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The Second Sunday after Epiphany is January 16, 2022.

Readings for Year C can be found here.

The Gospel reading is as follows (emphases mine):

John 2:1-11

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Commentary comes from Matthew Henry and John MacArthur.

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

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

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

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

John writes about eight miracles that Jesus performed:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Henry says:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Henry says that Mary and Jesus were the principal guests:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Henry says:

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

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

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

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

MacArthur sees it as a mild rebuke:

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

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

MacArthur says:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

MacArthur explains why He wanted them completely filled:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

May all reading this have a blessed Sunday.

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

The readings for Year C can be found here.

The Gospel reading is as follows (emphases mine):

Luke 3:15-17, 21-22

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

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

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

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

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

Commentary comes from Matthew Henry and John MacArthur.

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

Verse 18, also included in that post, reads:

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

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

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

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

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

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

Matthew Henry’s commentary says:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

May all reading this have a blessed Sunday.

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

The readings for Year C can be found here.

The Gospel is as follows (emphases mine):

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

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

1:2 He was in the beginning with God.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

MacArthur explains:

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

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

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

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

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

Matthew Henry’s commentary says:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Henry explains how excellent and unsurpassed the New Covenant is:

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

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

Henry interprets the verse as follows:

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

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

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

This is the wonder and awe of the Christmas story.

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

Forbidden Bible Verses will appear tomorrow.

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

The readings are the same regardless of Lectionary year.

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

These posts have more detail about the Circumcision:

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

January 1: why Jesus was circumcised (2021)

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

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

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

The Gospel reading is as follows (emphases mine):

Luke 2:15-21

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Commentary comes from Matthew Henry and John MacArthur.

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

The Shepherds and the Angels

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

MacArthur says:

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

Henry elaborates on the scene at the manger:

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

MacArthur shares that perspective of deep, abiding faith:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It is unusual to have a 48-hour period of Christmas worship.

December 26, 2021, is the First Sunday after Christmas.

It is also Boxing Day in the United Kingdom:

Boxing Day – a history

Ireland remembers the first martyr on the 26th — St Stephen’s Day:

St Stephen, the first martyr

December 26 — St Stephen’s Day, Boxing Day and more (the money box, details on St Stephen and Good King Wenceslas)

Readings for the First Sunday after Christmas can be found here.

The Gospel is as follows (emphases mine):

Luke 2:41-52

2:41 Now every year his parents went to Jerusalem for the festival of the Passover.

2:42 And when he was twelve years old, they went up as usual for the festival.

2:43 When the festival was ended and they started to return, the boy Jesus stayed behind in Jerusalem, but his parents did not know it.

2:44 Assuming that he was in the group of travelers, they went a day’s journey. Then they started to look for him among their relatives and friends.

2:45 When they did not find him, they returned to Jerusalem to search for him.

2:46 After three days they found him in the temple, sitting among the teachers, listening to them and asking them questions.

2:47 And all who heard him were amazed at his understanding and his answers.

2:48 When his parents saw him they were astonished; and his mother said to him, “Child, why have you treated us like this? Look, your father and I have been searching for you in great anxiety.”

2:49 He said to them, “Why were you searching for me? Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house?”

2:50 But they did not understand what he said to them.

2:51 Then he went down with them and came to Nazareth, and was obedient to them. His mother treasured all these things in her heart.

2:52 And Jesus increased in wisdom and in years, and in divine and human favor.

Commentary comes from Matthew Henry and John MacArthur.

Luke shows us that Jesus is the Son of God in his second chapter. The preceding verses contain the prophecies of Samuel and Anna in the temple when Mary and Joseph presented Jesus as the firstborn in thanksgiving to the Lord. Although Scripture does not say so, Mary had completed her ritual bath 40 days after delivering the Christ Child. Joseph bought a sacrifice of two young turtledoves (verse 24). Simeon prophesied (verses 34 and 35):

34 And Simeon blessed them and said to Mary his mother, “Behold, this child is appointed for the fall and rising of many in Israel, and for a sign that is opposed 35 (and a sword will pierce through your own soul also), so that thoughts from many hearts may be revealed.”

Luke tells us that, every year, Mary and Joseph went up to Jerusalem for Passover (verse 41).

John MacArthur says that, normally, only men went for the feast of Passover. For Mary to accompany him indicates a strong devotion to God:

In fact, for a woman to go to Passover, according to Jewish tradition, was to demonstrate on her part a rather unusual spiritual devotion, a rather unusual interest in the things of God, a devotion to God and to His Word and to obedience. How interesting, verse 41, “His parents used to go to Jerusalem every year.” And here again, Luke reminds us of the devout character of the faith of Joseph and Mary. They were true worshipers of the living God. They went every year to Passover. It wasn’t something they did now and then, it wasn’t something that Joseph alone did out of duty. They went together.

Matthew Henry’s commentary says that Joseph probably attended the other two important Jewish feasts on his own:

We have reason to suppose that Joseph went up likewise at the feasts of pentecost and tabernacles; for all the males were to appear there thrice a year, but Mary only at the passover, which was the greatest of the three feasts, and had most gospel in it.

When He was 12 years old, Jesus accompanied his parents for the festival (verse 42).

Henry says that Jesus might have accompanied them before, although Scripture does not say so:

It is not said that this was the first time that Jesus went up to Jerusalem to worship at the feast: probably he had done it for some years before, having spirit and wisdom above his years; and all should attend on public worship that can hear with understanding,Nehemiah 8:2.

The fact that He was 12 years old is significant because Jewish children are supposed to begin to fast at that age, at minimum on the Day of Atonement. Boys are to know and obey the Lord’s precepts at the age of 13:

The Jewish doctors say that at twelve years old children must begin to fast from time to time, that they may learn to fast on the day of atonement; and that at thirteen years old a child begins to be a son of the commandment, that is, obliged to the duties of adult church-membership, having been from his infancy, by virtue of his circumcision, a son of the covenant.

Jewish boys make their bar mitzvah at age 13. MacArthur says that there were no bar mitzvahs when Jesus lived. That ceremony came afterwards:

At thirteen Jewish boys were considered to be obligated to the law of God themselves. They passed out from under parental authority and they were accountable to the law of God themselves at thirteen. That is why after Jesus’ time, not at Jesus’ time, after Jesus’ time, an official ceremony developed and that is known as bar mitzvah. It wasn’t the ceremony of Jesus’ time but later on it developed, but it developed out of the idea, bar mitzvah meaning son of the law, or son of the commandment, that at thirteen a son was responsible to the law of God.

When the festival had ended, Jesus stayed behind in Jerusalem, unbeknownst to His earthly parents (verse 43).

On their way back, they had travelled for a day before realising that Jesus was not with the group of travellers (verse 44).

MacArthur says that there would have been a large group of people, separated by age and sex, with children going first, followed by women, then men:

… most of the traditional Jewish scholars would say the children were in front because if the parents got in front they would be going too fast for the kids. So they put all the children in front, followed by the women, followed by the men, so that the men couldn’t, because they tend to stride a little faster, distance themselves. And they would go in caravans for the sake of friendship and fellowship, family, neighbors, acquaintances. But also because it put them in a safer position to be able to withstand the traditional onslaught of highway robbers and marauders who would attack people traveling in small groups or alone.

That would explain why they noticed only after a day of walking, which would have been around 20 or 25 miles, according to MacArthur:

… they went a whole day’s journey, twenty, twenty-five miles. And then when they realized at the end of that day, because the families would then come together, find each other, eat and sleep, they began looking for Him among their relatives and acquaintances, assuming that He would be with somebody they knew.

When they did not find Jesus, Mary and Joseph returned to Jerusalem (verse 45).

It took three days for them to find Jesus. This must have been a traumatic time for them. Jerusalem would still have been teeming with people. During this time, Jesus was with the teachers of the temple, listening to them and asking questions (verse 46).

Henry has an interesting thought, derived from St Stephen. Jesus could have been there to indicate that the Messiah was among them, although they did not understand that:

Methinks this public appearance of Christ in the temple, as a teacher, was like Moses’s early attempt to deliver Israel, which Stephen put this construction upon, that he supposed his brethren would have understood, by that, how God by his hand would deliver them, Acts 7:24; Acts 7:25. They might have taken the hint, and been delivered then, but they understood not; so they here might have had Christ (for aught I know) to enter upon his work now, but they were only astonished, and understood not the indication; and therefore, like Moses, he retires into obscurity again, and they hear no more of him for many years after.

All listening to Him were amazed at His understanding and His answers (verse 47).

Henry reminds us of His ancestor David in this context:

And his wisdom and understanding appeared as much in the questions he asked as in the answers he gave, so that all who heard him were astonished: they never heard one so young, no indeed any of their greatest doctors, talk sense at the rate that he did; like David, he had more understanding than all his teachers, yea, than the ancients, Psalms 119:99; Psalms 119:100.

MacArthur says that this is the only time Luke refers to the Jewish hierarchy as teachers:

We don’t know who these teachers were.  Luke is kind to them.  He calls them teachers. Didaskalos is the word, and it’s a word that he never uses to refer to Jewish teachers againFrom now on when he identifies them, he’ll identify them as nomikos, lawyers, or grammateus, scribes, but he never calls them teachers again.  He reserves that word for John the Baptist and most particularly he reserves that word for JesusOnce Jesus became the teacher, nobody else is called by Luke a teacher.  But for now he gives them credit as teachers.

MacArthur surmises that Jesus was eager to hear these men, who came not only from Jerusalem but all over the Diaspora:

Just after the Passover many people would linger, and most notably during the Passover, great teachers who were devout Jews would come from all over the dispersion. Jews had been scattered over the Roman world and even down into Africa.  And they would come to the Passover so there would be a great coming together of…of teachers.  This is an opportunity Jesus seized uponIt’s an opportunity that never would be afforded Him in the out-of-the-way place called Nazareth where He lived, to be able to sit in the midst of the great Jewish teachers, those who are expert in the law, expert in the prophets, expert in the hagiographa, the holy writings the three sections of the Old Testament, the laws, the Pentateuch, the books of Moses.

But Jesus also knew what was going to happen in the years to come:

Again, remember He knew who He was and He knew why He had come. And the imagery of the Passover was very clear in His mind as the Lamb of God slain from the foundation of the world. And He saw a people frenetically engaged in acts that were endeavoring to…to offer some atonement for the overwhelming burden of their sins. He could see the power of sin in the butchery that was taking place and in the guilt-ridden lives of the people. He could see the hypocrisy of Judaism, all of it laid out to His now fully aware and wisdom-filled mind. The questions must have dealt with those kinds of issues and they astonished these teachers.

Mary and Joseph were astonished when they found Jesus in this setting and Mary, mother-like, gave Him a verbal correction, saying that He had put them both under a lot of anxiety (verse 48).

I highlighted Simeon’s prophecy of a sword going through Mary’s heart. This is why:

this is the first time the sword pierces Mary’s heart. You remember back in chapter 2, verse 35, Simeon had said that this child is going to put a sword through your heart, Mary. Well now it had been twelve years and there wasn’t any sword. This child had been nothing but a joy. After escaping Herod, after escaping the slaughter, they had returned back from Egypt to Nazareth. They had lived there for these years. The child had been nothing but obedient, nothing but compliant, nothing but submissive, nothing but loving. And certainly Mary loved that…that Son like no other child and certainly that Son loved her like no one ever loved her. One can only imagine what it was like to have a perfect child, the sinless Son, God in human flesh with all the sensitivity and tenderness and kindness and mercy and grace that that child could bring to bear upon her life and Joseph’s. There had never been a sword, but now there was a sword.

To Mary, Jesus replied that He was doing His Father’s work, in His Father’s house (verse 49).

Neither parent understood what Jesus said (verse 50).

Henry says this is because they believed Him to be a temporal Messiah, not a spiritual one:

They did not understand what business he had to do then in the temple for his Father. They believed him to be the Messiah, that should have the throne of his father David; but they thought that should rather bring him to the royal palace than to the temple. They understood not his prophetical office; and he was to do much of his work in that.

Then the three went down from Jerusalem, returning to Nazareth, where Jesus was obedient to them; meanwhile, Mary pondered these things silently, treasuring them in her heart (verse 51).

This is not the first time Luke has mentioned Mary’s consideration of events concerning Jesus.

MacArthur reminds us:

Back in chapter 2 verse 19 it says the same thing, when she heard from the shepherds she treasured up all these things pondering them in her heart. Mary had a lot to think about, a lot to think about. She had to realize that this Son was to be thought of as a Savior, that she had to exchange authority for submission. She had to exchange commanding for obeying. She had to exchange responsibility for redemption. She had to exchange wonder over the child for worship of the child.

In fact, a sword pierced her heart as recorded in Mark 3 when she came to find Jesus one time with some of her other children, brothers and sisters. And the crowd said, “Your mother is seeking You.” And Jesus said, “Who is My mother? Whoever does the will of My Father in heaven, the same is My brother, My sister, My mother.” And He distanced Himself from that human relationship, not because He didn’t love her, He loved her with a perfect love, but because she needed not to see Him as a Son to do what she wanted but as a Savior doing what the Father demanded. In fact, Luke only mentions Mary one more time. Just once more is Mary mentioned and that’s in chapter 8 verses 19 to 21 where it refers to that very account that I just mentioned from Mark chapter 3.

Jesus went on to increase in wisdom and years, in divine and human favour (verse 52).

Henry says this was a gradual process:

Though the Eternal Word was united to the human soul from his conception, yet the divinity that dwelt in him manifested itself to his humanity by degrees, ad modum recipientis–in proportion to his capacity; as the faculties of his human soul grew more and more capable, the gifts it received from the divine nature were more and more communicated. And he increased in favour with God and man, that is, in all those graces that rendered him acceptable to God and man. Herein Christ accommodated himself to his estate of humiliation, that, as he condescended to be an infant, a child, a youth, so the image of God shone brighter in him, when he grew up to be a youth, than it did, or could, while he was an infant and a child. Note, Young people, as they grow in stature, should grow in wisdom, and then, as they grow in wisdom, they will grow in favour with God and man.

May all reading this have a blessed Sunday.

Happy Christmas to my readers!

Readings for Proper III at Christmas can be found here.

The Epistle for Proper III follows (emphases mine):

Hebrews 1:1-4, (5-12)

1:1 Long ago God spoke to our ancestors in many and various ways by the prophets,

1:2 but in these last days he has spoken to us by a Son, whom he appointed heir of all things, through whom he also created the worlds.

1:3 He is the reflection of God’s glory and the exact imprint of God’s very being, and he sustains all things by his powerful word. When he had made purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high,

1:4 having become as much superior to angels as the name he has inherited is more excellent than theirs.

1:5 For to which of the angels did God ever say, “You are my Son; today I have begotten you”? Or again, “I will be his Father, and he will be my Son”?

1:6 And again, when he brings the firstborn into the world, he says, “Let all God’s angels worship him.”

1:7 Of the angels he says, “He makes his angels winds, and his servants flames of fire.”

1:8 But of the Son he says, “Your throne, O God, is forever and ever, and the righteous scepter is the scepter of your kingdom.

1:9 You have loved righteousness and hated wickedness; therefore God, your God, has anointed you with the oil of gladness beyond your companions.”

1:10 And, “In the beginning, Lord, you founded the earth, and the heavens are the work of your hands;

1:11 they will perish, but you remain; they will all wear out like clothing;

1:12 like a cloak you will roll them up, and like clothing they will be changed. But you are the same, and your years will never end.”

Commentary comes from Matthew Henry and John MacArthur.

John MacArthur summarises the purpose of the Book of Hebrews, written for a Jewish audience of converts and those not yet converted. These Jews lived in the Diaspora, therefore, not in or near Jerusalem:

In the book of Hebrews, there is confidence and assurance to the Christian. In the book of Hebrews, there is warning to the intellectually convinced that he must receive Christ or his knowledge will damn him. And finally there is a convincing presentation to the unbelieving Jew who is not intellectually convinced that he indeed should be and should believe in Jesus Christ.

And thus, to do this, was Hebrews written. It is simply, then – mark it – a presentation of Christ, the Messiah, the author of a new covenant, greater than the old one that God had made in the Old Testament. Not that the old one was wrong, it was only incomplete.

Now, the theme of the book, then, is the superiority or the preeminence of Christ. That He is better than anything they’ve got. That He is better than anything that is. He’s better than the Old Testament persons. He’s better than the Old Testament institutions. He’s better than the Old Testament rituals. He’s better than the Old Testament sacrifices. He’s better than everything.

The author of Hebrews — undetermined — says that God spoke to the Jewish ancestors in many and various ways through the prophets (verse 1).

Matthew Henry’s commentary explains:

The order in which God spoke to men in those times that went before the gospel, those past times: he spoke to his ancient people at sundry times and in divers manners. (1.) At sundry times, or by several parts, as the word signifies, which may refer either to the several ages of the Old-Testament dispensation–the patriarchal, the Mosaic, and the prophetic; or to the several gradual openings of his mind concerning the Redeemer: to Adam, that the Messiah should come of the seed of the woman,–to Abraham, that he should spring from his loins,–to Jacob, that he should be of the tribe of Judah,–to David, that he should be of his house,–to Micah, that he should be born at Bethlehem,–to Isaiah, that he should be born of a virgin. (2.) In divers manners, according to the different ways in which God though fit to communicate his mind to his prophets; sometimes by the illapses of his Spirit, sometimes by dreams, sometimes by visions, sometimes by an audible voice, sometimes by legible characters under his own hand, as when he wrote the ten commandments on tables of stone.

However, in the last days, He spoke to us through His Son, His appointed heir of all things, through whom He also created the worlds (verse 2).

Henry tells us what this means:

II. God’s method of communicating his mind and will under the New-Testament dispensation, these last days as they are called, that is, either towards the end of the world, or the end of the Jewish state. The times of the gospel are the last times, the gospel revelation is the last we are to expect from God. There was first the natural revelation; then the patriarchal, by dreams, visions, and voices; then the Mosaic, in the law given forth and written down; then the prophetic, in explaining the law, and giving clearer discoveries of Christ: but now we must expect no new revelation, but only more of the Spirit of Christ to help us better to understand what is already revealed. Now the excellency of the gospel revelation above the former consists in two things:–

1. It is the final, the finishing revelation, given forth in the last days of divine revelation, to which nothing is to be added, but the canon of scripture is to be settled and sealed: so that now the minds of men are no longer kept in suspense by the expectation of new discoveries, but they rejoice in a complete revelation of the will of God, both preceptive and providential, so far as is necessary for them to know in order to their direction and comfort. For the gospel includes a discovery of the great events that shall befal the church of God to the end of the world.

2. It is a revelation which God has made by his Son, the most excellent messenger that was ever sent into the world, far superior to all the ancient patriarchs and prophets, by whom God communicated his will to his people in former times. And here we have an excellent account of the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ.

(1.) The glory of his office, and that in three respects:– [1.] God hath appointed him to be heir of all things. As God, he was equal to the Father; but, as God-man and Mediator, he was appointed by the Father to be the heir of all things, the sovereign Lord of all, the absolute disposer, director, and governor of all persons and of all things, Psalms 2:6; Psalms 2:7. All power in heaven and earth is given to him; all judgment is committed to him,Matthew 28:18; John 5:22. [2.] By him God made the worlds, both visible and invisible, the heavens and the earth; not as an instrumental cause, but as his essential word and wisdom. By him he made the old creation, by him he makes the new creature, and by him he rules and governs both. [3.] He upholds all things by the word of his power: he keeps the world from dissolving. By him all things consist. The weight of the whole creation is laid upon Christ: he supports the whole and all the parts. When, upon the apostasy, the world was breaking to pieces under the wrath and curse of God, the Son of God, undertaking the work of redemption, bound it up again, and established it by his almighty power and goodness. None of the ancient prophets sustained such an office as this, none was sufficient for it.

MacArthur explains the Greek in the original manuscript:

“By whom also He made the worlds.” That is, Christ is the agent through which God created the world; bydia  – means through. The agency through which God created is Christ. John 1:3 says, “All things were made by Him; without Him was not anything made that was made.” Jesus Christ is the agent of creation. Now, my friends, I’ve said this many times, and to me, it’s a great single proof of who Jesus was. Jesus had the ability to create, and that set Him apart from man …

That establishes His absolute superiority over everything. He created everything material. He created everything spiritual. And man has stained His creation with sin, but Christ made it good originally, and even the creation, according to Romans 8, groans to be restored to what it knew in the beginning. Now, I want you to catch a little thought here, that’s kind of hidden if you don’t understand the Greek. At the end of verse 2, it says, “By whom also He made the worlds.” The common Greek word for world is kosmos, but that is not the word that is here. The word that is here is aiōnas.

It does not mean the material world, it means the ages; it means the ages. And he is not saying that Jesus Christ is only responsible for the physical earth. He is saying that Christ is responsible for creating the very concepts of time, space, force, action, and matter. Christ is responsible for creating the whole universe of time and space; that’s what he’s saying. He does not use the word kosmos, restricting it to this earth, but He makes Christ the creator of the universe, of the ages, of all concepts, and bounds of existence. Christ made it all, every bit of it, without effort.

Christ is the reflection of God’s glory and the exact imprint of God’s very being, sustaining everything by His powerful word; when He reconciled us to the Father at the Crucifixion, He sat — and continues to sit — at His right hand (verse 3).

Henry tells us:

He that hath known the Son hath known the Father, John 14:7-43.14.9. For the Son is in the Father, and the Father in the Son; the personal distinction is no other than will consist with essential union. This is the glory of the person of Christ; the fulness of the Godhead dwells, not typically, but really, in him …

From the glory of his sufferings we are at length led to consider the glory of his exaltation: When by himself he had purged away our sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high, at his Father’s right hand. As Mediator and Redeemer, he is invested with the highest honour, authority, and activity, for the good of his people; the Father now does all things by him, and receives all the services of his people from him. Having assumed our nature, and suffered in it on earth, he has taken it up with him to heaven, and there it has the high honour to be next to God, and this was the reward of his humiliation.

The author of Hebrews then discusses Christ’s superiority to the angels, which held a very high place in the Jewish mind of the day.

The author says that Christ is superior to the angels and the name He inherited is far superior to theirs (verse 4).

MacArthur explains why the author wrote that verse and the following three:

their views had begun to wander from the basic Old Testament context, because of all the Talmudic writings and the rabbinical feelings and ideas, they began to wander off the main biblical points of angels. And they came up with some interesting views of angels, so that when the writer of Hebrews is writing, He is writing not only with a true backdrop of a biblical view of angels, but he’s writing against a backdrop of the Jewish common concept of angels.

The author asks to which angels did God ever say “You are my Son; today I have begotten you”? Or again, “I will be his Father, and he will be my Son” (verse 5), which is pointing to the pre-eminence of Christ.

Henry looks at the language used in the ancient manuscript:

When it is said that Christ was made so much better than the angels, we are not to imagine that he was a mere creature, as the angels are; the word genomenos, when joined with an adjective, is nowhere to be rendered created, and here may very well be read, being more excellent, as the Syriac version hath it. We read ginesthe ho Theos aletheslet God be true, not made so, but acknowledged to be so

1. It was said of Christ, Thou art my Son, this day have I begotten thee (Psalms 2:7), which may refer to his eternal generation, or to his resurrection, or to his solemn inauguration into his glorious kingdom at his ascension and session at the right hand of the Father. Now this was never said concerning the angels, and therefore by inheritance he has a more excellent nature and name than they.

2. It was said concerning Christ, but never concerning the angels, I will be to him a Father, and he shall be to me a Son; taken from Hebrews 2:7. Not only, “I am his Father, and he is my Son, by nature and eternal promanation;” but, “I will be his Father, and he shall be my Son, by wonderful conception, and this his son-ship shall be the fountain and foundation of every gracious relation between me and fallen man.”

The author points out that when Christ came to earth, God said that the angels should worship him (verse 6), thereby making Him superior to them.

Henry says:

God will not suffer an angel to continue in heaven who will not be in subjection to Christ, and pay adoration to him; and he will at last make the fallen angels and wicked men to confess his divine power and authority and to fall before him. Those who would not have him to reign must then be brought forth and slain before him. The proof of this is taken out of Psalms 97:7, Worship him, all you gods, that is, “All you that are superior to men, own yourselves to be inferior to Christ in nature and power.”

The author says that God makes His angels winds and, as His servants, flames of fire (verse 7).

Henry explains:

What does God say here of the angels? He maketh his angels spirits, and his ministers a flame of fire. This we have in Psalms 104:4, where it seems to be more immediately spoken of the winds and lightning, but is here applied to the angels, whose agency the divine Providences makes use of in the winds, and in thunder and lightnings. Observe, [1.] The office of the angels: they are God’s ministers, or servants, to do his pleasure. It is the glory of God that he has such servants; it is yet more so that he does not need them. [2.] How the angels are qualified for this service; he makes them spirits and a flame of fire, that is, he endows them with light and zeal, with activity and ability, readiness and resolution to do his pleasure: they are no more than what God has made them to be, and they are servants to the Son as well as to the Father.

In the remaining verses, the author indicates the power and superiority of Christ over all creation.

His throne endures forever, the scepter of God’s kingdom (verse 8).

Henry says the verse comes from Psalm 45:

Psalms 45:6; Psalms 45:7, where God declares of Christ, First, His true and real divinity, and that with much pleasure and affection, not grudging him that glory: Thy throne, O God. Here one person calls another person God, O God. And, if God the Father declares him to be so, he must be really and truly so; for God calls persons and things as they areSecondly, God declares his dignity and dominion, as having a throne, a kingdom, and a sceptre of that kingdom. He has all right, rule, authority, and power, both as the God of nature, grace, and glory, and as Mediator; and so he is fully adequate to all the intents and purposes of his mediatorial kingdom. Thirdly, God declares the eternal duration of the dominion and dignity of Christ, founded upon the divinity of his person: Thy throne, O God, is for ever and ever, from everlasting to everlasting, through all the ages of time, maugre all the attempts of earth and hell to undermine and overthrow it, and through all the endless ages of eternity, when time shall be no more. This distinguishes Christ’s throne from all earthly thrones, which are tottering, and will at length tumble down; but the throne of Christ shall be as the days of heaven. Fourthly, God declares of Christ the perfect equity of his administration, and of the execution of his power, through all the parts of his government: A sceptre of righteousness is the sceptre of thy kingdom,Hebrews 1:8; Hebrews 1:8

As Christ has always hated wickedness and loved righteousness, God anointed Him with the oil of gladness beyond that of His companions (verse 9).

Henry explains:

2. This anointing of Christ was with the oil of gladness, which signifies both the gladness and cheerfulness with which Christ undertook and went through the office of Mediator (finding himself so absolutely sufficient for it), and also that joy which was set before him as the reward of his service and sufferings, that crown of glory and gladness which he should wear for ever after the suffering of death. 3. This anointing of Christ was above the anointing of his fellows: God, even thy God, hath anointed thee with the oil of gladness above thy fellows. Who are Christ’s fellows? Has he any equals? Not as God, except the Father and Spirit, but these are not here meant. As man, however, he has his fellows, and as an anointed person; but his unction is beyond all theirs.

The author goes on to discuss Christ’s eternal power.

In the beginning, He founded the earth and the heavens — the universe — are the work of His hands (verse 10).

Henry tells us:

He was not only above all things in condition, but before all things in existence; and therefore must be God, and self-existent. He laid the foundations of the earth, did not only introduce new forms into pre-existent matter, but made out of nothing the foundations of the earth, the primordia rerum–the first principles of things; he not only founded the earth, but the heavens too are the work of his hands, both the habitation and the inhabitants, the hosts of heaven, the angels themselves; and therefore he must needs be infinitely superior to them.

Earthly creation will perish like clothing, but Christ will remain (verse 11).

Like clothing, earthly creation can be rolled up and changed, but Christ will remain as He is, His years never ending (verse 12).

Henry elaborates:

This our visible world (both the earth and visible heavens) is growing old. Not only men and beasts and trees grow old, but this world itself grows old, and is hastening to its dissolution; it changes like a garment, has lost much of its beauty and strength; it grew old betimes on the first apostasy, and it has been waxing older and growing weaker ever since; it bears the symptoms of a dying world. But then its dissolution will not be its utter destruction, but its change. Christ will fold up this world as a garment not to be abused any longer, not to be any longer so used as it has been. Let us not then set our hearts upon that which is not what we take it to be, and will not be what it now is. Sin has made a great change in the world for the worse, and Christ will make a great change in it for the betterChrist is immutable. Thus the Father testifies of him, Thou remainest, thy years shall not fail. Christ is the same in himself, the same yesterday, and to-day, and for ever, and the same to his people in all the changes of time. This may well support all who have an interest in Christ under all the changes they meet with in the world, and under all they feel in themselves. Christ is immutable and immortal: his years shall not fail. This may comfort us under all decays of nature that we may observe in ourselves or in our friends, though our flesh and heart fail and our days are hastening to an end. Christ lives to take care of us while we live, and of ours when we are gone, and this should quicken us all to make our interest in him clear and sure, that our spiritual and eternal life may be hid with Christ in God.

MacArthur concludes with this prayer and a hope for unbelievers:

Let’s pray. Father, we thank You for Jesus Christ, the superiorities that we’ve learned about tonight. Thank you that we’re not worshipping a religious leader who was human. We’re not worshipping some ethical teacher. We’re worshipping Christ, Who is God the creator. And to think that He lives within us, and the person of the Spirit empowers us and loves us with a personal love, cares about us, sends His angels to minister to us, and Father, these things overwhelm us.

But God, having presented all these truths of Jesus Christ, our hearts shudder and shake to know that there will be some people who would turn away, and walk about of this place tonight neglecting the salvation that they’ve heard. Who would fail to take earnest heed to that which they have heard. Who would turn their back on Jesus Christ, and walk out into a night of sin. God, it’s almost beyond belief. Lord, if Jesus Christ is God, as the Bible says, then He has a claim to lay on our lives. We’re to receive Him, to believe in him as Lord and Savior.

And we pray to that end, Father, tonight, that there may be no one in this place who would leave not having a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. Some have come doubting, some have come questioning, some have come wondering whether it’s all so. Father, may they be willing to put Jesus to the test, that He said, “If you really desire to know My will, you will know the truth.” So, Father, we pray that the honest, seeking heart will be found by You, and open to receive Christ tonight.

May those of us as Christians see Him all the more beautiful, because we’ve seen what the writer has taught us in this marvelous chapter. May we be better equipped to witness for Christ, with more power and boldness, because we know the facts. Bless us as we close, we pray in Jesus’ name. Amen.

May everyone reading this have a most blessed and joyful day.

The Fourth (and final) Sunday of Advent is December 19, 2021.

Readings for Year C can be found here.

The Gospel reading is as follows (emphases mine):

Luke 1:39-45, (46-55)

1:39 In those days Mary set out and went with haste to a Judean town in the hill country,

1:40 where she entered the house of Zechariah and greeted Elizabeth.

1:41 When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the child leaped in her womb. And Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit

1:42 and exclaimed with a loud cry, “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb.

1:43 And why has this happened to me, that the mother of my Lord comes to me?

1:44 For as soon as I heard the sound of your greeting, the child in my womb leaped for joy.

1:45 And blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfillment of what was spoken to her by the Lord.”

1:46 And Mary said, “My soul magnifies the Lord,

1:47 and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior,

1:48 for he has looked with favor on the lowliness of his servant. Surely, from now on all generations will call me blessed;

1:49 for the Mighty One has done great things for me, and holy is his name.

1:50 His mercy is for those who fear him from generation to generation.

1:51 He has shown strength with his arm; he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts.

1:52 He has brought down the powerful from their thrones, and lifted up the lowly;

1:53 he has filled the hungry with good things, and sent the rich away empty.

1:54 He has helped his servant Israel, in remembrance of his mercy,

1:55 according to the promise he made to our ancestors, to Abraham and to his descendants forever.”

Commentary comes from Matthew Henry and John MacArthur.

John MacArthur sets the scene for us so that we can better appreciate these two miraculous pregnancies:

Two pregnant women, two miracle mothers One is old, married for many years, childless and barren The other is young, having never been married and a virgin One in her 70s or so, one in her early teens.  Interestingly enough they are relatives.  They have both been chosen by God to be the human instruments for the birth of two very, very unusual men: John the Baptist, the greatest prophet who ever lived up until his time, and Jesus Christ, Son of Man, Son of God, Savior of the world.

These two conception miracles, these two miracles in the womb of two women launch the whole series of messianic miracles The whole miraculous coming of Christ begins with these two conception miracles.  And at that point God has injected Himself miraculously into the otherwise non-miraculous course of life.  As I told you before, there hasn’t been a miracle in over 400 years. There hasn’t been a series of miracles in at least 500 years.  Nobody has heard from an angel or even from God in well over 400 years Miracles didn’t happen.  God didn’t speak.  Angels didn’t show up until now.  And it all begins with these two amazing conceptions: Elizabeth, chosen to be the mother of John the Baptist, the forerunner of Messiah; and Mary, chosen to be the mother of Messiah, the Son of God.

In both cases the angel Gabriel came to make the announcement In the first case, the angel Gabriel came to Zacharias, who was the father of John the Baptist, and Zacharias received the message from Gabriel that he and his wife, Elizabeth, together would conceive and have a son who would be the greatest prophet, the forerunner of Messiah.  Gabriel then came later to a virgin, to Mary, and gave her the message that we saw in verses 26 to 33, that she without a man would be given a child who would be the Son of God.  So all of a sudden redemptive history reaches its great high point.

Luke tells us that Mary set out with haste to go to a Judean town in the hill country (verse 39).

Matthew Henry’s commentary says that Mary was on a spiritual mission to better understand the importance of hers and her cousin Elizabeth’s pregnancies:

She arose, and left her affairs, to attend this greater matter: in those days, at that time (as it is commonly explained, Jeremiah 33:15; Jeremiah 50:4), in a day or two after the angel had visited her, taking some time first, as it is supposed, for her devotion, or rather hastening away to her cousin’s, where she would have more leisure, and better help, in the family of a priest. She went, meta spoudes–with care, diligence, and expedition; not as young people commonly go abroad and visit their friends, to divert herself, but to inform herself: she went to a city of Judah in the hill-country; it is not named, but by comparing the description of it here with Joshua 21:10; Joshua 21:11, it appears to be Hebron, for that is there said to be in the hill-country of Judah, and to belong to the priests, the sons of Aaron; thither Mary hastened, though it was a long journey, some scores of miles.

Henry says that Dr Lightfoot, an eminent Bible scholar, believed that Mary conceived miraculously at Hebron:

Dr. Lightfoot offers a conjecture that she was to conceive our Saviour there at Hebron, and perhaps had so much intimated to her by the angel, or some other way; and therefore she made such haste thither. He thinks it probable that Shiloh, of the tribe of Judah, and the seed of David, should be conceived in a city of Judah and of David, as he was to be born in Bethlehem, another city which belonged to them both. In Hebron the promise was given to Isaac, circumcision was instituted. Here (saith he) Abraham had his first land, and David his first crown: here lay interred the three couples, Abraham and Sarah, Isaac and Rebecca, Jacob and Leah, and, as antiquity has held, Adam and Eve. He therefore thinks that it suits singularly with the harmony and consent which God uses in his works that the promise should begin to take place by the conception of the Messias, even among those patriarchs to whom it was given. I see no improbability in the conjecture, but add this for the support of it, that Elisabeth said (Luke 1:45; Luke 1:45), There shall be a performance; as if it were not performed yet, but was to be performed there.

MacArthur gives us a geographical note:

Elizabeth lived in the hill country of Judah. That would be around Jerusalem in the south of Israel Mary lived in Nazareth, a small town in the Galilee, as it’s known, and that is in the north of Israel, separated by seventy-five or eighty miles or so

It would take her about three or four days to get there.

Mary entered the house of Zacharias, a local priest who served two weeks every year in the temple, and his wife Elizabeth, whom she greeted (verse 40).

Zacharias did not believe Gabriel’s message of a son, so God struck him deaf and dumb, a state in which he would remain until it came time to name John. That was another controversial moment, because John was not a family name, yet Zacharias wrote it on a slate, at which point, God restored his hearing and speech.

With that in mind, Henry says that the elderly priest was keeping to his room, leaving the two women alone to talk:

Mary entered into the house of Zacharias; but he, being dumb and deaf, kept his chamber, it is probable, and saw no company; and therefore she saluted Elisabeth (Luke 1:40; Luke 1:40), told her she was come to make her a visit, to know her state, and rejoice with her in her joy.

MacArthur explains what ‘greeting’ meant in the ancient world. It was more than a simple salutation. It was a conversation involving catching up on personal news:

It was not something brief.  It was not some kind of simple formula.  What was involved in a greeting was a lengthy dialogue.  It was sort of a…sort of a ceremonial social occasion, the significance of which lay in the content of the conversation I’ll give you an illustration of it.  And there might be a number of them that you could use, but back in 18 of Exodus it says in verse 7, “Moses went out to meet his father-in-law and he bowed down and kissed him and they asked each other of their welfare and went into the tent.”  Now that is a classic, ancient Near Eastern greeting.  There’s an embrace, a physical expression of affection and then in the tent they go to talk about how life is with both of them.  That’s exactly what we can assume occurred upon Mary’s arrival when it says, “She greeted Elizabeth.”  She went in and a typical traditional greeting began to take place which would be hours of conversation And my, they had a lot to talk about, an awful lot to talk about.

When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the future John the Baptist leapt in her womb and she was filled with the Holy Spirit (verse 41).

Elizabeth was probably six months pregnant at this point.

Henry expands on this movement of the future prophet in Elizabeth’s womb:

It is very probable that she had been several weeks quick (for she was six months gone), and that she had often felt the child stir; but this was a more than ordinary motion of the child, which alarmed her to expect something very extraordinary, eskirtese. It is the same word that is used by the LXX. (Genesis 25:22) for the struggling of Jacob and Esau in Rebecca’s womb, and the mountains skipping, Psalms 114:4. The babe leaped as it were to give a signal to his mother that he was now at had whose forerunner he was to be, about six months in ministry, as he was in being; or, it was the effect of some strong impression made upon the mother. Now began to be fulfilled what the angel said to his father (Luke 1:15; Luke 1:15), that he should be filled with the Holy Ghost, even from his mother’s womb; and perhaps he himself had some reference to this, when he said (John 3:29), The friend of the Bridegroom rejoiceth greatly, because of the Bridegroom’s voice, heard, though not by him, yet by his mother.

Elizabeth, filled with joy and awe, spoke loudly, proclaiming that Mary was blessed among women and blessed was the fruit of her womb (verse 42).

That verse is part of the Catholic prayer, the Hail Mary.

It was also an ancient Jewish greeting, bestowing honour among a mother.

MacArthur tells us:

First of all, “Blessed are you among women.”  That’s a simple Hebrew construction that means you’re the most blessed of all women.  You’re the most blessed of all women.  Why?  Well in the Hebrew culture, in the Jewish world, a woman gained her greatest stature on the basis of her children That was it.  A woman’s greatness was tied to the greatness of the children she bore Over in the eleventh chapter of Luke this comes up again.  Jesus is speaking, verse 27, “It came about while He said these things one of the women in the crowd raised her voice.”  Some woman in the crowd yelled at Him and said, “Blessed is the womb that bore you and the breasts at which you nursed.”  That was a typical Jewish way to honor a mother because you saw the greatness of her child And so Elizabeth is saying, you are the most blessed because you have the greatest child.

Elizabeth, the aged wife of a priest, did not begrudge her young cousin her divine pregnancy. In fact, she praised it loudly and rejoiced with her.

Henry explains:

She said, Blessed art thou among women, the same word that the angels had said (Luke 1:28; Luke 1:28); for thus this will of God, concerning honouring the Son, should be done on earth as it is done in heaven. But Elisabeth adds a reason, Therefore blessed art thou because blessed is the fruit of thy womb; thence it was that she derived this excelling dignity. Elisabeth was the wife of a priest, and in years, yet she grudges not that her kinswoman, who was many years younger than she, and every way her inferior, should have the honour of conceiving in her virginity, and being the mother of the Messiah, whereas the honour put upon her was much less; she rejoices in it, and is well pleased, as her son was afterwards, that she who cometh after her is preferred before her, John 1:27. Note, While we cannot but own that we are more favoured of God than we deserve, let us by no means envy that others are more highly favoured than we are.

Elizabeth continues in humility, asking how it can be that the mother of her Lord — the Messiah — deigned to visit her (verse 43).

Henry says:

Observe, (1.) She calls the virgin Mary the mother of her Lord (as David in spirit, called the Messiah Lord, his Lord), for she knew he was to be Lord of all. (2.) She not only bids her welcome to her house, though perhaps she came in mean circumstances, but reckons this visit a great favour, which she thought herself unworthy of. Whence is this to me? It is in reality, and not in compliment, that she saith, “This was a greater favour than I could have expected.” Note, Those that are filled with the Holy Ghost have low thoughts of their own merits, and high thoughts of God’s favours. Her son the Baptist spoke to the same purport with this, when he said, Comest thou to me? Matthew 3:14.

Elizabeth tells Mary that as soon as she (Mary) greeted her, the baby leapt for joy in her womb (verse 44).

MacArthur explains the prophecy behind it:

This is not completely without precedent.  If you go back to Genesis 25, do you remember a mother by the name of Rebekah?  And Rebekah had in her womb two boys, remember that?  Remember their names?  Jacob and EsauAnd God gave prophecies through those two little unborn boys in verse 22 of Genesis 25 The children… It says in verse 21, she conceived, Rebekah conceived, Isaac and Rebekah, “The children struggled together within her.”  Now it’s one thing for two brothers to fight when they’re born; these guys started in the womb.  And she said, “If it is so, why then am I this way?”  So she went to the Lord and she said, “Lord, You know, why is all this going on inside of me?”  And He said, “It’s prophetic.”  He said to her, “Two nations are in your womb.”  That’s right.  Jacob was the nation Israel, and Esau the Arab world “Two nations in your womb.  Two people shall be separated from your body, one people will be stronger than the other.  The older shall serve the younger.”  There’s conflict going on in your womb that is prophetic of conflict that’s going to go on when those two children are born. That conflict is still going on today as we speak between Israel and the Arab world, between Jacob and Esau.

So God, when He wants to, can send a prophetic message through something physical occurring in a woman’s womb It’s a very unusual thing.  That’s the only Old Testament occasion of such and this is the only New Testament occasion of such But after all, folks, there isn’t any human explanation of this.  This is a miraculous time, isn’t it?  This is a miraculous set of conceptions here.  We would expect miraculous things to be going on as God is moving toward the arrival of the Savior of the world, the Messiah.  Movements of a fetus are normal and common, but this is not one of those. This is not coincidental. We know that because of verse 44, Elizabeth gets a message from God.  “Behold, when the sound of your greeting reached my ears, the baby leaped in my womb,” to reposition itself.  Is that what it said?  It doesn’t say that.  The baby was not motivated by anything other than what? Joy, joy.  Elizabeth interprets the child’s movements.

Now I want to tell you, John the Baptist was really a true prophet.  If he couldn’t speak, he just jumped.  And that’s all he could do.  He could only leap.  He could only jump with divinely inspired delight.  His mother had to speak under the inspiration of God to interpret that.  So in a physical way John the Baptist, while still in the womb, gave his approval to the birth of the Messiah. Isn’t that great?  That was not just the normal course of things. That was a word from God through the physical realm.

Then Elizabeth gives a blessing, unspecified as to whom it is intended (verse 45). It is intended towards anyone, including Mary and Elizabeth, who believed that the Lord would fulfil the words that He spoke.

MacArthur says:

It’s really sort of like a general beatitude. It just sort of widens everything up.  “And blessed is she,” anybody, “who believed that there would be a fulfillment of what had been spoken to her by the Lord.”  Blessed is she, sure that’s Mary, of course, blessed is Mary because she believed.  But, you know, it doesn’t say “blessed are you, Mary,” it just says “blessed is she” and it puts it in the third person. Anybody who believes God fulfills His promises is going to be blessed, right?  And so the beatitude starts with Mary, moves to the child, embraces Elizabeth and goes beyond.

The remaining verses are known traditionally as The Magnificat (exaltation) and, more recently, the Song of Mary.

Mary speaks with such faith for such a young person. She also speaks in a highly Psalm-like way.

Henry says Mary must have been very tired after such a long journey, yet she felt moved to praise God before settling down to rest or take refreshment:

We may suppose the blessed virgin to come in, very much fatigued with her journey; yet she forgets that, and is inspired with new life, and vigour, and joy, upon the confirmation she here meets with of her faith; and since, by the sudden inspiration and transport, she finds that this was designed to be her errand hither, weary as she is, like Abraham’s servant, she would neither eat nor drink till she had told her errand.

Mary begins by saying that her soul magnifies the Lord (verse 46), exalting Him, praising Him.

MacArthur tells us that she understood and believed Scripture:

The psalm that Mary pours out here contains numerous references to the law, to the Psalms, and to the writings of the prophets It indicates that this young teen-aged girl knew her Old Testament It’s a great testimony to her own life and her devotion It’s a great testimony to her parents and how she had been raised to love the Word of God and to know it very well And it’s not as if before offering this praise she has to go and find a concordance so she can bring together the assorted verses.  They just flow from within her.

For example, she starts out in verse 46 by saying. “My soul doth magnify the Lord,” which is an echo of Psalm 34:2, “My soul shall make her boast in the Lord.”

Mary says that her spirit rejoices in God her Saviour (verse 47).

MacArthur gives us the reference:

In verse 47 she says, “And my spirit has rejoiced in God my Savior,” which echoes Isaiah 45:21, “There is no God else beside Me, a just God and a Savior.” 

In the next two verses, she praises God for His blessings to her.

She says that He has looked down upon the lowliness of His servant, adding that all generations will call her blessed (verse 48).

She says that the Mighty One — God — has done great things for her and holy is His name (verse 49).

Henry has an interesting insight into that verse, basing it on Old Testament episodes involving lowly women:

Upon her own account, Luke 1:48; Luke 1:49. [1.] Her spirit rejoiced in the Lord, because of the kind things he had done for her: his condescension and compassion to her. He has regarded the low estate of his handmaiden; that is, he has looked upon her with pity, for so the word is commonly used. “He has chosen me to this honour, notwithstanding my great meanness, poverty, and obscurity.” Nay, the expression seems to intimate, not only (to allude to that of Gideon, Judges 6:15) that her family was poor in Judah, but that she was the least in her father’s house, as if she were under some particular contempt and disgraced among her relations, was unjustly neglected, and the outcast of the family, and God put this honour upon her, to balance abundantly the contempt. I … rather suggest this, for we find something toward such honour as this put upon others, on the like consideration. Because God saw that Leah was hated, he opened her womb, Genesis 29:31. Because Hannah was provoked, and made to fret, and insulted over, by Peninnah, therefore God gave her a son, 1 Samuel 1:19. Whom men wrongfully depress and despise God doth sometimes, in compassion to them, especially if they have borne it patiently, prefer and advance; see Judges 11:7. So in Mary’s case. And, if God regards her low estate, he not only thereby gives a specimen of his favour to the whole race of mankind, whom he remembers in their low estate, as the psalmist speaks (Psalms 136:23), but secures a lasting honour to her (for such the honour is that God bestows, honour that fades not away): “From henceforth all generations shall call me blessed, shall think me a happy woman and highly advanced.” All that embrace Christ and his gospel will say, Blessed was the womb that bore him and the paps which he sucked,Luke 11:27. Elizabeth had once and again called her blessed: “But that is not all,” saith she, “all generations of Gentiles as well as Jews shall call me so.” [2.] Her soul magnifies the Lord, because of the wonderful things he had done for her (Luke 1:49; Luke 1:49): He that is mighty has done to me great things. A great thing indeed, that a virgin should conceive. A great thing indeed, that Messiah, who had been so long promised to the church, and so long expected by the church, should now at length be born. It is the power of the Highest that appears in this. She adds, and holy is his name; for so Hannah saith her song, There is none holy as the Lord, which she explains in the next words, for there is none beside thee,1 Samuel 2:2. God is a Being by himself, and he manifests himself to be so, especially in the work of our redemption. He that is mighty, even he whose name is holy, has done to me great things. Glorious things may be expected from him that is both mighty and holy; who can do every thing, and will do every thing well and for the best.

MacArthur gives us the Old Testament verses:

… in verse 48 she says, “He has regarded the lowest state of His handmaid,” which echoes 1 Samuel 1:11, “If Thou wilt indeed look on the infliction of Thine handmaid and remember me and not forget Thy handmaid,” the words of Hannah It is also is reminiscent of Psalm 136:23, “Who remembered us in our low estate, for His mercy endures forever.”  Again in verse 48 she says, “Behold from henceforth all generations shall call me blessed,” which echoes the words of Leah in Genesis 30 verse 13, “Happy am I for the daughters will call me blessed.”  In verse 49 she says, “He that is mighty has done to me great things,” which echoes Psalm 126:3, “The Lord has done great things for us whereof we are glad.”  And then in verse 49 she says, “Holy is His name,” directly quoting Psalm 111:9, “Holy and reverend is His name.”  And so it goes that she is very well versed in the Old Testament as she unfolds her familiarity with Scripture and applies it to her own situation.

Then Mary goes on to praise God for the mercy and blessings He has bestowed on others throughout the course of Jewish history and going forward into the future.

She says that He bestows mercy on those who live in a (holy) fear of Him (verse 50).

Henry says this is an echo of Hannah’s words:

… as Hannah (1 Samuel 2:3, &c.). In this she has especially an eye to the coming of the Redeemer and God’s manifesting himself therein.

Also:

It is a certain truth that God has mercy in store, mercy in reserve, for all that have a reverence for his majesty, and a due regard to his sovereignty and authority. But never did this appear so as in sending his Son into the world to save us (Luke 1:50; Luke 1:50): His mercy is on them that fear him; it has always been so; he has ever looked upon them with an eye of peculiar favour who have looked up to him with and eye of filial fear. But he hath manifested this mercy, so as never before, in sending his Son to bring in an everlasting righteousness, and work out an everlasting salvation, for them that fear him, and this from generation to generation; for there are gospel privileges transmitted by entail, and intended for perpetuity. Those that fear God, as their Creator and Judge, are encouraged to hope for mercy in him, through their Mediator and Advocate; and in him mercy is settled upon all that fear God, pardoning mercy, healing mercy, accepting mercy, crowning mercy, from generation to generation, while the world stands. In Christ he keepeth mercy for thousands.

Mary says that God has shown strength with His arm in scattering the proud in the thoughts in their hearts (verse 51).

God has brought down the powerful from their thrones to lift up the lowly instead (verse 52).

He has filled the hungry with good things and sent the rich away empty (verse 53).

Henry explains:

First, In the course of his providence, it is his usual method to cross the expectations of men, and proceed quite otherwise than they promise themselves. Proud men expect to carry all before them, to have their way and their will; but he scatters them in the imagination of their hearts, breaks their measures, blasts their projects, nay, and brings them low, and brings them down, by those very counsels with which they thought to advance and establish themselves. The mighty think to secure themselves by might in their seats, but he puts them down, and overturns their seats; while, on the other hand, those of low degree, who despaired of ever advancing themselves, and thought of no other than of being ever low, are wonderfully exalted. This observation concerning honour holds likewise concerning riches; many who were so poor that they had not bread for themselves and their families, by some surprising turn of Providence in favour of them, come to be filled with good things; while, on the other hand, those who were rich, and thought no other than that to-morrow should be as this day, that their mountain stood strong and should never be moved, are strangely impoverished, and sent away empty. Now this is the same observation that Hannah had made, and enlarged upon, in her song, with application to the case of herself and her adversary (1 Samuel 2:4-9.2.7), which very much illustrates this here. And compare also Psalms 107:33-19.107.41; Psalms 113:7-19.113.9; Ecclesiastes 9:11. God takes a pleasure in disappointing their expectations who promise themselves great things in the world, and in out-doing the expectations of those who promise themselves but a little; as a righteous God, it is his glory to abase those who exalt themselves, and strike terror on the secure; and, as a good God, it is his glory to exalt those who humble themselves, and to speak comfort to those who fear before him. Secondly, This doth especially appear in the methods of gospel grace.

Finally, Mary remembers the covenant that God made with Abraham.

God helped His servant Israel, showing her mercy (verse 54) according to the promises He made to the Jewish ancestors, Abraham and his descendants forever (verse 55).

Henry says:

Note, What God has spoken he will perform; what he hath spoken to the fathers will be performed to their seed; to their seed’s seed, in blessings that shall last for ever.

In closing, many of us wonder how Mary could have explained her pregnancy and left her family’s house on her own at such a tender age.

MacArthur runs us through the possible scenarios:

I think Mary went for the confirmation but I also think she went to see Elizabeth because she knew only Elizabeth would believe her I mean, let’s try to put it in a normal context.  Your 13-year-old daughter comes in and says, “I’m pregnant.”  And you say, “What?”  And she says, “An angel came to me and told me that I have been impregnated by God and I’m going to be the mother of the Savior of the world.”  “Really?”

Sounds like something a teenager would come up with, doesn’t it?  What in the world kind of wild story, I mean…at least try to find something rational.  I mean, there would be only…there would be only the slightest glimmer of hope that anybody would believe that Even Joseph, who knew Mary well, made the natural assumption when he found out she was with child, he assumed that she had violated her betrothal vows to him and committed sin.  And he says, “I’m either going to have to stone her or divorce her.”  And he loved her and he knew her and he knew the family and he must have known something about her character and it must have seemed out of character for her to have done some sin like that, but there wasn’t any other explanation.  Frankly, there was only one woman on the earth who would buy Mary’s story.  Who was it?  Elizabeth.  Only one place she could go and tell this tale.

The text doesn’t say anything about what she may or may not have said to her family or Joseph or anybody else.  It just says she was out of there to Elizabeth, the only person who would have any rational reason to believe that what she was saying was in fact true.  Telling Elizabeth first made sense.

Then Elizabeth could be support for her when she told everybody else Because Elizabeth was living, personal confirmation that God was doing conception miracles You tell anybody else and they’re going to think Mary’s made up this preposterous story about Gabriel and being the mother of the Son of God. Nobody would believe that.  But Elizabeth would believe it.  And the parallels were really startling.

This is one of my favourite passages in the New Testament. Atheists hate it because it involves the supernatural. Some clergy hate it, too, for the same reasons. However, believers love it because it shows that, with God, all things are possible.

It is one of the passages that makes the Christmas story so wonderful and meaningful.

The Third Sunday of Advent — Gaudete Sunday — is December 12, 2021.

Readings for Year C can be found here.

The Gospel reading is as follows (emphases mine):

Luke 3:7-18

3:7 John said to the crowds that came out to be baptized by him, You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come?

3:8 Bear fruits worthy of repentance. Do not begin to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our ancestor’; for I tell you, God is able from these stones to raise up children to Abraham.

3:9 Even now the ax is lying at the root of the trees; every tree therefore that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.”

3:10 And the crowds asked him, “What then should we do?”

3:11 In reply he said to them, “Whoever has two coats must share with anyone who has none; and whoever has food must do likewise.”

3:12 Even tax collectors came to be baptized, and they asked him, “Teacher, what should we do?”

3:13 He said to them, “Collect no more than the amount prescribed for you.”

3:14 Soldiers also asked him, “And we, what should we do?” He said to them, “Do not extort money from anyone by threats or false accusation, and be satisfied with your wages.”

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

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

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

3:18 So, with many other exhortations, he proclaimed the good news to the people.

Commentary comes from Matthew Henry and John MacArthur.

Matthew Henry’s commentary on Luke 3 is excellent, full of pithy observations.

This particular Sunday is Gaudete Sunday, the one in Advent which is full of joy. Traditionalist priests wear a rose vestment to signify that happiness in the expectation of our Saviour’s birth. The corresponding Sunday in Lent is Laetare Sunday, when we anticipate Christ’s resurrection after His ultimate sacrifice on the Cross.

On the face of it, today’s Gospel reading does not seem very cheery. However, Henry has this to say of the state of our own souls and of John the Baptist’s heralding of Christ’s ministry:

When way is made for the gospel into the heart, by the captivation of high thoughts and bringing them into obedience to Christ, by the leveling of the soul and the removing of all obstructions that stand in the way of Christ and his grace, then prepare to bid the salvation of God welcome

We are now drawing near to the appearance of our Lord Jesus publicly; the Sun will not be long after the morning-star.

Therefore, it is a time of joy as we further prepare to celebrate the coming of the Christ Child.

We pick up from where we left off last week, when John exhorted the people to make straight the path of the Lord, our King, the Messiah. Luke gives us a full sense of John the Baptist’s preaching.

How was it that so many Jews — and undoubtedly some Gentiles — turned out for John the Baptist?

John MacArthur explains that they would have known his miraculous family story of his aged parents Elizabeth and Zacharias:

Now people came out to see John. In fact, the Scriptures tell us that all Jerusalem and all Judea came out. And there is a reason for that. I’m sure people knew about John. I’m sure the story had circulated through the thirty-year period that an old priest by the name of Zacharias, and Elizabeth, were able to conceive a son miraculously and that Gabriel the angel told Zacharias it would happen and that the son would be the forerunner of the Messiah and that that son was alive and he was out in the wilderness and he was a prophet of God. I’m sure that circulated outside the family of Zacharias and Elizabeth and circulated around the related relatives, Mary and Joseph and their family, because they all knew the story. The story must have spread. The fact that Gabriel showed up, the fact that a miraculous birth had occurred, the fact that the Messiah’s forerunner had been born must have been to some extent around so that people knew about it. And once John began to preach and announce the coming of Messiah, the people came out. They were curious. They were ready for the Messiah. They wanted the Messiah. They were compelled by their curiosity. They were compelled by the fact that this could be it, this could be true. I mean, how else can you explain Gabriel showing up? And how else can you explain an old priestly couple having a miraculous child? Maybe this is it. So the people desired to come and find out if indeed he was the forerunner of Messiah and if indeed the Messiah had come.

They were ready. They wanted to participate in the long-awaited blessings promised to Abraham and David. They were really weary of the oppression of the Romans. They were weary of never having independent authority and sovereignty and rule. They were weary of the way things were. They were excited with messianic hope.

John the Baptist did not mince his words. He called his audience a ‘brood of vipers’ and asked who warned them about the wrath to come (verse 7).

Today, we would say that his approach was not very nice, or, in theological parlance, not ‘seeker-friendly’. He would have received a pasting by both traditional and social media.

MacArthur elaborates on the imagery of vipers:

First of all, I think he’s calling them children of Satan.  Jesus did that in John 8:44. He said to the Jewish leaders, “You’re of your father, the devil,” didn’t He?  He said, “You’re of your father, the devil.”  Jesus said to the Pharisees, Jewish leaders, Matthew 12:34, Matthew 23 I think it’s verse 33, both places, “You brood of vipers,” same phrase exactly.  Jesus said it twice to the Jewish leaders. You sons of snakes!  I think he’s really identifying them with their father.  The devil appeared in the Garden in Genesis 3 in what form?  A serpent.  And according to the Scriptures he is a serpent, as clearly indicated in Revelation chapter 12.  So he is… He’s really telling them, you belong to Satan, you snakes.  What he’s saying to them is, you are running from the fire but not interested in any change of your nature.  You’re still snakes. You’re just scrambling in front of the fire.  Shallow repenters are offsprings of that snake, Satan.

By the way, Matthew 3:7, when Matthew writes about the preaching of John, says when John said this, at least on the occasion of Matthew writing, he said it to Pharisees and SadduceesLuke says he said it to everybody So particularly to the Pharisees and Sadducees who were the most vicious, poisonous and deadly, deadliest of all the snakes, of all the children of Satan because they wore the name of God, as it were, on the outside but were satanic on the inside. Thus their hypocrisy was more devastating.  He says you’re the worst of it, the rest of you also belong to the same nature, same satanic nature.  Beyond just the Pharisees and the Sadducees, all those people had the very nature of Satan. They were the children of Satan.  And he’s pointing out their superficiality. He says, your repentance is superficial because your true nature is vicious, your true nature is of the serpent, your true nature is poisonous, your true nature is hostile, your true nature is deadly, particularly those Pharisees and Sadducees, paraded themselves as if they represented God and they were just…just biting the people and filling them with poison.

Henry says that John refused to flatter any of the Jewish hierarchy who came to hear him. As far as John was concerned, all were tarred with the same brush of sin, hence a universal message to all:

… he did not alter it in compliment to the Pharisees and Sadducees, when they came, but dealt as plainly with them as with any other of his hearers. And as he did not flatter the great, so neither did he compliment the many, or make his court to them, but gave the same reproofs of sin and warnings of wrath to the multitude that he did to the Sadducees and Pharisees; for, if they had not the same faults, they had others as bad.

The idea that they had to be baptised must have been shocking for the Jews, because baptism was a cleansing ritual that Gentiles who wished to convert went through, not those born into the Covenant.

MacArthur tells us that, despite such a message, the people obeyed:

The people were so compelled by this that they did it. They came. They heard John and they got baptized which was a great admission on their part. To some degree they were saying, we’re outside, okay we’re outside, we’ve got to get inside and so we’ll go through this even if it is an acknowledgement that humbles us, by having to admit that we aren’t in the kingdom, we’re on the outside, no better off than a Gentile proselyte wanting to become associated with Judaism.

John could see that theirs was a superficial faith of belonging to the Covenant but not needing to do more than obey Mosaic law, so he insisted that they bear true fruits of repentance, warning them not to rely on their ancestry from Abraham, because God could make children of Abraham out of the nearby stones (verse 8).

Henry says:

By the fruits of repentance it will be known whether it be sincere or no. By the change of our way must be evidenced the change of our mind.

… If we be not really holy, both in heart and life, our profession of religion and relation to God and his church will stand us in no stead at all: Begin not now to frame excuses from this great duty of repentance, by saying within yourselves, We have Abraham to our father.

On that point, how many of us have heard a sermon preaching repentance this year, or any year? I have not.

MacArthur laments this omission from today’s churches:

John understands the reality of shallow faith. John understands the reality of shallow repentance, false repentance. And this sample of his preaching demonstrates that concern and it demonstrates the message that needs to be preached. And all across this country in churches all across this land a shallow message is being preached, a shallow gospel, a shallow call to repentance that is giving people the tragic and damning illusion that they are saved when they are not.

John goes further by saying that the ax is at the foot of the trees — implying divine judgement; all trees not bearing good fruit will be thrown into the fire of divine wrath (verse 9).

Our repentance must bear fruit in the way we treat others and revere God, otherwise it is but a shallow one. Henry expands on that point:

7. The greater professions we make of repentance, and the greater assistances and encouragements are given us to repentance, the nearer and the sorer will our destruction be if we do not bring forth fruits meet for repentance. Now that the gospel begins to be preached, now that the kingdom of heaven is at hand, now that the axe is laid to the root of the tree, threatenings to the wicked and impenitent are now more terrible than before, as encouragements to the penitent are now more comfortable. “Now that you are upon your behaviour, look to yourselves.”

8. Barren trees will be cast into the fire at length; it is the fittest place for them: Every tree that doth not bring forth fruit, good fruit, is hewn down, and cast into the fire. If it serve not for fruit, to the honour of God’s grace, let it serve for fuel, to the honour of his justice.

The crowds asked what they should do (verse 10).

Henry speaks of a personal journey of repentance, which John spells out in the next four verses:

They that would do their duty must desire to know their duty, and enquire concerning it. The first good word Paul said, when he was converted, was, Lord, what wilt thou have me to do? These here enquire, not, What shall this man do? but, What shall we do? What fruits meet for repentance shall we bring forth? Now John gives answer to each, according to their place and station.

By way of a general response, John says that he who has two coats must give one to someone who has none and those with food must share it (verse 11).

Henry notes that we are not to give in order to deprive ourselves unnecessarily; however, if we have more than we need, then we are to give of that bounty:

The gospel requires mercy, and not sacrifice; and the design of it is to engage us to do all the good we can. Food and raiment are the two supports of life; he that hath meat to spare, let him give to him that is destitute of daily food, as well as he that hath clothes to spare: what we have we are but stewards of, and must use it, accordingly, as our Master directs.

MacArthur says that the word ‘coat’ means ‘tunic’ in this context:

“Tunic,” the word there refers to an undergarment and you only wore one of those so if you had two you had a spare one. It was the undergarment that you wore over your skin and then you wore your outer garment on top of that

So, this is more profound than it appears, perhaps, on the surface because there was a general selfishness, always is, in unregenerate minds.  There would be the evidence of regeneration in selflessness and in the consuming love of one another where you look not on your own things but on the things of others, as Paul said in Philippians 2.  So if you have two chiton, two of those linen undergarments and somebody has none, then you give him yours

Then the tax collectors — the publicans — who were the lowest of the low because they often asked for more tax than they should so as to line their own pockets asked what they should do (verse 12).

John told them to collect only the amount of tax due and no more (verse 13).

Henry observes that John did not tell them to leave their secular employ, only to carry out their duties honestly and beyond reproach:

The public revenues must be applied to the public service, and not to gratify the avarice of private persons. Observe, He does not direct the publicans to quit their places, and to go no more to the receipt of custom; the employment is in itself lawful and necessary, but let them be just and honest in it.

Soldiers asked John what they should do; he told them not to extort money in a violent or dishonest way and to be happy with their wages (verse 14).

Who were the soldiers? Here our commentators differ.

MacArthur is sure they were Jews, having changed his mind from them being Romans:

In my study Bible I put the note that they were probably Roman soldiers. I think I was wrong. As I’ve studied it again. It’s debatable in some ways, but I really kind of… I’m going to change that in the next edition. I’m going to change it to the fact that I think they were Jewish soldiers who were really assigned to Herod Antipas and stationed at Perea. That’s the best way to historically track them back. There’s really no compelling reason why Romans would show up here to get ready for the Messiah

However, Henry thinks they were Gentiles: Roman soldiers. I side with Henry on this one. It would be an early instance of Gentiles being welcomed into the Jewish group of penitents, just as the Magi — three Gentiles — were among the first to pay homage to the Christ Child:

Some think that these soldiers were of the Jewish nation and religion: others think that they were Romans; for it was not likely either that the Jews would serve the Romans or that the Romans would trust the Jews in their garrisons in their own nation; and then it is an early instance of Gentiles embracing the gospel and submitting to it.

Henry describes the military mind, which is not given to religion:

Military men seldom seem inclined to religion; yet these submitted even to the Baptist’s strict profession, and desired to receive the word of command from him: What must we do? Those who more than other men have their lives in their hands, and are in deaths often, are concerned to enquire what they shall do that they may be found in peace.

He then analyses John’s answer in light of military activities. Wise words follow, especially with regard to wages:

In answer to this enquiry, John does not bid them lay down their arms, and desert the service, but cautions them against the sins that soldiers were commonly guilty of; for this is fruit meet for repentance, to keep ourselves from our iniquity. [1.] They must not be injurious to the people among whom they were quartered, and over whom indeed they were set: “Do violence to no man. Your business is to keep the peace, and prevent men’s doing violence to one another; but do not you do violence to any. Shake no man” (so the word signifies); “do not put people into fear; for the sword of war, as well as that of justice, is to be a terror only to evil doers, but a protection to those that do well. Be not rude in your quarters; force not money from people by frightening them. Shed not the blood of war in peace; offer no incivility either to man or woman, nor have any hand in the barbarous devastations that armies sometimes make.” Nor must they accuse any falsely to the government, thereby to make themselves formidable, and get bribes. [2.] They must not be injurious to their fellow-soldiers; for some think that caution, not to accuse falsely, has special reference to them: “Be not forward to complain one of another to your superior officers, that you may be revenged on those whom you have a pique against, or undermine those above you, and get into their places.” Do not oppress any; so some think the word here signifies as used by the LXX. in several passages of the Old Testament. [3.] They must not be given to mutiny, or contend with their generals about their pay: Be content with your wages. While you have what you agreed for, do not murmur that it is not more.” It is discontent with what they have that makes men oppressive and injurious; they that never think they have enough themselves will not scruple at any the most irregular practices to make it more, by defrauding others. It is a rule to all servants that they be content with their wages; for they that indulge themselves in discontents expose themselves to many temptations, and it is wisdom to make the best of that which is.

Luke’s tone changes with the 15th verse, as he says that the people were filled with expectation wondering whether John the Baptist was the Messiah. That, by the way, was what many people wondered, even during and after our Lord’s ministry. Acts tells us of people far from Jerusalem who had followed John the Baptist but had never heard of Jesus. The people saw John as a pivotal, prominent figure, a great prophet.

John explained his position, saying he was unworthy of unloosing the sandals of He who is to come — Jesus; John could only baptise with water, but He would baptise with the Holy Spirit and fire (verse 16).

John goes on to say that Jesus is ready to gather the wheat into his granary — save the faithful — but burn the chaff with unquenchable fire (verse 17).

Henry elaborates:

He owns him to have a greater energy than he had: “He is mightier than I, and does that which I cannot do, both for the comfort of the faithful and for the terror of hypocrites and dissemblers.” They thought that a wonderful power went along with John; but what was that compared with the power which Jesus would come clothed with? [1.] John can do no more than baptize with water, in token of this, that they ought to purify and cleanse themselves; but Christ can, and will, baptize with the Holy Ghost; he can give the Spirit to cleanse and purify the heart, not only as water washes off the dirt on the outside, but as fire purges out the dross that is within, and melts down the metal, that it may be cast into a new mould. [2.] John can only preach a distinguishing doctrine, and by word and sign separate between the precious and the vile; but Christ hath his fan in his hand, with which he can, and will, perfectly separate between the wheat and the chaff. He will thoroughly purge his floor; it is his own, and therefore he will purge it, and will cast out of his church the unbelieving impenitent Jews, and confirm in his church all that faithfully follow him. [3.] John can only speak comfort to those that receive the gospel, and, like other prophets, say to the righteous that it shall be well with them; but Jesus Christ will give them comfort. John can only promise them that they shall be safe; but Christ will make them so: he will gather the wheat into his garner; good, serious, solid people he will gather now into his church on earth, which shall be made up of such, and he will shortly gather them into his church in heaven, where they shall be for ever sheltered. [4.] John can only threaten hypocrites, and tell the barren trees that they shall be hewn down and cast into the fire; but Christ can execute that threatening; those that are as chaff, light, and vain, and worthless, he will burn with fire unquenchable. John refers here to Malachi 3:18; Malachi 4:1; Malachi 4:2. Then, when the floor is purged, ye shall return, and discern between the righteous and the wicked, for the day comes that shall burn as an oven.

MacArthur says that part of that verse relates to the destruction of the temple, and part of it relates to God’s judgement involving every one of us. At some point in the future, the Jews will be saved and the Gentiles will fall away:

There were many individuals who…whose repentance was shallow and the ax was laid at the root of the tree, believe me, in those individuals’ lives. In 70 A.D. the Romans came in there and murdered, literally massacred a million 100 thousand Jews and the ax fell in judgment and those people were cast into eternal hell. There were so many of them that it constituted a nation literally going into temporary exile, as it were, out of existence temporarily. And, of course, they will mourn for Him and then a fountain of cleansing will be opened and they will be spiritually transformed and they will become the witness nation that God always wanted them to be and they’ll witness all through the tribulation and they’ll witness all through the kingdom so that on the robe of every Jew will be hanging ten Gentiles saying, “Take me to see the King of kings.”

But at the time that John was preaching, they rejected. The time of Jesus preaching, they rejected. So many individuals rejected that it constituted a national rejection. But every tree that doesn’t bear good fruit will be cut down.

And by the way, the Messiah will not only judge Israel this way, but He’ll judge all men this way. Zephaniah 1, “The great day of the Lord is near, very near, coming very quickly. It’s a day of wrath, a day of trouble, distress, destruction desolation, darkness, gloom, clouds, thick darkness.” And at the end it says, “He will make a complete end on the day of the Lord’s wrath, all the earth will be devoured. He will make a complete end, a terrifying one of all the inhabitants of the earth.” It isn’t just Jewish people that will feel the wrath of God. Anyone who rejects the Messiah will be subject to that final, terrifying judgment. He says in chapter 3 of Zephaniah verse 8, “He will pour out His indignation and burning anger on the whole earth.”

Luke concludes by saying that, with many other exhortations, John proclaimed the Good News to the people (verse 18).

Henry explains the verse in this way:

Many other things in his exhortation preached he unto the people, which are not recorded. First, John was an affectionate preacher. He was parakalonexhorting, beseeching; he pressed things home upon his hearers, followed his doctrine close, as one in earnest. Secondly, He was a practical preacher. Much of his preaching was exhortation, quickening them to their duty, directing them in it, and not amusing them with matters of nice speculation. Thirdly, He was a popular preacher. Though he had scribes and Pharisees, men of polite learning, attending his ministry, and Sadducees, men of free thought, as they pretended, yet he addressed himself to the people, pros ton laonto the laity, and accommodated himself to their capacity, as promising himself best success among them. Fourthly, He was an evangelical preacher, for so the word here used signifies, euengelizetohe preached the gospel to the people; in all his exhortations, he directed people to Christ, and excited and encouraged their expectations of him. When we press duty upon people, we must direct them to Christ, both for righteousness and strength. Fifthly, He was a copious preacher: Many other things he preached, polla men kai heteramany things, and different. He preached a great deal, shunned not to declare the whole counsel of God; and he varied in his preaching, that those who were not reached, and touched, and wrought upon, by one truth, might be by another.

MacArthur gives us the keys to true repentance:

This is the real deal.  The genuine repenter does a real, honest inventory of the reality of his personal transgressionHe understands that no religious ritual and no heritage can bring about escape or protection from divine judgment.  That he must have a heart transformation that results in a righteous life that manifests love and justice and honesty and those virtues that are characteristic of God Himself. And all that is good.

There’s one other thing missing.  And the one thing missing is the sixth and final element in a true gospel preacher’s arsenal. It is this. He must receive the true Messiah. He must receive the true Messiah.   All the rest is insufficient without the true Messiah so that you repent but you also put your faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, because Acts 4:12 says, “There is not salvation in any other name.” 

Despite the negatives here, which, we, living in the 21st century are unaccustomed to, MacArthur says that John’s message ends on the positive note of salvation and the coming of the Holy Spirit:

this is a very notable portion of Scripture, not because it is a theological treatise on repentance, but because it is an example of the true preaching for repentance exhibited by this man of God. And John gives us … elements of a true, genuine, saving repentance. This section, by the way, is just loaded with theology, just loaded with it. John moves from hamartiology, which is the study of sin, through eschatology, to soteriology to Christology and to pneumatology, the study of the Holy Spirit. Huge theological themes existed in his preaching. He was, of all things, a theological preacher.

He talks about sin. He talks about the end of the age and the coming wrath. He talks about salvation. He talks about within the framework of salvation, conversion, transformation, regeneration. He talks about Christ. He talks about the Holy Spirit. It is a…It is a sweeping treatment of theology. He was truly a theological preacher.

Therefore, we have every reason to be joyful on Gaudete Sunday.

The Second Sunday of Advent is December 5, 2021.

Readings for Year C can be found here.

The Gospel reading is as follows (emphases mine):

Luke 3:1-6

3:1 In the fifteenth year of the reign of Emperor Tiberius, when Pontius Pilate was governor of Judea, and Herod was ruler of Galilee, and his brother Philip ruler of the region of Ituraea and Trachonitis, and Lysanias ruler of Abilene,

3:2 during the high priesthood of Annas and Caiaphas, the word of God came to John son of Zechariah in the wilderness.

3:3 He went into all the region around the Jordan, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins,

3:4 as it is written in the book of the words of the prophet Isaiah, “The voice of one crying out in the wilderness: ‘Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight.

3:5 Every valley shall be filled, and every mountain and hill shall be made low, and the crooked shall be made straight, and the rough ways made smooth;

3:6 and all flesh shall see the salvation of God.’”

Commentary comes from Matthew Henry and John MacArthur.

Luke sets out the historical background to the beginning of John the Baptist’s ministry (verse 1), which began when he was 30 years old. His cousin Jesus would begin His ministry shortly afterwards. They were the same age, John being some months older.

This was a terrible time for the Jews, both politically and religiously.

Matthew Henry’s commentary summarises the political oppression they experienced:

(1.) It is dated by the reign of the Roman emperor; it was in the fifteenth year of Tiberius Cæsar, the third of the twelve Cæsars, a very bad man, given to covetousness, drunkenness, and cruelty; such a man is mentioned first (saith Dr. Lightfoot), as it were, to teach us what to look for from that cruel and abominable city wherein Satan reigned in all ages and successions. The people of the Jews, after a long struggle, were of late made a province of the empire, and were under the dominion of this Tiberius; and that country which once had made so great a figure, and had many nations tributaries to it, in the reigns of David and Solomon, is now itself an inconsiderable despicable part of the Roman empire, and rather trampled upon than triumphed in

The lawgiver was now departed from between Judah’s feet; and, as an evidence of that, their public acts are dated by the reign of the Roman emperor

(2.) It is dated by the governments of the viceroys that ruled in the several parts of the Holy Land under the Roman emperor, which was another badge of their servitude, for they were all foreigners, which bespeaks a sad change with that people whose governors used to be of themselves (Jeremiah 30:21), and it was their glory. How is the gold become dim! [1.] Pilate is here said to be the governor, president, or procurator, of Judea. This character is given of him by some other writers, that he was a wicked man, and one that made no conscience of a lie. He reigned ill, and at last was displaced by Vitellius, president of Syria, and sent to Rome, to answer for his mal-administrations. [2.] The other three are called tetrarchs, some think from the countries which they had the command of, each of them being over a fourth part of that which had been entirely under the government of Herod the Great. Others think that they are so called from the post of honour they held in the government; they had the fourth place, or were fourth-rate governors: the emperor was the first, the pro-consul, who governed a province, the second, a king the third, and a tetrarch the fourth. So Dr. Lightfoot.

John MacArthur has more, too much to cite here, including the year of John’s ministry, which would have been AD26 because of calendrical conventions and calculations. 

Tiberius was the son-in-law of Augustus Caesar, who wanted his grandsons to become Caesars. Normally the Roman Senate appointed Caesars; they did not follow a family blood line. However, Augustus broke with convention and persuaded the Senate to appoint Tiberius, whom he actually adopted to make his succession more amenable to the senators. The Romans believed that a man’s adoption of a son was more significant because he did it by choice.

Pontius Pilate we know about from Christ’s trial and crucifixion. He had run-ins with the Jews, who had reported him to Rome on more than one occasion. That is why he washed his hands of Jesus. The Jews had likely threatened him with a recall by Rome, which would have destroyed his career.

When Herod the Great died, his sons inherited separate parts of the land over which he had ruled. Herod Antipas, a wicked man and the one referred to in the first verse here, ruled Galilee. He was the one who had John the Baptist beheaded.

His brother Philip was the best of a bad lot and ruled the region of Ituraea and Trachonitis.

MacArthur says:

Philip was tetrarch of the region of Iturea and Trachonitis. That’s northeast of the Sea of Galilee And he ruled from 4 B.C. to 34 A.D., a long rule of 37 years The capital of that region is a city way up at the headwaters of the Jordan River called Caesarea Philippi, another city named after Caesar

Herod the Great’s third son was called Archelaus. He ruled over Judea, Samaria and Idumea initially, but he was deposed.

MacArthur describes what happened next:

They had to have somebody else to rule that area, Judea, Samaria and Idumea.  They just combined it into one area, called it Judea and put in a series of prefects, the fifth of which was Pilate So you had Archelaus ruling that area for ten years, and then you had a succession of four rulers and finally in 26, the same time John steps in, you have Pilate.  So those dates coincide very well.  It was at the time when Pontius Pilate had just stepped in to governing Judea because Judea was now the name for all three areas.

Abilene had two rulers named Lysanias. The one to whom Luke refers is the second one. Abilene is north of Galilee and west of Damascus.

MacArthur describes life for the Jews under Tiberius:

The reign of Tiberius Caesar is linked with a number of trials, linked with treasons, sedition.  There were lots of Jews — when he was the emperor, when he was the Caesar — there were lots of Jews deported out of Israel and taken to Rome for trials and sedition and things like that He was a typical Caesar with all of the bizarre machinations, all of the expressions of cruelty, all of the self-centeredness, all of the ego gone mad. The whole thing was all part of Tiberius.  And in his latter years he descended into dementia, to one degree or another His mental abilities were so severely hindered that the last part of his rule has been called “a reign of terror,” a combination of his wickedness unchecked because of his irrationality He was in many ways the worse possible kind of ruler.

So, over the…the life of Israel hangs this great cloud, this dark ominous cloud by the name of Caesar Tiberius, and he is oppressive and he at any time can rain down all the evil of the Roman purpose on their heads.  To be ruled by a Gentile, pagan, uncircumcised idolater is the worst possible scenario for the Jewish people

MacArthur gives us facts about Pontius Pilate:

it says, “Pontius Pilate was governor.”  It’s not a noun here, it’s actually a participleHe was governing. It’s the same generic word from hgemoneu He was ruling in the land of Israel, in the land of Palestine.

We know about him because in 1961 there was a plaque discovered, a dedicatory statement discovered in Caesarea Caesarea was the center of Roman occupation. You can visit the ruins today and still see some of the original Roman ruins there.  But in Caesarea, where the Romans had their main occupation center in the land of Palestine, apparently there is a building built there called the Tiberium, named for Tiberius.  They did a lot of that.  The city of Tiberius, which you can visit in Israel today, was named for Tiberius It’s on the west shore of the Sea of Galilee But in 1961 there was discovered there a dedicatory plaque on a building called the Tiberium and on that dedicatory plaque is the name “Pontius Pilate.”  Pontius Pilate is a real person.  He has the dedicatory plaque because he built the building in honor of Tiberius and called it Tiberium.

On that plaque he is called prefectus Prefectus was the official title He was a Roman prefect, a Roman prefect Later on that word in verse…in I think 46 A.D. was changed to procurator.  Sometimes you hear Pilate called a procurator, but that wouldn’t have been true until 46 A.D. and Pilate was through in 36, so he was never called a procurator In 70 A.D. they changed it to a legate. He wouldn’t have been called that either.  By then he was certainly dead.  But he was a prefect.

Luke tells us that two high priests ruled, Annas and Caiaphas; it was during this time that the word of God came in the wilderness to John, the son of Zechariah (verse 2).

Looking at the religious corruption, Henry points out that there was supposed to only be one high priest at a time then gives us reasons as to why there might have been two:

God had appointed that there should be but one high priest at a time, but here were two, to serve some ill turn or other: one served one year and the other the other year; so some. One was the high priest, and the other the sagan, as the Jews called him, to officiate for him when he was disabled; or, as others say, one was high priest, and represented Aaron, and that was Caiaphas; Annas, the other, was nasi, or head of the sanhedrim, and represented Moses. But to us there is but one high priest, one Lord of all, to whom all judgment is committed.

However, MacArthur says that, during this time, Rome appointed the high priests, which would have been the reason for two of them — and they might not have even been priests:

during Roman times the Levitical line was ignored. During Roman times the Romans appointed the priests, the high priests. They had to approve of and appoint the high priests. So what that meant was that you became high priest by somehow currying the favor of Rome.

We don’t know anything about the lineage of Annas. We don’t know anything about the lineage of…of Caiaphas, really. They were in the position they were in because they had somehow gotten the favor of Rome and been placed there. It is even said by some historians that the office of high priest was often bought with money, or granted as some kind of political favor.

So, Annas had garnered that favor from Rome and he was in that place because he served Rome’s purposes, not God’s. It wasn’t that he was a priest truly or that he was in the priestly line. We don’t know any of that background. But it was that he was there because he served the purposes of Rome well.

Between them, Annas and Caiaphas could be described as the Jerusalem mafia, with Annas as the Godfather:

Now in some ways Annas, who is mentioned first here, who is the older of the two, had a death grip on the high priesthoodThe real power exerted over the people of Israel on a day-to-day basis was exerted by the most powerful man in their recognized structure, and that would be the high priest. He was the real power because he represented, theoretically, God. And what he brought to bear on them was not an intrusion into their life, but was reflective of what God had ordained, and that is that they be ruled by priests and a high priest. So he represented the leadership they could accept and had to accept by virtue of its ordination by God, even though in this case it had been terribly, terribly corrupted.

Caiaphas was the son-in-law of Annas, who:

was high priest from the year 7 to 14 A.D., 7 to 14 A.D. During the silent years, the private years of John and Jesus, during those thirty years when Jesus was living in Nazareth and John was out in the wilderness, 7 to 14 A.D., just a…not a long period of time, but he was succeeded in the priesthood by five sons and one son-in-law. That son-in-law is Caiaphas.

Even though Caiaphas carried out a lot of the day-to-day responsibilities, Annas had to know everything that went on:

That’s why he’s constantly identified as the high priest.  When you go to John 18 and they go and arrest Jesus, they arrest Jesus and they say, “We’ve got to take Him to Annas first.”  It says, “Caiaphas was the high priest that year, but they took Him to Annas first.”  He was the real power behind the priesthood.  And the priesthood was not just a position, not just a position of spiritual leadership, it was… It was a crime family is what it was.  It was the Jerusalem mafia. That’s what it was.  And the mafioso boss was Annas.  He still had the power.  He probably maintained the title all his life …

But the fact of the matter is it wasn’t just a titular designation. The fact is he ran everything and that’s indicative…that’s indicated, I should say, when they took Jesus first to Annas before they went to Caiaphas, who was the high priest, because they knew that Annas had the final say and if it didn’t get by him, no use going anywhere else.

Their biggest racket was the temple’s sacrificial system and money-changing operation, which made them wealthy. They were deeply unhappy when Jesus twice took a whip to the tables in the temple compound.

MacArthur describes their hatred of Jesus, who was disturbing their operation:

Annas and his sons and son-in-law — they managed to turn the high priesthood into an incredibly profitable business.  And I… Just as a footnote, I’ve been studying this particularly in the last few weeks. I just finished writing a book called The Murder of Jesus [1999] … in which I just take you clear through the whole story of the crucifixion.  And in doing so I got very involved in the life of Annas and Caiaphas, who play a major role, of course, in the execution of Jesus.  In fact, if you want to lay the responsibility for the crucifixion of Jesus at anybody’s feet, you can start with God because God sent Him to die for sinners, and then you can move to Annas and Caiaphas. They drove the plotThey were the ones who cornered Pontius Pilate and had him in a position where in blackmail he had to do what he did and that was authorize the execution of Jesus.  But they were the ones that drove the plot.  And the reason they hated Jesus had a little to do with His theology and mostly to do with the fact that Jesus interrupted temple business.

When Jesus first showed up on the scene, He went to the temple and He made a whip and he cleaned out the place.  You remember that?  And then at the end of His ministry, He did it again.  This did not make them happy.  If you want to carry the analogy a little bit, what happened at the cross was they finally found a hit man to execute the guy who was intruding into their operation. And Pilate was the hit man.

MacArthur says that there were 28 high priests during 100 years of Roman occupation. Caiaphas served for 20 years in that post, which was a remarkable tenure:

So twenty-eight high priests, you take seven, eight years of Annas and twenty years of Caiaphas and you’ve got this say thirty years, so you’ve got twenty-six left for a seventy-year period. So they ran through that office pretty fast. For a person to stay there twenty years was pretty remarkable. Caiaphas was there for twenty years.

MacArthur says that the two high priests were no doubt Sadduccees. Sadduccees didn’t pay much attention to Scripture, preferring to follow established tradition instead. They also did not believe in the supernatural, therefore, they had few qualms about installing a temple racket:

Now Caiaphas from his theological standpoint was a Sadducee and Sadducees were religious liberals. They didn’t believe in the supernatural, they didn’t believe in angels, they didn’t believe in the supernatural character of Scripture. It’s easy to remember them because somebody says they didn’t believe in angels, they didn’t believe in the resurrection, they didn’t believe in the supernatural character of Scripture, that’s why they were so sad, you see. So that’s how I remember them. It’s not bad. It’s not bad. They were materialists.

As I said, they were religious liberals. They… They were opportunists and because they were materialists and anti-supernaturalists, they were the kind of people who could run an enterprise li…enterprise like this in the temple and not worry that they were just going to be incinerated by God, turning His house of prayer into a den of thieves. They had a very, very low view of Scripture. Frankly, they were very much like modern Jews. They had a high view of tradition and a low view of Scripture. They were anti-supernaturalists. They were… They were really sort of traditionalists rather than scriptural in their commitment.

These two men were the real power over the people and they were as wretched as wretched could be. They weren’t any better than the pagans. So this is a very, very, very dark time in the land of Israel. They are apostates who blaspheme the God of Israel, really. They blaspheme the God of Israel right in God’s own temple. I can’t imagine those guys going into the Holy of Holies once a year, right? On the Day of Atonement and wondering whether they’d ever come out. They were the ones who drove the conspiracy to execute Jesus because He tampered with their business and they couldn’t agree with the Pharisees on anything except to kill Jesus. The Pharisees hated Jesus because He attacked their religious system. The Sadducees hated Jesus because He attacked their economic system. And they all got together and cornered Pilate and got Pilate to agree to execute Jesus with the threat that if he didn’t they’re going to complain again about Pilate to Tiberius Caesar. And Pilate was already on some serious thin ice because of things he had done in Israel.

Turning to John the Baptist, it is likely he took a lifetime Nazirite vow, as I explained several years ago. The only other two in the Bible to do so were Samson (e.g. long hair) and Samuel. John lived a very basic life, however, away from people. He foraged for his food. He wore animal skins rather than conventional clothes.

Most Jewish men, such as Paul, took short term Nazirite vows, but John lived his life as a Nazirite monk.

Henry tells us more about John’s receiving the word of God:

He received full commission and full instructions from God to do what he did. It is the same expression that is used concerning the Old-Testament prophets (Jeremiah 1:2); for John was a prophet, yea, more than a prophet, and in him prophecy revived, which had been long suspended. We are not told how the word of the Lord came to John, whether by an angel, as to his father, or by dream, or vision, or voice, but it was to his satisfaction, and ought to be to ours. John is here called the son of Zacharias, to refer us to what the angel said to his father, when he assured him that he should have this son. The word of the Lord came to him in the wilderness; for those whom God fits he will find out, wherever they are. As the word of the Lord is not bound in a prison, so it is not lost in a wilderness. The word of the Lord made its way to Ezekiel among the captives by the river of Chebar, and to John in the isle of Patmos. John was the son of a priest, now entering upon the thirtieth year of his age; and therefore, according to the custom of the temple, he was now to be admitted into the temple-service, where he should have attended as a candidate five years before. But God had called him to a more honourable ministry, and therefore the Holy Ghost enrols him here, since he was not enrolled in the archives of the temple: John the son of Zacharias began his ministration such a time.

Wilderness in this context means ‘desert’. MacArthur says:

Chapter 1 verse 80 [of Luke’s Gospel] tells us. That’s the last we’ve heard of John. “He grew and became strong in spirit,” talking about John. “He lived in the desert,” or wilderness, “till the day of his public appearance in Israel.” There he’s just the wilderness guy. He’s out there in the wilderness. That is the wilderness of Judea, it’s called, from the… I’ll give you a little geography on Israel. There’s a coastal plain, there’s a Mediterranean Sea, and there’s a coastal plain. There’s a coastal range of mountains. The Sharon…the Carmel range, it’s called. There’s the Plain of Sharon, which is a coastal…coastal lowland, a coastal valley, much like we have in California. And then you go inland a little bit and you have a range of mountains that was called Carmel. We talk about Mount Carmel. Carmel wasn’t one mountain it was kind of a range of mountains. And then you had a valley and then you had another set of mountains on the east and that was where Jerusalem was, the high point, the plateau range, and then that fell off into the wilderness of Judea. And that wilderness extended across the Jordan River. From the Dead Sea to the Sea of Galilee up the Jordan River was that wilderness area.

His parents — Elizabeth and Zechariah — lived on the edge of that wilderness:

Now John’s family lived in the hill country of Judea which would be the western border of that wilderness, which would go from the Dead…the top of the Dead Sea half way up to the Sea of Galilee to where the river Jabbok came in and it would go west of that and east of that. That is a very barren area.

Having received the word of God, John, the last of the Old Testament prophets and the first in 425 years, left the wilderness to go to the region around the Jordan River, proclaiming a baptism for the forgiveness of sins (verse 3).

The people went to him. MacArthur refers us to Matthew:

Back in Matthew chapter 3 and verse 5, it says, “Then Jerusalem was going out to him and all Judea and all the district around the Jordan, and they were being baptized by him in the Jordan River as they confessed their sins.”

You know what happened? Everybody went to John. And again you have almost an illustration of the necessary disconnect from the system that is required when someone comes to the truth. And so the Lord leaves John out in that barren, barren place, apart from the establishment because like Isaiah, like Jeremiah, like Ezekiel and some other prophets, John is going to have to keep his distance, he’s going to have to be untouched, unpolluted.

He proclaimed the message from Isaiah from the wilderness, as prophesied: ‘Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight’ (verse 4), with no obstacles of valleys, mountains and hills or rough roads (verse 5).

All — Jew and Gentile — will see the salvation of God (verse 6).

MacArthur explains the importance of these verses:

it is from Isaiah chapter 40 verses 3 through 5. That prophecy was given 700 years before John, 700 years before Jesus began His ministry. And it is a powerful, powerful prophecy. In fact, I confess to you as a human preacher, a very human preacher, I’m not sure I can bear the weight of it. Literally this prophecy overwhelms me and I…I confess to you that it places on me a huge burden to communicate because it has so much contained in it. The implications around this prophecy are…are vast. Even the explicit elements of this prophecy are powerful, but what surrounds this prophecy in the context of Isaiah has sweeping implications. And Luke, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, has picked the perfect prophecy from the Old Testament to identify John. It is a prophecy that has immense theological implications, immense historic implications, immense salvation implications. It is not just limited to John, the forerunner crying in the wilderness. It is the whole message of what he is saying that is coming to fulfillment at that moment with the arrival of Messiah. And all its implications for Israel and for all flesh, as verse 6 indicates, that is all people across the faith of the earth. This is a sweeping prophecy that literally covers all the ground of redemptive history.

This imagery suggests the way one would prepare for the arrival of a king, in this case, the Messiah — Jesus:

In ancient times when a monarch went on a tour of his domain and approached the various cities and towns along the route, there would be an advanced message “The king is coming and you need to make things ready. We don’t want the king going through deep ravines. We don’t want the king having to climb over great high rocks and mountains. We don’t want the king going on some circuitous pathway. We don’t want the king to have to come stumbling over rocks and boulders and great holes in the path. We want a highway for the king that suits his dignity and one that provides ease for the monarch. We want you to get a highway ready for the great king to come to your city.”

Now the people, knowing this, would set about to do this. It was the greatest of events to have the monarch come to their town, to have the king come to their home. And they would know of such an arrival. They hadn’t seen the king so it was an act of faith, but a forerunner came and said he’s coming, get everything ready so that he has easy access into your city. Start preparing a road. Start constructing a road, because in a matter of months or whatever the time might be, the king will be arriving.

So Isaiah said in his prophecy, the king will come someday, but before he comes, a voice will come in the wilderness and tell people to get the highway ready for the king. And here Luke quotes that because John is the fulfillment of that. He is the voice crying in the wilderness. He has come to the people and he is saying to the people of Israel, “Get the highway ready, the king is right behind me.” And truthfully, but six months later the King did begin His ministry.

So John is…is taking that prophecy of Isaiah and fulfilling it. And Luke makes note of that fulfillment. John was calling on the people to prepare a highway for the true King who was Messiah.

MacArthur says that, until this point, baptism was a cleansing ritual reserved for Gentiles who wished to convert to the Jewish faith. By proclaiming that all needed to be baptised, John was telling the Jews that they were spiritually no better than Gentiles. They needed to repent:

When John came he came preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. They were religious people, they were lost. They needed the forgiveness of sin. The theology was they had a form of religion without the reality of it. They had a zeal for God but not according to a true knowledge of God, as Paul put it. And so John tells them their sins can be forgiven but only if they repent. And if they repent so deeply that they’re willing to be baptized in the same way that a Gentile was when a Gentile wanted to enter into Judaism. When a Gentile wanted to be a proselyte, they were baptized in a…in a special ceremony to show that they needed to be cleansed before they can engage themselves with the covenant people of God.

Well John, by baptizing Jews, is saying you have to repent to such a depth that you will confess you’re no better than a Gentile. So he preached a baptism for repentance for the forgiveness of sin. That was the theological perspective. The people were under the damning burden of guilt and they needed forgiveness which God always has given, always will give to those who repent, whose repentance is genuine and in this case evidenced by a willingness to say I am no better than a pagan.

Years ago, a Presbyterian pastor’s daughter told me that the Book of Isaiah was ‘depressing’. Unfortunately, she hadn’t read the whole book nor has she paid attention to readings used during Advent and Christmas. That’s a very sad state to be in, especially for a pastor’s daughter.

MacArthur says that the first 39 chapters of Isaiah are all about judgement, but chapters 40 to 66 are about redemption.

According to Isaiah, God will redeem Israel one day:

Chapter 40 then launches the rest of the book of Isaiah all the way to chapter 66 and the message changes from judgment to salvation, from warning to encouragement. The latter half of Isaiah’s prophecy is all about salvation and the Messiah and His kingdom and righteousness and joy and peace. And the simple message of the overall view of the book is the same God who has judged Israel for sins will someday save Israel. That is the great message of the book of Isaiah. The same God who promised terrible judgment on a sinning Israel promises salvation on a penitent Israel. That, folks, is at the heart of redemptive history. God is not finished with Israel. Whatever may lie ahead and the prophet Isaiah knows what’s going to lie ahead, he’s said it for thirty-nine chapters and the people know it, and it’s also been prophesied by many other prophets, but whatever may lie ahead for the people of Judah and Jerusalem, God’s ultimate purpose for them is not judgment, God’s ultimate purpose for them is salvation. God’s ultimate purpose for them is not destruction but redemption, not death but life. God’s ultimate purpose for them is not the abolition of His covenant, but the fulfillment of His covenant.

So you see here really in my mind a dramatic insight into the unfolding and eternal purposes of salvation that God has purposed for Israel. There is a future for Israel, for Jewish people who today reject their Messiah, but someday will be saved by the very Messiah they reject because they will look on Him and see Him for who He really is and turn to Him for salvation and Zacharias said, “A fountain of cleansing will be opened to the house of Israel.”

So these two verses have a warm, affectionate, and tender tone, something unfamiliar in the first thirty-nine chapters. God is saying there will come a time when sin has been paid for. There will come a time when suffering is over, warfare has ended. There will come a time of salvation so here’s the message, comfort, oh comfort My people … 

So God looks and says, I promised to save you but there’s nobody that can do it but Me. And so God says I’ll come, I’ll come and save sinners. That’s what the incarnation was about. John is saying He’s here and He’s about to begin His work. Are you ready? “Ready” means repentant. You can’t save yourself but you can prepare your heart for the only one who can save you. Get ready, He’s coming. And for us, He’s already come, hasn’t He? Already died for sinners. And when you repent, you are forgiven. Someday Israel will do that. Until then, Jew and Gentile alike can do that and do as the Spirit works in their hearts.

May everyone reading this have a blessed Sunday.

The First Sunday of Advent is November 28, 2021.

Readings for Year C — the new liturgical year — can be found here.

The Gospel reading is as follows (emphases mine):

Luke 21:25-36

21:25 “There will be signs in the sun, the moon, and the stars, and on the earth distress among nations confused by the roaring of the sea and the waves.

21:26 People will faint from fear and foreboding of what is coming upon the world, for the powers of the heavens will be shaken.

21:27 Then they will see ‘the Son of Man coming in a cloud’ with power and great glory.

21:28 Now when these things begin to take place, stand up and raise your heads, because your redemption is drawing near.”

21:29 Then he told them a parable: “Look at the fig tree and all the trees;

21:30 as soon as they sprout leaves you can see for yourselves and know that summer is already near.

21:31 So also, when you see these things taking place, you know that the kingdom of God is near.

21:32 Truly I tell you, this generation will not pass away until all things have taken place.

21:33 Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away.

21:34 “Be on guard so that your hearts are not weighed down with dissipation and drunkenness and the worries of this life, and that day catch you unexpectedly,

21:35 like a trap. For it will come upon all who live on the face of the whole earth.

21:36 Be alert at all times, praying that you may have the strength to escape all these things that will take place, and to stand before the Son of Man.”

Commentary comes from Matthew Henry and John MacArthur.

We had a similar passage about the Second Coming two weeks ago, on the Twenty-fourth Sunday after Trinity: Mark 13:1-8.

This Sunday’s is Luke’s version of Christ’s prophecy.

As with Mark’s (and Matthew’s) version, Luke’s preceding verses had to do with the destruction of the temple and the end of the Jewish sacrificial system, which occurred at the hands of the Romans in AD 70.

With regard to His second coming, Jesus tells us that the universe will give us signs as will the earth, where the movement of the seas will create distress across the nations (verse 25).

Jesus goes on to say that people will ‘faint with fear and foreboding’ as ‘the powers of the heavens will be shaken’ (verse 26).

John MacArthur says:

The staging is given in verses 25 and 26. Sun and moon and stars…what happens to them in that period of time? They go out. The sun goes out therefore the moon goes out. The stars go out as well, blackness covers the universe. At the same time the seas begin to roar, the waves turn into a tumult and we see the powers of the heavens being shaken. This is all final staging and parallels the Old Testament prophets and the book of Revelation.

Now that brings us to the third word and where we pick up the text this morning. The third word is shock…shock. There’s only one possible response to this unimaginable chaos, verse 25, “And upon the earth dismay among nations in perplexity.” Verse 26, “Men fainting from fear and the expectation of the things which are coming upon the world.”

And again I remind you, this is how history ends. This is the real story of the end of the earth and the universe as we know it. This is the first step in the beginning of the eternal state …

The confusion comes because people can’t do anything about it. There is absolute chaos. There’s no way to solve this. You’ve got a third of the oceans destroyed, a third of the fresh water destroyed. You’ve got mountains exploding. You’ve got heavenly bodies crashing and careening into the earth. You’ve got the skies going dark. You have horrible storms, hundred-pound hailstones and other things described in the book of Revelation. And the confusion comes because they can’t sort it out.

They can’t even react to it because it’s coming in such rapid-fire succession. There’s reason to believe that the trumpet judgments come in months and then the final judgments described in Revelation, the bowl judgments come in weeks and days…rapid-fire succession. Shock is so great that we are told that men are fainting from fear. And fainting is a rather benign way to translate another rare word used no where else in the New Testament, aposuche(?). What that word means is to breathe out or to expire. That’s another word for to die. People will be scared to death. People will be scared to death. People all over the world will die of terror because of what is happening and because what is happening they know will lead to further horrors. As they watch everything turn into chaos, they understand the implications. It’s not just what’s going on in the moment, it’s what all this means in the immediate future. That is to say the terror comes from the immediate and the terror is compounded by the total absence of any hope of relief. You might be able to mitigate your anxiety if you thought there would be an end but there will be nor can there be…there will be no end nor can there be any end. The chaos is too great.

This is not, by the way, hyperbole. This is lethal emotional trauma causing rapid pulse, low blood pressure and cardiac collapse. Rapid-pulse, low blood pressure, cardiac collapse, scared to death. This is not something the disciples wouldn’t have heard about before. This is shocking coming from Jesus and yet this is what Isaiah said. Listen to Isaiah 13:8, “All hands will fall limp, every man’s heart will melt. They will be terrified. Pains and anguish will take hold of them. They will writhe like a woman in labor. They will look at one another in astonishment, their faces aflame.” Listen again to the Revelation chapter 6, as we read familiar words. “The kings of the earth, the great men, verse 15, the commanders, the rich, the strong, every slave, every free man hid themselves in the caves and among the rocks of the mountains and they said to the mountains and to the rocks, ‘Fall on us and hide us from the presence of Him who sits on the throne and from the wrath of the Lamb for the great day of their wrath has come and who is able to stand?’” They want to die. Some will be scared to death. Others will be scared but cannot or do not die, they will wish to be buried alive just to escape what’s next.

In the ninth chapter of the Revelation and verse 6, “In those days men will seek death and will not find it. They will long to die and death flees from them.” In the sixteenth chapter of Revelation and verse 8, “The fourth angel pours out the rapid-fire judgments called bowl judgments and the sun scorches men with fire. They’re scorched with fierce heat and they blaspheme the name of God who has the power over these plagues that didn’t repent so as to give Him glory. Then the fifth angel poured out his bowl on the throne of the beast, his kingdom became darkened. They gnawed their tongues because of pain and they blasphemed the God of heaven because of their pains and their sores and didn’t repent of their deeds.” The chapter ends in verse 21 with a statement, “The plagues were extremely severe.”

The eighteenth chapter gives us a description of the disintegration of life at that final hour, in those final weeks, in those final days. The eighteenth chapter of Revelation, we can pick it up in verse 8. Plagues will come pestilence, mourning, famine, fire, the Lord God is bringing judgment. The symbol here is Babylon, Babylon is the unifying term to describe the final world coalition of religion and government, the final world system. And it’s going to be wiped out. The kings of the earth who committed acts of immorality live sensuously with this system will weak and lament over her when they see the smoke of her burning. Standing at a distance because of the fear of her torment saying, “Woe, woe, the great Babylon, the strong city, in one hour your judgment has come.” Again indicating to us how rapid-fire the final judgments will be.

The merchants of the earth weep and mourn over her, again symbolizing the whole economy of the earth in this one symbol of Babylon. Nobody buys their cargoes anymore, cargos of gold and silver and precious stones and pearls, fine linen, purple silk, scarlet, the clothing industry, the jewel industry, every kind of citron, wood and every article of ivory, every article made from costly wood and bronze and iron and marble, the construction industry as well, cinnamon, spice, incense, perfume, frankincense, wine, olive oil, fine flour, wheat, cattle, sheep, cargos of horses, chariots, slaves, transportation industry, food industry, everything goes…the fruit you long for has gone from you, all things that were luxurious and splendid have passed away from you. Men will no longer find them. The merchants of these things who became rich from her will stand at a distance because of the fear of her torment, weeping and mourning, saying, “Woe, woe, the great city, she who was clothed in fine linen, purple, scarlet, adorned with gold, precious stones and pearls in one hour such great wealth has been laid waste.” Again indicating the suddenness of this destruction.

Matthew Henry’s commentary acknowledges that some Bible scholars believe this refers only to the destruction of the temple, but, like MacArthur, he says this pertains to the eventual end of the world and the terror that unbelievers will experience:

… our Saviour makes use of these figurative expressions because at the end of time they shall be literally accomplished, when the heavens shall be rolled together as a scroll, and all their powers not only shaken, but broken, and the earth and all the works that are therein shall be burnt up, 2 Peter 3:10; 2 Peter 3:12. As that day was all terror and destruction to the unbelieving Jews, so the great day will be to all unbelievers.

Jesus says that, at the appointed time, people will see ‘the Son of Man coming in a cloud’ of great power and glory (verse 27). The quote comes from a verse in the Book of Daniel.

His appearance, MacArthur says, is the final sign:

… here is THE sign, verse 27, “And then they will see the Son of Man coming in a cloud with power and great glory.” That is THE sign, the final sign, the sign is the Son of Man.

Listen to Matthew 24:30, the parallel account. The words of our Lord, “And then the sign of the Son of Man will appear in the sky.” The sign of the Son of Man will appear in the sky then all the tribes of the earth will mourn, they’ll already be emotional basket cases, to put it mildly. They will now launch into a final mourning as they see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of the sky with power and great glory. THE sign of THE Son of Man, that is a subjective genitive, the sign which is the Son of Man.

It is not another sign that points to the Son of Man, it is the sign which is the Son of Man. Now remember, the whole world will be pitch dark. As Joel puts it, the sun will go dark and the moon will not give its light. The stars will fall. Heaven rolls up like a scroll. It’s pitch blackness. And out of that blackness, the whole world sees the Son of Man coming. This is the moment to which all redemptive history moves. This is its glorious culmination, when the once humiliated Christ returns as the eternally exalted Christ. He came once to die. He comes now to kill. He came once to build His church. He comes again to establish His glorious Kingdom.

Henry ties the Second Coming back to the temple so that we might better understand that its destruction presages the return of Christ:

The destruction of Jerusalem was in a particular manner an act of Christ’s judgment, the judgment committed to the Son of man; his religion could never be thoroughly established but by the destruction of the temple, and the abolishing of the Levitical priesthood and economy, after which even the converted Jews, and many of the Gentiles too, were still hankering, till they were destroyed; so that it might justly be looked upon as a coming of the Son of man, in power and great glory, yet not visibly, but in the clouds; for in executing such judgments as these clouds and darkness are round about him. Now this was, 1. An evidence of the first coming of the Messiah; so some understand it. Then the unbelieving Jews shall be confined, when it is too late, that Jesus was the Messiah; those that would not see him coming in the power of his grace to save them shall be made to see him coming in the power of his wrath to destroy them; those that would not have him to reign over them shall have him to triumph over them. 2. It was an earnest of his second coming. Then in the terrors of that day they shall see the Son of man coming in a cloud, and all the terrors of the last day.

Jesus says that, when believers see these alarming signs, they can stand up and raise their heads because their redemption is near (verse 28).

MacArthur says:

A word to the saints in verse 28. These are the folks that will be alive at the time and will have believed in Christ. “But when these things begin to take place, straighten up, lift up your heads because your redemption is drawing near,” engizo, about to start.

Then Jesus gives the disciples a parable about the fig tree and other trees (verse 29), saying that when they sprout leaves, everyone knows that summer is near (verse 30).

Similarly, when these dramatic signs take place, we can be sure that the kingdom of God is near (verse 31).

MacArthur says that analogies involving fig trees are common in the Bible. They were the easiest ways to get a point across:

both in the Old Testament and in the teaching of the Lord, the fig tree served a purpose as an illustration. It is designed to help people understand. In fact, in Matthew 24:32, where the parallel text in Matthew’s record is, he says Jesus also said, “Now learn this parable of the fig tree.” The point is: This is for your learning – manthanō – this is so you can understand. And the reason I press that point is because it seems to me that people turn these parables into very complex things when they are the most simple, especially when you have such a simple parable as this.

It was also apposite as Jesus taught His disciples this lesson about the temple and His later return in the middle of His Passion, which we commemorate during Holy Week. It was Passover week, therefore, springtime.

MacArthur explains the deeper meaning of summer, which involves fruit and harvest, therefore, blessings for some and judgement for others:

When you see the signs – leaves – you know summer’s near. And with summer comes fruit and harvest.

By the way, harvest is always, in the Old Testament, a symbol of judgment as well as blessing. So, you have a simple analogy.

MacArthur says the disciples who would witness the destruction of the temple were symbolic of the people who would witness the end of the world:

The disciples are only symbolic of those people. They are only representative of that future group of people. “You,” meaning you believers, who are alive when you see these things happen. What the Lord is saying is: It’s going to come very fast.

You remember He told a parable about a man who went on a long journey? We’re living in the long journey. We’re living in the long time, two thousand years now. But once those signs start – once they start – you can be sure that when you see these things happen, the Kingdom of God is near …

Jesus emphasises — ‘Truly I tell you’ — that the present generation will not pass away until all those things have taken place (verse 32).

This is a confusing verse, because some of the things that Jesus prophesies here did not take place when the Romans destroyed the temple.

MacArthur says that Jesus means whoever is alive at the time and sees the prophesied events take place, whether about the temple or His coming again in glory:

Let me tell you how simple this is. Verse 32, “Truly I say to you, this generation.” What generation? “The generation that sees these things happen will not die until it’s all taken place.” Whoever is among the you who sees these things happen can know this, it’s going to happen soon in your lifetime, and if you see the beginning, you’re going to be there for the end.

If you see Jerusalem surrounded, if you’re alive and you see Jerusalem surrounded and you see the changes and the devastating changes in the universe, you see those signs, you will see the Son of Man. Such a simple thing. If you see the leaves, you know summer is near. If you see the signs, you know Christ is near; He’s at the door.

And our Lord is simply saying, “You asked Me a question. You asked Me, what do we look for? What are the signs?” And I’m telling you this, that generation alive that sees these things will see the Son of Man return. Our Lord is answering the question

If you’re alive and you see the signs and you survive through that and you’re not martyred – and we’re talking about believers here; believers who are alive and looking and waiting for the coming of Christ – if you’re alive when all that starts, you’re going to be there when He returns and you’re going to go into His Kingdom. That’s all it means.

If this is looking for an antecedent, the obvious antecedent is you in verse 31 – you, you. It is this generation – the you that sees these things – that will see it all take place.

Jesus makes it clear that heaven and earth will pass away, but His words will not; they will endure forever (verse 33).

MacArthur explains:

You were saved through the living and abiding word and you will be brought to glory through that same living, abiding word. Whatever God says is absolutely the way it is, whether He speaks of salvation, or sanctification, or glorification. And we look forward to the unfolding of this.

Then Jesus gives stern warnings about our behaviour. We must not be weighed down by the concerns of this life to the extent that we become despondent and drunk as a result, lest His return catch us by surprise (verse 34), like a trap (verse 35). In our era, I would also include getting out of one’s mind on drugs in that warning.

We do not want to be out of our minds when the time comes for us to meet our Lord.

Henry says:

See here, 1. What our danger is: that the day of death and judgment should come upon us unawares, when we do not expect it, and are not prepared for it,–lest, when we are called to meet our Lord, that be found the furthest thing from our thoughts which ought always to be laid nearest our hearts, lest it come upon us as a snare; for so it will come upon the most of men, who dwell upon the earth, and mind earthly things only, and have no converse with heaven; to them it will be as a snare. See Ecclesiastes 9:12. It will be a terror and a destruction to them; it will put them into an inexpressible fright, and hold them fast for a doom yet more frightful.

Jesus calls upon us to be ‘alert at all times’ — ‘watching’, in some translations — and praying that we are strong enough to escape these terrible events and be able to stand before Him one day (verse 36).

Henry says:

Watch therefore, and pray always. Watching and praying must go together, Nehemiah 4:9. Those that would escape the wrath to come, and make sure of the joys to come, must watch and pray, and must do so always, must make it the constant business of their lives, (1.) To keep a guard upon themselves. “Watch against sin, watch to every duty, and to the improvement of every opportunity of doing good. Be awake, and keep awake, in expectation of your Lord’s coming, that you may be in a right frame to receive him, and bid him welcome.” (2.) To keep up their communion with God: “Pray always; be always in an habitual disposition to that duty; keep up stated times for it; abound in it; pray upon all occasions.” Those shall be accounted worthy to live a life of praise in the other world that live a life of prayer in this world.

MacArthur says:

He will come. He will come. We don’t know when He will come. And so, we live in perpetual vigilance, a vigilant anticipation, never letting that out of our minds. He could come at any moment…He could come at any time…He could come at any day. This needs to be kept before the church at all times. This is one of the gifts that our Lord wants from us. When He comes…Oh, we expected You, we expected You. We’ve been waiting, we’re ready.

This might seem to some as an odd reading in Advent, a time which, for us, is full of preparation for Christmas, including happy social engagements.

Yet, Advent readings begin by calling us to account, to repent, so that we might better appreciate Christ’s deigning to come to the world as an infant and living a fully human — yet fully divine — life among us.

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