Category Archives: Sermons

[Life of Christ] The Not-Really Lost Jesus

(Luke 2:40-52)

A Decade-Plus Summarized (Luke 2:40)

And the child grew, and became strong in spirit, filled with wisdom: and the grace of God was on Him.

The growth of the Messiah

Like all humans (except Adam and Eve), Jesus had to start life as a baby, and then go through the growth process. When Luke tells us “the child grew,” first and foremost he means Jesus grew up physically. He basically skips twelve years of Jesus’ life in Nazareth. What transpired during those years, we aren’t told (though that didn’t stop some early writers from making up stories), except that He grew.

But it wasn’t just physically.

He became strong in spirit. Many modern translations, due to a Greek variant, are missing the words “in spirit.” But the majority of manuscripts contain these words.1  And it’s good that they do, because Luke isn’t telling us that Jesus became a muscular 12-year old. He is speaking of Jesus’ maturity, His self-control, His character.

He was filled with wisdom. The Greek word is sophia, from which we get our English word sophisticated (which means something that takes wisdom to understand). Jesus grew in knowledge, but also in understanding how to apply that knowledge. You can have a lot of experiences, and maybe even a lot of knowledge about different things, but you don’t have wisdom until you can take that knowledge base and learn lessons from it for your life (which could be as simple as don’t try to change a power receptacle without turning off the proper breakers first—don’t ask me how I know that…).

Wisdom is a sign of maturity. Kids may know all about their favorite YouTube personality, their favorite video game, or their favorite football team, but knowing those things doesn’t mean they are mature or wise. If, perhaps, they see their team’s quarterback retire early because of all the injuries he’s endured, and they take from that the lesson that what we do in life today will affect us years from now—and especially if they apply that lesson to their spiritual lives, not just their physical—that is wisdom. Jesus grew in this area, and all you have to do is look at His many farming metaphors (parables) to see He excelled in wisdom.

The favor of God was on Him.

Luke says the “grace” of God was on Him. Throughout my entire life, I’ve heard folks say the definition of grace is “unmerited favor.” But really, that isn’t the meaning. It really just means “favor.” It’s no surprise that some translations (probably because of our misguided definition) chose to use the word “favor” instead of “grace.”2

Certainly you can see the issue if we say God’s “unmerited favor” was on Jesus. Jesus actually merited God’s favor. And that’s exactly what this means. The Father looked at Jesus with gladness, with full approval of His words and deeds. Noah “found grace in the eyes of the Lord” because of his actions. While not perfect, Noah was walking with God. And especially when compared to the rest of the world at the time, Noah was “perfect in his generations.” He stood out as one who was actively trying to do God’s will.3

Yes, it is true that none of us merit God’s favor, because “All have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God.”4 But none of us will receive God’s favor if we aren’t making the effort to walk in His paths, His light, His commands. We have to make the effort, for we will be judged on our works.5

Jesus, however, truly earned God’s favor. We could really paraphrase it this way: God was proud of Jesus.

Looking for the “Lost” Lord (Luke 2:41-45)

Now His parents went to Jerusalem every year at the feast of the Passover. And when He was twelve years old, they went up to Jerusalem according to the custom of the feast.

And when they fulfilled the days, when they returned, the child Jesus stayed behind in Jerusalem. And Joseph and his mother did not realize it. Instead they, supposing Him to have been with relatives, went a day’s journey. And they sought Him among their relatives and acquaintances.

And when they didn’t find Him, they turned back again to Jerusalem, seeking Him.

Another example of faithfulness

God chose Joseph and Mary for a reason. We’ve already seen Joseph’s faithfulness to God in how he responded to each dream God gave him (he got up and obeyed). We’ve seen Mary’s faithfulness (she said to Gabriel, “Behold, [I am] the servant of the Lord. Let it be according to your word”). And here we see their continued joint faithfulness. It wasn’t a question for either of them whether to go to Jerusalem for the Passover feast. It was a given. They were going, because that is what God commanded. Oh that people today would have the same attitude!

So their travel to Jerusalem when Jesus was twelve years old was not a new experience for them or for Jesus. They did this every year.

The family leaves Jerusalem—well, most of them do

At the end of the feast (notice they didn’t leave worship early…), they started the 80-mile trip back to Nazareth.6 They didn’t make the trip by themselves. There was a caravan. It is possible that most of Nazareth more or less travelled together. This had to be a big enough group that they assumed Jesus was somewhere among their family—but they couldn’t actually see Him. This group involved not just Joseph and Mary (and whatever other children they had by this point7), but extended family and friends—again, all pointing to a sizeable group.

Some have called Joseph and Mary bad parents for not knowing where their own Son was for a whole day. In today’s “helicopter parenting” age, many parents hover over their children so much they are never able to become independent. But that is a relatively new phenomenon. If you read biographies from the 1800s, you will often see children as young as eight and nine years old being sent on days-long trips on horseback to towns. They were raised up to be able to take care of themselves from an early age. Given Jesus’ growth and maturity (something sadly lacking in young people—and many older people too—today), it isn’t really concerning that they didn’t know exactly where He was.

They assumed He was with family or friends elsewhere in the caravan. Some have said the men traveled together and the women and children traveled together. If this be the case, Jesus at twelve might have been assumed by Mary to be with Joseph and the men, while Joseph might have assumed He was with Mary. If they traveled by families, they probably thought Jesus was with His cousins or other family members. They weren’t worried about Him not being right there within eyesight.

But when the caravan stopped travelling for the day (approximately 20 miles),8 they looked for Him, asked about Him, but couldn’t find Him. Eventually they realized Jesus wasn’t with them. They were worried, and turned back around to Jerusalem to find Him. We’re not told if anyone else joined them (family or friends) on this return trip, but it is at least possible that some did.

Jesus Appears after Three Days (Luke 2:46-51)

It happened that after three days, they found Him in the temple, sitting in the midst of the teachers, both hearing them and asking them questions. And all that heard Him were amazed at His understanding and answers.

And when they saw Him, they were amazed. And His mother said to Him, “Son, what have you treated us this way? Behold, your father and I have been seeking you in distress.”

And He said to them, “Why were you seeking me? Didn’t you know that I must be in my Father’s house?”

And they didn’t understand the saying He spoke to them.

After three days…

Jesus is unseen by those who love Him most for three days, and then He is finally seen. 21 years later, Jesus dies and is buried, unseen by those who love Him most for three days, and then is final seen again (after the resurrection). It may only be a coincidence, but if it is, it is an interesting one.

Jesus in the temple

They found Jesus in the temple. Not the temple itself, but the temple complex, as only Levitical priests were allowed inside the temple itself. This is the third time Luke records important events taking place here (Zacharias and Gabriel; Simeon prophesying about baby Jesus; and now Jesus being found in the temple). This seems to be a theme for Luke.9

In this part of the temple, rabbis and experts gathered to teach and discuss the Law of Moses. Jesus was sitting with them, listening to them speak, but also asking questions. It is interesting to contemplate what kind of questions Jesus was asking. It doesn’t seem to be purely informational questions, because the teachers were astonished at His answers. It seems more likely that Jesus’ questions were along the lines of, “But what about…” and then quoting a Scripture. He used this approach during His ministry some 18 years later.10

Jesus’ wisdom and understanding was evident to the teachers. They could tell this kid took the Law of Moses seriously, and could talk about it on a highly intelligent level—challenging perhaps even some of their own understandings. According to the Mishnah, Jewish boys began their religious training at age 13. So Jesus having all this wisdom at twelve would have certainly shocked them. It was probably a very enjoyable time for the teachers to see one so young so interested. But when He grew up and continued to challenge them—let’s just say they weren’t fond of it anymore.

Why did you treat us this way?

Mary and Joseph were also amazed at the interaction between Jesus and the teachers of the Law. Partially they may have been amazed that Jesus was actually at the temple. Partially they may have almost given up hope of finding Him, so finding Him alive—and not seeming to be worried about His parents—might have amazed them. But there is no doubt they were amazed as well by Jesus interacting with the highest teachers of the Law of Moses—and amazing them!

But Mary’s main concern at the time wasn’t pride for her Son’s spiritual intelligence and wisdom. It was that she had finally found her Son. But it was her emotions, stewing for three days, that came out when she spoke to Him. “Why did you treat us this way?” She took Jesus’ staying behind as a personal affront to her and Joseph.

“Your father and I have been seeking you in distress.” The word “distress” means “intense pain.”11 Mary was worried sick. And she wanted Jesus to know how it affected her. But Jesus never apologized. Instead, He addressed her emotion with logic. It’s not always an effective tactic, but Jesus knew what He was doing.

Didn’t you know?

Jesus asked her, “Why were you seeking me? Didn’t you know I must be in my Father’s house?” This question is a lot deeper than it might first appear. Literally translated, Jesus says, “Because of what did you continually seeking me?” That is, Jesus seems almost perplexed that it took them so long to figure out where He would be.

Then He says (literally), “Because could you not see that in these of my Father I—I must be?” Some translations say, “Did you not know…” but Jesus says, “Because could you not see…” To Jesus, it should have been obvious where He would be.

Translations differ on whether it should read, “in my Father’s house” or “about my Father’s business.” Both of these are interpretations (and not without merit), and not translations. Jesus actually said, “in these of my Father…” So what are the “these” Jesus was talking about?

  • Perhaps it is the Old Testament Scriptures. If this is the case, Jesus is asking them, “Didn’t you realize that I would be where God’s laws are being studied and discussed?” If this is the case, then “about my Father’s business” makes the most sense.
  • Perhaps it is a reference to the many buildings of the temple complex. If this is the case, then “in my Father’s house” makes the most sense.

Ultimately, whichever option you choose (and perhaps there is another one as well), they all point to Jesus saying, You should have known I’d be here.

Why did Jesus say they should have known it? Because He had to be there. The word Jesus uses (translated “must”) means it was a moral necessity. He needed to be there.

Huh?

Mary and Joseph didn’t understand what Jesus meant. Most likely, this means they didn’t understand why He thought they should have figured it out earlier instead of taking three days to finally look at the temple. I don’t think Luke means they didn’t understand what Jesus was referring to be “these of my Father.”

This might give us some encouragement, because sometimes we are slow to perceive what might be obvious to others. It doesn’t mean we are dumb, it just means we haven’t come to that understanding yet. It might be due to our circumstances, our emotions, or our background. But we can’t ever use those as an excuse to not seek to come to better understanding of God’s word.

So Jesus went back home with them to Nazareth, and was an obedient Son. But Mary never forgot what Jesus said to her that day. She “kept all these sayings in her heart.” Literally, she pondered them both intently and continually.12 Even though she knew Jesus was the Son of God, that He was born to be the Savior and King, and that it wasn’t going to be a pleasant role—Jesus was still her 12-year-old Son. She seems to be trying to come to grips with Jesus’ larger role.

Jesus Grows Some More (Luke 2:52)

Jesus increased in wisdom and in stature, and in favor with God and man.

Verse 40 reads very similarly, and covered approximately twelve years. Verse 52 covers eighteen years. Jesus got older, and got taller, and got wiser.

Jesus grew in wisdom—this is an incredible thought! Some have the mistaken idea that Jesus, even as a baby, had full knowledge of everything. But instead, by becoming a human, Jesus took on physical limitations. He “emptied Himself” of the limitless power of being God, and became a human—a human that needed to grow physically, to grow mentally, to grow spiritually. He increased in wisdom, He learned things.

If Jesus Himself—God in the flesh—needed to grow in wisdom, what does that say about us? Surely we need to do so even more, right? So why are there Christians who never study God’s word? Doesn’t this say (by their actions) that they think they have no more need to grow? That (by their actions) they are claiming to be more wise than even Jesus?

But Jesus also increased in favor with God. This is the same word translated “grace” in verse 40. Jesus, as He grew, gained more favor with God. He earned more favor with God. Why? Because He continued to obey God, continued to walk in the Light of God’s word.

The official doctrine of the Catholic Church is that Jesus was impeccable. That is, they say it was impossible for Jesus to sin. He could not have made the choice to sin. If that is the case, then Jesus wasn’t actually ever tempted, because He didn’t have the capability to sin. Yet the Bible holds out Jesus as an example of someone who was tempted, but didn’t give into the temptation. And if Jesus had no ability to choose to sin (if He had desired to), then there is no real reason for God to bestow His favor on Him—because Jesus wouldn’t have actually made the choice to do God’s will—He was (in essence) forced to. All this to say, the fact that Jesus increased in favor with God means Jesus was making the choice to do the Father’s will—and making the choice means He had the choice. And this is massively more impressive and meaningful to us as an example to follow.

He also grew in favor with man. How could He not? He was always truthful, upright, sincere, trustworthy, faithful… He was perfect. But therein came the problem once He began His ministry—the religious leaders didn’t want the truth spoken by faithful followers of God. They wanted… well, we’re getting ahead of ourselves.

What Does This Mean for Us Today?

This passage makes a great outline. Burton Coffman shared this great note on this passage:

This passage formed the basis for many a great sermon of the Restoration, in which were these analogies: (1) Many continue along life’s way believing that Jesus is in their company, when actually he is not. (2) The search for Christ begins with kinsfolk and neighbors, but he is not with them either! (3) Then, let men return to Jerusalem, that is, to the gospel that was first preached in Jerusalem, to the true teachings of the New Testament. (4) Sure enough, Jesus was found in the temple, a figure of his church; and that is where he is found today.

Never be afraid to ask questions. Jesus was in the temple, listening and asking questions. He was still growing in wisdom, and this stop at the temple may have been a highlight of his childhood years, something He remembered fondly as an adult. When you don’t understand why we do things we do religiously, ask. When you don’t know how certain passages can be harmonized, ask. When you want to know what certain words, phrases, or even sections of Scripture mean, don’t be afraid to ask.

You need to grow in wisdom too. If Jesus needed it, you need it. Never stop studying God’s word!

 

1 “Most MSS (A Θ Ψ À1,13 33 œ) read πνεύματι (pneumati, “in spirit”) after “became strong,” but this looks like an assimilation to Luke 1:80. The better witnesses (א B D L N W pc lat co) lack the word.” –NET Bible footnote at this verse. What represents a “better witness” is a matter of debate, and I am not in agreement with their assertion, especially here.

2 ESV, RSV, NRSV, and MLV all use “favor,” while KJV, NKJV, NIV, and NASB all say “grace.” Alexander Campbell translated it “adorned with a divine gracefulness,” making it an attribute of Jesus’ character instead of how God viewed Him.

3 See Genesis 6:5-9.

4 Romans 3:23.

5 2 Corinthians 5:10.

6 This is assuming they followed the custom of many Galillean Jews to bypass Samaria.

7 Given James’ status as an “elder” in the church at Jerusalem (Acts 15) approximately AD 51, he almost certainly couldn’t have been more than a few years younger than Jesus.

8 So claims the footnote in my Bible—The Open Bible: Expanded Edition, King James Version.. This is also the number mentioned by Ted Clarke in Preaching School Notes (Bible Institute of Missouri: 2008-2010) e-Sword version.

9 The establishment of the church in Acts 2 takes place at the temple as well—this also written by Luke.

10 John 10:33-35; Matthew 22:41-46.

11 Thayer’s definitions. E-Sword version.

12 This is a piece of evidence that Luke probably interviewed Mary prior to writing his Gospel account. Only Mary would know that she never forgot what Jesus said that day, or that she continually pondered it.

[Life of Christ] Jesus is Coming… Soon (Part 1)

Before we get into this one, another apology for all those who signed up to receive the new posts via email. I just today discovered the emails weren’t including anything in square brackets–which means none of the footnote numbers showed up, and the link to download the worksheet for each issue didn’t show up in the emails either. I hopefully will remember to fix that for future emails.

To download the worksheet for this lesson, click here.

Luke spends nearly half of his first chapter detailing the lead-up, birth, and naming of John the Immerser.1 The rest presents the lead-up to the birth of Jesus (which continues into chapter 2). The similarities between the two parts are interesting, so keep an eye out for them:

  • Gabriel announces the miraculous conception of both John and Jesus.2
  • Both children were prophesied about by the power of the Holy Spirit.3
  • Both mothers stayed out of the public eye of their hometown for a while.4

Gabriel’s Second Revelation (Luke 1:26-33)

And in the sixth month [of Elizabeth’s pregnancy] the angel Gabriel was sent from God to Nazareth, a city of Galilee, to a virgin betrothed to a man named Joseph, of the house of David. The virgin’s name was Mary.

The angel came to her, and said, “Rejoice, honored one, the Lord is with you—You are blessed among women.”

When she saw him, she was troubled by this saying, and pondered what this kind of greeting meant.

And the angel said to her, “Don’t fear, Mary, for you have found favor with God. And behold, you shall conceive in your womb, and give birth to a son, and you shall call His name Jesus. He shall be great, and shall be called the Son of the Highest. And the Lord God will give to Him the throne of His father David, and He will reign over the house of Jacob forever—there shall be no end of His kingdom.”

One Month Later…

Elizabeth, after becoming pregnant, “hid herself” for five months.5 Apparently after that, she was willing to go back in public again and let others see how God was blessing her. It was a month afterwards that Gabriel is sent on another mission, this time to the other end of the Promised Land—to a little, insignificant town in Galilee, called Nazareth. He had to find a specific girl and give her a great message.

The girl’s name: Mary.

Mary

Assuming our assessment of the genealogies is correct,6 Mary is of the tribe of Judah, descended from David through his son Nathan. And she is betrothed to another descendant of David, a man named Joseph.

Betrothals in that time were legally-binding agreements between the husband-to-be and the parents of the bride-to-be. In the eyes of the law and culture, they were legally married (to break it off required a divorce), but until the marriage ceremony, they did not live together nor did they engage in any “marital activities” that might result in children. In other words, since Joseph entered into an agreement to marry Mary—a virgin—Joseph rightly expected to marry a virgin.7

The Strange Greeting

Gabriel says, “Rejoice, honored one!” I know your translation doesn’t read this way. The word translated “Hail” (KJV, ASV) or “Greetings” (NIV, ESV) is translated “rejoice,” “rejoiced,” or “rejoicing” (or “joy,” “joyfully,” or “glad”) 49 of the 60 times it appears in the New Testament. The NKJV gets it right by showing Gabriel start by telling Mary to “Rejoice,” because he has great news to share.

The phrase “honored one” (or “highly favored,” or “favored one”) only shows up one other place—Ephesians 1:6, where it is translated “accepted” (KJV), “freely bestowed” (NASB), and “freely given” (NIV). It is a modified form of the word for “grace.” Gabriel calls her “honored one” because of the great news he has to share.

Gabriel says, “the Lord is with you.” This is the first part of why she is supposed to rejoice. People who are truly trying to follow God almost always have nagging doubts about whether they are right in God’s sight. To hear a heavenly messenger say, “the Lord is with you” would be a great comfort. But it wasn’t just her righteous status under consideration.

Gabriel then says, “You are blessed among women.” He will explain it momentarily, but Mary is blessed, because—of all the women in the world—God chose her to be the mother of the Messiah.

So why did God choose Mary?

  1. She was of the right lineage (so the Messiah would physically be a descendant of David).
  2. She was engaged to the right person (so the Messiah would legally be heir to the throne).
  3. She was faithful—she “found favor with God” (verse 30).

We aren’t told how old Mary was when this happened. Some have suggested she was potentially as young as 13, though I have serious doubts about that for the following reasons:

  • However old she was, she had to have shown an independent faithfulness to God (not just following orders from her parents), because she “found favor with God.” This phrase refers to how God views a person’s actions, and is never used of a child elsewhere in the Bible. The first time this idea is found is with Noah, who was around 500 years old.8
  • Mary traveled (apparently alone?) from Galilee to Judah, a trip that was often taken by caravanning together with many others for safety. It would either require going through the land of the Samaritans, or crossing the Jordan River twice to avoid Samaria. Mary made this journey in a hurry, which eliminates the idea of a large caravan. A 13-year old girl, traveling alone (she did not come from a wealthy family, so there would have been no servants) on this journey would have been a prime target for thieves and predators (both human and animal).

I don’t doubt that she was young (obviously younger than Elizabeth), but I can’t picture a 13-year old fitting these circumstances. If I were forced to make a guess, I would say Mary was between 16 and 18 when this event took place.

Mary’s Confusion

When Zacharias saw Gabriel, he was afraid and troubled because the angel was standing there in the temple. When Mary saw Gabriel, she was troubled (and apparently had some fear) because of the message. She wasn’t expecting this, and honestly didn’t know what this greeting even meant—she “pondered” on it.

The Good News

Gabriel tells Mary not to be afraid (implying she was at least somewhat afraid), because she had “found favor with God.” As we said earlier, this means her faithful living was seen by God—so much so that God chose her to be the mother of the Messiah.

Then he gets to meat of the message: “You’re going to conceive and give birth to a son, and you’re going to name Him Jesus.” Other than Gabriel using the name Jesus, this can easily be seen as a reference to Isaiah 7:14—which Mary certainly didn’t understand completely. The name Jesus means “Jehovah Saves” or “Jehovah is Salvation,” and is the same name as Joshua in the Old Testament.

“He shall be great.” Chalk it up to Gabriel to give a massive understatement. This is the same thing he said to Zacharias about John, “He shall be great”—except John would be great “in the sight of the Lord.” Jesus is the Lord, so Gabriel simply states, “He shall be great.”

He will be called the Son of the Highest, or the Son of God. Jesus later taught, “Love your enemies…and your reward shall be great, and you shall be called sons of the Highest, because He is kind to the ungrateful and the evil” (Luke 6:35). Whereas we gain the name “son [or daughter] of the Highest” in a spiritual sense, Jesus was literally Son of the Highest. God is His only Father, and Jesus also lived up to all the spiritual ideals of the Father. In other words, Jesus is “Son of the Highest” at birth, and earned that title throughout His life (and beyond).

  • Jesus is declared God’s Son prior to His conception (Luke 1:32).
  • Jesus is declared God’s Son at His baptism (Luke 3:22).
  • Jesus is declared God’s Son in the midst of His ministry (Luke 9:35).
  • Jesus is declared God’s Son at His resurrection (Acts 13:33)

Jesus will have the throne of his father David. This was prophesied back in Isaiah 9:6-7.

Unto us a son is born. Unto us a child is given. The government will be on his shoulder. And his name will be called Wonderful Counsellor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, the Prince of Peace. Of the increase of his government and peace there shall be no end, on the throne of David, and on his kingdom, to order it and to establish it with judgment and justice from now even forever. The zeal of the LORD of hosts will perform this.

This means clearly that Mary’s Son must be of the royal lineage of David. She would have understood that much at least. It is not a coincidence that Luke mentioned her husband-to-be was “of the house of David.”

One thing we should address now (and probably more in-depth much later in this study) is the term “throne of David.” Some well-meaning but completely off-base folks teach this is speaking of Jesus ruling in literal Jerusalem on David’s literal throne. The prophecy isn’t about a literal chair (which, at 3,000 years old, is either destroyed, disintegrated, or so fragile no one could sit on it). It refers to Jesus ruling as the legitimate heir to David. Jesus is sitting on His throne, reigning from heaven (Acts 2:30; Hebrews 12:2).

This rule will be “forever,” and this kingdom will have no end. This is the same thing said in Daniel 2:44; Isaiah 9:7; and others.

His reign over the “house of Jacob” means, first off, that He was born King of the Jews—He is the Jewish Messiah. Secondly, it means they will have to answer to Him as their King and Judge. Thirdly, it also expands to His kingdom—the church—which is spiritual Israel (Romans 9:6).

Mary Accepts the Mission (Luke 1:34-38)

Then Mary said to the angel, “How is this going to happen, seeing I don’t [sexually] know a man?”

And the angel answered her, saying, “the Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Highest will overshadow you. Because of this, that holy thing which will be born from you will be called the Son of God. And look, your cousin Elizabeth, she in her old age has also conceived a son. And this is now the sixth month with her, who had been called barren. For with God, nothing shall be impossible.”

According to some sources, the Jews had a year-long betrothal period before the marriage. Mary and Joseph may well have been at the beginning of their betrothal period when this message was given by Gabriel. The marriage was at least 3 and a half months away (see verses 39-40 and 56), and probably longer. But Gabriel is apparently hinting this pregnancy is going to happen pretty quickly. That explains Mary’s response.

Mary’s Question

She asks him, in essence, “How is this going to happen, since I’m a virgin?” First, notice the difference between her response and Zacharias’ response. Zacharias asks, “How shall I know this?” In other words, he asked for proof, for a sign. Mary asks, “How is this going to happen?” It is a question of curiosity, not a question of doubt.

Second, note that she assumes there is going to be something miraculous about it, because her question is, How am I going to be pregnant when I’m a virgin? And she knows her wedding is not imminent yet, but seems to believe this pregnancy is going to happen before that time.

Gabriel’s Explanation

It isn’t often we are given the explanation for how God performs something supernatural, but Mary gets just such an explanation. He said the Holy Spirit would come upon her. When miracles happened in the Bible, the Holy Spirit was always involved. Thus, if a child was born via miraculous means, the Holy Spirit was involved. When Joseph was troubled about Mary’s pregnancy, an angel told him, “that which is conceived in her is of the Holy Spirit” (Matthew 1:20).

He also said “the power of the Highest [that is, God] will overshadow you.” In other words, God will make it happen by His power. If God can create man from dust (after creating the dust in the first place), then there is no reason to assume He can’t make Mary pregnant without the aid of a man.

As a result of this supernatural involvement, Mary’s Son would be called “the Son of God.” As we saw earlier, Jesus is Son of God literally, and He also earned the title through His obedience.

To make sure he eliminates any doubt Mary might have, he shares some news with her that she may have not yet heard—your old cousin Elizabeth is pregnant, and has been for six months—and people called her barren!” Then he prompts her to respond in faith: “Because with God, nothing is impossible.”

Some have questioned how Mary and Elizabeth could be cousins (literally the Greek word means “same family”) when Mary is clearly from Judah and Elizabeth is clearly from Levi. The answer is a simple one. All it would take for Mary and Elizabeth to be first cousins (hypothetically) is for Mary’s mother to be from the tribe of Levi (tribal descent was from the father’s line) or Elizabeth’s mother to be from the tribe of Judah. And the text doesn’t say what exact relation they were—they could have been second cousins or third (and don’t get me started on the “once removed” parts), which would just mean a grandma or great-grandma married into a different tribe—which was common. Whatever the relationship, when Gabriel mentions Elizabeth, Mary knows exactly who he is talking about, because they are family.

Mary’s Acceptance

Mary responds with humility, and acceptance. She just says, “Behold, [I am] the handmaid of the Lord. Let it happen to me according to your declaration.” No arguing, no trying to explain why God should choose someone else (like Moses did). She accepts the mission God has given her.

Then the angel departs from her. I have to wonder how he did the departing. Did he just *pop* disappear? Did he quickly ascend to heaven? Was there some smoke to travel upward (see Judges 13)? We aren’t told, but I’m still curious.

The Three-Month Visit with Elizabeth (Luke 1:39-56)

And in those days, Mary arose and went to the hill country, into of Judah, hurriedly. And she went in the house of Zacharias and greeted Elizabeth.

And it happened that, when Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the baby leaped in her womb, and Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit, and she spoke out loudly, saying, “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb. And how is it that the mother of my Lord should come to me? For behold, as soon as the sound of your greeting came to my ears, the baby leaped in my womb for joy. And blessed is she who believed, because those things which were told to her by the Lord will take place.”

And Mary said, “My soul praises the Lord, and my spirit has rejoiced in God my Savior, because he has regarded the low estate of His handmaiden. For behold, from now onward, all generations shall call me blessed. Because He is mighty who has done great things to me, and His name is holy. His mercy is on those who fear Him from generation to generation. He has shown strength with His arm; He has scattered the proud in the imaginings of their hearts. He has put down the mighty from their thrones, and exalted those of low estate. He has filled the hungry with good things. And he has sent the rich away empty. He has helped His servant Israel in remembering His mercy, as He spoke to our fathers, to Abraham and to his seed forever.”

And Mary stayed with her about three months, then returned to her own house.

Rushing to Judah

Why Mary rushed so quickly to Judah is a subject of speculation, but rush she did. Some suggest she wanted to see if the angel had told her the truth.9 Others suggest it was to build up her faith by seeing pregnant Elizabeth in person and to celebrate with her.10 Others think she quickly traveled down to Judah to congratulate11 and assist her aged cousin in her final months of pregnancy. Others think she went to quickly get the highly-respected Zacharias and Elizabeth on her side to vouch for her story of a male-less pregnancy.12 And still others suggest she was so bursting at the seams to tell someone about it, but couldn’t tell anyone around Nazareth for fear of shame, that she went as quick as she could to tell Elizabeth.13

Several suggestions exist for when she left to go there. And this wouldn’t be an issue, except we are trying in this study to keep things in chronological order as much as possible. The Ethiopic translation says “in that day,” meaning she left the very day Gabriel spoke with her. Most English translations say “in those days,” which leaves a bit of ambiguity to how long she waited. I have read guesses of a few hours to two days to three or four weeks. The ones who argue for it being over a week say betrothed virgins were not permitted to travel alone, and that there had to be time for Joseph to find out she was pregnant, have his dream, and decide to go ahead and quickly marry her, then allow her to travel. While I guess that could be true, the idea of Mary hurrying to get there shows she was in a massive rush to get there—something that seems incongruous with a weeks-long or month-long delay.

It seems most likely to me that Mary, discovering the news about Elizabeth, packed as quick as she could and left at the earliest point possible (perhaps the same day, probably a day or so later) to be with Elizabeth. And then, after returning home three months later, she is obviously pregnant, and word gets around (through the grapevine, so to speak) to Joseph, and then the events recorded in Matthew 1 take place (and we will cover those in the next lesson).

Elizabeth’s Praise

Mary comes in and greets Elizabeth. King James says “saluted,” but the word means a loving greeting (and “saluted” doesn’t scream loving nowadays). When Elizabeth heard it (so apparently she wasn’t right there when Mary said it), the baby John leaped in her womb. Before our son was born, he liked to kick, and my wife could feel it very clearly. So what does it feel like for a baby to leap inside the womb?

After John leaped, Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit (meaning she was being given inspired words) and began to speak. But she spoke “with a loud voice” (Greek mega phone), perhaps because she wasn’t in the same room as Mary—at least not at first.

We know she was inspired to speak these words, because she spoke things she would not have previously known. She repeats Gabriel’s blessing: Blessed are you among women. Then she adds, “Blessed is the fruit of your womb,” that is, the as-yet-unborn baby Jesus. But Mary hadn’t told her she was pregnant.

Elizabeth then asks, “How is it that the mother of my Lord should come to me?” This is proof as well that her proclamation was inspired—it is one thing to guess someone is pregnant, but to know Mary was pregnant with the Lord—the Messiah? There’s no way that could have been guessed. And knowing what we know about Elizabeth—that she kept all the laws of the Lord blamelessly—she would not have spoken a blessing on Mary if there was even a small doubt about her being pregnant by divine means.

The Catholic Church calls Mary “the mother of God.” This is blasphemous. They reason this way: Mary is the mother of Jesus (correct). Jesus is God (correct). Therefore Mary is the mother of God. No! God has no mother or father. God is eternal. “In the beginning, God…” Mary is the mother of Jesus. She is the mother of the human Jesus. His nature as God existed thousands of years before Mary was born, so in no way can Mary be said to be the mother of God.

Then I can only imagine Elizabeth was smiling, perhaps even chuckling a bit, when she says, “And look, as soon as I heard the sound of your greeting, the baby in my womb leaped for joy.” It sounds like she is sharing the joy the baby is expressing.

As a side note, the Bible attributes emotion to the baby inside the womb, and calls him a “baby.” The biblical writers use the same word for a baby inside the womb and a baby outside the womb. It is a baby. Not a fetus. Not a clump of cells. It is a baby.

It is also interesting to note that Luke, being a physician, would have been the perfect person to disprove the virgin pregnancy and virgin birth of Mary. He could have easily said, “This is clearly impossible.” Instead, he does the research, probably even interviews Mary,14 and concludes that it actually happened just as he describes it.

The final line of Elizabeth’s praise shows us Mary didn’t come there to check if the angel was telling the truth. Elizabeth (by inspiration) says “Blessed is she who believed” (speaking of Mary). Mary believed the angel, and God was going to bring about the things He told her through Gabriel.

Mary’s Magnificent Magnificat

Verses 46-55 are often called the Magnificat (especially by Catholics) and it is claimed to be one of the eight earliest Christian hymns, and the first hymn in praise to Mary—yet no documented proof for this claim is offered. These verses may have been done in poetic form (I doubt anyone reading this is an expert on first century poetic structure of Hebrew-speakers whose words were recorded in Greek), but it would be sacrilegious to say Luke wrote down a song designed to be sung in praise to Mary—when all praise is to go to Deity.

The first line of Mary’s praise is “My soul magnifies the Lord.” That means she praises Him, she makes a big deal out of Him. She makes Him bigger and herself smaller. It is a fancy way of saying the Lord is important to her. And we all ought to be able to say the same thing.

In the same vein, she says her spirit rejoices in God her Savior. How often do we rejoice in knowing God saves us? Mary here speaks of God as already being her Savior. Her ultimate salvation is through her not-yet-born Son, Jesus. But the salvation she is referencing is God raising her up from a lowly place (a poor girl in a nowhere town in the lower-class part of the country) to a position where everyone who knows about her will say she was blessed by God. Everyone who cares about God and His plan will know who she is.

She knows this elevation in status isn’t an accident—it took a mighty one to do this great thing. And even His name is holy. And the reason God, the Mighty, did this was because He has mercy to those who fear Him.

Mary then appears to reference (in general) God’s actions in the past, though it ultimately points forward to the spiritual reality in Christ.

  • He showed strength with His arm.
  • He dispersed the proud in their imaginations.
  • He ripped the mighty from their thrones.[15]
  • He exalted those of low estate.
  • He filled the hungry with good things, but sent away the rich empty-handed.
  • He helped His servant Israel (that is, when they acted as His servant, He helped them) by remembering His mercy.

The idea of God humbling the proud and exalting the humble appears several times in the New Testament, and each of these examples fits the same paradigm.

These things were done to fulfill the promise God made to Abraham way back in Genesis 12.

Mary Goes Back Home

After this memorable exchange, Mary stayed with Elizabeth for three months—just about the time baby John was to be born. She went back to her own house (that is, back to her parents), and awaited her marriage (though as we will see next time, there were some issues leading up to it).

What This Means for Us Today

Trust God, even when it seems impossible. Many promises to us in the Bible seem difficult, if not downright impossible, to grab hold of and trust. Can I really cast my cares and anxieties on Him and let Him take care of them? Can I really trust God to make sure I have what I need? Mary was told she would have a child without the involvement of a man. Yet her stance was that since God promised it, it was going to happen.

Family is important—especially if they follow God too. Whatever the reason may be, Mary spent three months with Elizabeth, and they were both overjoyed at what God had done for them. Far too often Christians (especially if they are related) spend their time complaining about things: the economy, the government, the church, etc. Instead, we ought to be seeking to build each other up.

Jesus is Lord, the Savior. Several times in this passage, Jesus is called “Lord.” It is here Mary is told His name will be Jesus—Jehovah saves. Jesus is the one who saves us from our sins through His death on the cross. Let us not ever forget this amazing gift God offers to us.

1 Luke 1:5-25, 57-80—All of which was covered in the last lesson. And while verses 39-56 include Elizabeth (John’s mother), and most of that section are Elizabeth’s words, the focus is not on John, but on Jesus, whom Mary was then carrying in her womb.

2 1:18-20, 26-31.

3 Elizabeth prophesied about Jesus (1:41-45, specifically verses 42-43); Zacharias prophesied about John (1:67-79).

4 1:24, 39-40, 56.

5 1:24.

6 Lessons 3 and 4.

7 The Law of Moses describes a potential situation where a husband claims his wife wasn’t a virgin on the day of the marriage. The parents of the wife were to bring out the bloody sheet that was on the bed during the wedding night, proving she had lost her virginity after the marriage (Deuteronomy 22:13-19).

8 Genesis 6:9.

9 Benson, Joseph, Joseph Benson’s Commentary on the Old and New Testaments (1857), e-sword edition.

10 Calvin, John, Calvin’s Complete Commentaries, e-sword edition.

11 Alford, Ibid.

12 Coke, Thomas, A Commentary on the Holy Bible (1803) e-Sword edition.

13 Butler, Paul T. The Gospel of Luke (Joplin, MO: College Press, 1986) (College Press Commentary set) e-Sword edition.

14 This would be the most likely way he would know what she had been thinking and pondering, as is said multiple times in chapters 1 and 2. See John Krivak’s article, “The Voice of Mary” in The Quarterly (Volume 5, Number 1), January, 2021.

15 Some translations say, “seats,” but the Greek word is the same.

Thankfulness isn’t Real Until it Addresses and Expresses

It’s amazing how shallow and cheap thankfulness is today.  As the person on the street, “What are you thankful for?” and they will likely rattle off several things. Maybe it’s family, or job, housing, health, etc. It doesn’t matter if that person is Christian or Atheist, Buddhist or Hindu—they can (and most likely will) give you at least a few ideas of what they are thankful for.

But the big question that never seems to be asked—or even considered—is this: “Okay, you’re thankful for these things, which is great—but what are you thankful to?” Just that one word, that change of a small little preposition, changes the whole discussion. Why? Because it isn’t real thankfulness until it is addressed and expressed.

Hear that again: It isn’t real thankfulness until it is addressed and expressed.

Take a look with me at Luke 17:11-19.

The Setting

Jesus is heading to Jerusalem (possibly for the last time), and He’s got a strange crew of disciples (17:1), apostles (17:5), and Pharisees (17:20) following Him around.

As part of the journey, He walks near the border area of Samaria and Galilee—neither of which had the best reputation among the “real” followers of God. Remember the amazement of the Jews when Galileans began speaking in foreign languages, and preaching in the temple? (Acts 2:7). Remember the time when the Pharisees hurled the insulting epitaph, You are a Samaritan, at Him? (John 8:48). You can be sure that the Pharisees weren’t too happy to be in this area—they usually made it a point to cross over a river (twice) and spend several more hours walking on the journey from Judea to Galilee, just to avoid walking through Samaria.

So, other than for Jesus, this wasn’t a comfortable excursion.

Maybe some of you have a class of people, a type of people you don’t want to reach, don’t want to talk to, don’t want to help. Maybe you’ve written them off as a Samaritan. Maybe it’s because they’ve been on drugs (or still are), or maybe it’s because they struggle financially and have needs they need help with. Maybe their clothes are tatty and worn, or they have tattoos, or they’re black, or Latino, or Republican or Democrat, young or old, atheist or Pentecostal. And maybe you’ve convinced yourself that it’s okay.

Jesse and a friend one time attended worship in Columbia, Missouri. The class discussed reaching people with problems (drugs and prison history), and one woman admitted, “I don’t want to deal with them because I’m afraid they will need more of my time than I’m willing to give.”

But Jesus worked hard, both in His teachings (the good Samaritan) and His actions (see the woman at the well in John 4) to humanize, to elevate the Samaritans as being worth reaching, worth the time it takes to engage them. In other words, Samaritan lives matter. Are there types of people you have written off as unworthy of the gospel? Jesus says their lives—and souls—matter too!

The Request

If being that close to Samaria wasn’t bad enough, things got even more uncomfortable. Lepers! Ten of them! Ten men with a flesh-eating disease, bodies gnarled and misshapen, faces unrecognizable, unable to interact with normal society, stood at a distance and called out in a harsh squeaky voice,[1] “Jesus, Master, have mercy on us!”

These men felt the crushing weight of oppression. This disease mocked them. It said, “You aren’t worthy to come to the city. You can’t live near real people. You can’t worship with the real followers of God.” They felt this loss, this shame—brought on through no fault of their own—day after day after day after day after day… And instead of pity and help, they usually received a cold should of indifference from people they saw at a distance.

But then they saw Jesus. A crowd around Him, yes, but they saw Jesus. They cried out with that barely-human voice, “Master, have mercy on us!”[2]

Why didn’t they address the apostles? After all, these twelve men had been given the power to heal lepers (Matthew 10:8). So why not call for their help? Maybe they had heard that some of the apostles wanted Jesus to obliterate an entire Samaritan village with fire from heaven (Luke 9:51-56). That could really undermine their influence, right?

Maybe you’ve let your tongue get out of control and killed your influence and credibility with some people. Maybe it was a racist joke, a harsh attitude, or just a cold shoulder of indifference. What might it be that causes people to not want to talk to you about their hurts, problems, and needs?

See, Jesus was well known as someone who helped people. These lepers knew that if they were going to get mercy, sympathy, and help from anyone, it would be Jesus—He has proven it over and over again. He cared then and cares now for the marginalized, the oppressed, the forgotten, the ignored. He takes the time to show they are important to Him.

The Answer

Jesus responds to these hurting and ostracized men with compassion and a command. Now don’t let this fact get by you. Jesus told them to “Go, show yourselves to the priests.” And when they acted in faith, God acted in love. Hear it again, When they acted in faith, God acted in love.

They weren’t healed immediately—it was only when they started their obedience, started on their way to the priests, that they were cleansed. Had they stayed still, the leprosy would have stayed. Had they hobbled into the city, they would have kept on hobbling.

The principle, When man acts in faith, God acts in love, is seen all throughout the Scriptures. “Make a fiery serpent and set it on a pole, and everyone who is bitten, when he sees it, shall live” (Numbers 21:8-9). “By faith, Noah…built an ark to the saving of his family” (Hebrews 11:7). “He that believes and is baptized shall be saved” (Mark 16:16). Acting in faith is obeying what the Lord commands, trusting that He will keep His word (and He always does).

God never tells you to do something impossible. He loves you, and wants you to spend eternity with Him. But in order to do that, you have to act in faith, and trust Him that the rewards of faith are greater than anything you’ve ever experienced!

The Thankfulness

Now we get back around to where we started this lesson. One of those ten men, when he saw that he was cleansed (and remember that Jesus’ healings were complete—so his whole body would have changed: from gnarled to normal, from bent-over to upright, from hobbling to running)—when he saw that he was cleansed, he turned around and almost certainly ran to Jesus.

I love what Luke says next. “He praised God with a loud voice.” Leprosy would have destroyed his voice—it would be like permanent laryngitis.[3] But now he has a “loud voice,” and he uses it! The Greek here is awesome. The word “loud” is mega, and the word “voice” is phone. Mega-phone. This man was loud and proud—he wasn’t scared to let anyone and everyone know that HE HAD BEEN HEALED! And that it was THANKS TO GOD! Then he “threw himself down at Jesus’ feet” (NIV).

Remember what we said at the beginning, It isn’t real thankfulness until it’s addressed and expressed. There is no doubt that he was thanking God (not just “being thankful” in general) for his cleansing. And he clearly expressed it in his words and actions.

Those other nine were “thankful,” I’m sure, in the way our modern society uses the term. They were happy about it (they asked for it after all, so they obviously wanted it), but that’s about as far as it went. No smile and a wave at Jesus in recognition of this kindness. No hollering “Thanks Jesus” over their shoulders as they stand upright for the first time in months or years and walk away. No praising God for His great love and mercy.

If a reporter from the Jerusalem News or the Samaritan Post had asked the nine ungrateful men, “Are you thankful you’re not a leper anymore?” I’m sure they’d say, “Yes.” But they didn’t show it. They got what they wanted from Jesus, and that’s all they needed Him for. That’s not gratitude. One writer said “…ingratitude was a worse leprosy than the physical disease.”[4]

Do we treat God the same way? We go to Him in prayer and ask for stuff, for outcomes, for guidance, and when we get them, we conveniently forget to even give lip-service thanks to Him.

The Ingratitude

If the story ended here, it would still be worthwhile by seeing the example of a truly grateful person. But it doesn’t. Luke adds a brief little sentence: “And he was a Samaritan.” Of all people, a Samaritan is the only one who was truly thankful. The one most looked down upon shines as the brightest example of the ten!

Jesus points this out when He asks the disciples, apostles, and Pharisees, “Weren’t there ten cleansed? Where are the other nine?” I know a guy who, when he was a teenager, got a card from a member of the church. His mom asked him if there was any money in it (because this member had a habit of doing that), and he said, “Yeah, but only $20.” If you had given that money, and you heard that response, how would it make you feel? That gives you an small inkling of how Jesus felt at the complete ingratitude of people whose entire lives had just been changed.

Then He says, “Only this stranger [allogenes, literally person from a different family] returned to give glory to God. Most commentators agree that this means the other nine lepers were Jews. Zerr says, “The mere mention of this man’s nationality, in connection with his exceptional conduct of gratitude, was intended as a rebuke for the Jews.”[5]

The man could have said, “I’m thankful to be healed,” but that wouldn’t have been true, real, authentic gratitude—because gratitude, thankfulness, is directed towards someone or something. Why do we tell people “thank you”? Because we all realize, whether we act on it or not, that thanks is something given (“thanksgiving” anyone?), and if it is given, it must be given to someone. It isn’t real thankfulness until it is addressed and expressed.

The Reward

Jesus looks down at the incredibly grateful man and tells him to “Go your way. Your faith has made you whole.” Now I want you to take careful note here. He had already been cleansed of his leprosy, as had the ungrateful nine. So what Jesus gives him here is something different. The Greek word for “made whole” is sozo, which is usually translated “saved.” Young’s Literal Translation says, “Thy faith hath saved thee.”[6]

Faith—true, authentic faith—expresses itself in gratitude. If gratitude is missing, then how can you claim to have faith? (“In everything, give thanks” 1 Thessalonians 5:18.)

The Questions

Are you thankful for your home? Your family? Your friends? Yes? Then to whom are you thankful? To whom is that thanks given?

Are you thankful that God sent His only begotten Son so that we might be saved from sin? Yes? Then how are you expressing that?

Remember, When man acts in faith, God acts in love.

Show your thankfulness, your gratitude, by coming to Christ for healing of the sins that eat away at your soul. Whether that’s through baptism to put on Christ, or prayer as a Christian seeking forgiveness, show your gratitude today.

When you act in faith, obeying His loving Word, then you can take the words of Luke 17:19 to heart: “Arise… your faith has saved you.”

-Bradley S. Cobb

[1] “…the lepers’ bronchial tubes are dry and the voice is high and squeaky.” J.W. McGarvey, Fourfold Gospel, p. 530.

[2] The word translated “Master” means a commander, overseer, or one who has authority. In the New Testament, it only appears in Luke.

[3] “An almost total failure of the voice is one of the symptoms of leprosy.” Burton Coffman, Luke, p. 376.

[4] The Interpreter’s Bible, Vol. 8, p. 298.

[5] E.M. Zerr, Commentary Vol. 5.

[6] Smith’s Literal Translation does as well, and it appears in footnotes/marginal readings in several translations and study Bibles.

Be of Good Cheer, I Have Overcome the World!

It is Jesus’ darkest hour.  The hour when His disciples abandon Him.  The hour when one of the men who had performed miracles, who had preached “the kingdom of heaven is at hand,” betrayed Him with a kiss.  The hour when He agonized in prayer, sweating as it were great drops of blood.  His final 24 hours of life before being tortured, beaten, mocked, and killed.

They bound the hands of Jesus in the garden where He prayed; They led Him through the streets in shame; They spat upon the Savior, so pure and free from sin; They said “Crucify Him! He’s to blame!”

And in this hour—the hour in which Jesus pleaded with the Father, “Please, let this cup pass from me”—we catch a glimpse of Jesus as an encourager.

How is it that someone who knows they are about to suffer excruciating pain [the word “excruciating,” meaning out of the crucifix, was created because there was no word strong enough to convey the pain of being on a cross]—how is it that He could possibly think about encouraging people at a time like that?

Look at John 13 with me.  We’ll start there.

You’re Going to Suffer

We are in the final evening of Jesus’ life.  He, along with the twelve apostles, have been in the upper room, sharing what would be their final meal together before the darkest event in human history took place.  The Passover has been celebrated, Jesus has washed their feet, then Judas leaves—setting everything into motion for the grand finale of the Jews’ plans to rid themselves of this Jesus.  This is the setting in which some of Jesus’ most famous statements are found.

It is here that Jesus said, “I shall [only] be with you a little while longer…Where I am going, you cannot come” (13:33).  The person that they had followed for 3 ½ years, that they were dedicated to—the man who was both their hero and their friend—says He’s about to leave, and from here on out, they won’t be coming with Him anymore.  If you’ve ever had to say goodbye to someone you loved, knowing that you’d never see them again this side of eternity, you can understand the pain and heartache this would cause in the disciples.

It is here that Jesus cryptically tells Peter specifically that the apostle will be killed too: “Where I am going, you cannot follow me now, but you shall follow me afterward [or, later]” (13:36).  Peter expresses his devotion to Jesus, says that he will die for the Lord, only to hear the words “Will you lay down your life for my sake?  Most assuredly I say to you, the rooster shall not crow till you have denied me three times!” (13:37-38). Peter, especially, suffers internal disappointment here, knowing that his Master doesn’t believe him.  Worse yet, the Master thinks that he will forsake Him.

Just a bit later, in chapter 15, Jesus drops another bomb on them.  Once He leaves, things are going to get bad.  “The world hates you…If they persecuted Me [and oh did they ever], they will also persecute you” (15:19-20).  You can imagine their thoughts here: Wait, you’re leaving, and then they’re going to start attacking us?

“They will put you out of the synagogues” [literally, make you outcasts from the synagogue] (16:2).  The Jews will excommunicate them.  The synagogue was the center of the Jews’ religious life week in and week out.  Being an outcast from the synagogue in essence made you an outcast among the Jews—the very ones they wanted to save.

“Yes, the time is coming that whoever kills you will think that he offers God service” (16:2).  Wait, what?  KILL us?!?  They will be so rejected, so persecuted, their names and character besmirched so much that the Jews would think that killing them is actually doing God a favor, a service, by removing the worst kind of false teachers possible.  This is some heavy-duty hatred and persecution that they’re in for.

“Because I’ve said these things to you, sorrow has filled your heart,” Jesus says (16:6).  “Most assuredly I say to you, that you will weep and lament” (16:20) because Jesus was going to “go away”—that is, going to die.

Then Jesus completely cuts the legs out from under them.  Not only will all these bad things happen to you after I leave, Jesus says, but “Indeed the hour is coming—yes, has now come [it is here!]—that you will be scattered, each to his own, and will leave me alone” (16:32).  Outside pressures are hard.  Persecutions are hard, but if you know you’re being persecuted for doing the right thing, at least you have some kind of peace in that knowledge.  But Jesus tells them, in essence, ‘Y’all are about to cave to the pressure; you’re about to show your weakness; you who claim to love me are going to completely abandon me, run away like scared little children, and hope no one knows you were my disciples.’  They were going to have internal character failure, which is often the most difficult kind of persecution there is—knowing that you failed someone else in their time of need.

Really put yourselves in their sandals.  No one wants to be persecuted, but they were going to be—that had to scare them.  No one wants to be hated, but they were going to be—that had to cause their heart to drop.  No one wants to be thought of as a coward, but that’s what they were going to be—and that had to make them sad.  No one wants to lose their hero, their friend, but that was about to happen—and that would make them sad for their own loss.   But the worst part of it all is that no one wants to watch their friend get tortured, mocked, spat upon, beaten, and killed—the helpless feeling had to overwhelm them as they realized they couldn’t save Jesus.

We all like to think that we could be a hero, stopping injustice, stepping in when someone is being wronged, standing up for the ones who are falsely accused or punished.  But seeing Jesus on the cross, they wouldn’t—couldn’t—do anything.

Then in verse 33, Jesus gives the understatement of the evening: “In the world, you will have tribulation.”  The sinful world, the world that doesn’t follow God, who doesn’t care about the doctrine of Jesus Christ—they will do their best to destroy you.  They will try to undermine your efforts for God.  They will make fun of you.  They will mock you.  They will try to discredit you.  They will try to make you feel guilty for sharing the truth.  They will try to pass laws to keep you from speaking up against sin.  And that’s every bit as true today for us as it was for the apostles.

If we just left it here, it would seem like Christianity is a life of constant misery.  If Jesus just stopped with the things we’ve touched on, then who could have blamed the apostles for running off?

But Jesus didn’t stop there, and we shouldn’t either.

Cheer up!

A quick glance through the same few chapters gives us some interesting insights.  It seems that Jesus wasn’t trying to scare them, He was trying to prepare them.  He wasn’t trying to frighten them, He was trying to enlighten them.  He didn’t want to bring them fear, but cheer!

“Let not your heart be troubled,” Jesus said.  “You believe in God, believe also in Me.  In My Father’s house are many mansions; if it were not so, I would have told you.  I go to prepare a place for you.  And if I go to prepare a place for you, I will come again and receive you to Myself; that where I am, there you may be also” (14:1-3).  Jesus says, Yes, I’m going away, but don’t be afraid or sad.  I’m going to get a place ready so we can all be together forever and never have to separate again!  I’ll be coming back to get you.  This separation is only temporary!

“My peace I give to you… Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid.  You have heard me say to you, ‘I am going away and coming back to you.’  If you loved me, you would rejoice, because I said, ‘I am going to the Father,’ for the Father is greater than I.  And now I have told you before it comes, that when it does come to pass, you may believe” (14:27-29).  Jesus says, Don’t be sad, and don’t be afraid.  In fact, you should be happy for me, because I get to go home to be with the Father!  But I want you to know what is going to happen ahead of time, so it doesn’t take you by surprise.

“Greater love has no one than this: than to lay down one’s life for his friends.  You are my friends…” (15:13-14). I’m going to die, the Lord says, but I am doing it for you—because you are my friends.

There’s not a friend like the lowly Jesus, No, not one; No, not one.

“They will put you out of the synagogues; yes, the time is coming that whoever kills you will think that he offers God service… But these things I have told you, that when the time comes, you may remember that I told you of them” (16:2, 4).  Yes, bad things will happen to you, but you will be prepared, and not be taken by surprise at the persecutions.

“You will be sorrowful, but your sorrow will be turned into joy.” (16:20).  My death will cause you great sadness, but it will lead to a greater joy than you’ve ever known.  I will be coming back, and your world—nay, the entire world—will never be the same.  You will be persecuted, but instead of depressing you, you will rejoice over it!  You will be blessed beyond measure to see some who persecute you turn in humble repentance and become your friends, co-laborers, and fellow-heirs of salvation.  Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake indeed!

“You now have sorrow; but I will see you again, and your heart will rejoice, and your joy no one can take from you” (16:22).  When I come back, nothing will be able to take away your joy, your inner happiness.  Because when I come back, you will know that your work is vindicated.  You will know that you are truly serving the one true God.  You will know that death is no longer anything to fear—because I will have conquered death.  And if I am raised, you can know assuredly that you will be raised too.

On that resurrection morning when the trump of God shall sound, we shall rise (Hallelujah) we shall rise!

“You will be scattered…and will leave Me alone.  And yet I am not alone, because the Father is with Me” (16:32).  You are going to see me alone on trial, alone on the cross, and you’re going to be sad for my sake—but don’t be.  The Father is with Me—I’m never truly alone.

“These things I have spoken to you, that in Me you may have peace” (16:33).  It is turbulent, trying to live in the world, living by the world’s standards and judgments, being surrounded by people who don’t know or don’t care about God and His word.  But there is a peace—a peace that surpasses all understanding—that I want to give to you.  Put your trust in Me, keep my commandments and be My friend, and know that I will come back to get you.  Know that I will have a place prepared for you in the home of the One who loves you, who cares for you, and who wants to take care of you and be with you forever.  I want you to know that in Me, you can have that peace.

“In the world, you will have tribulation; but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world” (16:33).  The god of this world will come after you—He came after me too.  But I won.  His power is broken. It might seem like the world—his world—wins later today, as I am lifted up on a cross and murdered, but it will really be his undoing.  And through my overcoming, you can overcome.

Then Jesus prayed for them (John 17).

Throughout this time of stress, this time of impending doom and trial, Jesus gave His apostles encouraging words.  They were going to suffer, but they would be able to endure.  Not just endure, but rejoice.  Not just rejoice, but emerge victorious!

But Does this Mean Anything to You?

Obviously, we aren’t the apostles—we weren’t the ones specifically being spoken to on that fateful night/early morning.  So what, if anything, do these sayings of Jesus mean to us?  The answer is plenty!

The last thing we mentioned that Jesus did for the apostles was pray for them.  But did you know that Jesus also prayed for you at the same time?  Yes, you, sitting there in the pew, were prayed for specifically by Jesus Christ less than 24 hours before He was brutally murdered.

Neither do I pray for these alone [the apostles], but for them also who shall believe on Me through their message (John 17:20).

How do we believe in Jesus Christ today?  We didn’t see Him in person; we didn’t walk with Him or see His resurrected form ascend into heaven.  No, but we have the written accounts from eyewitnesses, and from those who were inspired by God!  This is what we need in order to believe! (John 20:31).  Therefore, Jesus prayed for us before He died!  This message of hope, of peace, of cheer—it is for us too!

There is a peace that comes only in Him (16:33).  Now, if it is possible for us to be “in Him,” then we, too, have access to that peace.  And it so happens that we can!  When we believe in Jesus with all our heart, turn to Him in repentance, and are baptized “into Christ,” we can enjoy all the spiritual blessings that can only be found “in Christ” (Ephesians 1:3, Romans 6:3-4, Galatians 3:27).  We can take hold of the peace that is so powerful that it surpasses all understanding.  It allows us to be content when the world is crashing around us.  It helps us to rejoice when we are tempted, knowing it helps to create patience.  It helps us to endure the fiery darts of the wicked and continue to march in the fight against Satan’s wickedness (Ephesians 6).

We look at these passages of encouragement from Jesus, and we can know that it extends to each one of us as well.  It reaches through the centuries, up from the pages of your Bible, and deep into your heart—if you will let it—to cheer you on your journey through this land.

Footprints of Jesus, that make the pathway glow!

“In My Father’s house are many mansions”—that’s because we have a place there too!

“I go to prepare a place for you.  I will come again and receive you to Myself, that where I am, there you may be also.”  When He comes again, the dead in Christ shall rise, and the living Christians at that time will rise to meet Him in the air (1 Thessalonians 4).  Brethren, this is a promise for every Christian throughout the last 2,000 years, and through the end of time itself—and it includes you!  Jesus is coming back to get you, and take you home to be with Him!

“Greater love has no one than this: than to lay down one’s life for his friends.  You are my friends if you keep My commandments.”  Jesus’ death is for His friends—His church (Acts 20:28)—those who are trying to walk in the light (1 John 1:7).  Does that describe you?

I’ll be a friend to Jesus.  My life, for Him, I’ll spend.  I’ll be a friend to Jesus until my years shall end.

We know that we will have trouble in this world, because the god of this world is Satan.  But Jesus died to crush the power of Satan, to give mankind hope, to bring about the eternal kingdom of God, to make salvation possible, and to bring true joy and peace.  Yes, we will have tribulation in this world.  But cheer up—celebrate!  Because Jesus overcame the world—and He did it for us so that we can do it too.

For whoever is born of God overcomes the world.  And this is the victory that overcomes the world: our faith (1 John 5:4).

Or to put it a more familiar way:

Encamped among the hills of light, you Christian soldiers, rise and press the battle ‘ere the night shall veil the glowing skies.  Against the foes, in vales below, let all our strength be hurled.  Faith is the victory, we know, that overcomes the world.

His banner over us is love; our sword the word of God.  We tread the road the saints above, with shouts of triumph, trod.  By faith they, like a whirlwind’s breath, swept on o’er every field!  The faith by which they conquered death, is still our shining shield.

On every hand, the foe we find, drawn up in dread array.  Let tents of ease be left behind, and onward! To the fray!  Salvation’s helmet on each head, with truth all girt about, the earth shall tremble ‘neath our tread, and echo with our shout!

To him that overcomes the foe, white rainment shall be given.  Before the angels, he shall know his name confessed in heaven.  Then onward from the hills of light!  Our hearts, with love aflame, we’ll vanquish all the hosts of night in Jesus’ conquering name!

Faith is the victory!  Faith is the victory!  O, glorious victory that overcomes the world!

Listen to the confidence, the certain hope, the peace, the joy in knowing that we have salvation in Jesus Christ.

There will be tribulation, but don’t be sad.  We will overcome the world too.

-Bradley S. Cobb

Jesus – Our Great High Priest

(It’s been a while since we’ve posted anything, but perhaps this will be ‘worth the wait,’ so to speak. Thanks to those who have encouraged us and asked [demanded?] that we write more and post more often.)

Introduction

It wasn’t until studying for this lesson that I discovered an interesting fact.  The phrase “high priest” appears in 21 verses of the Old Testament. Just four times in the Pentateuch (the “books of Moses,” Genesis through Deuteronomy).  Yet the phrase appears in 56 verses of the New Testament—16 times in the book of Hebrews alone.  That should give us a clue: the New Testament has just as much to say—if not more—about the true meaning of the High Priest than the Old Testament does.

The writer of Hebrews addressed an audience of Israelites—those who were raised to hear, believe, and obey the Law of Moses.  It’s important that before we look into the idea of Jesus as the “Great High Priest,” we try to get some grasp of the background that the original readers would have had, and the ideas that would have sprung to mind when discussing this issue.  As we look at these Old Testament passages, try to picture in your head how these things pointed forward to Jesus Christ, and how He fulfills these things even today.  We will discuss the connections later in the lesson, but try to make those connections as we go through these verses.

The High Priest in the Old Testament

Though it isn’t the first time we read about the high priest, the words “high priest” first appear in Leviticus 21:10-14.

He who is the high priest among his brethren, on whose head the anointing oil was poured and who is consecrated to wear the garments, shall not uncover his head nor tear his clothes; nor shall he go near any dead body, nor defile himself for his father or his mother; nor shall he go out of the sanctuary, nor profane the sanctuary of his God; for the consecration of the anointing oil of his God is upon him: I am the Lord. And he shall take a wife in her virginity.  A widow or a divorced woman or a defiled woman or a harlot—these he shall not marry; but he shall take a virgin of his own people as wife.

First, note that the high priest (“priest who is chief” – ESV) is a brother, a relative, to those he serves.  It would have been unthinkable for the Israelites—God’s chosen people—to have to rely on a foreigner to lead them in the spiritual matters which included the removal of their sins as a nation.  God chose the tribe of Levi, specifically Aaron and his lineage, to serve as priests. But the fact remains, they were all Israelites.

Second, note the high priest’s anointing (see Exodus 29:5-7).  This was something done in order to set him apart for a specific task to which he was called.  God used the same method to set apart kings (1 Samuel 15:1; 1 Kings 1:34; etc.) and prophets (1 Kings 19:16).  The high priest was chosen by God to serve His people in their need for sin removal.

Third, note that even in the event of the death of close relatives, the high priest was not to cease performing his work.  Though some might view this to be harsh, the work of serving God and serving the nation of God’s people had to come first.

Fourth, note that he was only permitted to marry a virgin—a pure bride—of his own people.  The high priest was not permitted to marry someone who was not a follower of God, one of God’s chosen people.

Now, look at Exodus 30:7-10:

And Aaron shall burn fragrant incense on it. Every morning when he dresses the lamps he shall burn it, and when Aaron sets up the lamps at twilight, he shall burn it, a regular incense offering before the LORD throughout your generations. You shall not offer unauthorized incense on it, or a burnt offering, or a grain offering, and you shall not pour a drink offering on it. Aaron shall make atonement on its horns once a year. With the blood of the sin offering of atonement he shall make atonement for it once in the year throughout your generations. It is most holy to the LORD.

The altar of incense, which stood before the veil to the Most Holy Place, is under consideration in these verses.  Every morning and evening, the high priest burns incense to the LORD.  But the only incense allowed is what God has commanded/authorized.  Then at the end of this section, God reveals that the blood of the atonement sacrifice makes the incense acceptable.

Now, Leviticus 16:32-34:

“And the priest who is anointed and consecrated as priest in his father’s place shall make atonement, wearing the holy linen garments. He shall make atonement for the holy sanctuary, and he shall make atonement for the tent of meeting and for the altar, and he shall make atonement for the priests and for all the people of the assembly. And this shall be a statute forever for you, that atonement may be made for the people of Israel once in the year because of all their sins.” And Aaron did as the LORD commanded Moses.

Here we have the Day of Atonement sacrifice described.  It cleanses the tabernacle, and it removes the sins of the people of God—and this setup was given by the command of God.

We could appeal to several more passages to get even more in depth about the high priest, but these will have to suffice.  The question we want to ask before we go any further is: How did the Jews view the high priest?

  1. They viewed the high priest as absolutely essential to having their sins forgiven.
  2. One could pray to God, but it was understood that only the high priest could approach the presence of God on behalf of the people.
  3. The high priest was the visual representation of the entire Mosaic worship system. When the people thought about the Law of Moses, one of the first images that would come into their heads is the high priest in his robe and crown, offering sacrifices for the people on a constant basis.
  4. Though they understood (intellectually) that the high priest was still a human and susceptible to sin, he was viewed as “HOLY BEFORE GOD” (that message written across the crown he wore). Thus, he was seen as more holy than everyone else—or at least they knew he was supposed to be.

Of course, by the time of Jesus, the purity and holiness of the office of high priest had faded badly.  Instead of following the God-given directive to have a high priest for life, the Jews had multiple high priests, alternating their years of filling that role (see Luke 3:2; John 18:13).  In the few centuries leading up to the birth of Christ, the office of high priest was filled by whoever paid the ruling nation (be it the Seleucids, Ptolemies, or Romans) the most money—it became a political office instead of a religious one.

So the time was ripe for a new high priest to emerge.

Jesus as the Great High Priest

When Jewish Christians, torn by doubt, persecution, tradition, and family pressure, began to go back into Judaism, God inspired a man to bring them a powerful message about what they had in Christ—and how vastly superior Jesus Christ is than the fading relics of the Law of Moses.  One of the main areas of emphasis in this book is how Jesus’ priesthood is better than the priesthood of Aaron.  In other words, Jesus is the High Priest above every high priest who had ever existed before Him.

Speaking of Jesus, this inspired penman states:

Therefore he had to be made like his brothers in every respect, so that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest in the service of God, to make propitiation for the sins of the people. For because he himself has suffered when tempted, he is able to help those who are being tempted (Hebrews 2:17-18).

The first thing we noted earlier was that the high priest had to be related to the people he served.  Here, Jesus is the merciful and faithful high priest for “his brothers.”  But unlike the Jewish high priests (especially in the centuries prior to the birth of Jesus), He served as a merciful High Priest, and a faithful High Priest.

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. 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. 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 (Hebrews 4:14-16).

The Old Testament high priest came into the presence of God only by means of coming into the Most Holy Place, and approaching the mercy seat.  But Jesus didn’t have to bother with that.  Instead of going into the tabernacle and standing before the Ark of the Covenant, Jesus “passed through the heavens” and went to the Father in person for us.  The blood of the sacrifice—His own blood—was taken into heaven.

More than that, because He has cleared the path for us, we can approach God with confidence, praying to the Father through His Son Jesus Christ (Ephesians 5:20; Colossians 3:17; Philippians 4:6-7). He is there, and He lives to make intercession for us (Hebrews 7:25-26).  Our High Priest doesn’t have to go to an appointed place on an appointed day and wait for God to come and accept the offering.  Our High Priest is right next to the Father in heaven, and delivers our requests personally!

God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and with power… (Acts 10:38).

The Old Testament priests had to be anointed by a man in order to serve (Aaron was anointed by Moses).  If they weren’t anointed, then their offerings wouldn’t be accepted.  But instead of being anointed by man, our Great High Priest was anointed directly by God Himself!  He was anointed with the Holy Spirit and power after His baptism (see John 1, Matthew 4).  If this hadn’t happened, He couldn’t have offered the sacrifice acceptably—Jesus had to be a priest to make that sacrifice acceptable.

He holds his priesthood permanently, because he continues forever. Consequently, he is able to save to the uttermost those who draw near to God through him, since he always lives to make intercession for them. For it was indeed fitting that we should have such a high priest, holy, innocent, unstained, separated from sinners, and exalted above the heavens (Hebrews 7:24-26).

We saw before that the Old Testament high priest was not permitted to cease his duties, even in the event of the death of a loved one.  Our Great High Priest “lives to make intercession” for His people.  He never stops His role as our High Priest.  When one of His near relatives (faithful Christians) dies, He rejoices, for “precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of His saints” (Psalm 116:15).  And if one of His brethren should die spiritually, that is incredibly sad, but Jesus does not stop His work on behalf of the remaining saints—His role is of the utmost importance for us.  He loves us so much that He keeps working for us, even through heartache for those who fall away.

You may also recall the responsibility of the Old Testament high priest to offer up incense to God, every day, morning and evening.  Revelation 8:3-4 pictures this burning incense as delivering the prayers of the saints to God.  As our Great High Priest, Jesus delivers those prayers—not just once or twice, not weekly, not monthly, but continually.  Every day.  Morning and evening He presents our petitions to the Father and intercedes on our behalf.

Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, so that he might present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish. (Ephesians 5:25-27).

Just as the Old Testament high priest was only permitted to marry a virgin, a pure woman, so our Great High Priest is married only to a pure, unspotted bride.  And to make sure His church is this unspotted bride, our High Priest purified her, cleansed her by the washing of water (baptism) through the word (from which we can have faith).  We are made new creatures in Christ (Romans 6:3-4), and only through that can we be part of the bride of the Greatest High Priest.

Hebrews 9:7 spells out that the Day of Atonement sacrifice was done for the “errors” (KJV) or “sins done in ignorance” (NIV) or “unintentional sins” (ESV) of the people.  Then God inspired the writer to say this:

But when Christ appeared as a high priest of the good things that have come, then through the greater and more perfect tent (not made with hands, that is, not of this creation) he entered once for all into the holy places, not by means of the blood of goats and calves but by means of his own blood, thus securing an eternal redemption.

For if the blood of goats and bulls, and the sprinkling of defiled persons with the ashes of a heifer, sanctify for the purification of the flesh, how much more will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself without blemish to God, purify our conscience from dead works to serve the living God.

Therefore he is the mediator of a new covenant, so that those who are called may receive the promised eternal inheritance, since a death has occurred that redeems them from the transgressions committed under the first covenant. For where a will is involved, the death of the one who made it must be established. For a will takes effect only at death, since it is not in force as long as the one who made it is alive. (Hebrews 9:11-17)

For Christ has entered, not into holy places made with hands, which are copies of the true things, but into heaven itself, now to appear in the presence of God on our behalf. Nor was it to offer himself repeatedly, as the high priest enters the holy places every year with blood not his own, for then he would have had to suffer repeatedly since the foundation of the world. But as it is, he has appeared once for all at the end of the ages to put away sin by the sacrifice of himself.

And just as it is appointed for man to die once, and after that comes judgment, so Christ, having been offered once to bear the sins of many, will appear a second time, not to deal with sin but to save those who are eagerly waiting for him. (Hebrews 9:24-28).

The sacrifice of our Great High Priest is so powerful, so effective, that He only had to offer it one time.  That sacrifice purges us of our old sins (2 Peter 1:9). But more than that, it continually cleanses us of our sins—every day, morning and evening, when we “walk in the light as He is in the light” (1 John 1:7).

One of the greatest worries of many Christians is that they have sinned, but they didn’t realize it, and therefore didn’t ask for forgiveness.  But if the Old Testament high priest could offer a sacrifice that removed the punishment for the “unintentional sins” or the “sins done in ignorance” (that is, sins they didn’t realize they committed), then even more so will the blood of Christ completely take care of that for us as well!  “If we confess our sins [we can only confess that which we know we have done], He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us of all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9).

Jesus Christ, our Great High Priest, lives to make atonement and intercession for us, and His blood continually covers all our sins—the ones we know about and repent of, and the ones we don’t know about.  In other words, our Great High Priest takes the worry out of being a follower of God.  And He does it every day.

One final thought, and then we will close.  The Old Testament high priest served until he died, and then a new high priest took over.  There might be times when that happened that there was a bit of learning on the job, of nervousness or worry from the new guy.  After all, can you imagine having the sins of millions of people resting on what you were doing at that very minute?  But with Jesus, there is no worry, no nervousness, no learning on the job.  He is the Great High Priest who will never die, never be replaced, and who never—not even once—fails to fulfill His role perfectly.

And He does it all for us.

Praise God for our Great High Priest!

-Bradley S. Cobb

Jesus’ Salvation is Better than Old Testament Salvation

In the midst of discussing the ways in which Jesus is superior to angels, Old Testament leaders, and the entire Old Testament religious system, a statement is made that shows the absolute supremacy of Jesus over anyone else in history.  Of course, that is perhaps the main theme of the entire book of Hebrews, but it is nowhere stated more succinctly than in Hebrews 5:9.

And being made perfect, He became the author of eternal salvation to all them that obey Him.

“Salvation” in the Old Testament.

The inspired penman writes to religious Jews, men and women who were very aware of their proud (and sometimes not-so-proud) history as a nation.  As people well-versed in the Old Testament scriptures, they understood certain words and phrases in specific ways.  For many of them, it was difficult to comprehend that some of the Old Testament prophecies were talking about things spiritual instead of literal.  This is likely true of the word “salvation.”

Throughout the Old Testament, the words “saved” and “salvation” almost always refer to some kind of physical salvation, whether it be deliverance from sickness (like Hezekiah, Isaiah 38:20), from barrenness (like Hannah, 1 Samuel 2:1), or from enemies (most other places in the Old Testament).  Even Joel 2:32, which was quoted by Peter on the Day of Pentecost, if you look at the context of that prophetic book, had every appearance of a physical deliverance.  It indeed included that idea, but these were mere shadows of the greater salvation that was coming.

It is important that we understand that throughout the Old Testament, God was giving shadow after shadow of this greater salvation that was to come through Jesus Christ.  He was using these various deliverances—these salvations—from the enemies of Israel to prepare them to accept the eternal salvation—the better salvation—that comes through Jesus Christ.

Read these passages, which are just a sampling, and see for yourself what the primary type of salvation was in the Old Testament.  When the Israelites were standing on the shores of the Red Sea, the Egyptians hot on their heels, scared that they were going to be killed, Moses said:

Fear ye not, stand still, and see the salvation of the Lord, which He will show to you today: for the Egyptians whom you have seen today, you shall see them again no more forever! (Exodus 14:13).

After Moses raised his rod, the Red Sea split, and the Israelites walked across on dry ground.  When the Egyptians tried to follow them, God brought the walls of water crashing down on them, drowning Pharaoh’s entire army.  The inspired record then says:

Thus the LORD saved Israel that day out of the hand of the Egyptians; and Israel saw the Egyptians dead on the seashore (Exodus 14:30).

Forty years later, the Israelites are at the side of another body of water, the Jordan River, and Moses is giving a series of sermons, delivering to this new generation the laws and commands of God, as well as the promises.  Hear what he says to them:

It shall be, when you are come night unto the battle, that the priest shall approach and speak unto the people, and shall say to them, “Hear, O Israel, you approach this day unto the battle against your enemies: let not your hearts faint, fear not, and do not tremble, neither be ye terrified because of them; for the LORD your God is He that goes with you, to fight for you against your enemies, to save you” (Deuteronomy 20:2-4).

This is the same thread that runs throughout the books of history.  Judges 6 and 7 uses the word several times to describe the salvation that God would bring to Israel by the hands of Gideon and his 300 men.  Salvation from the Philistines is mentioned several times in the books of Samuel.  Here’s just one of those passages:

By the mouth of my servant David I will save my people Israel out of the hand of the Philistines, and out of the hand of all their enemies (2 Samuel 3:18).

In the books of Kings and Chronicles, there are instances of the people going to God in prayer, crying “Save us!”  But these are all asking for physical salvation from their enemies.

Now therefore, O LORD our God, I beseech Thee, save Thou us out of his hand, that all the kingdoms of the earth may know that Thou art the LORD God, even Thou only (2 Kings 19:19).

What we need to recognize in all of these is that they weren’t asking for salvation from sin; they were asking for physical deliverance from their enemies.  But make no mistake about it, there was a spiritual component to this as well, as we will see.

Old Testament Salvation Based on their Attitudes and Actions

In the book of Judges, we see over and over the rollercoaster of the Israelites—they go from faithful to fallen, then God sends a nation to conquer them.  Eventually, they cry out to the Lord in repentance, and God sends a deliverer, a judge, to save them from their enemies.  In short, God didn’t save them when they continually rejected Him.  This is a constant theme throughout the entire Bible (Old Testament and New Testament).  If you doubt it, just read Hebrews 10:26-31.  Moses, soon before his death, told the Israelites that they needed to learn the lesson of faithfulness:

It shall come to pass, if thou wilt not hearken to the voice of the LORD thy God, to observe to do all His commandments and His statutes which I command thee this day, that all these curses shall come upon thee and overtake thee. … And thou shalt grope at noonday as the blind gropeth in darkness, and thou shalt not prosper in thy ways: and thou shalt be only oppressed and spoiled evermore, and no man [literally, “no one”] shall save thee (Deuteronomy 28:15, 29).

Obedience was required if they wanted physical salvation.  But so was humility.  After David had been saved from Saul (The king of God’s people, the Israelites), he was inspired to write:

The afflicted people [“humble people,” NKJV] You will save, but Your eyes are upon the haughty, that You may bring them down (2 Samuel 22:28).

Here is a contrast being made between two people who are in a covenant with God.  On one hand, you’ve got the mighty King Saul, the haughty, high-minded King Saul.  On the other hand, you’ve got the humble servant of God, David.  Being saved physically in the Old Testament was based on one’s attitude towards God.  And brethren, our salvation today is based on our attitude of humility as well—

Humble yourselves in the sight of the Lord, and He will lift you up (James 4:10).

He will save the humble person (Job 22:29).

The sixth Psalm shows the heart of a humble person before God, including these words:

Have mercy on me, O LORD, for I am weak: O LORD, heal me, for my bones are vexed.  My soul is also sore vexed: but Thou, O LORD, how long?  Return, O LORD, deliver my soul: of save me for Thy mercies’ sake (Psalm 6:2-4).

When David’s son Solomon went before the people after the completion of the magnificent temple in Jerusalem, he preached to them and offered a public prayer to God.  In it, he showed the connection between their physical deliverance and their spiritual condition.  Hear his words:

If they sin against You (for there is no man which does not sin), and You be angry with them, and deliver them over before their enemies, and they carry them away captives unto a land far off or near.  Yet if they consider themselves in the land to which they are carried captive, and turn and pray to You in the land of their captivity, saying, “We have sinned, we have done amiss, and have dealt wickedly”; if they return to You with all their heart and all their soul in the land of their captivity to which they have been carried captives, and pray toward their land which You have given to their fathers, and toward the city which You have chosen, and toward the house which I have built for thy name; then hear from the heavens, even from Your dwelling place, their prayer and their supplications, and maintain their cause, and forgive Your people which have sinned against You (2 Chronicles 6:36-39).

Without any doubt, the lost people of God, in order to expect salvation, had to repent of their sins against God.  It was a requirement for their salvation.  In short, for them to expect a physical salvation, they had to obey the Lord.

The Eternal Salvation

The writer of Hebrews shows that Jesus’ priesthood is a God-ordained one (Hebrews 5:4-6).  Just as Aaron was called by God to be a priest, so was Jesus.  But the priesthood of Jesus Christ was different, was superior to the Levitical one.  Aaron’s high-priesthood ended at his death, and the next priest was his son—and so it continued more or less for some 1500 years.  But Jesus’ role as high-priest is “forever,” and began at His death, when He offered Himself as the ultimate sacrifice for sin.  Additionally, Aaron (and his sons) required the assistance of another human (Moses) to ordain them to serve as priests.  Jesus was ordained straight from the Father, without any human go-between.

Given the focus of this lesson, we must point out that while Aaron was able to offer sacrifices for the sins of the people, Aaron didn’t originate this system.  He simply followed the instructions given to him by Moses (who received them from God).  By way of immense contrast, Jesus is the Author, the Originator, the Cause of eternal salvation.

The salvation offered by Jesus is also universal in availability.  The inspired writer doesn’t say “He is the author of eternal salvation to all the Jews who obey Him.”  It is for all—Jew and Gentile alike (Acts 10-11).

Our Messiah’s sacrifice of Himself for us was a one-time act, not something that had to be done every day (Hebrews 7:27; 10:1-2).  It was not a sacrifice which led to temporary salvation, which was lost upon each subsequent sin (requiring yet another sacrifice).  The Sacrifice of our Sovereign is one which leads to eternal salvation.  His salvation doesn’t require another sacrifice to purge or cleanse sin from His followers; His sacrifice continually cleanses us from sin if we walk in the light (1 John 1:7).  In other words, salvation through Jesus is better than salvation under the Old Testament sacrificial system.

Make no mistake about it, there was forgiveness of sins offered in the Old Testament (see 2 Chronicles 6:39, Psalm 51).  But it, like so much else, was a shadow, which needed the reality of Jesus the Messiah to give it meaning and effectiveness.  The sins of the Old Testament saints were forgiven based on the then-future sacrifice of the Majestic Messiah (Hebrews 9:15).  The sins of the New Testament saints are forgiven based on the death of the Suffering Savior (Acts 2:36-38; 1 John 1:7).  The salvation from sins offered under the Old Testament was one which required faith in something that most of them would never see in their lifetime.  Salvation under the New Testament is based on something that has now actually taken place. It is much like Peter’s words to the church: “We have a more certain word of prophecy” (2 Peter 1:19).

The salvation offered by Jesus Christ is His.  He is the Author.  He is the Sacrifice.  He is the Judge.  He is the Advocate.  He is the Forgiver.  And as long as one obeys Him, confessing sins to God as they are recognized, that salvation is guaranteed (1 John 1:9).

Father, grant us that eternal salvation, which is far superior to physical deliverance from enemies, and which is certain and solidified for us through the death of Your Son, Jesus the Savior.

-Bradley S. Cobb

Can You Bear the Light?

 

Introduction

Wouldn’t it be great to be imprisoned?  To not be able to go anywhere?  To not have the freedom to get up and walk somewhere?  I mean, think of how happy you’d be if only you were in chains!!

Okay, not really.  But Paul’s example is a great one to follow.  He’s imprisoned, awaiting trial, and yet he repeatedly speaks of his joy.  Obviously his joy isn’t because he’s imprisoned, but he can have joy nonetheless.  There’s several passages throughout Philippians that prove this point—but as they aren’t the focus of this lesson, we’ll not delve into all of them.  Instead, I want you to look at Philippians 2:12-18 with me, and we will see that one reason Paul had joy was because faithful Christians are light-bearers in the world.

Light-bearing involves faithfulness to God’s commands (2:12-13)

Wherefore, my beloved, as ye have always obeyed, not as in my presence only, but now much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling. For it is God which worketh in you both to will and to do of his good pleasure.

First, Paul loves them.  The word “beloved” is the noun form of agape.  Literally, it is “loved ones.”  Because he loves them, he praises them, and he also encourages them.  Isn’t that a great example of shining like a light?  When someone does something good, praise them, and encourage them to continue!

Second, they were obedient to the things Paul had delivered to them from God.  In other words, they were faithful to the commands of the Lord.  The word “obeyed” in the original is two words put together: under and hearing.  They listened to the one whom they were under (ultimately, God), recognizing Him as the Master and Ruler.  Since “obedience” includes the word “hearing,” is it really possible for someone to obey God without hearing what His word says?  And remember, that this is being spoken to Christians—Christians need to continue to “hear the word of the Lord,” or “study to show thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth.”  If you want to shine like lights in the world, drawing people to Christ, then you have to read, study, listen to the commands of God.

Third, Paul encourages them to “work out your own salvation with fear and trembling.”  The phrase “not as in my presence only, but now much more in my absence” actually goes with this encouraging phrase.  They were concerned about their salvation, they energetically worked to maintain their standing before God, while Paul was present.  Now, however, Paul encourages them to do it even more so—literally, to work out fully their own salvation—in his absence.  It’s like a parent watching his children as they clean their room, or do the dishes, or mow the yard, or whatever task it might be.  The children might work steadily and diligently while mom or dad are standing there watching, and the work will get done.  But it is far more important, far more impressive, when they do that work without mom and dad’s personal presence right there.  How those children obey, how they work when the parents aren’t right there shows what kind of person they truly are.  In the same way, Paul encourages the Philippian Christians (and us today as well) to take personal responsibility, to show our true dedication to the Lord by working out our own salvation.  2 John 8 says “Look to yourselves that we lose not the things for which we have worked, but receive a full reward.”

Fourth, they are to work out their own salvation “with fear and trembling.”   This doesn’t mean that we are shaking in our boots, afraid that God is going to strike us down the first time we sin.  This isn’t talking about never having confidence in our salvation.  It is a warning against overconfidence.  God has not given us a spirit of fear, but a spirit of power.  Wardlaw says:

This fear is self-distrust; it is tenderness of conscience; it is vigilance against temptation; it is the fear which inspiration opposes to high-mindedness in the admonition ‘be not high-minded but fear.’ It is taking heed lest we fall; it is a constant apprehension of the deceitfulness of the heart, and of the insidiousness and power of inward corruption. It is the caution and circumspection which timidly shrinks from whatever would offend and dishonor God and the Savior. And these the child of God will feel and exercise the more he rises above the enfeebling, disheartening, distressing influence of the fear which hath torment. Well might Solomon say of such fear, ‘happy is the man that feareth always”

This goes along well with what Paul says in Galatians 6:1: “If you see a man overtaken in a fault, you who are spiritual restore such a man in a spirit of meekness, considering yourself, lest you also be tempted.”  In other words, work to gain the full reward, but realize that you can indeed fall, so don’t get overconfident.

Fifth, as light-bearers, those who are faithful to God’s commands, we must realize that it is God working in us.  We aren’t the source of the light, God is.  When we do good for others, it is God working in us.  People in the world don’t see God working and blessing their lives, offering them salvation, except through His people who have the desire (the “will”) and who follow through with the work (the “do”).  Just as it is said that Jesus baptized more disciples than John, yet He didn’t do it personally, but through the apostles—one way God works on the hearts and lives of people (Christians and non-Christians) is through His chosen people: faithful Christians.  It’s a solemn responsibility and a great honor to know that God is working in us!

Light-bearing involves the proper attitude (2:14-16a)

Do all things without murmurings and disputings so that ye may be blameless and harmless, the sons of God, without rebuke, in the midst of a crooked and perverse nation, among whom ye shine as lights in the world; holding forth the word of life.

It is very rare (if at all) that a biblical writer says anything in a vacuum.  That is, it is very rare (if at all) that anything recorded in the Bible isn’t connected in some way to the context around it.  Verse 14 is often used without consideration of its context.  The principle is still valid, but there’s a purpose behind Paul’s saying “do all things without murmurings and disputings” (without whining and complaining).  And here’s the purpose in a nutshell: you can’t shine as lights in the world, bearing the light of God to souls both lost and struggling, when you’re complaining.

My family and I drove across the country to the east coast a couple years ago.  In order to save money, we decided to drop in on some family members along the way, making use of their spare bedrooms.  In each place we went, we were told we were welcome to stay (we did contact them all ahead of time, so it wasn’t a surprise).  However, at one place, it was made clear to us that it was an inconvenience for them to let us stay the night.  They were put out.  Their attitude in helping us out was such that we won’t ever go there again.

You can’t take the gospel to others and expect them to respond when you have a complaining attitude.  Imagine it.  You go up to someone and say, “I’ve got this great news.  Wish I didn’t have to tell it to you, though.”  What kind of response are you going to receive from that?  I’ll tell you: You’ve lost the chance of ever reaching them with the gospel ever again.

The NIV translates it as “complaining and arguing.”  We snuff out our light when all that people see from us is arguing.  While there is a time and place for discussing biblical topics with brethren—yes, even having disagreements and perhaps even arguing (depending on what the other person is advocating)—your public Facebook feed probably isn’t the place for it.  Some people’s Facebook profile is nothing but calling out or condemning people in the church!  And one such person, when asking a friend to study the Bible with him, received a rejection because all he saw from this man was arguing with his own brethren!

After making that statement, Paul explains why they should “do all things without murmurings or complainings: “So that you might become blameless and harmless, children of God, in the midst of a crooked and perverse nation [literally, generation], among whom you shine as lights in the world.”

We need to be concerned about how we are viewed by non-Christians.  We must live blamelessly—live in a way that we can’t be accused of maliciousness or evil intent.  We must live harmlessly—doing no damage or injury to others by what we say or do.  We must show ourselves to be children of God.  Jesus said that “by this shall all me know that you are my disciples: if you have love one for another.”  He also included a similar idea in His prayer in John 17: “that they may be one…so that the world can see that you have sent me.”  A requirement for elders is that they “must have a good report from those outside” (1 Timothy 3).

We become blameless, harmless, children of God, and we shine as lights in the world when we have the proper attitude and use that godly disposition to show the love of Jesus Christ to others!  The world is in darkness, and God shines forth, giving light to those lost and stumbling in sin through us.

But Paul closes this thought with a reminder that it isn’t just the attitude, it must include the Scriptures as well: “Holding forth the word of life.”  We keep our lives aligned with the word of God, and when we share the love of Christ with others, we make sure to point them to the same thing: the engrafted word which is able to save their souls (James 1:21).

Light-bearing leads to eternal rejoicing (2:16b-18)

So that I may rejoice in the day of Christ, that I have not run in vain, neither labored in vain. Yea, and if I be offered upon the sacrifice and service of your faith, I joy, and rejoice with you all. For the same cause also do ye joy, and rejoice with me.

Ultimately, God through Paul is saying that true light-bearers will receive the eternal reward. It will be a day of great rejoicing on different levels.

First, Paul himself would rejoice “in the day of Christ.”  He would rejoice to see familiar faces in that great resurrection reunion.  His rejoicing was because he would be reunited with friends and loved one, but also that his work among them was not in vain.

Three years ago, Jesse and I took in three Indian boys in order to keep them out of “the system” when their parents went to jail.  It was a rough couple months for us, as those boys hadn’t been disciplined, hadn’t been trained, didn’t care about schoolwork.  But we labored with them until their parents got out of jail.  Earlier this month, I got a message from one of the boys thanking us for everything we did for them, and how the time with us is a bright memory for them.  When you hear things like that, you can’t help but rejoice that your labor was not in vain—that the work you did had an impact on the lives of others.  It’s no wonder Paul said he would rejoice in the day of Christ!

Second, Paul would rejoice that he had the smallest part in helping them—and that they had the larger part to play.  Literally, Paul says “if I be poured out on the sacrifice…” In both Jewish and pagan sacrifices, the drink offering, which was poured out, was the smallest part of the offering.  Paul said that the “sacrifice” (the main part of the offering) was their faith.  Paul knew that bringing the gospel to them, working with them, and teaching them was important—but their final salvation ultimately rested on their faith put into action.  Paul’s rejoicing came as a result of knowing that the little work he did with them led to their own personal faith and works in the Lord as light-bearers.

Third, the Christians in Philippi would rejoice as well because of their soul’s salvation in the day of Christ.  Paul says “I joy, and rejoice with you.”

Fourth, the Christians in Philippi would rejoice because they got to be reunited with the one who brought the gospel to them: “For the same cause, you also rejoice, and rejoice with me.”

Sing the wondrous love of Jesus,
Sing His mercy and His grace,
In the mansions, bright and blessed,
He’ll prepare for us a place
When we all get to heaven
What a day of rejoicing that will be
When we all see Jesus
We’ll sing and shout the victory.

Conclusion

From the time I was a little kid, sitting in Sunday school, I sang the song “This little light of mine.”  (sometimes “Christian light” or “gospel light)  In that song, we try to teach the children to let their lights shine for Jesus.  “Let your light so shine before men that they may see your good works and glorify your Father which is in heaven.”  We try to teach this principle to the children, but we might want to start realizing it applies to us adults as well.

Hide it under a bushel?  No!  I’m gonna let it shine!

Won’t let Satan [blow] it out, I’m gonna let it shine

Let it shine, all the time, let it shine.

If we let God’s light shine through us by our obedience, our love, our attitude, and our actions, then we will make it to heaven—but more than that, we will be able to rejoice because of others who are there as a result of our labor with them.

Are you a light-bearer?

-Bradley S. Cobb

The Role of Women in the Church (Part Three)

Introduction

Easily one of the most confusing passages in the New Testament regarding the role of women in worship is found in 1 Corinthians 11.  Some people avoid it like the plague.  Others, however, flock to it to try to make it prove their side of the argument.  The funny part about it is that those who go to one extreme (women preachers) will hold this passage up as evidence; while those who are on the other side (women can’t speak, and they also have to have their heads covered) also hold this passage up as evidence.  What are we to make of this?

Turn to 1 Corinthians 11, and we will look to see what this passage has to say for us today, as well as how it fits into the question about the role of women in worship.

I Praise You…But (1 Corinthians 11:2-3)

Now I praise you, brethren, that you remember me in all things, and (that you) keep the ordinances as I delivered them to you.  But, I desire you to know that the head of ever male is Christ; and the head of the female is the male; and the head of Christ is God.

Ordinances

The word “ordinances” is usually translated “traditions,” and while it usually refers to the traditions of men, Paul uses the word to refer to the things taught by the apostles.  But in every case, it describes an act that was done for a religious purpose.

Therefore, brethren, stand fast, and hold the traditions which you have been taught, either by word or by epistle (2 Thessalonians 2:15).

We command you, brethren, in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ, that you withdraw yourselves from every brother that walks disorderly, and not after the traditions which he received from us (2 Thessalonians 3:6).

Though it probably didn’t need to be said, we’ll say it anyway: Paul is speaking to Christians in 1 Corinthians 11, describing the things which he taught them to observe in religious service to God.  So, the context that we are looking at has to do with obeying that which is taught by God through the apostles in religious service to God.  This is why it is pretty much universally agreed that the context here has something to do with worship assemblies.

But…

Even though the Christians in Corinth (for the most part) were keeping the ordinances, there were some things that they didn’t understand.  The biggest problem with the Corinthian Christians was not lack of knowledge about the actions they were supposed to engage in, but the attitude behind it (see their treatment of the Lord’s Supper, and their desire to brag because of certain spiritual gifts).

The head of every man is Christ

Paul here immediately puts all the men (literally, males) in their place by saying that it is not up to them on how things are to be done in worship to God.  All Christian males are under the authority of Jesus Christ, and must answer to Him.  Just because a man may lead in an aspect of worship does not mean that he has the authority to change God’s divine pattern.

Paul is appealing to a higher authority than man—He is appealing to Jesus Christ.

The head of the woman is the man

One person told me that this is a universal law to be applied everywhere.  The conclusion to that doctrine is that, men, the most depraved man in the penitentiary is the head of your wife and daughters.  Not only does that violate the context, it also violates common sense.

It has been argued that this phrase should be translated “the head of the wife is the husband.”  And while that expresses a truth, it doesn’t fit the context.  And in addition to that, the same word “man” (Greek aner) is used twice in this verse.  If we are supposed to translate it as “husband” in one part, by what logic does the exact same word get translated differently in the exact same verse?  Look at the verse.  If we insert “husband,” then we would have to make the verse say, “The head of every husband is Christ…” which means that Christ isn’t the head of unmarried Christian men.  This cannot be the right interpretation, either.  And if we make this say “wife,” then we are forced into the conclusion that nothing in verses 3-16 applies to an unmarried woman or a widow—and by extension, that there is nothing in this passage that speaks to an unmarried man or a widower.

Remember the context in which this is spoken: in keeping the “ordinances” (religious directions) that had been delivered to them.  Thus, this is in the context of the church, when the religious directions were being observed.  In other words, this is during the worship assembly.  The Christian woman, in the worship assembly of the church, is to be in submission to the Christian males who are leading (1 Corinthians 14:34, 1 Timothy 2:11-12).

The head of Christ is God

Just in case there were those in Corinth who wanted to question Jesus’ authority to make commands regarding the worship of His people, Paul informs them that the authority which comes from Christ originates with the Father.  In other words, these points are not up for debate or discussion—they come from the ultimate Judge and Lawgiver, God.

Praying and Prophesying (1 Corinthians 11:4-5)

Most sermons and studies on this passage focus on the head “covering,” and often the writers and speakers gloss over (or completely ignore, in some cases) the idea of “praying and prophesying.”  But it must be addressed, for this is one of the passages that those who wish to promote women preachers cling to.  Are they right in saying this passage authorizes women to lead in public worship?

Every man praying or prophesying with his head covered dishonors his head.

Literally, Paul says “having down (from) head,” but it is not specified whether it is his hair or if it is a veil.  The purpose, though, for Paul mentioning this is that if he has his head covered (in whichever way it may be) in worship, it is a sign that he has a different spiritual head (authority) than Christ.

I believe there is enough evidence to conclude that the head covering was something cultural for the Christians in Corinth, and since the focus of this lesson is not on the head-covering, but on the “praying and prophesying” aspect, we aren’t going to dwell a lot on the covering in this lesson.

The word “praying” is the general word for such, and is the same word found in 1 Timothy 2:8—”I desire that males pray everywhere…”

The word “prophesying” is the same one used in chapter 14, and is a reference to miraculous speaking for God, or speaking words from God.

But every woman that prays or prophesies with her head uncovered dishonors her head: for that is even all one as if she were shaved.

Before we get into this, it needs to be said up-front that the exact same words are used for “prays” and “prophesies” in this verse as in the last verse.  In fact, this verse should be translated, “But every woman, praying or prophesying…”  So there’s nothing in these words themselves that make a distinction between the male and female.

But note that Paul tells the Christian women in Corinth that they are required to have their head covered so that they do not dishonor her head (the man/men leading in the worship).  This is a symbol of submission, of being under the authority of someone else.  I used to think this was talking about husbands and wives, and that a wedding ring was the same kind of thing, but I do not believe the context supports that conclusion.

So, how exactly is the Christian woman to engage in “praying and prophesying” while yet being in submission to the one leading in worship?  Let’s make some specific points very clear:

  1. The Bible does not contradict itself, for it is inspired by God.
  2. If an interpretation of a difficult passage of Scripture clearly violates the teaching found in an easy-to-understand passage of Scripture (in the same covenant), then that interpretation is false.
  3. This is even more clearly true when it is the same writer dealing with the same issue—and even more abundantly true when it is written to the same people…in the same letter.

There are those who point to this passage and say “women have the right to pray and preach in the public worship assembly, based on Paul’s words here.”

How does that match up with those three points we mentioned just a second ago?

  1. The Bible does not contradict itself—so if this passage teaches that women can lead in prayer and preaching in the worship assembly of the church, then we shouldn’t find anywhere in the New Testament that says otherwise.
  2. The Bible teaches plainly that it is only male Christians who are to lead in prayer in the church (1 Timothy 2:8); and that Christian women are not permitted to teach (this would include preaching) or to exercise authority over a Christian men in the church (1 Timothy 2:11-12, 3:15). Therefore, the interpretation that “women have the right to pray and preach in the public worship assembly” is false, because both points are contradicted in easy-to-understand passages of the same covenant.
  3. That passage (1 Timothy 2:8-12) is written by the same author, making it even clearer. But let’s make it abundantly clear by looking at not only the same author, but the same letter!  1 Corinthians 14:34, in the context of speaking miraculously (prayer and prophesying are both mentioned in this chapter), says: “Let your women keep silence in the churches, for it is not permitted to them to speak; but to be under obedience, as also says the law.”

Therefore, if our passage (1 Corinthians 11:5) permits women to pray and prophesy in the worship assembly, then the Bible contains contradictions and cannot be trusted.

But suppose you don’t want to go that far; then how about this: If this passage permits women to pray and prophesy in the worship assembly, then Paul was wrong (thus, uninspired) when he wrote 1 Timothy, as well as just a few chapters later in 1 Corinthians 14; thereby throwing everything Paul wrote into question and leaving us with the impossible task of determining which letters are inspired and which parts are not.

But suppose you aren’t willing to even go that far (though those are the required conclusions to this doctrine).  If this passage permits women to pray and prophesy in the worship assembly, then you can’t even know which parts of even this one letter are inspired—especially when Paul himself said that the command for women to keep silent was “the commandment of the Lord” (1 Corinthians 14:37).

To take that interpretation of the passage destroys the entire credibility of the Bible.  But let’s, for a moment, pretend that such an interpretation is accurate.  Pretend for a moment that it isn’t a contradiction of other Bible passages.  Look at the verse again and see what would be required for the women to lead in prayer or to prophesy (preach) in the worship assembly.

Every woman, praying and prophesying with her head uncovered, dishonors her (spiritual) head: for that is even all one as if she were shaved.

If we pretended that their interpretation is correct, then the text requires that the woman only does it when her head is covered, showing her submission to the Christian men who are leading in the “ordinances” … or else she is supposed to be shaved bald (a symbol of shame).  No one who argues for women to be able to preach and lead prayer in the assembly would ever suggest that she is supposed to show a sign of submission to the Christian men leading in the worship—How dare you even suggest such a thing!  You note the hypocrisy there, I hope, that they want to take half of the verse and shove the other half as far away as possible.

I would love to see someone try to explain how one can be in submission to someone during the teaching, yet still be the authoritative teacher over that person.  It cannot be done!

So what does this verse mean/permit?

There are some different interpretations regarding these two verses that attempt to reconcile Paul’s wording (praying and prophesying) with the specific commands regarding Christian women keeping silence in the church (in regards to leading in worship).

The first interpretation is that Paul is speaking about women praying and prophesying, but not in a mixed assembly, that is, in a women’s-only gathering (ladies’ day, ladies’ class).  Some might claim there is no historical precedent for these kind of assemblies, but turn your attention to Exodus 15:20-21:

And Miriam the prophetess, the sister of Aaron, took a timbrel in her hand; and all the women went out after her with timbrels and dances.  And Miriam answered them, “Sing out to the LORD, for He has triumphed gloriously!  The horse and his rider has He thrown into the sea!”

There, the prophetess went with the women only and spoke with them, leading them in worship to God.  That was around 1500 years prior to Paul’s letter to the Corinthians, so there is indeed historical precedent for a women-only assembly worshiping God.

The problem with this interpretation of 1 Corinthians 11 is that the context shows the men and women together (“the head of the woman is the man,” verse 3).  And what is the purpose of describing submission to the male Christians leading in worship if Paul’s describing a setting where no male Christians are present?

The second interpretation is that Paul is using the phrase “praying and prophesying” as a way to describe the worship service.  In other words, that all Paul is saying is, “But a woman, participating in the worship service…”  Most authors agree that “praying and prophesying” isn’t an exhaustive list, but includes everything that is done in the worship assembly—otherwise, you’d have the strange requirement that women in Corinth cover their heads only during certain parts of the worship (praying and proclaiming), but not others (like singing and the Lord’s Supper).

The idea, then, would be that Paul isn’t saying that the women lead in prayer or in prophesying (which would violate other passages), but that they participate in the worship by listening and assenting to the prayer and actively paying attention to the proclamation of God’s message.

David Lipscomb made a good point, which goes along with this idea (this is my paraphrase): Man cannot come to God without submitting to the authority of Jesus Christ (John 14:15).  In the same way, The Christian woman during the assembly cannot offer acceptable worship without submitting to the authority of the male Christians leading the worship.

Obviously, if there are no men present, then that no longer applies.

There may be other interpretations of which I am not aware, but this second one, I believe, is rational, logical, and in perfect agreement with what is said on the topic elsewhere in Scriptures.

Conclusion

This is somewhat reminiscent of the issue of “baptism for the dead,” in that once we know what it can’t be (by process of elimination, Bible-style), we are left with what it must be.

God’s word does not contradict itself.  God does not permit something in one part of the New Testament, only to forbid it in another.  That would make God a liar—something which is impossible.  Instead, we must take the totality of what Scripture says, and interpret in a way that harmonizes all of the passages dealing with any given subject.

There is nothing more important to which this applies than in salvation.  We have all messed up in our lives.  We’ve ignored the commands of God, we’ve sinned, and as a result, we’ve aligned ourselves against Him and joined with His enemy, Satan.  Satan, however, isn’t as powerful as he lets on.  In fact, he’s already lost the war, even though he’s still trying to take down as many people as possible in the process—like a kamikaze.  My job, and the job of Christians everywhere, is to invite people to join the winning side, to avoid the destruction that will come as a result of being God’s enemy.  We are to tell them about Jesus Christ and Him crucified, so that they might have faith (Romans 10:17).  But though there are verses that talk about believing as a prerequisite to salvation, there are other passages as well—passages that do not in any way contradict the ones about belief—that show belief is just the first step in a proper response to the gospel.

One must also make the decision to change sides, to join Jesus Christ.  The person who makes that decision must state his belief in the Lord, and be immersed, baptized, by the authority of Jesus.  When that is done, the person has become a Christian.  Then comes the command to grow, to “study to show thyself approved to God,” to “walk in the light.”  We want to help you be right with Jesus Christ.  If we can help you, please let us know as we stand and sing.

-Bradley S. Cobb

The Role of Women in the Church (Part Two)

Introduction

A Christian woman is a blessing to her family, to her friends, to her brethren, and to her Lord.  In the Bible, we can read of Christian women like Lydia, who showed hospitality to fellow-Christians (Acts 16); like Phoebe, who is called an “assistant” (Romans 16:2, MLV) or a “patroness” (Thayer) of the brethren; like Priscilla, who is called a “fellow-laborer” who had risked her own life for another Christian (Romans 16:3-4); like Lois and Eunice, who passed on their faith to a young man who became a missionary named Timothy (2 Timothy 1:5); and countless others whose names are not recorded in the Bible, but whose work helped to encourage and strengthen the saints, while also helping to convert sinners to Jesus Christ.

If not for the influence of Christian women, many of us in this room would not be here, meeting together, serving the Lord.

There are some, however, that would say, “That’s not good enough!”  Like Aaron and Miriam of old, there are those who try to argue that the ones leading have taken it all on themselves, and that they are just as qualified to lead.  These people run to Galatians 3:28 and say that “In Christ, there are no more male and female distinctions!”  Let’s take a look at that passage, and we’ll also look at some others as we consider the role of women in the church of Jesus Christ.

“Neither Male Nor Female…”

As is often the case, verses (or even phrases from inside a verse) are pulled from their context and applied to things that they were never meant to apply to.  We could mention several examples, but for the sake of staying on-topic, we’ll just stick with the point at hand.  Look with me at Galatians 3:26-29.

For you are all children (literally “sons”) of God by the faith in Christ Jesus, because as many of you as have been baptized into Christ have put on Christ.  There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither bond nor free, there is neither male nor female: for you are all one in Christ Jesus.  And if you be Christ’s, then you are Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise.

Again, note verse 26, which literally says “sons” instead of “children.”  Under the Old Testament, it was the son—not the daughter—who received the inheritance.  Slaves did not receive inheritance.  Gentiles definitely did not receive the inheritance.  Yet, in Christ, all these groups have access to the inheritance through Jesus Christ.

Those who try to rip “there is neither male nor female: for you are all one in Christ Jesus” in order to “prove” that both genders are authorized to perform any and every role/function in the church miss the point.  Male and female absolutely still existed, literally, in the church.  Jew and Gentile absolutely still literally existed in the church.  Free men and slaves absolutely still existed literally in the church.  Therefore, Paul isn’t speaking about the literal distinctions being done away with.

What he’s saying is that in Christ, EVERYONE can be an heir of the promise made to Abraham.  He’s not talking about roles in the worship—otherwise he completely contradicted himself 10 or so years later when he told Timothy that God placed the leadership in worship upon the shoulders of male Christians (1 Timothy 2).  He’s not talking about roles in the family—otherwise he contradicted himself 10 or so years later when he told wives to “submit” to their husbands (Ephesians 5:22-24).  Just like becoming a Christian didn’t make a slave no longer a slave—see the book of Philemon—he still had a specific role to fulfill, being in submission to his owner (who might or might not have been a Christian).

When we consider the context in which Paul says “there is neither male nor female,” we are required to come to the conclusion that it means there are no class, gender, or race distinctions of any kind that would keep someone who has truly put on Christ in baptism from receiving the inheritance from God through Jesus Christ.

There is nothing at all in the context about worship roles in the church.

Let your women keep silence in the churches: for it is not permitted for them to speak;

Turn to First Corinthians 14.  I realize that it’s 40 verses long, but read along with me through the whole chapter.

(Read entire chapter)

Now I want you to take notice of three main points throughout this text.  First, I want you to look at the context—what is it that Paul writes about here?  He writes about spiritual gifts (miraculous gifts) including prophecy (v 1 and others), speaking in tongues (v 2 and others), interpreting tongues (v 5, 13), revelation (v 6), miraculous knowledge (v 6), inspired teaching (v 6), praying in tongues (v 14), and leading a song (v 14, 26).  These are all roles of speaking in the worship assembly.  They are what is generally referred to as leadership positions in the worship.  This is the context.

Second, take special notice that it is specifically in reference to the assembly of the church, when it comes together for prayer, singing, teaching, and encouragement.  Verse 4 shows that the purpose of prophesying was to “edify the church.”  Verse 5 says that speaking in tongues, when there is an interpreter to relay the message, is so that “the church may receive the edifying.”  Verse 6, Paul says “brethren (Christians), if I come to you,” that is, to them all gathered together.  Verse 19 says “In the church…”  Verse 23, “if the whole church comes together in one place…”  Verse 26, “Brethren, when you come together…”  Verse 28, “if there is no interpreter, let him keep silence in the church…”  Verse 33, “For God is not the author of confusion, but of peace, as in all churches of the saints.”  Verse 34, “Let your women keep silence in the churches.”  Verse 35, “It is a shame for a women to speak in the church.”  The context is when Christians are gathered together for worship to God and receiving instruction from His word.

Third, I want you to, even more so than the others, pay super-special attention to this next point.  Paul says that the women are not permitted to “speak” in the church.  That word translated “speak” appears a whopping twenty-four times in this chapter.  Let’s look at them:

  • (verse 2) He that speaks in an unknown tongue does not speak to men, but unto God: for no man understands him; however, in the spirit he speaks
  • (verse 3) He that prophesies speaks
  • (verse 4) He that speaks in an unknown tongue…
  • (verse 5) I wish that you all spoke with tongues, but rather that you prophesied: for the one who prophesies is greater than he who speaks with tongues…
  • (verse 6) brethren, if I come to you speaking with tongues, what shall I profit you, unless I shall speak to you either by revelation, or by knowledge, or by prophesying, or by doctrine?
  • (verse 9) unless you utter by the tongue words easy to be understood, how shall it be known what is spoken? For you shall speak into the air.
  • (verse 11) If I don’t know the meaning of the voice, I shall be to him that speaks a barbarian, and he that speaks a barbarian to me.
  • (verse 13) Let him that speaks in an unknown tongue…
  • (verse 18) I thank my God that I speak with tongues…
  • (verse 19) In the church, I would rather speak five words with my understanding…
  • (verse 21) In the Law it is written, “With other tongues and other lips will I speak to this people…saith the Lord.”
  • (verse 23) …and all speak in tongues…
  • (verses 27-28) if any man speak in an unknown tongue…if there be no interpreter, let him keep silence in the church, and let him speak to himself and to God.
  • (verse 29) Let the prophets speak
  • (verses 34-35) Let your women keep silence in the churches, for it is not permitted for them to speak, as also says the Law…it is a shame for women to speak in the church.
  • (verse 39) covet to prophesy, and do not forbid to speak with tongues.

Do you notice the trend there?  The same word is used over and over in this chapter, and it is a reference to speaking in front of the congregation by inspiration (tongues, prophecies, songs, revelations, etc.).

Now, it is quite possible God had given some of the female Christians in Corinth the ability to prophesy (perhaps referenced in 1 Corinthians 11:5, which we will deal with in another lesson), and Philip had four daughters who prophesied as well (Acts 21:8-9).  But even though they had the miraculous ability to do those things, God stated plainly that they were not permitted to use those gifts when the church was gathered together.  And if God was that strict on women speaking in the assembly when they had miraculous capabilities to do so, how can anyone possibly think that He’s lifted that restriction now that they don’t have the miraculous gifts?

Though the context is miraculous, the principle still remains (and fits perfectly with what Paul said in 1 Timothy 2, that we looked at last week), women are not permitted to speak (that is, to lead in any aspect of the worship) in the church.

Now, look again with me at verses 27-28 of this chapter.

If any man speaks in an unknown tongue, let it be by two, or at the most by three, and that by course (or, one at a time); and let one interpret.  But if there be no interpreter, let him keep silence in the church; and let him speak to himself and to God.

Other than the him/her, this is the exact same wording as for the woman in the original.  Whatever it means for the man here, it means for the woman in verse 34.  This man is commanded to keep quiet from speaking in tongues if there is no interpreter.  It doesn’t mean he’s not permitted to lead a prayer in the normal language of the people at the close of the service; it’s talking about the speaking in tongues.  In short, THERE IS A CONTEXT!

So, when Paul says, “Let your women keep silence in the churches,” he’s got reference to leading in worship.  The chapter gives all the different “speakings” that are under consideration—praying, preaching, teaching, interpreting, speaking in tongues, leading a song.  “Speaking” in the assembly is a role that God has placed upon the shoulders of male Christians.

But it’s almost as though Paul expected that statement about women exercising their gifts in the assembly to be taken badly by his readers, because right after saying it, he says:

What?  Did the word of God come out of you?  Or did it only come to you?  If anyone thinks himself to be a prophet, or spiritual, let him acknowledge that the things that I am writing to you are the commandments of the Lord. 

Then he says, (KJV) “If any man be ignorant, let him be ignorant.”  A more literal translation might be, “If any man is actively ignorant (in this matter), do not recognize him.”

My brethren, those are some incredibly strong words from God.  Those who reject God’s commands regarding who is permitted to lead in the worship aren’t really spiritual; they are actively ignorant, rejecting the commands of the Lord; and they are not to be recognized as being right with God.

Invitation

Being right with God isn’t just something nice to be, it is absolutely essential to our holiness and happiness and hope.  You can’t be wrong with God here and expect to be right with God at judgment!  My friends, a home with God Himself is there for you if you will submit to His authority and do your best to follow His commands.  That might sound domineering, but it’s like saying “just obey the law, and you’ll be fine.”  The law of God says that those who believe in Jesus have the power to become children of God (John 1:12).  These believers have to put their belief into action by repenting of their sins, confessing that Jesus is the Christ, and being baptized in submission to His will.  Only those who have done these things are made citizens of that heavenly kingdom!  And after you become a citizen, “just obey the law, and you’ll be fine.”  When you mess up, when you sin, when you fall away, God is merciful and will forgive you when you go to Him in prayer, confessing your sin and repenting of it.

God loves you and wants you to be saved. He’s giving you an opportunity right now to do it.  Won’t you do it now?

-Bradley S. Cobb

The Role of Women in the Church (Part One)

Introduction:

The Bible is, and will always be, the rule of faith and practice for God’s people.  We know from its pages, from the words of Jesus Christ, from the examples of the Christians in Act, from the letters God inspired to be written to Christians, how we are to live our lives, and what God desires from us in our worship.

His Divine power has given to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of Him that has called us to glory and virtue (2 Peter 1:3).

All Scripture is inspired by God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, and for instruction in righteousness, so that the person of God may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work (2 Timothy 3:16-17).

The question that we must ask ourselves is: “Do we believe that?”  Some people don’t.  Some people in the church don’t believe it!  Oh, don’t get me wrong, they’ll say they believe it, but then they will do things, promote things, preach about things in such a way that they’re only paying lip-service to God’s word.

Let’s consider those two passages again.  Peter says that the Divine power has given (past tense) us all things that pertain to life (spiritual life) and godliness (literally, the word is “good-worship”).  If we have been given everything that has to do with spiritual life and true reverence and worship to God, then that means if we can’t find it in the Bible, it doesn’t pertain to spiritual life or to godliness/good-worship.  In other words, if it’s not found in the Word of God, then it is a commandment of men, an unauthorized addition which results in worthless worship (“In vain do they worship me, teaching for doctrine the commandments of men” – Matthew 15:9)

Paul told Timothy that the Scriptures were sufficient to make someone perfect or complete, and to equip that person for every good work.  If it isn’t from the Bible (whether by precept or principle), then it isn’t a good work.

Lately, I’ve heard of several Christians who are trying to push the idea that there are no gender roles in the church: that whatever a man is authorized to do in worship, the woman is as well.  Since God has given us everything necessary for godliness (and remember that word in Greek literally means “worship”), we ought to be able to find either (1) examples, (2) commands, or (3) principles that permit such a thing—if such a thing is truly permitted.

I was requested to do a series of lessons on this topic, and my prayer is that they will be clear, understandable, and in keeping with God’s word.  Please, turn in your Bibles to 1 Timothy 2.

“Let the woman learn in silence”

First Timothy, chapter 2, describes worship in the church.  There are some of our brethren who disagree with that, and so let’s just prove it real quick.  In the next chapter, Paul tells Timothy what the whole purpose of this letter is:

I am writing these things to you, hoping to come to you shortly, but if I delay long, that you might know how you ought to behave yourself in the house of God, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and ground of the truth (1 Timothy 3:14).

The instructions given in First Timothy are about matters in the church.  But let’s go a little further in proving the point.  Look, now, at chapter 2.  Verse eight helps prove the point:

I desire that men [males] pray everywhere, lifting up holy hands, without wrath and doubting (1 Timothy 2:8).

The command of God from Paul is that males are to pray everywhere.  If, as some brethren contend, this chapter isn’t about the church, then that means women are forbidden to pray anywhere—ever—because only men are allowed to pray.  This is speaking about when the church is gathered together.  Paul used the phrase “everywhere” in 1 Corinthians 4:17, and clarified that by “everywhere,” he meant “in every church.”  Coupling this with what we read from elsewhere in the same letter to Timothy, we have conclusive proof that Paul is giving instructions relating to things “in the church,” or to say it another way, “when the church is gathered together.”

We might also add to this list of evidence the fact that Paul say women aren’t allowed to teach a man, yet we have an approved example of a woman assisting her husband in teaching a man—outside of the assembly (Acts 18, Aquila, Priscilla, and Apollos).  Thus, this command obviously doesn’t apply to teaching outside the assembly—only inside the assembly.

So, in 1 Timothy 2:8, we have divine instruction that only males are to lead in prayer when the church is gathered together.  Obviously, God is not authorizing just any male to lead prayer, but only a Christian male—since this is speaking about things “in the church.”  This is important to remember as we get further in the chapter.

Having thus shown that the context is about the assembly of the church, let’s look at verses 11-12:

Let the woman learn in silence with all subjection.  But I do not permit a woman to teach, nor to usurp authority over the man, but to be in silence.

First, consider that in verses 9-10, Paul instructs women to dress and behave in such a way as to not draw attention to themselves (modest apparel, not expensive flashy jewelry, but instead clothing themselves with good works).  Likewise, then, women are not to draw attention to themselves in the assembly by seeking to be in a position of authority.

Second, look at the word “silence.”  The word here is not a prohibition of all sound, but a quiet, humble attitude that recognizes that she is not in authority in the worship of God.  The word only appears four times in the New Testament: twice here (1 Timothy 2:11-12), once in Acts 22:2 and in 2 Thessalonians 3:12.  In Acts 22:2, Paul began speaking to the crowd of Jews in Hebrew, which surprised them, and they became quiet so they could hear him.  But in 1 Thessalonians 3:11-12, Paul chastises the busybodies, telling them to work with “quietness.”  It’s not that they aren’t allowed to ever utter a word, but they are to cease from gossiping, being meddlers in other men’s matters.  They are to be quiet in regards to those things.  In the same way, the women are commanded to be silent in regards to (1) praying, (2) teaching over a man, and (3) taking authority over a man in the assembly.  In other words, they are not to take any kind of leadership role in the worship of the church.

Women don’t have to be completely without sound in the assembly—all saints are commanded to sing, “speaking to yourselves in psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs, singing and making melody in your heart to the Lord” (Ephesians 5:19).  “Teaching and admonishing one another in psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs” (Colossians 3:16).

The phrase “with all subjection” teaches us that in the worship assembly, the woman is to be in submission, or under the authority, of the men who are leading in the worship.  The woman doesn’t preach the lesson, lead the singing, lead the prayers.  She sits and accepts that these are roles which have been given to male Christians by God.

“I do not permit a woman to teach…”

Some people have taken this phrase and ignored the context, trying to make it say something that it was never meant to say.  I’ve had discussions with men who believe that having a Bible class is sinful, and as evidence, they say “women aren’t permitted to teach.”  But look at the verse.  Paul says that a woman is not to teach…a man.  This doesn’t say she’s not allowed to teach at all (Titus 2:3-5 actually commands the older women to teach the younger women), it says she’s not allowed to teach a man.  And it’s not just any man.  Go back to verse 8.  Who is that “man,” that “male,” that is under consideration?  It’s a Christian male.  That is the only male in the context.

What God, through Paul, is forbidding here is not a woman teaching children, nor is it a woman teaching male children, nor is it a woman teaching adult males outside of the assembly.  What God has strictly forbidden is Christian women teaching Christian men in the assembly.

But we also need to couple this with the next phrase Paul uses:

“I do not permit a woman…to usurp authority over the man.”

I’ve heard the argument more times than I care to remember: “She’s not usurping the authority if the elders give it to her to teach/pray/preach/etc…”  The word translated “usurp authority” means “exercise authority” or “have authority” over someone.  Some translations render it “have dominion” over a man.  Basically, then, what this means is that the Christian woman is not permitted to have, to use, or to exert any authority over Christian males in the assembly.

Oh, it is said, but if she doesn’t usurp the authority, it’s okay.  The elders don’t have the right to give a woman authority in the assembly.  It’s not up to them!  This is something that GOD HIMSELF has set in place—He is the one who determined who has authority, who leads in the worship assembly when the church gathers together.  Even if a group of elders decides they’ll let a woman preach, teach, lead prayer, lead singing, or anything else that is a position of leadership in the assembly, GOD has said that women are to “learn in silence, with all subjection.”  Note that clearly!  God says “ALL subjection.”  He doesn’t say, “with SOME subjection,” but “with ALL subjection”!  That means that Christian women, in the assembly, are not permitted by God to have any authoritative role that would make a Christian male to have to show some kind of submission to her.

Teaching (which would include preaching) is explicitly forbidden (1 Timothy 2:12).  Leading in prayer is explicitly forbidden (1 Timothy 2:8).  Anything that would make the woman the leader is explicitly forbidden (1 Timothy 2:12)—that includes serving at the Lord’s Table, even if she isn’t saying the prayer, because the woman would be in front of everyone, and would be exercising authority in passing around the Lord’s Supper and collecting the funds contributed.  Leading in singing is also forbidden explicitly in 1 Corinthians 14 (but we’ll look at that later).

Paul concludes that thought by repeating that the Christian woman, during the assembly, is “to be in silence.”  Again, the “silence” is limited by the context to (1) praying, (2) teaching, and (3) anything that would put her in a position of authority over a Christian man.

What About Speaking in a Bible Class?

It has been argued that women are not permitted to speak up in a Bible class, because when they speak in class, they are teaching, and that they are commanded to be in silence.

Jesus Himself led His disciples around, and was their teacher.  They spoke to Him quite frequently during these teaching sessions, asking questions, making observations, showing their agreement or disagreement.  But did they ever become the teacher?  Was there ever a time during these teachings that Jesus ceased to be the teacher, and ceased to have authority?  Of course not.  To ask questions during a Bible class is not the same thing as teaching or having authority.  To make observations during Bible class is not the same thing as teaching or having authority.  If a non-Christian male came into the Bible class and asked questions or made an observation, we wouldn’t for a moment accuse him of “teaching” and “usurping authority” over the teacher of the class.  Why, then, would we make that same accusation when a woman does it?

Can there come a time when a Christian woman might talk so much, in effect filibustering the class, that she’s taking it over?  Yes, of course, and such is wrong and condemned by 1 Timothy 2:12.  But simply speaking up in class is not “teaching” or otherwise “exercising authority” over Christian males.

Some will appeal to 1 Corinthians 14:34-35, saying “Let your women keep silence in the churches…if they will learn anything, let them ask their husbands at home, for it is a shame for a woman to speak in the church.”  We will deal with that passage more in-depth in another lesson, but the answer to their objection is the context!  The context of the entire chapter is public leadership roles when the church is gathered together.  Prophesying, speaking in tongues, interpreting, leading singing, praying—these are the items under consideration.  And it is in this context that women are told to be silent.

What About Teaching a Bible Class?

God gave some women in the first century miraculous abilities (and we’ll deal with that in a later lesson), which included being able to prophesy (Philip had four daughters who did just that).  Yet they were not permitted to use that ability when the church gathered together to worship (1 Corinthians 14:34-35).  God wouldn’t give them that ability and then not permit them to ever use it.  Thus, they would have been able to use it in teaching non-Christians (primarily women, but in private they could also teach non-Christian men), or other Christian women, or even children.

The ones who are so opposed to Bible classes say “You let women teach Bible classes, so you’re in sin!”  But remember what we said earlier: the prohibition on women teaching was “over a man”—that is, over a Christian man.  When God gives a specific command, we have no right to expand that command to include things that God didn’t.  So it is wrong to say this verse prohibits women from teaching a Bible class with babies, or children, or Christian young women.  The only prohibition was against a Christian women teaching Christian men.

One Final Example: Jezebel

Lord willing, we will be able to continue this study and deal with several passages that help us understand the role of women in the church.  But for tonight, we will just look at one last passage briefly: Revelation 2:18-23.

To the messenger of the church in Thyatira, write: “These things says the Son of God, who has His eyes like to a flame of fire, and His feet are like fine brass: I know your works, and charity, and service, and faith, and your patience, and your works; and the last more than the first.  Notwithstanding, I have a few things against you because you permit that woman Jezebel, who calls herself a prophetess, to teach and to seduce my servants to commit fornication, and to eat things sacrificed to idols.  And I gave her space to repent of her fornication, and she did not repent.  Behold, I will cast her into a bed, and them that commit adultery with her into great tribulation, except they repent of their deeds.  And I will kill her children with death; and all the churches shall know that I am He who searches the reins and hearts: and I will give to every one of you according to your works.

Jesus condemns this loving church, this working church, this serving church because of two things: (1) they permit that woman to teach, and (2) they permit that woman to seduce servants of God to sin.  The second one is bad, but so is the first one.  They were condemned because they were allowing a woman to teach in the church.  The fact that she was seducing Christians to sin makes it even worse, but in the Greek, they are two separate things: (1) teaching and (2) seducing Christians to do evil.

My brethren, if Jesus Christ would condemn a loving, working, serving church because they allowed a woman to teach in the church, that means He would do the same to us as well if we permit such things to happen here!

Invitation

Here’s the deal: we have been given everything we need for spiritual life and for proper worship.  We don’t go by feelings or by I think; we go by God said.  This principle, when followed, guarantees us a home eternal with the Lord Jesus Christ.  This principle applies not just to the role of women in the church, but also to salvation.

We were listening to “Adventures in Odyssey” yesterday (which is produced by Baptists, if I’m not mistaken), and one of the characters was questioning her salvation, saying “Did I not say the prayer right?”  She’d been taught that salvation comes from uttering a “Lord, come into my heart” prayer that isn’t found in the Bible—nowhere is a non-Christian told to pray in order to be saved.  There are those who use what they call the “mourner’s bench,” where you go up front to this bench, agonize over your sins, while everyone else tries to pray until you are “prayed through,” and have this feeling of relief, which they take as a sign that you’ve been saved.  This is trying to rely on feelings instead of God’s word!

God only gave one gospel, and it is spelled out for us in the Bible.  There is no salvation apart from obedience to His commands regarding how to get into Christ.

-Bradley S. Cobb