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Pentecost2Pentecost Sunday is May 23, 2021.

Readings for Year B in the three-year Lectionary can be found here.

The feast of Pentecost is considered to be the birthday of the Church, as the baptism of the Holy Spirit came down upon the disciples, including the Apostles, enabling them to spread the Good News, the Gospel story.

Acts 2:1-21 can be read either as the First Reading or as the Epistle. As I have been writing about Acts 1 for Ascension Day and Exaudi Sunday, it seemed apposite to continue with Acts 2.

Emphases below are mine.

Acts 2:1-21

2:1 When the day of Pentecost had come, they were all together in one place.

2:2 And suddenly from heaven there came a sound like the rush of a violent wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting.

2:3 Divided tongues, as of fire, appeared among them, and a tongue rested on each of them.

2:4 All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages, as the Spirit gave them ability.

2:5 Now there were devout Jews from every nation under heaven living in Jerusalem.

2:6 And at this sound the crowd gathered and was bewildered, because each one heard them speaking in the native language of each.

2:7 Amazed and astonished, they asked, “Are not all these who are speaking Galileans?

2:8 And how is it that we hear, each of us, in our own native language?

2:9 Parthians, Medes, Elamites, and residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia,

2:10 Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya belonging to Cyrene, and visitors from Rome, both Jews and proselytes,

2:11 Cretans and Arabs–in our own languages we hear them speaking about God’s deeds of power.”

2:12 All were amazed and perplexed, saying to one another, “What does this mean?”

2:13 But others sneered and said, “They are filled with new wine.”

2:14 But Peter, standing with the eleven, raised his voice and addressed them, “Men of Judea and all who live in Jerusalem, let this be known to you, and listen to what I say.

2:15 Indeed, these are not drunk, as you suppose, for it is only nine o’clock in the morning.

2:16 No, this is what was spoken through the prophet Joel:

2:17 ‘In the last days it will be, God declares, that I will pour out my Spirit upon all flesh, and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, and your young men shall see visions, and your old men shall dream dreams.

2:18 Even upon my slaves, both men and women, in those days I will pour out my Spirit; and they shall prophesy.

2:19 And I will show portents in the heaven above and signs on the earth below, blood, and fire, and smoky mist.

2:20 The sun shall be turned to darkness and the moon to blood, before the coming of the Lord’s great and glorious day.

2:21 Then everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved.’

Commentary comes from Matthew Henry and John MacArthur.

This is how the true gift of tongues — enabled for the Apostolic Era — worked. Those Galileans with this special gift spoke in existing foreign languages fluently and eloquently, easily understood by outsiders who spoke those languages.

Jews from many foreign countries went up to Jerusalem for the Festival of Weeks, or Shavuot. It takes place 50 days after Passover. Pentecost is 50 days after Easter; the word itself means ‘fiftieth’. In 2021, Shavuot was commemorated from May 16 to May 18. Hebcal describes its significance:

Shavuot commemorates the anniversary of the day G-d gave the Torah to the entire Israelite nation assembled at Mount Sinai, although the association between the giving of the Torah (Matan Torah) and Shavuot is not explicit in the Biblical text. The holiday is one of the Shalosh Regalim, the three Biblical pilgrimage festivals. It marks the conclusion of the Counting of the Omer.

Jesus rose from the dead on the day of the offering of the First Fruits. Fifty days later, on Shavuot, the Holy Spirit descends upon His disciples.

The disciples were gathered in one place (verse 1), possibly in the upper room where they drew lots for Matthias’s accession to apostleship. In any event, they would have been in Jerusalem, along with Jewish pilgrims for Shavuot.

Suddenly, they heard the sound of a violent wind, which filled the entire house (verse 2).

Matthew Henry’s commentary describes it as follows:

Probably it alarmed the whole city, but, to show that it was supernatural, presently fixed upon that particular houseThis would direct the people who observed it whither to go to enquire the meaning of it. This wind filling the house would strike an awe upon the disciples, and help to put them into a very serious, reverent, and composed frame, for the receiving of the Holy Ghost. Thus the convictions of the Spirit make way for his comforts; and the rough blasts of that blessed wind prepare the soul for its soft and gentle gales.

Tongues of fire appeared, one tongue over each of them (verse 3).

Of these flames, Henry says:

The flame of a candle is somewhat like a tongue; and there is a meteor which naturalists call ignis lambens–a gentle flame, not a devouring fire; such was this.

Henry explains how God used outward signs to designate prophets and fire in the Old Testament :

(1.) There was an outward sensible sign, for the confirming of the faith of the disciples themselves, and for the convincing of others. Thus the prophets of old had frequently their first mission confirmed by signs, that all Israel might know them to be established prophets.

(2.) The sign given was fire, that John Baptist’s saying concerning Christ might be fulfilled, He shall baptize you with the Holy Ghost and with fire; with the Holy Ghost as with fire. They were now, in the feast of pentecost, celebrating the memorial of the giving of the law upon mount Sinai; and as that was given in fire, and therefore is called a fiery law, so is the gospel. Ezekiel’s mission was confirmed by a vision of burning coals of fire (Acts 1:13; Acts 1:13), and Isaiah’s by a coal of fire touching his lips, Acts 6:7; Acts 6:7. The Spirit, like fire, melts the heart, separates and burns up the dross, and kindles pious and devout affections in the soul, in which, as in the fire upon the altar, the spiritual sacrifices are offered up. This is that fire which Christ came to send upon the earth. Luke 12:49.

Shavuot traditionally involved an offering of wheat. John MacArthur says that the Jews made loaves of bread, signifying their unity as God’s people.

He applies this to the first Pentecost, the baptism of the Holy Spirit and the creation of the Church:

Now, I want you to know that, so that you’ll be able to understand your identity in Christ. You’re one with Him. You’re one with every other Christian. That’s what occurred in verse 2 when it says, “There came a sound from heaven like a rushing mighty wind,” – we know that to be the breath of God, the Holy Spirit – “filled the house where they were sitting.” And if He filled that house, He filled them who were in it. And I believe at that point the baptism of the Spirit took place.

Kind of an interesting play on words, if you take the idea that it filled all the house, and carry it to Ephesians 2:22. There’s a new house there where all the believers are called the house or the habitation of the Spirit. So He filled the physical house in Acts 2:2; but in the same moment, He filled the spiritual house, and all believers became His new house.

Now, let me add another thought here, because I want you to understand this. The baptism of the Spirit is also extremely important understood this way, because if it isn’t, then Jesus’ prayer in John 17 goes unanswered, and then you’ve got some real problems. You see, Jesus prayed this four times: verse 11, 21, 22, 23. He said, “Father, I pray that they be” – what? – “one. One, one, one.”

Now, my friends, this happened right here. This is the answer to Jesus’ prayer. When the Spirit of God came, He made us one positionally. Now, we aren’t always one practically, are we? There’s divisions and strife among us when we’re carnal. But, positionally, are we one blended together? Are we that common loaf? Sure we are. We’re not just a loosely-gathered sheaf tied together with string, we are one in Christ, inner-dependent and mutually-dependent on life from each other in the ministry of our gifts and fellowship. And so we must assume the baptism of the Spirit to be that baptizing all believers into oneness, or the prayer of Jesus Christ goes unanswered.

Now, notice another phenomenon that happened in verse 3 accompanying the first; and this is all proof that the Spirit came. Verse 3: “And there appeared unto them,” – that is to those believers who had been baptized, immersed at that moment into the body of Christ by the Spirit – “appeared unto them cloven” – or parted – “tongues as of fire,” – they weren’t fire, they were as like fire – “and it sat upon each of them.” Now, here’s another interesting phenomenon. These parted tongues that appeared over everyone of them was testimony that with no exception, each of them had received the Holy Spirit.

As the disciples were filled with the Holy Spirit at that point, they began speaking in other languages — tongues — ‘as the Spirit gave them ability’ (verse 4). This was in order to spread the Good News to those from other nations who were celebrating Shavuot in Jerusalem (verse 5).

As Henry surmises above, the roar of the wind must have drawn a large crowd to the house where the disciples were gathered, because the foreigners were ‘bewildered’ to find that the people inside were speaking their own languages (verse 6).

They were amazed to hear, each in his own language, humble Galileans proclaim the mighty works of God (verses 6-11).

Henry contrasts this with the Tower of Babel from Genesis:

The tongues were divided, and yet they still continued all of one accord; for there may be a sincere unity of affections where yet there is a diversity of expression. Dr. Lightfoot observes that the dividing of tongues at Babel was the casting off of the heathen; for when they had lost the language in which alone God was spoken of and preached, they utterly lost the knowledge of God and religion, and fell into idolatry. But now, after above two thousand years, God, by another dividing of tongues, restores the knowledge of himself to the nations ...

And we may suppose that they understood not only themselves but one another too, which the builders of Babel did not, Genesis 11:7. They did not speak here and there a word of another tongue, or stammer out some broken sentences, but spoke it as readily, properly, and elegantly, as if it had been their mother-tongue; for whatever was produced by miracle was the best of the kind. They spoke not from any previous thought or meditation, but as the Spirit gave them utterance; he furnished them with the matter as well as the language.

MacArthur says:

Now, the miracle of languages here was important because of the strategy of the spread of the gospelin Jerusalem at this time there were people from all over the Jewish world and there could have been as many as one million. You could fit 200,000 of them into the temple courtyard alone. They were jammed into this place. And this specific miracle was … not to become the pattern or the norm for all Christians ...

In other words, if the gift still exists, then God for some strange reason has put unnecessary, crippling strings on the gospel because He makes people go through years of studying languages before they can ever begin to witness. And if people have this so-called gift to speak in foreign languages, it would seem rather unnecessary. And if God had designed such a language miracle for today, it would seem as though it could be put to great use. And if there is a gift of languages, my friends, let me ask this: Why is it only for certain special people in certain special movements who get together in special prayer meetings and speak it to each other who already speak the same language and who already know the truth? And if unbelievers are present, Paul says they will say you’re mad because it will only confuse them.

You see, if such still exists, why doesn’t it exist for missionaries? Or better yet, why are there some missionaries who claim to have the gift but still go to language school? So, you see, this experience in Acts is by no means the norm. We cannot make it the norm for all Christians. You cannot say that every Christian is supposed to be speaking foreign languages.

Those in the crowd asked what such a phenomenon could mean (verse 12). However, others were sceptical, accusing the disciples of being drunk on ‘new wine’, which was rather weak in alcohol content (verse 13).

MacArthur says:

They did not understand and they tried to explain it away by mocking them and saying, “Look at these babies, can’t handle grape juice.”

That accusation galvanised Peter, ever the boldest of the Twelve, into standing up to address the Judeans and those from Jerusalem (verse 14). The other Eleven were around him.

Once the Holy Spirit entered into Peter, he now understood Christ’s ministry and could competently preach about it, as his sermon shows. He addressed it to the local Jews and not the foreigners, so he spoke in his own language.

MacArthur sets the scene for us:

So Peter stands up. Now, the moment is fantastic. The Holy Spirit has set the stage. The people are confused. Their minds are all messed up. They can’t understand what’s been going on. From their standpoint everything is ready. From Peter’s standpoint everything is ready. He’s been filled with the Spirit of God. He’s about to open his mouth and God is going to speak and so he stands up. And then I like this, it says he lifted up his voice. Oh, preachers love that verse because that’s a wonderful text that grants New Testament precedent for yelling. And Peter lifted up his voice.

Peter refuted the idea of drunkenness, especially as it was nine o’clock in the morning (verse 15). Nine o’clock was the time for private prayers. The Jews did not eat or drink anything until afterwards.

He then launched into a prophecy from Joel (verse 16), citing Joel 2:28-32 (verse 17), wherein the prophet said that in the last days — and we are still in those ‘last days’, even now — God declared that He would pour out his Spirit upon humankind at which point men and women would preach (the original meaning of the word ‘prophesy’):

and your young men shall see visions, and your old men shall dream dreams.

Joel’s prophecy included slaves who would prophesy (verse 18).

Joel spoke of the coming day of judgement, with visible, terrible signs in the skies as well as on the earth (verse 19). The sun will become dark and the moon become like blood just before the Lord comes to us again (verse 20).

Everyone at that time who calls upon the name of the Lord will be saved (verse 21).

Henry says that Peter was using Joel’s prophecy to alert the Jews that the temple would be destroyed, which it was in AD 70. There were a number of phenomena that occurred in Jerusalem around that time:

Those that would not submit to the power of God’s grace, in this wonderful effusion of his Spirit, should fall and lie under the pourings out of the vials of his wrath. Those shall break that will not bend. First, The destruction of Jerusalem, which was about forty years after Christ’s death, is here called that great and notable day of the Lord, because it put a final period to the Mosaic economy; the Levitical priesthood and the ceremonial law were thereby for ever abolished and done away. The desolation itself was such as was never brought upon any place or nation, either before or since. It was the day of the Lord, for it was the day of his vengeance upon that people for crucifying Christ, and persecuting his ministers; it was the year of recompences for that controversy; yea, and for all the blood of the saints and martyrs, from the blood of righteous Abel,Matthew 23:35. It was a little day of judgment; it was a notable day: in Joel it is called a terrible day, for so it was to men on earth; but here epiphane (after the Septuagint), a glorious, illustrious day, for so it was to Christ in heaven; it was the epiphany, his appearing, so he himself spoke of it, Matthew 24:30. …

Secondly, The terrible presages of that destruction are here foretold: There shall be wonders in heaven above, the sun turned into darkness and the moon into blood; and signs too in the earth beneath, blood and fire. Josephus, in his preface to his history of the wars of the Jews, speaks of the signs and prodigies that preceded them, terrible thunders, lightnings, and earthquakes; there was a fiery comet that hung over the city for a year, and a flaming sword was seen pointing down upon it; a light shone upon the temple and the altar at midnight, as if it had been noon-day

The blood points at the wars of the Jews with the neighbouring nations, with the Samaritans, Syrians, and Greeks, in which abundance of blood was shed, as there was also in their civil wars, and the struggles of the seditious (as they called them), which were very bloody; there was no peace to him that went out nor to him that came in. The fire and vapour of smoke, here foretold, literally came to pass in the burning of their cities, and towns, and synagogues, and temple at last. And this turning of the sun into darkness, and the moon into blood, bespeaks the dissolution of their government, civil and sacred, and the extinguishing of all their lights.

Yet, when the temple was destroyed, those who believed in Christ were not harmed:

Thirdly, The signal preservation of the Lord’s people is here promised (Acts 2:21; Acts 2:21): Whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord Jesus (which is the description of a true Christian, 1 Corinthians 1:2) shall be saved, shall escape that judgment which shall be a type and earnest of everlasting salvation. In the destruction of Jerusalem by the Chaldeans, there was a remnant sealed to be hid in the day of the Lord’s anger; and in the destruction by the Romans not one Christian perished. Those that distinguish themselves by singular piety shall be distinguished by special preservation. And observe, the saved remnant are described by this, that they are a praying people: they call on the name of the Lord, which intimates that they are not saved by any merit or righteousness of their own, but purely by the favour of God, which must be sued out by prayer. It is the name of the Lord which they call upon that is their strong tower.

There was much more to Peter’s first sermon, the first fire and brimstone sermon in the history of the Church.

The result was this (Acts 2:41):

So those who received his word were baptized, and there were added that day about three thousand souls.

From there, the Church in Jerusalem grew dramatically day by day:

42 And they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers. 43 And awe[d] came upon every soul, and many wonders and signs were being done through the apostles. 44 And all who believed were together and had all things in common. 45 And they were selling their possessions and belongings and distributing the proceeds to all, as any had need. 46 And day by day, attending the temple together and breaking bread in their homes, they received their food with glad and generous hearts, 47 praising God and having favor with all the people. And the Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved.

What an awe-inspiring experience that period after the first Pentecost must have been.

Pentecost Sunday concludes Eastertide. Next Sunday is Trinity Sunday.

The Seventh Sunday of Easter, or Exaudi Sunday, is May 16, 2021.

The readings for Year B are here.

Traditionally, this particular Sunday, the one between Ascension Day and Pentecost, is known as Exaudi Sunday, so called because of the old Latin Introit, taken from Psalm 17:1. The two first words in Latin are ‘Exaudi Domine’ — ‘Hear, Lord’.

Some theologians say it is the saddest Sunday in the Church year because the faithful recall the forlorn disciples, among them the Apostles, who saw Christ for the last time as He ascended into Heaven. They then awaited the arrival of the Holy Spirit, not knowing what to expect. You can read more about Exaudi Sunday here.

The First Reading for Year B in the three-year Lectionary picks up from the First Reading for Ascension Day and is as follows (emphases mine below):

Acts 1:15-17, 21-26

1:15 In those days Peter stood up among the believers (together the crowd numbered about one hundred twenty persons) and said,

1:16 “Friends, the scripture had to be fulfilled, which the Holy Spirit through David foretold concerning Judas, who became a guide for those who arrested Jesus —

1:17 for he was numbered among us and was allotted his share in this ministry.”

1:21 So one of the men who have accompanied us during all the time that the Lord Jesus went in and out among us,

1:22 beginning from the baptism of John until the day when he was taken up from us–one of these must become a witness with us to his resurrection.”

1:23 So they proposed two, Joseph called Barsabbas, who was also known as Justus, and Matthias.

1:24 Then they prayed and said, “Lord, you know everyone’s heart. Show us which one of these two you have chosen

1:25 to take the place in this ministry and apostleship from which Judas turned aside to go to his own place.”

1:26 And they cast lots for them, and the lot fell on Matthias; and he was added to the eleven apostles.

Commentary comes from Matthew Henry and John MacArthur.

To put the reading into context, the disciples returned to Jerusalem from watching Jesus ascend to heaven on the Mount of Olives (Mount Olivet):

12 Then they returned to Jerusalem from the mount called Olivet, which is near Jerusalem, a Sabbath day’s journey away. 13 And when they had entered, they went up to the upper room, where they were staying, Peter and John and James and Andrew, Philip and Thomas, Bartholomew and Matthew, James the son of Alphaeus and Simon the Zealot and Judas the son of James. 14 All these with one accord were devoting themselves to prayer, together with the women and Mary the mother of Jesus, and his brothers.[c]

Peter stood up before this group of 120 people in an upper room and began to speak (verse 15).

John MacArthur describes the location. A ‘Sabbath day’s journey’ was 2,000 cubits, not very far:

they would have just barely gotten inside the eastern gate of Jerusalem, and likely they would have been right where they were when they gathered together for the upper room occasion for that last Passover; and, perhaps, they were in the very same upper room where Jesus had appeared to them in resurrection. But it couldn’t have been very far inside the eastern wall; and as best we can tell, that’s the same area where the upper room was in proximity to the temple and all of the rest of the thing. And so they took the journey of about two-thousand cubits. That would be three-thousand feet for you that are still trying to figure that out, or a little over a half a mile. And in verse 13, it says, “And when they were come in, they went up into an upper room.” They came into the city of Jerusalem into a house and into an upper room.

Now, the houses were very commonly possessing upper rooms – or upper chambers, used four times in the New Testament, that particular designation. They were used for many purposes. Evidently, it was kind of like a living room. You know, it was kind of where you keep the kids out kind of thing for meditation, devotions, prayer. And when somebody died they usually got stuck in the upper room. So it had a multi-purpose both for the living and the dead. The reason I say the dead got put there was because in Acts 11 that’s where they put Dorcas when she died.

And so houses would have it. It was elevated from the regular pattern of the house, which was below. And so it must have been a big upper room. Must have been a pretty wealthy guy who had an upper room that size, because they got a lot of people in that upper room. They all went into that upper room.

They did not stay there round the clock. They would have also been praying at the temple, but this was their assembly room:

And so they were in and out of this upper room. But they came there to meet together, and then would go out from time to time.

Matthew Henry’s commentary has more:

Here was the beginning of the Christian church: this hundred and twenty was the grain of mustard-seed that grew into a tree, the leaven that leavened the whole lump. 2. The speaker was Peter, who had been, and still was, the most forward man; and therefore notice is taken of his forwardness and zeal, to show that he had perfectly recovered the ground he lost by his denying his Master, and, Peter being designed to be the apostle of the circumcision, while the sacred story stays among the Jews, he is still brought in, as afterwards, when it comes to speak of the Gentiles, it keeps to the story of Paul.

Peter wanted to replace the twelfth apostle Judas (verse 17), who died on the day of the Crucifixion. Judas’s betrayal of Christ was a fulfilment of Scripture (verse 16).

Henry explains why Peter wanted the apostolic replacement:

They were ordained twelve, with an eye to the twelve tribes of Israel, descended from the twelve patriarchs; they were the twelve stars that make up the church’s crown (Revelation 12:1), and for them twelve thrones were designated, Matthew 19:28. Now being twelve when they were learners, if they were but eleven when they were to be teachers, it would occasion every one to enquire what had become of the twelfth, and so revive the remembrance of the scandal of their society; and therefore care was taken, before the descent of the Spirit, to fill up the vacancy, of the doing of which we now have an account, our Lord Jesus, probably, having given directions about it, among other things which he spoke pertaining to the kingdom of God.

Unfortunately, the Lectionary omits the verses about the prophecy which Judas fulfilled. The following verses should not have been omitted:

18 (Now this man acquired a field with the reward of his wickedness, and falling headlong[d] he burst open in the middle and all his bowels gushed out. 19 And it became known to all the inhabitants of Jerusalem, so that the field was called in their own language Akeldama, that is, Field of Blood.) 20 For it is written in the Book of Psalms,

“‘May his camp become desolate,
    and let there be no one to dwell in it’;

and

“‘Let another take his office.’

The first verse cited, about the desolate camp, comes from Psalm 69:25 and the second from Psalm 109:8.

MacArthur, who wrote his seminary thesis on Judas, explains the Field of Blood and the betrayer’s death:

It’s called the Field of Blood because it was purchased with blood money. You’ve heard of blood money, haven’t you? This is where it all comes from: blood money, Judas money

Evidently Judas tried to hang himself on one of the rocky parapets that surround that field which is somewhere between the flux of the valley of Hinnom and the valley of Kidron. And in that particular field, elevated, there are very rocky areas. And, evidently, he had tried to suspend himself – maybe with a branch over the edge or something – and hang himself. But somehow the rope had snapped, and he had fallen on the rocks below, and burst asunder. What a tragedy. What an unbelievable tragedy …

Henry, who died in the early 18th century, says that bowels in this death were particularly important:

If, when the devil was cast out of a child, he tore him, threw him down, and rent him, and almost killed him (as we find Mark 9:26; Luke 9:42), no wonder if, when he had full possession of Judas, he threw him headlong, and burst him. The suffocation of him, which Matthew relates, would make him swell till he burst, which Peter relates. He burst asunder with a great noise (so Dr. Edwards), which was heard by the neighbours, and so, as it follows, it came to be known (Acts 1:19; Acts 1:19): His bowels gushed out; Luke writes like a physician, understanding all the entrails of the middle and lower ventricle. Bowelling is part of the punishment of traitors. Justly do those bowels gush out that were shut up against the Lord Jesus. And perhaps Christ had an eye to the fate of Judas, when he said of the wicked servant that he would cut him in sunder, Matthew 24:51.

MacArthur gives his verdict on Judas:

I think the attitude toward Judas is a tremendous sense of sorrow, a tremendous sense of awareness that any man who lives in the light of the gospel of Jesus Christ and walks away from that light brings upon himself damnation upon damnation. To know the truth and walk away from it, to sin willfully means there’s no sacrifice for sin. And of how much sorer punishment shall he be thought worthy who hath trodden under foot the Son of God, and counted the blood of the covenant an unholy thing. Judas: tragedy upon tragedy.

The Scripture, verse 20, Judas fulfilled it. It’s no accident that Judas dropped out, “For it is written in the book of Psalms, ‘Let his habitation be desolate, and let no man dwell therein.’” In other words, Peter is saying, “It is prophesied by David” – that’s Psalms 69:25 – “that the habitation of Judas would be desolate, that he would be removed, that Judas would be wiped out.” And then in a purer sense, he would really never be replaced.

And then it says, “His bishopric” – or his oversight, his overseeing, his episkopē, which means overseer – “let another take.” And that’s Psalm 109:8. Quotes two Psalms. And this simply means that he would be replaced. Judas’ place removed, somebody else placed in: not to take the place of Judas – nobody could ever do that, that was a place completely just taken away – but a twelfth brought in.

Peter gave his criterion for the replacement. The man had to have been a disciple throughout our Lord’s ministry (verse 21) all the way back to His baptism by John the Baptist through to the Resurrection then the Ascension (verse 22).

They decided on two candidates: Joseph called Barsabbas, who was also known as Justus, and Matthias (verse 23).

Wisely, they prayed for guidance, relying on the Lord’s knowledge of everyone’s heart (verse 24).

They also mentioned Judas, saying that he turned aside ministry and apostleship ‘to go to his own place’ (verse 25).

I read verse 25 closely for first time today and thought, ‘Wow!’

MacArthur would agree:

Verse 25 – ‘that he may take part of this ministry and apostleship from which Judas by transgression fell,’ – and then this shocking statement – ‘that he might go to his own place.’” Boy, that’s shocking statement.

Hell is the place where people belong who go there. Did you know that? They go there because it’s their own place. Did you know that death doesn’t change anything, it only crystallizes into permanency what you are in life; and by your own choice death becomes the securing of your own place? When Judas went to Hell it wasn’t out of the ordinary, that’s where he belonged; for that’s where he chose to go. He went to his own place – a fearful statement. Every man has a place in eternity that is his own by what he does with Jesus Christ.

They cast lots and the majority voted for Matthias (verse 26).

Oddly, this is the only time that Matthias and Justus are mentioned in the New Testament.

MacArthur says:

You know, it’s not always the shining lights, it’s not always the stars on the horizon that the Lord chooses to do the things He wants done, is it? Sometimes it’s the people you don’t even know that are really moving and doing the job for God. And here are two guys that nobody knows from anybody else. We have no idea who they are. They don’t appear before or after this.

There is much to contemplate here, especially with the missing verses about Judas added.

We do not know much about St Matthias. Some historians say he preached in Ethiopia and died there. Others say he died of old age in Jerusalem. Another group of scholars believe he was martyred in Jerusalem: stoned then beheaded.

Whatever the case, Matthias remains a popular name in France and Germany.

St Matthias is venerated in Catholic, Orthodox, Anglican and Lutheran churches, each of which has a different feast day for him.

File:Himmelfahrt Christi.jpgThe feast day of the Ascension of the Lord is Thursday, May 13, 2021.

The painting at left is German, Himmelfahrt Christi (The Ascension of Christ), by Mattheis Störbel. It was painted between 1515 and 1519 and is in the Deutsche Museum Nürnberg. This is likely to be the only depiction of the Ascension showing our Lord’s feet alone. (Image credit: Wikipedia)

Relevant posts follow, including the readings:

Readings for Ascension Day (same regardless of Lectionary year)

Ascension Day 2016 (John MacArthur on Acts 1-11)

A Reformed view of the Ascension (Christ as prophet, priest and king)

Acts 1:9-11 on the Ascension (addresses errors of preterism)

The Gospel reading is as follows (emphases mine):

Acts 1:1-11

1:1 In the first book, Theophilus, I wrote about all that Jesus did and taught from the beginning

1:2 until the day when he was taken up to heaven, after giving instructions through the Holy Spirit to the apostles whom he had chosen.

1:3 After his suffering he presented himself alive to them by many convincing proofs, appearing to them during forty days and speaking about the kingdom of God.

1:4 While staying with them, he ordered them not to leave Jerusalem, but to wait there for the promise of the Father. “This,” he said, “is what you have heard from me;

1:5 for John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit not many days from now.”

1:6 So when they had come together, they asked him, “Lord, is this the time when you will restore the kingdom to Israel?”

1:7 He replied, “It is not for you to know the times or periods that the Father has set by his own authority.

1:8 But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”

1:9 When he had said this, as they were watching, he was lifted up, and a cloud took him out of their sight.

1:10 While he was going and they were gazing up toward heaven, suddenly two men in white robes stood by them.

1:11 They said, “Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking up toward heaven? This Jesus, who has been taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way as you saw him go into heaven.”

Commentary is from John MacArthur.

The first verse should be no mystery, although I hope that celebrants everywhere explain to their congregations that Luke is the author of the Book of Acts, or Acts of the Apostles.

John MacArthur gives us the details:

Luke is the author of Acts. And Luke was closely associated with the apostles from about the time of Jesus’ death, around 30 A.D. to about 60 or 63 A.D. when evidently he penned this book; and in those intervening 30‑plus years, as Luke travelled in the companionship of the apostles, he penned what was going on …

Now, there are many reasons that Luke wanted to write this, and we could, perhaps, pull out as many reasons as there are truths in the book. It’s important, because it gives us the pattern of the church. It’s important, because it shows us the pattern of world evangelism. It’s important, because there are principles of discipleship. It’s important for a multiplicity of reasons. But in Luke’s own mind, as he is writing, he is directing this book to a particular Roman high official whose name we shall see in a moment; and in writing to this man, he is evidently – as one of his purposes – attempting to commend Christianity to the Roman world.

MacArthur tells us about Theophilus:

Now, if you go back to the beginning of Luke and look at chapter 1, verse 3, Luke addresses this gospel to Theophilus. He says, “To write unto thee in order, most excellent Theophilus, that thou mightest know the certainty of those things wherein thou hast been instructed.” Luke wrote Luke, the gospel of Luke, to Theophilus, and we know that. Now, here in chapter 1 of Acts, verse 1, he says, “The former treatise have I made, O Theophilus,” so we know it’s the same writer

Now, picking just a moment, some thoughts from the name Theophilus, which is a combination of two words meaning beloved of God, or friend of God, or lover of God. Theophilus we know little or nothing about except historically. In the second century, his name appears, and is some indication in the second century sources that he was an influential wealthy official in Antioch. There’s also some indication that Luke was originally from Antioch, and therefore Luke had a knowledge of this man; and perhaps because he was a well‑known physician had some connection with Theophilus.

Undoubtedly, Theophilus had become a believer; and consequently Luke had addressed these particular volumes to Theophilus to give him information, as he states in Luke, concerning Jesus Christ that he might well understand the things in which he had been instructed. So evidently he had come to Christ, and now he needed detail; and perhaps Theophilus was a man who demanded detail. Also the fact that he commends Christianity to the Romans would be in back of his mind as he writes to a Roman like Theophilus.

Now, we may also assume from Luke chapter 1, where he calls him “excellent Theophilus,” that he was a high-ranking Roman official, for the term “excellent” also appears in connection with Festus and Felix who were governors. So it is very likely that this man Theophilus was a very high-ranking Roman official who had come to Christ; and it is this one to whom Luke pens this two-volume set on the work of Jesus Christ, His work on earth and His work through His church, Volume 2. And you’ll notice that this is indicated very simply in verse 1. It says this: “I’m writing to you about all that Jesus” – what’s the next word? – “began, began to do and to teach.” In other words, “I only got it started.” Jesus on earth in the gospel accounts only began to do the work.

Luke writes that his first book — the Gospel — was about the ministry of Jesus up to His ascension to heaven, having given Spirit-inspired instructions to the Apostles, whom He had chosen (verse 2).

Readers of the New Testament know that the Apostles, especially Peter, did not understand the purpose of His ministry very well. Jesus knew that He needed to send them the gifts of the Holy Spirit, otherwise they would not be able to expand the Church.

MacArthur explains Luke’s use of ‘taken up to heaven’, repeated in verses 9 and 11:

Verse 9 emphasized it. It say He was taken up, verse 11 says He was taken up, and verse 22 says He was taken up. And the Holy Spirit is trying to tell us something: He was taken up. Physically in His glorified body, Jesus went up into heaven.

… the same Jesus Christ in the same glorified body that was touched by those disciples is sitting at the right hand of the Father, no different than He was when He left …

When He comes back He’ll be the very same that He was when He left. That’s why we can have confidence in what the writer of Hebrews says that we have not a high priest that cannot be touched with the feelings of our infirmities. He knows how we feel, because He’s there even now in a glorified body.

After His resurrection, Jesus continued appearing to the Apostles — eleven in number — teaching them about the kingdom of God (verse 3).

Jesus no longer appeared to everyone, as He had done before He was crucified. He appeared only to His disciples.

Luke says that Jesus told His disciples not to leave Jerusalem but to wait until God fulfilled His promise (verse 4): a baptism not of water, as in John the Baptist’s time, but of the Holy Spirit (verse 5).

That baptism of the Spirit would be a first. MacArthur explains how the Holy Spirit operated through prophets previously:

in the old economy, the Spirit would come and go according to the need. If you’re going to do a special work, the Spirit would come in, and then when the work was done He would depart.

The Old Testament says the Spirit of God descended upon Elijah then the Spirit of God departed. This is how the Spirit of God worked, never indwelling, but just moving in-and-out for a specific purpose. But the promise now is that the Spirit will come and be in you. That’s John 14:17, one of the really key verses in all the Word of God.

Note that when they gathered around Jesus before His return to the Father, the Apostles asked if He was going to restore Israel’s kingdom (verse 6). They were still thinking temporally, not spiritually.

Jesus deflects that by saying that only God the Father knows when He will accomplish His purpose according to His timeline (verse 7).

He then returns to discussing the imminent arrival, ten days hence, of the Holy Spirit which will enable the Apostles to be Christ’s witnesses, not only in the lands nearest to Jerusalem but also ‘to the ends of the earth’ (verse 8).

MacArthur paraphrases that verse:

“Don’t concentrate on when I’m coming; you concentrate on doing the job until I get there.”

He discusses the word ‘witness’ in Greek, from which we get the word ‘martyr’, and applies it to Westerners’ practice of Christianity today:

It’s interesting; the word “witness” here is martures. “Witnesses unto me” is mou martures, “My martyrs, My martyrs.” For some of you maybe it’ll be that. So many Christians died that the word “witness” finally came to mean martyr. So many of them died. Are you willing?

It’s sad; not only are we not willing to die for Jesus, most of us aren’t even willing to live for Him. We haven’t even learned not only what it is to be a dead sacrifice, but we haven’t learned what it is to be a living sacrifice.

Do you know what it is to be a living sacrifice? I think maybe Hosea knew a little bit about it when he said, “I’ll offer God the calves of my lips,” – in other words – “the real me.” I think Abraham knew what it was about when he went to sacrifice Isaac. Isaac would have been a dead sacrifice; Abraham would have been a living one. He was sacrificing all of his dreams, and promises, and everything God had ever given him when he slew that son. But he was willing to do it for God’s sake.

And that’s what a living witness is all about; that’s what a martyr is all about. God doesn’t necessarily want you to die for Him, but He wants you to live for Him as if you couldn’t care less about anything, sacrificing everything you have for His glory: a living witness, a living martyr, a living sacrifice.

As soon as Jesus had spoken about the Apostles’ upcoming mission, He was ‘lifted up’ and a cloud took Him out of their sight (verse 9).

As He ascended — returning home — the Apostles looked upward, when, suddenly, two men in white robes appeared beside them (verse 10).

The two men ask why the Apostles were looking heavenward, then say that Jesus will return to us in the same way that He left (verse 11). What a glorious day that will be.

The rapid growth of the Church was the result of the Holy Spirit entering into the Apostles, then those to whom they preached, not just for a time, but throughout their lives, just as we do:

The early church did it right. They did it from the day of Pentecost for thirty years. And you can follow the church by the blaze of their witness: super-charged with divine power. Witnessing fearlessly to the world, they turned the currents of civilization, they changed the face of the ages for God; and they had no more equipment than you have – none at all.

Admittedly, the Apostles did have particular Spirit-led gifts, such as healing. These were only for the Apostolic Era in order to spread the growth of the Church.

MacArthur’s sermon ends with this:

My grandfather had a poem written in his Bible, and I memorized it; and it goes like this: “When I stand at the judgment seat of Christ and He shows me His plan for me, the plan of my life as it might have been, and I see how I blocked Him here and checked Him there and would not yield my will; will there be grief in my Savior’s eyes, grief though He loves me still? He would have me rich, but I stand there poor, stripped of all but His grace, while memory runs like a haunted thing down a path I can’t retrace. Then my desolate heart will well nigh break with tears I cannot shed. I’ll cover my face with my empty hands, I’ll bow my uncrowned head.” Then this prayer: “O Lord, of the years that are left to me, I give them to Thy hand. Take me, break me, mold me to the pattern that Thou hast planned.”

I don’t know how much time we have, but I know whatever you do for Christ needs to be done today, because Jesus is coming. Christian, do you see it? Chapter 1, verse 1 to 11. You’ve got it all, you’ve got it all. It’s only a question of your will.

There is much for us to contemplate between Ascension Day and Pentecost Sunday — the Church’s birthday — in ten days’ time.

Below are the readings for the Sixth Sunday of Easter, May 9, 2021.

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

Emphases mine below.

First reading

This is part of the story of the conversion of Cornelius the centurion, who was the first Italian saint. Acts 10 is one of my favourite chapters in the New Testament. Peter has a divine vision. Cornelius has a divine vision. The two men meet, and Cornelius, along with his household, are the first Gentiles to be baptised. You can read all about the visions and encounter here and see Rembrandt’s inspired depiction of Cornelius.

Acts 10:44-48

10:44 While Peter was still speaking, the Holy Spirit fell upon all who heard the word.

10:45 The circumcised believers who had come with Peter were astounded that the gift of the Holy Spirit had been poured out even on the Gentiles,

10:46 for they heard them speaking in tongues and extolling God. Then Peter said,

10:47 “Can anyone withhold the water for baptizing these people who have received the Holy Spirit just as we have?”

10:48 So he ordered them to be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ. Then they invited him to stay for several days.

Psalm

This short, joyful and prophetic Psalm ties in well with the reading above, as verse 9 refers to Gentiles being brought into the Messiah’s kingdom.

Psalm 98

98:1 O sing to the LORD a new song, for he has done marvelous things. His right hand and his holy arm have gotten him victory.

98:2 The LORD has made known his victory; he has revealed his vindication in the sight of the nations.

98:3 He has remembered his steadfast love and faithfulness to the house of Israel. All the ends of the earth have seen the victory of our God.

98:4 Make a joyful noise to the LORD, all the earth; break forth into joyous song and sing praises.

98:5 Sing praises to the LORD with the lyre, with the lyre and the sound of melody.

98:6 With trumpets and the sound of the horn make a joyful noise before the King, the LORD.

98:7 Let the sea roar, and all that fills it; the world and those who live in it.

98:8 Let the floods clap their hands; let the hills sing together for joy

98:9 at the presence of the LORD, for he is coming to judge the earth. He will judge the world with righteousness, and the peoples with equity.

Epistle

Readings from 1 John continue. There is much to contemplate in these six verses: the light burden of God’s commandments, faith conquering the world (of sin) and the sacrifice of Jesus Christ for our sins.

1 John 5:1-6

5:1 Everyone who believes that Jesus is the Christ has been born of God, and everyone who loves the parent loves the child.

5:2 By this we know that we love the children of God, when we love God and obey his commandments.

5:3 For the love of God is this, that we obey his commandments. And his commandments are not burdensome,

5:4 for whatever is born of God conquers the world. And this is the victory that conquers the world, our faith.

5:5 Who is it that conquers the world but the one who believes that Jesus is the Son of God?

5:6 This is the one who came by water and blood, Jesus Christ, not with the water only but with the water and the blood. And the Spirit is the one that testifies, for the Spirit is the truth.

Gospel

Readings from John’s Gospel continue. This reading picks up from last week’s. Jesus spoke these words at the conclusion of the Last Supper, after He sent Judas away. He wanted to make sure that the Apostles stayed together in faith and love.

John 15:9-17

15:9 As the Father has loved me, so I have loved you; abide in my love.

15:10 If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in his love.

15:11 I have said these things to you so that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be complete.

15:12 “This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you.

15:13 No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.

15:14 You are my friends if you do what I command you.

15:15 I do not call you servants any longer, because the servant does not know what the master is doing; but I have called you friends, because I have made known to you everything that I have heard from my Father.

15:16 You did not choose me but I chose you. And I appointed you to go and bear fruit, fruit that will last, so that the Father will give you whatever you ask him in my name.

15:17 I am giving you these commands so that you may love one another.

The Gospel reading is apposite, as Ascension Day is on this coming Thursday. Next Sunday, the one that precedes Pentecost, is traditionally known as Exaudi Sunday, one of sadness and bewilderment for the disciples after Christ ascends to Heaven. They had no idea how powerful the coming of the Holy Spirit would be: how that first Pentecost would change their lives and bring about the birth of the Church.

Below are the readings for the Fifth Sunday of Easter, May 2, 2021.

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

Emphases below are mine.

First reading

The eunuch from Ethiopia asks Philip the Apostle to teach him about Jesus. This would have been some time after the first Pentecost. There were different types of eunuchs in the ancient world; not all were castrated but all held important positions in the courts where they served. Matthew Henry’s commentary says this man was a eunuch ‘not in body, but in office-lord chamberlain or steward of the household’ and would have commanded respect. This event fulfilled the prophecy of Psalm 68:31: ‘Ethiopia shall soon stretch out her hands unto God’. The eunuch had been reading Isaiah, and Isaiah 53:7-8 are cited below in Acts 8:32-33.

Acts 8:26-40

8:26 Then an angel of the Lord said to Philip, “Get up and go toward the south to the road that goes down from Jerusalem to Gaza.” (This is a wilderness road.)

8:27 So he got up and went. Now there was an Ethiopian eunuch, a court official of the Candace, queen of the Ethiopians, in charge of her entire treasury. He had come to Jerusalem to worship

8:28 and was returning home; seated in his chariot, he was reading the prophet Isaiah.

8:29 Then the Spirit said to Philip, “Go over to this chariot and join it.”

8:30 So Philip ran up to it and heard him reading the prophet Isaiah. He asked, “Do you understand what you are reading?”

8:31 He replied, “How can I, unless someone guides me?” And he invited Philip to get in and sit beside him.

8:32 Now the passage of the scripture that he was reading was this: “Like a sheep he was led to the slaughter, and like a lamb silent before its shearer, so he does not open his mouth.

8:33 In his humiliation justice was denied him. Who can describe his generation? For his life is taken away from the earth.”

8:34 The eunuch asked Philip, “About whom, may I ask you, does the prophet say this, about himself or about someone else?”

8:35 Then Philip began to speak, and starting with this scripture, he proclaimed to him the good news about Jesus.

8:36 As they were going along the road, they came to some water; and the eunuch said, “Look, here is water! What is to prevent me from being baptized?”

8:38 He commanded the chariot to stop, and both of them, Philip and the eunuch, went down into the water, and Philip baptized him.

8:39 When they came up out of the water, the Spirit of the Lord snatched Philip away; the eunuch saw him no more, and went on his way rejoicing.

8:40 But Philip found himself at Azotus, and as he was passing through the region, he proclaimed the good news to all the towns until he came to Caesarea.

Psalm

David prophesies the Messiah in this beautiful Psalm. These are the concluding verses.

Psalm 22:25-31

22:25 From you comes my praise in the great congregation; my vows I will pay before those who fear him.

22:26 The poor shall eat and be satisfied; those who seek him shall praise the LORD. May your hearts live forever!

22:27 All the ends of the earth shall remember and turn to the LORD; and all the families of the nations shall worship before him.

22:28 For dominion belongs to the LORD, and he rules over the nations.

22:29 To him, indeed, shall all who sleep in the earth bow down; before him shall bow all who go down to the dust, and I shall live for him.

22:30 Posterity will serve him; future generations will be told about the Lord,

22:31 and proclaim his deliverance to a people yet unborn, saying that he has done it.

Epistle

Readings from 1 John continue. Here John writes of love of each other and of God.

1 John 4:7-21

4:7 Beloved, let us love one another, because love is from God; everyone who loves is born of God and knows God.

4:8 Whoever does not love does not know God, for God is love.

4:9 God’s love was revealed among us in this way: God sent his only Son into the world so that we might live through him.

4:10 In this is love, not that we loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the atoning sacrifice for our sins.

4:11 Beloved, since God loved us so much, we also ought to love one another.

4:12 No one has ever seen God; if we love one another, God lives in us, and his love is perfected in us.

4:13 By this we know that we abide in him and he in us, because he has given us of his Spirit.

4:14 And we have seen and do testify that the Father has sent his Son as the Savior of the world.

4:15 God abides in those who confess that Jesus is the Son of God, and they abide in God.

4:16 So we have known and believe the love that God has for us. God is love, and those who abide in love abide in God, and God abides in them.

4:17 Love has been perfected among us in this: that we may have boldness on the day of judgment, because as he is, so are we in this world.

4:18 There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear; for fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not reached perfection in love.

4:19 We love because he first loved us.

4:20 Those who say, “I love God,” and hate their brothers or sisters, are liars; for those who do not love a brother or sister whom they have seen, cannot love God whom they have not seen.

4:21 The commandment we have from him is this: those who love God must love their brothers and sisters also.

Gospel

Readings from John’s Gospel continue. Jesus spoke these words to the remaining eleven Apostles at the Last Supper. He had already sent Judas away.

John 15:1-8

15:1 “I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinegrower.

15:2 He removes every branch in me that bears no fruit. Every branch that bears fruit he prunes to make it bear more fruit.

15:3 You have already been cleansed by the word that I have spoken to you.

15:4 Abide in me as I abide in you. Just as the branch cannot bear fruit by itself unless it abides in the vine, neither can you unless you abide in me.

15:5 I am the vine, you are the branches. Those who abide in me and I in them bear much fruit, because apart from me you can do nothing.

15:6 Whoever does not abide in me is thrown away like a branch and withers; such branches are gathered, thrown into the fire, and burned.

15:7 If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask for whatever you wish, and it will be done for you.

15:8 My Father is glorified by this, that you bear much fruit and become my disciples.

This is a particularly excellent set of Lectionary readings. The themes of joy, hope and love here should lift our thoughts in the days ahead.

In 2021, the Fourth Sunday of Easter is April 25.

The readings for Year B can be found here.

The Gospel reading of the Good Shepherd follows (emphases mine):

John 10:11-18

10:11 “I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.

10:12 The hired hand, who is not the shepherd and does not own the sheep, sees the wolf coming and leaves the sheep and runs away–and the wolf snatches them and scatters them.

10:13 The hired hand runs away because a hired hand does not care for the sheep.

10:14 I am the good shepherd. I know my own and my own know me,

10:15 just as the Father knows me and I know the Father. And I lay down my life for the sheep.

10:16 I have other sheep that do not belong to this fold. I must bring them also, and they will listen to my voice. So there will be one flock, one shepherd.

10:17 For this reason the Father loves me, because I lay down my life in order to take it up again.

10:18 No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have power to lay it down, and I have power to take it up again. I have received this command from my Father.”

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

It is useful to put this passage in context.

Matthew Henry’s commentary tells us:

It is not certain whether this discourse was at the feast of dedication in the winter (spoken of John 10:22), which may be taken as the date, not only of what follows, but of what goes before (that which countenances this is, that Christ, in his discourse there, carries on the metaphor of the sheep, John 10:26,27, whence it seems that that discourse and this were at the same time) or whether this was a continuation of his parley with the Pharisees, in the close of the foregoing chapter. The Pharisees supported themselves in their opposition to Christ with this principle, that they were the pastors of the church, and that Jesus, having no commission from them, was an intruder and an impostor, and therefore the people were bound in duty to stick to then, against him. In opposition to this, Christ here describes who were the false shepherds, and who the true, leaving them to infer what they were.

John MacArthur is certain that John 10 is a continuation of the events in John 8 and 9:

Chapter 9, then, features an extension of chapter 8 in the hostility of the religious leaders of Judaism toward Jesus. The healing of the blind man, in a sense, in the big drama of things, is somewhat incidental. Not incidental to the blind man, but the big picture here is that when Jesus does a monumental miracle that has no other explanation, because this is a man congenitally blind, and everybody knows it because he’s a familiar figure there who has been begging a long time, it has no effect on how they feel about Jesus. They make no move in the direction of affirming something other than that He’s satanic. Their hostility has passed the point of any return. They are, in fact, demonstrating themselves to be false leaders who, instead of acknowledging their Messiah, reject their Messiah, and want to execute their Messiah. They are, in a word, the false shepherds of Israel

So, in chapter 9, after the healing of this man, they surface again with the same hatred and the same hostilityThe chapter closes, chapter 9 does, with Jesus pronouncing a judgment on them because of their blindness, because they are willfully blind to the truth. The conversation, specifically with them, ends with these words: “Your sin remains.”  You are anything but righteous.  You are in your sin. 

Now, He said that back earlier when He said to them, “You will die in your sin, and where I go, you will never come.”  Here He says, a couple of chapters later, “You remain in your sin.”  Your sin remains.  So, here are the blind leaders of Israel, the blind leaders of the blind; here are the false shepherds of Israel.

As we come into chapter 10, He is still talking to them, still talking to them.  They’re still there.  The blind man is still thereThe disciples are thereThe crowd of Jews is there by the location where the healing took placeAnd the Pharisees, scribes, are still thereJesus then launches into a description of how a good shepherd conducts his life … It is, according to verse 6, a figure of speech, an analogy, a metaphor … A shepherd has his own sheep.  He has his own sheep.  He knows his own sheep He not only has the right to lead and feed his own sheep, but he has the responsibility to lead and feed his own sheep.

Jesus continues His discourse and says that He alone is the Good Shepherd, because He lays down His own life for the sheep (verse 11).

In the Old Testament, the Messiah is portrayed as a shepherd. Henry says:

He was prophesied of under the Old Testament as a shepherd, Ezek. xxxiv. 23 xxxvii. 24 Zech. xiii. 7.

By contrast, a hired hand — hireling — has more interest in his own welfare rather than those of the sheep; as such, he runs away in times of trouble (verse 12). That could mean a marauding wolf or violent thieves. In the case of the latter, the hired hand might hope to receive some money from the thieves for allowing them to steal the sheep.

As for a menacing wolf, Henry says:

See here, (a.) How basely the hireling deserts his post when he sees the wolf coming, though then there is most need of him, he leaves the sheep and flees. Note, Those who mind their safety more than their duty are an easy prey to Satan’s temptations. (b.) How fatal the consequences are! the hireling fancies the sheep may look to themselves, but it does not prove so: the wolf catches them, and scatters the sheep, and woeful havoc is made of the flock, which will all be charged upon the treacherous shepherd. The blood of perishing souls is required at the hand of the careless watchmen.

The hireling will desert the flock because he does not care at all about the sheep (verse 13).

The Jewish hierarchy did not care about the humble believers in their midst, most of whom they despised for their lowly status in life. They cared about their positions and their posturing. They were not interested in teaching the faithful. If they really cared to reread Scripture, they would see the Messiah in their midst and would tell the Jews to follow Him. But they were woefully, wilfully blind. Instead, they wanted to kill Him.

Jesus repeats that He is the Good Shepherd; He knows His sheep and they know Him (verse 14).

MacArthur explains the repetition:

Let’s look at that a little bit.  “I am the good shepherd.”  Then He repeats it immediately, “the good shepherd,” again.  Now, this is an important construction for us to understand.  The emphasis here is this: “I am the shepherd, the good one.”  Very important order there.  “I am the shepherd, the good one.”  As if to say, “in contrast to all the bad ones.”  I am the shepherd, the good one.  But there’s two words in Greek for “good.”  One is agathos, from which you get the word, “agatha,” or the name “Agatha.”  Agathos, old name.  Agathos means sort of morally good.  Good, and sort of confined to moral goodness.  It’s a wonderful word, a magnificent word, familiar in the New Testament.

But the other word is kalos, the opposite of kakos, which is “to be bad.”  Kalos is to be good not only in the sense of moral quality, but it’s a more encompassing wordIt means to be beautiful, to be magnificent, to be winsome, to be attractive, to be lovely, to be excellent on all levels, not just in that which is unseen in terms of character, but in all aspectsI am the shepherd, the excellent one.  I am the shepherd, be it the lovely one, the beautiful one, as contrasted to the ugly ones, the dangerous ones

He is not just another shepherd.  He is the shepherd, the good one, the one who is preeminently excellentHe’s above all shepherds.  The good one. 

Christ knows His faithful just as well as He and His Father know each other; therefore, He lays down His life for His own (verse 15).

Henry explains:

Christ speaks here as if he gloried in being known by his sheep, and thought their respect an honour to him. Upon this occasion Christ mentions (John 10:15) the mutual acquaintance between his Father and himself: As the Father knoweth me, even so know I the Father. Now this may be considered, either, First, As the ground of that intimate acquaintance and relation which subsist between Christ and believers. The covenant of grace, which is the bond of this relation, is founded in the covenant of redemption between the Father and the Son, which, we may be sure, stands firm for the Father and the Son understood one another perfectly well in that matter, and there could be no mistake, which might leave the matter at any uncertainty, or bring it into any hazard. The Lord Jesus knows whom he hath chosen, and is sure of them (John 13:18), and they also know whom they have trusted, and are sure of him (2 Timothy 1:12), and the ground of both is the perfect knowledge which the Father and the Son had of one another’s mind, when the counsel of peace was between them both. Or, Secondly, As an apt similitude, illustrating the intimacy that is between Christ and believers. It may be connected with the foregoing words, thus: I know my sheep, and am known of mine, even as the Father knows me, and I know the Father compare John 17:21. 1. As the Father knew the Son, and loved him, and owned him in his sufferings, when he was led as a sheep to the slaughter, so Christ knows his sheep, and has a watchful tender eye upon them, will be with them when they are left alone, as his Father was with him. 2. As the Son knew the Father, loved and obeyed him, and always did those things that pleased him, confiding in him as his God even when he seemed to forsake him, so believers know Christ with an obediential fiducial regard.

MacArthur discusses a shepherd’s death for his own flock:

Shepherds were absolutely responsible for sheep.  It was serious business.  It was a man’s man’s job, and it was really kind of a lowly and humble job as well, because it was unskilled and it was high risk, and it was messy and dirty.  But a shepherd was absolutely responsible for the sheep.  If anything happened to the shepherd, he had to produce proof that it was not his fault due to dereliction of duty or rustling the sheep away for his own keeping, or letting a friend take one, or whatever.

Amos the prophet speaks about the shepherd rescuing two legs, or a piece of an ear out of the lion’s mouth (Amos 3:12).  They were in battle with beasts.  There were wolves, there were mountain lions, there were even bears.  David tells Saul how when he was keeping his father’s sheep, back in 1 Samuel 17, David fought off a lion, and he fought off a bear.  By the way, that’s what made David such a heroic shepherd.

In Isaiah 31, Isaiah speaks of the crowd of shepherds being called outWhen a lion attacked, they called the shepherds to go fight the lion.  The law laid it down, Exodus 22:13, “If the sheep be torn in pieces, then let him bring a piece for a witness.”  If you don’t have a sheep, if you lost a sheep, you have to account for that sheep to the ultimate owner.  You have to bring a piece to prove that it was an animal. 

To the shepherd, it was the most natural thing then to risk his life.  It’s what shepherds did.  It’s what they did.  You could just take them to the grass and leave them there, I suppose, but why did the shepherd stay?  Why those long, long, long hours of staying there?  Because he had to be a protector

There’s an old book called the The Land of the Book, and the author of that historical look at Israel said, “I have listened with intense interest to their graphic descriptions of downright and desperate fights with savage beasts.  And when the thief and the robber come, the faithful shepherd has often to put his life in his hand to defend his flock.  I have known more than one case where he had literally to lay it down in the contest.”  Well, I mean, if you’re fighting a wild beast, you could lose.  So, there was risk and you couldn’t just all of a sudden stop the riskIt could come to death.

Then Jesus mentions Gentiles indirectly: ‘other sheep that do not belong to this fold’; He needs to gather them in so that there will be one flock with one shepherd (verse 16). Jesus wants Jews and Gentiles alike to become His one flock with Himself as the head of the Church.

Henry expresses this as follows:

First, “They shall hear my voice. Not only my voice shall be heard among them (whereas they have not heard, and therefore could not believe, now the sound of the gospel shall go to the ends of the earth), but it shall be heard by them I will speak, and give to them to hear.” Faith comes by hearing, and our diligent observance of the voice of Christ is both a means and an evidence of our being brought to Christ, and to God by him. Secondly, There shall be one fold and one shepherd. As there is one shepherd, so there shall be one fold. Both Jews and Gentiles, upon their turning to the faith of Christ, shall be incorporated in one church, be joint and equal sharers in the privileges of it, without distinction. Being united to Christ, they shall unite in him two sticks shall become one in the hand of the Lord. Note, One shepherd makes one fold one Christ makes one church. As the church is one in its constitution, subject to one head, animated by one Spirit, and guided by one rule, so the members of it ought to be one in love and affection, Ephesians 4:3-6.

Henry says that verse was also intended in another way, to refute the allegations of the Jewish hierarchy that He had few followers:

Christ speaks of those other sheep, First, To take off the contempt that was put upon him, as having few followers, as having but a little flock, and therefore, if a good shepherd, yet a poor shepherd: “But,” saith he, “I have more sheep than you see.” Secondly, To take down the pride and vain-glory of the Jews, who thought the Messiah must gather all his sheep from among them. “No,” saith Christ, “I have others whom I will set with the lambs of my flock, though you disdain to set them with the dogs of your flock.”

Jesus tells the crowd what will happen to Him — death and resurrection — both of which please His Father (verse 17).

Jesus says that He does both through His own power, as commanded by God (verse 18).

MacArthur points out that Jesus was speaking of His soul:

Go down to verse 18.  “No one has taken it away from Me, but I lay it down on My own initiative.  I have authority to lay it down, and to take it again.” 

Freely, voluntarily, Jesus gave up His life for the sheep.  Some would say, “Well, that’s no big thing.  He’s God, so He had a body, and He gave up the body and, you know, big deal.”  It’s more than that.  It’s strange that the commentators would even say something like that.  There was a lot more than that, and it’s bound up in the word “life.”  He lays down His life.  It’s not the word bios or zoe.  Those are the two words for “life” in Greek.  Bios, biological life; zoe, that gets transliterated “zoology,” the study of life. 

It was neither of those sort of scientific words.  It’s the word psuche, which is the word for “soul,” which speaks of the whole person.  Not the outside, but the inside.  The psuche is the inside.  He gave up His soul, His whole person.  He didn’t just feel the pain of the nails in His body, and the pain of the thorns in His body, and the pain of the scourging in His bodyHis whole soul was tortured with sin-bearing anguish, suffering.

In Matthew 20:28, Jesus said, “The Son of man gives His soul a ransom for many.”  It translates “life,” but it’s psuche againHe gives His soul, His whole person, and He felt it in every part of His being

Why did He do that?  Why did He voluntarily lay down His soul?  He says, “for the sheep,” huper, “on behalf of, for the benefit of.”  That’s exactly what it says in 2 Corinthians 5:21 where Paul explains: “He who knew no sin became sin for us” – “for us,” “for us,” “for us.”  Huper appears in a lot of passages that speak about the substitutionary atonement of Christ, that He took our place, that He died for usAn actual atonement, folks.  He laid down His soul for the sheep.  That’s pretty narrow.  For the sheep.  It was an actual atonement, a complete atonement for the sheep whom He knew, and who, when called, would know Him.

He did it for the benefit of the sheep.  From a natural standpoint, if this happened to the shepherd, that’s the end of the sheep.  If something’s coming after the sheep and kills the shepherd, the sheep are going to be vulnerable.  They’re liable to be killed, they’re liable to be scattered. Whether it’s an animal or a robber or a thief, the death of the shepherd could really spell the end of the sheep. 

But this shepherd?  No.  Because He laid down His life, verse 18 says He had the power to do what?  “Take it up again.”  And on the third day, He came out of the grave and re-gathered His scattered sheep.  Were they scattered?  Yeah, they were.  Smite the shepherd and what?  The sheep are scattered.  Zechariah promised, and they were.  But He came back from the grave and re-gathered them, and He said this: “All that the Father gives to me will come to Me, and I have lost none of them.” 

MacArthur explains what this means for today’s clergy, referring to a missionaries conference:

Jesus said in Matthew 7, “There is inside danger, the false teachers, who instead of protecting the flock, flee when the danger comes.”  But the True Shepherd, He gives His life for the sheep, and then He takes it back again and gathers them as they have been scattered.

So, the church’s first essential really in leadership is Christ-like shepherding, where you even put your life on the line, even risk your life for the sheep.  You risk your life to be the one through whom God in Christ can call them out, protect them.  When the danger comes, you don’t run.  When the danger comes, you stand up

I was talking to one of the missionaries at the conference yesterday, and he was saying, “Where are the people who will stand up and speak the truth to protect the people of God?  Where are they?”  So hard to find any.  We’re all under-shepherds, 1 Peter 5, under the Great Shepherd, the Good Shepherd.  We all have to be willing to risk our lives for the sheep

MacArthur goes on to say that ‘know’ in these verses includes the notion of ‘love’ in Greek:

It’s all know, four times, the verb ginosko, “to know.”  Well, let me show you something, just a little bit of a hint.  “My Father knows Me,” verse 15.  “My Father knows Me.” Verse 17, “the Father loves Me.”  That’s the interpretive key.  The word “know” here has the idea of a loving relationship

It’s not about information. It’s about love, and four times, that word “know” here, it implies this intimate relationship, this intimate, sweet, loving fellowship

He loves His sheep.  He knows them more than knowing their name, more than knowing who they are.  He has an intimate relationship with them.  He knows them intimately.  In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus said, “Depart from Me, I never” – What? – “I never knew you, but I know who you are.”  It’s not about information.  I know who you are.  I don’t have any intimate relationship with you, any love relationship.  He wanted to give His life for His sheep because He knew them, He loved them

John 3:16“God so loved the world that He” – What? – “gave His only begotten Son.”  That’s why the Father gave the Son; that’s why the Son gave His life.  He loves His sheep.  He loves His sheep.  This too is in stark contrast to the false shepherds who have no love for the sheep, no affection for the sheep that they claim to shepherd He loves His own

I hope this adds depth to the title of our Lord as the Good Shepherd.

May all reading this have a very blessed Sunday.

Below are the readings for the Third Sunday of Easter, April 18.

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

Emphases mine below.

First reading

Peter has just healed a lame man. It is a pity that the Lectionary compilers could not have included the first part of Acts 3 to put this reading into context. This miracle took place soon after the first Pentecost. Who doesn’t want to hear about a miracle?

One would almost think the Lectionary editors despise the Bible. These omissions make most pewsitters think that Holy Scripture is arcane, obscure or boring.

Here are those verses:

The Lame Beggar Healed

Now Peter and John were going up to the temple at the hour of prayer, the ninth hour.[a] And a man lame from birth was being carried, whom they laid daily at the gate of the temple that is called the Beautiful Gate to ask alms of those entering the temple. Seeing Peter and John about to go into the temple, he asked to receive alms. And Peter directed his gaze at him, as did John, and said, “Look at us.” And he fixed his attention on them, expecting to receive something from them. But Peter said, “I have no silver and gold, but what I do have I give to you. In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, rise up and walk!” And he took him by the right hand and raised him up, and immediately his feet and ankles were made strong. And leaping up, he stood and began to walk, and entered the temple with them, walking and leaping and praising God. And all the people saw him walking and praising God, 10 and recognized him as the one who sat at the Beautiful Gate of the temple, asking for alms. And they were filled with wonder and amazement at what had happened to him.

Peter Speaks in Solomon’s Portico

11 While he clung to Peter and John, all the people, utterly astounded, ran together to them in the portico called Solomon’s.

Here is today’s reading, which shows how the Holy Spirit transformed Peter into a bold healer and preacher:

Acts 3:12-19

3:12 When Peter saw it, he addressed the people, “You Israelites, why do you wonder at this, or why do you stare at us, as though by our own power or piety we had made him walk?

3:13 The God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, the God of our ancestors has glorified his servant Jesus, whom you handed over and rejected in the presence of Pilate, though he had decided to release him.

3:14 But you rejected the Holy and Righteous One and asked to have a murderer given to you,

3:15 and you killed the Author of life, whom God raised from the dead. To this we are witnesses.

3:16 And by faith in his name, his name itself has made this man strong, whom you see and know; and the faith that is through Jesus has given him this perfect health in the presence of all of you.

3:17 “And now, friends, I know that you acted in ignorance, as did also your rulers.

3:18 In this way God fulfilled what he had foretold through all the prophets, that his Messiah would suffer.

3:19 Repent therefore, and turn to God so that your sins may be wiped out,

Psalm

In this short Psalm, David exhorts his people to repent for the peace it provides with God. It fits well with the reading from Acts.

Psalm 4

4:1 Answer me when I call, O God of my right! You gave me room when I was in distress. Be gracious to me, and hear my prayer.

4:2 How long, you people, shall my honor suffer shame? How long will you love vain words, and seek after lies? Selah

4:3 But know that the LORD has set apart the faithful for himself; the LORD hears when I call to him.

4:4 When you are disturbed, do not sin; ponder it on your beds, and be silent. Selah

4:5 Offer right sacrifices, and put your trust in the LORD.

4:6 There are many who say, “O that we might see some good! Let the light of your face shine on us, O LORD!”

4:7 You have put gladness in my heart more than when their grain and wine abound.

4:8 I will both lie down and sleep in peace; for you alone, O LORD, make me lie down in safety.

Epistle

Readings from 1 John continue. John tells his Christian converts of the glorified bodies that they and all believers will have one day as children of God.

1 John 3:1-7

3:1 See what love the Father has given us, that we should be called children of God; and that is what we are. The reason the world does not know us is that it did not know him.

3:2 Beloved, we are God’s children now; what we will be has not yet been revealed. What we do know is this: when he is revealed, we will be like him, for we will see him as he is.

3:3 And all who have this hope in him purify themselves, just as he is pure.

3:4 Everyone who commits sin is guilty of lawlessness; sin is lawlessness.

3:5 You know that he was revealed to take away sins, and in him there is no sin.

3:6 No one who abides in him sins; no one who sins has either seen him or known him.

3:7 Little children, let no one deceive you. Everyone who does what is right is righteous, just as he is righteous.

Gospel

This reading comes at the end of Luke’s Gospel. The preceding event was the encounter with Christ — although the disciples did not recognise Him — on the road to Emmaus on the day of our Lord’s resurrection. He now had a glorified body.

Luke 24:36b-48

24:36b While they were talking about this, Jesus himself stood among them and said to them, “Peace be with you.”

24:37 They were startled and terrified, and thought that they were seeing a ghost.

24:38 He said to them, “Why are you frightened, and why do doubts arise in your hearts?

24:39 Look at my hands and my feet; see that it is I myself. Touch me and see; for a ghost does not have flesh and bones as you see that I have.”

24:40 And when he had said this, he showed them his hands and his feet.

24:41 While in their joy they were disbelieving and still wondering, he said to them, “Have you anything here to eat?”

24:42 They gave him a piece of broiled fish,

24:43 and he took it and ate in their presence.

24:44 Then he said to them, “These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you–that everything written about me in the law of Moses, the prophets, and the psalms must be fulfilled.”

24:45 Then he opened their minds to understand the scriptures,

24:46 and he said to them, “Thus it is written, that the Messiah is to suffer and to rise from the dead on the third day,

24:47 and that repentance and forgiveness of sins is to be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem.

24:48 You are witnesses of these things.

So, Jesus fulfilled the prophecies of Scripture. It was God’s plan for His Son to suffer at the hands of men to die for our sins, reconcile us to God and bring us to everlasting life.

I am writing this on Saturday, the day of Prince Philip’s funeral at Windsor Castle. Eternal rest grant unto your servant Philip, O Lord, and let perpetual light shine upon him. May his soul and all the souls of the faithful departed through the mercy of God rest in peace. Amen.

All being well, Monday’s post will recap the funeral and include more recollections about Prince Philip.

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

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

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

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

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

Emphases below are mine.

First reading

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

Acts 4:32-35

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

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

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

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

Psalm

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

Psalm 133

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

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

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

Epistle

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

1 John 1:1-2:2

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Gospel

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

John 20:19-31

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

jesus-christ-the-king-blogsigncomThe readings for Easter Day, along with a number of my previous posts about the Resurrection, can be found here.

I have chosen John’s Gospel, rather than Luke’s, because in 2021, most of the Lenten and Holy Week readings have come from his book.

John refers to himself in verses 2, 4, 5 and 8. Emphases in bold are mine:

John 20:1-18

20:1 Early on the first day of the week, while it was still dark, Mary Magdalene came to the tomb and saw that the stone had been removed from the tomb.

20:2 So she ran and went to Simon Peter and the other disciple, the one whom Jesus loved, and said to them, “They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we do not know where they have laid him.”

20:3 Then Peter and the other disciple set out and went toward the tomb.

20:4 The two were running together, but the other disciple outran Peter and reached the tomb first.

20:5 He bent down to look in and saw the linen wrappings lying there, but he did not go in.

20:6 Then Simon Peter came, following him, and went into the tomb. He saw the linen wrappings lying there,

20:7 and the cloth that had been on Jesus’ head, not lying with the linen wrappings but rolled up in a place by itself.

20:8 Then the other disciple, who reached the tomb first, also went in, and he saw and believed;

20:9 for as yet they did not understand the scripture, that he must rise from the dead.

20:10 Then the disciples returned to their homes.

20:11 But Mary stood weeping outside the tomb. As she wept, she bent over to look into the tomb;

20:12 and she saw two angels in white, sitting where the body of Jesus had been lying, one at the head and the other at the feet.

20:13 They said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping?” She said to them, “They have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid him.”

20:14 When she had said this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing there, but she did not know that it was Jesus.

20:15 Jesus said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping? Whom are you looking for?” Supposing him to be the gardener, she said to him, “Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have laid him, and I will take him away.”

20:16 Jesus said to her, “Mary!” She turned and said to him in Hebrew, “Rabbouni!” (which means Teacher).

20:17 Jesus said to her, “Do not hold on to me, because I have not yet ascended to the Father. But go to my brothers and say to them, ‘I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.’”

20:18 Mary Magdalene went and announced to the disciples, “I have seen the Lord”; and she told them that he had said these things to her.

Commentary comes from Matthew Henry and John MacArthur.

This is one of the Gospel accounts of the Resurrection: the first Christian sabbath, as Matthew Henry’s commentary states.

John MacArthur tells us:

You need to understand that the resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ is not just a feature of Christianity, it is the main event; it is the main event.

Resurrection is the point of redemption. The whole purpose of God in creating and redeeming His people is to raise them to eternal glory so that they can worship Him forever. That is the point of His redemption resurrection to eternal glory in not only glorified spirits, but glorified bodies. Our resurrection is secured by the power of God, the power of Christ demonstrated in His resurrection. Because He lives, we will live.

The resurrection is not only a demonstration of power, it is also a validation of His offering, because God was satisfied with the sacrifice Christ offered for the sins of His people. God raised Him from the dead, validating His work on the cross. He said, “It is finished!” God said, “I am satisfied,” raised Him, and He ascended to eternal glory, sat down at the right hand of God to intercede for His people and bring them all into eternal glory spiritually and in resurrected form.

The resurrection then is the greatest event in history – in redemptive history, or in history period. It is the most significant expression of the power of God on behalf of believers. It is the cornerstone of gospel promise. We are saved to be raised from the dead, and into heaven we go forever in that resurrected form. The purpose of salvation, again, is a resurrected people.

Because Christ conquered death, because He conquered sin, we will be raised to dwell with Him forever. How important is this? Romans 10:9-10, “If you confess Jesus as Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved.”

The Passover Sabbath had ended, and Mary Magdalene went to our Lord’s tomb in the darkness just before dawn the next morning (Sunday), only to find that the stone had been removed from the tomb (verse 1).

Matthew Henry says:

This was the first Christian sabbath, and she begins it accordingly with enquiries after Christ.

MacArthur ties together other Gospel accounts to put a timeline in place:

… it was John who said “it was still dark” when Mary Magdalene came to the tomb. What that tells us, and what we know to be true from the other writers, is that she was the first one there; she was the first one there. Dawn happens fairly rapidly; but when she came, being the first one, it was still on the dark side of dawn.

Now she didn’t start out alone. According to Matthew 27 another Mary, Mary the mother of James and Joses, was with her; so she wasn’t alone. But she got there first. She’s in a hurry to get there, and she gets there before the other Mary. Matthew tells us in Matthew 28:1 both Marys headed for the tomb. But now we know Mary Magdalene got there first.

Now there were even other women who were coming along as well. There were women at the foot of the cross. The same women who were at the foot of the cross were there on Friday when Joseph and Nicodemus were burying the body of Jesus. It says in Luke 23:55, “The women who had come with the Lord out of Galilee saw the tomb and where the body was laid.”

Shocked by the sight of an empty tomb, she ran to tell Peter and John that someone had taken the body of Jesus (verse 2).

The two Apostles set out to see for themselves (verse 3). As John was younger than Peter, he outran him and reached the tomb first (verse 4).

John saw the burial linens from outside the tomb (verse 5), but Peter entered the tomb for a closer look (verse 6). He also saw the linen wrapping that had been placed on our Lord’s head, which was rolled up and set to one side (verse 7).

Henry says it is very unlikely that, as according to doubters, someone had stolen the body of Jesus, since His burial linens were still in the tomb:

Robbers of tombs have been known to take away the clothes and leave the body but none [prior to the practices of modern resurrectionists] ever took away the body and left the clothes, especially when it was fine linen and new, Mark 15:46. Any one would rather choose to carry a dead body in its clothes than naked. Or, if those that were supposed to have stolen it would have left the grave-clothes behind, yet it cannot be supposed they should find leisure to fold up the linen.

MacArthur adds:

Now none of these people know what’s happened on Saturday. They don’t know that the Sanhedrin got a Roman guard to guard the tomb, and then put a Roman seal on the stone so that no one would come to fake a resurrection. They put a seal, a Roman seal, which meant that it would become a crime, a violent crime, if you broke the Roman seal; and they put a significant amount of Roman soldiers there. They don’t know that.

They also don’t know that in the deep, dark night of Sunday, God sent a very localized earthquake. But before He sent the earthquake, He put all those soldiers under some kind of divine anesthesia, and they all went to sleep. And then came an earthquake, and with the earthquake the stone was rolled away. Matthew 28, verses 1-4 describes it.

The soldiers didn’t know what happened. The soldiers fled the tomb. Why not? They checked it. He’s gone. They can’t figure out why they went to sleep, because they were professional soldiers, and that was a violation of duty that had severe repercussions. They don’t know where the earthquake came from. They don’t know how the stone was rolled away. They don’t know why the body isn’t there, but it’s not. So there’s no reason to stay, so they leave.

We know they’re gone, because Mary Magdalene never refers to them when she gets there. The other women never refer to them when they get there. Peter and John never refer to them when they get there. They’re gone, startled awake in the deep Sunday darkness, shaken by the earthquake out of their divinely-induced comas.

As Peter had the temerity to enter the tomb, John followed his example. Being in the tomb, ‘he believed’ (verse 8).

John admitted that none of them understood the import of Scripture and Jesus’s own teachings: that He must rise from the dead (verse 9).

Therefore, that is further proof none of the disciples expected the Resurrection. MacArthur says:

The point that I want you to notice is that they had no expectation that Jesus would rise: the women didn’t, the leaders of the apostles didn’t.

The disciples returned home (verse 10), yet Mary Magdalene stayed and wept before bending over to look into the tomb (verse 11).

She saw two angels in white, sitting where our Lord’s body had been at rest — one at the head and one at the foot (verse 12).

They asked why she was weeping. She replied that she was concerned for Jesus: ‘they’ had taken Him away and she didn’t know where (verse 13).

It could be she was blessed by the angelic presence because she, unlike the others, stayed behind to keep a vigil over the tomb.

Henry’s commentary agrees:

This favour was shown to those who were early and constant in their enquiries after Christ, and was the reward of those that came first and staid last, but denied to those that made a transient visit.

MacArthur tells us part of the reason why Mary Magdalene was so attached to Jesus:

This woman rescued from seven demons had been in the sweet fellowship of the blessed Son of God, Son of love.

She received a further reward when she turned around and saw Jesus standing there, although she did not recognise Him (verse 14).

Jesus asked why she was weeping and for whom she was looking. She thought He was the gardener and pleaded with Him to tell her where her Saviour was so that she could take His body away (verse 15).

MacArthur says that the resurrected Jesus looked different to the Jesus that they knew during His ministry:

… by the way, every time Jesus appeared after His resurrection He had to identify Himself, because He was in a different form; He had a glorious resurrection body. And while there would have been familiar elements to that body, this was not the body that went to the cross, this was an eternal resurrection body that would never die and never be decayed. That is why on the road to Emmaus, as recorded in Luke 24, when Jesus joined those disciples on that resurrection day and walked along with them, it says, verse 16 of Luke 24, “Their eyes were prevented from recognizing Him.”

Jesus called out her name and a relieved Mary, recognising His voice, replied in Hebrew, calling Him ‘teacher’ (verse 16).

Then, she touched Him in a manner of worship, a detail which John omits but which Matthew includes. MacArthur tells us:

we know she falls at His feet, because that’s what all the women did. Matthew 28 says that when the women met Jesus they came up and took hold of His feet and worshiped Him. They just put their arms around His feet, prone in front of Him, clinging to Him, worshiping Him.

And that’s what Mary does. The shock of being more sorrowful than you’d ever been in your entire life to a moment of the most exhilarating explosive joy ever comprehended, the transition is to profound, and the one thought she has in her mind is, “I don’t want to lose Him again.” And so she takes hold of His feet kind of like the Shulamite woman in Song of Solomon who said, “I found him whom my soul loves. I held him and would not let him go.” So she holds on, not going to let Him go again. This is pure love.

Jesus corrected her and said she must not do that because He had to ascend to the Father — therefore, He could not stay with her and the disciples. He then sends her on a beautiful mission (verse 17). He tells her to give the disciples — ‘my brothers’ — the news of their encounter:

and say to them, ‘I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.’

MacArthur notes our Lord’s use of the word ‘brothers’:

That’s the first time believers have been called brothers in the gospel of John. This is new. “We are called” – as the disciples were – “friends, slaves, but never brothers. This is a first. How did we become brothers who were once friends and once slaves? How did we become brothers?” The cross made us brothers. The cross made it possible for us to become the children of God, brothers and sisters.

Hebrews 2:9 says that “Jesus suffered death, suffered death, so that He could bring His own to glory because He’s not ashamed to call them brothers.” This stretches any kind of thought in Judaism. To say that you are a son of God individually is to claim to have the divine nature, and it’s blasphemous. To say you are the brother or sister of deity would be equally blasphemous, but it’s the truth. By His work on the cross we have been placed in Christ, in His death, in His burial, in His resurrection. We are in Him everlastingly. We are now His brothers, and He is not ashamed to call us brother.

We can be sure she must have set off like lightning to tell them her story, which she did (verse 18). Unfortunately, the disciples dampened her joy, as MacArthur reminds us:

Luke 24: “The women came telling these things to the apostles.” Eventually the other women showed up. “They’re talking to the apostles,” Luke 24:10 – “but these words appeared to them as nonsense, and they would not believe them.”

They did not believe in a resurrection. They didn’t even believe when somebody they knew well said, “I have seen the Lord.” But their turn’s coming later that night.

The lesson to be learned from this reading is that spiritual endurance and love of Christ is rewarded. We might not see angels or the Lord Himself in this life, but we will have assurance in our faith that Jesus and God the Father have a very special love for every believer who stays the course, who puts the Triune God above all things.

May all my readers enjoy a very happy and blessed Easter.

Pentecost2Below are the readings for Pentecost Sunday, May 31, 2020.

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

Pentecost, the final Sunday in Eastertide, is regarded as the Church’s birthday.

The first Pentecost coincided with the Jewish feast of Shavuot, which explains why there were so many witnesses to the Holy Spirit descending on the disciples, as we will see in the reading from Acts 2 below:

Pentecost — the Church’s birthday, with gifts from the Holy Spirit

The following posts have more on this important day in the Church calendar:

Lutheran reflections on Pentecost

Thoughts on Pentecost: the power of the Holy Spirit

Reflections for Pentecost — a Reformed view

Outside of the Psalm, the readings below have more than one option.

Emphases mine below.

First reading

Option One

If this is not read as the first reading, it must be chosen for the Second Reading/Epistle.

This is the dramatic account of the Holy Spirit descending on the 70 disciples in Jerusalem. Many onlookers saw this, as the Jews had gathered for the Feast of Shavuot:

Acts 2:1-21

2:1 When the day of Pentecost had come, they were all together in one place.

2:2 And suddenly from heaven there came a sound like the rush of a violent wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting.

2:3 Divided tongues, as of fire, appeared among them, and a tongue rested on each of them.

2:4 All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages, as the Spirit gave them ability.

2:5 Now there were devout Jews from every nation under heaven living in Jerusalem.

2:6 And at this sound the crowd gathered and was bewildered, because each one heard them speaking in the native language of each.

2:7 Amazed and astonished, they asked, “Are not all these who are speaking Galileans?

2:8 And how is it that we hear, each of us, in our own native language?

2:9 Parthians, Medes, Elamites, and residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia,

2:10 Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya belonging to Cyrene, and visitors from Rome, both Jews and proselytes,

2:11 Cretans and Arabs–in our own languages we hear them speaking about God’s deeds of power.”

2:12 All were amazed and perplexed, saying to one another, “What does this mean?”

2:13 But others sneered and said, “They are filled with new wine.”

2:14 But Peter, standing with the eleven, raised his voice and addressed them, “Men of Judea and all who live in Jerusalem, let this be known to you, and listen to what I say.

2:15 Indeed, these are not drunk, as you suppose, for it is only nine o’clock in the morning.

2:16 No, this is what was spoken through the prophet Joel:

2:17 ‘In the last days it will be, God declares, that I will pour out my Spirit upon all flesh, and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, and your young men shall see visions, and your old men shall dream dreams.

2:18 Even upon my slaves, both men and women, in those days I will pour out my Spirit; and they shall prophesy.

2:19 And I will show portents in the heaven above and signs on the earth below, blood, and fire, and smoky mist.

2:20 The sun shall be turned to darkness and the moon to blood, before the coming of the Lord’s great and glorious day.

2:21 Then everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved.’

Option Two

The Holy Spirit rested upon two men in the Israelites’ camp, and they began to prophesy. Far from silencing them, Moses wished there were more like them. Note that 70 elders received the Spirit, just as there were 70 disciples who received Him at the first Pentecost.

Numbers 11:24-30

11:24 So Moses went out and told the people the words of the LORD; and he gathered seventy elders of the people, and placed them all around the tent.

11:25 Then the LORD came down in the cloud and spoke to him, and took some of the spirit that was on him and put it on the seventy elders; and when the spirit rested upon them, they prophesied. But they did not do so again.

11:26 Two men remained in the camp, one named Eldad, and the other named Medad, and the spirit rested on them; they were among those registered, but they had not gone out to the tent, and so they prophesied in the camp.

11:27 And a young man ran and told Moses, “Eldad and Medad are prophesying in the camp.”

11:28 And Joshua son of Nun, the assistant of Moses, one of his chosen men, said, “My lord Moses, stop them!”

11:29 But Moses said to him, “Are you jealous for my sake? Would that all the Lord’s people were prophets, and that the LORD would put his spirit on them!”

11:30 And Moses and the elders of Israel returned to the camp.

Psalm

David praised God’s majesty and power, present in all of His creation.

Psalm 104:24-34, 35b

104:24 O LORD, how manifold are your works! In wisdom you have made them all; the earth is full of your creatures.

104:25 Yonder is the sea, great and wide, creeping things innumerable are there, living things both small and great.

104:26 There go the ships, and Leviathan that you formed to sport in it.

104:27 These all look to you to give them their food in due season;

104:28 when you give to them, they gather it up; when you open your hand, they are filled with good things.

104:29 When you hide your face, they are dismayed; when you take away their breath, they die and return to their dust.

104:30 When you send forth your spirit, they are created; and you renew the face of the ground.

104:31 May the glory of the LORD endure forever; may the LORD rejoice in his works

104:32 who looks on the earth and it trembles, who touches the mountains and they smoke.

104:33 I will sing to the LORD as long as I live; I will sing praise to my God while I have being.

104:34 May my meditation be pleasing to him, for I rejoice in the LORD.

104:35b Bless the LORD, O my soul. Praise the LORD!

Epistle

Option One

If the aforementioned passage from Acts 2 has not already been read, then it must be read as the Epistle.

Option Two

If the passage from Acts 2 has been read, then this option will be the Epistle, wherein Paul describes the great power and gifts of the Holy Spirit. Some, e.g. tongues, miracles and healing, were particular to the Apostolic Era, which established the early Church.

1 Corinthians 12:3b-13

12:3b No one can say “Jesus is Lord” except by the Holy Spirit.

12:4 Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit;

12:5 and there are varieties of services, but the same Lord;

12:6 and there are varieties of activities, but it is the same God who activates all of them in everyone.

12:7 To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good.

12:8 To one is given through the Spirit the utterance of wisdom, and to another the utterance of knowledge according to the same Spirit,

12:9 to another faith by the same Spirit, to another gifts of healing by the one Spirit,

12:10 to another the working of miracles, to another prophecy, to another the discernment of spirits, to another various kinds of tongues, to another the interpretation of tongues.

12:11 All these are activated by one and the same Spirit, who allots to each one individually just as the Spirit chooses.

12:12 For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ.

12:13 For in the one Spirit we were all baptized into one body–Jews or Greeks, slaves or free–and we were all made to drink of one Spirit.

Gospel

Option One

This encounter between Jesus and His disciples took place just after His resurrection.

John 20:19-23

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

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

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

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

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

Option Two

Jesus spoke these words during the Jewish feast of Tabernacles. Note that John explains the Spirit would not descend until Jesus returned to Heaven, glorified.

John 7:37-39

7:37 On the last day of the festival, the great day, while Jesus was standing there, he cried out, “Let anyone who is thirsty come to me,

7:38 and let the one who believes in me drink. As the scripture has said, ‘Out of the believer’s heart shall flow rivers of living water.'”

7:39 Now he said this about the Spirit, which believers in him were to receive; for as yet there was no Spirit, because Jesus was not yet glorified.

Pray for continuing grace so that we may make all use of the gifts of the Holy Spirit in our lives.

Have a blessed Pentecost!

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