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

Yet, it doesn’t tell the whole story.

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

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

1 Corinthians 11:1-16

11 Be imitators of me, as I am of Christ.

Head Coverings

Now I commend you because you remember me in everything and maintain the traditions even as I delivered them to you. But I want you to understand that the head of every man is Christ, the head of a wife[a] is her husband,[b] and the head of Christ is God. Every man who prays or prophesies with his head covered dishonors his head, but every wife[c] who prays or prophesies with her head uncovered dishonors her head, since it is the same as if her head were shaven. For if a wife will not cover her head, then she should cut her hair short. But since it is disgraceful for a wife to cut off her hair or shave her head, let her cover her head. For a man ought not to cover his head, since he is the image and glory of God, but woman is the glory of man. For man was not made from woman, but woman from man. Neither was man created for woman, but woman for man. 10 That is why a wife ought to have a symbol of authority on her head, because of the angels.[d] 11 Nevertheless, in the Lord woman is not independent of man nor man of woman; 12 for as woman was made from man, so man is now born of woman. And all things are from God. 13 Judge for yourselves: is it proper for a wife to pray to God with her head uncovered? 14 Does not nature itself teach you that if a man wears long hair it is a disgrace for him, 15 but if a woman has long hair, it is her glory? For her hair is given to her for a covering. 16 If anyone is inclined to be contentious, we have no such practice, nor do the churches of God.

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My last instalment in this series discussed Paul’s exhortation at the end of 1 Corinthians 10 to do everything for the glory of God whilst taking care to not offend Jews, pagans or Christians.

Today’s reading is a contentious one, and even John MacArthur admitted he was reluctant to preach on it back in 1976 (emphases mine below):

First Corinthians chapter 11. And I tried to delay it as long as I could but finally I just really ran against the wall, and I couldn’t think of anything else to get out of it, so here we are. And it has to do with the subordination and equality of women.

The following week, he asked the congregation for their patience:

This chapter is very interesting, and I want all of you to please remain until I’m finished this morning and not duck your head or be inclined to leave until I’m finished. This is a very interesting passage, and you’re going to find some very interesting truth, I’m sure, applied perhaps in a way you’ve never really understood it before.

This was a time when women were entering the job market en masse in the United States. Some were married, some were divorced and the end result was that the demographic of work — and the family — would change irreversibly. How many women are single or divorced heads of households today?

Our reality of the 21st century makes this a particularly difficult passage.

However, MacArthur says something highly interesting that puts these verses into perspective:

this isn’t a universal principle; this is a custom. Paul never said anything to the – to the Jews or the Romans about hats or not hats or covered or uncovered. It was an issue in Corinth. And in fact, Paul, as a Jew, was uttering language here entirely antagonistic to the Jewish custom of rabbinical teaching. The Jew always wore a tallit, a covering. And Paul is saying, “Don’t wear a covering.”

We say, “Paul, you know the Jews always wear a covering.”

Yeah, but these aren’t Jews, and if they do, it’ll be wrong for their society. It’s cultural. Paul isn’t laying down an absolute rule to be observed by all Christians. And I just – I read something this week that said that this proves that women should never come to church without a hat. It doesn’t prove that at all. That used to be the feeling of many people, and then the hats got so bad, no one could see, and the thing kind of died down a little …

But that isn’t the point. It’s fine to wear a hat. That’s wonderful. But that isn’t what he’s saying. He’s simply saying, “Accommodate yourselves to the custom of the Corinthians. If for a Corinthian woman to appear submissive and modest she wears a veil, then women, you wear a veil. And men the opposite.” Don’t violate customs that have significance in your society. The man and the woman are – to be sure they acquiesce to those.

I can back this up with an essay on hermeneutics that Dr Craig S Keener wrote several years ago. Hermeneutics involves studying historical and cultural context when interpreting Scripture. My post which included this example from 1 Corinthians 11 is here, and Dr Keener’s essay, which I cited, is here.

In citing Ephesians 5, Keener discusses the order of authority in the family unit in Greek and Roman societies:

from Aristotle onward Greeks and Romans often emphasized that the male head of the household must rule his wife, children and slaves. But Paul, while taking over the topic, modifies the instructions: he tells a husband not how to rule his wife, but how to love her (Eph 5:25). The wife must submit, but as a form of Christian submission that all Christians must learn to practice (Eph 5:21-22). If we read this passage as if Paul were saying exactly the same thing as Aristotle, we would miss his point

As for head coverings in 1 Corinthians 11, Keener says:

… knowing why women wore head coverings in Paul’s day helps us understand why he gives the instructions he does. Most women in the eastern Mediterranean world covered their hair in public as a sign of sexual modesty; thus the lower class women in the churches were concerned when some upper class women refused to wear them.

But would Paul solve matters of sexual modesty or class division in the same way in every culture as he did in Corinth? Would the head covering provide a solution to such issues in every culture? Could head coverings in some cultures become signs of ostentation, showing off wealth? Could they in some cultures actually become tools of seduction the way jewels and costly array sometimes were in Paul’s culture? What of a culture where only well-to-do people could afford to wear head coverings, thus introducing class division into the church? Is it possible that in churches in some parts of the world, wearing a head covering (as opposed to not wearing one) might draw attention to the wearer?

This is why it is so important for us to take into account cultural background and read Scripture consistently in light of it

Jesus claimed that what mattered most was justice, mercy and faith (Matt 23:23)–the heart of God’s word. Paul in the same way disagreed with his contemporaries on what was fundamental, arguing that it is God’s own power that saves us, not secondary issues like circumcision or food laws. This method of interpretation requires us to keep central what matters most (the gospel and obedience to God’s will), rather than becoming legalistic on secondary matters that could distract us from the heart of the gospel

You can read excerpts and find source links to all of Craig Keener’s essays on biblical hermeneutics here. They help to explain much in the Bible.

Now on to today’s reading.

Recall that Paul is responding by letter to questions that the Corinthians have been sending him. He begins by exhorting them to follow his example in all things, because he is ‘of Christ’ (verse 1). In other words, when the Corinthians are in doubt, they should do what he does.

1 Corinthians addresses difficult topics, so, in prefacing his remarks, Paul compliments the congregation for remembering his teachings and maintaining the traditions as he taught — delivered — them (verse 2).

MacArthur explains that this was Paul’s way of saying that they understood the Gospel message and Christian doctrine:

… I think what he’s saying there, and I’m not going to give you all the background, except to say if you check the word there “ordinances,” it’s the word “tradition.” And as it’s used in 2 Thessalonians 2:15, it is used to speak of doctrine. And whenever the word “delivered” is used, it is used in connection with teaching content.

And so, what he’s saying there is, “I’m glad that you at least asked me questions, and you have maintained the doctrine that I gave you.” You see, as you read the whole of 1 Corinthians, he doesn’t straighten them out on doctrine. He doesn’t have to tell them about the deity of Christ, or the truth of God, or the ministry of the Spirit – the Holy Spirit, he doesn’t have to discuss the believer’s life pattern as it operates in the yieldedness to the Holy Spirit. It doesn’t go into those doctrinal issues. Because apparently, they were really hanging in on those. Apparently there weren’t doctrinal impurities. Chapter 15 may indicate some misunderstanding about resurrection, but for the most part, they didn’t have questions about the deity of Christ or his saving work. He doesn’t have a grace vs. works section in here.

Doctrinally, they had heard and received and maintained, and they were at least consulting him about things, and he says, “For that I just want to praise you. I just want to…” And it’s a very strong assertion of praise; a very, very strong term is used there.

The problem with the Corinthians was their personal conduct as Christians who were young in the faith. Corinth was a highly decadent city where all manner of sin was committed.

Paul began his explanation of head coverings by laying out the authority in the family unit which was common in Greek and Roman societies at that time, as explained above, but in a Christian context. Christ rules over every man, every husband is his wife’s superior and Christ submits to God the Father (verse 3).

MacArthur explains the theology behind that verse:

Think of it this way: if Christ does not submit to the Father, then redemption is not accomplished. Man is lost; he is doomed; and God is at war with Himself if the Son does not submit.

If man, on the other hand, does not submit to Christ, then man is lost. His destiny is denied, and judgment falls on him. If woman does not submit to man in the family, the family is shattered, and society is wrecked. So, God is saying, “These are the principles, everybody. There is a submission principle between man and man, between man and God, between God and God. It pervades everything.

Paul then goes into prevailing social customs whereby a man looks like a man and a woman a woman. For Gentile men — i.e. the bulk of the Corinthian congregation — that meant having one’s head uncovered in worship or prophecy (verse 4). For a woman, it meant wearing a veil for prayer or prophecy, as would be the custom outside of worship (verses 5, 6).

According to some Bible scholars, there was a social movement with women who were discarding their femininity in order to look like men. Furthermore, only prostitutes went around without veils:

In that society, when the veil was on, a woman was taking the place of submission; she was honoring the sanctity of a woman’s virtue, and of marriage. We would even go further in to say it was the custom in the Corinthian society for prostitutes to be unveiled because their business was to make sure they got seen. How could they drum up business if they had a veil on? And so, they would throw their veil aside.

There is another interesting historical note that we find in studying the Corinthian situation, Eerdman points this out; and that is that there were women in the Corinthian society, and in much of Roman society, who were making statements against the sacredness of marriage. There was a feminist movement, even on a broader base, in the Roman Empire, and women frequently would take their veils off and cut their hair. And the cutting of their hair to look like a man, and the throwing away of the veil was a protest against the inequality of men and women, and it was a statement of their antagonism toward the sacredness of marriage.

So, you see, what we’re seeing today isn’t anything new. It’s nothing new at all. You can read it in history. And so, in the Corinthian situation, the church was right in the midst of a society that was struggling with this very issue. And the word that Paul gives to the church, simply stated, is this, “Look, whatever standard your society sets up as the way in which you manifest a submissive spirit, you abide by that standard so that society knows you are following the God-ordained pattern. If it’s a veil, wear it; don’t throw it away. Last of all, don’t throw it away in the name of Christian liberty.”

Paul supports his points for the natural order of the family by referring to the creation story in Genesis. He purports that a man should not cover his head because God created him (verse 7). God created Adam.

Furthermore, woman found her creation from the man (verses 8, 11, 12). God created Eve from Adam’s rib.

Still following the creation story, Paul says that man was not created for woman, rather woman was created for man (verse 9) as a help meet to him. He explains that this is why a woman wears a veil, or a ‘symbol of authority’ on her head, because of the angels (verse 10).

To us, this sounds strange and harsh, but MacArthur says that Paul was attempting to put the order of society into a new, Christian context.

MacArthur explains why some women in ancient societies rose up and became feminists:

In the Roman and the Greek world, it takes very little study at all to determine that women were thought of purely as slaves, purely as animals and nothing more, not allowed to make any contribution beyond that of servitude.

So, when Christianity came along and announced equality of women spiritually, equality of women in personhood, equality of women in capacity and so forth, this was liberating. This was not confining. But when it maintained the distinction in role, it was also not confining women, but it was helping women and men to see their God-ordained design and therefore be able to fulfill it with a commitment

In the Roman society, for example, women were definitely abused. And out of the abuses, there grew a feminist movement. And in some senses, we would agree that it was justifiable. But when Christianity came along and truly liberated women, that feminist attitude should never have carried into the church, but it did. In fact, if you study the feminist movement of ancient Rome, you will find that they had all of the characteristics of the feminist movements of all the times in history, most all of them, and of today.

For example, women were stating their independence, in those days, by leaving home; … by refusing to have children, or if they had children, refusing to care for them; by demanding jobs always held by men; by wearing men’s clothes and discarding all signs of femininity; by violating their marriage vows; by seeking independence in general, etcetera, etcetera. All of the things that were characteristic of that time in feminist movements are pretty much what’s going on today.

And so it was that culture had brought abuses to womanhood. And womanhood was reacting to the cultural abuses. Christianity came in and truly set women free to be what God designed them to be, recognizing their equality in every dimension except in the assignment of a role within society’s framework.

Why did Paul bring angels into his reasoning? MacArthur explains:

There’s one principle angels really recognize very well. There’s one principle angels understand completely. There’s one principle they never have to ask questions about. You know what that principle is? Authority and submission. You read Hebrews chapter 1 and find how many times it tells us in there that angels are under the authority of God. It calls them ministering spirits, serving spirits. It says, “The Son is here, and the angels are here. To which of the angels has He ever said, ‘Sit here on My throne and rule?’” It says that Christ, in verse 4 of Hebrews 1 is a better name than angels. So, they understand the authority of God and the submissiveness of their own service.

Paul says that all things are from God (verse 12), a reference to the natural order of mankind and society. Matthew Henry offers this brief analysis of checks and balances:

The authority and subjection should be no greater than are suitable to two in such near relation and close union to each other. Note, As it is the will of God that the woman know her place, so it is his will also that the man abuse not his power.

Paul asks a question in the social context of the Corinthians (verse 13): is it proper for a Corinthian woman to pray with her head uncovered? The answer would be ‘no’. Today, it would be like asking if a woman should go to church in a swimsuit. Everyone would agree that she should not.

In the next two verses, Paul applies social convention once again. Men in that era did not have long hair. Women did. Paul asks if it would be appropriate for a man to have long hair (verse 14). He asks if a woman should have short hair, since her long hair is ‘her glory’ and ‘a covering’ (verse 15). During the Second World War, the French shaved the heads of women who were helping the Germans and forbade them from wearing a head covering. It was a humiliating, if somewhat justified, punishment for aiding and abetting the enemy.

Paul ends by saying that the Church has no provision for contentiousness (verse 16). He wants the Corinthians to obey social convention and not introduce provocation or controversy.

Henry explains:

Custom is in a great measure the rule of decency. And the common practice of the churches is what would have them govern themselves by. He does not silence the contentious by mere authority, but lets them know that they would appear to the world as very odd and singular in their humour if they would quarrel for a custom to which all the churches of Christ were at that time utter strangers, or against a custom in which they all concurred, and that upon the ground of natural decencyThose must be very contentious indeed who would quarrel with this, or lay it aside.

MacArthur offers a scientific explanation:

Hair grows in a three-phase cycle. Number one in the cycle is the formation and growth of new hair. Secondly is the resting stage. Thirdly is the fall-out stage with which some of you are so well acquainted. Okay? So, you have beginning the formation and growth of new hair, the resting stage, and the fall-out. And then after the fall-out the cycle starts all over again.

Now, the male hormone, testosterone – the male hormone speeds those three phases so that quickly the man gets to phase three, fall out. That’s why you see bald men but never see bald women. Aristotle said, “I have never seen a bald child, eunuch, or woman.” There’s a reason for that. Testosterone , the male hormone, causes the speed up of the steps to get you quickly to step three. And that retards the process of growth in a man. The female hormone, estrogen, in the woman causes the cycle to remain in stage one, the growth stage, longer than it does in a man. That’s why a woman’s hair will grow longer than a man’s over the same period of time.

So, does not nature teach you? Hasn’t God put right into human physiology the truth that short hair belongs to men, and long hair belongs to women. Interesting, isn’t it? It’s interesting. You all look so stunned.

All right, now listen; I’m not through with you. The second term, phusis, the second way it can be translated is by the word “instinct.” Instinct means the instinctive sense of man as he recognizes what he sees in society. So, he’s saying, “It isn’t just physiological, but it’s just plain obvious.” Look around you in society. Isn’t it obvious that men have shorter hair than women? Nature has made it so, and man has agreed to nature, and that’s the way it is. And around the world, and for all history, men have generally had hair shorter than women. You can verify that, and you can cover a lot of ground historically, and you’ll see it verified.

Now, sometimes men’s hair was long enough to be at the shoulder, but the women’s hair was down around the tops of the legs. But always there was the distinction. In ancient Rome, it was considered a mark of effeminacy to have long hair. And it was ridiculed by Roman writers. In later times, early Church councils condemned men with long hair.

He concludes:

You take to heart what the Spirit of God says to you. And please, as I said earlier, don’t go running around, because you have long hair, thinking you’re spiritual. You might be, but that isn’t it. Or because you have short hair you can’t come back to church for the next eight weeks. No, I don’t want you to do that. I want you to think about it; I want you to pray about it. I want you to deal with it as God reveals it to your own heart as He has to mine. And let’s see where the Spirit of God leads in your life. And I’ll leave that up to Him and to you. Let’s pray.

In thinking about couples today in Western countries, one cannot help but wonder if continued role reversals over the past few decades have led to fewer marriages and fewer children. Something to ponder in the week ahead.

Next time — 1 Corinthians 11:17-22

Below are the readings for the Second Sunday of Easter, April 11, 2021.

These are for Year B in the three-year Lectionary used in public worship.

This particular day is also known as Quasimodo Sunday, taken from the Latin Introit:

‘Quasi modo geniti infantes, rationabile, sine dolo lac concupiscite’. This translates to: ‘As newborn babes, desire the rational milk without guile’ and is intended for those baptised the week before.

You can read more about Quasimodo Sunday here. The Victor Hugo character got his nickname because he had been left abandoned as a child at Notre Dame Cathedral on that particular day.

Emphases below are mine.

First reading

These verses describe the generosity of the members of the earliest church, which was in Jerusalem.

Acts 4:32-35

4:32 Now the whole group of those who believed were of one heart and soul, and no one claimed private ownership of any possessions, but everything they owned was held in common.

4:33 With great power the apostles gave their testimony to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and great grace was upon them all.

4:34 There was not a needy person among them, for as many as owned lands or houses sold them and brought the proceeds of what was sold.

4:35 They laid it at the apostles’ feet, and it was distributed to each as any had need.

Psalm

It is likely that David wrote this Psalm when the tribes of Israel had been reunited under his reign. It ties in well with the reading from Acts.

Psalm 133

133:1 How very good and pleasant it is when kindred live together in unity!

133:2 It is like the precious oil on the head, running down upon the beard, on the beard of Aaron, running down over the collar of his robes.

133:3 It is like the dew of Hermon, which falls on the mountains of Zion. For there the LORD ordained his blessing, life forevermore.

Epistle

I enjoy reading John’s Epistles as much as I do his Gospel. Note his recurring theme of the light of Christ. The second half of 1 John 2:1 remains part of the traditional Anglican liturgy for Holy Communion.

1 John 1:1-2:2

1:1 We declare to you what was from the beginning, what we have heard, what we have seen with our eyes, what we have looked at and touched with our hands, concerning the word of life

1:2 this life was revealed, and we have seen it and testify to it, and declare to you the eternal life that was with the Father and was revealed to us

1:3 we declare to you what we have seen and heard so that you also may have fellowship with us; and truly our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ.

1:4 We are writing these things so that our joy may be complete.

1:5 This is the message we have heard from him and proclaim to you, that God is light and in him there is no darkness at all.

1:6 If we say that we have fellowship with him while we are walking in darkness, we lie and do not do what is true;

1:7 but if we walk in the light as he himself is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin.

1:8 If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us.

1:9 If we confess our sins, he who is faithful and just will forgive us our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness.

1:10 If we say that we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us.

2:1 My little children, I am writing these things to you so that you may not sin. But if anyone does sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous;

2:2 and he is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the sins of the whole world.

Gospel

The Gospel is the same for this particular Sunday, regardless of the Lectionary year. It is the story of Doubting Thomas, more about whom can be found here and here. This reading concludes John’s Gospel.

John 20:19-31

20:19 When it was evening on that day, the first day of the week, and the doors of the house where the disciples had met were locked for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.”

20:20 After he said this, he showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord.

20:21 Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.”

20:22 When he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit.

20:23 If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.”

20:24 But Thomas (who was called the Twin), one of the twelve, was not with them when Jesus came.

20:25 So the other disciples told him, “We have seen the Lord.” But he said to them, “Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands, and put my finger in the mark of the nails and my hand in his side, I will not believe.”

20:26 A week later his disciples were again in the house, and Thomas was with them. Although the doors were shut, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.”

20:27 Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here and see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it in my side. Do not doubt but believe.”

20:28 Thomas answered him, “My Lord and my God!”

20:29 Jesus said to him, “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.”

20:30 Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not written in this book.

20:31 But these are written so that you may come to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that through believing you may have life in his name.

It is worth remembering that, after His resurrection, Jesus had a glorified body which looked different to that of His previous body. This is why He showed the Apostles His wounds from His crucifixion.

We will be in Eastertide for the next several weeks, through to Pentecost Sunday. The celebrant wears white vestments during this season.

Over the past several years, I have written several posts about Maundy Thursday, or Holy Thursday, which might be of interest. The solemn period of the Triduum leading up to Easter begins on this night:

What is the Triduum?

‘One of you will betray Me’ (John 13)

Passover, the Last Supper and the New Covenant

Why some Jews celebrated Passover on Thursday and others on Friday (here and here)

Maundy Thursday and the Last Supper: Jesus’s words of comfort (John 14, alludes to Holy Trinity)

John MacArthur on Passover as celebrated at the Last Supper

John 17 — the High Priestly Prayer: parts 1, 2 and 3

Jesus foretells Peter’s denial (Mark 14:26-31)

Readings for Maundy Thursday — Holy Thursday — can be found here.

The Gospel reading is as follows (emphases in bold mine):

John 13:1-17, 31b-35

13:1 Now before the festival of the Passover, Jesus knew that his hour had come to depart from this world and go to the Father. Having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end.

13:2 The devil had already put it into the heart of Judas son of Simon Iscariot to betray him. And during supper

13:3 Jesus, knowing that the Father had given all things into his hands, and that he had come from God and was going to God,

13:4 got up from the table, took off his outer robe, and tied a towel around himself.

13:5 Then he poured water into a basin and began to wash the disciples’ feet and to wipe them with the towel that was tied around him.

13:6 He came to Simon Peter, who said to him, “Lord, are you going to wash my feet?”

13:7 Jesus answered, “You do not know now what I am doing, but later you will understand.”

13:8 Peter said to him, “You will never wash my feet.” Jesus answered, “Unless I wash you, you have no share with me.”

13:9 Simon Peter said to him, “Lord, not my feet only but also my hands and my head!”

13:10 Jesus said to him, “One who has bathed does not need to wash, except for the feet, but is entirely clean. And you are clean, though not all of you.”

13:11 For he knew who was to betray him; for this reason he said, “Not all of you are clean.”

13:12 After he had washed their feet, had put on his robe, and had returned to the table, he said to them, “Do you know what I have done to you?

13:13 You call me Teacher and Lord–and you are right, for that is what I am.

13:14 So if I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet.

13:15 For I have set you an example, that you also should do as I have done to you.

13:16 Very truly, I tell you, servants are not greater than their master, nor are messengers greater than the one who sent them.

13:17 If you know these things, you are blessed if you do them.

13:31b When he had gone out, Jesus said, “Now the Son of Man has been glorified, and God has been glorified in him.

13:32 If God has been glorified in him, God will also glorify him in himself and will glorify him at once.

13:33 Little children, I am with you only a little longer. You will look for me; and as I said to the Jews so now I say to you, ‘Where I am going, you cannot come.’

13:34 I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another.

13:35 By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”

Commentary comes from Matthew Henry and John MacArthur.

We are now at the time of the Last Supper, where Jesus wanted to express His love for His Apostles one final time (verse 1).

As Matthew Henry says, they were imperfect, yet He loved them dearly:

They were weak and defective in knowledge and grace, dull and forgetful and yet, though he reproved them often, he never ceased to love them and take care of them.

John MacArthur explains that Jews had Passover supper on Thursday or Friday, depending on where they were from:

The southern Jews celebrated it on Friday; the northern ones on Thursday night. It is that Thursday night he is meeting for the Passover, which is a memorial dinner that commemorates God’s deliverance of the children of Israel from Egypt when the angel of death passed by the homes that had the blood of the lamb on the door. God is wanting to be remembered in this feast as the Savior and Deliverer of His people.

Satan had put betraying our Lord into the heart of Judas (verse 2).

For whatever reason, unusually, the Apostles did not wash their feet upon entering the room for dinner. Everyone in that era washed his or her feet before reclining for a feast.

Jesus, having seen this and knowing His hour had come, decided to deliver a final, personal act of serving each one of them (verse 3).

He arose from the table, took off His outer robe, tied a towel around Himself (verse 4) and, with a basin of water nearby, began washing the feet of each one of the Apostles (verse 5).

MacArthur says:

The humbler you are, the less interested you are in yourself, the greater your capacity to invest yourself in somebody else. They are related to one another proportionately. The lower you go in self-concern, the higher you go in concern for others.

Simon Peter was horrified that Jesus would deign to wash his feet (verse 6).

Jesus reassured him that one day Peter would understand the purpose of this gesture (verses 7, 8).

Henry says that Jesus had four clear purposes in mind with the foot washing:

We are sure that it was not in a humour or a frolic that this was done no, the transaction was very solemn, and carried on with a great deal of seriousness and four reasons are here intimated why Christ did this:– 1. That he might testify his love to his disciples, John 13:1,2. 2. That he might give an instance of his own voluntary humility and condescension, John 13:3-5. 3. That he might signify to them spiritual washing, which is referred to in his discourse with Peter, John 13:6-11. 4. That he might set them an example, John 13:12-17. And the opening of these four reasons will take in the exposition of the whole story.

Jesus told Peter that if He did not wash his feet, he would have no share with him (verse 8), to which Peter replied that Jesus should wash his hands, hair and head (verse 9).

Presumably, the Apostles must have bathed — perhaps in Bethany, we do not know — before arriving at the room for the Last Supper, because Jesus said that one who has bathed does not need to wash, except for one’s feet (verse 10). Then He told Peter that he was clean, yet, not everyone around the table was, meaning Judas, the betrayer (verse 11).

Henry points out:

With reflection upon Judas: And you are clean, but not all, John 13:10,11. He pronounces his disciples clean, clean through the word he had spoken to them, John 15:3. He washed them himself, and then said, You are clean but he excepts Judas: not all they were all baptized, even Judas, yet not all clean many have the sign that have not the thing signified. Note, [1.] Even among those who are called disciples of Christ, and profess relation to him, there are some who are not clean, Proverbs 30:12. [2.] The Lord knows those that are his, and those that are not, 2 Timothy 2:19. The eye of Christ can separate between the precious and the vile, the clean and the unclean. [3.] When those that have called themselves disciples afterwards prove traitors, their apostasy at last is a certain evidence of their hypocrisy all along. [4.] Christ sees it necessary to let his disciples know that they are not all clean that we may all be jealous over ourselves (Is it I? Lord, is it I that am among the clean, yet not clean?) and that, when hypocrites are discovered, it may be no surprise nor stumbling to us.

After Jesus had washed all the Apostles’ feet, He asked them whether they understood the import of His humble act (verse 12). He acknowledged that they rightly called Him Teacher and Lord (verse 13), then said that if He, of that exalted position, condescends to such an act of humility, then they should also serve each other in humble ways (verse 14).

This can involve literal foot washing in church on this particular Thursday or, perhaps, other humble acts of benefit — temporal or spiritual — to the recipient.

Henry explains:

(1.) Some have understood this literally, and have thought these words amount to the institution of a standing ordinance in the church that Christians should, in a solemn religious manner, wash one another’s feet, in token of their condescending love to one another. St. Ambrose took it so, and practised it in the church of MilanWhat Christ has done Christians should not disdain to do

(2.) But doubtless it is to be understood figuratively it is an instructive sign, but not sacramental, as the eucharist. This was a parable to the eye and three things our Master hereby designed to teach us:– [1.] A humble condescension. We must learn of our Master to be lowly in heart (Matthew 11:29), and walk with all lowliness we must think meanly of ourselves and respectfully of our brethren, and deem nothing below us but sin we must say of that which seems mean, but has a tendency to the glory of God and our brethren’s good, as David (2 Samuel 6:22), If this be to be vile, I will be yet more vile. Christ had often taught his disciples humility, and they had forgotten the lesson but now he teaches them in such a way as surely they could never forget. [2.] A condescension to be serviceable. To wash one another’s feet is to stoop to the meanest offices of love, for the real good and benefit one of another, as blessed Paul, who, though free from all, made himself servant of all and the blessed Jesus, who came not to be ministered unto, but to minister. We must not grudge to take care and pains, and to spend time, and to diminish ourselves for the good of those to whom we are not under any particular obligations, even of our inferiors, and such as are not in a capacity of making us any requital. Washing the feet after travelling contributes both to the decency of the person and to his ease, so that to wash one another’s feet is to consult both the credit and the comfort one of another, to do what we can both to advance our brethren’s reputation and to make their minds easy. See 1 Corinthians 10:24; Hebrews 6:10. The duty is mutual we must both accept help from our brethren and afford help to our brethren. [3.] A serviceableness to the sanctification one of another: You ought to wash one another’s feet, from the pollutions of sin. Austin takes it in this sense, and many others. We cannot satisfy for one another’s sins, this is peculiar to Christ, but we may help to purify one another from sin. We must in the first place wash ourselves this charity must begin at home (Matthew 7:5), but it must not end there we must sorrow for the failings and follies of our brethren, much more for their gross pollutions (1 Corinthians 5:2), must wash our brethren’s polluted feet in tears. We must faithfully reprove them, and do what we can to bring them to repentance (Galatians 6:1), and we must admonish them, to prevent their falling into the mire this is washing their feet.

Jesus said that, through this foot washing, He had set them an example that they should follow (verse 15).

He said something that they all knew — a servant is not greater than his master nor is a messenger greater than the one who sends him on an errand (verse 16) — and that they would be blessed in acting accordingly (verse 17).

Henry explains why Jesus said that:

Christ reminds them of their place as his servants they were not better men than their Master, and what was consistent with his dignity was much more consistent with theirs. If he was humble and condescending, it ill became them to be proud and assuming. Note, [1.] We must take good heed to ourselves, lest Christ’s gracious condescensions to us, and advancements of us, through the corruption of nature occasion us to entertain high thoughts of ourselves or low thoughts of him. We need to be put in mind of this, that we are not greater than our Lord. [2.] Whatever our Master was pleased to condescend to in favour to us, we should much more condescend to in conformity to him. Christ, by humbling himself, has dignified humility, and put an honour upon it, and obliged his followers to think nothing below them but sin. We commonly say to those who disdain to do such or such a thing, As good as you have done it, and been never the worse thought of and true indeed it is, if our Master has done it. When we see our Master serving, we cannot but see how ill it becomes us to be domineering.

A lot of people in the world do not understand this, which is why they take Christians for chumps, to use modern parlance.

Unfortunately, the Lectionary skips a few important verses from John 13, such as the following about Judas, in which John refers to himself in verses 23 and 25:

One of You Will Betray Me

21 After saying these things, Jesus was troubled in his spirit, and testified, “Truly, truly, I say to you, one of you will betray me.” 22 The disciples looked at one another, uncertain of whom he spoke. 23 One of his disciples, whom Jesus loved, was reclining at table at Jesus’ side,[e] 24 so Simon Peter motioned to him to ask Jesus[f] of whom he was speaking. 25 So that disciple, leaning back against Jesus, said to him, “Lord, who is it?” 26 Jesus answered, “It is he to whom I will give this morsel of bread when I have dipped it.” So when he had dipped the morsel, he gave it to Judas, the son of Simon Iscariot. 27 Then after he had taken the morsel, Satan entered into him. Jesus said to him, “What you are going to do, do quickly.” 28 Now no one at the table knew why he said this to him. 29 Some thought that, because Judas had the moneybag, Jesus was telling him, “Buy what we need for the feast,” or that he should give something to the poor. 30 So, after receiving the morsel of bread, he immediately went out. And it was night.

John MacArthur wrote his seminary dissertation on Judas. His sermon, ‘Unmasking the Traitor’, has a summary of his research and pertains to this passage from John.

MacArthur reminds us of Judas’s material disappointment of being in charge of the money bag for three years:

In chapter 13 verse 2, the devil has already put it “into the heart of Judas Iscariot, the son of Simon, to betray Him.” He has already begun the machinations to bring about the betrayal of Christ. He protested earlier in the week because perfume was wasted on Jesus. He said that it could’ve been sold, and the money given to the poor. He didn’t want to give money to the poor, but he was the treasurer and held the money box, and he was always stealing from it. So he wanted the money in the box so he could steal from it and make a getaway with as much as he could salvage out of what he saw as three wasted years. And to add to the amount that he could get, he wanted more than what the meager box might’ve held, and so he concocted a plan to sell Jesus out, to betray His presence, to the Pharisees who wanted Him dead. And he would sell Him for the price of a slave, 30 pieces of silver.

Our Lord is aware of all of this. He knows that the devil is commiserating with Judas. He knows that. Verse 11 of chapter 13 says “He knew the one who was betraying Him.” He knew the betrayal was in motion – present tense. It was ongoing. “For this reason He said, “Not all of you are clean.” He had just told the disciples they were clean. They were redeemed, they were saved, they were regenerated, they had been fully washed. But not all of them. Not all of them …

The presence of Jesus every day was an intolerable rebuke to him.  The purity of Jesus must’ve been unbearable for his wretched soul.  And surely, he must’ve had the sense, the fear for certain, the dread for certain that Jesus knew everything he was.  After all, in three years, he had seen Jesus read the hearts and minds of men.  He knew that Jesus said, way back at the beginning of the ministry in John 2, that He knew what was in the heart of men, and nobody needed to tell Him anything about that.  He had heard that Jesus declared, John 5:42, that He knew the people who didn’t love Him.  It says that.  The torture of knowing at any moment that it could all be over and Jesus could expose him must’ve made holding onto the hidden secrets of his heart an unbearable, brutal burden

But that didn’t work to convict him to do the right thing.  It just pressed him deeper and deeper into his hypocrisy until he could pull off his ultimate crime and get out with the best that could be made.  Sell the master of all things with money as his reward. 

It is a compelling sermon.

Now on to verse 31, wherein John tells us that once Judas left, Jesus told the remaining eleven Apostles that He — the Son of Man — had been glorified and, in turn, God glorified in Him. In verse 32, He reiterated that this would be a reciprocal action of the Son glorifying the Father (through His death on the cross), therefore, the Father would glorify the Son (through His obedience by reconciling the world to Him).

Henry tells us why Jesus waited until Judas left before saying those words:

Christ did not begin this discourse till Judas was gone out, for he was a false brother. The presence of wicked people is often a hindrance to good discourse. When Judas was gone out, Christ said, now is the Son of man glorified now that Judas is discovered and discarded, who was a spot in their love-feast and a scandal to their family, now is the Son of man glorified. Note, Christ is glorified by the purifying of Christian societies: corruptions in his church are a reproach to him the purging out of those corruptions rolls away the reproach. Or, rather, now Judas was gone to set the wheels a-going, in order to his being put to death, and the thing was likely to be effected shortly: Now is the Son of man glorified, meaning, Now he is crucified.

Jesus called the Apostles ‘little children’ and told them that He would not be among them for much longer, as He had told the Jews, ‘Where I am going, you cannot come’ (verse 33).

Henry says that this was their final time to ask any important questions of Him:

Whether we understand this as referring to his death or his ascension it comes much to one he had but a little time to spend with them, and therefore, [1.] Let them improve the advantage they now had. If they had any good question to ask, if they would have any advice, instruction, or comfort, let them speak quickly for yet a little while I am with you. We must make the best of the helps we have for our souls while we have them, because we shall not have them long they will be taken from us, or we from them. [2.] Let them not doat upon his bodily presence, as if their happiness and comfort were bound up in that no, they must think of living without it not be always little children, but go alone, without their nurses. Ways and means are appointed but for a little while, and are not to be rested in, but pressed through to our rest, to which they have a reference.

Then, Jesus gave them the true and great Commandment, which sums up all Ten from the Old Testament, to love one another, just as He has loved them (verse 34). Verse 34 is part of the traditional Anglican liturgy for Holy Communion.

Jesus further reinforced this by saying that, by obeying His Commandment, everyone will know they are truly His disciples (verse 35).

This is MacArthur’s closing prayer on these verses:

Let’s pray. We are reminded again of that familiar word from Paul.  Examine yourselves, whether you be in the faith.  And it comes down to who we love.  Loving You, Lord, loving You so that we are completely consumed with and committed to Your glory, Your honor, Your majesty, Your will.  This is the mark of a true believer.  This is a true Christian.  And Father, we also know that true believers are marked by an undying, focused, faithful love for each other.  May we be known by that love, that love toward You, so that You would be glorified in everything in our lives, and in this world, and in heaven, and foreverAnd may we be known by the love we have for one another This is enough to demonstrate who we are And as we see the evidence of that love in us, we can be assured of our salvation and what a great gift that is.  Lord, I pray that You’ll work in every life and every heart.  Make it our desire that we love even more, excel even more to a greater and greater love for Your glory and for each other These things we ask in the name of the Savior who loved us and gave Himself for us, our Lord Jesus Christ.  Amen.

What greater love could our Lord have for us than to die an excruciating death on the Cross for our sins, the sins of the whole world.

The readings for Tuesday of Holy Week are here.

The Gospel reading is as follows (emphases mine below):

John 12:20-36

12:20 Now among those who went up to worship at the festival were some Greeks.

12:21 They came to Philip, who was from Bethsaida in Galilee, and said to him, “Sir, we wish to see Jesus.”

12:22 Philip went and told Andrew; then Andrew and Philip went and told Jesus.

12:23 Jesus answered them, “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified.

12:24 Very truly, I tell you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains just a single grain; but if it dies, it bears much fruit.

12:25 Those who love their life lose it, and those who hate their life in this world will keep it for eternal life.

12:26 Whoever serves me must follow me, and where I am, there will my servant be also. Whoever serves me, the Father will honor.

12:27 “Now my soul is troubled. And what should I say–‘ Father, save me from this hour’? No, it is for this reason that I have come to this hour.

12:28 Father, glorify your name.” Then a voice came from heaven, “I have glorified it, and I will glorify it again.”

12:29 The crowd standing there heard it and said that it was thunder. Others said, “An angel has spoken to him.”

12:30 Jesus answered, “This voice has come for your sake, not for mine.

12:31 Now is the judgment of this world; now the ruler of this world will be driven out.

12:32 And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself.”

12:33 He said this to indicate the kind of death he was to die.

12:34 The crowd answered him, “We have heard from the law that the Messiah remains forever. How can you say that the Son of Man must be lifted up? Who is this Son of Man?”

12:35 Jesus said to them, “The light is with you for a little longer. Walk while you have the light, so that the darkness may not overtake you. If you walk in the darkness, you do not know where you are going.

12:36 While you have the light, believe in the light, so that you may become children of light.” After Jesus had said this, he departed and hid from them.

If much of this Gospel passage looks familiar, it was read two Sundays ago on the Fifth Sunday in Lent — Year B. My post for that day offers an exegesis for John 12:20-33.

Commentary for verses 34-36 comes from Matthew Henry and John MacArthur.

After the excitement of Palm Sunday, on the occasion of the triumphal entry of Jesus into Jerusalem, the crowd was becoming disenchanted. They asked what Son of Man would be ‘lifted up’ (verse 34), words which, in that era, meant crucified.

John MacArthur explains that they were not remembering all of the relevant prophesies in Scripture:

Ah, this is a turning folks.  On Monday, they were hailing Him as the Messiah.  That begins to go downhill on Tuesday when He attacks the temple.  It’s really going downhill now because they all know He is saying, “I will be crucified,” and they are saying, “Wait a minute.  The Son of Man?” that Old Testament term from Daniel chapter 7, the Son of Man, the Messianic term“The Son of Man is to remain forever.”  And they were right about that.  He is the everlasting Father in Isaiah 9.  He has an everlasting kingdom in Daniel 7.  So who is this Son of Man who will be crucified?

Because they don’t understand Isaiah 53, they don’t believe Isaiah 52They don’t understand Daniel 9, that He would be cut off, Zechariah 12:10, that He would be pierced.  They only see a Messiah who sets up an everlasting kingdom, and so the cross, Paul says 1 Corinthians 1 is to the Jews a what?  Stumbling block, stumbling block.  “What Son of Man is this?”  So we’re starting down from Monday to Friday pretty fast, aren’t we?  This is Wednesday, maybe even ThursdayBy Friday, they’re convinced this man needs to diePerhaps, they didn’t even think about the fact that in His crucifixion, He was fulfilling exactly what He saidThis is the scope of the death of Christ in His own simple words before the crossStaggering.

Matthew Henry’s commentary says that, on occasion, we have selective retention when it comes to Scripture:

Note, We often run into great mistakes, and then defend them with scripture arguments, by putting those things asunder which God in his word has put together, and opposing one truth under pretence of supporting another.

Jesus then made a bold, definitive statement, exhorting them to walk with the light while the light was still among them, so that the darkness might not dominate them (verse 35).

That might sound gentle enough to us, but it was His closing invitation to them, which was also a warning.

MacArthur elaborates:

It’s the final warning God has run out of time He’s run out of patience This is the day the light went out It’s Passion Week It’s toward the end of the week Friday, He will be crucified At some point in the end of the week, Jesus speaks in verse 35, “‘For a little while longer, the Light is among you.  Walk while you have the Light, so that darkness will not overtake you; he who walks in the darkness does not know where he goes.  While you have the Light, believe in the Light, so that you may become sons of Light.’

That is the first point in this text: the final call, the final call.  This is a call to unbelievers It is the last one This is it.  They’ve had generations and generations – hundreds and hundreds of years since they were recovered from their captivity and brought back to their land to rebuild it – to demonstrate their love for God, their obedience to God They have not been obedient Though they have not been idolatrous, they have continued to kill the prophets.  They have continued all the way up until their only hours from killing the Messiah, the Son of God.  There is one final appeal, one final appeal, and this is it. 

The people have given their verdict Back to verse 34.  You remember what was going on in verse 34?  Jesus had announced that He was going to die back in verse 24 in the metaphor of a grain of wheat falling into the ground and dying so that it could produce fruit.  He would not be able to bear spiritual fruit if He didn’t die.  He had to die.  He had come to die.  His death would be by crucifixion.  There was a metaphor for crucifixion; being lifted up.  In verse 32, He said, “I, if I am lifted up from the earth will draw all men to Myself.”

There He declares His coming crucifixion in terms that they all understood His crucifixion because, He says in verse 33 that this is the kind of death which He was to die.  The crowd understood it.  Verse 34, they rendered their verdict.  “‘We have heard out of the law – ” the Old Testament, “ – that the Messiah is to remain forever.”  He is to set up an eternal, everlasting kingdom.  “‘How can you say, ‘The Son of Man must be lifted up’?  Who is this Son of Man?’” they say cynically.

So, on Monday they were saying He was the Son of David, “Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord.”  They were hailing Him as the Messiah because, of course, He had done miracles for three years.  They all knew about it and capped it off with the resurrection of Lazarus from the dead.  There was a euphoria This is Him.  This is the Messiah.  As He came into the city, hundreds of thousands of people acclaimed Him “Messiah.”  Tuesday, He attacks the temple He attacks their religious system, not the Romans, and creates doubt in their mind Then He says He’s going to die, and that’s the final straw.  They shift from seeing Him as the Messiah to seeing Him as an imposter “Who is this Son of Man who is going to be crucified?”  Within hours, they will scream, “Crucify Him!  Crucify Him!” 

The day of grace had come to its end This is the final call.  But again it shows the mercy, the grace, the compassion, the longsuffering, the patience and the kindness of the Savior He had preached among them for three years Everything He did was public Only a few hours remain now. 

Jesus repeated His message to believe in the light while the light was still present so that they might be the children of light (verse 36). Afterwards, He vanished from their sight.

MacArthur says:

Verse 36, “While you have the Light, believe.”  Walk equals believe “Believe in the Light so that you may become sons of Light.”  This is His final invitation, final invitation.  Make the journey of faith, believe, and once the light of the world is no longer present, the unbelieving world will be dark, and you will be like a traveler completely lost in a moonless night who wanders to his own danger and destruction Back in chapter 8 and verse 21, Jesus said, “I go away and you will seek Me and will die in your sin.  Where I am going, you cannot come.”  In verse 24, therefore, I said to you, you will die in your sins for unless you believe that I am He, you will die in your sins.  You will seek Me.  You will die in your sins if you do not believe.”

He said in that same chapter earlier, verse 12, “I am the Light of the world.  He who follows Me shall not walk in darkness.”  Come to Christ, you come to light.  Come to Christ, you become a child of light, a son of light.  Magnificent pictures, but you don’t have much time.  Receive Him while you are able He is the Light.  We know that metaphor through the gospel of John.  He is the Light of God’s life.  He is the Light of God’s wisdom, and the Light of God’s truth, the Light of God’s holiness, the Light of God’s righteousness.  He is the Light that shines in the darkness, and the darkness can’t put it out He has come to be the Light of the world.  But the opportunity is coming to its end The Light is hereNow is the time to believe.

Henry explains our Lord’s departure and surmises He might have returned to Bethany:

this he did, 1. For their conviction and awakening. If they will not regard what he hath said, he will have nothing more to say to them. They are joined to their infidelity, as Ephraim to idols let them alone. Note, Christ justly removes the means of grace from those that quarrel with him, and hides his face from a froward generation, Deuteronomy 32:20. 2. For his own preservation. He hid himself from their rage and fury, retreating, it is probable, to Bethany, where he lodged. By this it appears that what he said irritated and exasperated them, and they were made worse by that which should have made them better.

MacArthur says that was the end of our Lord’s public ministry:

These things Jesus spoke, and He went away and hid Himself from them.  Didn’t make another public appearance that week It was over.  It was over.  Luke 21:38 tells us that in the morning the people gathered to the temple expecting Him, but He wasn’t there He had come unto His own, and His own received Him not It wasn’t just a cloud veiling the sun.  The sun had set, and the darkness was complete.  His words were fulfilled.  “You will seek Me and will not find Me, and where I go, you can never come.”  That’s a judgment.  That is a judgment. 

His physical hiding was acting out the judgment It was a dramatic act portraying the judgment So the verdict is in on Israel.  They saw all the evidence.  They heard all the teaching.  They saw the miracles.  They were all done openly.  They were all done publicly, but it was over.  It was completely over.  In John 15:24, our Lord said, and He said this Thursday night with His disciples in the Upper Room, “If I hadn’t done among them the works which no one else did, they would not have sinned, but now they have both seen and hated Me and my Father as well.”  They hated Me.  They hated my Father, and they saw everything I did.  That’s His final call, and He disappears.  What a sad day, the day the Light went out, the day the sun went down.  Three years, and He was there every day, and then He was gone.

His public ministry is over The rest of the chapter John summarizes his insights inspired by the Holy Spirit, and he helps us to make some sense out of this incredibly dark day So we have in verses 35 and 36, the final call to unbelief. 

Some will say that perhaps Jesus did not do enough, but John counters that in verse 37:

John wants to make sure that nobody gets away with that argument.  So in verse 37 he says this,“But though He had performed so many signs before them, yet they were not believing in Him.”  You say, “Well, that’s just John’s word.  That’s just John’s word.”  No, it’s not.  Go back to chapter 11, verse 47.  Let’s go to the supreme court of Israel, the highest court in the land, the Sanhedrin.  The chief priests and the Pharisees convene in this council called the Sanhedrin, and what do they say when they come together in the council?  They were saying, “What are we doing?  For this man is performing many signs.”  No one ever denied the miracles of Jesus His enemies never denied one of His miracles, never tried to deny it.  In fact, at the end of the gospel of John, the final verse in chapter 21 says, “There were many other things which Jesus did, which if they were written in detail, I suppose that even the world itself would not contain the books that would be written.”

Massive evidence, massive testimony confessed to not only by John, but by the Sanhedrin, the supreme court of Israel They didn’t even attempt to disprove what He did He healed the sick, expelled demons, controlled the winds and the sea, walked on water, turned water into wine, revealed to men their secret thoughts, raised the dead, and nobody ever denied any of it.  They were open miracles They were public miracles for everybody to see Many of them done in the most public place of all, in and around the temple, and still they refused to believe That’s what I read you in John 15:24.  They wouldn’t have the level of sin they have if they had not seen what they saw and heard what they heard.  “They have hated Me without cause.”  They refused to believe. 

Here’s the danger When they would not believe, the judgment came, and they could not believe.  You don’t want to pass into that category When they would not believe, the judgment came, and they could not believe.  Follow the text.  They were not believing in Him, verse 37 says.  They were not believing in Him, “To fulfill the word of Isaiah the prophet which He spoke: ‘Lord, who has believed our report?  And to whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed?’  For this reason, they could not believe, for Isaiah said again, ‘He has blinded their eyes and He hardened their heart, so that they would not see with their eyes and perceive with their heart, and be converted and I heal them.’”

A state of unbelief, especially when it is a wilful refusal, is certainly not the place one wants to be.

We wonder how many believers there were during the ministry of Jesus. MacArthur says there would have been 500 believers in Galilee and 120 in Jerusalem at that time. That does not sound like many to us, but God had His remnant of believers. However, MacArthur says that for the nation of Israel, it was too late.

Paul tells us in Romans 11:25-28 that God’s judgement on Israel will not last forever, but, as we can see through over two millenia, it has certainly been a long one so far.

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

Yet, it doesn’t tell the whole story.

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

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

1 Corinthians 10:23-33

Do All to the Glory of God

23 “All things are lawful,” but not all things are helpful. “All things are lawful,” but not all things build up. 24 Let no one seek his own good, but the good of his neighbor. 25 (C)Eat whatever is sold in the meat market without raising any question on the ground of conscience. 26 For “the earth is the Lord’s, and the fullness thereof.” 27 If one of the unbelievers invites you to dinner and you are disposed to go, eat whatever is set before you without raising any question on the ground of conscience. 28 But if someone says to you, “This has been offered in sacrifice,” then do not eat it, for the sake of the one who informed you, and for the sake of conscience— 29 I do not mean your conscience, but his. For why should my liberty be determined by someone else’s conscience? 30 If I partake with thankfulness, why am I denounced because of that for which I give thanks?

31 So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God. 32 Give no offense to Jews or to Greeks or to the church of God, 33 just as I try to please everyone in everything I do, not seeking my own advantage, but that of many, that they may be saved.

———————————————————————————————————————————–

Last week’s post discussed the dangers of mixing Christianity with pagan worship, something which the Corinthian Christians were prone to doing. An admixture of Christianity and other religions is called syncretism.

After telling the Corinthians not to engage in such a practice because it might drive them away from their eternal salvation in Jesus Christ, Paul puts his proscription in a more positive way.

Here he returns to what he said in Romans 14 and 15 about weaker and stronger Christians. The stronger should not offend the weaker, lest they drive them away from the Church. My posts on the subject follow:

Romans 14:13-19 – food, weaker brothers, stronger brothers, conscience, faith

Romans 14:20-23 – food, alcohol, weaker brothers, stronger brothers, conscience, faith

Romans 15:1-3 – the example of Christ, weaker brothers, stronger brothers, selflessness

Now on to today’s reading.

Paul says that, although Christians have freedom in Christ — therefore, ‘all things are lawful’ — not everything is ‘helpful’, nor does every act of freedom in Christ ‘build up’ a Christian in the faith (verse 23).

Matthew Henry explains the gravity of that verse (emphases in bold mine):

A Christian must not barely consider what is lawful, but what is expedient, and for the use of edification. A private Christian should do so even in his private conduct. He must not seek his own only, but his neighbour’s wealth. He must be concerned not to hurt his neighbour, nay, he must be concerned to promote his welfare; and must consider how to act so that he may help others, and not hinder them in their holiness, comfort, or salvation. Those who allow themselves in every thing not plainly sinful in itself will often run into what is evil by accident, and do much mischief to others. Every thing lawful in itself to be done is not therefore lawfully done. Circumstances may make that a sin which in itself is none. These must be weighed, and the expediency of an action, and its tendency to edification, must be considered before it be done. Note, The welfare of others, as well as our own convenience, must be consulted in many things we do, if we would do them well.

I highlighted that sentence in purple because I have been guilty of that in the past. Those are relatively seemingly simple things, such as going to a party. Don’t force believers to go if they do not wish to attend.

Logically, it follows that we should not seek our own good in human interaction, rather the good of our neighbour (verse 24). The Lord hates sin. Therefore, if we encourage others to sin, even in their own conscience, we have committed a sin against God. Say that one invites a friend to a Super Bowl party or to a Rugby World Cup celebration. Certainly, believers can attend both. However, those who are abstemious or are under self-imposed food restrictions might see those as wrongful gatherings. Stronger Christians — who can attend, enjoy within reason and leave — should not force weaker Christians to take part in such parties, lest they be tempted to sin — in their own conscience — with alcohol or, perhaps, food.

By the way, I’ve been to a Rugby Union party, given by a former England player. They are the best in terms of endless food and drink. Yet, there is no drunkenness, and no arguments occur. I cannot think of better hospitality. This is the dilemma: do we invite the weaker to celebrate or do we decline extending such an invitation? For some of our friends, we would have to decline such an extension, unfortunate though it is.

Paul lays out ground rules for food consumption in verses 25 to 27. Eat whatever the market sells, for God permits all His animals to be eaten, even at the house of an unbeliever.

But — and as we say today, ‘it’s a big “but”‘ — there is an exception. If someone tells you that what you are about to eat has been sacrificed, then refrain from eating it. You would not do this as much for yourself personally as for the person informing you of that fact (verses 28, 29).

Paul asks why our personal choices can offend another believer (verses 29, 30).

John MacArthur provides answers which explain those verses:

If you have to choose between offending a Christian and offending a non-Christian, offend a non-Christian.

You say, “Hey – well – we’re trying to win them?” The way to win them is for them to see the validity and the honesty and the purity of your Christianity. Right? And if you’re sitting at the table, fighting each other, he’s not going to get a Christian message no matter what you eat. You see?

“The way to win people,” Jesus said, “is to love each other.” Isn’t that right? You love each other, and the world’s going to know we’re His disciples. So, you have to choose between offending a Christian and offending a non-Christian, offend a non-Christian, and make sure you maintain the unity of the love of the body of Jesus Christ, because that’s the greatest testimony that we have in the world. See, that’s his point.

So, condescension rather than condemnation. Don’t do something that’s going to make your Christian brother condemn you. Verse 29, “Why is my liberty judged by another man’s conscience?”

In other words, I certainly don’t want to say, “Well, I’m going to do this,” and have him condemn me for it. I don’t want to get in a position where my liberty, my act of liberty is going to be condemned by another man’s conscience. The word “judge” means condemn. Don’t let him condemn. Injure your host, if you will, and you know what your host will see? He will see an act of love.

And he will say, “If that man loves that other brother enough to make that sacrifice, there must be something to that. Verse 30 adds a further point, “If I by grace be a partaker” – in other words, if I recognize God has given me this food – “why would I be evil spoken of for that for which I give thanks?”

Now, let me tell you what that means. It would be pretty ridiculous to say, “Thank you, Lord, for the gracious gift of this food,” and then go ahead and eat it while your brother was condemning you. That’s inconsistent. Don’t thank God and go out and do something that’s going to make some other Christian condemn you for doing it. “Lord, thank you for the marvelous liberty that you’ve given me. Lord, bless this meal,” and eat up, and drink up, and here’s a Christian brother condemning you, condemning you. That’s ridiculous. You can’t think God for something that another Christian brother is going to stumble over.

So, condescension over condemnation. If you have to choose between a Christian and a non-Christian, offend a non-Christian at that point in order that your love might be made manifest to the world. And I don’t mean that you should just run out and offend non-Christians just at will. Just in case you might think that, verse 32 says, “Give no offence neither to the Jews, nor to the Greeks, nor to the Church of God.” The basic rule, beloved, don’t offend – what? – anybody. But if you have to choose, offend yourself before you offend a weaker brother; and if you have to choose, offend an unbeliever before you offend a weaker brother. But if you can, don’t offend anybody. Condescension over condemnation. Don’t do anything that’s going to cause somebody else to condemn you.

Paul ends on a positive note, saying that a believer should give glory to God in whatever activity he is engaging in: eating, drinking or other things (verse 31).

Nothing that we do should offend anyone — Jew, Gentile or our fellow believers — following Paul’s own example, in order that many more can be saved (verse 32).

Henry concludes:

Our own humour and appetite must not determine our practice, but the honour of God and the good and edification of the church. We should not so much consult our own pleasure and interest as the advancement of the kingdom of God among men. Note, A Christian should be a man devoted to God, and of a public spirit.

My next post on 1 Corinthians will appear after Easter.

Next time: 1 Corinthians 11:1-16

In 2021, Palm Sunday is March 28.

This is the second and final Sunday in the brief season of Passiontide, just before Easter.

The readings for Year B as well as related posts on Palm Sunday and Lazarus Saturday can be found below:

Readings for Palm Sunday — Year B

There are three choices of Gospel readings for this day. I have chosen the second one from the Liturgy of the Palms (emphases in bold mine):

John 12:12-16

12:12 The next day the great crowd that had come to the festival heard that Jesus was coming to Jerusalem.

12:13 So they took branches of palm trees and went out to meet him, shouting, “Hosanna! Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord– the King of Israel!”

12:14 Jesus found a young donkey and sat on it; as it is written:

12:15 “Do not be afraid, daughter of Zion. Look, your king is coming, sitting on a donkey’s colt!”

12:16 His disciples did not understand these things at first; but when Jesus was glorified, then they remembered that these things had been written of him and had been done to him.

Our Lord’s triumphal entry into Jerusalem took place before He asked His Father to glorify Him, last week’s reading: John 12:20-33.

Commentary for today’s exegesis comes from Matthew Henry and John MacArthur.

In order to add more context, these are the intervening verses between this week’s and last week’s readings — John 12:17-19:

17 The crowd that had been with him when he called Lazarus out of the tomb and raised him from the dead continued to bear witness. 18 The reason why the crowd went to meet him was that they heard he had done this sign. 19 So the Pharisees said to one another, “You see that you are gaining nothing. Look, the world has gone after him.”

Before going into the triumphal entry of Jesus, let us look at what happened after He raised his good friend Lazarus from the dead. He shared dinner with the sisters of Lazarus, Mary and Martha (John 12:2-8):

So they gave a dinner for him there. Martha served, and Lazarus was one of those reclining with him at table. 3 Mary therefore took a pound[a] of expensive ointment made from pure nard, and anointed the feet of Jesus and wiped his feet with her hair. The house was filled with the fragrance of the perfume. But Judas Iscariot, one of his disciples (he who was about to betray him), said, “Why was this ointment not sold for three hundred denarii[b] and given to the poor?” He said this, not because he cared about the poor, but because he was a thief, and having charge of the moneybag he used to help himself to what was put into it. Jesus said, “Leave her alone, so that she may keep it[c] for the day of my burial. For the poor you always have with you, but you do not always have me.”

Now on to today’s reading.

Millions of people were in and around Jerusalem for Passover, which would culminate later in the week.

Hundreds of people knew about Jesus resurrecting Lazarus from the dead in Bethany. He had been in his tomb for four days. This was the last major miracle in our Lord’s ministry. The last miracle was His healing of the centurion’s ear hours before His death.

Once those people learned that Jesus was going to Jerusalem from Bethany, they wanted to greet Him (verse 12).

John MacArthur says that Jesus allowed this to happen. In fact, MacArthur posits that He created this situation:

So understand this: Jesus creates a demonstration He creates all of this.  He sets this up.  He sets it up by healing Lazarus, raising him from the dead.  He comes to Bethany, the point of that miracle, days or maybe a few weeks earlier.  He lingers there.  He remains there to draw the crowd to see Him, to see Lazarus, to strengthen the testimony of that miracle power He deliberately sets Himself in a situation to draw the largest possible crowd of people, and a crowd comes on Sunday to Bethany and overruns that little village.  Then another crowd packs the city of Jerusalem

We’re talking hundreds of thousands of people in that city and this Passover season.  He wants to generate the enthusiasm of the masses.  He wants not only to be received for who He is, the King, even if it’s only a fickle reception But He also wants to exacerbate the fury of the leaders of Israel so that they will against their own plan wind up crucifying Him on the very day that God has ordained at the Passover He forces the Sanhedrin to change their plans with respect to His execution to harmonize with the purpose of God

The crowd brought palm branches, crying out ‘Hosanna!’ and hailed Him as King of Israel (verse 13).

Two crowds assembled to see Jesus: the huge numbers from Bethany (verse 17) and another enormous gathering from Jerusalem (verse 18).

John tells us that Jesus found a young donkey and sat upon it (verse 14). John leaves out the detail here that the synoptic Gospels explore in more depth. MacArthur says:

As He begins His journey, He asks two of His disciples to do something.  He sends them to a nearby hamlet, and He says, “Go to this place, and you will find a post, and you will find a donkey and a donkey’s colt tied to the post.  I want you to bring those animals to Me.  Bring the donkey and bring the donkey’s colt.”  Now, when the disciples reached the village, they found the right home.  They saw exactly what Jesus said they would see; these two animals tied to a post.  They start to untie the animals to take the animals with them, and the owner comes out and says, “What are you doing?  Why are you taking these animals?”  You remember their answer?  Very cryptic, brief answer.  They said, “The Lord needs them.  The Lord needs them.” 

That should indicate to you that whoever was the owner of that house and those animals knew the Lord.  They don’t have to describe who they’re talking about.  “The Lord needs them.”  Plenty of reason to think that this may well have been a follower of Jesus who was eager to provide for Him whatever He asked for.  The disciples then, once they’d secured the animals, took off their outer cloaks, which they would be wearing in the morning up in the mountains where they were They threw the outer garments over the colt and over the mother of the colt and brought them to Jesus.

You remember the story.  Jesus chose the colt to ride and not the mother Why the two?  Jesus wanted to come into the city in humility He didn’t even ride the older more mature animal.  He rode the weaker, younger animal The mature animal was brought along to lead the young colt because the colt will always follow his mother This is the way Jesus could demonstrably express the humility that was going to come His way during that week.  As He approached the city and the crowd began to gather around Him, people spread their garments in front of Him, like throwing down the red carpet They spread their clothes in the path so that the little animal could walk along their garments, and then they would pick them up.

Palm branches were used in the ancient world by both Jew and Gentile in celebrations and as a means of bestowing honour upon someone important.

Matthew Henry explains:

The palm-tree has ever been an emblem of victory and triumph[;] Cicero calls one that had won many prizes plurimarum palmarum homo–a man of many palms. Christ was now by his death to conquer principalities and powers, and therefore it was fit that he should have the victor’s palm borne before him though he was but girding on the harness, yet he could boast as though he had put it off. But this was not all the carrying of palm-branches was part of the ceremony of the feast of tabernacles (Leviticus 23:40; Nehemiah 8:15), and their using this expression of joy in the welcome given to our Lord Jesus intimates that all the feasts pointed at his gospel, had their accomplishment in it, and particularly that of the feast of tabernacles, Zechariah 14:16.

The crowd’s cry of ‘Hosanna’ was also significant, as Henry tells us:

That they cried with a loud voice, saying, Salvation to our God (Revelation 7:10) so did these here, they shouted before him, as is usual in popular welcomes, Hosanna, blessed is the king of Israel, that comes in the name of the Lord and hosanna signifies salvation. It is quoted from Psalm 118:25,26. See how well acquainted these common people were with the scripture, and how pertinently they apply it to the Messiah. High thoughts of Christ will be best expressed in scripture-words. Now in their acclamations, [1.] They acknowledge our Lord Jesus to be the king of Israel, that comes in the name of the Lord. Though he went now in poverty and disgrace, yet, contrary to the notions their scribes had given them of the Messiah, they own him to be a king, which bespeaks both his dignity and honour, which we must adore and his dominion and power, to which we must submit. They own him to be, First, A rightful king, coming in the name of the Lord (Psalm 2:6), sent of God, not only as a prophet, but as a king. Secondly, The promised and long-expected king, Messiah the prince, for he is king of Israel. According to the light they had, they proclaimed him king of Israel in the streets of Jerusalem and, they themselves being Israelites, hereby they avouched him for their king. [2.] They heartily wish well to his kingdom, which is the meaning of hosanna let the king of Israel prosper, as when Solomon was crowned they cried, God save king Solomon, 1 Kings 1:39. In crying hosanna they prayed for three things:–First, That his kingdom might come, in the light and knowledge of it, and in the power and efficacy of it. God speed the gospel plough. Secondly, That it might conquer, and be victorious over all opposition, Revelation 6:2. Thirdly, That it might continue. Hosanna is, Let the king live for ever though his kingdom may be disturbed, let it never be destroyed, Psalm 72:17. [3.] They bid him welcome into Jerusalem: “Welcome is he that cometh we are heartily glad to see him come in thou blessed of the Lord and well may we attend with our blessings him who meets us with his.” This welcome is like that (Psalm 24:7-9), Lift up your heads, O ye gates. Thus we must every one of us bid Christ welcome into our hearts, that is, we must praise him, and be well pleased in him. As we should be highly pleased with the being and attributes of God, and his relation to us, so we should be with the person and offices of the Lord Jesus, and his meditation between us and God. Faith saith, Blessed is he that cometh.

Returning to the young donkey, our Lord’s use of it was a fulfilment of Scripture (verse 15), Zechariah 9:9:

The Coming King of Zion

9 Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion!
    Shout aloud, O daughter of Jerusalem!
Behold, your king is coming to you;
    righteous and having salvation is he,
humble and mounted on a donkey,
    on a colt, the foal of a donkey.

John admits that he and the other Apostles did not understand the full significance of these events until much later (verse 16). They must have spent a lot of time recalling various prophecies from the Old Testament and all of what Christ had told them of Himself. They knew He was the Son of God but there was so much proof.

MacArthur explains why this was so:

Verse 16, “These things His disciples did not understand at the first; but when Jesus was glorified, then they remembered that these things were written of Him, and that they had done these things to Him.”

They didn’t get it when it was happening.  I just have to say it this way: they were ignorant actors in the drama, but don’t be surprised.  They had been ignorant for a long time They didn’t get most things.  They did not understand most things They did not certainly understand why He was talking about dying They even tried to rebuke Him for that in the words of Peter.  They didn’t understand why He was humbling Himself and washing their feet He said, “I have to do this.  I have to do this.  This is part of my humiliation.”  When He said, “I’m going away,” they panicked and Philip says, “Where are you going to go?  We don’t know where you’re going.  We don’t know how to get there.” 

Even in chapter 1 of Acts, they were still lingering in the dark about the kingdom “Are you going to bring the kingdom now?  Is it coming now?”  It was all very confusing to them until He was glorified Why?  Then it all began to make sense.  Why?  Because previous to His glorification, what had He done?  He had gone back to the Old Testament and taught them the Old Testament, all the things in the Old Testament about Himself Remember, on the road to Emmaus, Luke 24?  And then in the Upper Room in the night of His resurrection, He explained Old Testament prophecies that He had fulfilled in His death and resurrection, and it began to make sense Then in Acts 2, right after His glorification, right after He ascends into heaven, the Holy Spirit comes and with the Old Testament course that He gave them after His resurrection, and the arrival of the Holy Spirit Then they remembered that these things were written of Him  

I’ve been telling you over the last number of months that when you now open the book of Acts after chapter 1 begins, they start to make sense out of the Old Testament.  Then when the Spirit comes, it really explodes.  John is looking back as he writes this, and he’s saying of himself and the rest, we didn’t understand what was going on We didn’t understand it.  In other words, we were caught up with the crowd We were caught up with the enthusiasm We were caught up with the messianic fever We never did understand until we looked back after His glorification and begun to make sense of what He had said. 

All the way along, all week long, they’re going to be confused Thursday night in the Upper Room, they’re very confused, very confused.  So even His own beloved followers show perplexity. 

What about the crowd who hailed Jesus then turned against Him less than a week later?

The crowd?  Well, they’re described in verse 17 and 18.  They’re there as we read earlier.  They’re curious.  They’re fascinated.  Why are they there?  Are they there because they’re interested in Jesus’ theology?  No.  They heard that He had performed this sign They’re attracted by the supernatural, false followers, thrill seekers, who by Friday choose Barabbas, a well-known criminal to be released; Jesus to be held prisoner, and then screamed for Him to be crucified.  Fickle crowd.

The entry of Jesus into Jerusalem surrounded by crowds of well-wishers made the Pharisees angry:

If the crowd is fickle, the Pharisees are angry, verse 19.  So the Pharisees said to one another, you see that you are not doing any good.  What you’re trying to stop is not working.  You’re not having any effect.  “The world has gone after Him.”  That’s such an important statement

MacArthur concludes:

That shows you the massive impact of Jesus on a superficial level to people who were only looking for supernatural experiences and events The same people screamed for His crucifixion a few days later.  It’s really a testimony to the far-reaching reality of superficial faith.

If this happened today, one could well imagine the Twitter trends every day of Holy Week, complete with videos.

Readings for Holy Week continue with John’s Gospel. More to come on Monday.

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

Yet, it doesn’t tell the whole story.

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

Today’s reading is from the English Standard Version with commentary by Matthew Henry and John MacArthur (as cited below).

1 Corinthians 10:14-22

14 Therefore, my beloved, flee from idolatry. 15 I speak as to sensible people; judge for yourselves what I say. 16 The cup of blessing that we bless, is it not a participation in the blood of Christ? The bread that we break, is it not a participation in the body of Christ? 17 Because there is one bread, we who are many are one body, for we all partake of the one bread. 18 Consider the people of Israel:[a] are not those who eat the sacrifices participants in the altar? 19 What do I imply then? That food offered to idols is anything, or that an idol is anything? 20 No, I imply that what pagans sacrifice they offer to demons and not to God. I do not want you to be participants with demons. 21 You cannot drink the cup of the Lord and the cup of demons. You cannot partake of the table of the Lord and the table of demons. 22 Shall we provoke the Lord to jealousy? Are we stronger than he?

—————————————————————————————————————

Last week’s post discussed Paul’s perspective on congregations paying their church ministers, which he said is obligatory for the spiritual guidance they provide.

1 Corinthians 10 is about idolatry.

Some of what Paul says here appears to contradict what he wrote in Romans about stronger and weaker Christians. Stronger Christians should make sure they do not offend weaker Christians, particularly in matters of food and drink, lest the stronger drive the weaker away from the Church. That would be an act deeply displeasing to God, because those people would be driven away from the salvation that Christ brings us.

Today’s reading contradicts that as Paul says that no Christian should be eating meat sacrificed to idols, stronger believers included.

Therefore, it is useful to add context and a bit of background to the situation the Corinthians were in. Theirs was a highly idolatrous society and the Christians in Corinth thought they could dip in and out of it and still be faithful to Christ. Not so, says Paul.

John MacArthur explains Paul’s reasoning (emphases mine below):

the Corinthian society was totally overwrought with demons, manifesting themselves behind these different idols; and idolatry was a part of everything, I mean everything. There couldn’t be any kind of public occasion or anything else that wasn’t connected with idols. That was their entire society just multiple gods; and everything they did practically within the social framework of the Corinthian society had idols in it.

And so the mature Christians, the Corinthian Christians, you know, who were the smug confident ones who had been around a while, they were saying this: “Hey, look. We’re in the society; we’re mature; we’ve been well-taught, apostle Paul’s taught us; we’ve studied under him for 18 months. We know our way around. Look, we’ve got to be a part of our society. We can go to the festivals, the social occasions, the ceremonies, and we can attend the celebrations of our society. We can get involved in all of those things; and we really don’t have to fear, because we’re so confident, we’re so mature that that stuff just doesn’t really bother us. And if we have to eat idol meat, meat offered to idols, that’s really no problem; we’re able to resist the temptation. And even if there is an orgy there, why, we’ll just sit in the corner and discuss theology. We’re not going to really get involved, and we’ll be strong enough to handle it.” And so everywhere these mature, smug, confident Corinthians went, they were exposing themselves to the whole gamut of idolatry that was around them and trying to stay separated. But could they?

“Look at Israel,” – Paul says – “look at them, hardly out of Egypt. And out in the desert there weren’t even any idols around; but the first opportunity they had, the first time their leader was gone, they reverted back to Egyptian idolatry.” And here were the Corinthians not like Israel in the wilderness, but living in the middle of idolatry. And if the Corinthians continually expose themselves to idolatry, they were constantly being a part of it. Believe me, it would creep right in.

Is Paul not overstating his case by talking about ‘demons’ in this context? No.

MacArthur says that there are several references to demons and idolatry in the Old Testament:

When you go out and do what the rest of the world does, when you participate in the rest of the world’s activities, you are communing with demons. That’s Paul’s whole point here. It’s demonic. Because Satan is the prince of this world, and because he rules in this world by the use of his demons, his demons move around and impersonate all the religious systems of the world. His demons fill and maintain all of the evil systems of this world. No matter what you get into, you’re communing with them, and you can’t avoid it. It’s a serious thing.

In Psalm 96:5, the Greek translation of that verse is this: “All the gods of the heathen are demons” – that’s the Septuagint, the Greek – “All the gods of the nations” – or – “All the God’s of the heathen are demons.” If they worship a false god, a demon will impersonate it. Deuteronomy 32:17 and Psalm 106:37 say the same thing, “They sacrifice to demons.” So, they’re fellowshipping with demons.

So, here you have a Christian. He’s over here, and he’s communing with the Lord, and he’s got the cup and the bread. Then he turns around and goes to an idol feast. And as soon as he enters that idol feast and participates, he becomes a communer with demons. A communer with demons.

This can be extended to other worldly things and activities, too. MacArthur has a bit in one of his sermons about sexual temptation in this context:

You say, “Well, I’m a Christian, I can handle it. I can go here and do that, and go here and do that.” You know, young people, it’s amazing. Young people always thing they’re in control of everything. “Well, you know, I can go out and park and, you know, I can handle it. I’m a Christian. We just get so far, and then we just start quoting Bible verses, you know. Yeah, we got a little program worked out, you know.” Yeah, sure. Or, listen, “It’s no problem for me. I can handle the girls in the office, no problem. I can have lunch with them and dinner with them; it doesn’t bother me a bit.” Mm-hmm, famous last words.

“Oh, yeah,” pastor says. “Oh, counseling women, no problem at all. No, none at all.” I just heard of a pastor who lost his pulpit because there were multiple dozens of women who had had sexual relations with him in counseling, I mean multiple dozens, folks. You can handle it? You better not push your freedom too far. Many Christians today have been rendered useless because they couldn’t handle sex. They’re out of the race to win people to Christ – shelved.

MacArthur discusses our society today, comparing it with that of the Corinthians:

Look at the morality of our day. The morality of the church has changed dramatically, and the reason it’s changed so dramatically is because we have been slowly brainwashed. Like fifty years ago, the morality of Christianity was much tighter, much more rigid, much more confined to the Scripture. And now, little by little, the morality of even “Christianity” begins to dissipate; and the reason is because we’re in a society that is destroying all morality, that is wiping out all morality, and consequently we find ourselves buying the bag. Just subliminally it approaches our minds, and before we know it we’ve got a watered down morality. And some of the things we would do, some of the places we would go wouldn’t even have been conceived of by Christians fifty years ago. The reason is we have slowly been brainwashed by the media.

Paul is, in a sense, saying to the Corinthians, “You can’t set yourself up as somebody who thinks he stands without potentially falling; and especially you’ll never be able to just waltz around your whole with idolatry and not have it affect you. You’re going to come up with a syncretism. You’re going to come up with a wedding between idolatry and true worship.”

Now verse 7, “Neither be idolaters, as were some of them,” notes that not all Israel worshipped at the golden calf; some of them did. It was an individual thing. Again, in dealing with Israel in the wilderness, remember everything that occurred was an individual thing. And so in Corinth the same thing was true.

Look at chapter 5, verse 11. Some Corinthian Christians were idolatrous. They had already made this wedding of Christianity to idol worship. Verse 11: “I’ve written unto you not to company if any man that is called a brother.” Now he’s talking about Christians. “Anybody called a brother” – or at least called himself a Christian – “be a fornicator,” – sexually evil – “a covetous, or an” – what? – “idolater, don’t have anything to do with him.” But apparently within the congregation of the Corinthian believers, there were some worshipping idols. You see, by fooling around with that, they couldn’t keep separated.

It slowly creeps in. It insidiously comes in. You can’t continue to expose yourself to that and not have it affect your theology and find a place there. The line gets blurred, folks. It just gets blurred he said. And idolatry suddenly creeps in when freedom is abused by getting too close to the contact.

Those are the reasons why Paul says to flee from idolatry (verse 14).

He leaves it to the Corinthians to judge for themselves the truth of that statement (verse 15).

Then he discusses Holy Communion. He asks whether taking the bread and the cup are not participation in the body and the blood of Christ (verse 16). Furthermore, do we not commune with each other when we participate in that holy sacrament together (verse 17)?

Paul is saying that Holy Communion is a solemn occasion, one that cannot be defiled with participation in idolatry later on in the day.

MacArthur explains the significance of Holy Communion:

One of the words, eucharisteō, from which you get the Eucharist, means to give thanks. It is to thank God for that cup. And so, the cup of blessing, that is the one the Lord blessed and set apart, is the one that we bless and thank God for.

Now, what is it? What is this cup? Verse 16 again, “Is it not the communion of the blood of Christ?” Now, when you drink the cup at the Lord’s Table – listen to this – you are communing with the blood of Christ. Now, we have to understand something, because this is very, very misunderstood. What does this mean? What does it mean to commune? It’s more than a symbol.

We say, “Well, this is a symbol of his blood.”

Well, listen to this. The cup of blessing which we bless, is it not the symbol of the blood of Christ? Is that what it says? No. It’s more than the symbol. It is the communion; it is the, if you will, in the Greek, participation, or it is the sharing. It’s an actual involvement that’s taking place when we take that cup. There is a spiritual reality going on there, far more than just a symbol.

For example, if you see a picture of somebody you love who has died, it isn’t just a picture. As soon as you look at the picture, the whole of that person is actualized in your mind. Right? All of a sudden, everything about that person is alive to you. I look at pictures of people that have gone on, and I have instant memories. My mind is flooded with reality. They are actualized. And communion is the same thing.

To partake of the elements actualizes Christ’s death; it makes it vivid; it makes it real; it intensifies my sensitivities to the reality of Christ dying for me. You see? It isn’t just a symbol; it is a symbol that is activated by the Spirit of God to make Christ’s death a living reality to me. That’s the idea of communion

Now, let’s go a step further, verse 16, “The bread” – or literally the loaf, to correspond more with cup – “The loaf which we break, is it not the communion of the body of Christ?”

Now, our Lord said of the bread, that last night, “This is My body, given for you.” Now body – now, I want to say something, too, that may be new to you – “body” in Hebrew thought refers to the totality of earthy life, earthiness, humanness. For example, the word for earth is adamah. The word for man is adam. It’s a form of adamah, because man was taken from the dirt. He is earthy. “And God took the dirt and formed a body.” Adam from adamah.

And that is the point that connects man to the ground, to the earth, to earthiness. We are human, and that is the significance of the body. When a Hebrew thought of the body, he thought of earthiness; he thought of man’s connection to the ground, to his humanness.

Now, note; when we commune with the bread, it is the body of Christ. This is not primarily a reference to the cross. Stick with me on it. It is not primarily a reference to the cross. By the bread we remember and commune with our Lord’s incarnation, His human life, his humanness. We remember that which makes Him a sympathetic High Priest, as well as a bleeding, dying Savior.

The communion, then, relates us to the living Christ who came and suffered and thought it not something to hold onto, to be equal with God, but found Himself in the fashion of a man, humbled Himself, and so forth. And He did it in order that He might become a sympathetic High Priest in all points, tempted like as – what? – we are. The bread reminds us of His life. The bread reminds us of His body, reminds us of His humanness.

God gave Himself to us as a human being in order that He might suffer what we suffer, in order that He might hurt where we hurt, in order that He might be tempted where we’re tempted, in order that He might succor us, in order that He might be our faithful, sympathetic, and Great High Priest

There is an actual communion that occurs. Let me show you what I mean. There is confusion about that, and there are different views of how that works. The word koinōnia there, communion in verse 16, is the word to participate. The verb means to share, or to partake of, or to participate, or to be a partner in. The noun koinōnia means participation, partnership, fellowship, communion.

As a Christian, we literally participate in Christ. First Corinthians 1:9 says we participate with the Son; 2 Corinthians 13, we participate with the Spirit; Philippians 2:1, we participate in the ministry; 2 Corinthians 8:4, we participate in the Gospel; Philippians 3, we participate in suffering. We are fellowshipping all the time with Christ, sharing Him, His Spirit, His ministry, His Gospel, His sufferings. And when we come to the Table, we participate in His death. We are sharing the benefits of His death. That’s what it means. We are sharing in the meaning of His death, the purpose of it, the point of it.

So, it’s more than just remembering; it’s sharing, fellowshipping, participating, partaking, communing. It’s like that picture I mentioned. We come to that, and you look at the cup, and you look at the bread, and they aren’t just a cup and bread. They aren’t even just symbols. All of a sudden, Christ is alive. All of a sudden, you are sensitized. And the reality of Christ is actualized in your mind, and you see His cross, and you see your union with Him, and you see His body, and you see it given in your behalf. And you see the fact that He lived, and He suffered, and He’s a sympathetic high priest. All of that is actualized

Everybody who comes to the Lord’s Table … not only enters into communion with Christ, but He enters into communion with everybody else who’s also at the Lord’s Table. Do you see what he’s saying? We all come to that one bread; we all partake of that one bread, so we all constitute one body. Communion then means we are actually communing with Christ and actually communing with everybody else who’s there.

Paul reminds the Corinthians of the way the Israelites worshipped together with regard to their sacrifices (verse 18).

MacArthur says:

Israel was involved in sacrificing. They were involved with each other, and they were involved with God. So, what is he saying then? Participation in religious ri[te]s has deep, spiritual meaning. It implies a real union between the worshippers and the one being worshipped. That’s what he’s saying. So, you can’t do this with idols without having that reality take place.

Israel brought sacrifices, a portion of which were consumed by the priests, a portion of which were burned on the altar. The rest were divided between the priest and the worshipping Jew. And there was a communion between the Jew, the priest, and God as they partook of the altar. Now, that’s Paul’s point. Worship is identification, communion with whoever’s being worshipped.

So, if you’re going to be like Israel, in verse 18, communion with the altar for the Jews meant fellowship with God and everybody else at the altar. Communion with Christ at the Lord’s Supper, for the Christian, means fellowship with Christ and everybody else at His Table.

Paul asks the question some of the Corinthians were asking: was an idol nothing at all (verse 19)? If not, then what was the problem?

Matthew Henry explains:

By following the principle on which they would argue it to be lawful, namely, that an idol was nothing. Many of them were nothing at all, none of them had any divinity in them. What was sacrificed to idols was nothing, no way changed from what it was before, but was every whit as fit for food, considered in itself. They indeed seem to argue that, because an idol was nothing, what was offered was no sacrifice, but common and ordinary food, of which they might therefore eat with as little scruple. Now the apostle allows that the food was not changed as to its nature, was as fit to be eaten as common food, where it was set before any who knew not of its having been offered to an idol.

However, Paul answers their question by saying that pagans were making sacrifices to false gods — demons — and not to God (verse 20). Therefore, Paul told the Corinthians they could not participate with demons.

Henry sums the verse up as follows:

Doing it is a token of your having fellowship with the demons to whom they are offered. I would not have you be in communion with devils.

Paul tells the Corinthians that they cannot worship at the Lord’s Table and worship demons (verse 21). The two are completely incompatible.

Paul ends by asking the Corinthians if they wish to provoke God to jealousy and if they think they are stronger than He (verse 22). God will not put up with rivals. And if we fall into His wrath, we will be the losers in that contest.

The Bible has numerous references to God’s ‘jealousy’. MacArthur lists them:

Do you want to make the Lord jealous? And in Deuteronomy 32:21 he said, “They have stirred me to jealousy with what is a no-god. They have provoked me with their idols.” If you want to stir God to jealousy, then you better be stronger than He is or you won’t be able to handle Him, because He deals very strongly with idolatry. All you got to do is read the Bible about that. You just read Deuteronomy 7, Deuteronomy 16, Deuteronomy 17, Jeremiah 25, Jeremiah 44; just read Revelation chapter 14, chapter 21, chapter 22. There are inferences in all of those places about the vengeance of God against idols and idol worshippers. The only way you’ll ever want to provoke God to jealousy is if you’re stronger than He is. It’s offensive to the Lord. He judges idol worshippers, and you won’t escape; no one ever has. It’s a dangerous place to be.

Paul concludes his thoughts on idolatry by telling the Corinthians to focus on doing everything for God’s glory. More on that next week.

Next time — 1 Corinthians 10:23-33

In 2021, the Fifth Sunday in Lent is March 21.

This particular Sunday in Lent is the beginning of the short season of Passiontide.

The readings for Year B in the three-year Lectionary are below:

Readings for the Fifth Sunday in Lent — Year B

The Gospel reading is as follows (emphases in bold mine):

John 12:20-33

12:20 Now among those who went up to worship at the festival were some Greeks.

12:21 They came to Philip, who was from Bethsaida in Galilee, and said to him, “Sir, we wish to see Jesus.”

12:22 Philip went and told Andrew; then Andrew and Philip went and told Jesus.

12:23 Jesus answered them, “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified.

12:24 Very truly, I tell you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains just a single grain; but if it dies, it bears much fruit.

12:25 Those who love their life lose it, and those who hate their life in this world will keep it for eternal life.

12:26 Whoever serves me must follow me, and where I am, there will my servant be also. Whoever serves me, the Father will honor.

12:27 “Now my soul is troubled. And what should I say–‘ Father, save me from this hour’? No, it is for this reason that I have come to this hour.

12:28 Father, glorify your name.” Then a voice came from heaven, “I have glorified it, and I will glorify it again.”

12:29 The crowd standing there heard it and said that it was thunder. Others said, “An angel has spoken to him.”

12:30 Jesus answered, “This voice has come for your sake, not for mine.

12:31 Now is the judgment of this world; now the ruler of this world will be driven out.

12:32 And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself.”

12:33 He said this to indicate the kind of death he was to die.

Commentary for today’s exegesis comes from Matthew Henry and John MacArthur.

Jesus spoke these words after his triumphal entry into Jerusalem, which we remember on Palm Sunday.

He had raised Lazarus, Mary and Martha’s brother, from the dead just a few days beforehand and spent time with them, His good friends.

Now He is in Jerusalem for Passover and His imminent death on the Cross.

Jews from across the Ancient World went to Jerusalem for Passover. The city would have been unbelievably crowded and noisy.

John tells us that Greeks went up to Jerusalem for the feast (verse 20). John MacArthur surmises that they were Gentiles. However, Matthew Henry thinks they were Hellenic Jews.

Either explanation works. Some Gentiles became Jews and were known as ‘men of God’ if they worshipped with the Jews and followed Mosaic law but stopped short of circumcision.

Henry’s commentary provides more detail on Gentiles who believed in the God of Israel:

Some think they were Jews of the dispersion, some of the twelve tribes that were scattered among the Gentiles, and were called Greeks, Hellenist Jews but others think they were Gentiles, those whom they called proselytes of the gate, such as the eunuch and Cornelius. Pure natural religion met with the best assistance among the Jews, and therefore those among the Gentiles who were piously inclined joined with them in their solemn meetings, as far as was allowed them. There were devout worshippers of the true God even among those that were strangers to the commonwealth of Israel. It was in the latter ages of the Jewish church that there was this flocking of the Gentiles to the temple at Jerusalem,–a happy presage of the taking down of the partition-wall between Jews and Gentiles. The forbidding of the priests to accept of any oblation or sacrifice from a Gentile (which was done by Eleazar the son of Ananias, the high priest), Josephus says, was one of those things that brought the Romans upon them, War 2. 409-410. Though these Greeks, if uncircumcised, were not admitted to eat the passover, yet they came to worship at the feast. We must thankfully use the privileges we have, though there may be others from which we are shut out.

A group of Greeks approached Philip and asked to see Jesus (verse 21).

We do not know why they approached Philip in particular, but there are possibilities to consider.

Henry says that a lot of Gentiles lived in Galilee. (This is one of the reasons the Jews from Judea disliked Galilee. It was not pure enough for them.)

Henry tells us:

Some think that they had acquaintance with him formerly, and that they lived near Bethsaida in Galilee of the Gentiles and then it teaches us that we should improve our acquaintance with good people, for our increase in the knowledge of Christ. It is good to know those who know the Lord. But if these Greeks had been near Galilee it is probable that they would have attended Christ there, where he mostly resided therefore I think that they applied to him only because they saw him a close follower of Christ, and he was the first they could get to speak with. It was an instance of the veneration they had for Christ that they made an interest with one of his disciples for an opportunity to converse with him, a sign that they looked upon him as some great one, though he appeared mean.

‘Mean’ there is a synonym for ‘humble’.

MacArthur gives us more information:

There were more Gentiles in Galilee, a lot more than in Judea.  Between Judea and Galilee was the area called Decapolis of ten cities, which were Gentile populations So there were a lot of interactions with Gentiles in Galilee It may well have been that they knew Philip from business, from activity in Galilee.  By the way, Philip and Andrew are both Greek names, not Hebrew names, and so maybe there was some familiarity there.  We don’t really know. 

Philip went to tell his brother Andrew of the request and both told Jesus (verse 22).

John doesn’t say whether Jesus met with the Greeks, but MacArthur says:

We can assume that because in John 6:37, He said, “Him that comes to me, I will never turn away,” right?  Never cast out.  There would be no reason to assume He didn’t receive them. 

Jesus began speaking to the crowd of His imminent death, saying that ‘the hour had come’ for ‘the Son of Man to be glorified’ (verse 23).

MacArthur says that the words ‘Son of Man’ would have meant something significant to the crowd, who would have learned Scripture through oral tradition:

The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified.  Why would that ignite a firestorm?  Because “Son of Man” is a Messianic term found in Daniel 7 In Daniel 7 – and they are familiar with that passage – you have the opening verses of Daniel 7 identify all the powers of the world, all the great nations: Babylon, Medo-Persia, all of the great powers of the world It shows how corrupt they are, how beastly they are.  They are represented in beastly image All of the sudden, onto the scene in this vision in Daniel 7 comes the Son of Man, and He has power and dominion and authority, and He crushes all His enemies, and He sets up His kingdom.

So when He said, “Son of Man” and by the way, it even says, “The Son of Man will be glorified in His kingdom and establish it forever and ever,” that’s Daniel 7So when they hear that, I suppose there would have been some kind of cheer coming from somewhere.

Jesus gave them an analogy of a single grain, which isn’t much use unless it dies, having been planted in the ground to grow as a fruitful plant (verse 24).

MacArthur says the crowd would have been shocked by the notion that the prophesied Son of Man was going to die:

He has to say, “Truly, truly,” because this just can’t really be true.  This is too shocking

“Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit.”  What?  There can’t be a kingdom unless I die There can’t be a kingdom unless I die.  There can’t be anybody in a kingdom unless I die.  There can’t be any conquering unless I die.  The divine … timetable has come, the hour has come for Him to be glorified, the Son of Man to be glorified, but He will be glorified not in triumphant conquering, but in substitutionary death.

He didn’t come to smash His way to an earthly kingdom or earthly empire He turned their conquest dreams into visions of death, and He did it with an analogy.  He explains it such a graphic way.  As long as a seed remains in the granary, it is preserved by its outside shell.  Only when the seed is put in the soil does it begin to decompose and rot away, and when the shell decomposes and rots away, the life inside begins to flourish.  It gives life to a huge plant, which produces more seeds and more seeds and on and on it goes. 

Jesus continued with another statement that His audience must have found shocking: those attached to their current life will lose it and those who hate their life will live forever (verse 25).

Henry explains:

[1.] See here the fatal consequences of an inordinate love of life many a man hugs himself to death, and loses his life by over-loving it. He that so loves his animal life as to indulge his appetite, and make provision for the flesh, to fulfil the lusts thereof, shall thereby shorten his days, shall lose the life he is so fond of, and another infinitely better. He that is so much in love with the life of the body, and the ornaments and delights of it, as, for fear of exposing it or them, to deny Christ, he shall lose it, that is, lose a real happiness in the other world, while he thinks to secure an imaginary one in this. Skin for skin a man may give for his life, and make a good bargain, but he that gives his soul, his God, his heaven, for it, buys life too dear, and is guilty of the folly of him who sold a birth-right for a mess of pottage.

[2.] See also the blessed recompence of a holy contempt of life. He that so hates the life of the body as to venture it for the preserving of the life of his soul shall find both, with unspeakable advantage, in eternal life. Note, First, It is required of the disciples of Christ that they hate their life in this world a life in this world supposes a life in the other world, and this is hated when it is loved less than that …

Jesus then spoke of service. Anyone who follows Him must serve Him and those who serve Him will be honoured by God (verse 26).

Henry says:

The Greeks desired to see Jesus (John 12:21), but Christ lets them know that it was not enough to see him, they must serve him. He did not come into the world, to be a show for us to gaze at, but a king to be ruled by. And he says this for the encouragement of those who enquired after him to become his servants. In taking servants it is usual to fix both the work and the wages[;] Christ does both here.

Jesus spoke of His personal state. He was troubled, yet He must fulfil what He came to do: die for our sins (verse 27).

People think that Jesus was a good man who lost in life, that He was supposed to be a temporal king bringing justice to the oppressed. No, His death was His mission in order for us to be reconciled to God.

MacArthur explains:

This is why He came, and through His death much spiritual fruit would come.  He understood that He had come to die.  From His birth, He had been called Jesus because He would save His people from their sins.  He knew that salvation was to be through His death.  He knew He was God’s chosen sacrifice.  The Son of Man has come to seek and to save the lost.  Yes, but how?  Has come to give His life a ransom for many.  He was born to die a sacrificial death.  He knew that.  This was not a surprise.  This isn’t a good plan gone wrongThis is the plan.  

Revelation 13:8 says, “He was the Lamb slain from before the foundation of the world.”  Before He ever came into the world, He knew He would come into the world to be slain.  Peter tells us He was the sacrifice to God who would redeem His people with His blood and that this sacrifice was pre-determined from the foundation of the world.  He appeared to accomplish what had been planned.  The cross and the subsequent resurrection from the dead is the theme of Scripture.  The cross and the subsequent resurrection is the great theme of Scripture. 

In many powerful ways, the death of the Lord Jesus Christ reigns over all other issues in Scripture.  When you go to the Old Testament, you’re struck very soon by the reality of sacrifice.  It happens early in the third chapter of Genesis.  As you flow through the Scripture, sacrifice goes on through the whole Old Testament. It goes on all the way into the New Testament until 70 A.D.  None of those lambs, none of those millions of goats or lambs or bulls could ever take away sin, but they all pictured one who would: the Lamb of God.

It is important to discuss the word ‘troubled’, which MacArthur explains:

What does the word “troubled” mean?  It’s a Greek word tarassō, tarassō.  It literally means “to shake or to stir up.”  That’s what you would use if you were doing something in the kitchen.  You’d use that word.  But it had figurative significance as well.  In a figurative sense, it could be translated anguish.  He was anguished.  He was agitated.  He was deeply disturbed.  He was upset.  He was unsettled

Sometimes it can be translated terrified, frightening, horrifiedA very strong word, very strong word.  It’s so strong that it’s used, for example, in Matthew 2:3 of the troubling of Herod, who was so profoundly troubled by the thought that a king was being born in Bethlehem, that he ordered his men to go there and massacre every baby boy/child in the area.  That’s being seriously troubled when you become a mass murderer. 

It’s the same word used in Matthew 14:26 for the attitude of the disciples when they see Jesus walking on the water.  Some of the translations say they were terrified.  It’s a highly disturbing emotionIt is the word that is used to describe Zacharias the priest when an angel came to him in Luke 1 to tell him that he and Elizabeth who were barren and in their 80s certainly, had never been able to have children.  An angel comes and announces that they will have a son, and Zacharias is terrified by an angel.  Angels didn’t appear to people. 

It is the same word used to describe the attitude of the disciples who were in the upper room the night of the resurrection, Luke 24:38, and Jesus comes through the wall with the door being shut, stands in their midstIt says they’re terrified.  Jesus actually used this word on Thursday night in the upper room with His disciples when He said in John 14:1, “Stop letting your heart be troubled.”  How can He be troubled?  How can He be so agitated?  How can He be so distressed?  Isn’t He less than a martyr?  Why this distress?  Many martyrs seem calm facing death.  Why is this going on?  Was this weakness in Him?  Was this sin?  No, no … 

Listen, His trouble came not from anticipating physical suffering, but anticipating divine wrath, spiritual suffering. That was a terrifying reality. Though the nails must have gone through His hands and feet thousands of times as He thought about it, the agony of the sinless Son of God was not that He would be nailed, but that He would be judged by the wrath of God. Not that He would be stained with blood, but that He would be condemned for sins He did not commit, the sins of all who would ever believe. Those tortured His soul with a fierceness.

Let me tell you something, if He didn’t become troubled by that, He wouldn’t be God. God should be troubled by the prospect of bearing sin. The Son of God should be troubled by the prospect of divine wrath and alienation from His eternal Father. Yes, He’s troubled, but it’s not the physical part that troubles Him. It’s the spiritual reality.

Jesus asked His Father to glorify His name. A voice came from Heaven saying that His name was be glorified and would be again (verse 28).

MacArthur interprets this for us:

… when the Father says in verse 28, “I have both glorified it,” He means throughout your whole ministry I have put My power and glory on display through You. “And will glorify it again,” meaning I will glorify My name through your death. I did it through your life. I will do it in your death. I did it through your life. I will do it in your death.

It must have been an incredible moment for the crowd. Some said the divine voice was an angel and others said it was thunder (verse 29).

Both would have been applicable in a scriptural sense, although those who thought it was thunder might have had a spiritual bypass:

You can understand why they were saying those kinds of things.  This is the mixed crowd, which would be some Jews, maybe still the Greeks who came to Jesus.  Maybe, of course, including leaders in the temple.  They were trying to figure out what had just happened.  They had no capacity to know the voice of God or hear the voice of God, and they weren’t about to acknowledge the voice of God if He did speak.

Thunder, often in the Old Testament, is the voice of God.  Exodus 19, “God thundered.”  Second Samuel 22:14, “The Lord thundered from heaven and uttered His voice.”  Job 37:5, “God thunders with His voice wondrously.”  You see that also in Psalm 18, Psalm 29.  Job 40:9, “Can you thunder with a voice like His?”  So thunder was associated with the voice of God, but for them, this was just a weather event.  They weren’t thinking of it in a divine way.  Then for the others, it was an angelic event, which gets a little closer to reality, but in both cases, they missed the point.

Again, the natural man understands not the things of God, right?  Jesus says to them, “You don’t get the truth, and because I speak the truth, you don’t understand what I’m saying.”  Remember that back in chapter 8So they have a way to explain it that is short of the realityThe bottom line is that God had spoken, and God had validated, authenticated, affirmed the death of His Son. 

Jesus confirmed that it was a divine voice, because He said that it came for the crowd’s sake, not for His (verse 30).

Henry explains:

Why it was sent (John 12:30): “It came not because of me, not merely for my encouragement and satisfaction” (then it might have been whispered in his ear privately), but for your sakes. (1.) “That all you who heard it may believe that the Father hath sent me. What is said from heaven concerning our Lord Jesus, and the glorifying of the Father in him, is said for our sakes, that we may be brought to submit to him and rest upon him. (2.) “That you my disciples, who are to follow me in sufferings, may therein be comforted with the same comforts that carry me on.” Let this encourage them to part with life itself for his sake, if they be called to it, that it will redound to the honour of God. Note, The promises and supports granted to our Lord Jesus in his sufferings were intended for our sakes. For our sakes he sanctified himself, and comforted himself.

Then, Jesus changed His tone from troubled to triumphant. His death would be a judgement of the world, and it would vanquish Satan (verse 31).

MacArthur provides this analysis:

Now, rather than viewing the suffering of sin-bearing on the cross, He focuses on the salvation through that suffering and He turns from being troubled in verse 27 to words that are triumphant in verse 31.  He goes from troubled to triumph He states the consequence of His death, the accomplishment of the cross, the mystery of the cross unfolded in three massive far-reaching statements

Number one, “The judgment is on the world.”  Number two, “The ruler of this world will be cast out.”  Number three, “And I, if I am lifted up from the earth will draw all men to Myself.”  These are sweeping, far-reaching realities.  He goes from that very personal, intimate agony of verse 27 to this global, historical reality of verses 31 through 32.  Three anticipated accomplishments in the cross.  Number one, the world was judged.  The world was judged.  Sin’s empire was judged.  Sin’s system was judged.  The crisis had come.  The probation of the world was over.  The doom was sealed by the rejection and murder of the Son.  This flips the whole event on its head. 

The Jewish people thought they had judged Him.  In reality, He had not only judged them, but He had judged the entire world.  They thought that they had brought Him into their court and rendered their verdict on Him.  In reality, He had brought them into His court and rendered His verdict on them.  The cross would condemn and judge the world, meaning the Jewish people who rejected Him, the leaders who condemned Him, Judas who betrayed Him, the Roman soldiers who mocked and executed Him, Pilate who sentenced Him, the whole society of evil men alienated from God who crucified Him.  And extending beyond that, all the world of people who are caught up as children of Satan in an anti-God, anti-Christ attitude.

What looked like the judgment of Christ was, in fact, the judgment of the world because at the cross, He won the victory and was ascended and at the right hand of the Father became the Lord and Judge of all.  The whole Christ-rejecting world was judged by the cross of Christ.  The verdict is in.  The sentence is waiting.  Every time a person dies, that sentence is executed, but for the whole world, that sentence will be fully executed in the day that He appears a second time to judge, Acts 17:31The world said, “We tried Christ and judged Him.”  How wrong they were.  He condemned the world.  The world, every man in it from now on, is condemned.  They’re born condemned to death unless they repent and embrace Christ.

Second thing, massive effect: the ruler of this world will be cast out.  Who’s that?  Satan, the prince of the power of the air, the ruler of this world.  Satan was dethroned at Calvary.  Again, this is a reversal of what you might think.  It looked like Satan won.  It looked like Satan triumphed, and the devils of hell thought there was a triumph.  Satan had conquered Christ at Calvary, but in reality, Christ had crushed his head, dealt him the deathblowNow, Satan fights from death row.  He is a vanquished enemy.  He had nothing on ChristHe has nothing on us.  He is a conquered, defeated foe. 

Jesus further confirmed His triumph by saying that when He is lifted up from the earth, He will draw all people to Himself (verse 32). That means Jew and Gentile alike.

The words ‘lifted up’ were known in His era as a synomym for crucifixion. MacArthur says:

“And I, if I am lifted up from the earth,” if I am crucified. That’s what that means. He’s not talking about preachers lifting Him up, which we should do. He’s not talking about people who should point to the cross and lift up Christ, which we should do. That’s not what this is about. He is saying, “If I am crucified, I will draw all men to myself.” All men, meaning all Jews, Gentiles, people from every tongue, tribe, nation of the planet. I will draw them all to myself. He, at the cross, provides the work by which all can be saved. Children of God from all over the world.

John says that this was how Jesus described His imminent death (verse 33).

We know that ‘lifted up’ meant crucifixion, because after Jesus spoke, people asked Him how this could be (John 12:34):

So the crowd answered him, “We have heard from the Law that the Christ remains forever. How can you say that the Son of Man must be lifted up? Who is this Son of Man?”

MacArthur says that this was the turning point, which would continue through the days that followed, the events of which we remember during Holy Week:

Ah, this is a turning, folksOn Monday, they were hailing Him as the Messiah That begins to go downhill on Tuesday when He attacks the temple It’s really going downhill now because they all know He is saying, “I will be crucified,” and they are saying, “Wait a minute.  The Son of Man?” that Old Testament term from Daniel chapter 7, the Son of Man, the Messianic term.  “The Son of Man is to remain forever.”  And they were right about that.  He is the everlasting Father in Isaiah 9.  He has an everlasting kingdom in Daniel 7.  So who is this Son of Man who will be crucified?

Because they don’t understand Isaiah 53, they don’t believe Isaiah 52They don’t understand Daniel 9, that He would be cut off, Zechariah 12:10, that He would be pierced.  They only see a Messiah who sets up an everlasting kingdom, and so the cross, Paul says 1 Corinthians 1 is to the Jews a what?  Stumbling block, stumbling block.  “What Son of Man is this?”  So we’re starting down from Monday to Friday pretty fast, aren’t we?  This is Wednesday, maybe even ThursdayBy Friday, they’re convinced this man needs to die.  Perhaps, they didn’t even think about the fact that in His crucifixion, He was fulfilling exactly what He saidThis is the scope of the death of Christ in His own simple words before the crossStaggering.

I hope this explains more about Christ’s death. The Crucifixion was no sign of loss, rather, it was one of victory over sin and our reconciliation with God through our Saviour’s ultimate, all-sufficient sacrifice. Jesus came among us to give us eternal life.

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

Yet, it doesn’t tell the whole story.

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

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

1 Corinthians 9:8-15

Do I say these things on human authority? Does not the Law say the same? For it is written in the Law of Moses, “You shall not muzzle an ox when it treads out the grain.” Is it for oxen that God is concerned? 10 Does he not certainly speak for our sake? It was written for our sake, because the plowman should plow in hope and the thresher thresh in hope of sharing in the crop. 11 If we have sown spiritual things among you, is it too much if we reap material things from you? 12 If others share this rightful claim on you, do not we even more?

Nevertheless, we have not made use of this right, but we endure anything rather than put an obstacle in the way of the gospel of Christ. 13 Do you not know that those who are employed in the temple service get their food from the temple, and those who serve at the altar share in the sacrificial offerings? 14 In the same way, the Lord commanded that those who proclaim the gospel should get their living by the gospel.

15 But I have made no use of any of these rights, nor am I writing these things to secure any such provision. For I would rather die than have anyone deprive me of my ground for boasting.

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

Last week’s post discussed Paul’s reasons why ministers in the church should receive a salary for preaching the word of God.

In today’s passage, he gives biblical reasons supporting his principle.

He says that it is not his personal belief but a mandate dating back to Mosaic law (verse 8).

John MacArthur tells us how the verse is structured in Greek (emphases mine):

“Say I these things as man?” And the Greek – the form of that question in the Greek implies a negative answer. “No, I’m not just talking in human terms.” … I’m not just saying these things as a man, “or saith not the law” – and he means the law of God – “the same thing?” Is this just human reasoning, or does God’s law say the same thing? And the second question has implied in it a “yes” answer. Greek – the way they form a Greek question in the Greek language will give you an idea as to whether it’s to be answered yes or no. This second question has a yes answer. “Do I say these things as a man? No. Or doesn’t the law say the same thing? Yes.” God’s law. … This isn’t just a human analogy or a human reason, God has something to say.

Paul cites Deuteronomy 25:4, which instructs the Jews to allow oxen to eat a bit of grain while they are treading it to remove the outer husk (verse 9). It would be inhumane to put a muzzle on an ox preventing it from munching some of the grain while he treads it.

MacArthur explains how treading was done:

Now, the Egyptians had an interesting custom that the Israelites picked up. Whenever they wanted to separate the grain from the husk, they would throw all of the stuff on a great floor, a great flat area. And they would get oxen, and they would tie to the oxen a great big, round, flat stone. And the oxen would just walk all over that grain, dragging that stone, crushing the husks and releasing the grain out of it. And that’s the way they separated it. And the law said, “Don’t muzzle the mouth of the ox that treads the grain.” You want to have one frustrated ox, you just muzzle him and make him tread that grain; you’ll really frustrate him. That would be inhumane. That would be unjust. If the ox is going to drag that rock around all day, he ought to be able to take a few bites now and then. That’s the point, see?

Paul cites Deuteronomy 25:4 to illustrate that a man should receive a salary for preaching. In the second half of verse 9, Paul asks if God is that concerned for the oxen’s welfare. He answers his question in verse 10: no. The point of the verse from Deuteronomy is to say that a farmer, a thresher — and even the oxen — should be able to partake of a harvest.

MacArthur says:

When God wrote that, he wasn’t really talking about oxen; he was talking about people. And it’s – incidentally, in Deuteronomy 25, there’s no mention of animals anyway; it’s talking about social and economic relationships between men. And he just puts this one in a metaphor, “Men ought to be able to earn their living from their labor.” A simple principle.

If God requires that an ox spending his strength serving man should get his reward, how much more a man who spends his strength serving God? If an ox shouldn’t be muzzled, why should a man of God? Why should a minister?

And, you know, there’s a built-in incentive, too, I think, in this. I think, when a man gains his living out of his labor, it may tend to make his labor all the more diligent. I think sometimes that when a person in Christian service has to go out and learn his living, and he knows that in his Christian service he’s not earning his living, he tends to be slothful there because his success is not really that significant in terms of accruing to himself earthly benefit.

And so, that’s a simple, biblical principle. And now look at verse 10 again. He say, “This is written” – now pick it up right in this third line there – “This is written, that he that plows should plow in hope.” In other words, the guy plowing the field ought to be able to hope that out of his plowing he’s going to gain a reward – “he that threshes in hope should be a partaker of his hope.” In other words, he should be working, realizing there was going to come something in the future. He’d have a hope for something in the future, and indeed it would come. Hope for the servant.

Paul concludes: as the ministers provide their flock with spiritual truths, should they not reap a material reward for it (verse 11)? As ministers are preaching God’s word, are they not even more entitled to receive a salary for their higher calling (verse 12)?

This is still the situation in most denominations. Clergy salaries are notoriously low. In the Episcopal Church, of which I was a member in the US decades ago, most clergy were what we now call ‘trust fund babies’. They had a private income to supplement the poor salaries they received.

Paul was not advocating for ministers to become wealthy, as so many shyster televangelists are today. He just wanted them to live comfortably, meaning more than modestly. They should be able to buy their own clothes, for example, rather than receive hand-me-downs from their congregations.

MacArthur gives his own real life illustration of discussions about wages for clergy:

Paul makes a direct application in verse 11, “If we” – and this is really straight – “If we have sown unto you spiritual things, is it a big deal if we reap your material things?” Now, that’s an interesting statement. He says, “Look, Corinthians, if we sowed unto you the things of the spirit, life transforming things, eternal things, forever things, is it any big deal that you would give back to us some material things?” It’s an obvious question, isn’t it? No. I mean it’s no big deal.

But so many times the mentality of Christians in history has been, “Make sure the servant of God can barely make it. Don’t give them too much. After all, they’re serving God.”

And you see, my philosophy on the thing is, “Hey, if he’s serving God, I mean what higher calling? Give him a whole bunch.”

Sometimes somebody’ll come to speak somewhere, and I may be in the discussion, and they’ll say, “Well, let’s see, if he gasses his car,” and we’ll maybe kick this around in some group somewhere, and we’re talking about a camp or a conference with different pastors or something, and somebody will say, “Well, it’ll only cost him, well, let’s say we give him an extra, we can get away for $150.00.”

And I’ll usually say, “Well, that’ll be good; let’s give him $350.00”

“What’s he going to do with the extra?”

“What would you do with the extra?”

“Oh, well, let’s see, I’d buy – fix – pay my bill.”

“That’s what he’ll do with the extra.”

You see, the point is not just make sure he never has enough, but give him more than he needs, and then you let him worry about how he is a steward of it. You let him – generosity. You know, we think about a missionary, and invariably, you know, you say, “Well, we don’t want to – don’t want to overdo it. After all, they’re only missionaries. And the missionary comes home, and you say, My brother, I know you need a new suit, and I’ve got one here that I don’t wear anymore … Right?” In your income tax, you write off $45.00 suit given to missionary. Hmm. See? Real good, real good.

You know, what you ought to do is take him down and buy him one just like he’d like to have. And then you worry about how he’s a steward of the suit you gave him. Don’t you worry about keeping him poor.

In the second half of verse 12, Paul states, using the royal ‘we’, that he did not ask for a salary from the Corinthians because he did not want to put an obstacle in the way of the Gospel. He restates that again in verse 15.

However, it is clear he expects the congregation to pay for other ministers’ work in furthering the Good News and Christian doctrine.

Paul refers to the verses in the Old Testament that specify what parts of a sacrificial animal the priests received (verse 13). Not all of the animal was burnt. The priests received the hides to sell and they also received most of the meat.

Therefore, Paul reasons, it is only right that ministers in the Church receive a salary for preaching the Good News (verse 14).

MacArthur explains how the sacrificial system worked in the Old Testament:

For example, a priest is in the temple, and people are bringing offerings in the Old Testament. The man would bring a burnt offering. There were five different offerings that the Jews would bring. Let’s say he’d bring a burnt offering. Now, this alone was the one that was totally burned up. The only thing left would be, according to Genesis 32, the stomach, the entrails, and the sinew from the thigh, and that you wouldn’t particularly want.

But what was left out of the burnt offering was the hide. And the priests would take the hides, and they would use those hides to sell to make money to live. So, out of the burnt offering came the hide of the animal.

The second offering that the Jews gave was the sin offering. Only the fat was burned, and the priest kept all the rest of the meat. The third offering was the trespass offering; the same thing. The fat was burned; the priest kept the rest of the meat.

There was the meal offering, where they brought flour and wine and oil. A small token of it was burned; the rest of it went to the priests. The peace offering, which was the fifth one, were the fat and the entrails were burned. The priest received the breast and – it said the right shoulder, and that all has symbolic meaning – and all the rest of it went back to the worshipper.

So, in every case, there was something for the priest in order that his livelihood and his support and his sustenance might come out of his service. The priest received the first fruits of barley, wheat, grapes, figs, pomegranates, olives, honey – all of those things – some of the first fruits of everybody’s crop had to go to the priesthood to support them in the Old Testament. They received one tenth of the Levite’s tithe. They received what was called the Terumah which was the 1/50 of any crop. They received what was called the Challah, and that had to do with dough. When anybody made bread, 1/24 of the batch had to go to the priests. If you were a baker, 1/48, because you were making more bread.

And so, the priests in the Old Testament, according to these truths – and you can find them in Numbers 18, Deuteronomy 18, and many places – they were sustained by their ministry. And so he says in verse 13, “Don’t you = know that those who minister about holy things live of the temple? And those who serve the altar are partakers with the altar?” In other words, the support comes right out of that ministry. Simple truth.

Paul ends by saying that he never asked for a salary for himself (verse 15, repeating verse 12). He is saying that he enjoys his work so much that he wouldn’t ask for or accept pay. When he was given donations by other churches, as Acts and his other letters show, he gave those funds to needier congregations.

Paul’s point, however, is that other ministers should be paid.

Matthew Henry explains:

… it is not given in charge to all, nor any preacher of the gospel, to do his work gratis, to preach and have no maintenance out of it it may sometimes be his duty to insist on his maintenance for so doing

1 Corinthians 10 deals with idolatry. More to come next week.

Next time — 1 Corinthians 10:14-22

In 2021, the Fourth Sunday in Lent is March 14.

This is also Laetare Sunday, one of joy and hope for the risen Christ.

In the United Kingdom, Laetare Sunday is also Mothering Sunday, or Mother’s Day. You can read about the history behind this in the following posts:

Laetare Sunday, Mother’s Day and the Golden Rose

Laetare Sunday is Mothering Sunday

My posts explain that Laetare Sunday is when clergy used to wear rose coloured vestments instead of purple. (Some still do.) It is traditionally the happy Sunday in Lent, as laetare means ‘rejoice’. The name comes from the opening words of the traditional Latin Introit, which in English translate to ‘Rejoice, Jerusalem’. Salvation is coming.

The readings for Year B in the three-year Lectionary are below:

Readings for the Fourth Sunday in Lent — Laetare Sunday — Year B

The Gospel reading is as follows (emphases in bold mine):

John 3:14-21

3:14 And just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up,

3:15 that whoever believes in him may have eternal life.

3:16 “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life.

3:17 “Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.

3:18 Those who believe in him are not condemned; but those who do not believe are condemned already, because they have not believed in the name of the only Son of God.

3:19 And this is the judgment, that the light has come into the world, and people loved darkness rather than light because their deeds were evil.

3:20 For all who do evil hate the light and do not come to the light, so that their deeds may not be exposed.

3:21 But those who do what is true come to the light, so that it may be clearly seen that their deeds have been done in God.”

Commentary for today’s exegesis comes from Matthew Henry and John MacArthur.

It is important to put these verses into context. It is a pity that the Lectionary editors did not think it appropriate to add the preceding 13 verses:

You Must Be Born Again

Now there was a man of the Pharisees named Nicodemus, a ruler of the Jews. This man came to Jesus[a] by night and said to him, “Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher come from God, for no one can do these signs that you do unless God is with him.” Jesus answered him, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again[b] he cannot see the kingdom of God.” Nicodemus said to him, “How can a man be born when he is old? Can he enter a second time into his mother’s womb and be born?” Jesus answered, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God. That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit.[c] Do not marvel that I said to you, ‘You[d] must be born again.’ The wind[e] blows where it wishes, and you hear its sound, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.”

Nicodemus said to him, “How can these things be?” 10 Jesus answered him, “Are you the teacher of Israel and yet you do not understand these things? 11 Truly, truly, I say to you, we speak of what we know, and bear witness to what we have seen, but you[f] do not receive our testimony. 12 If I have told you earthly things and you do not believe, how can you believe if I tell you heavenly things? 13 No one has ascended into heaven except he who descended from heaven, the Son of Man.[g]

Nicodemus was a religious ruler, a Pharisee: very learned in Scripture and Mosaic law. He was a member of the Sanhedrin, the Jewish hierarchy.

He went to see Jesus at night either because he was too busy to meet him during the day, or, more likely, because he did not want to incur the wrath of the Sanhedrin.

Jesus compares Himself to the staff with the brass serpent on it that God told Moses to raise in order to end the plague of fiery serpents that He had visited upon the Israelites (verse 14). Those who looked upon the brass serpent were cured. Those who refused to look at it died.

Those who believe in Jesus will never die (verse 15).

That serpent on the pole was a figurative representation of Christ on the Cross.

Matthew Henry’s commentary explains this in full:

The Son of man is lifted up, as the serpent of brass was by Moses, which cured the stung Israelites. 1. It was a serpent of brass that cured them. Brass is bright we read of Christ’s feet shining like brass, Revelation 1:15. It is durable Christ is the same. It was made in the shape of a fiery serpent, and yet had no poison, no sting, fitly representing Christ, who was made sin for us and yet knew no sin was made in the likeness of sinful flesh and yet not sinful as harmless as a serpent of brass. The serpent was a cursed creature Christ was made a curse. That which cured them reminded them of their plague so in Christ sin is set before us most fiery and formidable. 2. It was lifted up upon a pole, and so must the Son of man be lifted up thus it behoved him, Luke 24:26,46. No remedy now. Christ is lifted up, (1.) In his crucifixion. He was lifted up upon the cross. His death is called his being lifted up, John 12:32,33. He was lifted up as a spectacle, as a mark, lifted up between heaven and earth, as if he had been unworthy of either and abandoned by both. (2.) In his exaltation. He was lifted up to the Father’s right hand, to give repentance and remission he was lifted up to the cross, to be further lifted up to the crown. (3.) In the publishing and preaching of his everlasting gospel, Revelation 14:6. The serpent was lifted up that all the thousands of Israel might see it. Christ in the gospel is exhibited to us, evidently set forth Christ is lifted up as an ensign, Isaiah 11:10. 3. It was lifted up by Moses. Christ was made under the law of Moses, and Moses testified of him. 4. Being thus lifted up, it was appointed for the cure of those that were bitten by fiery serpents. He that sent the plague provided the remedy. None could redeem and save us but he whose justice had condemned us. It was God himself that found the ransom, and the efficacy of it depends upon his appointment. The fiery serpents were sent to punish them for their tempting Christ (so the apostle saith, 1 Corinthians 10:9), and yet they were healed by virtue derived from him. He whom we have offended is our peace.

John MacArthur offers us a practical application of those two verses:

But there’s more to this than just being lifted up in His death. It means that you give Him all your attention. You elevate Him above all others, over all others, as the preeminent one and you look to Him in faith and Him alone for salvation.

The bitten Jews were healed from the poison by a look of faith. They had to believe I’m going to go where that thing is. I’m going to go there, I’m going to look, and if they would do that, they would be healed. And so it is that all God asks of us is to look at His Son, lift Him up. The Jews who were bitten didn’t have to do anything. There were no works. Nothing for which to atone. No restitution, nothing; just look and you have life. What a beautiful analogy. And I know when it happened it was in the plan of God that it would be the analogy of the simplicity of salvation by faith–Christ lifted up; we look at Him and that’s enough, we have life.

And here’s the heart of the heavenly message that Jesus brought down. Verse 15, “So that whoever believes in Him will have eternal life. Whoever believes will have eternal life. That’s all the sinner can do. Belief, belief–that’s the heart of the gospel.

Jesus sums everything up in verse 16, one of the most famous in the New Testament:

“For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life.

God did not send Jesus to lead a temporal kingdom or to bring social justice. God sent Jesus to save us from being enslaved by sin and bring us to everlasting life in the world to come, with Him.

Let’s go back to the earlier verses in the chapter where Jesus tells Nicodemus that one must be born again of the Holy Spirit.

MacArthur explains:

Simply stated, What contribution did you make to your physical birth? What? None. You didn’t make a contribution and that’s why the Lord chose this. And nor will you make a contribution to your spiritual birth. So the first thing Jesus says to Nicodemus is—and this stops him dead in his legalistic tracks—something has to happen to you from above and you have no part in it. Try that on the next time you evangelize somebody. You need something you can’t do. You need something you can’t participate in. You need something you can’t contribute to. You need heaven to come down. And oh, by the way, unless you’re born from above, born again, unless you’re born of the Spirit, you’ll never enter the kingdom of God. And by the way, the Spirit comes and goes when He wills, and you can’t call Him and you can’t dismiss Him. And this is the doctrine of divine calling, the effectual call, the efficient call. This is what some call irresistible grace. This is the calling that identifies the church as the called. It’s divine.

All of this speaks of an incomprehensible love that God has for mankind. We will never be able to comprehend this during our temporal lives.

Jesus tells Nicodemus that God does not wish to condemn the world but to save it (verse 17), although those who do not believe in Jesus will be condemned forever (verse 18).

Henry makes this observation of the believer:

The cross perhaps lies heavy upon him, but he is saved from the curse: condemned by the world, it may be, but not condemned with the world, Romans 8:1,1 Corinthians 11:32.

He has much to say about unbelievers, whom God condemns in this life and the next:

Observe, [1.] How great the sin of unbelievers is it is aggravated from the dignity of the person they slight they believe not in the name of the only-begotten Son of God, who is infinitely true, and deserves to be believed, infinitely good, and deserves to be embraced. God sent one to save us that was dearest to himself and shall not he be dearest to us? Shall we not believe on his name who has a name above every name? [2.] How great the misery of unbelievers is: they are condemned already which bespeaks, First, A certain condemnation. They are as sure to be condemned in the judgment of the great day as if they were condemned already. Secondly, A present condemnation. The curse has already taken hold of them the wrath of God now fastens upon them. They are condemned already, for their own hearts condemn them. Thirdly, A condemnation grounded upon their former guilt: He is condemned already, for he lies open to the law for all his sins the obligation of the law is in full force, power, and virtue, against him, because he is not by faith interested in the gospel defeasance he is condemned already, because he has not believed. Unbelief may truly be called the great damning sin, because it leaves us under the guilt of all our other sins it is a sin against the remedy, against our appeal.

Jesus explains God’s judgement to Nicodemus: when people turn away from the light of Christ it is because they prefer the darkness of evil (verse 19). He adds that such people do not want divine light to expose their evil deeds of darkness (verse 20).

It is still hard for me to believe that unbelievers could actively reject Christ, but MacArthur explains why people are enslaved to sin:

There’s one reason people don’t believe in Christ, one reason. They love their sin. They don’t want to come near Christ ’cause He shines a light on their sin, exposes their sin. Sinners love sin. It’s not ignorance. It’s not lacking the basic faculties of reason. It’s not misunderstanding. Sinners prefer moral darkness. They’re like bugs that run for the dark when you pick the rock up. They love their corruption. They delight in their evil and love darkness, hate light, don’t want to come to the light because if they come to the light they’ll be exposed for what they are. So they resent the truth, they resent the Scripture, they resent the church, they resent Christians, they run from us. It’s strong—it’s a strong, dominating compulsion in a fallen heart. If you look at John 7:7 it says, “The world cannot hate you,” Jesus talking, “but it hates Me because I testify of it that its deeds are evil.” They hate Christ because He exposes their sin. That eventually gets passed down to us.

And how. We live in a time of Christian censorship which, in some cases, extends to active persecution.

Jesus ends his discourse by saying that those who do what is right come to the light so that it is clear that God is working through them (verse 21).

MacArthur tells us:

… if you’re one of those who practices the truth, the light comes on and you take a look at your life in the light and you say, “What’s going on in me is wrought by God.” And there’s confidence and assurance and joy in that. We come to the light, we love the light, we welcome the communion with Christ. And there’s no fear; there’s complete acceptance and security and joy and protection and love. Boy, what a…what a…what a message Nicodemus got that day and he never even asked a question. He just got his heart read.

MacArthur gave this sermon in 2013, when Rick Warren’s book on ‘purpose’ in the Church was popular. MacArthur rightly says that notion is false:

Stop saying, “Do you want purpose in your life? Jesus will give you purpose.” Stop that. Stop saying Jesus will make you happy, give you a better life, solve your problems, make you better, make you richer—stop. That produces false converts because that sheds no light on the sinner’s wretchedness. That uncovers nothing. That exposes nothing. That’s a lie. What you want to do is shine the light of the pure righteousness of Jesus Christ as brightly as you can on the sinner and see if the sinner runs. That has no value to people, that kind of stuff—produces nothing but false converts. The issue is to confront sin in all its horror and all its ugliness and they will seal their sentence by rejecting Christ because they love their iniquity. Or by the grace of God they will run to the truth, verse 21, “He who practices the truth comes to the light so that his deeds may be manifested as having been wrought in God.”

MacArthur has more advice on evangelising:

So when you talk to people, I think it’s sometimes okay to say, “You know, you’re a lawbreaker, you’ve broken this law, broken that law, broken the Ten Commandments, fine. That’s all forgivable.” Sooner or later in the conversation, and may I suggest sooner rather than later, you need to address people about what they think concerning Jesus Christ and cut to the chase and say, “If you do not believe in the Lord Jesus Christ as Redeemer, and Savior, and Lord, you will die in your sins and go to hell. That is the one unforgivable sin”

What you’re going to say when you stand before God is this, “I refuse to believe in Jesus Christ,” and that’s the issue. And that will be the issue. You have been judged already—you’re condemned and sentenced. And if you continue in unbelief, you will perish.

What can we do? Pray for unbelievers, known and unknown. Unbelievers can also pray for faith — and more faith — through divine grace.

In closing, I wish all my British readers who are mothers a very happy Mothering Sunday (sadly, the second one under coronavirus lockdown).

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