse it.

Hebrews is one of the Bible’s greatest books. Studying it will make Christians appreciate our Lord and Saviour even more.

Christianity is an inestimable treasure. Let’s pray for those whose faith is shaky. May we never lose our own faith. May more come to follow Jesus Christ, our only Mediator and Advocate with the Father.

Next time — Hebrews 4:6-11

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.

Hebrews 3:15-19

15 As it is said,

“Today, if you hear his voice,
do not harden your hearts as in the rebellion.”

16 For who were those who heard and yet rebelled? Was it not all those who left Egypt led by Moses? 17 And with whom was he provoked for forty years? Was it not with those who sinned, whose bodies fell in the wilderness? 18 And to whom did he swear that they would not enter his rest, but to those who were disobedient? 19 So we see that they were unable to enter because of unbelief.

————————————————————————————————————–

In last week’s reading, the unknown author of Hebrews passionately encouraged his/her audience to waste no time in exhorting each other in the Christian faith. The word ‘today’ appears in verse 13:

13 But exhort one another every day, as long as it is called “today,” that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin.

Tomorrow might never come, therefore, it was up to them — and it is up to us — to seize the day. Carpe diem!

The author quoted Psalm 95, concerning the rebellion in Egypt.

Another verse from Psalm 95 appears (verse 15), warning against hardening one’s heart against the Lord as so many of the Israelites did in the desert. God saved His remnant who heard, believed and obeyed His laws.

Matthew Henry’s commentary explains (emphases mine):

Observe, (1.) Though the majority of hearers provoked God by unbelief, yet some there were who believed the report. (2.) Though the hearing of the word be the ordinary means of salvation, yet, if it be not hearkened to, it will expose men more to the anger of God. (3.) God will have a remnant that shall be obedient to his voice, and he will take care of such and make mention of them with honour. (4.) If these should fall in a common calamity, yet they shall partake of eternal salvation, while disobedient hearers perish for ever.

The author asks who those were who rebelled: the very same people who left Egypt, led by Moses with divine guidance and miracles (verse 16). Yet, how quickly they either forgot or were so self-absorbed — as were some of the Hebrews audience — in their temporary travails that they forsook the Lord their God forever.

Was the fallen Israelite experience a mere historical one? The author of Hebrews says God’s judgement prevails throughout the ages, hence, the strong exhortation to the new Christians. Henry interprets it for us in a contemporary manner:

While it is said, To-day if you will hear, &c.; as if he should say, “What was recited before from that scripture belonged not only to former ages, but to you now, and to all who shall come after you; that you take heed you fall not into the same sins, lest you fall under the same condemnation.”

John MacArthur is of the same opinion:

People always say to me – and we preach this so many times, but it’s all over the Bible. People say to me, “What about so-and-so? He used to come to church. He used to say he believes and now he’s gone.” I say to you, “That’s proof pudding that he never was saved to begin with, because the Bible says that if you’re for real you stay there.” “If you keep My commandments, then are you My disciples for real.”

The true branch does what? John 15. What does a true branch do? Abides. That’s the whole point of John 15. The true branch doesn’t go like this, disconnecting itself. The true branch abides. That’s the point. And so it is that a real believer stays there. He remains.

Go back to verse 6, the same thing. “Whose house are we? We’re the house of Christ if we hold fast the confidence and the rejoicing of the hope for Him to the end.”

Some people would come along and say, “Well, I believe that stuff. I believe it.” And he’s saying to them, “Well, you never committed yourself to it so that you secured that faith permanently.” It’s not enough to come up and say, “Yeah, I believe all that stuff.” The point is if you really believed it, you wouldn’t be being pulled back. You’d be in there, staying there, abiding there. That’s the point.

And when somebody departs from the faith, when somebody backs away from the faith, I quote you what the Bible says in reference to them in 1 John 2:19. It says, “They went out from us, but they were not of us; for if they had been of us, they would have continued with us. But they went out that they might be made manifest they were not of us.”

When somebody leaves they aren’t for real. And he says, “Oh, it’s so strategic for you Jewish people. It’s so strategic for you who hear the gospel. You know the truth. Now don’t go back, but be the for real ones that commit yourselves to Christ and abide permanently, and thus truly can be said you are partakers of Jesus Christ.”

Oh, there’s such a great danger in hearing and hearing and hearing, and never receiving Christ. I say to you, my friend, if you keep coming and keep hearing and hearing and hearing and not receiving, better that you should get out of here and run the other direction and don’t go near a church, lest by hearing and hearing and hearing you become harder and harder and harder. And some day you wake up imperceptibly to discover that grace is over and you are an apostate.

The author then goes on to discuss what happened to the Israelites with hardened hearts by asking three questions (verses 17, 18). Were they not those who provoked Moses (and God) so terribly for 40 years? Were they not the people who died in the wilderness? Were they not the same ones that Moses warned would not enter into his rest?

MacArthur says:

verse 16: “For who when they had heard did provoke?” Did not all that came out of Egypt by Moses? The whole pile of them did. Who was it that didn’t believe God and was striving and putting God to the test? The whole group were. Two exceptions: Joshua and Caleb that we know about.

Verse 17: But with whom was he grieved 40 years? Was it not with them that had sinned whose carcasses fell in the wilderness? God was angry with the whole group of them who had been unbelieving. And God called them in Deuteronomy 32 – I think it’s verse 20 – He called them, “A very perverse children in whom there is no faithfulness.” God was angry with a whole nation. God was angry with a whole generation of people, and He sentenced that whole generation so that they could not enter into His rest.

And I’ll tell you something, friends, as God judged apostate unbelief in the wilderness, He’ll judge it today. They rejected the 40 years of evidence, added to the evidence they’d seen in Egypt and the evidence they’d seen in the Exodus, and that is knowing and willful unbelief. That is apostasy, that is falling away, and that is damning to the soul. And it didn’t even matter to God that a whole generation of them had to be set aside if they didn’t believe. That’s what God had to do, because that’s the principle on which the universe is built. You violate God’s principles, you are failing to believe, you bring upon yourselves the consequences.

Verse 18: “To whom swore He that they should not enter into His rest, but to them that believed not.” There’s the key, friends. There’s the key …

The author concludes by stating those hardened hearts and souls could not enter into eternal rest because of their unbelief (verse 19).

MacArthur has this:

… and that leads us to the issue, which is the fourth point, verse 19. The illustration, and the invitation, and the instruction point to this crux. “So we see that they could not enter in because of” – what? – “unbelief, unbelief.” We’re saved by faith.

MacArthur went on to say, especially to people who define themselves as empiricists, that they put a lot of blind faith into everyday things without claiming empiricism. Do people have a blind faith that their highways and byways are safe? Yes. Do they have a blind faith that a good restaurant will serve them hygienically prepared food? Yes. Perhaps that faith is misplaced, too.

And if we have such blind faith about everyday things, why should we, therefore, not believe that Jesus Christ is our Lord and Saviour? If we do not, then we have a disconnect in our thinking, because we’re putting our trust in things — not to mention ideas and concepts — every day of our lives.

I’ll close with this from his sermon:

You live by faith. And if you can put your faith in the Highway Department and the people that make your food, you can put your faith in the God of the universe. He’s worth your faith. And I say to you, you’ll never enter into God’s rest in this life, you’ll never experience blessing, you’ll never experience the unfolding of His love, you’ll never experience eternal life unless there is within you a soft, pliable heart that has committed itself to Jesus Christ in trusting faith. And, my friend, the longer you stand on the brink and say no to Jesus Christ, the harder your heart becomes, and the easier it is to say no to Him.

Jude said this: “I will therefore put you in remembrance, though you once knew this, that the Lord having saved the people out of the land of Egypt afterward destroyed them that believed not.” Did you get that? To be unbelieving brings upon you the destruction of God.

I pray today that it is not too late for some empiricists to grasp that message. I pray that they open the Bible and read it, becoming grace-filled as they do so.

Hebrews 4 has more on entering comforting rest through a lively faith in God.

Next time — Hebrews 4:1-5

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