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bible-wornThe 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.

2 Corinthians 12:19-21

19 Have you been thinking all along that we have been defending ourselves to you? It is in the sight of God that we have been speaking in Christ, and all for your upbuilding, beloved. 20 For I fear that perhaps when I come I may find you not as I wish, and that you may find me not as you wish—that perhaps there may be quarreling, jealousy, anger, hostility, slander, gossip, conceit, and disorder. 21 I fear that when I come again my God may humble me before you, and I may have to mourn over many of those who sinned earlier and have not repented of the impurity, sexual immorality, and sensuality that they have practiced.

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Last week’s post concluded Paul’s self-defence against the accusations of the false teachers who had inveigled themselves with the Corinthians.

His letter then turns towards the spiritual state of the Corinthians.

He says that he has been doing much more than defending himself; in fact, he has been speaking in Christ in the sight of God for their edification (verse 19).

Matthew Henry’s commentary tells us (emphases mine):

This was his great aim and design, to do good, to lay the foundation well, and then with care and diligence to build the superstructure.

John MacArthur has more on this verse, noting the sarcasm here, tempered by calling the Corinthians ‘beloved’:

Verse 19 – why then are you giving this all to us? – end of verse, “It is all for your” – what? What’s the word? – “upbuilding, beloved. At the same time that he was seeking to reverence God, at the same time that he knew who his judge was and that he was seeking to please God and God alone, he also sought the spiritual well-being of the Corinthian church. And here’s the point; if he w[ere] discredited, they wouldn’t listen to him. If they didn’t listen to him, they wouldn’t hear the Word of God. If they didn’t hear the Word of God, they wouldn’t grow, bottom line. Their sanctification was dependent on listening to him.

He wanted to convince them that he was the true spokesman of God not so they could sit in judgment on his life, but so they could listen to his teaching. “It was all for your upbuilding; it’s all for your edification. You’re not my judge, but you are my spiritual responsibility. You’re not going to sit in judgment on my life, but you are going to sit under my teaching. And only if you trust in me as the true apostle of Jesus Christ are you going to hear what I say and believe it and therefore grow. “

He calls them beloved tenderly here. He’s been sarcastic, and I think putting in the word “beloved” sort of balances it off a little. “You’re not my judge, but all that I’m teaching, all that I’m trying to accomplish here ultimately benefits you, because when you hear the truth, you’re built up in the truth.”

MacArthur explains the transition of subject matter from the false teachers to the Corinthians themselves:

So, in 12:19 and 13:10, he speaks of his commitment to building up the church. And in between those two verses is the final section on how that is done. This is a very, very instructive portion of Scripture. It is at the end of the epistle; that doesn’t lessen its importance. In fact, if anything, it heightens it. He has reached a kind of crescendo here, and he gives us a summary of what is involved in the building up of the saints which is the passion of his life.

He fears that when he finally sees them again they might not find him in a good mood if he finds them reverting to the sins he warned against in 1 Corinthians: quarreling, jealousy, anger, hostility, slander, gossip, conceit, and disorder (verse 20).

Henry says that Paul did not want to be harsh on the congregation unless he found good reason for so doing:

He would not shrink from his duty for fear of displeasing them, though he was so careful to make himself easy to them.

Paul ends the chapter by saying that he fears God might humble — humiliate — him before the Corinthians for their stubborn sin and that he will grieve for the souls of the many who had not repented of their impurity, sexual immorality, and sensuality (verse 21).

Henry offers these observations. ‘Professors’ here means those who profess their faith:

Note, (1.) The falls and miscarriages of professors cannot but be a humbling consideration to a good minister; and God sometimes takes this way to humble those who might be under temptation to be lifted up: I fear lest my God will humble me among you. (2.) We have reason to bewail those who sin and do not repent, to bewail many that have sinned, and have not repented, 2 Corinthians 12:21; 2 Corinthians 12:21. If these have not, as yet, grace to mourn and lament their own case, their case is the more lamentable; and those who love God, and love them, should mourn for them.

MacArthur looks at some of the words in the original Greek manuscript:

Now, look at Paul’s concern, verse 20, “For I am afraid.” He says the same thing at the beginning of verse 21, “I am afraid.” What is he saying here? He has some fears. The word is phobeō, from which we get the English word “phobia.” It’s not talking about a superficial thing; it’s talking about a deep-seated fear, a deep-seated anxiety

Such a fear, by the way, was reasonable because the last time he went he found that. It was reasonable because since that last time, false teachers had gained the ascendency, and many of the Corinthians had followed their lies, and you don’t follow error without attendant sin; iniquity follows error. Theological error is followed by behavioral iniquity.

So, he realizes that there is great potential for sin to be in that church, because they have false teachers there who are leading them astray. And he’s afraid that when he goes there, he’s going to find that is present – sin and no repentance, as he notes in verse 21 …

Strife, for example, he already spoke to them about in 1 Corinthians 1:11. It means rivalry, discord, debates – literally battles. And then the word “jealousy” – zēlos – envyings. He confronted that in 1 Corinthians 3:3. And then angry tempers – thumos. “Outbursts” is the word, fits, sudden explosions of anger, out of control hostility. He addressed that in 1 Corinthians 6:1 and following. And then disputes – eritheia – factious attitudes, divisiveness, partisanship. He addressed that in 1 Corinthians 1:11.

And then slanders, which is open, loud-mouthed criticism, public insults, public vilification. He spoke of that in 1 Corinthians 5:11 and 6:10. And by the way, that’s an onomatopoetic word katalaleō – la-da-la-da-la. “Gossip” is another word used here. That, too, he had to address in an indirect way in 1 Corinthians 11:18. Gossip is quiet whispers of criticism. That’s a word in the Greek that’s even hard to pronounce – psithurismos. It’s like, psss-shh-shh-shh-shh – another onomatopoetic word. Whispers of criticism. “Arrogance,” that’s another word that is sort of onomatopoetic. It starts out with a P-H-U (blowing sound), hot air, puffed up, overblown. He referred to that in 1 Corinthians 4 and 5 and 8. And then he closes with disturbances, disorder, tumults, anarchy. They may have been trying to exercise congregational rule, where everybody does what’s right in his own eyes.

And 1 Corinthians 11:20 and following, 1 Corinthians 14:26 and following deal with that. Every one of these sins had been dealt with in 1 Corinthians. They were a part of pagan culture; they got dragged into the church, and Paul’s afraid he’s going to come there and find they’ve all sort of come back again. Because if people are following error, they inevitably are going to follow sinful behavior. And these are the things he fears he’ll find.

Familiar sins. They were part of the habit patterns of these people before they came to Christ.

MacArthur explains Paul’s priorities as a minister in Christ. Sanctification of the flock was his — and should be any pastor’s — ultimate goal:

If you are concerned for the sanctification of the Church, which you must be, because that’s what you’re called to do, if you’ve been given for the upbuilding of the saints, and you’re committed to that, there are six things you must be consumed with. One is repentance, two is discipline, three is authority, four is authenticity, five is obedience, and six is perfection. And those are the six features that Paul works through down to verse 10 of chapter 13.

The pastor is concerned that his people become like Christ. Paul the apostle was concerned that his people became like Christ. And it was that concern that literally consumed his heart and his mind. It moved his emotions, and it moved his will.

His concern for them had very little to do with their physical well-being; it had very little to do with their health, very little to do with their wealth or prosperity, very little, if anything, to do with their success, very little to do with their comfort, very little to do with their personal satisfaction or the fulfillment of their desires and goals. That was not an issue for Paul.

The faithful pastor’s concern was for the sanctification of his people. He was concerned for their spiritual well-being. And I daresay it is fairly common that most churches and most Christians in them become preoccupied with the physical concerns of the church and much less preoccupied, if at all, with those which have to do with personal sanctification

Of course he’s concerned to be a part of times of suffering, and times of pain, and times of illness, and times of loss, and times of difficulty in the matters of physical life, but only insofar, really, as they touch the spiritual dimension, because that’s where the real concern lies.

2 Corinthians 13 closes the book. Next week’s verses are about the necessity of repentance in gaining eternal life in Christ.

Next time — 2 Corinthians 13:1-4

The Second Sunday after Epiphany is January 16, 2022.

Readings for Year C can be found here.

The Gospel reading is as follows (emphases mine):

John 2:1-11

2:1 On the third day there was a wedding in Cana of Galilee, and the mother of Jesus was there.

2:2 Jesus and his disciples had also been invited to the wedding.

2:3 When the wine gave out, the mother of Jesus said to him, “They have no wine.”

2:4 And Jesus said to her, “Woman, what concern is that to you and to me? My hour has not yet come.”

2:5 His mother said to the servants, “Do whatever he tells you.”

2:6 Now standing there were six stone water jars for the Jewish rites of purification, each holding twenty or thirty gallons.

2:7 Jesus said to them, “Fill the jars with water.” And they filled them up to the brim.

2:8 He said to them, “Now draw some out, and take it to the chief steward.” So they took it.

2:9 When the steward tasted the water that had become wine, and did not know where it came from (though the servants who had drawn the water knew), the steward called the bridegroom

2:10 and said to him, “Everyone serves the good wine first, and then the inferior wine after the guests have become drunk. But you have kept the good wine until now.”

2:11 Jesus did this, the first of his signs, in Cana of Galilee, and revealed his glory; and his disciples believed in him.

Commentary comes from Matthew Henry and John MacArthur.

By way of introduction, John MacArthur tells us that John’s Gospel is an apologetic and an evangelic purpose set to prove that Jesus is the Son of God:

John has written his gospel for one purpose, really. These have been written, he says–the words of this gospel–that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God. John writes to give evidence for the fact that Jesus of Nazareth is the Messiah and is the Son of God, that you may believe that, and that believing you may have life, eternal life, in His name. So we’ve been saying he has an apologetic purpose to give evidence that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and he has an evangelistic purpose that you might believe that, and then believing have eternal life in His name. John’s gospel is a collection of evidences, of evidences concerning the Lord Jesus Christ, to prove His deity and His humanity. The whole purpose of this gospel is just to line up supporting proofs for the deity of Jesus Christ.

We already know that from our experience in chapter 1. There is the first eighteen verses, which is the testimony of John the apostle himself. In the opening eighteen verses that some call the prologue, John gives his own testimony that the Word, who is Jesus Christ, is God, with God, created everything, is the Light, is the life, all of those things are part of that. “The Word,” verse 14, “became flesh and dwelt among us and we beheld His glory. The glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth.”

We heard the first 14 verses read on Christmas Day and the remainder of the Prologue on the Second Sunday after Christmas Day.

John writes about eight miracles that Jesus performed:

He turns water into wine in chapter 2. He heals a dying man in chapter 4. He cures a paralyzed man in chapter 5. He creates food for thousands of people in chapter 6. He walks on water at the end of chapter 6. He gives sight to the blind in chapter 9. He raises a man dead for days in chapter 11. He creates a meal in chapter 21, breakfast for His disciples. And then the culminating miracle beyond the eight, He is raised from the dead. So those are the miracle signs that John records.

However, there were many more that John did not include:

I would just remind you that in chapter 20, verse 30, it says this: “Therefore many other signs Jesus also performed in the presence of the disciples which are not written in this book.” So I don’t want you to think that these are the only miracles Jesus did, far from it. There are many others. They were a daily experience of those who followed Jesus.

And then in chapter 21, verse 25, the last verse in the gospel of John, John writes “there were also 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.” Jesus did so many signs and so many miracles that the books of the world wouldn’t be able to contain the details of all of them. Many other things; John is merely giving us samples of these miraculous evidences that Jesus is in fact God because He does what only God can do. In chapter 1, verse 14, the Word, the divine Word, the eternal Word became flesh and manifested His divine glory. That’s John’s point. He shows His glory as God through these signs.

This is how John wrote of our Lord’s ministry, both public and private:

Now as we come to chapter 2, it is also in chapter 2 that we have the beginning of Jesus’ public ministry. His ministry to the crowds, His ministry to the people of Israel, and His public ministry goes from chapter 2, verse 1 to the end of chapter 12. When you come to the end of chapter 12, that’s the end of His public ministry. Chapter 13 through 17 is His private ministry in the Upper Room to the apostles. And that is right before His death and resurrection, which then become the subject of chapters 18 to 21. So the book is divided then into those sections: chapter 1, verbal testimony; chapter 2 to 12, public ministry; 13 to 17, private ministry; 18 to the end, His death, resurrection, and post-resurrection appearances. That helps locate you in the big scheme of things in the gospel of John.

John tells us that, on the third day, a wedding took place in Cana and that the mother of Jesus — Mary — was invited (verse 1).

The ‘third day’ refers to the previous chapter, in which He began calling His apostles:

The third day after the previous meeting with Philip and Nathanael, which was concluded when Philip brought Nathanael, and Nathanael said in verse 49 concerning Jesus, “After we’ve examined You, we see You are the Son of God, You are the King of Israel.” That’s what John the apostle said in the opening, that’s what John the Baptist says, that’s what these men all say, and now it is going to be proven to us in the miracle that happens in the wedding at Cana. It’s the third day after that meeting. What that tells us is that from the time that John the Baptist said “Behold the Lamb of God” and turned his disciples away from him to follow Jesus–those five men to follow Jesus–from that day to this day everything happens in a week. They have gone from being across the Jordan and Judah, all the way back to Galilee to the village of Cana, which is about nine miles, the ruins of it are about nine miles north of Nazareth. All of this happens in a very power-packed week. Jesus being declared, these men being called to follow Him, and they do so and end up in the town of Cana.

Jesus and His disciples had also been invited to the wedding (verse 2).

MacArthur tells us more about Cana and Nazareth, both in Galilee:

we’re talking about Andrew and Peter and Philip and Nathanael and John and just incidentally Nathanael’s hometown, according to John 21:2, was Cana. This is a very small place. Nazareth, for example, the highest number we read about in terms of the population of Nazareth at the time of Jesus would be 500. That would be the max. Small place.

Cana is a village nine miles away, even smaller; maybe a few dozen people, a sort of a gathering place for the agricultural folks in that region; very, very small place. That would make this wedding a huge event. And obviously people from Nazareth would know those people because they lived nearby, they farmed together, the people in the outlying areas would come to Nazareth when they needed things that could only be gained in Nazareth.

It would also be true that if a town of Nazareth has five hundred or less people, they know each other. They’ve been there for generations; they aren’t mobile. They’re not only friends, many are family, and that would be extended into Cana. So we’re not surprised that Nathanael would be there because that’s his village. We’re not surprised that Mary would be there, she had lived in Nazareth for a long time. And we’re not also surprised that the rest of these folks from Galilee, the other men who came with Jesus, would also be there. Surely they would know people in that wedding as well.

Matthew Henry’s commentary mentions the biblical significance of Cana as the place for our Lord’s first miracle:

The place: it was at Cana in Galilee, in the tribe of Asher (Joshua 19:28), of which, before, it was said that he shall yield royal dainties, Genesis 49:20 Christ began to work miracles in an obscure corner of the country, remote from Jerusalem, which was the public scene of action, to show that he sought not honour from men (John 5:41; John 5:41), but would put honour upon the lowly. His doctrine and miracles would not be so much opposed by the plain and honest Galileans as they would be by the proud and prejudiced rabbies, politicians, and grandees, at Jerusalem.

Both commentators point out the significance of this first miracle occurring at a wedding.

Henry says:

The occasion itself was a marriage; probably one or both of the parties were akin to our Lord Jesus. The mother of Jesus is said to be there, and not to be called, as Jesus and his disciples were, which intimates that she was there as one at home. Observe the honour which Christ hereby put upon the ordinance of marriage, that he graced the solemnity of it, not only with his presence, but with his first miracle; because it was instituted and blessed in innocency, because by it he would still seek a godly seed, because it resembles the mystical union between him and his church

MacArthur says that by virtue of the fact that marriage is open to all cultures signifies its importance to humanity through common grace, ordained by God for an orderly society:

The fact that our Lord did His first miracle at a wedding emphasizes the sanctity of that covenant. Weddings matter. Public covenant matters. The ceremony matters; it always has, it always has. People are not married who just live together. People are married who make public covenant before God and before people.

Marriage is a condition of life designed by God, ordained by God, and authenticated in an open, public covenant. It is the highest and noblest and best of all human relationships. No other human relationship is as wonderful as marriage. It is called in the Bible “the grace of life.” It is the most wonderful and most blessed of all common graces. And we talk about common grace. What we mean by that is a grace gift from God to all people without regard to whether they believe in Him. That’s a common grace. And of all the common graces–the beauty of the world, a sunset, sleep, health, a good meal, falling in love–of all the common graces, the epitome of common graces is marriage. It is the best gift that God can give to humanity in general without regard to whether they know Him at all. Any society that honors marriage, any society that elevates marriage–a life-long commitment openly; a covenant made and kept between a man and a woman who rear children in the bond of that love–any society that honors marriage will be blessed temporally. It will prosper. It will be safe. It will be secure. It will know peace. It will have a minimum of crime.

On the other hand, any society that fails to honor marriage as a covenant, open covenant between a man and a woman for life, in which children are reared and cared for; any society that diminishes marriage, that fails to honor marriage, is corrupt, is doomed to chaos, turmoil, evil and judgment. Where marriage for life is not honored, where the covenant vows between a man and a woman are not kept, immorality abounds. Immorality overruns the culture, delinquency overruns the culture. The fabric of society is shredded and even escalates. Our Lord honored marriage by attending and doing His first miracle at a wedding.

When the wine ran out, Mary told Jesus that there was no more (verse 3).

How did she know? She was no doubt sensitive to and interested in everything that was going on.

Henry says that Mary and Jesus were the principal guests:

Christ and his mother and disciples were principal guests at this entertainment. The mother of Jesus (that was her most honourable title) was there; no mention being made of Joseph, we conclude him dead before this.

On the other hand, MacArthur thinks that Mary helped serve rather than be served:

Maybe Mary was there because she, of course, would have been who served, just her character as a godly woman demonstrated in her Magnificat at the time of our Lord’s birth. She would have been a wonderful woman, a loved woman, a beloved woman. She probably had some role to play in the wedding to serve as indicated by the fact that she sees the problem and brings it to Jesus.

MacArthur says that running out of wine was a big deal that would have reflected badly on the groom, who would have been preparing for the feast and married life since betrothal, likely to have been a year before. To run out of wine during a days-long wedding feast was a sign of trouble. Note that the couple did not consummate their marriage until the feast had ended:

this is a major event going on, it lasted for days. Some writers say they usually would start in the middle of the week and go on for many days. Sometimes they would start early in the week and go all week long, as long as seven days. When people came to this celebration, they came because there had been a betrothal, an engagement period. About a year earlier, the couple had been engaged. That’s a legal, binding, covenantal contract that could only be broken by divorce. But the marriage wasn’t consummated; it wasn’t consummated till the end of this party.

What was going on all that year? The husband was preparing a place for his bride. That’s what he did. He built a house for his bride. He may be extended on the father’s house, the family house. The bridegroom had full responsibility for all the cost of the wedding. And his job was to get everything ready, and then when everything was ready and the house was built and the house was furnished and all preparations were made and he had demonstrated that he had what it took to care for this girl and to provide for this girl, the party began. It was a great celebration because he had been working hard for a year

Well, a wedding, as I said, is the greatest occasion. No occasion like it. And the celebration is in full swing. Everybody’s having a wonderful time. That’s the party. And then comes the predicament, verse 3, when the wine ran out, that’s a problem. When the wine ran out, this is a major catastrophe. This is a colossal social embarrassment because if there was anything that the bridegroom had spent a year trying to prove is that he could take care of his bride. He had to build her a house; he had to acquire everything that was necessary. He had to demonstrate his ability to take care of her for the rest of her life. Her father was handing her over to him. This is a problem. Maybe he can’t plan. This is what all of you fathers who marry off your daughters fear. Is this guy going to be able to make a living? Is this guy going to be able to take care of you? Is this guy smoke ’n mirrors here? Is there substance there? This is the same issue. They ran out of wine at the greatest celebration that they would have had. Remember, life was tough, life was hard, labor was extreme. It was a difficult world to just survive and a celebration like this meant so much as a relief and then to run out of wine.

Jesus addresses Mary as ‘woman’ and asks what the lack of wine has to do with them; He then tells her that His hour has not yet come (verse 4).

In other words, with regard to miracles, He takes orders from His Heavenly Father, not a human being.

Henry says:

Now this was intended to be, First, A check to his mother for interposing in a matter which was the act of his Godhead, which had no dependence on her, and which she was not the mother of. Though, as man, he was David’s Son and hers; yet, as God, he was David’s Lord and hers, and he would have her know it. The greatest advancements must not make us forget ourselves and our place, nor the familiarity to which the covenant of grace admits us breed contempt, irreverence, or any kind or degree of presumption. Secondly, It was an instruction to others of his relations (many of whom were present here) that they must never expect him to have any regard to his kindred according to the flesh, in his working miracles, or that therein he should gratify them, who in this matter were no more to him than other people.

As for Jesus saying His hour had not yet come, He meant that God would direct His actions at the proper time.

Henry interprets this in a practical way, saying that Jesus wanted to make sure all the wine had been consumed first:

His mother moved him to help them when the wine began to fail (so it may be read, John 2:3; John 2:3), but his hour was not yet come till it was quite spent, and there was a total want; not only to prevent any suspicion of mixing some of the wine that was left with the water, but to teach us that man’s extremity is God’s opportunity to appear for the help and relief of his people. Then his hour is come when we are reduced to the utmost strait, and know not what to do. This encouraged those that waited for him to believe that though his hour was not yet come it would come. Note, The delays of mercy are not to be construed the denials of prayer.

MacArthur sees it as a mild rebuke:

It’s not harsh to say “Woman.” Some say it’s kind of the southern expression, “ma’am.” It’s not harsh, but it’s not intimate. It’s not mother. It’s courteous. By the way, it’s the same word that He used on the cross in John 19 when He said to her, “Woman, behold your son,” and handed her over to John. He called her “woman” there as well. Why? Because He is telling her we don’t any longer have the relationship we’ve had up till now. It’s over. She is no longer in a position to act as an authority in His life. She is no longer in a position to tell Him what to do, to make suggestions to Him. This would be a big change because I’m pretty confident that everything she ever asked of Him, everything she ever desired of Him, He gave out of His love. But she could no longer demand anything from Him. She played no role in His ministry.

Recall that the Gospel reading a few weeks ago for the First Sunday after Christmas Day was when Jesus stayed behind after Passover at the age of 12 to listen to the teachers at the temple.

MacArthur says:

When He was twelve years old, He gave her a preview of this moment, and He was in the temple talking to the officials, and He said, “I must be about My Father’s business.” And this day His Father’s business started and His mother’s business ended. From here on He was saying, “I don’t do your business; I do My Father’s business. I’m done with My mother’s business, fully engaged in My Father’s business.”

Can I even extend that? He never asked for suggestions from anybody…from anybody. In fact, when people gave Him suggestions, He normally rebuked them such as “Get behind Me, Satan.” Here His rebuke is a little milder. He says, “What does that have to do with us?” “What does that have to do with us?” This is so critically important. The years of compliance, the years of submission, the years of obedience are over. He is finished with His mother’s business and He is now doing His Father’s business. He says from here on, as we’ll see in John, “I only do what the Father tells Me to do. I only do what the Father wills that I do. I only do what I see the Father do. It is the Father who gives Me His Word, and it is what the Father speaks that I do.”

Mary lets the matter drop and tells the servants to obey Jesus in any instruction (verse 5).

Henry observes that Mary wanted the servants to adopt the same obedience that she would now adopt:

She directed them punctually to observe his orders, without disputing, or asking questions. Being conscious to herself of a fault in prescribing to him, she cautions the servants to take heed of the same fault, and to attend both his time and his way for supply: Whatsoever he saith unto you, do it, though you may think it ever so improper. If he saith, Give the guests water, when they call for wine, do it. If he saith, Pour out from the bottoms of the vessels that are spent, do it. He can make a few drops of wine multiply to so many draughts.” Note, Those that expect Christ’s favours must with an implicit obedience observe his orders. The way of duty is the way to mercy; and Christ’s methods must not be objected against.

John tells us that there were six stone water jars for purification purposes; each could hold 20 or 30 gallons of water (verse 6).

Henry explains that the purification rituals under Mosaic law were seen as a means to win favour with God:

Observe, 1. For what use these water-pots were intended: for the legal purifications from ceremonial pollutions enjoined by the law of God, and many more by the tradition of the elders. The Jews eat not, except they wash often (Mark 7:3), and they used much water in their washing, for which reason here were six large water-pots provided. It was a saying among them, Qui multâ utitur aquâ in lavando, multas consequetur in hoc mundo divitias–He who uses much water in washing will gain much wealth in this world.

At that time — and until relatively recently, in historical terms — water was unsafe to drink unless it had been purified. Wine (or beer) could purify it, which was why alcohol was added to water. One could drink it without becoming inebriated because of the small quantity of alcohol used.

Jesus told the servants to fill the vessels to the brim with water (verse 7).

MacArthur explains why He wanted them completely filled:

If they weren’t filled to the brim, somebody would just say He added wine to the water. But if the water goes all the way to the brim, there’s nothing left to…no room left. That was the point. And by the way, you have people who are completely disinterested parties now who are going to give testimony to this miracle. They don’t have any stake in this issue. They’re not trying to prove anything about Jesus. These are servants, whoever they were, the people who were serving there. They might not have been full-time servants. They might just have been friends and folks who were willing to do this. But they don’t have any issue. They are disinterested parties who are going to witness and give testimony to this miracle. So they filled the water pots with water. And they filled them up to the brim.

Jesus then instructed the servants to give some of the wine to the chief steward, which they did (verse 8).

MacArthur points out that the miracle occurred between verses 7 and 8:

it actually happened in the white space between verses 7 and 8. They filled it to the brim and all of a sudden they drew some out, took it to the head waiter, they took it to him and the head waiter tasted water which had become wine. This is so understated. This is like in the backdoor. Where’s the miracle? I mean, this is massive.

The chief steward tasted the wine; he was unaware of its origin, although the servants knew, and he called over the bridegroom (verse 9).

The chief steward told the bridegroom that the best wine was about to be served, rather than before (verse 10). The implication is that the host begins with the best wine first when people can experience it most: with clean tastebuds and the accompaniment of good food.

A good host serves the best of everything first and the lesser quality items later.

John concludes by saying that this was the first of our Lord’s signs, performed in Cana in Galilee, thereby revealing His glory; His disciples believed in him (verse 11).

Henry reminds us that they believed, although their faith at that stage would have been imperfect, as borne out by the Gospels:

Those whom he had called (John 1:35-43.1.51; John 1:35-43.1.51), who had seen no miracle, and yet followed him, now saw this, shared in it, and had their faith strengthened by it. Note, (1.) Even the faith that is true is at first but weak. The strongest men were once babes, so were the strongest Christians. (2.) The manifesting of the glory of Christ is the great confirmation of the faith of Christians.

This wine would have been the most perfect ever created, better than the best Petrus. Those wedding guests experienced a gustatorial blessing that no one since ever has.

In closing, this is what Matthew Henry’s commentary says about drink, putting paid to any abstemious notions — everything in moderation:

Temperance per force is a thankless virtue; but if divine providence gives us abundance of the delights of sense, and divine grace enables us to use them moderately, this is self-denial that is praiseworthy. He also intended that some should be left for the confirmation of the truth of the miracle to the faith of others. And we have reason to think that the guests at this table were so well taught, or at least were now so well awed by the presence of Christ, that none of them abused this wine to excess. These two considerations, drawn from this story, may be sufficient at any time to fortify us against temptations to intemperance: First, That our meat and drink are the gifts of God’s bounty to us, and we owe our liberty to use them, and our comfort in the use of them, to the mediation of Christ; it is therefore ungrateful and impious to abuse them.

This goodness of God’s creation presages the pleasure and perfection of the life to come:

Secondly, That, wherever we are, Christ has his eye upon us; we should eat bread before God (Exodus 18:12), and then we should not feed ourselves without fear. [2.] He has given us a specimen of the method he takes in dealing with those that deal with him, which is, to reserve the best for the last, and therefore they must deal upon trust. The recompence of their services and sufferings is reserved for the other world; it is a glory to be revealed. The pleasures of sin give their colour in the cup, but at the last bite; but the pleasures of religion will be pleasures for evermore.

May all reading this have a blessed Sunday.

Bible GenevaThe 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.

2 Corinthians 12:14-18

14 Here for the third time I am ready to come to you. And I will not be a burden, for I seek not what is yours but you. For children are not obligated to save up for their parents, but parents for their children. 15 I will most gladly spend and be spent for your souls. If I love you more, am I to be loved less? 16 But granting that I myself did not burden you, I was crafty, you say, and got the better of you by deceit. 17 Did I take advantage of you through any of those whom I sent to you? 18 I urged Titus to go, and sent the brother with him. Did Titus take advantage of you? Did we not act in the same spirit? Did we not take the same steps?

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Last week’s post discussed Paul’s further justification of his conduct in ministry, contrasting himself with the false teachers — ‘super-apostles’ — who were attacking his character.

He says that he plans to visit the Corinthians for a third time and says that, as a parent would, he does not seek their money but them for their own sakes, out of love (verse 14).

Matthew Henry’s commentary says (emphases mine):

He spared their purses, and did not covet their money: I seek not yours but you. He sought not to enrich himself, but to save their souls: he did not desire to make a property of them to himself, but to gain them over to Christ, whose servant he was.

Paul says that he will give whatever he has of himself to save their souls; as such, he asks whether he should be loved any less for his efforts (verse 15). To be sure, the Corinthians were not loving or appreciating Paul nearly as much as they should have done. In fact, the super-apostles were turning them against the true Apostle.

Henry interprets this verse as follows:

2. He would gladly spend and be spent for them (2 Corinthians 12:15; 2 Corinthians 12:15); that is, he was willing to take pains and to suffer loss for their good. He would spend his time, his parts, his strength, his interest, his all, to do them service; nay, so spend as to be spent, and be like a candle, which consumes itself to give light to others. 3. He did not abate in his love to them, notwithstanding their unkindness and ingratitude to him; and therefore was contented and glad to take pains with them, though the more abundantly he loved them the less he was loved, 2 Corinthians 12:15; 2 Corinthians 12:15. This is applicable to other relations: if others be wanting in their duty to us it does not follow therefore that we may neglect our duty to them.

Paul then says that he never took money from them to build up their church — something the false teachers were doing — yet, somehow the Corinthians believed the accusations that Paul was crafty and deceiving them (verse 16).

Paul asks if he or anyone he sent in his place took advantage of the Corinthians (verse 17).

Henry says:

If it should be objected by any that though he did not himself burden them, yet, being crafty, he caught them with guile, that is, he sent those among them who pillaged them, and afterwards he shared with them in the profit: “This was not so,” says the apostle; “I did not make a gain of you myself, nor by any of those whom I sent; nor did Titus, nor any others–We walked by the same spirit and in the same steps.” They all agreed in this matter to do them all the good they could, without being burdensome to them, to promote the gospel among them and make it as easy to them as possible.

Paul says that he urged Titus to go to the Corinthians and sent another godly man to accompany him; Paul asks the congregation if Titus took advantage of them or if he and his companion did not act in the same spirit as Paul (verse 18).

John MacArthur tells us:

Paul looked for some outside person, outside his own little group of friends, who was appointed by the churches so there would be no question about collusion here

Paul says, “I’ve covered those bases. You know the facts. You know I never took anything from you; you know Titus never defrauded you, and you know he came with a brother widely known and famous among the entire church for his preaching. And you now there was another brother sent as appointed by the churches as well. And you know we did all this so no suspicion could be grounded in any reality whatsoever.”

Titus went to teach the Corinthians but also to begin collecting for the poor church in Jerusalem:

Titus went, beginning the collection. A year later, 1 Corinthians was written, encouraging them to keep the collection going. Titus went back after 1 Corinthians, brought the severe letter, encouraged them to keep it going. He goes back with this letter, and he’s there again for the third time. They knew Titus, and they knew the men that were with him. And they were all trustworthy. More lies by the false teachers, more deception, more untruth, more assault.

Paul says in verse 18, “Did we not conduct ourselves in the same spirit and walk I the same steps?” Was there any difference in any of us? Weren’t we all the same? Didn’t we all treat you exactly the same? We were beyond legitimate accusation. We were beyond any justified suspicion. You know there was no deceit in our ministry. There was no cunning craftiness; there was only honesty; there was only integrity. Beloved, this is characteristic of a true man of God.

Poor Paul. He must have been exhausted having to defend himself to such an extent when he was so careful to be above reproach in everything he did. Everything he did, he did for Christ.

Paul’s self-defence continues next week.

Next time — 2 Corinthians 12:19-21

The First Sunday after Epiphany, also called the Baptism of the Lord, is January 9, 2022.

The readings for Year C can be found here.

The Gospel reading is as follows (emphases mine):

Luke 3:15-17, 21-22

3:15 As the people were filled with expectation, and all were questioning in their hearts concerning John, whether he might be the Messiah,

3:16 John answered all of them by saying, “I baptize you with water; but one who is more powerful than I is coming; I am not worthy to untie the thong of his sandals. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire.

3:17 His winnowing fork is in his hand, to clear his threshing floor and to gather the wheat into his granary; but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire.”

3:21 Now when all the people were baptized, and when Jesus also had been baptized and was praying, the heaven was opened,

3:22 and the Holy Spirit descended upon him in bodily form like a dove. And a voice came from heaven, “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.”

Commentary comes from Matthew Henry and John MacArthur.

I wrote an exegesis on Luke 3 last year for the Third Sunday of Advent. That post covers verses 15 through 17.

Verse 18, also included in that post, reads:

So, with many other exhortations, he proclaimed the good news to the people.

Here are verses 19 and 20, which give the sad outcome for John the Baptist’s ministry. This is a parenthetical insert. Herod the tetrarch had invited him on a few occasions to talk to him privately:

19 But when John rebuked Herod the tetrarch because of his marriage to Herodias, his brother’s wife, and all the other evil things he had done, 20 Herod added this to them all: He locked John up in prison.

Verses 21 and 22 follow on from verse 18. They are in a new section of Luke 3 entitled ‘The Baptism and Genealogy of Jesus’.

When all the people were being baptised, as the New International Version puts it, Jesus was also baptised and prayed, at which point Heaven opened up (verse 21).

Note that Jesus was the last to be baptised, waiting for the others.

Matthew Henry’s commentary says:

Christ would be baptized last, among the common people, and in the rear of them; thus he humbled himself, and made himself of no reputation, as one of the least, nay, as less than the least. He saw what multitudes were hereby prepared to receive him, and then he appeared.

Henry said that, when Jesus prayed after His baptism, it was not the same prayer that the people had made. They prayed for repentance and forgiveness of sin. He prayed that He would receive His Father’s favour:

He did not confess sin, as others did, for he had none to confess; but he prayed, as others did, for he would thus keep up communion with his Father. Note, The inward and spiritual grace of which sacraments are the outward and visible signs must be fetched in by prayer; and therefore prayer must always accompany them. We have reason to think that Christ now prayed for this manifestation of God’s favour to him which immediately followed; he prayed for the discovery of his Father’s favour to him, and the descent of the Spirit. What was promised to Christ, he must obtain by prayerAsk of me and I will give thee, c. Thus he would put an honour upon prayer, would tie us to it, and encourage us in it.

Furthermore, Henry says that our Lord’s prayer at that time reopened Heaven for our benefit:

Thus was there opened to Christ, and by him to usa new and living way into the holiest sin had shut up heaven, but Christ’s prayer opened it again. Prayer is an ordinance that opens heaven: Knock, and it shall be opened unto you.

John MacArthur tells us that our Lord’s baptism was the only time that the lives of Jesus and John the Baptist, his cousin, actually intersected:

… there was a two- or three-day, probably three days, when Jesus…day one, was baptized by John; day two was marked out as the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world; and then on the third day, came to where John was.  That would be the only time in their lives when they were actually together John went on ministering six months longer before he was imprisoned and then was imprisoned up to a year Jesus’ ministry, of course, went on as well So for six months at least their ministries went along together, but they were in two different locations and they didn’t meet So here you have just the one brief time when they met And Jesus came for the purpose of being baptized 

Until Heaven opened, Jesus was just someone in the crowd awaiting his turn for baptism:

That was His objective and what was to happen there was critical.  Putting Jesus into the water wouldn’t necessary signify anything.  John was doing that with masses and masses of people.  In fact, it tells us in verse 21, “It came about when all the people were baptized that Jesus also was baptized.”  He was one among many just being baptized there.  There was nothing to single Him out. Unless there was some divine intervention to identify Him, no one watching would know that this was any other than just another Jew coming down wanting to prepare himself for the Messiah by repenting of his sins and going through this baptism of repentance.

And so, when Jesus was baptized, all heaven broke loose because this was not just another baptism.

The Holy Spirit descended upon Jesus in the form of a dove; His Father’s voice came from Heaven saying, ‘You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased’ (verse 22).

MacArthur explains the Greek text and the significance of our Lord’s baptism:

This was a singular event to launch the ministry of the Messiah, the Son of God, the Savior of the world What John [Luke?] is focusing on in verses 21 and 22 is the voice that comes out of heaven.  When you study the Greek language, you learn its grammar, its construction.  And what you have here in the Greek construction is a main clause at the end of verse 22, “A voice came out of heaven, ‘Thou art My beloved Son, in Thee I am well pleased.'”  Here is God, out of heaven proclaiming Jesus as His Son, the Son of the Most High God, as Gabriel had said He was, Immanuel, God with us.  And the Father is also proclaiming His perfection saying He is well pleased with everything about Him.

That is the main clause of these two verses and everything else is subordinate to that.  What you have here are three infinitive clauses.  In the Greek language, some of you who know Greek and even remember your English grammar will remember the words “infinitive” and “participle.”  Infinitives and participles are verb forms that modify a main verb. They’re subordinate, and that’s what you have.  The focus of what Luke writes is the last statement, the statement of the Father that this is My Son. Everything else subordinates that It was a time when people were being baptized, that Jesus was baptized and He was praying and heaven opened and the Holy Spirit came down, and all of that culminated in the voice coming out of heaven which is the main emphasis.  So it is the divine testimony of the Father to the Son that Luke is interested in.

And it’s interesting to me that Luke doesn’t give us any details about the baptism He doesn’t give us anything in terms of meaning of the descent of the Holy Spirit. He just says the Holy Spirit descended in a form that was visible like a dove But he does give us the very word of the Father which is the main issue.

So, thirty years of perfect, sinless growth and maturing are over with Thirty years in which Jesus has increased in wisdom and stature and favor with God and man, as chapter 1 verse 52 says All the preparation is past and now He is ready to begin His ministry So He leaves Nazareth and takes the sixty-seventy-mile hike down from Nazareth to Judea and out to the Jordan river where John is because there He is to be baptized.

MacArthur says that we should not be too concerned about the brevity of Luke’s account:

The Holy Spirit inspired Luke only to say just a brief amount because Matthew wrote about this event, Mark wrote about this event, and so did John So we have four gospels to deal with and we can weave the accounts together and get a full understanding.

MacArthur warns us about falling into the heresy of ‘oneness’, which denies the Trinity, the Triune God that appears in Luke’s account:

One footnote before we look actually at the text, just a big picture footnote.  In these two verses we have the Trinity.  We have the Son being baptized We have the Holy Spirit descending And we have the Father speaking out of heaven All three are present Here is one of the great trinitarian texts of the New Testament There is the Father’s presence, the Spirit’s presence and the Son’s presence, and here is the key word, simultaneously.  And that is very important because there is a heresy that’s been around for a long, long timeIt’s ancient name is “Sebelianism.”  It’s… Another name that was used… It was used to refer to it in the past is “Modalism.”  It is the idea, it is the heresy that God is one God who sometimes appears as the Father, sometimes appears as the Son, and sometimes appears as the Spirit, that He has different modes, but He is not three in one simultaneously, He is not eternally three persons, He is eternally one person who puts on different masks at different times.

This… This ancient heresy has been dealt with through the years, time and time and time again, but has reached a point of popularity today because it is part of what is known as the “United Pentecostal Church,” which is a “oneness” church, which denies the eternal Trinity Now if you do not have an eternal Trinity, you have the wrong God If you have the wrong God, you have the wrong Jesus and the wrong gospel This is a sweeping heresy because it is a fountainhead heresy that literally pollutes all the rest of theology You cannot have Modalism in this event because you have the Son being baptized, the Spirit descending, and the Father speaking simultaneously.  This is one of the many passages that hits the “oneness” view with a death blow.

In fact, a good way to look at the text is to just take it from the viewpoint of the three persons of the Trinity.  Let’s begin with the Son.  With the Son the baptism, with the Spirit the anointing, with the Father the testimony …

The Son, first of all, verse 21 ... “It came about when all the people were baptized that Jesus also was baptized and while He was praying heaven was opened.”

Now it came about, and then all the infinitive modifying statements, that the Father affirmed or confirmed the identity of Jesus as His Son, the Son of the Most High, the anointed Messiah, Savior of the world

May all reading this have a blessed Sunday.

Epiphany Magi salesianity_blogspot_comThe Feast of the Epiphany takes place every year on January 6.

This feast day reminds us that Jesus also came to save Gentiles.

Commentaries on the main Lectionary readings for the day follow:

Epiphany — Old Testament reading — Isaiah 60:1-6

Epiphany — Epistle — Ephesians 3:1-12

Epiphany — Gospel — Matthew 2:1-12

The importance of this feast day is explored in the following posts:

A Lutheran pastor reflects on the Epiphany

More Lutheran reflections on the Epiphany

Remembering the Epiphany in chalk

The Epiphany and the Bible

Why the Epiphany is so important — a Lutheran perspective

A Lutheran perspective on the Magi

Jesuit astronomer discusses the Star of Bethlehem (2016)

What to remember about Epiphany

Many cultures celebrate with a king cake:

Epiphany and king cake — a history

As the Twelve Days of Christmas have now come to a close, it is time to remember another centuries-old custom. In Britain, it was time for women to return to spinning wool or other fibres, which they did on January 7, known as St Distaff’s Day. This post explains that there is no St Distaff; the word refers to the matrilineal branch of a family, as in ‘distaff half’ (wife).

The Monday after Epiphany is known as Plough Monday in parts of England, signifying that farm hands had to return to work:

The English tradition of Plough Monday

Plough Monday — the Monday after Epiphany

In the Church calendar, we have several Sundays in the season of Epiphany, the last one being Transfiguration Sunday on February 27, 2022. In churches where vestments are worn, the celebrant will wear a white chasuble.

Bible evangewomanblogspotcomThe 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.

2 Corinthians 12:1, 11-13

Paul’s Visions and His Thorn

12 I must go on boasting. Though there is nothing to be gained by it, I will go on to visions and revelations of the Lord.

Concern for the Corinthian Church

11 I have been a fool! You forced me to it, for I ought to have been commended by you. For I was not at all inferior to these super-apostles, even though I am nothing. 12 The signs of a true apostle were performed among you with utmost patience, with signs and wonders and mighty works. 13 For in what were you less favored than the rest of the churches, except that I myself did not burden you? Forgive me this wrong!

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Last week’s post discussed Paul’s preference for boasting of his weakness in order to demonstrate that God was working through him to preach the Good News; Paul gave a concrete example of persecution in Damascus.

From 2 Corinthians 10 to 2 Corinthians 13, Paul defends himself against the vile accusations, of which there were many, that the false teachers in that church were making against him.

He begins in this chapter by saying that he will go on boasting, though it serves little purpose, this time about the visions and revelations of the Lord (verse 1).

John MacArthur explains that Paul says they are unhelpful to the Corinthians because they could lead to self-aggrandising and because they cannot be verified. What Paul wants his converts to do is to focus on the Word of God (emphases mine below):

He just hates to do this, “Boasting is necessary” – he says again – “I have to do this, though it’s not helpful; it’s not helpful, but I will go on to visions and revelations of the Lord.”

Now, let me stop you right there; let me tell you something. Paul said, “I’ve had visions, and I’ve had revelations, and I know these false apostles haven’t. But you know something, folks? I’m only talking about these things because you’ve made it necessary for me to do this, but it’s not helpful.”

Boy, I’ll tell you, somebody ought to get a grip on that verse. “Visions and revelations of the Lord, which really happened to me, are not helpful for me to talk about.” That’s what that “not profitable” means. “All Scripture is given by inspiration of God” – 2 Timothy 3:16 – “and is profitable.”

“But talking about visions and revelations is not profitable. It’s not profitable to me to talk about them. I have had them. It is not profitable for me to talk about them because they tend to build my pride. They become temptations to pride.” It’s not profitable for me to talk about them to you, because they can’t help you, because they were personal visions and revelations given to me. They can’t help the Church either.

That’s why, when Paul left Ephesus in Acts 20, he commended them not to visions and revelations, but to the word of his grace which is able to build you up. Right? This is what builds you up.

He says, “Look, you have forced me to talk about visions and revelations. It is not helpful. It is not helpful.” In fact, the word means useless. “It is useless.” It’s useless. Why? It just messes with my pride. It was personal for me; it was personal for me; it has no bearing on you. It was personal for me; it has no bearing on you. What has a bearing on you is the Word of God.

Paul then describes ‘a man in Christ’ who sees the ‘third heaven’, i.e. paradise. That man was Paul himself.

Matthew Henry’s commentary tells us this about the third heaven:

It was certainly a very extraordinary honour done him: in some sense he was caught up into the third heaven, the heaven of the blessed, above the aërial heaven, in which the fowls fly, above the starry heaven, which is adorned with those glorious orbs: it was into the third heaven, where God most eminently manifests his glory. We are not capable of knowing all, nor is it fit we should know very much, of the particulars of that glorious place and state; it is our duty and interest to give diligence to make sure to ourselves a mansion there; and, if that be cleared up to us, then we should long to be removed thither, to abide there for ever. This third heaven is called paradise (2 Corinthians 12:4; 2 Corinthians 12:4), in allusion to the earthly paradise out of which Adam was driven for his transgression; it is called the paradise of God (Revelation 2:7), signifying to us that by Christ we are restored to all the joys and honours we lost by sin, yea, to much better.

These verses are in the Lectionary. As such, they will not be discussed in detail in this post, however, note that Paul humbly speaks of himself in the third person. After this revelation, Satan then torments Paul, whether physically or spiritually with ‘a thorn’. Our Lord responds by saying that His grace is sufficient, His power made perfect in Paul’s weakness:

I know a man in Christ who fourteen years ago was caught up to the third heaven—whether in the body or out of the body I do not know, God knows. And I know that this man was caught up into paradise—whether in the body or out of the body I do not know, God knows— and he heard things that cannot be told, which man may not utter. On behalf of this man I will boast, but on my own behalf I will not boast, except of my weaknesses— though if I should wish to boast, I would not be a fool, for I would be speaking the truth; but I refrain from it, so that no one may think more of me than he sees in me or hears from me. So to keep me from becoming conceited because of the surpassing greatness of the revelations,[a] a thorn was given me in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to harass me, to keep me from becoming conceited. 8 Three times I pleaded with the Lord about this, that it should leave me. But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. 10 For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong.

MacArthur says that Paul never spoke or wrote of this experience until now, having been compelled to do so:

Such extrabiblical experience is not helpful to him or anybody else at this point. At the time it happened, God meant it for him. It’s unnecessary to supplement the teaching of the Word. By the way, the only revelation we need, in addition to Scripture, is the revelation of Jesus Christ at His second coming. That’s the only revelation we need.

And nonetheless, for the sake of his argument here, this is what he says, “I will go on to visions and revelations of the Lord.” Now, all visions that he actually had would include a revelation, but not all revelations would be in the form of a vision. So, he had visions and revelations. And I don’t want to go through all of them, but you can read Acts 9; Acts 13, 16, 18, 20, 22, 23, 27, and it refers to visions and revelations. And he had numerous ones

But he says, “Let me give you the – let me give you the supreme of all the visions. And he had seen the Lord on the Damascus Road, and he had seen the Lord come to him when he was in jail. And some incredible things, when he was in Jerusalem – and some incredible things were going to happen to that man – visions and revelations.

But here’s the one he chooses, verse 2. By the way, he received his gospel by revelation, not in a vision form, but by revelation. So, God had directly spoken to him. God had given him visions and given him direct revelations. But he says, in verse 2, “Let me pick the best one. I know a man” – and there again is his humility. Most people would say, “I went to heaven, folks. I went to heaven.” He speaks in the third person, though. He says, “I know a man in Christ” – that’s a Christian who is in Christ – “I know a Christian who fourteen years ago” – what? Do you want to know something? He’s just breaking 14 years of silence. Since he went to heaven, he had never mentioned it for 14 years. It’s not helpful. It’s useless. What good is it for me to say to you, “I went to heaven?” That doesn’t help me; that just feeds my pride. That doesn’t help you; it just makes you feel like you got left out. Well, it doesn’t help anybody.

Paul says that the Corinthians have forced him to become a fool by revealing this episode, adding that they should have been defending him to the false teachers; he refers to them sarcastically as ‘super-apostles’ when they are nothing of the sort, and says he is ‘nothing’ (verse 11).

Paul means that he lacks their verve and panache which have seduced the Corinthians. Yet, Paul was the true Apostle who planted their church and instilled pure teaching among them.

MacArthur analyses this verse as follows:

This whole idea of having to defend himself is a kind of folly to him. Only fools brag. Bragging is characteristic of fools. And he’s been forced to have to speak about his superiority, and he really doesn’t like it. He would rather speak about his failures and his weaknesses and his suffering and all of that; he’s comfortable doing that. He’s comfortable talking about himself as a nothing and a nobody and a cracked pot, an earthen vessel, nothing more than that. He is a former blasphemer, a persecutor and injurious, a killer of Christians. He is a chief of sinners, and he’s content to talk about that, because then he can put the power of God on display. But he really does not like to talk about his superiority as an apostle.

And so, there’s a kind of foolishness in having to do it, but he’s been forced to it. Verse 11, “I have become foolish; you yourselves compelled me.” In chapter 11, verse 1, verse 16, verse 17, verse 21; chapter 12, verse 6 – and here again, for about the fifth or sixth time, he – it’s the sixth time, I guess – he says, “It’s foolish to do this, but you have forced me to do it. I really don’t have a choice; for the sake of preserving the gospel and the truth, and honoring Christ, and keeping you away from destructive error, you have forced me into this. You’ve compelled me to do it.”

The seriousness of what was at stake is indicated in chapter 11, verse 3, “I am afraid lest, as the serpent deceived Eve by his craftiness, your minds should be led astray from the simplicity and purity of devotion to Christ” – I’m afraid Satan’s going to deceive you like he did Eve and lead you away from Christ into error, and that is what is at stake, and that is why, of necessity, I’ve had to do this foolish boasting.

And then he indicts them a little, in the middle of the verse, “I should” – “Actually” – he says – “in truth I should have been commended by you” – you ought to be the one rising to my defense. It didn’t happen.

Paul reminds the Corinthians that he is the true Apostle, the one who performed signs, wonders and mighty works with utmost patience (verse 12).

He mentions these because they witnessed them. More importantly, they showed the power of God at work through Paul, the self-described ‘nobody’.

MacArthur tells us why we should ignore evangelists who claim to be doing the same things today. It is not possible:

Now we’re talking about what was visible, what was repeatable, what did occur and was very clearly the power of God at work. They saw miracles. They saw things that caused them to be astonished and were signs pointing to Paul as a true apostle. Now, this is a very important verse. There are people going all across the country, all across the world, claiming to do signs, wonders, and miracles, are there not? They’ve been around for years and years. They set up tents in cities, and they do their basic gimmick there. They have churches; they get today – the big tent today is television. They set up their programs on television; they fill statements, bring in cameras, and ply their craft and their art there. They claim to be the workers of signs and wonders and miracles. This is everywhere today. And this is confusing to many people, not only Christian people but non-Christian people are equally confused by it. And while it may draw huge crowds because it plays on people’s desperation, and it plays on doubt, looking for proof, and it plays on people’s fascination with the supernatural and with the miraculous, and the excitement, and all that’s there, and the emotional highs.

Christ gave His Apostles — Paul included — the power to heal and to work miracles to the glory of God.

MacArthur explains the marks of a true Apostle:

How do you – how do you identify an apostle? Well, an apostle had to have seen the risen Christ. Is that not true? Acts chapter 1 makes it very clear that someone who’s going to be chosen to fill the position of Judas, who of course was a suicide – had committed suicide after his terrible betrayal of Christ, somebody was going to be permitted to take his place in the Twelve, and it turned out to be Matthiashad to have been an eyewitness of the resurrection, had to have been an eyewitness of the resurrection, had to have had a direct call from the Lord Jesus Christ, be appointed by the Lord Jesus Christ Himself, which was done by a miraculous, superintending of the casting of lots by which Matthias was selected by the Lord Himself. The apostle Paul saw the Lord on the Damascus Road and several other times and was personally called out of darkness into light and called to be an apostle by Christ Himself.

So, we could say one of the signs of an apostle was that he had seen the risen Christ and been directly and personally called by Christ to this office. There are a number of other remarkable characteristics and elements of apostleship. The apostles were also marked out – they had the benchmark of a plenary knowledgeplenary means a comprehensive or whole knowledge – complete knowledge – they had a plenary knowledge of the gospel derived by direct revelation from Jesus Christ.

The 12 apostles didn’t read the gospel from anybody that had written it down. They got it directly from Jesus Christ. He explained to them why He came. He explained to them that He had to die. He explained to them that He would rise again. He explained to the that He would go to heaven. He explained to them that He would return and establish His kingdom on the earth. Jesus explained it all to them with His own lips during His time on earth, including His post-resurrection 40 days, when He filled in all the remaining teaching about the kingdom.

And so it was with the apostle Paul, that he tells the Galatians He received His gospel from no man, but from the Lord Jesus directly. Remember after his conversion he was taken out in the desert? And he was given the message of Jesus Christ and the clarity of the gospel directly in a three-year period at that time from the Lord. It was characteristic of an apostle to have had a plenary, complete knowledge of the gospel derived by immediate revelation from Jesus Christ. And that was true of the apostle Paul.

It was also characteristic of apostles that they were inspired to write down revelation. They were inspired by God to write down revelation. And that inspiration was the Holy Spirit rendering that apostle infallible in the communication of that revelation.

When John wrote his Gospel, and when he wrote his epistles, and when he wrote Revelation, he wrote it infallibly. When Peter wrote his epistles, he wrote them infallibly. And even the associates of the apostles – like Mark, who wrote the Gospel of Mark – wrote it infallibly. When Matthew wrote Matthew, it was infallible. When Luke, the associate of Paul, wrote his Gospel, it was infallibly superintended. So, the writers were either apostles or those very intimately linked to the apostles, and they were superintended by God as to infallibility when they received this revelation.

It is also true that there were external protections placed upon the life of the apostle during ministry. And Paul certainly could give testimony to that as the Lord protected him and looked over him and delivered him from many, many things that could have taken his life.

Another sign of an apostle was utter and absolute fidelity to the truth of God and conformity to the authenticated standard of truth. The “apostles’ doctrine” would be the term used in the book of Acts for it. The apostles were true to that doctrine delivered to them.

Another mark of an apostle benchmark authenticating insignia of an apostle was success in preaching the gospel. They were empowered to successfully preach the gospel. So, we could say that when you look at the life of Paul, you would see all of that: someone who had seen the risen Christ; someone who had been directly called into this apostleship by Christ; one who had directly received his revelation of the knowledge of the gospel from Jesus Himself; one who had been protected to become supernaturally infallible, as it were, when he was the instrument of writing Scripture; one who had been protected from death and delivered from all kinds of difficulty in the ongoing care of his ministry; one who was faithful to the truth as it was laid down, the standard of faith through the apostles; and one who was successful in his preaching ministry; and certainly, in Paul’s case, to the founding of many, many churches. That’s the big picture.

But what Paul really wants us to focus on is narrowing that down. Back to verse 12, “The signs of a true apostle were performed among you with all perseverance. I went – I persevered in all of my ministry, but particularly by signs and wonders and miracles” – what he really wants you to look at is the signs and wonders and powers, the word being dunamis again – “as credentials.” He’s referring specifically to the supernatural deeds done through him. How could they question this? Because he says, “They were performed” – in verse 12 – “among you. You were there; you saw them.”

Now, what was this miracle power that the apostles had? Well, all you have to do is go back to chapter 10 of Matthew, and it tells you right there. When Jesus called the apostles, the Twelve, and then later Paul, He gave them authority over unclean spirits to cast them out. He gave them miracle powers, supernatural power over Satan’s kingdom of demons. And they could cast demons out. They had power over the kingdom of darkness. Secondly, to heal every kind of disease and every kind of sickness. Bottom line, healing power with no limitations. None. They could heal every kind of disease and every kind of sickness. And their healing was always the same: immediate, complete, instantaneous healing. So, they had power over the kingdom of darkness, and they could cast demons out. They could cast them out of anybody. In fact, ever demon casting that occurred in the New Testament record of the gospels by the apostles, demons were cast out of non-believers. Non-believers. There wasn’t some Christian formula going on or some Christian exorcism. They were just commanded to come out of unbelievers because the apostles had power over demons. And, of course, they had power over sickness as well.

Now, the apostle Paul also had this same power, and he demonstrated it in Corinth. If you go back to Acts 18, where it tells about the founding of the Corinthian church, none of the miracles are recorded there. It doesn’t tell us about any of the miracles because the main emphasis, of course, of the text was to discuss the founding of the church and the preaching of the truth, to which the miracles pointed, but the miracles are not discussed there.

Paul, still rankling at the fact that the Corinthians were not defending his reputation, asks how they were less favoured than the other congregations he had put together except that he did not demand any money off them; he sarcastically asks them to forgive him that wrong (verse 13).

The false teachers criticised Paul for not asking for money, something they were doing.

One would think that the Corinthians would have been only too happy not to have been asked for money. Personally, I would have been delighted. That would have signified that Paul was the real deal, teaching, preaching and healing because he loved the Lord so much that he wanted people to come to faith at no obligation.

MacArthur says:

In other words, he says, “Look, you saw the miracles, the signs, the wonders, the mighty miracles that were done there. So how is it that you can buy into the lie that you had an inferior ministry from a sub-apostle? You weren’t cheated. All the churches that Paul founded were founded with God’s truth and God’s power.”

Then he turns the corner. He says, “The only thing that you didn’t get was a bill,” – verse 13 – “except that I myself didn’t become a burden to you. I just didn’t charge you; that’s the only thing you didn’t get. You got all the power; you got the signs, the wonders, the miracles; you got the truth. I came and I preached the true gospel to you. The only thing you didn’t get was a bill.” Paul had determined from the start not to burden the Corinthians with paying his support and the support of those who traveled with him.

Perhaps it was a poor church to start with. Perhaps he wanted – and I think this is more primary – he wanted to avoid the stigma that was attached to false teachers who were all in it for the money, and got as much money out of everybody as they could. And Paul knew he could be easily lumped with all the rest of the false teachers if he operated the way they operated. And even though he, according to 1 Corinthians 9:13 to 15, had told the Corinthians in his first letter that he had a right to be supported if he preached the gospel, and that every soldier fights because he’s paid, and every farmer expects to take in the crop, and so should every preacher expect support – he made that clear – even though he had a right to that, he had disdained that right, because he didn’t want to make the gospel chargeable, he did not want to be subject to any unjust criticism, and he didn’t want to get lumped in with the false teachers.

I hope that John MacArthur’s signs of a true Apostle make it clear that, despite what televangelists and even seminary professors say, there is no miraculous healing going on today.

It is probably a good idea not to frequent the average Christian bookshop for that very reason. It is likely to have a number of best-sellers about miraculous healing and reasons why it should continue. Stay away from these snake-oil salesmen. Focus on the Bible instead.

In the next instalment, Paul discusses his plan to return to Corinth.

Next time — 2 Corinthians 12:14-18

The Second Sunday after Christmas Day is January 2, 2021.

The readings for Year C can be found here.

The Gospel is as follows (emphases mine):

John 1:(1-9), 10-18

1:1 In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.

1:2 He was in the beginning with God.

1:3 All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being. What has come into being

1:4 in him was life, and the life was the light of all people.

1:5 The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.

1:6 There was a man sent from God, whose name was John.

1:7 He came as a witness to testify to the light, so that all might believe through him.

1:8 He himself was not the light, but he came to testify to the light.

1:9 The true light, which enlightens everyone, was coming into the world.

1:10 He was in the world, and the world came into being through him; yet the world did not know him.

1:11 He came to what was his own, and his own people did not accept him.

1:12 But to all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God,

1:13 who were born, not of blood or of the will of the flesh or of the will of man, but of God.

1:14 And the Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory as of a father’s only son, full of grace and truth.

1:15 (John testified to him and cried out, “This was he of whom I said, ‘He who comes after me ranks ahead of me because he was before me.'”)

1:16 From his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace.

1:17 The law indeed was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ.

1:18 No one has ever seen God. It is God the only Son, who is close to the Father’s heart, who has made him known.

My post on John 1:1-14, read on Christmas Day, can be found here.

Commentary for John 1:15-18 comes from Matthew Henry and John MacArthur.

John MacArthur tells us that these first 18 verses are a prologue. They explain the theology that we must understand and accept in order to know the true Jesus:

John opens his gospel with 18 verses that we would call a prologue – a prologue. This is John talking theologically. Starting in verse 19, he goes into the narrative part of it in which he starts to tell the story of Jesus’ life in the world. And he goes into the statements that Jesus makes and the works that He does and the miracles He performs and gives us the wonderful story all the way to the cross and the resurrection. But in the opening prologue, he makes his thesis statement, and the statement in the opening prologue is that Jesus is God in human flesh, that He is the Creator of the universe who has become a part of His creation.

He is pure, eternal being who has become a man. That is John’s message, that Jesus is not a created man, He is God in human flesh. And that, dear friends, that is the most essential doctrine in the Christian faith. That is it. And that is why there have been and continue to be so many heresies concerning Jesus Christ, concerning the essence or the nature or the person of Jesus Christ. This is the important doctrine in the Christian faith. It must be known, it must be believed, for someone to escape hell and enter heaven, that Jesus is God.

Summed up in four words at the beginning of verse 14, “The Word became flesh.” The Word became flesh. That is the central truth of Christianity, that is the theme of John’s gospel, and that is the required conviction for anyone who will escape hell, to understand that the Word became flesh.

Now, we’ve already learned in the opening thirteen verses that what that is saying is that the one, true, eternal God became human. That the infinite One became finite, that the eternal One entered time, that the omnipresent One became confined in the space of a human body, that the invisible One became visible. The true church of Jesus Christ has always believed that. It has always proclaimed that. It has always demanded that. Any other view of Christ is unacceptable – it is a damning heresy. This is the only view of Christ by which someone can escape hell and enter heaven. This is the reason John makes such a case out of the deity of Jesus Christ.

He gives his purpose in chapter 20, verse 31, at the end of his gospel. “These have been written” – everything in the gospel up to this point – “so that you may believe that Jesus is the anointed One, the Son of God, and that believing, you may have life in His name.” The only way to have eternal life is by believing in Him, believing who He is, first of all, and what He has done.

So in His opening prologue, John talks about the nature of Jesus Christ. He introduces Him as “the Word.” This is a metaphor which speaks of Christ as coming from God, as God revealing Himself, disclosing Himself, speaking. And he says, “The Word was in the beginning.” In other words, He already existed when everything that began, began, which means He’s eternal. He was with God, which means though He was God, He was at the same time distinct from God. He was with God and was God. That is Trinitarian. There is one God and yet three persons. Jesus is God and yet He is with God.

The theology here is profound. And in the beginning when everything came into existence that came into existence, He “was” – the verb “to be,” pure being, He eternally existed. To prove that, everything that came into being came into being through Him, and without Him did not anything come into being that came into being – and that because He is life. He has life in Himself. He is the Creator. And the Creator whose eternal being, verse 5 says, came into the darkness of this world like a light. And that’s how he introduces this incredible book, the arrival of the Light, the very life of God, the very Word of God, into the world.

Now, I think it would be safe to say that John was legitimately obsessed with this great foundational doctrine. And again I urge you, whenever anybody talks about religion and gets to Jesus, you want to focus right down on what Jesus they are talking about. Are they talking about the One who is the eternal God? The One who is the Creator who existed infinitely forever? Or are they talking about some other Jesus? John is obsessed with this.

John also wrote about those themes in his two letters, 1 and 2 John. John also wrote Revelation.

MacArthur explains:

… just to show you what was so much on his heart, turn to 1 John for a moment – 1 John – and John launches his epistle, and he’s writing this epistle to believers to identify for them the marks of true salvation. And listen how he starts. He starts very much like he started his gospel. “What was from the beginning,” that’s Christ, who, when the beginning began, already existed because He’s eternal.

“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, namely the Word of Life – and the life was manifested.” There is very parallel language. The eternal Word, life itself, manifested itself in the world, John said, and we saw it with our own eyes. And we looked at it, and we heard, and we touched Him with our hands. We’ve seen, he says in verse 2, we testify, we proclaim to you the eternal life – you could capitalize that, The Eternal Life, meaning the Son of God – which was with the Father and was manifested to us – and we’ve seen and we heard and we proclaim to you.

He can’t get over this. John is absolutely blown away by the fact that he has heard, he has seen, he has looked deeply into the face of, and he has touched the Creator of the universe in a human form. I think this would be something to obsess about. That’s where John is. And what we have seen and heard and touched, we declare to you so that, verse 3, you may have fellowship with us, so that you can come into the kingdom, believing in Him, and our fellowship is with the Father and with His Son Jesus Christ. And these are things we write, so that your joy may be made complete, because complete joy can only be found in knowing Him.

You know, John never got over it. You wonder why John refers to himself in his gospel, not by his name, but he calls himself “the disciple whom Jesus loved” or “the disciple who leaned on Jesus” because he never, ever could fathom the reality that this is the eternal Creator God, the one true God in human form, and He loves me, and He walks with me, and He talks with me, and I touch Him, and I fellowship with Him, and I can’t get over it. This is the obsession of all of his writing.

John refers again to John the Baptist, who said that Jesus came after him in birth order but in eternal terms He comes first because He has been present before all creation (verse 15).

Matthew Henry’s commentary says:

He is before me, is my first, [1.] In respect of seniority: he was before me, for he was before Abraham, John 8:58; John 8:58. Nay, he was before all things, Colossians 1:17. I am but of yesterday, he from eternity. It was but in those days that John Baptist came (Matthew 3:1), but the goings forth of our Lord Jesus were of old, from everlasting, Micah 5:2. This proves two natures in Christ. Christ, as man, came after John as to his public appearance; Christ, as God, was before him; and how could he otherwise be before him but by an eternal existence? [2.] In respect of supremacy; for he was my prince; so some princes are called the first; proton, “It is he for whose sake and service I am sent: he is my Master, I am his minister and messenger.”

John the Apostle says that from the fullness of Jesus we have received grace upon grace (verse 16).

Henry gives us the various interpretations of ‘grace upon grace’:

1. We have received grace for grace. Our receivings by Christ are all summed up in this one word, grace; we have received kai charineven grace, so great a gift, so rich, so invaluable; we have received no less than grace; this is a gift to be spoken of with an emphasis. It is repeated, grace for grace; for to every stone in this building, as well as to the top-stone, we must cry, Grace, grace. Observe,

(1.) The blessing received. It is grace; the good will of God towards us, and the good work of God in us. God’s good will works the good work, and then the good work qualifies us for further tokens of his good will. As the cistern receives water from the fulness of the fountain, the branches sap from the fulness of the root, and the air light from the fulness of the sun, so we receive grace from the fulness of Christ.

(2.) The manner of its reception: Grace for gracecharin anti charitos. The phrase is singular, and interpreters put different senses upon it, each of which will be of use to illustrate the unsearchable riches of the grace of Christ. Grace for grace bespeaks, [1.] The freeness of this grace. It is grace for grace’s sake; so Grotius. We receive grace, not for our sakes (be it known to us), but even so, Father, because it seemed good in thy sight. It is a gift according to grace, Romans 12:6. It is grace to us for the sake of grace to Jesus Christ. God was well pleased in him, and is therefore well pleased with us in him, Ephesians 1:6. [2.] The fulness of this grace. Grace for grace is abundance of grace, grace upon grace (so Camero), one grace heaped upon another; as skin for skin is skin after skin, even all that a man has, Job 2:4. It is a blessing poured out, that there shall not be room to receive it, plenteous redemption: one grace a pledge of more grace. Joseph-He will add. It is such a fulness as is called the fulness of God which we are filled with. We are not straitened in the grace of Christ, if we be not straitened in our own bosoms. [3.] The serviceableness of this grace. Grace for grace is grace for the promoting and advancing of grace. Grace to be exercised by ourselves; gracious habits for gracious acts. Grace to be ministered to others; gracious vouchsafements for gracious performances: grace is a talent to be traded with. The apostles received grace (Romans 1:5; Ephesians 3:8), that they might communicate it, 1 Peter 4:10. [4.] The substitution of New-Testament grace in the room and stead of Old-Testament grace: so Beza. And this sense is confirmed by what follows (John 1:17; John 1:17); for the Old Testament had grace in type, the New Testament has grace in truth. There was a grace under the Old Testament, the gospel was preached then (Galatians 3:8); but that grace is superseded, and we have gospel grace instead of it, a glory which excelleth, 2 Corinthians 3:10. Discoveries of grace are now more clear, distributions of grace far more plentiful; this is grace instead of grace. [5.] It bespeaks the augmentation and continuance of grace. Grace for grace is one grace to improve, confirm, and perfect another grace. We are changed into the divine image, from glory to glory, from one degree of glorious grace to another, 2 Corinthians 3:18. Those that have true grace have that for more grace, James 4:6. When God gives grace he saith, Take this in part; for he who hath promised will perform. [6.] It bespeaks the agreeableness and conformity of grace in the saints to the grace that is in Jesus Christ; so Mr. Clark. Grace for grace is grace in us answering to grace in him, as the impression upon the wax answers the seal line for line. The grace we receive from Christ changes us into the same image (2 Corinthians 3:18), the image of the Son (Romans 8:29), the image of the heavenly, 1 Corinthians 15:49.

John makes it clear that the Old Covenant was imperfect and only temporary. The law came from God via Moses but with the New Covenant in Jesus Christ we have grace and truth (verse 17).

Henry explains how excellent and unsurpassed the New Covenant is:

(1.) Its preference above the law of Moses: The law was given by Moses, and it was a glorious discovery, both of God’s will concerning man and his good will to man; but the gospel of Christ is a much clearer discovery both of duty and happiness. That which was given by Moses was purely terrifying and threatening, and bound with penalties, a law which could not give life, which was given with abundance of terror (Hebrews 12:18); but that which is given by Jesus Christ is of another nature; it has all the beneficial uses of the law, but not the terror, for it is grace: grace teaching (Titus 2:11), grace reigning, Romans 5:21. It is a law, but a remedial law. The endearments of love are the genius of the gospel, not the affrightments of law and the curse. (2.) Its connection with truth: grace and truth. In the gospel we have the discovery of the greatest truths to be embraced by the understanding, as well as of the richest grace to be embraced by the will and affections. It is a faithful saying, and worthy of all acceptation; that is, it is grace and truth. The offers of grace are sincere, and what we may venture our souls upon; they are made in earnest, for it is grace and truth. It is grace and truth with reference to the law that was given by Moses. For it is, [1.] The performance of all the Old-Testament promises. In the Old Testament we often find mercy and truth put together, that is, mercy according to promise; so here grace and truth denote grace according to promise. See Luke 1:72; 1 Kings 8:56. [2.] It is the substance of all the Old-Testament types and shadows. Something of grace there was both in the ordinances that were instituted for Israel and the providences that occurred concerning Israel; but they were only shadows of good things to come, even of the grace that is to be brought to us by the revelation of Jesus Christ. He is the true paschal lamb, the true scape-goat, the true manna. They had grace in the picture; we have grace in the person, that is, grace and truth. Grace and truth came, egeneto–was made; the same word that was used (John 1:3; John 1:3) concerning Christ’s making all things. The law was only made known by Moses, but the being of this grace and truth, as well as the discovery of them, is owing to Jesus Christ; this was made by him, as the world at first was; and by him this grace and truth do consist.

John ends his prologue by saying that no one has ever seen God the Father; it is only through God the Son that the Father becomes known (verse 18).

Henry interprets the verse as follows:

This was the grace and truth which came by Christ, the knowledge of God and an acquaintance with him. Observe,

(1.) The insufficiency of all other discoveries: No man hath seen God at any time. This intimates, [1.] That the nature of God being spiritual, he is invisible to bodily eyes, he is a being whom no man hath seen, nor can see, 1 Timothy 6:16. We have therefore need to live by faith, by which we see him that is invisible, Hebrews 11:27. [2.] That the revelation which God made of himself in the Old Testament was very short and imperfect, in comparison with that which he has made by Christ: No man hath seen God at any time; that is, what was seen and known of God before the incarnation of Christ was nothing to that which is now seen and known; life and immortality are now brought to a much clearer light than they were then. [3.] That none of the Old-Testament prophets were so well qualified to make known the mind and will of God to the children of men as our Lord Jesus was, for none of them had seen God at any time. Moses beheld the similitude of the Lord (Numbers 12:8), but was told that he could not see his face, Exodus 33:20. But this recommends Christ’s holy religion to us that it was founded by one that had seen God, and knew more of his mind than any one else ever did.

This is why we cannot know God unless we believe in Jesus Christ. Only He can reveal the Father to us.

This is the wonder and awe of the Christmas story.

We are infinitely blessed that our Lord Jesus condescended to come to earth to be among us, sharing our human form but being all human and all divine, without sin from the beginning and forever more.

Forbidden Bible Verses will appear tomorrow.

The Second Sunday after Christmas Day is January 2, 2021.

Readings for Year C follow. Emphases mine below.

First reading

Through the word of the Lord, Jeremiah assures the captives that God will restore them to their own land and in due course send them the Messiah, the fulfilment of all His promises to Israel.

Jeremiah 31:7-14

31:7 For thus says the LORD: Sing aloud with gladness for Jacob, and raise shouts for the chief of the nations; proclaim, give praise, and say, “Save, O LORD, your people, the remnant of Israel.”

31:8 See, I am going to bring them from the land of the north, and gather them from the farthest parts of the earth, among them the blind and the lame, those with child and those in labor, together; a great company, they shall return here.

31:9 With weeping they shall come, and with consolations I will lead them back, I will let them walk by brooks of water, in a straight path in which they shall not stumble; for I have become a father to Israel, and Ephraim is my firstborn.

31:10 Hear the word of the LORD, O nations, and declare it in the coastlands far away; say, “He who scattered Israel will gather him, and will keep him as a shepherd a flock.”

31:11 For the LORD has ransomed Jacob, and has redeemed him from hands too strong for him.

31:12 They shall come and sing aloud on the height of Zion, and they shall be radiant over the goodness of the LORD, over the grain, the wine, and the oil, and over the young of the flock and the herd; their life shall become like a watered garden, and they shall never languish again.

31:13 Then shall the young women rejoice in the dance, and the young men and the old shall be merry. I will turn their mourning into joy, I will comfort them, and give them gladness for sorrow.

31:14 I will give the priests their fill of fatness, and my people shall be satisfied with my bounty, says the LORD.

First reading – Catholic

This reading from the Book of Sirach contains the same message and themes as that from Jeremiah.

Sirach 24:1-12

24:1 Wisdom praises herself, and tells of her glory in the midst of her people.

24:2 In the assembly of the Most High she opens her mouth, and in the presence of his hosts she tells of her glory:

24:3 “I came forth from the mouth of the Most High, and covered the earth like a mist.

24:4 I dwelt in the highest heavens, and my throne was in a pillar of cloud.

24:5 Alone I compassed the vault of heaven and traversed the depths of the abyss.

24:6 Over waves of the sea, over all the earth, and over every people and nation I have held sway.”

24:7 Among all these I sought a resting place; in whose territory should I abide?

24:8 “Then the Creator of all things gave me a command, and my Creator chose the place for my tent. He said, ‘Make your dwelling in Jacob, and in Israel receive your inheritance.’

24:9 Before the ages, in the beginning, he created me, and for all the ages I shall not cease to be.

24:10 In the holy tent I ministered before him, and so I was established in Zion.

24:11 Thus in the beloved city he gave me a resting place, and in Jerusalem was my domain.

24:12 I took root in an honored people, in the portion of the Lord, his heritage.

Psalm

This is one of the Psalms of praise, the last ten in the Book of Psalms. It exhorts us to give glory to God for His omnipotence and His fidelity towards His people.

Psalm 147:12-20

147:12 Praise the LORD, O Jerusalem! Praise your God, O Zion!

147:13 For he strengthens the bars of your gates; he blesses your children within you.

147:14 He grants peace within your borders; he fills you with the finest of wheat.

147:15 He sends out his command to the earth; his word runs swiftly.

147:16 He gives snow like wool; he scatters frost like ashes.

147:17 He hurls down hail like crumbs– who can stand before his cold?

147:18 He sends out his word, and melts them; he makes his wind blow, and the waters flow.

147:19 He declares his word to Jacob, his statutes and ordinances to Israel.

147:20 He has not dealt thus with any other nation; they do not know his ordinances. Praise the LORD!

Psalm alternative — Catholic

This reading from the Wisdom of Solomon has the same themes of omnipotence and fidelity as the Psalm.

Wisdom of Solomon 10:15-21

10:15 A holy people and blameless race wisdom delivered from a nation of oppressors,

10:16 She entered the soul of a servant of the Lord, and withstood dread kings with wonders and signs.

10:17 She gave to holy people the reward of their labors; she guided them along a marvelous way, and became a shelter to them by day, and a starry flame through the night.

10:18 She brought them over the Red Sea, and led them through deep waters;

10:19 but she drowned their enemies, and cast them up from the depth of the sea.

10:20 Therefore the righteous plundered the ungodly; they sang hymns, O Lord, to your holy name, and praised with one accord your defending hand;

20:21 for wisdom opened the mouths of those who were mute, and made the tongues of infants speak clearly.

Epistle

In his greeting to the Ephesians, Paul praises God for sending us Jesus Christ, who enables our inheritance as adopted children of the Father.

Ephesians 1:3-14

1:3 Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places,

1:4 just as he chose us in Christ before the foundation of the world to be holy and blameless before him in love.

1:5 He destined us for adoption as his children through Jesus Christ, according to the good pleasure of his will,

1:6 to the praise of his glorious grace that he freely bestowed on us in the Beloved.

1:7 In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace

1:8 that he lavished on us. With all wisdom and insight

1:9 he has made known to us the mystery of his will, according to his good pleasure that he set forth in Christ,

1:10 as a plan for the fullness of time, to gather up all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth.

1:11 In Christ we have also obtained an inheritance, having been destined according to the purpose of him who accomplishes all things according to his counsel and will,

1:12 so that we, who were the first to set our hope on Christ, might live for the praise of his glory.

1:13 In him you also, when you had heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and had believed in him, were marked with the seal of the promised Holy Spirit;

1:14 this is the pledge of our inheritance toward redemption as God’s own people, to the praise of his glory.

Gospel

We have a reprise of the opening verses of John’s Gospel from Christmas Day with the final verses from his prologue (verses 15-18), which also mention God’s infinite grace as does Paul’s letter to the Ephesians.

John 1:(1-9), 10-18

1:1 In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.

1:2 He was in the beginning with God.

1:3 All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being. What has come into being

1:4 in him was life, and the life was the light of all people.

1:5 The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.

1:6 There was a man sent from God, whose name was John.

1:7 He came as a witness to testify to the light, so that all might believe through him.

1:8 He himself was not the light, but he came to testify to the light.

1:9 The true light, which enlightens everyone, was coming into the world.

1:10 He was in the world, and the world came into being through him; yet the world did not know him.

1:11 He came to what was his own, and his own people did not accept him.

1:12 But to all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God,

1:13 who were born, not of blood or of the will of the flesh or of the will of man, but of God.

1:14 And the Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory as of a father’s only son, full of grace and truth.

1:15 (John testified to him and cried out, “This was he of whom I said, ‘He who comes after me ranks ahead of me because he was before me.'”)

1:16 From his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace.

1:17 The law indeed was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ.

1:18 No one has ever seen God. It is God the only Son, who is close to the Father’s heart, who has made him known.

Tomorrow’s post will examine the Gospel reading in depth.

Circumcision of Christ stained glassNew Year’s Day is the feast day of our Lord’s Circumcision and the Holy Name of Jesus.

The readings are the same regardless of Lectionary year.

There is more information about the stained glass depiction of the Circumcision here.

These posts have more detail about the Circumcision:

January 1 – Feast of the Circumcision of Christ (2010)

January 1: why Jesus was circumcised (2021)

New Year’s Day: the Circumcision — and Naming — of Christ Jesus

The next post has more on the shepherds. They reared the lambs to be used in sacrifices at the temple. They lived and worked in a sacred place just outside of Bethlehem, Migdal Eder (Genesis 35:21):

Migdal Eder: the shepherds provide a biblical key to unlocking the Christmas story (Luke’s Gospel, Micah, Genesis; Carl H Bloch’s painting The Shepherds and The Angel, oil on copper, 1879)

The Gospel reading is as follows (emphases mine):

Luke 2:15-21

2:15 When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let us go now to Bethlehem and see this thing that has taken place, which the Lord has made known to us.”

2:16 So they went with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the child lying in the manger.

2:17 When they saw this, they made known what had been told them about this child;

2:18 and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds told them.

2:19 But Mary treasured all these words and pondered them in her heart.

2:20 The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, as it had been told them.

2:21 After eight days had passed, it was time to circumcise the child; and he was called Jesus, the name given by the angel before he was conceived in the womb.

Commentary comes from Matthew Henry and John MacArthur.

It is useful reminding ourselves of the preceding verses, Luke 2:8-14:

The Shepherds and the Angels

And in the same region there were shepherds out in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. And an angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were filled with great fear. 10 And the angel said to them, “Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. 11 For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. 12 And this will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger.” 13 And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying,

14 “Glory to God in the highest,
    and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased!”[d]

John MacArthur explains what the second half of verse 14 means. We know it as ‘peace to men of goodwill’, however, it does not include all of mankind, only those of God’s choosing:

It’s a salvation peace that will belong only to those that God pleases to give it to This is a great and gracious eternal decree.  This involves the great doctrine of election, predestination Before the creation of the universe God chose to save some just because He was pleased to do it Angels, you see, are not rejoicing or glorifying God for what men have done or will do, but because of what God has done and will do.  It’s not that God’s salvation is a reward for those who have goodwill toward men, as the old translation says But salvation is a gracious gift to those to whom God chooses to have goodwill. On earth, the Messiah, Savior, the Christ, the Lord will bring salvation peace to those whom God pleases to save.

After the angels had left to return to heaven, the shepherds felt compelled to go to Jerusalem to see the ‘thing’ that had taken place, as the Lord revealed to them through the first angel and His glory shining around them (verse 15).

MacArthur tells us about the Greek word for ‘thing’:

It’s literally the Greek term rhma, and it means “a word,” or “a reality.”  Let us see this reality.  They now understand that they have heard the word from God, that there’s a reality and the reality is that the Savior has been born Now they can confirm it easy enough because the angel had said to them, you’re going to find a sign, back in verse 12, you’re going to find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying where? In a manger.  Now that’s just an unheard of thing and very unusual, probably never happened. Nobody would put a baby in a feed trough in a stinking stable So that would verify that this was all true.  I mean, they had seen the angels and that was verification enough.  But they were going to get even more verification when in fact they found the child exactly where the angel said He would be, which meant this was not just an earthly situation going on, this was heaven and earth involved.  They believed the angel.

Matthew Henry’s commentary notes the shepherds’ certainty of the angel’s message:

… observe, These shepherds do not speak doubtfully, “Let us go see whether it be so or no;” but with assurance, Let us go see this thing which is come to pass; for what room was left to doubt of it, when the Lord had thus made it known to them? The word spoken by angels was stedfast and unquestionably true.

They hurried and found, as the angel said, the Child lying in the manger, with Mary and Joseph watching over Him (verse 16).

MacArthur thinks the shepherds did a door-to-door search in Bethlehem, but Henry thinks the angel told them where to find Him:

They lost no time, but came with haste to the place, which, probably, the angel directed them to more particularly than is recorded (“Go to the stable of such an inn”); and there they found Mary and Joseph, and the babe lying in the manger.

I, too, prefer to believe that version of events.

When the shepherds saw the Holy Family, they told them about the heavenly message they received (verse 17), and all who heard it were amazed (verse 18), a favourite word of St Luke’s, for it appears several times in his Gospel.

MacArthur says:

… it says in verse 18, “All who had heard it wondered of the things which were told them by the shepherds.”  I mean, what it did create was a stir.  The word “wonder” is the word thaumaz, it’s a… Thaumaz means to marvel, to be amazed.  And by the way, it’s…it’s common in Luke’s gospel He likes that word and it’s repeated again and again I mean, the things that Jesus did caused people to be amazed, they caused them to wonder, caused them to marvel.  I mean, that was pretty typical.  You see him use that word in chapter 4, chapter 8, chapter 9, chapter 11, chapter 20 He uses it in chapter 24 and also in chapters 4 and 5 you get a similar kind of response Jesus caused people to be amazed There’s no question about it.  He was an amazing person. They had never seen anybody like Him.

Henry elaborates on the scene at the manger:

The poverty and meanness in which they found Christ the Lord were no shock to their faith, who themselves knew what it was to live a life of comfortable communion with God in very poor and mean circumstances. We have reason to think that the shepherds told Joseph and Mary of the vision of the angels they had seen, and the song of the angels they had heard, which was a great encouragement to them, more than if a visit had been made them by the best ladies in the town. And it is probable that Joseph and Mary told the shepherds what visions they had had concerning the child; and so, by communicating their experiences to each other, they greatly strengthened one another’s faith.

MacArthur shares that perspective of deep, abiding faith:

They heard it and they believed it, they believed it, the Spirit of God obviously having prepared their hearts … I felt that these men chosen to be the recipients of this divine message were probably true Jews, that is they were believing Jews not just secular Jews, that they truly believed in the true and living God, that they were no doubt among those looking for the redemption of Israel, waiting for their Messiah. They would have been genuine believers in the true God who had repented of their sin and had come to God and sought His grace; all of that because their hearts were so ready and their responses were so right And they heard the heavenly revelation and they believed it.  They believed the fact that Messiah, the Savior, and Christ, the Lord, had come.

MacArthur imagines the conversation between the shepherds and Mary and Joseph:

… they unfold the saga.  Well, um, um, and I can just hear them all vying for telling the story their way as Joseph and Mary tried to sit quietly and listen And it must have been wonderful confirmation for them as well, for any malingering doubts that might have been raised in their minds. And they told the story of how an angel came and an angel described one who had been born, good news of great joy, a Savior.  He is Christ the Lord.  And on and on, they told the whole story.  And then a whole host of angels came and there were angels everywhere, and they were bright and they were shining and they were praising God and thanking God.  And oh, it was incredible.

And as that story unfolded I think Joseph and Mary probably began to unfold some of their side of the details Well isn’t that wonderful because, you know, an angel came to me, Joseph might have said And he told me not to worry about the fact that my virgin, betrothed, bride-to-be Mary was pregnant because the baby that was in her womb was put there by the Holy Spirit. She was not sinful. She was not unfaithful to me.  That she was going to have a child who would be Immanuel, God with us, God in human flesh and that He would be named Jesus because He would save His people from their sins And this all happened to me when I was deciding whether to divorce her or stone her to death And I had a dream and in that dream an angel of the Lord came to me and told me the whole thing.

And then Mary might have quietly said, and, you know, I had a visit from Gabriel and Gabriel came to me even though I am just a young girl and a virgin and said you’re going to have a baby and that baby is going to be Son of David, Son of the Most High God, He’s going to rule over a kingdom that will last eternally. And it all is beginning to come together.  And these shepherds, talk about being in on the scoop, they’re in on it.

And at this particular point, it’s Joseph and Mary and a handful of shepherds, and Zacharias and Elizabeth and they know about it, and really nobody else has the kind of inside information that these people have.

Luke says that Mary treasured all these words and pondered them in her heart (verse 19). Luke would repeat this later on in the same chapter, verse 51, which was in last Sunday’s reading, when Jesus stayed behind after Passover at the age of 12 to listen to the teachers in the temple:

Then he went down with them and came to Nazareth, and was obedient to them. His mother treasured all these things in her heart.

Henry says that Mary’s is a good example to follow:

She laid the evidences together, and kept them in reserve, to be compared with the discoveries that should afterwards be made her. As she had silently left it to God to clear up her virtue, when that was suspected, so she silently leaves it to him to publish her honour, now when it was veiled; and it is satisfaction enough to find that, if no one else takes notice of the birth of her child, angels do. Note, The truths of Christ are worth keeping; and the way to keep them safe is to ponder them. Meditation is the best help to memory.

The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had seen, just as it was revealed to them (verse 20).

Henry says it would not matter if no one else believed them, because God would accept their thanks:

If others would not regard the report they made to them, God would accept the thanksgivings they offered to him. They praised God for what they had heard from the angel, and for what they had seen, the babe in the manger, and just then in the swaddling, when they came in, as it had been spoken to them. They thanked God that they had seen Christ, though in the depth of his humiliation.

Henry compares the manger scene with the Crucifixion, both of which reflected God:

As afterwards the cross of Christ, so now his manger, was to some foolishness and a stumbling-block, but others saw in it, and admired, and praised, the wisdom of God and the power of God.

Eight days later, Jesus was circumcised and (officially) named (verse 21), in accordance with Jewish law.

This was the first time His precious blood would be shed. The next time would be as He was crucified, the one sufficient sacrifice for the sins of the world and a ransom for many.

As He is the Son of God, He had no need for the rituals of man, even as laid out by His Father, however, Henry explains that Jesus was obedient to His Father at all times. His circumcision also made Him part of the Abrahamic covenant, bringing Him closer to mankind:

1. Though it was a painful operation (Surely a bloody husband thou has been, said Zipporah to Moses, because of the circumcision,Exodus 4:25), yet Christ would undergo it for us; nay, therefore he submitted to it, to give an instance of his early obedience, his obedience unto blood. Then he shed his blood by drops, which afterwards he poured out in purple streams. 2. Though it supposed him a stranger, that was by that ceremony to be admitted into covenant with God, whereas he had always been his beloved Son; nay, though it supposed him a sinner, that needed to have his filthiness taken away, whereas he had no impurity or superfluity of naughtiness to be cut off, yet he submitted to it; nay, therefore he submitted to it, because he would be made in the likeness, not only of flesh, but of sinful flesh, Romans 8:3. 3. Though thereby he made himself a debtor to the whole law (Galatians 5:3), yet he submitted to it; nay, therefore he submitted to it, because he would take upon him the form of a servant, though he was free-born. Christ was circumcised, (1.) That he might own himself of the seed of Abraham, and of that nation of whom, as concerning the flesh, Christ came, and who was to take on him the seed of Abraham, Hebrews 2:16. (2.) That he might own himself a surety for our sins, and an undertaker for our safety. Circumcision (saith Dr. Goodwin) was our bond, whereby we acknowledged ourselves debtors to the law; and Christ, by being circumcised, did as it were set his hand to it, being made sin for us. The ceremonial law consisted much in sacrifices; Christ hereby obliged himself to offer, not the blood of bulls or goats, but his own blood, which none that ever were circumcised before could oblige themselves to. (3.) That he might justify, and put an honour upon, the dedication of the infant seed of the church to God, by that ordinance which is the instituted seal of the covenant, and of the righteousness which is by faith, as circumcision was (Romans 4:11), and baptism is.

Henry says that our Lord’s circumcision is a sign that we should baptise our children as infants:

And certainly his being circumcised at eight days old doth make much more for the dedicating of the seed of the faithful by baptism in their infancy than his being baptized at thirty years old doth for the deferring of it till they are grown up. The change of the ceremony alters not the substance.

In closing, most of my friends in the UK are, at best, agnostics. I know few believers here.

Many ask why they should believe in God through Jesus Christ: ‘What has God done for me lately?’

MacArthur provides the answer, which is life eternal rather than earthly comfort:

it’s not that Jesus saves you from your meaninglessness, it’s not that Jesus saves you from your anxiety, it’s not that Jesus saves you from your poverty, it’s not that Jesus saves you from your lack of fulfillment, it’s not that Jesus saves you from your trouble Really there is no guarantee in this life that you’re going to be rescued from any of those things.  Jesus saves you from the eternal wrath of God, that’s the issue It’s not that Jesus saves you from anything in this life in particular.  You may still struggle through all kinds of troubles and struggles and you may still have a measure of unfulfillment.  You may even find life to be less than you want it to be in this world, more painful than you can bear There’s no guarantee that that will change in this life.

But Jesus came to save His people from their what? Sins, from the penalty of their sins, first of all, which is eternal hell, the wrath of God, the power of their sins by giving them the Spirit of God so they can be victorious over their sins even in this life, and finally the presence of sin, when we leave this world and enter His glory; that’s the good news that He would save His people from their sins and therefore save them from the wrath of God which is eternal wrath in hell forever.  The wages of sin is death And that death is not just spiritual death or separation from God, but eternal death, separation from God forever in a place of torment and punishment.

The child was born to save us from the wrath of God

May all reading this be blessed on this first day of 2022.

For at least ten years the Christians living in the Holy Land have been persecuted.

Over Christmas 2021, articles and interviews surfaced about their plight. Sadly, this is not new, but it does show how impossible a resolution to this situation seems.

In July 2011, The Sunday Times reported that the then-Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams was launching an appeal for Christians suffering in the Holy Land (emphases mine below):

The Archbishop of Canterbury Dr Rowan Williams yesterday launched an appeal for “suffering” Christians in the Holy Land, calling for Anglicans to do more to help with community projects and job creation.

Dr Rowan Williams told the General Synod in York: “I returned from a visit to the Holy Land last year with a very, very strong sense that we had to do more to express our solidarity with the Christian communities there …

He said he hoped that Anglicans and others would give generously to help build a fund for projects that would contribute to the sustainability of the most vulnerable Christian communities, especially on the West Bank

He launched the appeal prior to a joint conference on Christians in the Holy Land with England’s Catholic Archbishop — now Cardinal — Vincent Nichols :

Dr Williams’ appeal came ahead of a conference on Christians in the Holy Land which he and the Archbishop of Westminster Vincent Nichols are jointly hosting at Lambeth Palace in London next week.

In a video presentation to explain his appeal Dr Williams warns that the rate of Christian emigration from the Holy Land had reached the point of “haemorrhage”

Archbishop Vincent Nichols says: “People are leaving, Christians are leaving, and we want to say the Christian presence in the Holy Land is important to its balance, to its — not just its historical reality but to its presence and future viability.”

In January 2018, Patriarch Theophilos III, the Orthodox Patriarch of Jerusalem, wrote an article for The Guardian, ‘Christians are at risk of being driven out of the Holy Land’.

The Patriarch is from the Holy Land and says that socio-political tension has been part of the problem:

Much attention has been paid recently to political decisions recognising Jerusalem in one light or another. The media attention highlights the seemingly intractable political struggle here. But as well as the threat to the political status quo, there is a threat also to the religious status quo, a threat instigated by radical settlers in and around Jerusalem, the heart of Christianity. And one group that has always been a pillar of society in the Holy Land – Christians – seems to have been rendered invisible in this standoff

Now various sides want to claim the Holy Land, including Jerusalem, as the exclusive possession of only one people. This treats with contempt the mechanism that has maintained peace and our multi-religious landscape for generations.

A delegation of Christians had travelled to the UK only a short time before to discuss the seriousness of their plight:

Recently Christian communities from the Holy Land came to the UK to seek support for our plight in the face of legal and land threats to the Christian church in the Holy Land. We were moved that church leaders from across the UK came to our support. In meetings with Prince Charles and government ministers, as well as with church leaders, we highlighted a proposed “church lands” bill signed by 40 members of Israel’s Knesset that would restrict the rights of churches to deal independently with their own land. We also discussed threats to church land around the Jaffa gate of the Old City of Jerusalem.

Cardinal Nichols was also there:

The UK’s Catholic Cardinal Vincent Nichols summed up the view of many when he told us that the proposed bill represented “an intolerable infringement of the status quo and the legitimate rights of the churches, and should be recognised for what it is: an attack on the property rights of the Christian community”.

‘Radical settlers’ added to the tension:

In addition to the church lands bill, one of the foremost threats to Christians in the Holy Land is the unacceptable activities of radical settler groups, which are attempting to establish control over properties around the Jaffa gate. The properties in question are in the heart of Jerusalem’s Christian quarter, the seat of all the patriarchates and headquarters of the churches, and less than 500m from the Church of the Holy Sepulchre

If the settler groups were to gain control of the properties, they would be able to pursue their aggressive campaign of removing non-Jews from the City and from these strategic centres at the heart of the Christian quarter, threatening the very presence of Christians in the Holy Land.

The Patriarch explains that the holy places are sacred because holiness is a divine characteristic, not a human one:

The Christian understanding of holy places is that all people have claims to the sanctity of their holy places, because holiness is a divine characteristic, not a human one. No party should ever be able to make an exclusive claim over a holy place – in this case, over the holy city of Jerusalem.

We shall continue the fight for this cause because it is right and because it is our basic pastoral duty.

Incidentally, in neighbouring Syria, in 2019, the Jerusalem Post featured a contrasting news story and a podcast: ‘Muslims convert to Christianity in Syrian town once besieged by ISIS’.

This took place in the town of Kobani:

A community of Syrians who converted to Christianity from Islam is growing in Kobani, a town besieged by Islamic State for months, and where the tide turned against the militants four years ago.

The converts say the experience of war and the onslaught of a group claiming to fight for Islam pushed them towards their new faith. After a number of families converted, the Syrian-Turkish border town’s first evangelical church opened last year.

Islamic State militants were beaten back by U.S. air strikes and Kurdish fighters at Kobani in early 2015, in a reversal of fortune after taking over swaths of Iraq and Syria. After years of fighting, U.S.-backed forces fully ended the group’s control over populated territory last month …

Christianity is one of the region’s minority faiths that was persecuted by Islamic State.

Critics view the new converts with suspicion, accusing them of seeking personal gain such as financial help from Christian organizations working in the region, jobs and enhanced prospects of emigration to European countries.

The newly-converted Christians of Kobani deny those accusations. They say their conversion was a matter of faith.

“After the war with Islamic State people were looking for the right path, and distancing themselves from Islam,” said Omar Firas, the founder of Kobani’s evangelical church. “People were scared and felt lost.”

Firas works for a Christian aid group at a nearby camp for displaced people that helped set up the church …

The church’s current pastor, Zani Bakr, 34, arrived last year from Afrin, a town in northern Syria. He converted in 2007.

That is a most positive step for the Good News.

Returning to Jerusalem, on Sunday, December 19, 2021, the current Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, and Hosam Naoum, the Anglican Archbishop in Jerusalem, co-authored an article for The Sunday Times: ‘Let us pray for the Christians being driven from the Holy Land’.

The two men say that the radical settlers have increased their persecution of Christians in the Holy Land:

Last week church leaders in Jerusalem raised an unprecedented and urgent alarm call. In a joint statement they said Christians throughout the Holy Land had become the target of frequent and sustained attacks by fringe radical groups.

They described “countless incidents” of physical and verbal assaults against priests and other clergy, and attacks on Christian churches. They spoke of holy sites being regularly vandalised and desecrated, and the ongoing intimidation of local Christians as they go about their worship and daily lives.

The Romanian Orthodox monastery in Jerusalem was vandalised during Lent in March this year, the fourth attack in a month. During Advent last December, someone lit a fire in the Church of All Nations in the Garden of Gethsemane, the place where Jesus prayed the night before he was crucified. It is usually a place of pilgrimage for Christians from around the world, and the vandals are thought to have taken advantage of the lack of visitors due to the pandemic.

These tactics are being used by such radical groups “in a systematic attempt to drive the Christian community out of Jerusalem and other parts of the Holy Land”, the Jerusalem church leaders said in their statement.

That is why, when you speak to Palestinian Christians in Jerusalem today, you will often hear this cry: “In 15 years’ time, there’ll be none of us left!”

This crisis takes place against a century-long decline in the Christian population in the Holy Land. In 1922, at the end of the Ottoman era, the number of Christians in the Holy Land was estimated at 73,000; about 10 per cent of the population. In 2019, Christians constituted less than 2 per cent of the population of the Holy Land: a massive drop in less than 100 years.

Elsewhere, in Jaffa, for example, there is good news, but not in Jerusalem:

In Israel, the overall number of Christians has risen. The imminent reopening of St Peter’s Anglican Church in Jaffa, which has been closed for more than 70 years, is encouraging. But in east Jerusalem, the central place for pilgrimage and the site of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre — where Christ is believed to have been crucified — there is a steady decline. Church leaders believe that there are now fewer than 2,000 Christians left in the Old City of Jerusalem

Christians in Israel enjoy democratic and religious freedoms that are a beacon in the region. But the escalation of physical and verbal abuse of Christian clergy, and the vandalism of holy sites by fringe radical groups, are a concerted attempt to intimidate and drive them away. Meanwhile, the growth of settler communities and travel restrictions brought about by the West Bank separation wall have deepened the isolation of Christian villages and curtailed economic and social possibilities.

All of these factors have contributed to a steady stream of Palestinian Christians leaving the Holy Land to seek lives and livelihoods elsewhere — a historic tragedy unfolding in real time.

What can be done?

This trend can be reversed — but action must be taken fast. We encourage governments and authorities in the region to listen to church leaders in their midst: to engage in the practical conversations that will lead to vital Christian culture and heritage being guarded and sustained. The time for action is now.

On Christmas Eve, Tom Harwood of GB News interviewed His Grace Bishop Dr Munib Younan from the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Palestine and Jordan:

He pleaded for the radicals to ‘be brought to justice’ and asked what Jerusalem would be like without its Christian community. He says that the city belongs to three faiths: Judaism, Christianity and Islam.

He said that love is at the heart of the Christian message and that those who are persecuted should pray for their attackers. He added that Christ died on the Cross to give us life and life abundantly.

He ended by saying that everyone has to work together to resolve this ongoing and desperate situation.

On Wednesday, 29 December, Janine di Giovanni, a journalist and Senior Fellow at Yale University’s Jackson Institute for Global Affairs, wrote about this subject in a broader sense for The Telegraph: ‘We need to talk about the persecution of Christians in the Middle East’.

She has reported from the Middle East for three decades and says:

I can tell you first hand, as a human rights reporter who spent three decades working in the Middle East, the situation there is urgent and it threatens to disrupt the entire demographic of the area. I made it my mission to work with embattled Christians, aiding them in their plight and trying to get the message out to the wider world: they are in peril. And so, I began in-depth field work on the most vulnerable Christian communities. I focused on four areas where I felt the risk was most prominent: Iraq, Syria, Egypt, and the minute group of Christians in the Gaza Strip. Their numbers are dwindling rapidly.

Social scientists estimate that some of them – such as the Iraqi Christians whose populations have plummeted from close to 1.5 million to an estimated 100,000 in 40 years – are in danger of extinction. It is unthinkable to me that Christianity in its birthplace, the land of the prophets where St. Thomas or Jonah had wandered, might disappear. Everywhere I went as a war reporter in my long career – Africa, Asia, the Balkans, Afghanistan – I always found a church. No matter where I was, these visits drew me back into a safe place where I found solace and freedom from gripping fear.

Even Kabul had a tiny Catholic chapel, Our Lady of Divine Providence, at the Italian Embassy, opened in 2002 after the fall of the Taliban. But unlike the Christians in the Middle East – whose ancestry can stretch back to the prophets two millenn[ia] ago – the tiny population of Afghan Christians were nearly all converts. Nonetheless, this month, Father Giovanni Scalese, the leader of that community, who has since fled, issued a plea that Christians need no “obstacles to religious freedom.” Their situation is bad in Afghanistan, but even worse in the Middle East.

During lockdown, she began writing a book — The Vanishing: The Twilight of Christianity in the Middle East — based on journals of interviews that she has kept since the 1990s. Her article recounts some of what Christians are experiencing in that part of the world. It’s a harrowing read.

However, one place stood out for her:

it was the 800 Christian inhabitants of Gaza who perhaps touched me the most. Gaza was mostly Christian until the fourth Century. Today, the mainly Greek Orthodox Christians – but also Catholics, Lutherans Baptists – are sandwiched between Hamas, which is at war with the Palestinian Authority in Ramallah, and also with the Israelis.

The lives of these Christians (as all civilians in Gaza) are perhaps the most hellish on a day-to-day basis: the lack of electricity, fresh water and health services, the fear of more bombing and their inability to visit family in Bethlehem and Jerusalem during the holidays. They are isolated and abandoned. Last summer, I returned, my first trip since Covid – and the situation was the worst I had seen in 30 years.

Nonetheless, faith and love characterise the persecuted:

But faith somehow continues, even in these embattled communities. Throughout the hundreds of interviews I did for The Vanishing, there was one theme that was consistent: love. Whether it was Father Mario da Silva, an inspirational Portuguese priest who had left a comfortable posting in The Vatican to work in Gaza, or a family celebrating its existence after encountering Isil on a mountaintop near Mosul. These people continued to pray, to believe, to gain inner strength from something they could not see or even at times understand: their profound belief in God.

Their faith, in many ways, was more powerful than any of the forces that tried to destroy them.

Christians know that persecution is to be expected, but we can pray that God relieves believers in the Middle East of this daily scourge, a seemingly intractable — and tragic — situation.

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