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jesus-christ-the-king-blogsigncomHappy Easter to all my readers!

Newer subscribers might be interested in reading some of my previous posts on Easter, the Church’s greatest holy day:

Easter: the greatest feast in the Church year

Easter Sunday: Thoughts on this greatest of days

Happy Easter — He is risen!

Easter poems from an inspired Anglican, the Revd George Herbert

Part I of a Martin Luther Easter sermon: the story of Christ’s Resurrection

Part II of a Martin Luther Easter sermon: the fruits and benefits of Christ’s Resurrection

Today’s post looks at the significance of Easter in the Church.

John MacArthur is forensic in his examination and knowledge of the Bible, which is why I enjoy citing his sermons.

I shall cite yet another, ‘Witnessing Women and Doubting Disciples’, which takes for its text the first 12 verses of Luke 24.

Much scepticism has been written about the empty tomb and Christ’s Resurrection. This sermon of MacArthur’s as well as another, ‘An Empty Tomb with an Angelic Explanation’, goes through all the naysayers’ theories and, using the Gospel accounts, proves them wrong.

Resurrection established, what does Easter mean? I shall quote briefly from the first sermon to provide a few salient points. The subheads and emphases below are mine.

No Resurrection, No Christianity

… the resurrection of the Lord Jesus is not just a feature of Christianity, it is its essential truth. In fact, without the resurrection of Jesus Christ, there is no Christianity. The resurrection of the Lord Jesus is not the epilogue to the story. It is not the epilogue to the life of Christ, it is the goal of His life, it is the objective of His life, it is the purpose of His life. The church has always understood that. In fact, the church understood it right from the day of the resurrection on ...

Listen to the importance of the resurrection in the language of the Apostle Paul in 1 Corinthians chapter 15. “If Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is vain, your faith also is vain.” If Christ is not raised from the dead in bodily form, then all gospel preaching is useless which means the New Testament is useless because that’s where the first gospel preaching took place. You can cancel Christianity totally. There is no Christianity without the resurrection. None. If Christ is not raised, our preaching is useless, your faith is useless. Worse than that, we are found to be false witnesses of God because we witnessed against God that He raised Christ when He didn’t raise Him, if in fact the dead are not raised. If the dead aren’t raised, then Christ isn’t raised and we have no Christianity and what we’ve been preaching is a lie and a deception

But He has been raised. And this is the Christian message.

Why Christians Worship on Sunday

For since that time the church has chosen to meet on Sunday, the first day of the week, the day that Jesus rose from the dead to commemorate the most important event in His life and the most important event in human history, His resurrection from the dead. The church did not choose to meet on Friday. The church chose to meet on Sunday because Sunday is the interpretation of Friday. Easter is the interpretation of Good Friday. Resurrection is the divine interpretation of the death of Christ. Resurrection is the divine vindication of the work that He did on the cross. Without the resurrection, the cross means nothing for it has no validation, it has no vindication, it has no affirmation. But when God raised Jesus from the dead, He was affirming and validating and vindicating the fact that He had indeed bore our sins in His own body on the cross. And it satisfied the justice of God with His sin bearing. Without the resurrection, the cross is meaningless, just another death.

This is why I found it so disappointing that little children learned in one London nursery that Jesus died on Good Friday. No mention of Easter or the Resurrection. That doesn’t make any sense at all, which might be part of the teaching plan. It certainly helps the secularists out with their stance that ‘Jesus was a great teacher, nothing more. He lived, He died, the end’.

When did Jesus become Christ and Lord Jesus?

Although the New Testament refers to Jesus as ‘Lord’ — by the Apostles and a few others, Luke in his Resurrection account specifically refers to ‘Lord Jesus’. In Acts and the Epistles we read of ‘Christ’. This is MacArthur’s view from the aforementioned ‘Angelic Explanation’ sermon:

Lord Jesus, that is not a title used in the description of the death and burial of Jesus. But it’s a title of His by way of resurrection. God raised Him from the dead and declared Him Lord. In fact, that is exactly what Peter said on Pentecost, “Therefore let all the house of Israel know for certain that God has made Him both Lord and Christ.” He is now the Lord. “He has now been given the name which is above every name, the name Lord, that at that name every knee should bow.”

Temporal life less important than eternal life

The purpose of the gospel is not just that we might experience the forgiveness of sin. The purpose of the gospel is that we having been forgiven of our sin could enter in to eternal life and live in the bliss of heaven forever in perfect holiness and perfect joy in glorified physical resurrected bodies. Bodily resurrection is peculiar to Christianity. And bodily resurrection is essential to Christianity.

The Christian gospel is not designed to deliver you from your troubles here, not at all, not even close

Christianity teaches a bodily resurrection and that is the goal of redemption, that we might in glorified human bodies live forever with our glorified Christ and serve Him and worship Him in joy and peace. 

What can compare?

The Christian message is that Jesus Christ rose from the grave in a glorified, physical body, in some way like the body you have now only stripped of all that is sinful and fatal and that we one day will receive a body like unto His glorified body and we will live in bodily resurrected form through all the eons of eternity. That is the Christian message, that is not the message of the other religions of the world. There is no resurrection in Buddhism. There is no resurrection of the body in Hinduism, just a recurring, cycling, reincarnation in some different form …

your body will be different, thankfully. It will have nothing about it that’s fatal, terminal, nothing about it that’s sinful, or wicked. Nothing about it that’s imperfect, but it will be a physical body in a glorified form. 

And Jesus even asked His Father that all believers share glory with Him and God the Father. John 17 is His High Priestly Prayer, covered here in three parts: 1, 2 and 3.

I especially hope this brief explanation of Easter gives any lukewarm believers and those beginning their Christian journey stopping by additional food for thought over the coming weeks and months. May God bless you in your search for the truth.

window_pfcross271w St Mary the Virgin Gillingham DorsetBefore concluding my series on John 17, the following posts about Holy Saturday might interest newer subscribers:

What happens on Holy Saturday?

Holy Saturday and food traditions

Now for the third and final part of John 17, Jesus’s High Priestly Prayer. You might wish to read Parts 1 and 2, if you haven’t already.

He has already prayed for Himself in advance of the Crucifixion and for His disciples in His absence.

Today’s passage is Jesus’s prayer for us. Emphases mine below.

20“I do not ask for these only, but also for those who will believe in me through their word, 21 that they may all be one, just as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me. 22 The glory that you have given me I have given to them, that they may be one even as we are one, 23 I in them and you in me, that they may become perfectly one, so that the world may know that you sent me and loved them even as you loved me. 24Father, I desire that they also, whom you have given me, may be with me where I am, to see my glory that you have given me because you loved me before the foundation of the world. 25 O righteous Father, even though the world does not know you, I know you, and these know that you have sent me. 26 I made known to them your name, and I will continue to make it known, that the love with which you have loved me may be in them, and I in them.”

If those words do not encourage one to repent, I’m not sure what will.

How marvellous that the Holy Spirit inspired John to include this beautiful prayer in his Gospel, my favourite.

Verses 20 and 21 tells us that not only does Jesus wish for holy unity among His disciples, He desires it for us as well.

That holy unity with each other is not a oneness with lukewarm believers or those in error, by the way. John MacArthur explains:

He’s not praying that some day all denominations will get together and we’ll have one big ecumenical hash. He’s not praying that we’ll have one-world church, as some have thought. He’s simply praying that believers who share common eternal life, the very life of God dwelling in them, will be united in their separation from all that is ungodly and worldly…expressing spiritual love and power and obedience, all affections for God burning with the same flame, all aims directed at the same end, all pursuing the harmony of love and holiness.

Jesus goes on to say that He has shared His own glory with us (verse 22) and He prays that God will unite us ‘perfectly’ with both Himself and the Father, just as they have been perfectly one since before the beginning of the world (verses 23 and 24). That glory enables us to manifest to the world that Christ is our Redeemer and Saviour.

Jesus says that those who believe in Him know that He is the Son of God (verse 25). He has accomplished this during His earthly ministry, now at an end, and will continue to do so afterward (verse 26).

Jesus expresses His enduring, generous love for us in this marvellous prayer. This love is so deep, abiding and comprehensive that we will never be able to appreciate it until we meet Him face to face, sharing His glory.

This is what the Holy Week, Easter, Ascension and Pentecost story is all about. Many of us can hardly wait to be in His presence and give God all glory. And one day we will.

John MacArthur unpacks these verses for us:

This praying first for our holiness, our oneness in holiness even as the Father and the Son are one in holiness. But secondly, He prays for our eternal fellowship with Him. And this is this most overwhelming thing. This is how the whole prayer ends. It really is overwhelming. “Father, I desire that they also whom Thou hast given Me be with Me where I am.” I mean, there aren’t even too many famous people in this world who are interested in having us around, are they? We’re not many noble, not many mighty. Nobody in the palaces of the world is calling me. Nobody in the Oval Office ever calls me. Nobody in the Supreme Court wants to run around with me. Nobody is interested in most of us. In fact, I guess in some ways we’re sort of the dregs, aren’t we? Especially in this culture we live in today. Is it not remarkable that the glorious Son of the living God prays to His Father that He might have us with Him? Is that not a staggering thing, an overwhelming request? He asks for the Father to grant the eternal presence of all of us with Him …

He’s anticipating the time on the cross and He’s going to be going through the sin bearing and the suffering and He’s really just saying to the Father, “Hang on to them while I’m gone for a while. And, Lord, bring them to glory, I don’t want to lose any of them. Bring them to that place where they’ll trade this vile body for a body like unto His body.” We will have a body like Jesus Christ, reflecting His glory. To be with Jesus, that’s heaven, that’s heaven. To gaze at His glory, that’s heaven. That’s what it is …

And lastly, the final two verses, verses 25 and 26 … 

These two verses just breathe the confidence that the Father will listen, that the Father will hear. He said, “I’m only asking for those who know You. I’m only asking for those who are Yours. I have known You,” and that’s the basis for asking, “and these have known You,” and that’s the basis for the petition and the blessing.

Here is a perfect illustration of prayer. He knows the will of God and He prays for it. Prayer is not so much about changing God’s mind about things as it is affirming God’s will. That’s why we pray, “Our Father who art in heaven, hallowed be Thy name, Thy kingdom come…and the next line says…Thy…what?…will be done.” I tell you, when we think about the Lord interceding for us, it is a staggering thing. And the Son always prays like the Spirit, according to the will of God and the Father will always answer.

As I mentioned in my first two posts on John 17, MacArthur has preached extensively about this one chapter in 1972, 1997 and again in 2002. He has several lengthy sermons on this great prayer.

As generous as this prayer is, it is meant for those who truly believe in Christ. MacArthur warns:

And when it says in verse 20: “Who shall believe on Me,” in that word “Me” is everything that Jesus claimed to be and everything that He said … believing in the total content of Christ. The only way a man ever enters into a right relationship with God is by believing in Christ. I don’t care if he goes to church or does this or does that or has religious feelings, it’s only through believing in Christ, accepting His person, His work and everything He said as fact revelation direct from God. Good works, church membership and anything else have absolutely nothing to do with it.

Now pardon for sin, for example, comes by believing. The Bible says that man is a sinner and consequently will pay the penalty, but Christ comes along and pardons His sin by dying on the cross and bearing the penalty Himself. How do you gain this pardon? You gain this pardon by doing something? No. Acts 10:43 says: “Through His name whosoever believeth on Him shall receive remission of sin.” Pardon comes by believing.

The Bible also talks about the fact that a man can be made just before God. You’re dragged into the court of God, God says you’re a sinner, you’re a sinner, you’re a sinner every way you look at it you’re a sinner, every way you slice it, it comes out sin, from the beginning to the end of your life you’re a sinner. How in the world are you ever going to enter into His presence? Well, God has the right to declare you righteous by virtue of what Jesus did for you. But in order to receive that righteousness and be declared just, Acts 13:39 says: “By Him all that believe are righteous.” It is by doing what that we receive righteousness? By believing. You don’t earn it.

The Bible talks about the fact that God wants to make men His children, that He wants to make us sons of God, adopting us into His family. How do you ever get to be adopted into God’s family? How do you become a child of God? John 1:12: “To as many as received Him, to them gave He the right to be called the sons of God, even to them that do what? … believe on His name.”

The Bible talks about spiritual light that is available. How do you get spiritual light to understand spiritual truth? Jesus said: “Whosoever believeth in Me shall not walk in … what? … darkness.” Believing.

The Bible says that God has made available to men peace and joy. How do you get it? Romans 15:13: “Now the God of hope fill you with all peace and joy in believing.” It’s there all the way through the New Testament. Salvation is a matter of believing.

I hope this short series helps to make the Holy Week and Easter story clearer and Jesus Christ more relevant to us.

May we use the time from Easter to Pentecost to contemplate Christ’s immense and eternal love for us. May we turn from sin by asking for more divine grace and profound faith.

Happy Easter to you all!

 

 

Stained glass cross turbophotocom imagesCAGIG2KHBefore I continue with a miniseries on John 17, newer subscribers might find the following posts about Good Friday helpful:

The greatest reality show ends with a popular vote

Barabbas: an inspiration for liberation theology?

Meditations on the Cross

Reflections on the Crucifixion

Good Friday: in whom can we trust? (John 18:12-27)

Martin Luther’s ‘How to Contemplate Christ’s Sufferings’: the false views

Martin Luther’s ‘How to Contemplate Christ’s Sufferings’: the true views

Martin Luther’s ‘How to Contemplate Christ’s Sufferings’: the comfort

Incidentally, our Lord’s Crucifixion date showed up in a news email I receive from the French site l’Internaute. It was in their ‘on this day in history’ section. The actual date was April 7, 30 AD.

Now on to today’s topic, which relates to Good Friday, that of John 17 — Christ’s High Priestly Prayer with which He concluded the Last Supper.

Yesterday’s post began a three-part study of this prayer which He prayed before going with the remaining eleven Apostles to await His arrest in the Garden of Gethsemane.

Up to now, Jesus had protected His followers from harm. However, now was His time — as God preordained from the beginning and prophesied in the Old Testament — to die an excruciating death on the Cross for our sins.

The High Priestly Prayer is the only example we have of how Jesus communicated directly with His Father. And, despite the fact that both are divine and have been forever, Jesus still prayed.

Perhaps John included this beautiful and perfect prayer in his Gospel to give us that example in detail. As Christ prayed, so shall we.

This prayer is divided into three parts. The first five verses are Jesus’s prayer for Himself as he meets His Crucifixion. The next several verses — 6 to 19 — are His prayer for the Apostles and disciples now and as they establish the Church.

The third part — covered tomorrow — is His prayer for us.

Today’s entry concentrates on verses 11 – 19, a continuation of His prayer for the disciples. Emphases mine below:

11And I am no longer in the world, but they are in the world, and I am coming to you. Holy Father, keep them in your name, which you have given me, that they may be one, even as we are one. 12 While I was with them, I kept them in your name, which you have given me. I have guarded them, and not one of them has been lost except the son of destruction, that the Scripture might be fulfilled. 13But now I am coming to you, and these things I speak in the world, that they may have my joy fulfilled in themselves. 14 I have given them your word, and the world has hated them because they are not of the world, just as I am not of the world. 15I do not ask that you take them out of the world, but that you keep them from the evil one. 16 They are not of the world, just as I am not of the world. 17 Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth. 18 As you sent me into the world, so I have sent them into the world. 19And for their sake I consecrate myself, that they also may be sanctified in truth.

Jesus acknowledges that His time on earth is coming to an end (verse 11). For that reason, he prays that God protects His followers and keeps them unified in glorifying Him and holy love (verse 11).

Jesus proclaims that He was a faithful shepherd and lost only the one Apostle in name only — Judas — but says that this was part of His Father’s plan as unveiled in the Old Testament (verse 12).

Verse 13 is particularly striking. He wants His followers to experience His own sense of joy in God.

He goes on to state that His disciples are in the world but not of it and, to this end, preserve them from the snares of Satan (verse 15).

He also asks God to keep them holy, following His word — ‘truth’ (verse 17) — during their ministry (verse 18).

In the final verse — 19 — He says that he must set Himself apart — ‘consecrate’ Himself — by dying so that the people God gave Him can be redeemed eternally.

John MacArthur unpacks the verses at length in several sermons from 1972, 1997 and 2002. One of his sentences sums this passage up beautifully:

What He’s really praying for is this…I want them to continue to radiate My glory even when I’m not there. And that is what He prayed for. He prayed that we would manifest the glory of Jesus Christ even in His absence. The glory of God was revealed in Christ on earth and when He left, Jesus said I want My glory revealed in My church, in My disciples, in My people.

Even though His prayer for us comes later in the chapter, we, too, can derive comfort from His intercession for the disciples.

Those of us who went to Catholic or Protestant schools probably remember teachers, religious and clergy telling us to do everything well ‘for His glory’. Some of us probably took it the wrong way from time to time asking why we had to slave for God. Yet, Jesus’s entire life on earth was lived beginning to end ‘for His glory’. And if Jesus felt such a deep desire to please His Father, shouldn’t we in our Christian walk?

In another sermon, MacArthur discusses what this entails:

we have a divine call to holiness. We, in answer to the prayer of Jesus Christ, must radiate holiness. As an individual, I gain it through the Word. And then as we all grow in the Word, there becomes a oneness of holiness that stands as a testimony in the world. I pray, God, that will be our testimony.

He also tells us what this does not entail, contrary to some denominational beliefs:

God wants faith. God does not want your works, He does not want your religion, He does not want your piousity, that’s, you know, being super religious, you all know that. He does not want your activity; He does not want your membership in the church. He wants your faith commitment to the person of Jesus Christ. And that’s the only kind of person who ever knows God, who ever knows Christ and that’s the only person for whom Jesus intercedes. There are a lot of religious people but they are not those for whom Jesus prays. To be a part of Jesus’ intercessory work, you must believe.

As for the unity and oneness which Jesus prayed the disciples would have, MacArthur says:

there’s an element of this prayer that was fulfilled on the day of Pentecost when the Spirit came and indwelt every believer and continues to do so that we share one common eternal life. There is a spiritual unity that did come to pass in direct answer to this prayer. But I think more than that it’s oneness of a separated body of those who belong to God. It’s a oneness of separation from the world, that we would be one body opposed to the world.

He’s not praying that some day all denominations will get together and we’ll have one big ecumenical hash. He’s not praying that we’ll have one-world church, as some have thought. He’s simply praying that believers who share common eternal life, the very life of God dwelling in them, will be united in their separation from all that is ungodly and worldly…expressing spiritual love and power and obedience, all affections for God burning with the same flame, all aims directed at the same end, all pursuing the harmony of love and holiness.

That’s an essential takeaway message from Maundy Thursday, Good Friday and Easter Sunday.

So often, by the end of Lent, we wonder why we made our voluntary effort for personal sacrifices or extra devotions. Easter comes and a week later, it’s all forgotten for another year.

I think of it differently. Perhaps you also share this outlook. Each Lent to me represents a chance to build up faith and holiness — it’s a concentrated, dedicated time of focus, prayer and private contemplation whilst going about our daily lives.

Each Lent gives us a marvellous time to step back, take stock and pray for more faith, holiness and oneness. It’s a chance to ask the Holy Spirit for more fortitude or wisdom, to ask Jesus to make us more like He is, to ask God for more of His divine grace. All those together — and there are millions of more requests like these — enable us to build our path of sanctification.

That path, bearing the fruits of our faith, will never be completed in this life, but, with the help of the Holy Trinity, may it lead ever heavenward with fewer regrets on our part as we take our last breaths here on earth.

In our final moments, may we say that we, albeit imperfectly, lived for His glory.

Stained glass cross crown 3rexesblogspotcomBefore exploring John 17, what follows are my past posts on Maundy (or Holy) Thursday. They explain the events and traditions surrounding the Last Supper in which Christ instructed us to commemorate His Body and Blood through consecrated bread and wine:

‘One of you will betray Me’

Passover, the Last Supper and the New Covenant

Maundy Thursday and the Last Supper: Jesus’s words of comfort (John 14, mentions the divine mystery which is the Holy Trinity)

John MacArthur on Passover as celebrated at the Last Supper

What is Tenebrae?

What is the Triduum?

Now on to a unique chapter in the New Testament, John 17, which reveals how Jesus prayed to His Father.

We often read that Jesus prayed to Him, but often we have only a statement that He did so or a brief prayer of a verse or two. Of course, we have His Lord’s Prayer for our use, however, John 17, the High Priestly Prayer, gives us the fullest sense of how Christ communicated with God during His time on earth.

As there is much to look at here via John MacArthur’s many sermons on this chapter through the years (1972, 1997 and 2002), it is best covered in three parts. Emphases mine below.

The first is Jesus’s prayer for Himself and a review of His earthly ministry. He said these words after a long discourse and discussion at the Last Supper (John 13 through John 16):

1When Jesus had spoken these words, he lifted up his eyes to heaven, and said, “Father, the hour has come; glorify your Son that the Son may glorify you, 2since you have given him authority over all flesh, to give eternal life to all whom you have given him. 3 And this is eternal life, that they know you the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent. 4I glorified you on earth, having accomplished the work that you gave me to do. 5And now, Father, glorify me in your own presence with the glory that I had with you before the world existed.

 6 “I have manifested your name to the people whom you gave me out of the world. Yours they were, and you gave them to me, and they have kept your word. 7Now they know that everything that you have given me is from you. 8For I have given them the words that you gave me, and they have received them and have come to know in truth that I came from you; and they have believed that you sent me. 9I am praying for them. I am not praying for the world but for those whom you have given me, for they are yours. 10 All mine are yours, and yours are mine, and I am glorified in them.

Verses 1 – 5

In the first five verses Jesus prays for Himself. He knows His Crucifixion is approaching (verse 1), but instead of praying for the ability of enduring unimaginable pain through scourging, piercing and hanging on the Cross, He instead prays for the ability to glorify God on this fateful day (verse 2).

Jesus knew He would die crucified. Of this, there was no doubt or no ‘plan gone wrong’. This is what He was sent to accomplish.

Note that He is also aware that it is time for Him to shortly rejoin His Father in heaven and regain the glory they shared together ‘before the world existed’ (verse 5). John includes this in the opening verses of his Gospel (John 1:1-3):

1 In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2He was in the beginning with God. 3 All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made.

Also notice that in verse 2 Jesus specifically mentions the granting of eternal life to all whom God has given to Him. Therefore, not everyone will be saved, only those whom God has given to Jesus Christ. He refers to this again in the next several verses.

John 6 tells us that Jesus also talks about this in verses  37-40:

37 All that the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never cast out. 38For I have come down from heaven, not to do my own will but the will of him who sent me. 39And this is the will of him who sent me,that I should lose nothing of all that he has given me, but raise it up on the last day. 40For this is the will of my Father, that everyone who looks on the Son and believes in him should have eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day.”

John MacArthur unpacks these first five verses for us in light of the Crucifixion:

To men the cross appears as an instrument of shame, to Christ it meant glory … glory … glory. And so He says, look at it — verse 1, “The hour is come,” what’s the next statement? What’s the next word? “Glorify Thy Son.” How are You going to do that? How You going … to lift Him up and make Him king of Israel? How [are] You going to glorify the Son? How was He glorified? On a cross, wasn’t He?

Now, it seems strange because from a human viewpoint you’d think He would say — Father, exalt Me now to some great role of rule in the world. If it was real glory why you wouldn’t think it would have anything to do with suffering, but it does. Because, you see, the glory came in the purchase of eternal life and the purchase of eternal life depended upon death and so He had to die. And so, Jesus is simply saying – Father, grant that by means of this event, My death … and you must include death, resurrection, ascension and coronation all in it … that by means of this event I may be glorified.

Now, to glorify God or to glorify Christ means to render what is due because of the glory of His attributes. Because of who He is and because of the display of all of His attributes it is to render Him the honor that He is due. And so Christ is simply saying — Father, let’s get at it so I can display these attributes and receive the honor that is due. The cross was glory for Jesus.

Now some have said — Well, Jesus had an ego problem. And He was very selfish. He was saying — Glorify Me. But if you look at the verse again you’ll see that that’s not the case. It says this: “Glorify Thy Son — hina– in order that Thy Son also … what? … may glorify Thee.” See, He didn’t even have Himself in view. He had the Father’s glory in view. And what’s the key to the whole universe? The glory of God.

In another sermon on John 17, MacArthur explains:

God planned into His master plan, the death of Jesus Christ who atoned for the sins of the world. That makes the men who did it no less responsible for their own guilt and their own hate and their own unbelief. But God had designed the death of Christ as a part of His plan. He was born to die.

Why, you read Isaiah 53 and you’ll read the details of His death. You read Psalm 22; centuries before He was ever born, and it gives explicit instruction about what He’s going to say when He’s hanging on the cross, the very words are there. It was no accident when Jesus went to the cross, no accident at all. The cross and all the events ignited by the cross, the resurrection, the ascension and the coronation of Christ and His second coming even, all of those events ignited by the cross were planned by God before the world began, it was no accident. The sovereign God of history said it would happen, prophesied throughout the entire Old Testament that it would happen and it happened. The cross was no accident. Jesus Christ was not just a self-styled martyr dying as an example of a guy who thought something was right and willing to give His life for it. He died as one foreordained before the world began to bear the sins of the world.

Verses 6 – 10

In verses 6 – 19, Jesus prays for His disciples. We’ll look at verses 11-19 tomorrow.

The message here is that Jesus has worked with the people God gave Him. Early in His ministry, Jesus prayed in isolation to make the right choice when selecting His Apostles; here, He acknowledges God gave those men to Him. In turn, Jesus taught them as His Father wished and revealed God to them through Himself.

He also tells God that the men have been faithful to His teachings. He knows — and we know through the Gospels — that they were not perfect, but they attempted to be, with the exception of Judas Iscariot. And God planned Judas’s betrayal, too.

MacArthur explains the difference between the Apostles and the disciples:

as Jesus prays for His disciples, that it is a very specific prayer, He’s praying for the eleven Apostles and for the few disciples that were also with Him. Now you know that there’s a difference between an apostle and a disciple. There are only eleven Apostles plus Matthias who made up the twelfth [later in Acts], plus whom? Paul [also later in Acts]. But then they were specific. But of all of the others who believed in Him, they are all disciples. They are all disciples. Now apostles are also disciples, but not all disciples are apostles, there were only eleven plus Matthias, plus Paul. There are a total of thirteen if you want to include Judas in there; he was by name an apostle, not in fact.

All right, so you and I are disciples but we’re not apostles. Right? So, others who followed Jesus were disciples but they weren’t in that group that belonged to the Apostles.

Now, Jesus then in this prayer, verses 6 to 19, directs His thoughts to this little group of eleven plus the others who believed in Him. How many were there? We don’t know. Maybe 500, for that’s how many saw Him after His resurrection, there were 120 in the upper room praying together, waiting for the Spirit of God and so perhaps somewhere around 500 would be a maximum. Can you imagine the Son of God in human flesh, 33 years on the earth and when it was all over with, 500 believed? But Jesus was pleased because they were the 500 the Father gave Him, see. And they were the 500 who were about to do the impossible

You say — Well, He’s just specifically praying for them? Yes, but in a general sense you will see in this the pattern of His mediating work for all believers because it’s so … it’s so much the same for us. It’s very general.

Now, the disciples, as you know including the eleven and I’ll use the word disciples collectively to refer to all of them; the disciples had really depended upon Jesus Christ. So much so that the thought of losing Him paralyzed them, didn’t it? And He knew in His own heart that even with all the promises that He’d given them in the table-talks in chapter 14, 15 and 16, with all of those wonderful promises, it was really going to be trauma when it all finally broke and when they saw what happened, they were going to scatter as sheep just to the winds … when the shepherd was smitten. And He knew that. And He knew that it would hurt. And He knew that it was going to be a shock like no shock they had ever had. And so, He comes to the Father, not only does He lay on them all these promises one after the other, but He comes to the Father and He prays — Now, Father, make it all happen, care for them. I have to give them to You.

While He was going to go to the cross and bear the sins of the world, He committed them to the care of the Father, that’s essentially what we see here. And though Jesus had promised that He would return, in the form of the Holy Spirit, and that that would even be better because He would not be just with them, He’d be in them, though He had given them all kinds of promises He knew that they were still heading to a trial that would shatter them and so He now prays that the Father would keep them. He had always been their guide, He had always been their guardian, He’d always been their all-sufficient friend, He had borne their infirmities, He had upheld their weaknesses, He had protected them from evil. And He loves them with the fullest capacity of God to love, in the gentleness that is uniquely Jesus Christ; He gives the Father the task of caring for them while He goes to the cross to die for them. You know, you’d think that Jesus Christ somewhere along the line would get a little bit preoccupied with His own problem, but He never does. All He can think about is — Father, Listen, I love them so much I’m going to go die for them, and while I’m dying for them will You watch them?

Tomorrow: John 17:11-19

 

thirty-pieces-of-silver-3cf58ff031d96b76We are now nearing the middle of Holy Week.

The plot against Jesus thickens.

So far, Jesus has confronted the money-changers at the Temple in Jerusalem.

The High Priests, looking on, yearned to arrest Him. But, after their great outpouring of affection for Him on Palm Sunday, what would the people say?

Judas Iscariot visited the Jewish leaders, offering his services. That day is known in traditionalist Catholic circles as Spy Wednesday.

Please visit the links for more information about the most tragic week in history before and since.

This year, my Anglican parish’s Palm Sunday reading included Psalm 118 but omitted the middle verses.

Some clergy think that ‘too much Bible’ bores the congregation. I disagree. This psalm is a case in point.

This is what we heard for the first reading:

1 Oh give thanks to the LORD, for he is good;
   for his steadfast love endures forever!

 2 Let Israel say,
   “His steadfast love endures forever.”
3 Let the house of Aaron say,
   “His steadfast love endures forever.”
4 Let those who fear the LORD say,
   “His steadfast love endures forever.”

 5 Out of my distress I called on the LORD;
   the LORD answered me and set me free.
6 The LORD is on my side; I will not fear.
   What can man do to me?

19 Open to me the gates of righteousness,
   that I may enter through them
   and give thanks to the LORD.
20This is the gate of the LORD;
    the righteous shall enter through it.
21I thank you that you have answered me
    and have become my salvation.
22 The stone that the builders rejected
   has become the cornerstone.
23This is the LORD’s doing;
   it is marvelous in our eyes.
24This is the day that the LORD has made;
   let us rejoice and be glad in it.

 25Save us, we pray, O LORD!
   O LORD, we pray, give us success!

 26 Blessed is he who comes in the name of the LORD!
   We bless you from the house of the LORD.
27The LORD is God,
   and he has made his light to shine upon us.
Bind the festal sacrifice with cords,
   up to the horns of the altar!

 28You are my God, and I will give thanks to you;
   you are my God; I will extol you.
29 Oh give thanks to the LORD, for he is good;
   for his steadfast love endures forever!

What follows is what was omitted. One wonders how many people opened their pew Bibles to read these verses (emphases mine below):

7 The LORD is on my side as my helper;
   I shall look in triumph on those who hate me.

 8 It is better to take refuge in the LORD
    than to trust in man.
9It is better to take refuge in the LORD
    than to trust in princes.

 10 All nations surrounded me;
   in the name of the LORD I cut them off!
11They surrounded me, surrounded me on every side;
   in the name of the LORD I cut them off!
12 They surrounded me like bees;
   they went out like a fire among thorns;
   in the name of the LORD I cut them off!
13I was pushed hard, so that I was falling,
   but the LORD helped me.

 14The LORD is my strength and my song;
    he has become my salvation.
15Glad songs of salvation
   are in the tents of the righteous:
“The right hand of the LORD does valiantly,
 16the right hand of the LORD exalts,
   the right hand of the LORD does valiantly!”

 17 I shall not die, but I shall live,
   and recount the deeds of the LORD.
18The LORD has disciplined me severely,
   but he has not given me over to death.

Bible scholars generally agree that David wrote this psalm after fully gaining the kingdom which God intended for him.

Matthew Henry notes that it could have been sung when the Ark of the Covenant was installed in David’s royal city and was sung thereafter during the Feast of the Tabernacles.

Henry explains, citing the King James Version of his time:

He preserves an account of God’s gracious dealings with him in particular, which he communicates to others, that they might thence fetch both songs of praise and supports of faith, and both ways God would have the glory. David had, in his time, waded through a great deal of difficulty, which gave him great experience of God’s goodness

There are many who, when they are lifted up, care not for hearing or speaking of their former depressions but David takes all occasions to remember his own low estateAll the nations adjacent to Israel set themselves to give disturbance to David, when he had newly come to the throne, Philistines, Moabites, Syrians, Ammonites, &c. We read of his enemies round about they were confederate against him, and thought to cut off all succours from him. This endeavour of his enemies to surround him is repeated (Psalm 118:11): They compassed me about, yea, they compassed me about, which intimates that they were virulent and violent, and, for a time, prevalent, in their attempts against him, and when put into disorder they rallied again and pushed on their design … Two ways David was brought into trouble:– (1.) By the injuries that men did him (Psalm 118:13): Thou (O enemy!) hast thrust sore at me, with many a desperate push, that I might fall into sin and into ruin. Thrusting thou hast thrust at me (so the word is), so that I was ready to fall. Satan is the great enemy that thrusts sorely at us by his temptations, to cast us down from our excellency, that we may fall from our God and from our comfort in him and, if God had not upheld us by his grace, his thrusts would have been fatal to us. (2.) By the afflictions which God laid upon him (Psalm 118:18): The Lord has chastened me sore. Men thrust at him for his destruction God chastened him for his instruction. They thrust at him with the malice of enemies God chastened him with the love and tenderness of a Father. Perhaps he refers to the same trouble which God, the author of it, designed for his profit, that by it he might partake of his holiness (Hebrews 12:10) howbeit, men, who were the instruments of it, meant not so, neither did their heart think so, but it was in their heart to cut off and destroy, Isaiah 10:7. What men intend for the greatest mischief God intends for the greatest good, and it is easy to say whose counsel shall stand. God will sanctify the trouble to his people, as it is his chastening, and secure the good he designs and he will guard them against the trouble, as it is the enemies’ thrusting, and secure them from the evil they design, and then we need not fear.

It takes profound faith to believe that God will preserve us through our greatest, most violent trials and tribulations. God used David’s enemies’ attacks to strengthen his love for Him. As Henry says at the beginning of his commentary for Psalm 118:

It appears here, as often as elsewhere, that David had his heart full of the goodness of God. He loved to think of it, loved to speak of it, and was very solicitous that God might have the praise of it and others the comfort of it. The more our hearts are impressed with a sense of God’s goodness the more they will be enlarged in all manner of obedience.

This is why it is so important for us to pray for more faith, especially when things are going well so that we can draw on it during times when it seems as if everything and everyone are working against us. Bible study will also help build our understanding of God’s purpose for us.

However, there is an even greater prophecy here which is why this psalm is chosen as a reading from Palm Sunday through the Easter season. It speaks of Jesus and Jesus himself cites it in referring to Himself.

Matthew 21 begins with His triumphal entry into Jerusalem on what we call Palm Sunday. This is the final week of His public ministry. Longtime subscribers of this blog will have followed my Forbidden Bible Verses series which recount the constant verbal assaults on Jesus not only by the Jewish Sanhedrin but also by ordinary people.

Palm Sunday was a brief moment of happiness in our Lord’s ministry on earth. The next few days, which we commemorate during Holy Week, turned so dark and treacherous that He suffered death on the Cross for our sins on Good Friday.

As Henry says of Psalm 118:

In singing this psalm we must glorify God for his goodness, his goodness to us, and especially his goodness to us in Jesus Christ.

Matthew 21 tells us that after riding into Jerusalem on a donkey, He went to the temple and toppled the tables of the money-changers. He then returned to Bethany, where He had been previously with Mary, Martha and Lazarus, whom He resurrected the day before.

Jesus returned to Jerusalem the following day. On His way there, He became hungry and cursed the barren fig tree when he found it had leaves but no fruit. That episode is analagous to those who do not bear fruits of faith; they will die eternally, never seeing God.

At the end of Matthew 21, Jesus had yet another confrontation with the Jewish leaders. He gave them two parables: those of the two sons and the talents. The chapter closes with His citation of Psalm 118:22-23:

22 The stone that the builders rejected
   has become the cornerstone.
23This is the LORD’s doing;
   it is marvelous in our eyes.

Matthew tells us that Jesus went on to warn of condemnation for unbelief:

43Therefore I tell you, the kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a people producing its fruits. 44And the one who falls on this stone will be broken to pieces; and when it falls on anyone, it will crush him.”

The chapter ends with this:

45When the chief priests and the Pharisees heard his parables, they perceived that he was speaking about them. 46And although they were seeking to arrest him, they feared the crowds, because they held him to be a prophet.

Henry tells us that the last ten verses of Psalm 118 relate specifically to Jesus Christ. Of the gate in verses 19 and 20, he says:

Some by this gate understand Christ, by whom we are taken into fellowship with God and our praises are accepted he is the way there is no coming to the Father but by him (John 14:6), he is the door of the sheep (John 10:9) he is the gate of the temple, by whom, and by whom only, the righteous, and they only, shall enter, and come into God’s righteousness, as the expression is, Psalm 69:27. The psalmist triumphs in the discovery that the gate of righteousness, which had been so long shut, and so long knocked at, was now at length opened. 3. He promises to give thanks to God for this favour (Psalm 118:21): I will praise thee. Those that saw Christ’s day at so great a distance saw cause to praise God for the prospect for in him they saw that God had heard them, had heard the prayers of the Old-Testament saints for the coming of the Messiah, and would be their salvation.

And Peter says the same when the Jewish leaders confronted him and John after they healed a lame man at the temple in Acts 3. They later arrested and held both apostles overnight in custody for speaking of the resurrected Christ to the public. The next day the hierarchy questioned the apostles. This was Peter’s reply (Acts 4:8-12):

8Then Peter, filled with the Holy Spirit, said to them, “Rulers of the people and elders, 9if we are being examined today concerning a good deed done to a crippled man, by what means this man has been healed, 10let it be known to all of you and to all the people of Israel that by the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom you crucified, whom God raised from the dead—by him this man is standing before you well. 11 This Jesus is the stone that was rejected by you, the builders, which has become the cornerstone. 12And there is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved.” 

Psalm 118 tells us that, just as God saved David from death, so He also saved His only begotten Son.

We celebrate His Resurrection on Easter Sunday. He lives forevermore.

May we share the psalmist’s joy on Easter:

24This is the day that the LORD has made;
   let us rejoice and be glad in it.

Stained glass shadows westernskycommunicationscomThe Revd Walter Bright’s site is well worth a visit for words of conviction and inspiration.

A few weeks ago I referred to his helpful post on various types of prayer.

His post ‘Joy is strength: How can I increase it?’ is another thought provoking entry.

Over the past 35 years, the notion of personal ‘happiness’ seems to have overridden our former and greater priorities.

I remember in the late 1970s when young people used to ask each other, ‘Are you happy?’ Hmm.

It’s difficult to be happy when you’re at university or just starting out in the world. So many things interrupt or delay that temporal — and fleeting — feeling. It seemed a silly question to ask at the time. It still is.

Mr Wright puts things in perspective for us with regard to happiness — and joy. We often confuse the two. Excerpts from his post follow; please visit his site to read it in full.

He uses Nehemiah 8:10 as his text:

The joy of the Lord is my strength.

He introduces the biblical context of the word:

Webster’s Dictionary defines joy as “a feelings of great happiness” but there is something much richer and deeper from God’s word about the word. This is because joy is more of an “elevated and spiritual kind.”

and elaborates further (emphases in the original):

Joy is God’s will 

But now I am coming to you, and these things I speak in the world, that they may have my joy fulfilled in themselves. John 17:13. It is his will for us to serve with joy, have joy in difficult times and grow in joy. 

Joy comes bursting out of salvation

Psalm 126:1-3: “When the LORD restored the fortunes of Zion, we were like those who dream. Then our mouth were filled with laughter, and our tongue with shouts of joy; then they said among the nations, “The LORD has done great things for them.” The LORD has done great things for us; we are glad.” Joy is a gift from God through salvation.

This part particularly resonated with me:

Joy is not happiness 

2 Corinthians 7:14.

“I have confidence in you; I take great pride on your behalf. I am filled with encouragement; I am overflowing with joy in the midst of all our suffering.”

The word happy comes from the same word as happen. When things are going great, we are happy. Joy, however, no matter what’s happening – you still have it.

If the joy of The Lord is my strength, then the more joy I have the more strength I get.

If you want to find out how to increase your joy and become stronger spiritually, follow Wright’s inspiring — and surprising — advice.

Bible GenevaContinuing a study of the passages from Luke’s Gospel which have been omitted from the three-year Lectionary for public worship, today’s post is part of my ongoing series Forbidden Bible Verses, also essential to understanding Scripture.

The following Bible passages have been excluded from the three-year Lectionary used by many Catholic and Protestant churches around the world.

Do some clergy using the Lectionary want us understand Holy Scripture in its entirety? You decide.

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

Luke 11:33-36

The Light in You

 33 “No one after lighting a lamp puts it in a cellar or under a basket, but on a stand, so that those who enter may see the light. 34Your eye is the lamp of your body. When your eye is healthy, your whole body is full of light, but when it is bad, your body is full of darkness. 35 Therefore be careful lest the light in you be darkness. 36If then your whole body is full of light, having no part dark, it will be wholly bright, as when a lamp with its rays gives you light.”

————————————————————————————–

Most of Luke 11 concerns warnings about the sins of self-righteousness and spiritual blindness. We read of people accusing Christ of healing in Satan’s name, His warning of faithless conversions and His rebuke of those who continued to ask for signs.

The rest of the chapter continues in this vein, culminating in another confrontation between our Lord and the Jewish hierarchy.

Today’s reading concerns the ability to see and receive His eternal truth.

Jesus said that no one lights a lamp then conceals the illumination it provides (verse 33). He meant that He had not hidden His teachings from anyone. As Matthew Henry explains:

It is a great privilege that the light of the gospel is put on a candlestick, so that all that come in may see it, and may see by it where they are and whither they are going, and what is the true, and sure, and only way to happiness.

Our Lord used the analogy of impaired eyesight to make his point (verse 34). An eye lets in light in the physical world. A bad or impaired eye cannot do so, regardless of the amount of illumination. In spiritual terms, He is the Light and had been revealing Himself to everyone during His ministry. He sent His apostles out to do the same teaching and healing. He invested His disciples with the same divine powers. However, whilst many marvelled, others considered His miracles to be satanic or accused Him of blasphemy.

Jesus warned them once again about spiritual darkness and self-righteousness (verse 35). Those who are open to His truth and are moved to repent of their sins will be made pure and bear the fruits of faith (verse 36).

Henry says (emphases mine):

Now, according as this is, so the light of divine revelation is to us, and our benefit by it it is a savour of life unto life, or of death unto death. (1.) If this eye of the soul be single, if it see clear, see things as they are, and judge impartially concerning them, if it aim at truth only, and seek it for its own sake, and have not any sinister by–looks and intentions, the whole body, that is, the whole soul, is full of light, it receives and entertains the gospel, which will bring along with it into the soul both knowledge and joy. This denotes the same thing with that of the good ground, receiving the word and understanding it. If our understanding admits the gospel in its full light, it fills the soul, and it has enough to fill it. And if the soul be thus filled with the light of the gospel, having no part dark,–if all its powers and faculties be subjected to the government and influence of the gospel, and none left unsanctified,–then the whole soul shall be full of light, full of holiness and comfort. It was darkness itself, but now light in the Lord, as when the bright shining of a candle doth give thee light, Luke 11:36. Note, The gospel will come into those souls whose doors and windows are thrown open to receive it and where it comes it will bring light with it

The problem with Jesus’s audiences and the Sanhedrin was that they were so convinced of their own self-righteousness that they shut out the Light in front of them.

John MacArthur unpacks it this way:

They were wicked because they were laying the responsibility for their unbelief at the feet of Jesus and simply saying, “You didn’t make Your point. We didn’t have enough light. We came to the conclusion we came to because that’s all the information You gave us. You left us in the dark.”

But that wasn’t really the issue. They were blind willfully because they hated His message. They hated the indictment of their sin and hypocrisy and false religion and self-righteousness. They hated the idea that He called on them to acknowledge themselves as poor prisoners blind and oppressed, sinners under the judgment of God headed for eternal punishment who needed to repent and be saved. They hated that message. And so it skewed their ability to see the truth. You remember back in Luke 4 when Jesus went to His own synagogue and preached one sermon and told those self-righteous people in His own town that He had grown up with that they were not who they thought they were. They were not right with God. They were alienated from God. They were poor prisoners, blind and oppressed, who needed to be saved, who needed to repent–and they tried to kill Him after one sermon. They were blind, and they were willfully blind ...

The light of Christ is extended to the ends of the earth. It’s not about the revelation; it’s about the perception. And the lamp of the soul is the mind. The eye of the soul is the heart. And your hearts and minds are blind if you cherish your sin. You stay in a state of blindness. It may be that you cherish immorality and you cherish wickedness and vile kind of conduct, but in the case of these people, they cherish their self-righteous hypocrisy and their religion and their self-styled morality. They denied the basic principle of all that the Bible teaches that men are sinners, can’t do anything about it and are headed for eternal judgment unless they repent and ask God to forgive them. And there is nothing we can do to change that; it all must be done by God, and is done through Christ.

This is why self-righteousness and a false sense of morality are so dangerous. Some notional Christians fall into the same trap. Most secularists do, too. Several years ago the UK’s Metro newspaper carried a survey of Britons responding to the question, ‘Are you a good person?’ Two-thirds of respondents said they were! Imagine if Christ were among us today the way He was for His own people. It’s unlikely we’d listen to what He has to say. We would probably want Him to die, just as His own people did. We’re good; we don’t need a Saviour. We’ve saved ourselves through good works, a nutritious diet, a smoke-free atmosphere, yoga, meditation and so on. We would probably accuse our Lord of not respecting us. And we can see this in the number of people who either announce their atheism straightaway or the Christians who poke their noses into other people’s lives but never examine their own souls.

Henry counsels:

Take heed that the eye of the mind be not blinded by partiality, and prejudice, and sinful aims. Be sincere in your enquiries after truth, and ready to receive it in the light, and love, and power of it and not as the men of this generation to whom Christ preached, who never sincerely desired to know God’s will, nor designed to do it, and therefore no wonder that they walked on in darkness, wandered endlessly, and perished eternally.

Next time: Luke 11:37-44

 

Bible spine dwtx.orgContinuing a study of the passages from Luke’s Gospel which have been omitted from the three-year Lectionary for public worship, today’s post is part of my ongoing series Forbidden Bible Verses, also essential to understanding Scripture.

The following Bible passages have been excluded from the three-year Lectionary used by many Catholic and Protestant churches around the world.

Do some clergy using the Lectionary want us understand Holy Scripture in its entirety? You decide.

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

Luke 11:29-32

The Sign of Jonah

 29 When the crowds were increasing, he began to say, “This generation is an evil generation. It seeks for a sign, but no sign will be given to it except the sign of Jonah. 30For as Jonah became a sign to the people of Nineveh, so will the Son of Man be to this generation. 31 The queen of the South will rise up at the judgment with the men of this generation and condemn them, for she came from the ends of the earth to hear the wisdom of Solomon, and behold, something greater than Solomon is here. 32 The men of Nineveh will rise up at the judgment with this generation and condemn it, for they repented at the preaching of Jonah, and behold, something greater than Jonah is here.

——————————————————————————-

If parts of this passage sound familiar to regular readers of my Forbidden — Essential — Bible Verses series, it is because they have featured previously:

Matthew 16:1-12:

1And the Pharisees and Sadducees came, and to test him they asked him to show them a sign from heaven.

4 An evil and adulterous generation seeks for a sign, but no sign will be given to it except the sign of Jonah.” So he left them and departed.

‘Adulterous’ as used there implies a betrayal of God, rather than a sexually adulterous relationship. Adulterous in this context appears elsewhere in the Bible. One can love — be faithful to — God or love the world. If one loves the world, one loves Satan and sin. Hence the notion of betrayal of God.

Mark 8:11-13:

11 The Pharisees came and began to argue with him, seeking from him a sign from heaven to test him. 12And he sighed deeply in his spirit and said, “Why does this generation seek a sign? Truly, I say to you, no sign will be given to this generation.” 13And he left them, got into the boat again, and went to the other side.

Luke 9:37-43:

41Jesus answered, “O faithless and twisted generation, how long am I to be with you and bear with you? Bring your son here.”

The last was directed at His Apostles to whom He had given the power to heal. When they later asked Jesus why their healing of the convulsive (probably epileptic) mute boy did not work, Matthew’s version says that Jesus told them their faith was inadequate (Matthew 17:20). Mark’s Gospel records Jesus as saying that certain demons can only be driven out by prayer (Mark 9:29). In both cases, faith in and reliance on God’s sovereignty is required.

In today’s passage, Jesus is addressing the crowd. Earlier in the chapter, Luke tells us that Jesus taught the disciples the Lord’s Prayer, told them that God is more loving than any earthly father, rebuked those who say He heals in Beelzebul’s name, warned about a cleansed soul devoid of faith and exhorted His listeners to obey the word of God.

Today’s passage quotes Jesus rebuking an ‘evil generation’ (verse 29). He was criticising the people and Jewish Sanhedrin not only for accusing Him of working in league with Satan but for requesting yet another ‘sign’ — miracle. By that point in His ministry, Christ had performed many healing miracles and had fed the 5,000.

Although the Gospels do not tell us, the reasons for their request must have been complex. First, perhaps, because they considered themselves observant Jews, they assumed that they were asking as God-fearing believers. Second, as John MacArthur posits, they probably had no idea of what sort of sign they wanted.

Jesus took issue with them and called them evil not because they were criminal or unobservant Jews. He was telling them that, despite all His miracles and teaching, the majority of them –  no matter where He went — did not or could not believe He was the Messiah, the Son of God. Therefore, what more could He do to convince them? If they did not believe by this point, they never would. And we know how His ministry ended — on the Cross.

Some readers might be puzzled by the mention of Jonah, whose story for most of us consists of having lived in a giant fish belly for three days. Yet, Jonah went on to convert the pagan people of Nineveh afterward.

Jonah 1 describes the prophet’s disobedience. God told Jonah to go to Nineveh urging that city’s people to repent. Jonah refused; as pagans, he considered them beneath him.  So, thinking that he could run away from God, he decided to board a ship headed for Tarshish, already part of the lucrative trade route with Asia. Ironically, every man on the ship was a pagan. Somehow, that didn’t seem to bother Jonah.

Once the ship set sail, God sent a violent storm. The sailors tried everything to keep afloat. Jonah was fast asleep when the storm started. As the men knew their lives were in the balance, they began praying to their gods. The ship’s captain woke Jonah up and told him to pray to his god.

As the storm raged, the sailors wanted to find out which of them was responsible for displeasing the gods. Human frailty must have caused the storm and the gods were having their revenge. They cast lots. The finger pointed at Jonah. When they asked what god he worshipped, he told them of the one true God and that he had disobeyed Him. Jonah told them to throw him overboard and God would stop the storm:

14Therefore they called out to the LORD, “O LORD, let us not perish for this man’s life, and lay not on us innocent blood, for you, O LORD, have done as it pleased you.” 15So they picked up Jonah and hurled him into the sea, and the sea ceased from its raging. 16Then the men feared the LORD exceedingly, and they offered a sacrifice to the LORD and made vows.

17 And the LORD appointed a great fish to swallow up Jonah. And Jonah was in the belly of the fish three days and three nights.

So he managed to convert the sailors in his disobedience, the storm stopped and Jonah suffered his punishment in the fish’s belly. Jonah 2 documents his prayer of repentance, after which God made the fish spit him out onto dry land.

In Jonah 3, we find out that Jonah obeys God’s command to go to Nineveh and warn them to repent or risk His divine wrath. The people — pagans up to this point — obeyed Jonah. They fasted and put on sackcloth and ashes. When God saw their repentance, He called off His punishment.

Back now to Luke 11:29-30. Jesus was telling His audience that the Ninevites believed without having personally experienced what Jonah went through. Nonetheless, his story convinced them that there is one true God. Yet, here the Son of God was actually among the unbelievers of His generation and they did not believe He is the Messiah. What more could He have done? Therefore, they are an ‘evil generation’.

Another point about Jonah’s story is that he was captive in the fish’s belly for three days. Jesus would stay in the tomb for three days between His Crucifixion and Resurrection. Matthew Henry explains:

As Jonas being cast into the sea, and lying there three days, and then coming up alive and preaching repentance to the Ninevites, was a sign to them, upon which they turned from their evil way, so shall the death and resurrection of Christ, and the preaching of his gospel immediately after to the Gentile world, be the last warning to the Jewish nation. If they be provoked to a holy jealousy by this, well and good but, if this do not work upon them, let them look for nothing but utter ruin: The Son of Man shall be a sign to this generation (Luke 11:30), a sign speaking to them, though a sign spoken against by them.

Jesus cites another example of repentance for them, that of the ‘queen of the South’ — the Queen of Sheba — whom Solomon converted (verse 31). MacArthur tells us that Sheba is present-day Yemen. She made a long journey to Jerusalem to find out for herself. 1 Kings 10 tells us that Solomon taught her about the one true God. The queen of the South said (1 Kings 10:6-9):

6And she said to the king, “The report was true that I heard in my own land of your words and of your wisdom, 7but I did not believe the reports until I came and my own eyes had seen it. And behold, the half was not told me. Your wisdom and prosperity surpass the report that I heard. 8Happy are your men! Happy are your servants, who continually stand before you and hear your wisdom! 9 Blessed be the LORD your God, who has delighted in you and set you on the throne of Israel! Because the LORD loved Israel forever, he has made you king, that you may execute justice and righteousness.”

The Queen of Sheba heard Solomon’s testimony and was converted. Until then, she had no personal experience of God. This is why Jesus says (verse 31) that her example will come to convict the unbelieving Jews to whom He had been ministering. Similarly, He cites the Ninevites condemning them (verse 32). As Henry observes:

here is preaching which far exceeds that of Jonas, is more powerful and awakening, and threatens a much sorer ruin than that of Nineveh, and yet none are startled by it, to turn from their evil way, as the Ninevites did.

MacArthur says the Jews of Jesus’s day were far too self-righteous in their observance of Mosaic Law to believe in Him. This is the danger which legalism posed then — and poses now to certain Christians.

MacArthur explains:

My, my. He had banished disease from Israel. He had banished demons from souls of men. He had conquered death and raised the dead. He had created food for thousands. He had stilled the waters in a storm. He had calmed the storm. He had controlled the fish. He had walked on the water Himself. All of it together wasn’t enough. They had all the evidence they needed and more, much more. It wasn’t about evidence, it was about the fact that in their self-righteous moralism they hated the diagnosis that Jesus rendered of their hearts. They were so self-righteous. They couldn’t deny that He had supernatural power so there was only one place to assign it. If not God, Satan. This is not lack of evidence, this is lack of penitence. And in the end, they hated the very God they said they loved

It is the most dangerous posture to take to hide under a cloak of morality, a cloak of religion and then to reject the diagnosis of your own wretchedness, your own sinfulness, your own unworthiness, your own inability to save yourself, commend yourself to God and therefore reject the work of Jesus Christ. Christendom, as we have been learning in the book of Jude in our study of apostasy, is just full of these kinds of people who are self-righteous, right in Christendom as such, as well as all other religions of the world. And they are damned by their false righteousness.

Some believers today do err by being self-righteous. They keep their distance from anyone who belongs to a different denomination. They consider themselves holy for having refrained from watching television. They consider themselves pure for not partaking of strong drink. They lord their self-righteous — ‘holiness’, as they call it — over members of their own congregations.

In closing, MacArthur warns us against being pharasaical in our so-called ‘Christian life’:

The worst state you can ever be in is a state or self-righteousness, personally imposed morality, legalism and religion in which you clean up your own life, sweep it superficially, put it in order superficially and become a haven for demons who function most effectively and most deadly in religious people. Very dangerous to be moral and religious

The bottom line is the Pharisees didn’t see themselves as sinners. Self-righteous people don’tTherefore they are unredeemable and they condemn Jesus because He met with this category of people that they called sinners in which they had absolutely no part. Jesus said of them, “It’s not those who are well that need a physician, but those who are sick.” And if you don’t know you’re sick you can’t and you won’t come to the physician. That’s why He said, “I have not come to call the righteous but sinners to repentance.” There’s no point in calling righteous people to repentance. What are they going to repent of? When the rich young ruler said, “What do I do to get eternal life?” what happened? Jesus said, “Well here are the Commandments.” He said, “I’ve kept them all.” There’s a man who is self-righteous, he won’t repent. If he won’t repent, he can’t be saved. 

Next time: Luke 11:33-36

 

Bible oldContinuing a study of the passages from Luke’s Gospel which have been omitted from the three-year Lectionary for public worship, today’s post is part of my ongoing series Forbidden Bible Verses, also essential to understanding Scripture.

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

Luke 11:27-28

True Blessedness

 27As he said these things, a woman in the crowd raised her voice and said to him, “Blessed is the womb that bore you, and the breasts at which you nursed!” 28But he said, “Blessed rather are those who hear the word of God and keep it!”

———————————————————————————————

The King James Version is, not surprisingly, more poetic. This is what Matthew Henry would have read in his day (late 17th and early 18th centuries):

27And it came to pass, as he spake these things, a certain woman of the company lifted up her voice, and said unto him, Blessed is the womb that bare thee, and the paps which thou hast sucked.

 28But he said, Yea rather, blessed are they that hear the word of God, and keep it.

This woman, among those gathered around Jesus, has just heard Him criticise the Jewish priests for their false exorcisms which draw multiple demons back into the same soul. That is, as He explained (see last week’s post), because the healed person is living a moral life but a faithless one. The house is clean but empty. Therefore, it invites all manner of temptation. Eventually, the person falls back into sin, many times more.

The secular equivalent of this phenomenon is ‘Nature abhors a vacuum’.

Matthew Henry tells us that the woman complimenting Jesus in verse 27 is delighted He has called them out on their moralising and false healings:

so pleased to hear how he had confounded the Pharisees, and conquered them, and put them to shame, and cleared himself from their vile insinuations …

She could appreciate the wisdom and grace of His teaching.

So, she complimented Him by praising His mother. Even today, this is a natural thing to do. If we know an adult who lives a God-fearing life in line with the Gospel, we often think he or she is a good reflection on his parents. The parents are the ones who provided that grounding in godliness.

Henry interprets her words as follows:

‘What an admirable, what an excellent man is this! Surely never was there a greater or better born of a woman: happy the woman that has him for her son. I should have thought myself very happy to have been the mother of one that speaks as never man spoke, that has so much of the grace of heaven in him, and is so great a blessing to this earth.’

He observes that this echoes Mary’s words in the Magnificat (Luke 1:48, KJV):

48For he hath regarded the low estate of his handmaiden: for, behold, from henceforth all generations shall call me blessed.

Even then, among the faithless and the fickle, a few understood, albeit imperfectly, who He was.

Reading these two verses today, one cannot help but get the impression that Jesus is critical of her in His response (verse 28). Yet, Henry says this is not so:

He does not deny what this woman said, nor refuse her respect to him and his mother but leads her from this to that which was of higher consideration, and which more concerned her …

After all, our Lord was not just for that generation who encountered Him in the flesh, He came to redeem future generations. Just as important, He has been with us from the beginning (John 1). Emphases mine in the text:

The Word Became Flesh

 1 In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2He was in the beginning with God. 3 All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made. 4 In him was life, and the life was the light of men. 5 The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.

 6There was a man sent from God, whose name was John. 7He came as a witness, to bear witness about the light, that all might believe through him. 8 He was not the light, but came to bear witness about the light.

 9 The true light, which enlightens everyone, was coming into the world. 10He was in the world, and the world was made through him, yet the world did not know him. 11He came to his own, and his own people did not receive him. 12But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God, 13who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God.

 14And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth. 15(John bore witness about him, and cried out, “This was he of whom I said, ‘He who comes after me ranks before me, because he was before me.’”) 16And from his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace. 17For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ. 18 No one has ever seen God; the only God, who is at the Father’s side, he has made him known.

This is what our Lord is saying to this woman who admires Him so much. He advises her not to become too absorbed in His earthly origins but His heavenly ones.

Thomas, the apostle, was also caught up in what he could see and sense. Again, Jesus — considering future generations (and past Old Testament persons, e.g. Abraham, and prophets) — cautions (John 20:29):

29… “Because you have seen Me, have you believed? Blessed are they who did not see, and yet believed.”

This is why, in today’s verses from Luke,  Jesus responds to the woman’s compliment by telling her that it is more important for her — as well as everyone else — to concentrate on obeying His commands and teachings. As Henry explains:

This is intended partly as a check to her, for doting so much upon his bodily presence and his human nature, partly as an encouragement to her to hope that she might be as happy as his own mother, whose happiness she was ready to envy, if she would hear the word of God and keep it. Note, Though it is a great privilege to hear the word of God, yet those only are truly blessed, that is, blessed of the Lord, that hear it and keep it, that keep it in memory, and keep to it as their way and rule.

Incidentally, Henry says that Luke’s is the only Gospel where we find this exchange.

He adds that this is unrelated to the time when Mary and His stepbrothers attempted to bring him back to Nazareth (Luke 8:19-21, Mark 3:20-21 and Mark 3:31-35).

Next time: Luke 11:29-32

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