[Picture above: Dr. Houston McKelvey, Dean of St Anne’s Cathedral, Belfast.]

He says:-


Communion isn’t as good in terms of numbers as it used to be. I don’t preach as I am in the unique position of having two bishops, the Bishop of Down and Dormore and the Bishop of Conor.  So I invite one or other to preach, but if they have to be elsewhere, I step in.  I actually prefer celebrating Holy Communion at Christmas, it’s at the heart of one’s vocation, doing that which a priest does that no one else can do.  I am a liturgical animal.


I do like the worship aspect of Christmas And I still like unwrapping presents.  If there isn’t chocolate, I am disappointed.  My brother and Sister-in-law always give me a subscription to Sailing magazine.  Our son buys magical gifts and, thanks to him, I’m the proud owner of an iPod.


We finish eating around 6pm, then collapse again before watching a little bit of telly.  Usually we have a bit of craic in the evening, as family time is so precious.  Then I fall asleep again.” (Weekend Belfast Telegraph, 20th. December 2008.)


The Writer of Hebrews says:-


See that no-one is sexually immoral, or is godless like Esau, who for a single meal sold his inheritance rights as the oldest [firstborn] son:” (Heb. 12: 16).







By ROBERT GOVETT, M.A.  Heb. 12: 23.)



The festival of the firstborn was the Passover, since they were peculiarly redeemed in Egypt. The feast in the land, the commemoration of the deliverance, brought them, into notice (Ex. 13).  It was to be held only in God’s city (Deut. 16: 2, 5, 6).  Our first parents, at God’s presence, hid away. But Jehovah’s ransomed and reconciled ones were to present themselves voluntarily before Him.  The guilty pair were sad, naked, and empty.  Israel was to appear before God clad, bearing presents out of the good things given them, and rejoicing because of them (Ex. 23: 17; 34 : 23 ; Deut. 16: 16).


The entry into the city, and the commemoration of the rescue of the firstborn, was a time of joy to Israel.  Much more shall the coming day be a feast of joy to believers rescued out of an evil world, and introduced into their heavenly heritage.  The Passover, our Lord says, yet awaits its fulfilment in the coming [millennial] kingdom of God, when heaven and earth shall both rejoice (Luke 22).


The assemblies of the Church of Christ now, and our presence at them, are a witness to us that we are on the way to this festival and congregation above.  Hence the warning not to leave the Church’s meetings (10: 25).


Beside the festival-time, there is also the assemblage of the persons who are to celebrate it.  These are described as “the firstborn enrolled in heaven.”


The firstborn of the old covenant were those of nature.  Moses enrolled them on earth (Num. 3: 40).  They were peculiarly redeemed to Jehovah by the blood, of the Lamb.  They were spared thereby when the world’s firstborn were smitten (Ex. 12: 12, 29; 13: 2; 22: 29).  Their festival, the Passover, had two great aspects.  First, the celebration of it while in Egypt, in order to their deliverance by it out of Pharaoh’s power.  Then ever after it was to be kept in the land on its anniversary, as a joyful memorial of their rescue.  It was to be observed in the city of God, with rejoicing.  The firstborn were originally scattered, one in this family, one in that.  But the Most High at length took the one tribe of Levi as the abiding representative of the firstborn of Israel; and they drew near to God and His tabernacle in a way not permitted to others.


We see, then, how this applies.  We are “the firstborn” of the New Testament, “a kind of first-fruits of God’s creatures.”  We are born again of the Spirit of God, and knit to Christ, “the firstborn of every creature.”  We are the peculiar purchase of Christ (1 Cor. 6: 20; 7: 23; Rev. 5: 9), Who is “the firstborn of every creature,” and “the firstborn from the dead” (Col. 1: 15, 18).


We are the scattered elect of God now, but shall one day be assembled in the glorious unity above; our names written in the Lamb’s book of life (Luke 10: 20; Phil. 4: 3).  The immense assemblage above is shown to us in Rev. 7: 9-17.  They celebrate their salvation as due to God and the Lamb.  They washed their robes, and made them white” - not as Israel, in water, but – “in the blood of the Lamb.”  When the Passover is fulfilled in the kingdom of God’s glory, they rejoice.  At present we are keeping the, feast of unleavened bread; for Christ our Passover has been slain in our stead (1 Cor. 5).  We are waiting for the call out of Egypt (this evil age), and the smiting at midnight of the world’s firstborn.  At Sinai, but a few were firstborn.  But, in the New Testament, the firstborn form an entire and grand whole by themselves.


The connexion between the firstborn, their redemption and their festival, is close.  At present we are to regard the matter practically as the feast of unleavened bread (Ex. 34: 18-20, 23).  In Rev. 2, 3, we find the Saviour giving charge against eating leaven, and promising to the obedient, blessings.  Then, in the prophetic part, we have the first-fruits of the twelve tribes of Israel; and, after them, the Great Multitude, the heavenly Levites, consecrated as priests, to draw near to God in His temple.  Their heritage is the heaven.  They are seen keeping the peculiarly holy seventh day of the feast; and, while they “serve God day and night in His temple,” it is no servile work that is wrought by their great congregation.


1. The history of the feast of the Passover is one that enters largely into the picture before us.  We have spoken of the crisis in the land of Egypt, and of the keeping of the feast of unleavened bread, as the people’s answer to God’s deliverance.  The sprinkling of the blood on the door made the house instantly safe; and this answers to justification by the blood of the Lamb. But, then, for seven days the rescued were to remember their deliverance, by casting out leaven, and by feeding on unleavened cakes alone.  In Egypt the Passover was to be celebrated by families.


2. But, on arriving at Sinai, the nation kept the festival of its deliverance before the mount (Num. 9).  It was observed after the new covenant had been made with Moses as the mediator, and the blood of the covenant had been shed.  There, too, the second Passover in the second month was commanded, for those who were unclean during the first.  This is, and will be, the position of Israel at the close.  They are defiled by slaying the Son of God now.  But they shall be cleansed (Num. 9: 6).


3. Israel entered into the land, but we do not read of their observing the Passover, till the days of the later kings of Israel.  At that time sin and judgment had greatly come in; but on Mount Zion was the temple, and Jerusalem was the city chosen by the Lord as the place of meeting with His people at their festivals.  There were, there, two remarkable Passovers; one in Hezekiah’s day, and one in Josiah’s (2 Chron. 30; 35).  Hezekiah exhorted all Israel to come up to keep the Passover at the Lord’s house at Jerusalem.  Some mocked; but many obeyed the call.  This Passover was remarkable as being held in the second month, for they were not sufficiently cleansed in the first month.  And here we read, for the first time, that the priests sprinkled the blood of the Passover (ver. 16).  They kept the feast of unleavened bread with joy seven days, and then another seven days, the king furnishing much food for the people who came up.


The peculiarity of Josiah’s Passover was, that Israel, the priests, and Levites were sanctified, and kept the feast in the first month, and in the appointed place at Jerusalem.  Again we read: “They killed the Passover, and the priests sprinkled the blood from their hands(ver. 11).


4. But, we have, in the Saviour’s day, a scene which throws much greater light upon the picture before us.  Our Lord led His disciples across the Jordan and through Jericho, over the Mount of Olives, to Jerusalem.  The great entry into Jerusalem took place after He had shown Himself to be the God of life, in raising Lazarus from the dead.  His last visit to the Jerusalem of earth was at the feast of the Passover.  Himself being the Mediator of the New Testament, He came to offer His own blood for redemption.  Angels appear there, - in Gethsemane, and at the resurrection.  Jesus is Himself the Firstborn, and He, at the last Supper, owns as God’s the two great bodies which appear in our picture.  He celebrates the Passover, owns the twelve tribes of Israel, and promises to the firstborn of the earth that the Passover shall one day be celebrated by Himself, when it is fulfilled in the kingdom of God(Luke 22: 15-30).


Then He institutes, for the firstborn enrolled in heaven,” the new rite of the Lord’s Supper, characteristic of the people that trust Him as their Priest and Sacrifice.  This is My body which is given for you; this do in remembrance of Me.”  For while the lambs of men all abide on earth, the Lamb of God has been removed to the heaven.  This cup is the New Testament in My blood which is shed for you,” “unto remission of sins.”  Eleven only of the heavenly firstborn were there; but it was a token of the vast and innumerable assemblyone day to be held.  The point of junction between the two people of God, - Israel, and the Church, who are both on that occasion recognized, - is, that when the Saviour comes, and with Him the millennial kingdom of glory, the Supper of the Lord ceases, for it is only “till He come.”  But the Passover of Israel’s deliverance then steps in, and the glory dwells on earth.


Moreover, we have, at the close of the Lord’s life, a notice of “the spirits of just men made perfect,” and of the entry into the eternal city, in those words of Matthew; “And the tombs were opened and many bodies of the saints which slept arose, and came out of the tombs after His resurrection, and went into the Holy City, and appeared unto many” (27: 52, 53).*




[* NOTE.  Two offences against holiness are noticed in the sixteenth verse fornication and profaneness. Was Esau guilty of both?  It is not expressly asserted, and is not necessary to the argument.  But observe how the Spirit drops words of caution to believers against the worst forms of sin.  He does not suppose, as so many Christian teachers do, that if a man be converted, he must be all that a regenerate man should be; or if he is not, he is not converted.  Certainly, the Epistles to the Corintians, which deal with the most corrupt Church on record, take ground quite opposed to such a view.


Esau was the son of Isaac, the man of faith.  But Esau was guilty of a profane bargain.  For a single meal” he disposed of his birthright. When asked to sell it at so paltry a price, he accepts the offer at once.  He himself depreciates the article he was about to sell: a mode of procedure which showed how little he valued its spiritual .advantages.  Will you sell me your horse for a pound?”  Did anyone ever hear such a reply as:  Well, poor creature, he is six years old, and a film growing over his left eye.  Yes, you may have him at that!”  Sellers in general are ready and eloquent in the praise of what they have to dispose of, specially when there is a desire expressed to buy.  Jacob urges him to sell under an oath; and he refuses not.  And Esau, after the meal was over, rose up and went his way, as though nothing of any importance had been done.  He never showed any desire to buy back what he had sold. Thus Esau despised his birthright(Gen. 25).


But when the time of receiving the inspired blessing of his father arrived, a sense of its importance arose within him, and he was willing to take any measures, directed by Isaac, with a view to that end.  Yet no misgiving visited his mind, that he could not have what he had sold, and sold beyond recall; inviting God to hinder any attempt to repossess himself of his lost privilege!  But he was met by a rebuff where he did not anticipate it.  The father who directed him how to win his blessing, as the firstborn, refuses it!  It was given away; and though his brother had sinned in the affair, Isaac would not recall the supremacy given to Jacob. Esau knew he was his father’s favourite son, and therefore flung himself, in all the ardour and impetuosity of his feelings, upon his father’s preference for him; but in vain!  Esau did not repent of his sin; and he could not get his father to repent of the blessing given to Jacob.


This, then, is a lesson to believes!  We are the firstborn, as the first to hope in Christ, while Israel and the world refuse Him.  But we may barter away, by profaneness, the special blessing attached to our standing.  We may sacrifice spiritual benefits for temporal advantages.  A Christian servant may leave a believing family to enter a worldly one, where wages are greater, but where wickedness rules.  A believing tradesman may, in order to get rich, give up fairness, truth and honesty.  The present results which he obtains, are the “mess of pottage” for which he sells his birthright - his portion as the firstborn.  So Moses bids Israel notice, that the sinners under Beth-Peor were cut off, and unable to enter the land; while those who followed the Lord were about to enjoy the hope set before them (Num. 25: Deut. 4: 3, 4).


In this passage we may see the meaning of a believer being a castaway.” * It refers to the loss of millennial reward, and of' special privilege; not to his being eternally lost.  If Isaac was so firm against the pleas and tears of his favourite son, much more will “the Righteous judge,” in the coming day, be firm against the son who has profanely sacrificed heavenly benefits for earthly and temporal advantages.  Once sold, the bargain cannot be undone.  God Himself puts Himself under oath not to change.  So I sware in My wrath, they shall not enter into My rest.”


We are sons of God, as Esau and Jacob were sons of Isaac.  We are expecting to appear before our Father in heaven, to receive the ‘blessing’ of the firstborn. “Come near,” was Isaac’s word to Jacob.  Like Esau, we are not to appear before our God empty: even as both Esau and Jacob bore in their hands to their father something that he loved.  See, the smell of my son is as the smell of a field which the Lord hath blessed.”  This may remind us of chap. 6: 7.  The fertile field is near to blessing.  To this scene refers, I believe, that word: “Be not deceived; God is not mocked [as Isaac was]; for whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap” (Gal. 6).  “Bring me savoury meat, said Isaac, that my soul may bless thee.”  So we read: “The righteous by faith shall live; but, of he draw back, my soul hath no Pleasure in him.”


Esau was not wholly cast away. He remained a son.  He obtained an inferior blessing, though he lost the blessing of the firstborn.