January 28, 2016

Scripture and Commentary, January 24-30

January 24

Gen. 34,  Mt. 15:21-39
Gen. 35, 1 Cor. 6


Matthew 15:21-39

The woman of Canaan is an important element in the Gospel of Christ.  At one time the Hebrews were told to destroy the Canaanites.  The hatred between the two peoples still exists in the time of Christ.  Yet Christ receives this woman and delivers her daughter from the devil.  In Him, the animosity and differences between people disappear.  All are shown to be sinners.  All are shown to be dogs, unworthy to gather the crumbs under His table.  Yet His mercy is for Jews and Gentiles alike.  Canaanites, Roman Centurions, Babylonian wise men, and Samaritans are all welcomed into His Church. His blood covers the sins of all who will believe, and unites them in one Family of Faith for all time.

Verses 29-39 record more of the miraculous power and grace of Christ.  He has compassion on the multitudes (32).  This compassion leads Him to give them their daily bread.  It also leads Him to lay down His life for them that they may eat of the Bread of Heaven.

January 25

Conversion of St. Paul

Acts 22:1-21
Acts 26:1-23

O God, who, through the preaching of the blessed Apostle Saint Paul, hast caused the light of the Gospel to shine throughout the world; Grant, we beseech thee, that we, haying his wonderful conversion in remembrance, may show forth our thankfulness unto thee for the same, by following the holy doctrine which he taught; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

January 26

Gen. 37, Mt. 16
Gen. 39, 1 Cor. 7


Matthew 16

The Pharisees can discern the signs of the weather, but not the signs of the Messiah.  His signs are plentiful.  Healings, miracles, the testimony of John the Baptist, and Scripture all point to Christ.  But the Pharisees do not accept them, so they ask for a different sign.  Christ says they will only have the sign of Jonas (Jonah).  Simply stated, the sign of Jonas is the resurrection of Christ.  Jonah was in the fish for three days.  On the third he was freed.  Christ was in the grave three days. On the third He rose again. The resurrection is the sign Jesus will give the Pharisees, and they will even reject it.

It is the same today.  People reject the signs given and ask for new signs.  Some want miracles.  Some want audible and visible appearances.  Some want religious feelings and experiences.  “Give me these,” they say, “and I will believe in Jesus.”  But Jesus says the sign, Christ’s resurrection, has already been given to us.  So we do not need new and more signs; we need faith to believe the signs we have, especially the resurrection of Christ.

Thus, Jesus warns the disciples to beware of the doctrine of the Pharisees.  Theirs is the doctrine of unbelief. Theirs is the doctrine of self-righteousness rather than forgiveness of sins.  Theirs is the doctrine of works rather than grace.  Their entire understanding of the Bible is wrong.  They have distorted it to make it appear to say things it doesn’t really say.

People still distort the Bible.  TV, radio, and local congregations have many “teachers” who distort the Bible, usually to draw larger crowds and make more money.  They are often very adept at quoting the Bible.  But, the fact that the words they quote are in the Bible does not prove that the Bible means what they say it means.  This is why it is important to have a basic understanding of the whole Bible, and to understand a verse or book in the context of the whole Biblical message. Like the disciples, the Church today needs to beware, for the leaven of the Pharisees is with us still.

The question posed to the disciples is the most important question that can be asked to a human being.  “But whom say ye that I am?”  Peter’s answer is the only correct one, “Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God.”  It is doubtful that Peter understood the full meaning of his words, but they did express the truth about Jesus’ being and identity.

“Son” does not mean Jesus began to exist at some point, or that He was born or created in some mysterious way at a distinct moment in time.  Nor does it mean Jesus is a God, similar to, but entirely distinct from the Father. It means there is unity and harmony within God, who is one God in three Persons. It is impossible for human intelligence to understand this, and attempts to clarify it usually cause more problems than they solve.  Our Anglican Articles of Religion state it as clearly as can be done.

“There is but one living and true God, everlasting, without body, parts, or passions; of infinite power, wisdom, and goodness; the Maker and Preserver of all things both visible and invisible.  And in unity of this Godhead there be three Persons, of one substance, power, and eternity; the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost.”

Christ’s response to Peter has caused much conversation through the centuries.  Some claim Christ made Peter the human head of the Church.  But the Bible does not seem to give Peter the treatment due to a person in such a position.  Neither does the Apostolic and post Apostolic Church.  More than 200 years must pass before the Bishop of Rome begins to claim to be head of the entire Church.  Even then, his claim is quickly refuted by men like Cyprian.  In the latter half of the fourth century, Jerome refers to Peter as “Peter upon whom the Church was founded.”  But John Chrysostom, Jerome’s contemporary and Bishop of Constantinople, states that the “rock” of Matthew 16:18 is the faith of Peter’s confession, not Peter himself.  Doubtless, the Lord’s words also contain some reference to the men who will become His Apostles and founders of His Church, but they in no way establish a pope, or subjugate the other Apostles to Peter.

The keys to the Kingdom are two.  First is the Gospel of Christ, second is Biblical faith.  These alone open the door of the Kingdom to any person.  The authority to bind and loose is the authority to preach the Gospel and proclaim that those who believe it are loosed from their sins,  while those who reject it remain bound in their sins.  This authority is delegated, rather than personal authority.  It is given to the Apostles as ambassadors of Christ.

Verses 22-28 show Jesus telling the disciples about His forthcoming death.  It is interesting that Peter now is called Satan and an offense to Christ.  This is because he insists on telling Jesus how to be the Messiah.  He is instructing God on how to be God.  Christ uses this to instruct His followers how to be disciples.  They must take up their crosses and follow Him.  The world, which they wanted Him to give to them in a miraculous display of Messianic power, is worthless in comparison to their souls.  And it is the life of the soul Jesus came to give, not the life of worldly indulgence.

Seeing “the Son of man coming in his Kingdom” (28) refers to the beginning of the New Testament Church.  It is the era of fulfillment leading to, and including, the Return of Christ to reward every man according to his works.  Some of the disciples, though not Judas Iscariot, will live to see the inauguration of that Kingdom.

January 27

Gen. 40, Mt. 17
Gen. 41:1-36, 1 Cor. 8


Matthew 17

Six days after Peter’s statement about Christ, our Lord leads him, along with James and John to the top of a high mountain.  There the veil of flesh is partly removed, and they are allowed to see the Lord “transfigured before them: and his face did shine as the sun, and his raiment was white as the light.”

It is worth noting that the transfiguration reveals a small part of Christ’s own glory.  As the sun gives light, rather than reflects it, Christ’s glory shines from His face and raiment. The significance is that the One standing before the three men is the source of glory and power, not a reflection or apparition of it.

Moses and Elijah confirm this.  There to honour Him as God, Moses, the great lawgiver, and Elijah, the great prophet, are symbolic of the Law and the Prophets.  What are they doing on the mount?  They are talking with Jesus, talking about “his decease which he should accomplish at Jerusalem” (Lk.9:31).  They speak with Christ about what the Law and the Prophets could never do, but what they point to and wait for, the atonement for sin through the cross of Christ.  Their presence signifies their inferiority to Christ.  They represent the Law and the Prophets, which testify of Him.  He is come to fulfill the Law and the Prophets by His death and resurrection.

The confusion of the disciples is understandable, under the circumstances.  They think they are honouring Christ with Peter’s offer to build three tabernacles.  In reality they are giving Moses and Elijah equality with Christ.  Thus the voice from Heaven in verse 5 identifies Jesus as far, far above even Moses and Elijah.  Moses and Elijah are great gifts of God to humanity.  Through the Law comes the knowledge of God’s will, and the knowledge of our sin.  Through the prophets comes the hope of a Redeemer, a “Lamb of God which taketh away the sins of the world.”  Yet, Moses and Elijah are mere men.  Christ is God.  He is the Law Maker.  He is the Redeemer. He is the Son of God.  This revelation is followed by the commandment, “hear ye him.”  As you have sought the law and prophets for the ways of God and the guide for life and salvation, now “hear ye him.”  It will be helpful to read Hebrews 1:1-3, and Hebrews 3:1-6 in conjunction with this passage.

Coming down from the mountain, Peter, James and John immediately see a multitude gathered around the other disciples, who are unsuccessfully attempting to cast out a demon.  Jesus quickly and easily dispatches the demon and rebukes the disciples, saying it is their lack of faith that prevents them from casting it out.  Their lack of faith is shown by their lack of prayer and fasting, for Christ Himself says that kind of demon is only cast out by prayer and fasting.

Our Lord is not invoking prayer and fasting as magic charms or spells to manipulate demons or anything else.  He is pointing out that the disciples do not have the faith to be faithful in the small things of prayer and fasting, thus, they should not expect to be able to do the great things.

The same kind of thing continues to happen today.  Christians neglect what we consider the small and mundane things, like prayer, and fasting, and seeking God in the Scriptures, and worshiping God in a Biblical church.  They crave the mountain top experiences rather than the daily routine of faithfulness.  Therefore, they are weak when they face the demons. Should we be surprised at this?

It is the same with what some call “serving God.”  They want the euphoric feelings, admiration, and high profile positions in the local church.  They don’t want the daily routine of changing diapers, mowing lawns, taking out the trash, and doing the things required of a being a Godly person in the home and at work.  How can we expect to accomplish great things if we will not be faithful in small things?

January 28

Gen. 41:37-, Mt. 18:1-20
Gen. 42:1-24, 1 Cor. 9


Matthew 18:1-20

Our Lord’s teaching here answers the question, who is the greatest?  The unspoken meaning of the question can be stated simply; “I want to be the greatest.”  In more contemporary terms we might say, “I want my greatness to be recognized in the Church.  I want my giving, my knowledge, my wisdom, and my talents to bring honour to me, especially from those who are younger and weaker in the faith (meaning, everyone).” But Jesus turns greatness around.  In His Kingdom greatness is not measured by accomplishments and fame.  In His Kingdom greatness is measured by service, and the lowliest servant is greater than the mightiest warrior.  In His Kingdom greatness is measured by dependence and trust, not by independence and accomplishments.  A little child is completely dependent.  It cannot provide for itself, feed itself, or defend itself from the elements or enemies.  Yet Christ tells us to become like a little child in His Kingdom.  This means we do not claim great status in the Kingdom of God.  We do not even claim to have any right to be in it.  We come to it more dependent upon God than a child is upon his parents.  In the ultimate sense, we cannot really give anything to God or contribute anything to His Kingdom.  We can only receive, like a child.

Lest we think we are great in the Kingdom, Christ reminds us to not only receive it as a child receives the necessities of life from his parents, but also to be careful not to harm those we view as little ones in the Kingdom (6).  It is common for those who believe they are mature in the faith to deal roughly with those of smaller, newer, weaker faith.  It is as though we forget that it took time and much help to bring us to our level of maturity, which is usually not as great in reality as it is in our imaginations.  It is as though we forget our many failures and lapses, and the sinfulness that even now clings to us.

Thus, Christ reminds us to deal gently with others.  This is so important He tells us to drown ourselves in the sea, cut off our hands and feet, and pluck out our eyes, if through them we cause offense to the weak.  It is better to enter Heaven halt, maimed, and blind, than to be cast whole into hell fire.

There seems to be an implication here that if we are not able to be gentle to those we consider weaker in faith, then we are not really in Christ.  Something is preventing us from coming to Him in genuine faith, and it will be good for us to expunge it from our lives rather than cling to it and suffer in hell.  That something is not really a hand, or foot, or eye, and our Lord is not literally telling us to cut them off.  None of us would have any left.  It is pride that our Lord speaks of.  It is self-righteousness.  It is the self-deceit that convinces us we are great in the Kingdom of Heaven.  Pride, self-righteousness, and self-deceit are what we must cut away if we are to return to Christ as a needy child.

This truth is illustrated by the story of the Shepherd and the sheep in the wilderness.  Do we think we are valuable to God?  He will leave us to go into the mountains for one of these little, weak ones gone astray.  That’s how much He values the small and weak. 

January 29

Gen. 42:25-, Mt 18:21-35
Gen. 43:1-14, 1 Cor. 10


Matthew 18:21-35

The Church is much more than a group of people.  It is the Body of Christ, and every member of it is a member of Christ and a member of one another.  Our relationship to, and dependence upon each other is much closer and deeper than that of the members of our own physical bodies.  For just as our bodies are one, organic being, we who are in Christ are no longer just individuals, we are one, organic, spiritual body, animated by the Spirit and living with and under the direction of Christ, our head.  A drop of water may exist in isolation, but pour it into a lake and it is no longer a drop.  Its nature and identity has been transformed.  It is no longer Drop, it is Lake.  Likewise, the Christian is no longer Individual, he is Body.  Understanding this spiritual and organic unity of the Church is critical to understanding the words of Christ in Matthew 18, and, indeed, all of Scripture.  As with the first 14 verses of this chapter, verses15-35 are about Christ’s people functioning together as the Body of Christ.  It is about us having one identity, one Spirit, one Mind, and functioning together as one.  We could put it this way; the Church is the body of the Redeemed, therefore the Redeemed must act as the Body.  There is no Biblical warrant for independent churches or independent believers.  All are part of the one Body.

With that in mind we turn to Christ’s teaching on dealing with a member who trespasses against the Body.  The Greek word for “trespass” is very graphic.  It means to “sin into you” and it shows we are not talking here about small and silly things.  We are talking about things that cause real harm.  We are talking about gross immorality, mean and ill intentioned actions and remarks, and serious doctrinal error with no intention of correction or repentance.  Such a member must be lovingly dealt with for his good, and the good of the Body.

The first step in this is to personally meet with the person, honestly sharing your own concerns, and openly listening to his.  You may find out you were mistaken. You may even find yourself needing to ask forgiveness.  If no agreement is reached, and the matter still appears to be worthy of further action, you return to the person, with one or two neutral members of the Body, re-state your concern, and re-hear his.  If no agreement is reached, the matter goes to the Church.  This means you bring it to the minister for help.  If the person is found to be in error, serious error, and unrepentant, and if he continues in this condition, he is to be considered as belonging to the world instead of the Body.  The point is that those who are part of the Body will seriously view and conduct themselves as such.  Those who do not are showing that they are indeed not part of the Body, and cannot be regarded as such by the Church.

The binding, loosing, and agreement in verses 18 and 19 refer to the judgment of the Church.  They mean that the judgment of the Church, if in agreement with the facts of the case, and if in agreement with the teachings of Scripture, pronounce God’s judgment on the case.  This does not mean God simply affirms the Church’s judgment, for the pronouncements of mere men do not bind God.  It means the Church has affirmed God’s judgment as reveled in Scripture.  The Church, obeying Scripture, has bound or loosed what God has commanded to be bound or loosed.

Seventy times seven is considered an enormous number by the disciples.  Seven, representing perfection, probably meant to Peter that he has taken enough offenses from a person and is free to withhold further forgiveness.  Christ does not agree, and the seventy times seven probably refers to a never ending river of forgiveness intended to flow out of the heart of the Redeemed.  It is perfection times perfection times ten.

The parable of the unjust servant is meant to illustrate this.  The servant has been offered forgiveness, but will not forgive others.  He represents a person claiming to be a part of the Body, who wants God to forgive his sins, but does not want to forgive others for their offenses against him.  In this way he shows that he is really not part of the Body, and, unless he repents, God will deliver him to the prison of hell, where he will pay all that is due for his sin.  This meaning is made clear in verse 35, “So likewise shall my heavenly Father do also unto you, if ye from your hearts forgive not everyone his brother their trespasses.”

January 30

Gen 43:1-14, Mt. 19
Gen 44:13-, 1 Cor 11


Matthew 19

The Pharisees continue their opposition to Christ..  Part of their plan is to kill Him; part of their plan is to discredit Him.  Of course, discrediting comes first, for that will turn the crowds against Him, and give the Pharisees the pretext of having Him executed for heresy and blasphemy.  So they attempt to make Him alienate the people by asking Him about divorce.  Then, as now, people were self-centered, and had a difficult time making themselves love their spouses after the first excitement of hormones wore off.  So divorce was common, and people went from marriage to marriage.  If Jesus speaks against it, He will certainly alienate many people.  If He does not speak against it He will be guilty of breaking the teachings of Scripture.

Undeterred, our Lord gives the truth about marriage; one man and one woman for life.  That is God’s view of marriage, and it is as immutable as God Himself. Furthermore, He declares that marrying a divorced woman is adultery.  In other words, in God’s eyes, she is still married to her first husband.  The same is true of a divorced man, though our Lord deals here only with the woman due to the nature of the question He is answering.

There are circumstances that make divorce allowable, though not required.  Christ here mentions fornication.  That frees the spouse from the marriage.

Jesus blessing the children teaches an important lesson; children are never too young to learn of the Saviour’s love, never too young to learn to love and worship Him, never too young to be counted as part of the family of God.  “Suffer little children” means to allow them to come to Jesus.

Verses16-22 record the story of a young man who is called a ruler in Luke 18:18.  He is probably a member of the Sanhedrin, which directs the practice of Jewish faith during the time of Christ.  Nicodemus is a member of that body, and is called a ruler of the Jews in John 3:1.  It would be natural for such people to seek out Jesus at this point in Matthew, for He is teaching and ministering on the east side of the Jordan River, very near Judea and Jerusalem.  Though a Pharisee, the young ruler does not seem to oppose Jesus, yet he has the Pharisaical self-righteous attitude about him, and his words could be viewed as a challenge to Jesus.

Jesus’ words in verse 17, “there is none good but one; that is, God,” are a direct challenge to the Pharisaical view of righteousness by law keeping.  Yet the man states boldly, “All these things have I kept from my youth up.”  So Jesus shows him that his perceived righteousness is imaginary.  The true test of righteousness is what Jesus calls the first and great commandment, to love God with all thy heart, soul, and mind.  But this man loves his wealth and possessions far more than he loves God.  Thus, when told to sell all “he went away sorrowful” (22).  Thus the man is shown to be a sinner after all, for he loves his possessions and comforts more than he loves God.

Verses 23-26 reveal the stronghold earthly possessions often have over people.  The rich young ruler probably considers them proof of God’s acceptance of him.  But Jesus says they are heavy burdens that literally keep people from entering the Kingdom of God.  Like this man, we are prone to value our possessions over God. 

It seems to Peter, then, that no one can be saved, and Christ makes the very profound statement, “With men this is impossible; but with God all things are possible.”  In other words, it is impossible for any of us to save ourselves.  Not only can we not atone for our sins, but we cannot make ourselves want to love God more than our possessions or ourselves.  Only God can save us.  Only God can change our hearts and cause us to seek Him in Biblical faith. The reassurance Christ gives to the disciples is that they will be saved. They have given up family, home, possessions, and all else to follow Jesus.  Their faith is in Him.  And Jesus promises that He will give them eternal life (25-30).

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