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The Fifth Sunday in Lent, Passion Sunday, is March 26, 2023.

Traditionally, the Fifth Sunday in Lent — Passion Sunday — begins a two-week season called Passiontide, which encompasses Palm Sunday (next week) and Holy Week.

Some traditionalist churches cover crosses and images with dark or black cloth from this Sunday throughout most of Holy Week. Crosses and crucifixes can be uncovered after Good Friday services. Statues remain covered until the Easter Vigil Mass takes place on Holy Saturday.

Readings for Year A can be found here.

The Gospel is as follows (emphases mine):

John 11:1-45

11:1 Now a certain man was ill, Lazarus of Bethany, the village of Mary and her sister Martha.

11:2 Mary was the one who anointed the Lord with perfume and wiped his feet with her hair; her brother Lazarus was ill.

11:3 So the sisters sent a message to Jesus, “Lord, he whom you love is ill.”

11:4 But when Jesus heard it, he said, “This illness does not lead to death; rather it is for God’s glory, so that the Son of God may be glorified through it.”

11:5 Accordingly, though Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus,

11:6 after having heard that Lazarus was ill, he stayed two days longer in the place where he was.

11:7 Then after this he said to the disciples, “Let us go to Judea again.”

11:8 The disciples said to him, “Rabbi, the Jews were just now trying to stone you, and are you going there again?”

11:9 Jesus answered, “Are there not twelve hours of daylight? Those who walk during the day do not stumble, because they see the light of this world.

11:10 But those who walk at night stumble, because the light is not in them.”

11:11 After saying this, he told them, “Our friend Lazarus has fallen asleep, but I am going there to awaken him.”

11:12 The disciples said to him, “Lord, if he has fallen asleep, he will be all right.”

11:13 Jesus, however, had been speaking about his death, but they thought that he was referring merely to sleep.

11:14 Then Jesus told them plainly, “Lazarus is dead.

11:15 For your sake I am glad I was not there, so that you may believe. But let us go to him.”

11:16 Thomas, who was called the Twin, said to his fellow disciples, “Let us also go, that we may die with him.”

11:17 When Jesus arrived, he found that Lazarus had already been in the tomb four days.

11:18 Now Bethany was near Jerusalem, some two miles away,

11:19 and many of the Jews had come to Martha and Mary to console them about their brother.

11:20 When Martha heard that Jesus was coming, she went and met him, while Mary stayed at home.

11:21 Martha said to Jesus, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.

11:22 But even now I know that God will give you whatever you ask of him.”

11:23 Jesus said to her, “Your brother will rise again.”

11:24 Martha said to him, “I know that he will rise again in the resurrection on the last day.”

11:25 Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. Those who believe in me, even though they die, will live,

11:26 and everyone who lives and believes in me will never die. Do you believe this?”

11:27 She said to him, “Yes, Lord, I believe that you are the Messiah, the Son of God, the one coming into the world.”

11:28 When she had said this, she went back and called her sister Mary, and told her privately, “The Teacher is here and is calling for you.”

11:29 And when she heard it, she got up quickly and went to him.

11:30 Now Jesus had not yet come to the village, but was still at the place where Martha had met him.

11:31 The Jews who were with her in the house, consoling her, saw Mary get up quickly and go out. They followed her because they thought that she was going to the tomb to weep there.

11:32 When Mary came where Jesus was and saw him, she knelt at his feet and said to him, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.”

11:33 When Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who came with her also weeping, he was greatly disturbed in spirit and deeply moved.

11:34 He said, “Where have you laid him?” They said to him, “Lord, come and see.”

11:35 Jesus began to weep.

11:36 So the Jews said, “See how he loved him!”

11:37 But some of them said, “Could not he who opened the eyes of the blind man have kept this man from dying?”

11:38 Then Jesus, again greatly disturbed, came to the tomb. It was a cave, and a stone was lying against it.

11:39 Jesus said, “Take away the stone.” Martha, the sister of the dead man, said to him, “Lord, already there is a stench because he has been dead four days.”

11:40 Jesus said to her, “Did I not tell you that if you believed, you would see the glory of God?”

11:41 So they took away the stone. And Jesus looked upward and said, “Father, I thank you for having heard me.

11:42 I knew that you always hear me, but I have said this for the sake of the crowd standing here, so that they may believe that you sent me.”

11:43 When he had said this, he cried with a loud voice, “Lazarus, come out!”

11:44 The dead man came out, his hands and feet bound with strips of cloth, and his face wrapped in a cloth. Jesus said to them, “Unbind him, and let him go.”

11:45 Many of the Jews therefore, who had come with Mary and had seen what Jesus did, believed in him.

Commentary comes from Matthew Henry and John MacArthur.

Part 1 of this exegesis covers the first 19 verses.

When Martha heard that Jesus was coming, she went to meet Him; Mary stayed at home (verse 20).

John MacArthur describes what it was like at home during this time of grief and mourning:

Let me give you kind of a picture.  When someone died, as I said, they put them in the ground right away.  Burial followed death immediately.  As a result of the death, people would be notified.  They would come to the house.  There would be a procession, a procession to wherever they were going to place the body.  They’re not necessarily digging a hole, but like Jesus who was buried in a cave.  There were many caves in the Bethany area as well as around Jerusalem.  Many believers were buried this way all over the ancient world around the Mediterranean.

So it’s very likely they put Him in some kind of cave on some kind of shelf, which is typically what they did in catacombs kind of places.  He would be placed there.  The procession would then go back to the house and mourners would stay for seven days, seven days.  This is how long the initial part of the funeral lasted.  For seven days, people would be sitting in the house.  Now, they couldn’t eat until the body was taken to be buried.  They didn’t want any kind of levity.  They didn’t want any kind of joy being expressed.  They didn’t want any kind of normalcy until the body had been buried, and then they would serve a meal.  They actually had designed a meal of bread, hard-boiled eggs and lentils, kind of a traditional meal to feed the people who were going to stay

Then they would continue to have to care for those people or others would bring food as the mourners stayed for seven days.  What they did was not just sit quietly like Job’s friends and say nothing.  They wailed out loud.  They mourned.  They wailed loudly.  Women led this, so it was kind of a screaming, wailing situation.  They saw this as comfort because of the sympathy behind it.  It was traditional.  They expected it.  For seven days, this wailing went on. 

So when Jesus comes and Lazarus has been dead four days, this is still in full bloom.  Sympathy was everybody’s duty.  It was really a beautiful custom.  By the way, at the end of the seven days, the wailing, sort of the formal wailing – and by the way, there were hired mourners as well, people who were professional wailers who sort of led the rest.  They embraced that family for seven days, and then after the seven days of really intense wailing, they would also carry on mourning for 30 days.  There would be some expressions openly, publicly of mourning for 30 days as those friends and those people came around.  During the time of wailing and mourning, there would be reminiscences and eulogies and remembrances.  There would be the sharing of stories and whatever was necessary to comfort.  It really was a beautiful custom. 

MacArthur offers possibilities on how Martha would have heard Jesus was there:

… maybe the messenger who came with them ran ahead. Do you remember the messenger who went to tell Jesus that Lazarus was sick? He must have come back with them. Maybe he waited the two days they waited, and then came back with them and maybe ran ahead a little bit. We can’t be certain about that, but somebody informed her that Jesus was near, but not quite at the village.

She heard that Jesus was coming, went to meet Him, but Mary stayed at the house. Now, here we come to these two sisters again, and they perform kind of according to their personality and their temperament. If you go back to Luke 10 for a minute, this is where we meet them earlier in the ministry of Jesus, quite a bit earlier in the ministry of Jesus. Jesus and His disciples are traveling along and He enters a village. By the way, it’s Bethany, that same village, and a woman named Martha welcomed Him into her home. She knew about Him, must have known about Him. We don’t know at this point how much. She welcomed Him into her home. “She had a sister called Mary who was seated at the Lord’s feet, listening to His word.”

… And she came up to Him and said, “Lord, do you not care that my sister had left me to do all the serving alone?”  I mean that’s a pretty bold lady.  “Then tell her to help me.”  Whoa.  “But the Lord answered and said to her, ‘Martha, Martha.” 

You know, when anybody repeats your name twice, you know you’re in trouble?  My mother was just, “Johnny, Johnny.”  “Martha, Martha, you’re worried and bothered about so many things.”  They don’t matter.  “Only one thing is necessary, for Mary has chosen the good part, which shall not be taken away from her.”  No way I’m going to tell her to go to the kitchen and fuss around.  She’s chosen the right thing.  So there’s the initial characterization.  Mary is the pensive, thoughtful, inward, melancholy kind of personality and Martha is the busy one, the active one, the aggressive one.  So we see that again. 

Go back to John 11.  The word comes.  She gets the word that the Savior is on the way, and as soon as she gets the word that He’s on the way, she charges in that direction.  Verse 20, Mary stays back.  She’s melancholy.  She’s broken hearted.  She’s sad.  She’s pensive, in deep sorrow.  She doesn’t even know Jesus is coming.  She doesn’t even know that because she doesn’t find it out until verse 28 when Martha comes back and tells her.  She’s just caught up in the loss of her brother, the agonizing loss of this brother that she loved.

Martha said to Jesus that, if He had been there, Lazarus would not have died (verse 21).

MacArthur thinks that that thought was going around in Martha’s head since Lazarus died:

… as Martha reached Jesus, the thought that had no doubt plagued her brain and she had shared it with Mary for the four days, was that Jesus should have been there; and if Jesus hadn’t left, this wouldn’t have happened …  “If you had been here my brother would not have died.” Here she is telling Him what to do again. This is definitely her. This is her. The first time she said anything to Him, she told Him what to do. The second time, she scolds Him again and tells Him if He’d had done what He should have been doing, He would have been there, and this never would have happened.

Even so, she said, she knew that God would give Jesus whatever He asked of Him (verse 22).

MacArthur says:

This lady got a solid Christology while she was in the kitchen overhearing what He was saying to Mary. She got it. By the way, Jesus no doubt stayed at their home Many times, but somehow with all that she knew, there was this pain that testifies to a faith that comes short of believing His power to raise the dead. She says, “I know you can ask the Father and you can do that now, and God will give you if it’s His will.”

Matthew Henry’s commentary says much the same:

How weak her faith was. She should have said, “Lord, thou canst do whatsoever thou wilt;” but she only says, “Thou canst obtain whatsoever thou prayest for.” She had forgotten that the Son had life in himself, that he wrought miracles by his own power.

Jesus told Martha that her brother would rise again (verse 23).

Martha took that to mean that he would rise again in resurrection on the last day (verse 24).

Henry explains, linking those verses to today’s first reading, Ezekiel 37:1-14, about the resurrection of the dry bones into an army:

Thy brother shall rise again. First, This was true of Lazarus in a sense peculiar to him: he was now presently to be raised; but Christ speaks of it in general as a thing to be done, not which he himself would do, so humbly did our Lord Jesus speak of what he did. He also expresses it ambiguously, leaving her uncertain at first whether he would raise him presently or not till the last day, that he might try her faith and patience. Secondly, It is applicable to all the saints, and their resurrection at the last day. Note, It is a matter of comfort to us, when we have buried our godly friends and relations, to think that they shall rise again. As the soul at death is not lost, but gone before, so the body is not lost, but laid up. Think you hear Christ saying, “Thy parent, thy child, thy yoke-fellow, shall rise again; these dry bones shall live.

As bone shall return to his bone in that day, so friend to his friend.

Jesus stated that He is the resurrection and the life; those who believe in Him, even though they die will live (verse 25) and everyone who lives and believes in Him will never die. Then He asked Martha if she believed that (verse 26).

MacArthur says:

I just want to affirm to you, folks, there will be a resurrection. This is not a misinterpretation of Scripture because Martha got the same thing from Jesus.  It is the truth.  You will rise to life or damnation.  You will receive a body for eternity.  Then our Lord says, “Martha, look, I am the resurrection and the life.”  Listen, not, “I will be.”  I – what?  “I am.”  This is the fifth of seven I ams in the gospel of John. 

I AM\\\am.  That’s the Tetragrammaton, the name of God.  I am the resurrection and the life.  He doesn’t say, “I can raise the dead.”  I am the resurrection.  I can pray the Father to give life.  I am life.  “He who believes in Me will live even if he dies, and everyone who lives and believes in Me will never die.  Do you believe this?”  So here is this great claim, this claim to be the I am, to be the one who is the source of life.  I am the embodiment of life.  I am the life.

Just as in John 14:6, “I am the way, the truth, and the life.”  Not in the future, “I will be.”  In the present, “I am.”  Here is the I am. Jesus is the life itself. He is everlasting life. That everlasting life, by the way, that resurrected life in heaven is for anyone who believes. Do you believe? That’s the compelling question. Do you believe? If you do not believe, you are without excuse. If you do not believe that He is the resurrection and the life, you are without excuse. Why? You must believe He is the life. He created everything that lives. You must believe He is the resurrection because He not only raised the dead, but He himself was raised from the dead; and because He lives, we live also.

Martha affirmed her own faith, saying, ‘Yes, Lord, I believe that you are the Messiah, the Son of God, the one coming into the world’ (verse 27). That is what the Old Testament teaches.

MacArthur says:

She didn’t even know about the cross yet because He hadn’t died. She didn’t know about His resurrection yet because it hadn’t happened, but she believed everything that had been revealed up to that point. She is an Old Testament saint. She is an Old Testament believer. I do believe. I do believe.

After Martha professed her belief in Jesus, she went back to the house to fetch her sister Mary, telling her privately, ‘The Teacher is here and is calling for you’ (verse 28).

Henry says:

[2.] She called her secretly, and whispered it in her ear, because there was company by, Jews, who were no friends to Christ. The saints are called into the fellowship of Jesus Christ by an invitation that is secret and distinguishing, given to them and not to others; they have meat to eat that the world knows not of, joy that a stranger does not intermeddle with. [3.] She called her by order from Christ; he bade her go call her sister. This call that is effectual, whoever brings it, is sent by Christ. The Master is come, and calleth for thee. First, She calls Christ the Master, didaskalos, a teaching master; by that title he was commonly called and known among them. Mr. George Herbert took pleasure in calling Christ, my Master. Secondly, She triumphs in his arrival: The Master is come. He whom we have long wished and waited for, he is come, he is come; this was the best cordial in the present distress. “Lazarus is gone, and our comfort in him is gone; but the Master is come, who is better than the dearest friend, and has that in him which will abundantly make up all our losses. He is come who is our teacher, who will teach us how to get good by our sorrow (Ps 94 12), who will teach, and so comfort.”

When Mary heard what Martha said, she rose quickly to go to Him (verse 29).

Jesus was still not in the village at that point, but at the place where Martha had met Him (verse 30).

The Jews who were in the house consoling Mary saw her get up quickly and leave; they followed her because they thought she was going to her brother’s tomb to weep there (verse 31). In other words, they wanted to be available to console her at the tomb and not leave her on her own.

Now we have a body of witnesses for the upcoming miracle.

Henry says:

Those Jews that followed Mary were thereby led to Christ, and became the witnesses of one of his most glorious miracles. It is good cleaving to Christ’s friends in their sorrows, for thereby we may come to know him better.

Note that Mary says the same thing to Jesus as had Martha in verse 21, the big difference being that Mary knelt at His feet when she spoke those words (verse 32).

Henry points out:

Now here, [1.] Her posture is very humble and submissive: She fell down at his feet, which was more than Martha did, who had a greater command of her passions. She fell down not as a sinking mourner, but fell down at his feet as a humble petitioner. This she did in presence of the Jews that attended her, who, though friends to her and her family, yet were bitter enemies to Christ; yet in their sight she fell at Christ’s feet, as one that was neither ashamed to own the veneration she had for Christ nor afraid of disobliging her friends and neighbours by it. Let them resent it as they pleased, she falls at his feet; and, if this be to be vile, she will be yet more vile; see Cant 8 1. We serve a Master of whom we have no reason to be ashamed, and whose acceptance of our services is sufficient to balance the reproach of men and all their revilings. [2.] Her address is very pathetic: Lord, if thou hadst been here, my brother had not died. Christ’s delay was designed for the best, and proved so; yet both the sisters very indecently cast the same in his teeth, and in effect charge him with the death of their brother.

When Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews also weeping, He was greatly disturbed in spirit and deeply moved (verse 33).

Both our commentators say that Jesus experienced a deep, groaning inner pain. In today’s secular world, we would call it an existential pain in the truest sense of the word: a yawning chasm of sorrow.

MacArthur tells us:

“He was deeply moved,” deeply moved.  Literally weeping is klaiō in the Greek.  It means to sob.  And when He sees all this sobbing, He was deeply moved.  That is a very interesting word, deeply moved.  It can mean being emotional.  It can mean being angry.  It can mean being indignant.  It can mean groaning, feeling inner pain and turmoil.  This is deep emotion.  This is a word that sort of grabs everything.  There is sorrow, sadness, indigence, anger, suffering.  It’s just every emotion grips Him in His spirit, in His inner person, His person, and He was troubled, reflexive verb, troubled in Himself or He allowed Himself to feel the trouble.  He let Himself feel everything.

This is like what Hebrews says, “He is in all points tempted like as we are.”  He’s been touched with the feelings of our infirmities as our great High Priest.  He’s sad because He’s lost His friends.  Now, He loved Lazarus.  It says that back in verse 3, and it’s phileō.  It’s, He had an affection for him, human.  He lost His friend.

He loved Mary and Martha.  There’s no question that He loved them.  Everybody recognized how much He loved them.  But there’s more there than that.  It’s not just the pain that He feels in the loss of a friend.  It’s not just the pain that He feels as He identifies with these two sisters.  He feels a far more transcendent pain.  He feels a cosmic pain.  He understands that He is surrounded by unbelievers, who are representative of a nation of unbelievers who are all being catapulted into eternal judgment because they will not receive Him.  He understands that looking down through human history.  He understands the pain and suffering of all humanity that faces the same inevitable hour of human loss.  He understands that how severe this loss is when you know you’re losing one to hell forever. 

I mean this is a massive moment of agonyMaybe a little bit like His agony in the garden as He anticipates the sin-bearing.  He deeply enters in, not only to the wounded hearts and sorrows of people who are broken because they’ve lost the one they love; but He sees way more than that.  He understands what sin has done to the world and what unbelief has done to these people who are gathered around Him. 

Henry offers this analysis:

… Christ not only seemed concerned, but he groaned in the spirit; he was inwardly and sincerely affected with the case. David’s pretended friends counterfeited sympathy, to disguise their enmity (Ps 41 6); but we must learn of Christ to have our love and sympathy without dissimulation. Christ’s was a deep and hearty sigh.

[2.] He was troubled. He troubled himself; so the phrase is, very significantly. He had all the passions and affections of the human nature, for in all things he must be like to his brethren; but he had a perfect command of them, so that they were never up, but when and as they were called; he was never troubled, but when he troubled himself, as he saw cause. He often composed himself to trouble, but was never discomposed or disordered by it. He was voluntary both in his passion and in his compassion. He had power to lay down his grief, and power to take it again.

Jesus asked where they had placed Lazarus, and the mourners replied, ‘Lord, come and see’ (verse 34).

Jesus began to weep (verse 35).

It’s even better in the King James Bible, which gives us the shortest sentence in Scripture:

35 Jesus wept.

Henry tells us:

A very short verse, but it affords many useful instructions. [1.] That Jesus Christ was really and truly man, and partook with the children, not only of flesh and blood, but of a human soul, susceptible of the impressions of joy, and grief, and other affections. Christ gave this proof of his humanity, in both senses of the word; that, as a man, he could weep, and, as a merciful man, he would weep, before he gave this proof of his divinity. [2.] That he was a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief, as was foretold, Isa 53 3. We never read that he laughed, but more than once we have him in tears. Thus he shows not only that a mournful state will consist with the love of God, but that those who sow to the Spirit must sow in tears. [3.] Tears of compassion well become Christians, and make them most to resemble Christ. It is a relief to those who are in sorrow to have their friends sympathize with them, especially such a friend as their Lord Jesus.

The Jews said (verse 36), ‘See how he loved him!’

But some of them asked (verse 37), ‘Could not he who opened the eyes of the blind man have kept this man from dying?’

Henry rightly calls this remark ‘sly’:

Here it is slyly insinuated, First, That the death of Lazarus being (as it seemed by his tears) a great grief to him, if he could have prevented it he would, and therefore because he did not they incline to think that he could not; as, when he was dying, they concluded that he could not, because he did not, save himself, and come down from the cross; not considering that divine power is always directed in its operations by divine wisdom, not merely according to his will, but according to the counsel of his will, wherein it becomes us to acquiesce. If Christ’s friends, whom he loves, die,—if his church, whom he loves, be persecuted and afflicted,—we must not impute it to any defect either in his power or love, but conclude that it is because he sees it for the best. Secondly, That therefore it might justly be questioned whether he did indeed open the eyes of the blind, that is, whether it was not a sham. His not working this miracle they thought enough to invalidate the former; at least, it should seem that he had limited power, and therefore not a divine one. Christ soon convinced these whisperers, by raising Lazarus from the dead, which was the greater work, that he could have prevented his death, but therefore did not because he would glorify himself the more.

Serendipitously, we had the reading of Christ curing the blind man last week in the reading for the Fourth Sunday in Lent, Laetare Sunday, Year A (2023) here and here.

Jesus, again greatly disturbed, came to the tomb, which was a cave with a stone lying against it (verse 38).

Henry explains why our Lord was disturbed:

Christ repeats his groans upon his coming near the grave (v. 38): Again groaning in himself, he comes to the grave: he groaned, (1.) Being displeased at the unbelief of those who spoke doubtingly of his power, and blamed him for not preventing the death of Lazarus; he was grieved for the hardness of their hearts. He never groaned so much for his own pains and sufferings as for the sins and follies of men, particularly Jerusalem’s, Matt 23 37. (2.) Being affected with the fresh lamentations which, it is likely, the mourning sisters made when they came near the grave, more passionately and pathetically than before, his tender spirit was sensibly touched with their wailings. (3.) Some think that he groaned in spirit because, to gratify the desire of his friends, he was to bring Lazarus again into this sinful troublesome world, from that rest into which he was newly entered; it would be a kindness to Martha and Mary, but it would be to him like thrusting one out to a stormy sea again who was newly got into a safe and quiet harbour. If Lazarus had been let alone, Christ would quickly have gone to him into the other world; but, being restored to life, Christ quickly left him behind in this world. (4.) Christ groaned as one that would affect himself with the calamitous state of the human nature, as subject to death, from which he was now about to redeem Lazarus.

Then we come to another famous verse — the previous one being verse 35 — one which I have also committed to memory in the King James Version.

Jesus said, ‘Take away the stone’, and Martha said that, after four days, there was a stench (verse 39).

The King James Version is far superior:

39 Jesus said, Take ye away the stone. Martha, the sister of him that was dead, saith unto him, Lord, by this time he stinketh: for he hath been dead four days.

It was a very typical thing of Martha, a practical woman, to say.

Henry explains why she said it:

Probably Martha perceived the body to smell, as they were removing the stone, and therefore cried out thus …

It is not so easy to say what was Martha’s design in saying this. [1.] Some think she said it in a due tenderness, and such as decency teaches to the dead body; now that it began to putrefy, she did not care it should be thus publicly shown and made a spectacle of. [2.] Others think she said it out of a concern for Christ, lest the smell of the dead body should be offensive to him. That which is very noisome is compared to an open sepulchre, Ps 5 9. If there were any thing noisome she would not have her Master near it; but he was none of those tender and delicate ones that cannot bear as ill smell; if he had, he would not have visited the world of mankind, which sin had made a perfect dunghill, altogether noisome, Ps 14 3. [3.] It should seem, by Christ’s answer, that it was the language of her unbelief and distrust: “Lord, it is too late now to attempt any kindness to him; his body begins to rot, and it is impossible that this putrid carcase should live. She gives up his case as helpless and hopeless, there having been no instances, either of late or formerly, of any raised to life after they had begun to see corruption. When our bones are dried, we are ready to say, Our hope is lost. Yet this distrustful word of hers served to make the miracle both the more evident and the more illustrious; by this it appeared that he was truly dead, and not in a trance; for, though the posture of a dead body might be counterfeited, the smell could not. Her suggesting that it could not be done puts the more honour upon him that did it.

Henry also tells us why Jesus asked for the stone to be moved:

He would have this stone removed that all the standersby might see the body lie dead in the sepulchre, and that way might be made for its coming out, and it might appear to be a true body, and not a ghost or spectre. He would have some of the servants to remove it, that they might be witnesses, by the smell of the putrefaction of the body, and that therefore it was truly dead. It is a good step towards the raising of a soul to spiritual life when the stone is taken away, when prejudices are removed and got over, and way made for the word to the heart, that it may do its work there, and say what it has to say.

Jesus perceived Martha’s doubt because He reminded her (verse 40), ‘Did I not tell you that if you believed, you would see the glory of God?’

MacArthur makes an excellent observation:

You say you believe.  If you believe, you’re going to see the glory.  Get your eyes off the corpse and on the Christ.  Set your heart on the Lord.  Wait to see the glory revealed.  We need to live in that kind of expectancy.  We’re not looking for miracles, but I will tell you this, folks.  When you really believe in the Lord Jesus Christ, you see Him display His glory throughout all of your life.  I tell people all the time: I live in the middle of a glory display all the time.  I’ve never seen a miracle, but I live in the middle of a glory display by the amazing, astounding, incomprehensible providence of God by which He orders every circumstance, every day of my life to reveal His purposes and His will.  The complexity of it is more staggering than if He interrupted natural law and did a single miracle.  How many miracles does it take to create a complex reality out of all kinds of contingencies of the non-miraculous?  It’s what He does every day. 

My whole life is a glory display.  I just go from one day to the next, to the next, to the next.  And if you’re looking and believing, you will see the same thing You will see God in your life.  You will see God in circumstances.  You will see God working His purposes.  That’s what He called upon her to look for.

So they took away the stone and, looking upward, Jesus prayed, ‘Father, I thank you for having heard me’ (verse 41)’; ‘I knew that you always hear me, but I have said this for the sake of the crowd standing here, so that they may believe that you sent me’ (verse 42).

Henry says:

Thus he stirred up himself to take hold on God in the prayer he was to make, that he might offer it up with strong crying, Heb 5 7. Ministers, when they are sent by the preaching of the gospel to raise dead souls, should be much affected with the deplorable condition of those they preach to and pray for, and groan in themselves to think of it …

1. He applies himself to his living Father in heaven, so he had called him (ch. 6 17), and so eyes him here.

(1.) The gesture he used was very significant: He lifted up his eyes, an outward expression of the elevation of his mind, and to show those who stood by whence he derived his power; also to set us an example; this outward sign is hereby recommended to our practice; see ch. 17 1. Look how those will answer it who profanely ridicule it; but that which is especially charged upon us hereby is to lift up our hearts to God in the heavens; what is prayer, but the ascent of the soul to God, and the directing of its affections and motions heavenward?

(2.) His address to God was with great assurance, and such a confidence as became him: Father, I thank thee that thou hast heard me.

[1.] He has here taught us, by his own example, First, In prayer to call God Father, and to draw nigh to him as children to a father, with a humble reverence, and yet with a holy boldness. Secondly, In our prayers to praise him, and, when we come to beg for further mercy, thankfully to acknowledge former favours. Thanksgivings, which bespeak God’s glory (not our own, like the Pharisee’s God, I thank thee), are decent forms into which to put our supplications.

[2.] But our Saviour’s thanksgiving here was intended to express the unshaken assurance he had of the effecting of this miracle, which he had in his own power to do in concurrence with his Father: “Father, I thank thee that my will and thine are in this matter, as always, the same.” Elijah and Elisha raised the dead, as servants, by entreaty; but Christ, as a Son, by authority, having life in himself, and power to quicken whom he would; and he speaks of this as his own act (v. 11): I go, that I may awake him; yet he speaks of it as what he had obtained by prayer, for his Father heard him: probably he put up the prayer for it when he groaned in spirit once and again (v. 33, 38), in a mental prayer, with groanings which could not be uttered.

When He had said that prayer, Jesus cried with a loud voice (verse 43), ‘Lazarus, come out!’

MacArthur gives us the emphasis from the original manuscript:

If you were reading this in the original language, it would read like this: “He yelled in a loud voice with a loud voice.”  Why the double statement?  He is literally at the pinnacle of His voice, and He had a powerful voice, you can be certain.  He was a teacher.  He taught every day.  He taught in the open air, no amplification, except that which was natural.  He could speak to crowds of 20,000 people and be heard.  A powerful voice.  I’m convinced that probably was the most melodious voice ever created.  How could it be anything less than that.  And with that loud, commanding voice, maybe like the voice of many waters in the imagery of Revelation chapter 1, He yells at the top of His voice without distorting His words and says, “Lazarus, come forth.” 

The dead man then came out, his hands and feet bound in strips of cloth and his face wrapped in a cloth; Jesus said to them, ‘Unbind him, and let him go’ (verse 44).

I envision Lazarus wrapped like a mummy.

Henry tells us that this resurrection miracle not only recalls Ezekiel 37 but also our Lord’s resurrection and his Second Coming, when we shall be joined with our bodies once more for eternity:

By his word, he saith to souls, Live, yea, he saith to them, Live, Ezek 16 6. Arise from the dead, Eph 5 14. The spirit of life from God entered into those that had been dead and dry bones, when Ezekiel prophesied over them, Ezek 37 10. Those who infer from the commands of the word to turn and live that man has a power of his own to convert and regenerate himself might as well infer from this call to Lazarus that he had a power to raise himself to life. Secondly, Of the sound of the archangel’s trumpet at the last day, with which they that sleep in the dust shall be awakened and summoned before the great tribunal, when Christ shall descend with a shout, a call, or command, like this here, Come forth, Ps 50 4. He shall call both to the heavens for their souls, and to the earth for their bodies, that he may judge his people.

Many of the Jews who had accompanied Mary to Lazarus’s tomb and had seen what Jesus did believed in Him (verse 45).

MacArthur says that Lazarus might have lived another 30 years:

Tradition says he lived another 30 years.  Maybe that’s true.  Certainly, he lived for a while.  This was not a temporary resurrection in that sense, in a human sense.  We don’t know anything about the reunion of Mary and Martha.  We don’t know anything about the shock and awe that must have just literally roared through the mourners.  We don’t know anything about that.  We don’t know anything about the conversations that Lazarus had after this.

Wikipedia states that the Eastern Orthodox tradition says that:

Mary’s brother Lazarus was cast out of Jerusalem in the persecution against the Jerusalem Church following the martyrdom of St. Stephen. His sisters Mary and Martha fled Judea with him, assisting him in the proclaiming of the Gospel in various lands.[17] According to Cyprian tradition, the three later moved to Cyprus, where Lazarus became the first Bishop of Kition (modern Larnaca).[18] All three died in Cyprus.[citation needed]

Whatever happened, the main point is, as MacArthur says:

All we’re interested in is the glory of the Son, and when He said, “Lazarus, come out,” and in a moment Lazarus was standing there, that’s the point of the story.  The rest is irrelevant.  In fact, in verse 40, Jesus says to Martha, “Didn’t I say to you that if you believe, you will see the glory of God?” and they did.  The purpose of this was to bring glory to God, and glory to God incarnate, the Lord Jesus Christ. 

Ending on verse 45, how many are the ‘many’ that believed in Jesus?

MacArthur says:

I don’t know what the number is.  Maybe it’s dozens.  Maybe it’s multiple of 20.  Maybe it’s 100 or more.  I don’t know what the “many” is, but many mourners came, and they have been there now four days already, filling up the first seven days when everybody would be there.  Now the resurrection has happened, and the mourners are still there.  They have known the family.  They have known Lazarus.  They know he was dead.  They know he’s been in the grave four days.  They know what that means because Jews don’t embalm.  They get it …

They believed and they were given the right to become children of God.  Their sins were forgiven.  They were redeemed.  They became the children of God.  They ceased being the children of the devil.  They are the believing many, many in a relative sense.  Many of the number that were there; not many of the nation.  Many of the number that were there.  They believed. 

However, not everyone believed. John 11:46 says:

46 But some of them went to the Pharisees and told them what Jesus had done.

A few verses later we read:

53 So from that day on they planned to put him to death.

54 Jesus therefore no longer walked about openly among the Jews but went from there to a town called Ephraim in the region near the wilderness, and he remained there with the disciples.

His hour had come.

The Fifth Sunday in Lent, Passion Sunday, is March 26, 2023.

Traditionally, the Fifth Sunday in Lent — Passion Sunday — begins a two-week season called Passiontide, which encompasses Palm Sunday (next week) and Holy Week.

Some traditionalist churches cover crosses and images with dark or black cloth from this Sunday throughout most of Holy Week. Crosses and crucifixes can be uncovered after Good Friday services. Statues remain covered until the Easter Vigil Mass takes place on Holy Saturday.

Readings for Year A can be found here.

The Gospel is as follows (emphases mine):

John 11:1-45

11:1 Now a certain man was ill, Lazarus of Bethany, the village of Mary and her sister Martha.

11:2 Mary was the one who anointed the Lord with perfume and wiped his feet with her hair; her brother Lazarus was ill.

11:3 So the sisters sent a message to Jesus, “Lord, he whom you love is ill.”

11:4 But when Jesus heard it, he said, “This illness does not lead to death; rather it is for God’s glory, so that the Son of God may be glorified through it.”

11:5 Accordingly, though Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus,

11:6 after having heard that Lazarus was ill, he stayed two days longer in the place where he was.

11:7 Then after this he said to the disciples, “Let us go to Judea again.”

11:8 The disciples said to him, “Rabbi, the Jews were just now trying to stone you, and are you going there again?”

11:9 Jesus answered, “Are there not twelve hours of daylight? Those who walk during the day do not stumble, because they see the light of this world.

11:10 But those who walk at night stumble, because the light is not in them.”

11:11 After saying this, he told them, “Our friend Lazarus has fallen asleep, but I am going there to awaken him.”

11:12 The disciples said to him, “Lord, if he has fallen asleep, he will be all right.”

11:13 Jesus, however, had been speaking about his death, but they thought that he was referring merely to sleep.

11:14 Then Jesus told them plainly, “Lazarus is dead.

11:15 For your sake I am glad I was not there, so that you may believe. But let us go to him.”

11:16 Thomas, who was called the Twin, said to his fellow disciples, “Let us also go, that we may die with him.”

11:17 When Jesus arrived, he found that Lazarus had already been in the tomb four days.

11:18 Now Bethany was near Jerusalem, some two miles away,

11:19 and many of the Jews had come to Martha and Mary to console them about their brother.

11:20 When Martha heard that Jesus was coming, she went and met him, while Mary stayed at home.

11:21 Martha said to Jesus, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.

11:22 But even now I know that God will give you whatever you ask of him.”

11:23 Jesus said to her, “Your brother will rise again.”

11:24 Martha said to him, “I know that he will rise again in the resurrection on the last day.”

11:25 Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. Those who believe in me, even though they die, will live,

11:26 and everyone who lives and believes in me will never die. Do you believe this?”

11:27 She said to him, “Yes, Lord, I believe that you are the Messiah, the Son of God, the one coming into the world.”

11:28 When she had said this, she went back and called her sister Mary, and told her privately, “The Teacher is here and is calling for you.”

11:29 And when she heard it, she got up quickly and went to him.

11:30 Now Jesus had not yet come to the village, but was still at the place where Martha had met him.

11:31 The Jews who were with her in the house, consoling her, saw Mary get up quickly and go out. They followed her because they thought that she was going to the tomb to weep there.

11:32 When Mary came where Jesus was and saw him, she knelt at his feet and said to him, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.”

11:33 When Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who came with her also weeping, he was greatly disturbed in spirit and deeply moved.

11:34 He said, “Where have you laid him?” They said to him, “Lord, come and see.”

11:35 Jesus began to weep.

11:36 So the Jews said, “See how he loved him!”

11:37 But some of them said, “Could not he who opened the eyes of the blind man have kept this man from dying?”

11:38 Then Jesus, again greatly disturbed, came to the tomb. It was a cave, and a stone was lying against it.

11:39 Jesus said, “Take away the stone.” Martha, the sister of the dead man, said to him, “Lord, already there is a stench because he has been dead four days.”

11:40 Jesus said to her, “Did I not tell you that if you believed, you would see the glory of God?”

11:41 So they took away the stone. And Jesus looked upward and said, “Father, I thank you for having heard me.

11:42 I knew that you always hear me, but I have said this for the sake of the crowd standing here, so that they may believe that you sent me.”

11:43 When he had said this, he cried with a loud voice, “Lazarus, come out!”

11:44 The dead man came out, his hands and feet bound with strips of cloth, and his face wrapped in a cloth. Jesus said to them, “Unbind him, and let him go.”

11:45 Many of the Jews therefore, who had come with Mary and had seen what Jesus did, believed in him.

Commentary comes from Matthew Henry and John MacArthur.

As this is most of John 11, I will write this in multiple posts.

This last great miracle of resurrection was late in our Lord’s ministry and was His final truly public miracle. His last miracle was healing the Roman soldier’s ear in the Garden of Gethsemane the night before He was crucified.

John’s Gospel is the only one that has the story of Lazarus’s resurrection.

Matthew Henry’s commentary explains possible reasons for that:

In this chapter we have the history of that illustrious miracle which Christ wrought a little before his death—the raising of Lazarus to life, which is recorded only by this evangelist; for the other three confine themselves to what Christ did in Galilee, where he resided most, and scarcely ever carried their history into Jerusalem till the passion-week: whereas John’s memoirs relate chiefly to what passed at Jerusalem; this passage therefore was reserved for his pen. Some suggest that, when the other evangelists wrote, Lazarus was alive, and it would not well agree either with his safety or with his humility to have it recorded till now, when it is supposed he was dead. It is more largely recorded than any other of Christ’s miracles, not only because there are many circumstances of it so very instructive and the miracle of itself so great a proof of Christ’s mission, but because it was an earnest of that which was to be the crowning proof of all—Christ’s own resurrection.

John MacArthur says:

It was J.C. Ryle, the English cleric, who looked at this chapter and wrote these words, “For grandeur and simplicity, for pathos and solemnity, nothing was ever written like it.” It’s a pretty amazing statement from a man such as he was. This is an amazing chapter. It is the account of the miracle of our Lord raising Lazarus from the dead. And while the story, of course, in short is very familiar to us, in its detail, it is much more rich. So we want to make sure that we cover the detail. This is the climactic, culminating, fitting sign to end John’s list of signs in this gospel that point to the deity of Christ.

John’s purpose, we all know that, is to present Jesus Christ so that you might believe that He is the Christ, the Son of God, and that believing, you might have life in His name. He has an apologetic purpose that you might believe Jesus is the Christ, and he has an evangelistic purpose that in believing you might receive eternal life, but it’s all about Christ. It’s all about Christ. Here, in chapter 11, we come to the last and most monumental public miracle that Jesus did. It’s the climactic one for John. There is one later miracle, but it’s in the dark and very private because of how it happened. It’s in the garden and it was Jesus reaching over and giving Malchus a new ear after Peter had hacked it off. But apart from that miracle in the dark, this is the last great public miracle that Jesus did …

If you look at verse 15 in this passage, Jesus says about not being there when he died, “I’m glad for your sakes, I was not there so that you may believe.” This miracle not only is an undeniable permanent evidence of the deity of Christ. It was for the purpose of producing greater faith in the disciples.

A certain man, Lazarus of Bethany, the village of Mary and her sister Martha, was ill (verse 1).

This is not the same Lazarus of Luke 16, whom the rich man in hell saw nestled in Abraham’s bosom. Nonetheless, our commentators find it of interest that Jesus chose the name Lazarus for that parable.

MacArthur says:

His name, Lazarus, not to be confused with the Lazarus in the beggar story, but an interesting parallel, isn’t it? That it was an issue of resurrection that was brought up in that story about that other Lazarus. That was a fictional Lazarus in the story that Jesus invented. But why two named Lazarus? It was a very common name, a very common name from the Old Testament name, Eleazar, Eleazar, a very familiar Old Testament Hebrew name. It means, whom God helps, whom God helps.

Henry explains how the name Lazarus evolved out of Eleazar:

… his Hebrew name probably was Eleazar, which being contracted, and a Greek termination put to it, is made Lazarus. Perhaps in prospect of this history our Saviour made use of the name of Lazarus in that parable wherein he designed to set forth the blessedness of the righteous in the bosom of Abraham immediately after death, Luke 16 22.

Our commentators have a few notes on Bethany.

Henry says:

They lived at Bethany, a village nor far from Jerusalem, where Christ usually lodged when he came up to the feasts. It is here called the town of Mary and Martha, that is, the town where they dwelt, as Bethsaida is called the city of Andrew and Peter, ch. 1 44.

MacArthur says there were two villages named Bethany:

They lived in the village of Bethany.  That’s another interesting note because at the time that Jesus gets this message, He’s in another Bethany.  The tenth chapter ends in verse 40.  “He went away again beyond the Jordan to the place where John was first baptizing and was staying there.”  That place, according to 1:28 of John was also called Bethany.  So there was a Bethany beyond Jordan a day away from the Bethany of Lazarus and his two sisters. 

Bethany is a small village.  It means, house of the poor, house of poverty.  That would be characteristic of that village.  Perhaps that’s characteristic of the other village where Jesus was currently ministering.  And by the way, many were coming and believing in Him.  That’s how chapter 10 ends.  Once He got out of Jerusalem, and out beyond the Jordan back where John started to minister, He began to reap the harvest of what John had planted in proclaiming Him.  And the people out there said everything John said about Him is true, and they came to believe.  That’s how chapter 10 ends

Bethany, two miles from the eastern wall of Jerusalem, down the back slope of the eastern wall, across the Kidron brook, up the Mount of Olives around the bend and you’re in this little village of Bethany …

I can remember many years ago when Patricia and I were there and a number of times visiting there myself, but Patricia and I were there. I would say when we were there to find the traditional site of the grave of Lazarus and to go down the deep stairs into what is traditional said to be the place where he was entombed. I remember it was an Arab village at the time. There were Arabic women living there, Palestinian women living there, and we had the very bizarre occasion – Patricia will remember this – of having a lady offering us the opportunity to purchase her baby.

Now, I don’t know whether that was something she used as a device, but we were not interested in buying her baby. But that village, to this very day, is in Arabic named after Lazarus. So that’s the little village, and it is as nondescript, the last time I was there perhaps as it was even in ancient times.

Mary was the one who anointed our Lord with perfume; her brother Lazarus was ill (verse 2).

Was she Mary, the fallen woman who anointed His feet similarly at the Pharisee’s house?

Henry does not think so:

Here were two sisters, Martha and Mary, who seem to have been the housekeepers, and to have managed the affairs of the family, while perhaps Lazarus lived a retired life, and gave himself to study and contemplation. Here was a decent, happy, well-ordered family, and a family that Christ was very much conversant with, where yet there was neither husband nor wife (for aught that appears), but the house kept by a brother, and his sisters dwelling together in unity.

One of the sisters is particularly described to be that Mary which anointed the Lord with ointment, v. 2. Some think she was that woman that we read of, Luke 7 37, 38, who had been a sinner, a bad woman. I rather think it refers to that anointing of Christ which this evangelist relates (ch. 12 3); for the evangelists do never refer one to another, but John frequently refers in one place of his gospel to another. Extraordinary acts of piety and devotion, that come from an honest principle of love to Christ, will not only find acceptance with him, but gain reputation in the church, Matt 26 13.

Henry refers to Luke 7:36-50.

Nor does MacArthur:

What’s going on here?  That story doesn’t come until chapter 12.  But listen, that’s okay because that story had already been told in detail in Matthew and already told in detail in Mark and Matthew and Mark had been circulating for a very long time by the year 90 in the first century when John writes this gospel.  And so even though he hasn’t yet given his account of it, he knows they know that that Mary is the one he’s talking about.

And so he literally builds his comment on the knowledge of Matthew and Mark, gospels written very much earlier.

MacArthur is referring to Matthew 26 and Mark 14, when Mary anointed our Lord in the house of Simon the leper.

Mary — Miriam — was as common a name then as it is now, so the Mary of Luke 7 is probably not the same as the Mary of John 11 and 12, Matthew 26 and Mark 14.

In any event, the Catholic, Episcopal and Lutheran churches’ feast day for Mary, Martha and Lazarus is July 29.

Mary and Martha sent a message to Jesus that Lazarus — ‘he whom you love’ — was ill (verse 3).

In Henry’s and MacArthur’s Bible translations the verse is as follows:

3 Therefore his sisters sent unto him, saying, Lord, behold, he whom thou lovest is sick.

MacArthur looks at ‘behold’:

So this is going to take a day, a day to get from Bethany one to Bethany two. The message is very cryptic, very short. “Lord,” they acknowledge He is Lord. “Behold,” which means, this is urgent; this is sudden; this demands immediate response. “He whom you love is sick.” That’s the whole message. “He whom you love is sick.”

Since Jesus had left back in verse 40 of chapter 10 some weeks earlier, this man had become sick.

Henry elaborates on ‘he whom you love’:

His sisters knew where Jesus was, a great way off beyond Jordan, and they sent a special messenger to him, to acquaint him with the affliction of their family … The message they sent was very short, not petitioning, much less prescribing or pressing, but barely relating the case with the tender insinuation of a powerful plea, Lord, behold, he whom thou lovest is sick. They do not say, He whom we love, but he whom thou lovest. Our greatest encouragements in prayer are fetched from God himself and from his grace. They do not say, Lord, behold, he who loveth thee, but he whom thou lovest; for herein is love, not that we loved God, but that he loved us. Our love to him is not worth speaking of, but his to us can never be enough spoken of. 

MacArthur explains the word ‘love’ in that verse:

They talk only of Jesus’s love for Lazarus.  They think that will catch His heart, and here’s a very important insight: “He whom you love.”  The word love here is not agapaō, not divine love.  This is phileō, the love of a friend, personal affection, human love.  Jesus loved this man as a friend.  He had personal affection for him.  It’s obvious that as God, He loves the world, that as God He loves His own who are in the world, and He loves them to perfection.  He will tell them that in the upper room, but that’s not the thought here.  That thought comes later.  The thought here is this is a man for whom Jesus had deep affection.  This is a man who filled a need in his own life for a friend.

When Jesus heard the message, He said that Lazarus’s illness would not lead to death but rather to God’s glory, in that the Son of God would be glorified through it (verse 4).

Henry says that this refers to the upcoming miracle:

It was for the glory of God, for it was that the Son of God might be glorified thereby, as it gave him occasion to work that glorious miracle, the raising of him from the dead. As, before, the man was born blind that Christ might have the honour of curing him (ch. 9 3), so Lazarus must be sick and die, that Christ may be glorified as the Lord of life.

Serendipitously, we had the reading of Christ curing the blind man last week in the reading for the Fourth Sunday in Lent, Laetare Sunday, Year A (2023) here and here.

John says that Jesus loved Martha, her sister and Lazarus (verse 5).

MacArthur points out that the Greek word for ‘love’ here is different to that in verse 3:

This time the word changes.  This is agapaō.  This is divine love.  He loved this man Lazarus, about which we don’t know anything.  He loved an obscure man like a man loves a friends.  But he also loved this whole family with a divine love because they belonged to Him spiritually, like He loves His own who are in the world even to the maximum.  So much love.  He loves with a divine love and He loves with a human love.

MacArthur has an observation on our Lord’s humanity:

I know we talk about the humanity of Jesus and we have to, and He’s fully human.  But almost all the time you hear someone talk about the humanity of Jesus they say, “Well, He lived and He hungered, and He thirsted, and He slept, and He was weary, and He died.”  And all of those are human things, but what makes humans unique is relationships, and this is explains why when He gets to the grave, He cries.  He cries at the thought that His friend is dead.  This is a beautiful insight into the full humanity of Jesus.  He is a man and like every person, He requires a friend, somebody who cares about Him.  A perfect man with all the needs of a man.

You see, this is part of what makes Him such a merciful, faithful High Priest able to be touched with all the feelings of our infirmities because some of our infirmities have nothing to do with physical well-beingThey had to do with relationships, right?  Right?  I mean isn’t the worst of it all?  Isn’t that where the most pain comes from?  You could probably take the cancer if all the relationships were what they should be, but His sympathy extends to understanding relationships.  He’s been there.  His friend that He had great affection for was sick, seriously sick. 

After hearing that Lazarus was ill, Jesus stayed two days longer in the place where he was (verse 6).

I never understood why until I read Henry’s and MacArthur’s reasons for the delay. It was to bolster the Apostles’ faith, as we see later on.

In verse 4, John uses the word ‘accordingly’ — ‘as such’. He inserted parenthetical information about our Lord’s love for the three. Then comes verse 5, stating the delay: ‘Accordingly … Jesus stayed two days longer in the place where he was’.

Henry explains:

Now one would think it should follow, When he heard therefore that he was sick he made all the haste that he could to him; if he loved them, now was a time to show it by hastening to them, for he knew they impatiently expected him. But he took the contrary way to show his love: it is not said, He loved them and yet he lingered; but he loved them and therefore he lingered; when he heard that his friend was sick, instead of coming post to him, he abode two days still in the same place where he was … If Christ had come presently, and cured the sickness of Lazarus, he had done no more than he did for many; if he had raised him to life when newly dead, no more than he had done for some: but, deferring his relief so long, he had an opportunity of doing more for him than for any. Note, God hath gracious intentions even in seeming delays, Isa 54 7, 8; 49 14, etc. Christ’s friends at Bethany were not out of his thoughts, though, when he heard of their distress, he made no haste to them. When the work of deliverance, temporal or spiritual, public or personal, stands at a stay, it does but stay the time, and every thing is beautiful in its season.

Christ had raised two people from the dead soon after they died: Jairus’s daughter and the son of the widow of Nain. The raising of Lazarus would be even greater because he had been dead for four days.

After the two days had elapsed, Jesus said to the disciples, ‘Let us go to Judea again’ (verse 7).

The disciples countered, no doubt bewildered, asking why He would want to go to Judea again when the Pharisees had only recently tried to stone Him (verse 8). That is recorded in John 8:59.

Jesus responded, asking them if there were not 12 hours of daylight, therefore, those who walk during the day do not stumble because they see the light of this world (verse 9), but those who walk at night stumble because the light is not in them (verse 10).

MacArthur explains those two verses:

He answers with a very interesting Proverb.  Verses 9 and 10, “Are there not twelve hours in the day?  If anyone walks in the day, he doesn’t stumble.  That is, nothing bad happens to him because he is in the light and he can see what he is doing and where he is going.  But if anyone walks in the night, he stumbles.  Bad things happen because the light is not in him.”  What is the point of that sort of strange introduction? 

Well, at this point we are now moving from the man, the critical man and the concerned sisters to the disciples.  Now, they are puzzles.  Why would you step back into this and here’s His answer.  It’s a proverb, and the proverb is simple, very simple proverb.  You can’t lengthen the daylight.  You can’t shorten the daylight, right? Nothing any friend can do can lengthen the daylight.  Nothing any enemy can do can shorten the daylight.  It is what it is and it is fixed by God, and so is my life.  No enemy can shorten it.  No friend can lengthen it.  It is what it is.  And in that light of life which God has ordained for me, I will not stumble.  That is to say, nothing will happen to me that is outside the planI’m not going in the dark.  I’m going in the light of God’s divine day.  A day can’t finish before it’s ordained end. 

The time allotted to me to accomplish my earthly ministry is fixed.  It’s fixed by God …

Jesus knew that His hour was coming, but it hadn’t come yet, and many times He’d said, “My hour hasn’t come. My hour hasn’t come.” And He escaped all of the plots and all of the mob violence. This has great application for us I think to realize that if you’re walking in the Spirit and serving the Lord, you have your day. Being a coward and taking all kinds of precautionary steps and not being faithful isn’t going to lengthen it; and being bold in the face of enemies isn’t going to shorten it because it is what God has ordained it to be. 

Jesus then told the disciples that ‘our friend’ — meaning that they all knew him — Lazarus had fallen asleep, but He was going there to awaken him (verse 11).

The disciples took Jesus literally, because they said, ‘Lord, if he has fallen asleep, he will be all right’ (verse 12).

Jesus had been speaking about Lazarus’s death (verse 13). He then told the disciples plainly, ‘Lazarus is dead’ (verse 14).

Then He added, ‘For your sake I am glad I was not there, so that you may believe. But let us go to him’ (verse 15).

That verse seems puzzling, but Jesus meant that the disciples’ faith would not have been increased had He been in Bethany and raised Lazarus from the dead sooner.

Henry says:

If he had been there time enough, he would have healed his disease and prevented his death, which would have been much for the comfort of Lazarus’s friends, but then his disciples would have seen no further proof of his power than what they had often seen, and, consequently, their faith had received no improvement; but now that he went and raised him from the dead, as there were many brought to believe on him who before did no (v. 45), so there was much done towards the perfecting of what was lacking in the faith of those that did, which Christ aimed at: To the intent that you may believe.

MacArthur adds:

The disciples were always struggling with faith, weren’t they?  “O ye of little faith, O ye of little faith, O ye of little faith.  Why don’t you believe?” 

Yes, they believed in Him.  Yes, they had affirmed that He was the Christ, the Son of God, but they needed faith to be strengthened and strengthened and strengthened.  I mean it wasn’t just that they would believe, but that Mary and Martha would have their faith strengthened.  And then down in verse 45, many Jews who came to Mary and got the whole story of the resurrection first hand, and were eyewitnesses of the living brother, believed in Him.  This is a glory display that’ll produce faith, and it’ll also produce hostility that drives Him to the cross right on schedule. 

Referring back to verses 7 and 8 about the return to Judea despite the dangers there, Thomas the Twin — Didymus — said to his fellow disciples, ‘Let us also go, that we may die with him’, meaning Jesus (verse 16).

Henry’s Bible phrases the verse as follows:

16 Then said Thomas, which is called Didymus, unto his fellow disciples, Let us also go, that we may die with him.

MacArthur says:

He gets a lot of bad press for that, but just think about this.  This is a courageous pessimist.  This is not a cowardly pessimist.  He didn’t say, “Let’s get out of here or we will all die with Him.”  He said, “Let’s go and die with Him.”  This man has great faith, and this man knows what Luke 9:23 means.  “If you want to come after Me, deny yourself.  Take up your – “what? “ – cross.”  It might cost us our lives, men.  Let’s go.

Henry explains the names Thomas and Didymus:

Thomas in Hebrew and Didymus in Greek signify a twin; it is said of Rebekah (Gen 25 24) that there were twins in her womb; the word is Thomim. Probably Thomas was a twin.

When Jesus arrived in the Bethany of Lazarus and his sisters, He found that his friend had been in the tomb for four days (verse 17).

Bethany was near Jerusalem, some two miles away (verse 18).

MacArthur gives us the timeline:

And so they go, and when they arrive he’s been dead four days; the day the messenger came, the two days, the day back, four days.

Henry has more:

When he came near the town, probably by the burying-place belonging to the town, he was told by the neighbours, or some persons whom he met, that Lazarus had been four days buried. Some think that Lazarus died the same day that the messenger came to Jesus with the tidings of his sickness, and so reckon two days for his abode in the same place and two days for his journey. I rather think that Lazarus died at the very instant that Jesus, “Our friend sleepeth, he is now newly fallen asleep;” and that the time between his death and burial (which among the Jews was but short), with the four days of his lying in the grave, was taken up in this journey

MacArthur tells us what happens to the human body once it has been dead for four days:

Some might argue that since there was no way to be certain someone was dead, perhaps this was just a resuscitation of someone who was temporarily in that condition.  But in the case of Lazarus, that’s not possible because this is someone who’s been dead four days, four days.  Now, that really does matter.  I mean it matters a lot.   

And just to help you know how much that matters, I did a little research this week to find out what happens to a body in four days.  Very interesting.  This was not a theological resource, but as I opened up some research material, I was amazed to find out that all of the bad stuff happens by 72 hours.  What happens in four days? 

The Jews did not embalm.  The Jews did nothing to stop the decay.  They wrapped the body and sprinkled spices on it to mitigate the smell.  That’s it.  Here’s what happens in four days, pretty grisly stuff.  The heart has stopped beating.  The body cells are then deprived of oxygen, and they begin to die.  Blood drains from throughout the circulatory system and pools in the low places.  Muscles begin to stiffen in what is known commonly by the Latin, rigor mortisThat sets in after three hours.

By 24 hours, the body has lost all its heat.  The muscles then lose their rigor mortis in 36 hours, and by 72 hours rigor mortis has vanished.  All stiffness is gone and the body is soft.  Looking a little bit deeper, as cells begin to die, bacteria go to work.  Your body is filled with bacteria, but that’s another subject.  The bacteria in the body of a dead person begin to attack, breaking the cells down.  The decomposing tissue takes on a horrific look and smell and emits green liquids by the 72nd hour.  The tissue releases hydrogen sulfide and methane as well as other gases.  A horrible smell is emitted.  Insects and animals will consume parts of the body if they can get at it. 

Meet Lazarus.  That’s the condition he’s in when Jesus arrives.  That’s important.  Everyone knows he is dead.  As Martha says in verse 39, “Lord, by this time there will be a stench,” or as the King James said, “He stinketh,” because he’s been dead four days. 

Look, they lived in a world of death.  They didn’t live in a sterile world of mortuaries and undertakers and embalming fluids and all of that where the body disappears and you never see anything but somebody in a casket who looks like the horizontal member of a cocktail party with a suit and tie and dressed up and make up

People lived with death.  They lived with the realities of death.  They lived with the horrors of death.  That’s very important.  It’s also very important to understand that there was a certain expectation, and it became a reality in this case of what a funeral was like.  When someone died, family, friends, neighbors, even connected strangers poured into their life.  Everybody showed up. 

As such, many of the Jews went to Martha and Mary to console them about the loss of their brother (verse 19).

This exegesis concludes with part 2.

The Fourth Sunday in Lent, Laetare Sunday, is March 19, 2023.

Readings for Year A, including an explanation of Laetare Sunday — the joyful Sunday in Lent — can be found here.

The Gospel reading is as follows (emphases mine):

John 9:1-41

9:1 As he walked along, he saw a man blind from birth.

9:2 His disciples asked him, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?”

9:3 Jesus answered, “Neither this man nor his parents sinned; he was born blind so that God’s works might be revealed in him.

9:4 We must work the works of him who sent me while it is day; night is coming when no one can work.

9:5 As long as I am in the world, I am the light of the world.”

9:6 When he had said this, he spat on the ground and made mud with the saliva and spread the mud on the man’s eyes,

9:7 saying to him, “Go, wash in the pool of Siloam” (which means Sent). Then he went and washed and came back able to see.

9:8 The neighbors and those who had seen him before as a beggar began to ask, “Is this not the man who used to sit and beg?”

9:9 Some were saying, “It is he.” Others were saying, “No, but it is someone like him.” He kept saying, “I am the man.”

9:10 But they kept asking him, “Then how were your eyes opened?”

9:11 He answered, “The man called Jesus made mud, spread it on my eyes, and said to me, ‘Go to Siloam and wash.’ Then I went and washed and received my sight.”

9:12 They said to him, “Where is he?” He said, “I do not know.”

9:13 They brought to the Pharisees the man who had formerly been blind.

9:14 Now it was a sabbath day when Jesus made the mud and opened his eyes.

9:15 Then the Pharisees also began to ask him how he had received his sight. He said to them, “He put mud on my eyes. Then I washed, and now I see.”

9:16 Some of the Pharisees said, “This man is not from God, for he does not observe the sabbath.” But others said, “How can a man who is a sinner perform such signs?” And they were divided.

9:17 So they said again to the blind man, “What do you say about him? It was your eyes he opened.” He said, “He is a prophet.”

9:18 The Jews did not believe that he had been blind and had received his sight until they called the parents of the man who had received his sight

9:19 and asked them, “Is this your son, who you say was born blind? How then does he now see?”

9:20 His parents answered, “We know that this is our son, and that he was born blind;

9:21 but we do not know how it is that now he sees, nor do we know who opened his eyes. Ask him; he is of age. He will speak for himself.”

9:22 His parents said this because they were afraid of the Jews; for the Jews had already agreed that anyone who confessed Jesus to be the Messiah would be put out of the synagogue.

9:23 Therefore his parents said, “He is of age; ask him.”

9:24 So for the second time they called the man who had been blind, and they said to him, “Give glory to God! We know that this man is a sinner.”

9:25 He answered, “I do not know whether he is a sinner. One thing I do know, that though I was blind, now I see.”

9:26 They said to him, “What did he do to you? How did he open your eyes?”

9:27 He answered them, “I have told you already, and you would not listen. Why do you want to hear it again? Do you also want to become his disciples?”

9:28 Then they reviled him, saying, “You are his disciple, but we are disciples of Moses.

9:29 We know that God has spoken to Moses, but as for this man, we do not know where he comes from.”

9:30 The man answered, “Here is an astonishing thing! You do not know where he comes from, and yet he opened my eyes.

9:31 We know that God does not listen to sinners, but he does listen to one who worships him and obeys his will.

9:32 Never since the world began has it been heard that anyone opened the eyes of a person born blind.

9:33 If this man were not from God, he could do nothing.”

9:34 They answered him, “You were born entirely in sins, and are you trying to teach us?” And they drove him out.

9:35 Jesus heard that they had driven him out, and when he found him, he said, “Do you believe in the Son of Man?”

9:36 He answered, “And who is he, sir? Tell me, so that I may believe in him.”

9:37 Jesus said to him, “You have seen him, and the one speaking with you is he.”

9:38 He said, “Lord, I believe.” And he worshiped him.

9:39 Jesus said, “I came into this world for judgment so that those who do not see may see, and those who do see may become blind.”

9:40 Some of the Pharisees near him heard this and said to him, “Surely we are not blind, are we?”

9:41 Jesus said to them, “If you were blind, you would not have sin. But now that you say, ‘We see,’ your sin remains.

Commentary comes from Matthew Henry and John MacArthur.

This is the second of a two-part series. You can read Part 1 here. That said, this is also a long post as there is much to cover.

The Pharisees asked the man once more what Jesus did to him and how He opened his eyes (verse 26).

John MacArthur points out the irony here:

Well, this is pretty significant, folks, because now they just admitted what? That he was healed. They’ve just admitted that he was blind, and his eyes were opened. What did He do to you? How did He open your eyes? Maybe they were probing for some trick. Who knows?

The man said that he had already told them once before and that they would not listen; he asked them why they wanted to hear his answer again and if they wanted to become His disciples (verse 27).

MacArthur points out the man’s righteous sarcasm:

This is an outcast talking to the in-crowd. “Why do you want to hear it again? You don’t want to become His disciples too, do you?” Sarcasm. He just nails their sarcasm, their hypocrisy. This is a man who’s feeling the joy, feeling the confidence, feeling the strength of the conviction that he knows he’s dealing with a man who is from God, who is a prophet. And as the story goes, he comes to fully believe in Him for salvation

Then the Pharisees came out with one of their favourite attacks, saying that he was one of Christ’s disciples, yet they, the notional religious grandees, were disciples of Moses (verse 28).

They added that they knew God had spoken to Moses but, as for ‘this man’ — Jesus — they knew not from whence He came (verse 29).

The Pharisees created the chasm between Judaism and Christianity that still exists today:

There’s that breach again. Moses and Christ, the church and the synagogue, Judaism and Christianity. Still at odds. We know this man is a sinner. We are from Moses … I think they knew He was from Nazareth, Galilee. They should’ve known where He was from in John 6 when He preached the sermon on the bread of life, He said, “I am the bread that came down from heaven. I have come down from heaven to give My life for the world.” He had said again, and again, and again, “I come from heaven.” He even mocked them by saying, “You think you know where I’ve come from.” Chapter 7. “But you really don’t know My heavenly origin.” When they said, “We don’t know where He’s from,” they simply meant, not so much the town, but we don’t know the origin of this man. We’re unwilling to say it’s God. In fact, they were convinced that He was satanic. Satanic. 

I mean, this is the character of unbelief.

The man answered back, saying that what they were saying was astonishing; they did not know where He came from, yet He healed him (verse 30).

Henry elaborates on ‘an astonishing thing’:

First, He wonders at their obstinate infidelity (v. 30); not at all daunted by their frowns, nor shaken by their confidence, he bravely answered, “Why, herein is a marvelous thing, the strangest instance of wilful ignorance that ever was heard of among men that pretend to sense, that you know not whence he is, and yet he has opened mine eyes.” Two things he wonders at:—1. That they should be strangers to a man so famous. He that could open the eyes of the blind must certainly be a considerable man, and worth taking notice of. The Pharisees were inquisitive men, had a large correspondence and acquaintance, thought themselves the eyes of the church and its watchmen, and yet that they should talk as if they thought it below them to take cognizance of such a man as this, and have conversation with him, this is a strange thing indeed. There are many who pass for learned and knowing men, who understand business, and can talk sensibly in other things, who yet are ignorant, to a wonder, of the doctrine of Christ, who have no concern, no, not so much as a curiosity, to acquaint themselves with that which the angels desire to look into. 2. That they should question the divine mission of one that had undoubtedly wrought a divine miracle. When they said, We know not whence he is, they meant, “We know not any proof that his doctrine and ministry are from heaven.” “Now this is strange,” saith the poor man, “that the miracle wrought upon me has not convinced you, and put the matter out of doubt,—that you, whose education and studies give you advantages above others of discerning the things of God, should thus shut your eyes against the light.” It is a marvelous work and wonder, when the wisdom of the wise thus perisheth (Isa 29 14), that they deny the truth of that of which they cannot gainsay the evidence. Note, (1.) The unbelief of those who enjoy the means of knowledge and conviction is indeed a marvelous thing, Mark 6 6. (2.) Those who have themselves experienced the power and grace of the Lord Jesus do especially wonder at the wilfulness of those who reject him, and, having such good thoughts of him themselves, are amazed that others have not. Had Christ opened the eyes of the Pharisees, they would not have doubted his being a prophet.

The man continued, in all boldness. He said that God does not listen to sinners, but He does listen to those who obey His will (verse 31).

He went further, saying that, never since the world began had anyone been cured of blindness (verse 32), therefore, if this man were not from God, He would not have been able to do anything (verse 33), meaning effecting a miracle.

This man is a role model in the way he attacks the wilful ignorance of the religious authorities.

MacArthur says:

So, he’s become the preacher. He’s taken over the meeting. He’s talking to the leaders. First, he’s sarcastic, and now he’s specific, and clear-headed, and clear-minded, and faithful to the Old Testament, and even referring to the Old Testament that God doesn’t hear the prayers of sinners. He’s giving them an explanation of reality, a sensible, reasonable, logical explanation.

Henry analyses these verses in full:

a. He argues here, (a.) With great knowledge. Though he could not read a letter of the book, he was well acquainted with the scripture and the things of God; he had wanted the sense of seeing, yet had well improved that of hearing, by which faith cometh; yet this would not have served him if he had not had an extraordinary presence of God with him, and special aids of his Spirit, upon this occasion. (b.) With great zeal for the honour of Christ, whom he could not endure to hear run down, and evil spoken of. (c.) With great boldness, and courage, and undauntedness, not terrified by the proudest of his adversaries. Those that are ambitious of the favours of God must not be afraid of the frowns of men. “See here,” saith Dr. Whitby, “a blind man and unlearned judging more rightly of divine things than the whole learned council of the Pharisees, whence we learn that we are not always to be led by the authority of councils, popes, or bishops; and that it is not absurd for laymen sometimes to vary from their opinions, these overseers being sometimes guilty of great oversights.”

b. His argument may be reduced into form, somewhat like that of David, Ps 66 18-20. The proposition in David’s argument is, If I regard iniquity in my heart, God will not hear me; here it is to the same purport, God heareth not sinners: the assumption there is, But verily God hath heard me; here it is, Verily God hath heard Jesus, he hath been honoured with the doing of that which was never done before: the conclusion there is to the honour, Blessed be God; here to the honour of the Lord Jesus, He is of God.

(a.) He lays it down for an undoubted truth that none but good men are the favourites of heaven (v. 31): Now we know, you know it as well as I, that God heareth not sinners; but if any man be a worshipper of God, and does his will, him he heareth. Here,

[a.] The assertions, rightly understood, are true. First, Be it spoken to the terror of the wicked, God heareth not sinners, that is, such sinners as the Pharisees meant when they said of Christ, He is a sinner, one that, under the shelter of God’s name, advanced the devil’s interest. This bespeaks no discouragement to repenting returning sinners, but to those that go on still in their trespasses, that make their prayers not only consistent with, but subservient to, their sins, as the hypocrites do; God will not hear them, he will not own them, nor give an answer of peace to their prayers. Secondly, Be it spoken to the comfort of the righteous, If any man be a worshipper of God, and does his will, him he heareth. Here is, 1. The complete character of a good man: he is one that worships God, and does his will; he is constant in his devotions at set times, and regular in his conversation at all times. He is one that makes it his business to glorify his Creator by the solemn adoration of his name and a sincere obedience to his will and law; both must go together. 2. The unspeakable comfort of such a man: him God hears; hears his complaints, and relieves him; hears his appeals, and rights him; hears his praises, and accepts them; hears his prayers, and answers them, Ps 34 15.

[b.] The application of these truths is very pertinent to prove that he, at whose word such a divine power was put forth as cured one born blind, was not a bad man, but, having manifestly such an interest in the holy God as that he heard him always (ch. 9 31, 32), was certainly a holy one.

(b.) He magnifies the miracles which Christ had wrought, to strengthen the argument the more (v. 32): Since the world began was it not heard that any man opened the eyes of one that was born blind. This is to show either, [a.] That it was a true miracle, and above the power of nature; it was never heard that any man, by the use of natural means, had cured one that was born blind; no doubt, this man and his parents had been very inquisitive into cases of this nature, whether any such had been helped, and could hear of none, which enabled him to speak this with the more assurance. Or, [b.] That it was an extraordinary miracle, and beyond the precedents of former miracles; neither Moses nor any of the prophets, though they did great things, ever did such things as this, wherein divine power and divine goodness seem to strive which should outshine. Moses wrought miraculous plagues, but Christ wrought miraculous cures. Note, First, The wondrous works of the Lord Jesus were such as the like had never been done before. Secondly, It becomes those who have received mercy from God to magnify the mercies they have received, and to speak honourably of them; not that thereby glory may redound to themselves, and they may seem to be extraordinary favourites of Heaven, but that God may have so much the more glory.

(c.) He therefore concludes, If this man were not of God, he could do nothing, that is, nothing extraordinary, no such thing as this; and therefore, no doubt, he is of God, notwithstanding his nonconformity to your traditions in the business of the sabbath day. Note, What Christ did on earth sufficiently demonstrated what he was in heaven; for, if he had not been sent of God, he could not have wrought such miracles. It is true the man of sin comes with lying wonders, but not with real miracles; it is likewise supposed that a false prophet might, by divine permission, give a sign or a wonder (Deut 13 1, 2), yet the case is so put as that it would carry with it its own confutation, for it is to enforce a temptation to serve other gods, which was to set God against himself. It is true, likewise, that many wicked people have in Christ’s name done many wonderful works, which did not prove those that wrought them to be of God, but him in whose name they were wrought. We may each of us know by this whether we are of God or no: What do we? What do we for God, for our souls, in working out our salvation? What do we more than others?

The Pharisees were offended, saying that a man born entirely in sins, a reference to their belief that disability was a divine curse, was trying to teach them, the notional experts; with that, they threw him out (verse 34).

MacArthur picks up what he said earlier about unbelief often resulting in violence:

That’s the disdain of it all. So, it gets physical. They threw him out. Be prepared to face this when unbelief investigates a miracle. This is how it acts. This will be a disappointment. It has been a disappointment already in your life, I’m sure. Major disappointment through the years to any of us who walked with Christ for a long time. We accumulate this kind of disappointment.

What can we do except to pray for lost souls? MacArthur tells us:

What is there to do about this?  How can it change?  Well, the only answer is where Jesus went in John 6, three times.  He said this: “All that the Father gives to Me will come to Me.  No man comes to Me unless the Father draws him.”  And then, verse 64 of John 6, He summarized it again.  “For this reason I have said to you, no one can come to Me unless it has been granted him from the Father.”  The only way an unbeliever can be released and delivered from this kind of bizarre captivity and bondage to what is evil, and irascible, and intolerant, and irrational; the only way an unbeliever can be delivered from this is by the power of God.  So, what do we do?  We plead with God to be gracious, don’t we?  We plead with the sinner to believe, and we plead with God to be gracious.  Because the natural man, Paul says, understands not the things of God.  To him, they’re foolishness, because they’re spiritually appraised, and he’s spiritually dead. 

So, we don’t go out to evangelize with any hope, really, that we have the power in our reason or the power in our facts or the power in our truth to shatter the blindness and the darkness and the bondage of unbelief.  We go with the truth, and we cry out to God to draw the sinner out of this bondage of unbelief. 

MacArthur points out the transition that takes place at this point:

Verses 1 through 34 are about physical light, physical sight.  But also, there are overtones of spiritual blindness and spiritual darkness manifest by the Pharisees.  When we come to verses 35 to 41, the subject changes from physical sight and light, completely, to spiritual sight and light, and spiritual blindness and darkness.

Now, as we look at these just brief verses, straightforward and simple, I just want to break them into two sections: spiritual sight, verses 35 to 38, that’s the beggar; spiritual blindness, verses 39 to 41, that’s the Pharisees You have here a comparison build on this miracle, between spiritual sight, which the beggar receives, and spiritual darkness, in which the Pharisees remain. 

Now, let’s look at the spiritual sight and the beggar, the opening verses 35 to 38.  Just to give you a little bit of a pattern to follow, four things define this spiritual sight, okay?  Four things.  He’s going to be an illustration of one who not only sees physically for the first time, but who will see spiritually for the first time.  There are four elements.  First of all, and this is very important.  The first element is: spiritual sight requires divine initiative.  Spiritual sight requires divine initiative.  This man doesn’t have any capability to make himself see physically, nor does he have any capability to make himself see spiritually.  That’s why this transition is made, because it’s such a graphic illustration.  He can’t do anything to help himself.  There’s no such thing in those ancient times as a surgeon who can fix something in his eye and enable him to see.  There’s no way that he can have spiritual sight on his own.  It can’t happen.  Humanly speaking, it can’t happen on a temporal, physical, natural level.  If he is going to see, heaven has to come down and find him, locate him, and that’s exactly what happens.

Jesus heard that the Pharisees had driven the man out of their midst, and when He found him, he asked (verse 35), ‘Do you believe in the Son of Man?’

In Henry’s translation, the verse reads:

Jesus heard that they had cast him out; and when he had found him, he said unto him, Dost thou believe on the Son of God?

Henry calls our attention to the fact that Jesus sought the man who had given Him such a bold defence as the author of the healing miracle:

I. The tender care which our Lord Jesus took of this poor man (v. 35): When Jesus heard that they had cast him out (for it is likely the town rang of it, and everybody cried out shame upon them for it), then he found him, which implies his seeking him and looking after him, that he might encourage and comfort him, 1. Because he had, to the best of his knowledge, spoken so very well, so bravely, so boldly, in defence of the Lord Jesus. Note, Jesus Christ will be sure to stand by his witnesses, and own those that own him and his truth and ways. Earthly princes neither do, nor can, take cognizance of all that vindicate them and their government and administration; but our Lord Jesus knows and observes all the faithful testimonies we bear to him at any time, and a book of remembrance is written, and it shall redound not only to our credit hereafter, but our comfort now. 2. Because the Pharisees had cast him out and abused him. Besides the common regard which the righteous Judge of the world has to those who suffer wrongfully (Ps 103 6), there is a particular notice taken of those that suffer in the cause of Christ and for the testimony of a good conscience. Here was one poor man suffering for Christ, and he took care that as his afflictions abounded his consolations should much more abound. Note, (1.) Though persecutors may exclude good men from their communion, yet they cannot exclude them from communion with Christ, nor put them out of the way of his visits. Happy are they who have a friend from whom men cannot debar them. (2.) Jesus Christ will graciously find and receive those who for his sake are unjustly rejected and cast out by men. He will be a hiding place to his outcasts, and appear, to the joy of those whom their brethren hated and cast out.

II. The comfortable converse Christ had with him, wherein he brings him acquainted with the consolation of Israel. He had well improved the knowledge he had, and now Christ gives him further instruction; for he that is faithful in a little shall be entrusted with more, Matt 13 12.

1. Our Lord Jesus examines his faith: “Dost thou believe on the Son of God? Dost thou give credit to the promises of the Messiah? Dost thou expect his coming, and art thou ready to receive and embrace him when he is manifested to thee?” This was that faith of the Son of God by which the saints lived before his manifestation. Observe, (1.) The Messiah is here called the Son of God, and so the Jews had learned to call him from the prophecies, Ps 2 7; 89 27. See ch. 1 49, Thou art the Son of God, that is, the true Messiah. Those that expected the temporal kingdom of the Messiah delighted rather in calling him the Son of David, which gave more countenance to that expectation, Matt 22 42. But Christ, that he might give us an idea of his kingdom, as purely spiritual and divine, calls himself the Son of God, and rather Son of man in general than of David in particular. (2.) The desires and expectations of the Messiah, which the Old-Testament saints had, guided by and grounded upon the promise, were graciously interpreted and accepted as their believing on the Son of God. This faith Christ here enquires after: Dost thou believe? Note, The great thing which is now required of us (1 John 3 23), and which will shortly be enquired after concerning us, is our believing on the Son of God, and by this we must stand or fall for ever.

MacArthur continues reinforcing the idea that heaven had to find the man:

Verse 35.  The buzz around the temple area and wherever it was that this interrogation took place is still going on, so Jesus hears that they had put him out.  And I love this.  “And finding him.”  This is parallel.  You remember back in chapter 5, the man at the Pool of Bethesda picked up his bed and walked, ran into the Pharisees, the same kind of interrogation, the same kind of encounter.  And it says there in that same chapter, chapter 5, and I think it’s verse 14, “Jesus found him.”  Jesus found him.  This is how you receive spiritual sight.  It all started in a divine initiative.  It all started by a sovereign purpose in the mind of God.  Luke 19:10 Jesus says the Son of Man is come to seek and save that which was lost.  Not just the saving, but the seeking.  Romans 3, no man seeks after God.  We wouldn’t know where to go, wouldn’t know who to look for.  So he’s the seeker.  He says to His apostles in John 15:16, “You have not chosen Me.  I have chosen you.”  Matthew 18, “The Son of Man has come to save that which was lost.”  That’s why He came.  He’s the finder.  He’s the one who is seeking us … 

And so, Jesus finds the man.  This is where spiritual sight begins.  This is a powerful illustration of it, a very powerful illustration, because this is a helpless, hopeless man, and so is every sinner.  So is every sinner. 

So He finds him, and He initiates a conversation.  Very short.  This, again, is cryptic.  These accounts in the New Testament are condensed.  We don’t think the conversation was limited to this, but this is the essence that God has revealed to us.  He says, “Do you believe in the Son of Man?” 

MacArthur tells us that this Messianic title came from the prophet Daniel:

Listen to what Daniel chapter 7 says.  Daniel is given a vision, and it’s in the night.  Chapter 7:13.  I kept looking in the night visions, and behold with the clouds of heaven, one like a Son of Man was coming.  That’s a Messianic title.  This introduces the coming of Messiah to establish His kingdom.  He came up to the ancient of days, that’s God the Father, was presented before him, to Him was given dominion, glory, and a kingdom that all the peoples, nations, and men of every language might serve Him.  His dominion is an everlasting dominion which will not pass away, and His kingdom is one which will not be destroyed.  And this is not God, because this is one who comes to God.  This is one to whom God gives this eternal, everlasting universal kingdom.  It is the Messiah, and He is the Son of Man, which is a prophecy that He will be incarnate. 

But the Jews all understood the Messianic title, the Son of Man.  By the way, it appears 13 times in the gospel of John because it’s familiar in the conversation of the Jews because they know Daniel 7 is referring to the Messiah So, our Lord says to him, “Do you believe in the Son of Man?”  Do you believe in the Messiah?  Do you believe in Messianic theology?  Do you believe the Messiah is coming to establish His kingdom?  Do you believe that?

The man answered Jesus, asking him (verse 36), ‘And who is he, sir? Tell me, so that I may believe in him’.

Henry’s verse 36 reads as follows:

He answered and said, Who is he, Lord, that I might believe on him?

The man could not see who cured him, so he thought that Jesus was one of the Messiah’s disciples.

MacArthur says:

The second thing that I want you to see here in this case of spiritual sight, is that spiritual sight not only begins in divine initiative, but it requires faith.  It requires faith, verse 36.  This is just an amazing statement.  He answered, “Who is He, Lord, that I may believe in Him?”  What an amazing statement.  Here is a man who is ready to believe.  He just wants to know who to believe in.  I wish I had the time to develop that as a theology, because what you’re seeing here is the essence of the doctrine of regeneration at work This man is ready to believe.  He just wants to know what to believe.  This is not easily understood.  It is not because of what we say that people believe.  It is because of what God has done to open them to believing that they respond to what we say.  This is an amazing thing.  Here is a man who is saying, “I’m ready to believe.  Who do I believe in?  Show me who to believe in.”  That’s a prepared heart.  That’s good soil. 

MacArthur discusses the title of address in this verse:

See the word Lord there, and it’s lower-case sense, sir?  He doesn’t know who He is, so he’s not calling Jesus Lord in the upper-case sense The word kyrie can be used at “sir,” like you would see it in an Old English, the lords and ladies kind of idea So, here, I think he is still using it in the common sense.  Who is He, sir, that I may believe in Him?  Something has been happening in his heart.  This divine initiative is not only physical, not only Jesus finding him, but God, by the power of the Holy Spirit is opening his heart to believe, and all he needs.  It’s like Lydia, whose heart the Lord opened.  Remember in the Book of Acts?  The man’s heart is opened.  All he wants to knowis: who? 

Jesus said to the man (verse 37), ‘You have seen him, and the one speaking with you is he’.

MacArthur brings in a third element of spiritual sight:

There’s a third feature in spiritual sight.  It starts in divine initiative.  It requires faith.  Thirdly, spiritual sight confesses Jesus as Lord.  Where there is the miracle of spiritual sight, there will be a confession of Jesus as Lord. 

Notice verse 37.  Jesus said to him, he’s saying, who do I believe in?  “You have both seen Him.”  You’ve seen Him.  You’re looking at Him, “and He’s the one who is talking with you.”  Wow.  It’s interesting to me that I don’t know how much this man had heard Jesus teach.  Certainly, he hadn’t seen any miracles.  Something, there were lots of people who saw miracles.  The whole population saw miracles.  Couldn’t overcome spiritual darkness.  But God is overcoming his spiritual darkness by giving him faith.  And all he wants to know is who he’s supposed to put that faith in Jesus says, “You’ve seen Him, and He’s the one talking with you.”  It is I.  Remember back in chapter 4 when the woman at the well, the Samaritan woman said, well, we know that the Christ is going to come, and Jesus responds by saying, “I who speak to you am He.”  I’m the One.  And she believed, and the whole village of Sychar believed. 

The Samaritan woman’s conversion was last week’s — Year A’s — reading for the Third Sunday in Lent in 2023: John 4:5-42 (parts 1 and 2).

The man replied to Jesus saying, ‘Lord, I believe’, and he worshipped Him (verse 38).

MacArthur looks at the title the man uses here:

And he said, “Lord, I believe.”  And now, Lord gets an upper-case It’s Kyrie in the upper-case.  He’s gone from sir, to the Lord of lords

This is Lord in its fullest and most lofty and elevated sense.  Lord, I believe.  And even though the word is the same, there’s a huge difference.  When he says “Lord” in verse 36, he’s asking a question.  Who do I believe in?  Now, he believes, and he says “Lord” in a completely different sense because he immediately does what?  Worships. 

How do you know when spiritual sight comes to someone?  Well, it’s initiated by God, the heart is prepared, the heart opens up to accept the truth and confesses Jesus as Lord It’s just an astounding and marvelous miracle, like the miracle of physical sight.

MacArthur recaps the episodes in Christ’s ministry that John has given us thus far:

We’re starting to accumulate a little roll call here of believers, aren’t we?  Back when we began the gospel of John, it was Peter and Andrew, and Philip and Nathaniel.  And then, Nicodemus showed up, and maybe not a believer yet, but he’s on the way.  And eventually becomes a believer, shows up in the burial of our Lord.  But as of now, we’d have to limit it to Peter, Andrew, Philip, Nathaniel, and then that Samaritan woman in chapter 4, and then the folks from the village of Sychar And then some true disciples in chapter 6 And now we can add the blind man to our little roll call of true believers.  Every one of them is a divine and supernatural miracle. 

Interestingly, Year A (2023) has had some of these Gospel readings. I gave you the one of the Samaritan woman a few paragraphs ago. Peter, Andrew and John’s conversion was the reading for the Second Sunday after Epiphany (John 1:19-42). Nicodemus’s story was the one for the Second Sunday in Lent (John 3:1-17).

I love serendipity, especially when it involves the Bible. We can really make proper connections then.

Our Lord’s discourse with the man concludes at this point. Henry says:

None but God is to be worshipped; so that in worshipping Jesus he owned him to be God. Note, True faith will show itself in a humble adoration of the Lord Jesus. Those who believe in him will see all the reason in the world to worship him. We never read any more of this man; but, it is very likely, from henceforth he became a constant follower of Christ.

Jesus then directed His thoughts elsewhere, saying that He came into this world for judgement, so that those who do not see may see and those who do see may become blind (verse 39).

He spoke of the Pharisees in the second half of the verse. They were wilfully blind to Him.

MacArthur says:

Obviously a play on words on this whole concept of blindness, which is, as I said, is all over the Scripture When Jesus sees this man worshiping Him, He compares this humble, confiding, trusting, believing heart of the beggar with the hostile, stubborn hatred of the Pharisees And He admits: this is how it’s going to be in my coming Even though the Son of Man is come to seek and to save the lost, even though He doesn’t come for judgment, as He says in John 3, He didn’t come to judge the world but to save the world. 

MacArthur reminds us that Simeon prophesied similarly when the infant Jesus was presented at the temple 40 days after His birth (Luke 2:22-32 and Luke 2:33-40). We remember this day on February 2, the feast of Candlemas:

34And 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.”

MacArthur tells us that salvation becomes division:

… even though He came in His incarnation to save, His salvation in itself becomes a dividing reality There is a judgment bound up in it.  Like Simeon said, “This child is for the rising and the falling of many.”  He’s the divider.  This is not final judgment.  This is a kind of immediate judgment that happens at the point at which the gospel is introduced, at which Christ is introduced.  There is a dividing that takes place between the believer and the unbeliever.  Yes, He didn’t come to judge in the sense of final judgment.  He came to save.  He came to be humbled, and go to the cross, and rise from the dead to save.  But even that is a judgment rendered.  In fact, in John 3, He says, “If you reject Him, you judge yourself.”  You judge yourself.  You’re already judged.  If a person sees in Jesus who died on the cross for salvation, nothing desirable, nothing that that person wants, that is a judgment on that person.  That’s a self-condemnation.

If a sinner sees in Jesus nothing to desire, nothing to long for, nothing to want, nothing to put trust in, that’s a self-condemnation.  That’s the Pharisees.  They didn’t need anything.  They could see clearly.  They saw it all.  They knew God.  They knew the truth.  They knew that Jesus was a vile sinner, a satanic, demonic, insane man.  Because they thought they see, they are totally blind.  So that’s the point of verse 39

Some of the Pharisees heard Jesus and said to him (verse 40), ‘Surely we are not blind, are we?’

Whether they scoffed at Jesus or scorned Him, they resented His words.

Henry rewords the text to give it fuller meaning:

“Now,” say they, “we know that the common people are blind; but are we blind also? What we? The rabbin, the doctors, the learned in the laws, the graduates in the schools, are we blind too?” This is scandalum magnatum—a libel on the great. Note, Frequently those that need reproof most, and deserve it best, though they have wit enough to discern a tacit one, have not grace enough to bear a just one. These Pharisees took this reproof for a reproach, as those lawyers (Luke 11 45): “Are we blind also? Darest thou say that we are blind, whose judgment every one has such a veneration for, values, and yields to?” Note, Nothing fortifies men’s corrupt hearts more against the convictions of the word, nor more effectually repels them, than the good opinion, especially if it be a high opinion, which others have of them; as if all that had gained applause with men must needs obtain acceptance with God, than which nothing is more false and deceitful, for God sees not as man sees.

MacArthur tells us about spiritual blindness:

The first thing then, about spiritual blindness is: spiritual blindness brings judgment Spiritual blindness brings judgment.  Tragic.  Judgment.  Now, and in the future.  Spiritual blindness, secondly, is stubborn, verse 40.  “Those of the Pharisees who were with Him heard these things and said to Him, ‘We’re not blind too, are we?’“ Again, speaking metaphorically, they refused to admit their blindness We’re not blind in the sense that, they say this with disdain, and arrogance, and scorn.  You’re not saying we, the most learned, erudite, righteous, holy, virtuous, representatives of God, you’re not saying we’re blind, are You?  Well, that’s exactly what He was saying.  This man was spiritually blind, but now he can see, spiritually.  You think you can see spiritually, which simply demonstrates that you are spiritually blind.  Blindness, the idea of spiritual blindness to them is a joke

Jesus replied, saying that, if they were blind, they would not have sin; however, now that they say they see, their sin remains (verse 41).

Henry explains:

This very thing which they gloried in, Christ here tells them, was their shame and ruin. For,

1. If you were blind, you would have no sin. (1.) “If you had been really ignorant, your sin had not been so deeply aggravated, nor would you have had so much sin to answer for as now you have. If you were blind, as the poor Gentiles are, and many of your own poor subjects, from whom you have taken the key of knowledge, you would have had comparatively no sin.” The times of ignorance God winked at; invincible ignorance, though it does not justify sin, excuses it, and lessens the guilt. It will be more tolerable with those that perish for lack of vision than with those that rebel against the light. (2.) “If you had been sensible of your own blindness, if when you would see nothing else you could have seen the need of one to lead you, you would soon have accepted Christ as your guide, and then you would have had no sin, you would have submitted to an evangelical righteousness, and have been put into a justified state.” Note, Those that are convinced of their disease are in a fair way to be cured, for there is not a greater hindrance to the salvation of souls than self-sufficiency.

2. “But now you say, We see; now that you have knowledge, and are instructed out of the law, your sin is highly aggravated; and now that you have a conceit of that knowledge, and think you see your way better than any body can show it you, therefore your sin remains, your case is desperate, and your disease incurable.” And as those are most blind who will not see, so their blindness is most dangerous who fancy they do see. No patients are so hardly managed as those in a frenzy who say that they are well, and nothing ails them. The sin of those who are self-conceited and self-confident remains, for they reject the gospel of grace, and therefore the guilt of their sin remains unpardoned; and they forfeit the Spirit of grace, and therefore the power of their sin remains unbroken. Seest thou a wise man in his own conceit? Hearest thou the Pharisees say, We see? There is more hope of a fool, of a publican and a harlot, than of such.

MacArthur contrasts the way Jesus uses blindness in verse 40 with verse 41:

This is continuing this little play on words on the notion of blindness.  But Jesus is using the term in a completely different way.  In verse 40, you are blind.  You are blind, in the sense that you don’t see your sin.  You are blind.  You are blind.  But in verse 41, you’re not blind.  How do you do that?  You’re not blind.  “If you were blind, you would have no sin.”  What does that mean?  You are not blind as to the truth.  If you were blind to the truth, if you had no knowledge of the truth, no revelation of the truth, if you didn’t have the Scripture, didn’t have the Old Testament, the law, all the prophets and holy writings, didn’t have Me, didn’t have all the demonstration of who I am, your sin would not be so severe.  This would be like the times of the past when God overlooked people’s sin because the revelation was incomplete.  There’s less punishment, a less severe judgment falls on those who have no knowledge.  But you’re not blind.  You are blind in the sense that you don’t see your own sin.  You are not blind in the sense that you have been exposed to the truth.  You have the law, the prophets, the covenants, everything.  The promises, the Old Testament.  You’ve had Me.  You’ve heard My words.  You’ve seen the miracles.  You have no excuse.  Yes, blind to your own sin; no, not blind to the truth.

Spiritual blindness then, receives judgment, refuses to admit its blindness, rejects the offer of light and sight when it’s given, such as they had received.  Finally, results in doom, end of verse 41.  “But since you say, ‘We see,’ your sin remains.”

You’re doomed.  You are accepting the condition you’re in, of spiritual blindness, as spiritual sight.  You are doomed.  You are hopeless.  If you think you can see, you’re doomed.  Amazing play on words.  Your sin remains.  Finality.  So, the light shines in the darkness The darkness cannot extinguish it.  The darkness cannot put it out, but the darkness rejects it.  Came to His own, His own received Him not.  He’s in the world.  The world was made by Him.  The world knew Him not. 

They are the religious elite.  They are in the darkness.  And a blind beggar, who’s a total outcast, sees physically; more importantly, sees spiritually.

MacArthur gives us something to consider as we contrast the blind beggar with the Pharisees:

How do you know when someone’s a believer?  Because he becomes a what?  Worshiper.  How do you know you’re Christian?  Not because you prayed a prayer.  Not because you asked the Lord to do something for you.  Not because you got emotionally moved in a meeting and felt sentimental about Jesus.  How do you know you’re a believer?  How do you know you’ve been transformed?  Because you have become a worshiper, a worshiper.  That’s why I said to you earlier: this narcissistic, sentimental, self-centered approach to the gospel creates an endless dependency that the system that offered originally the answer to what everybody wants keep giving that person what that person wants.  It’s relentless.  How do you turn that person into one who is a totally selfless worshiper? 

This man falls on his knees in adoration.  The opposite, back in verse 59 of chapter 8, when Jesus declared who He was to the Pharisees, they picked up stones to stone Him.  That’s what spiritual blindness produces.  This is what spiritual sight produces.  So, if you’re asking the question: how do I know if I’m saved?  Ask yourself if you love Christ, if you love God, if you love the Holy Spirit, if you desire to be obedient, if you desire to honor, to please the Lord, if you’re a worshiper.  We were talking in the elder’s meeting the other night about some few people who don’t come to church, and when we contact them, they give all kinds of kind of lame, well, you know, I’ve got other things, and so and so bothers me, and blah, blah, blah.  The bottom line is: those people, very likely, aren’t believers, because believers worship.  That’s the priority of their life.  And I’m not saying that the only place you worship is in the collective assembly of the church That’s not.  But this is what lifts you up and strengthens you and encourages you for the rest of those hours when you worship as an independent person.  This is critical.  This fulfills the longing of our heart, to honor the Lord, to hear from the Lord, to exalt the Lord, to praise the Lord.  Worshipers. 

May all reading this (far!) have a blessed day.

Forbidden Bible Verses returns tomorrow

The Fourth Sunday in Lent, Laetare Sunday, is March 19, 2023.

Readings for Year A, including an explanation of Laetare Sunday — the joyful Sunday in Lent — can be found here.

The Gospel reading is as follows (emphases mine):

John 9:1-41

9:1 As he walked along, he saw a man blind from birth.

9:2 His disciples asked him, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?”

9:3 Jesus answered, “Neither this man nor his parents sinned; he was born blind so that God’s works might be revealed in him.

9:4 We must work the works of him who sent me while it is day; night is coming when no one can work.

9:5 As long as I am in the world, I am the light of the world.”

9:6 When he had said this, he spat on the ground and made mud with the saliva and spread the mud on the man’s eyes,

9:7 saying to him, “Go, wash in the pool of Siloam” (which means Sent). Then he went and washed and came back able to see.

9:8 The neighbors and those who had seen him before as a beggar began to ask, “Is this not the man who used to sit and beg?”

9:9 Some were saying, “It is he.” Others were saying, “No, but it is someone like him.” He kept saying, “I am the man.”

9:10 But they kept asking him, “Then how were your eyes opened?”

9:11 He answered, “The man called Jesus made mud, spread it on my eyes, and said to me, ‘Go to Siloam and wash.’ Then I went and washed and received my sight.”

9:12 They said to him, “Where is he?” He said, “I do not know.”

9:13 They brought to the Pharisees the man who had formerly been blind.

9:14 Now it was a sabbath day when Jesus made the mud and opened his eyes.

9:15 Then the Pharisees also began to ask him how he had received his sight. He said to them, “He put mud on my eyes. Then I washed, and now I see.”

9:16 Some of the Pharisees said, “This man is not from God, for he does not observe the sabbath.” But others said, “How can a man who is a sinner perform such signs?” And they were divided.

9:17 So they said again to the blind man, “What do you say about him? It was your eyes he opened.” He said, “He is a prophet.”

9:18 The Jews did not believe that he had been blind and had received his sight until they called the parents of the man who had received his sight

9:19 and asked them, “Is this your son, who you say was born blind? How then does he now see?”

9:20 His parents answered, “We know that this is our son, and that he was born blind;

9:21 but we do not know how it is that now he sees, nor do we know who opened his eyes. Ask him; he is of age. He will speak for himself.”

9:22 His parents said this because they were afraid of the Jews; for the Jews had already agreed that anyone who confessed Jesus to be the Messiah would be put out of the synagogue.

9:23 Therefore his parents said, “He is of age; ask him.”

9:24 So for the second time they called the man who had been blind, and they said to him, “Give glory to God! We know that this man is a sinner.”

9:25 He answered, “I do not know whether he is a sinner. One thing I do know, that though I was blind, now I see.”

9:26 They said to him, “What did he do to you? How did he open your eyes?”

9:27 He answered them, “I have told you already, and you would not listen. Why do you want to hear it again? Do you also want to become his disciples?”

9:28 Then they reviled him, saying, “You are his disciple, but we are disciples of Moses.

9:29 We know that God has spoken to Moses, but as for this man, we do not know where he comes from.”

9:30 The man answered, “Here is an astonishing thing! You do not know where he comes from, and yet he opened my eyes.

9:31 We know that God does not listen to sinners, but he does listen to one who worships him and obeys his will.

9:32 Never since the world began has it been heard that anyone opened the eyes of a person born blind.

9:33 If this man were not from God, he could do nothing.”

9:34 They answered him, “You were born entirely in sins, and are you trying to teach us?” And they drove him out.

9:35 Jesus heard that they had driven him out, and when he found him, he said, “Do you believe in the Son of Man?”

9:36 He answered, “And who is he, sir? Tell me, so that I may believe in him.”

9:37 Jesus said to him, “You have seen him, and the one speaking with you is he.”

9:38 He said, “Lord, I believe.” And he worshiped him.

9:39 Jesus said, “I came into this world for judgment so that those who do not see may see, and those who do see may become blind.”

9:40 Some of the Pharisees near him heard this and said to him, “Surely we are not blind, are we?”

9:41 Jesus said to them, “If you were blind, you would not have sin. But now that you say, ‘We see,’ your sin remains.

Commentary comes from Matthew Henry and John MacArthur.

This is the first of a two-part series. That said, this is a long post as there is much to cover.

In John 7 and John 8, we see the stubbornness of the Jewish hierarchy.

In John 8, they insult Jesus and try to stone Him:

48 The Jews answered him, “Aren’t we right in saying that you are a Samaritan and demon-possessed?”

49 “I am not possessed by a demon,” said Jesus, “but I honor my Father and you dishonor me. 50 I am not seeking glory for myself; but there is one who seeks it, and he is the judge. 51 Very truly I tell you, whoever obeys my word will never see death.”

57 “You are not yet fifty years old,” they said to him, “and you have seen Abraham!”

58 “Very truly I tell you,” Jesus answered, “before Abraham was born, I am!” 59 At this, they picked up stones to stone him, but Jesus hid himself, slipping away from the temple grounds.

Still near the temple in Jerusalem, Jesus walked along and saw a man blind from birth (verse 1).

John MacArthur has more:

Jesus is in Jerusalem.  He’s going through one of the temple entrances, temple gates.  And He comes across a blind man who has been born blind.  He’s never seen.  He has some kind of congenital blindness.  He is reduced to being a beggar So, he sits there with the rest of the beggars at the temple entrance because that’s where most people come and go who are concerned about honoring God, and who may be more sensitive to doing what they should do, doing right, and giving alms to beggars And so, those entrances and exits were occupied by beggars.  Jesus comes across this man who is blind, who obviously can’t see Him. 

Our Lord’s disciples asked Him whether the blind man had sinned or his parents had sinned, hence his disability (verse 2).

Any Jew with a disability was an outcast, because they considered it a sign of serious sin.

MacArthur explains the issue with blindness:

the greatest ancient contributor to blindness was gonorrhea.  And since there was no treatment for that, when a mother had gonorrhea, a baby passing through the birth canal could come out blind, essentially.  This was epidemic.  Even in the modern world, where in third-world countries, there is no remedy for that.  Silver nitrate, or whatever is used; there’s no remedy for that.  Blindness is multiplied. 

There was a time not many years ago, according to one source I read, where 90 percent of the blind, born blind, were from venereal disease.  And again, even today in countries where they don’t have the ability to care for that, blindness is increased.  So were they saying something about the sin of the mother or the father?  Something about a transmitted disease?  Maybe that was in their mind, but probably more likely it was theological, rather than physiological. 

The rabbis were convinced that the sins of the parents were visited upon the children.  Where did they get that?  They got that because they misinterpreted Exodus 20 .. But they believed that parents’ sins could show up in children’s guilt and punishment. 

Jesus, in His omniscience, answered them saying that neither the man nor his parents had sinned; he had been born blind so that God’s works could be revealed in him (verse 3).

God’s ways are not our ways.

Matthew Henry’s commentary says:

This man was born blind, and it was worth while for him to be so, and to continue thus long dark, that the works of God might be manifest in him. That is, First, That the attributes of God might be made manifest in him: his justice in making sinful man liable to such grievous calamities; his ordinary power and goodness in supporting a poor man under such a grievous and tedious affliction, especially that his extraordinary power and goodness might be manifested in curing him. Note, The difficulties of providence, otherwise unaccountable, may be resolved into this—God intends in them to show himself, to declare his glory, to make himself to be taken notice of ... Secondly, That the counsels of God concerning the Redeemer might be manifested in him. He was born blind that our Lord Jesus might have the honour of curing him, and might therein prove himself sent of God to be the true light to the world. Thus the fall of man was permitted, and the blindness that followed it, that the works of God might be manifest in opening the eyes of the blind. It was now a great while since this man was born blind, and yet it never appeared till now why he was so. Note, The intentions of Providence commonly do not appear till a great while after the event, perhaps many years after. The sentences in the book of providence are sometimes long, and you must read a great way before you can apprehend the sense of them.

Jesus said that He — and we — must work the works of the Father who sent Him while it is day, as night is coming when no one can work (verse 4).

Henry looks at this in a literal and practical way, of that 24-hour day and of our obligations as believers:

[2.] Now was his opportunity: I must work while it is day, while the time lasts which is appointed to work in, and while the light lasts which is given to work by. Christ himself had his day. First, All the business of the mediatorial kingdom was to be done within the limits of time, and in this world; for at the end of the world, when time shall be no more, the kingdom shall be delivered up to God, even the Father, and the mystery of God finished. Secondly, all the work he had to do in his own person here on earth was to be done before his death; the time of his living in this world is the day here spoken of. Note, The time of our life is our day, in which it concerns us to do the work of the day. Day-time is the proper season for work (Ps 104 22, 23); during the day of life we must be busy, not waste day-time, nor play by day-light; it will be time enough to rest when our day is done, for it is but a day.

[3.] The period of his opportunity was at hand, and therefore he would be busy; The night comes when no man can work. Note, The consideration of our death approaching should quicken us to improve all the opportunities of life, both for doing and getting good. The night comes, it will come certainly, may come suddenly, is coming nearer and nearer. We cannot compute how nigh our sun is, it may go down at noon; nor can we promise ourselves a twilight between the day of life and the night of death. When the night comes we cannot work, because the light afforded us to work by is extinguished; the grave is a land of darkness, and our work cannot be done in the dark. And, besides, our time allotted us for our work will then have expired; when our Master tied us to duty he tied us to time too; when night comes, call the labourers; we must then show our work, and receive according to the things done. In the world of retribution we are no longer probationers; it is too late to bid when the inch of candle is dropped. Christ uses this as an argument with himself to be diligent, though he had no opposition from within to struggle with; much more need have we to work upon our hearts these and the like considerations to quicken us.

Jesus said, ‘As long as I am in the world, I am the light of the world’ (verse 5).

Henry tells us:

He had said this before, ch. 8 12. He is the Sun of righteousness, that has not only light in his wings for those that can see, but healing in his wings, or beams, for those that are blind and cannot see, therein far exceeding in virtue that great light which rules by day. Christ would cure this blind man, the representative of a blind world, because he came to be the light of the world, not only to give light, but to give sight. Now this gives us, First, A great encouragement to come to him, as a guiding, quickening, refreshing light. To whom should we look but to him? Which way should we turn our eyes, but to the light? We partake of the sun’s light, and so we may of Christ’s grace, without money and without price. Secondly, A good example of usefulness in the world. What Christ saith of himself, he saith of his disciples: You are lights in the world, and, if so, Let your light shine. What were candles made for but to burn?

Before we get to this healing miracle, MacArthur tells us about the miracles in the Old Testament, which were few and far between:

… if you go to the Old Testament, these corrupt influences falling on physical life are so dominating and so normal, and so unabated and uninterrupted, that throughout the entire Old Testament, miraculous healing is so rare, it is virtually non-existent. 

There was the healing of Naaman the leper, who was a border terrorist attacking the Jews.  That’s in 1 Kings.  And then, there was King Hezekiah who had a terminal illness, and God spared him and cured him of that terminal illness.  That’s 2 Kings.  And then, in Numbers 21, God sent snakes that bit the children of Israel with a deadly poison They would’ve died, except the Lord was merciful to them, and healed their snakebites

And as far as an outright individual healing, very, very rare and unusual.  When you come into the New Testament, as the New Testament begins, there are a couple of other physical miracles of healing One happens to Elizabeth so that she who has been barren all her life is enabled to have a baby, John the Baptist That is a healing miracle.  And then, there of course is Mary, and Mary’s is not a healing, but Mary is given the right, and the privilege, and the power to bear a child without a father, a human father, the virgin birth But when you look at the Old Testament, you’ve got six occasions where an actual, physical miracle brought about a change in someone’s physiology.

In the Old Testament, you have three resurrections.  That’s all.  Three.  The widow’s son in 1 Kings 17, the Shunammite widow’s son in 2 Kings 4, and the man in Elijah’s grave in 2 Kings 13.  Three resurrections.  That’s it.  Very, very rare through the entire history, from the Fall, to the arrival of the Lord Jesus Christ.

And by the way, you say, well, that’s just the Old Testament.  Yes, but if you just took the Old Testament, that would be religion central, wouldn’t it be?  That would be where God is most active.  That would be where God is working, God is acting through the fathers, through the prophets, through the history of Israel, the nation of Israel.  And in all of that period of history where God is acting, miracles don’t happen except on extremely rare occasions, miracles of healing.

Until Jesus shows up.  And when Jesus showed up, miracles explode in every direction throughout His three-year ministry By the way, He did no miracles for the first 30 years of His life.  None.  Because, when He reached the age of 30 and He went to a wedding in Cana, and turned water into wine, the Bible says this is the first miracle Jesus did.  So, these nonsense, gnostic, false gospels that have Jesus doing miracles as a boy are nothing but foolish.  We just don’t have healings in history.  You don’t have miraculous reversing of disease and deformity.  You don’t have resurrections.  You don’t have people coming back from the dead.  This is a very rare occasion.

Then you come into the life and ministry of Christ, and healings are happening virtually on a daily basis This is an explosion intended to demonstrate that the Messiah, the Son of God, God in human flesh, has arrived in the world.  Matthew 12:15 says He was healing all.  He was healing all.  So, He was healing all the people in all the places.  That’s why I’ve said many times that He banished illness, essentially, from the land of Israel.

Returning to today’s reading, Jesus spat on the ground, made mud with His saliva and spread the mud on the blind man’s eyes (verse 6).

Henry says:

1. The preparation of the eye-salve … He made clay of his own spittle, because there was no water near; and he would teach us not to be nice or curious, but, when we have at any time occasion, to be willing to take up with that which is next hand, if it will but serve the turn. Why should we go about for that which may as well be had and done a nearer way? Christ’s making use of his own spittle intimates that there is healing virtue in every thing that belongs to Christ; clay made of Christ’s spittle was much more precious than the balm of Gilead.

2. The application of it to the place: He anointed the eyes of the blind man with the clay. Or, as the margin reads it, He spread (epechrise), he daubed the clay upon the eyes of the blind man, like a tender physician; he did it himself with his own hand, though the patient was a beggar. Now Christ did this, (1.) To magnify his power in making a blind man to see by that method which one would think more likely to make a seeing man blind. Daubing clay on the eyes would close them up, but never open them. Note, The power of God often works by contraries; and he makes men feel their own blindness before he gives them sight. (2.) To give an intimation that it was his mighty hand, the very same that at first made man out of the clay; for by him God made the worlds, both the great world, and man the little world. Man was formed out of the clay, and moulded like the clay, and here Christ used the same materials to give sight to the body that at first he used to give being to it. (3.) To represent and typify the healing and opening of the eyes of the mind by the grace of Jesus Christ. The design of the gospel is to open men’s eyes, Acts 26 18. Now the eye-salve that does the work is of Christ’s preparing; it is made up, not as this, of his spittle, but of his blood, the blood and water that came out of his pierced side; we must come to Christ for the eye-salve, Rev 3 18. He only is able, and he only is appointed, to make it up, Luke 4 18. The means used in this work are very weak and unlikely, and are made effectual only by the power of Christ; when a dark world was to be enlightened, and nations of blind souls were to have their eyes opened, God chose the foolish things, and weak, and despised, for the doing of it. And the method Christ takes is first to make men feel themselves blind, as this poor man did whose eyes were daubed with clay, and then to give them sight. Paul in his conversion was struck blind for three days, and then the scales fell from his eyes. The way prescribed for getting spiritual wisdom is, Let a man become a fool, that he may be wise, 1 Cor 3 18. We must be made uneasy with our blindness, as this man here, and then healed.

Jesus told the man to wash in the pool of Siloam, which means Sent; the man went, washed and came back able to see (verse 7).

Both our commentators tell us about the significance of the pool of Siloam.

Henry says:

Concerning the pool of Siloam observe, [1.] That it was supplied with water from mount Zion, so that these were the waters of the sanctuary (Ps 46 4), living waters, which were healing, Ezek 47 9. [2.] That the waters of Siloam had of old signified the throne and kingdom of the house of David, pointing at the Messiah (Isa 8 6), and the Jews who refused the waters of Shiloah, Christ’s doctrine and law, and rejoiced in the tradition of the elders. Christ would try this man, whether he would cleave to the waters of Siloam or no. [3.] The evangelist takes notice of the signification of the name, its being interpreted sent. Christ is often called the sent of God, the Messenger of the covenant (Mal 3 1); so that when Christ sent him to the pool of Siloam he did in effect send him to himself; for Christ is all in all to the healing of souls. Christ as a prophet directs us to himself as a priest. Go, wash in the fountain opened, a fountain of life, not a pool.

Last week, in Year A’s reading for the Third Sunday in Lent, we had the reading about Christ’s conversion of the Samaritan woman, that of living waters in John 4:5-42 (parts 1 and 2).

Of the waters of Siloam, MacArthur adds this:

So, this spoke of God’s provision.  It spoke of God’s cleansing, spoke of the water of life.  It’s really a beautiful picture, and it was water sent into the city, another wonderful symbol.  The waters flow from the temple hill and are regarded, even in the Old Testament, as symbolic of spiritual blessing.  Isaiah 8 talks about that. 

So when a man went to wash at Siloam, there was an analogy there.  He was going to the one who was the true Siloam, the spring of life water from God.  Christ is the true Siloam.  That, He even said back in chapter 7 verse 37.  “If anyone is thirsty, let him come to Me and drink.”  Beautiful imagery, beautiful analogies. 

This is how salvation works in this analogy.  Sovereign grace confronts a blind and helpless, hopeless begging sinner.  He can’t see, can’t see God, can’t see Christ.  But sovereign grace comes to him, places His glorious, merciful hand on his sightless soul, asks only a response of simple faith, prompts that response.  He finds his way to the cleansing waters, which is an emblem of Messianic salvation in Isaiah, and he comes back, and he can see, spiritually.  It’s really a beautiful picture. 

The people’s reaction is interesting. They asked whether the healed beggar was the same man they had seen before (verse 8). Some said it was; others said it was someone who looked like him, so the beggar spoke up and kept saying that he was that man (verse 9).

That poor man. He must have been so exhiliarated at being able to see everything around him, and yet people doubted that he was the one who begged at the temple gates.

The people asked him how he was able to see, how his eyes had been opened (verse 10), an interesting choice of words, implying to us that a spiritual opening had also taken place.

Henry says:

We may apply it spiritually; it is strange that blind eyes should be opened, but more strange when we consider how they are opened; how weak the means are that are used, and how strong the opposition that is conquered.

The man replied, sticking to the facts: the man called Jesus made mud, spread it on his eyes and told him to wash in the waters of Siloam, which he did, and he then received his sight (verse 11).

MacArthur says that the rest of the story concerns unbelief, which we have already seen in verse 9, with some doubting it was the same man:

First of all, I want you to see that unbelief is inimical, inimical. You probably haven’t used that word today or any day for that matter. But it’s a really good word, and it means “hostile.” It means adverse, it means pernicious, ill-disposed. It could even be dangerous. Unbelief is not benign. You need to understand that. When you’re dealing with unbelievers, you’re not dealing with some benign reality. This is an aggressive attitude to take. When you don’t believe in the Gospel, and you don’t believe in the Lord Jesus Christ, you inevitably are hostile toward that. That is why it is unbelievers who ultimately persecute Christians …

It starts intellectual, becomes emotional, then becomes verbal, and ends up physical. That’s what’ll happen in the story. It starts as a discussion about facts. It then becomes emotional. And the man starts sarcastically firing away at them. And then it becomes them firing at him, reviling then, and eventually physically, they throw Him out. Those are the sequences of conflict. And unbelief, if pressed, can go down that path pretty fast

Secondly, verses 17 to 24, we’re going to work through this quickly. Unbelief is intractable. And what does intractable mean? Will not bend. Cannot be convinced. The blind man told him exactly what happened. I was blind. I can see. Jesus came, he names Jesus in the first testimony back in verse 11. He came, He told me to go to the pool. I went to the pool. I washed the mud out of my eyes, and I see. And he is literally staring at them, and they at him, as he gives this testimony. And there are all kinds of people around affirming the reality of this. But it is the nature of determined, willful unbelief that it wants more evidence, but never wants to do anything with it. It’s really on a mad search to discredit. It keeps probing, not because it seeks the truth, but because it seeks justification for its conclusion. In Deuteronomy 32 and verse 20, Moses called apostates “children in whom is no faith.” Children in whom is no belief.

and thirdly, unbelief is irrational. With … facts, if you come to a wrong conclusion, you’re irrational. Unbelief is irrational. You face this all the time in trying to proclaim the Gospel to people. You give them the facts; you lay out the facts systematically like Peter did on the day of Pentecost. People reject it, because unbelief is irrational.

The people asked the man where Jesus was, and he said he did not know (verse 12).

Henry tells us why they asked that question:

Where is he? Some perhaps asked this question out of curiosity. “Where is he, that we may see him?” A man that did such cures as these might well be a show, which one would go a good way for the sight of. Others, perhaps, asked out of ill-will. “Where is he, that we may seize him?” There was a proclamation out for the discovering and apprehending of him (ch. 11 57); and the unthinking crowd, in spite of all reason and equity, will have ill thoughts of those that are put into an ill name. Some, we hope, asked this question out of good-will. “Where is he, that we may be acquainted with him? Where is he, that we may come to him, and share in the favours he is so free of?” In answer to this, he could say nothing: I know not. As soon as Christ had sent him to the pool of Siloam, it should seem, he withdrew immediately (as he did, ch. 5 13), and did not stay till the man returned, as if he either doubted of the effect or waited for the man’s thanks … Thus in the work of grace wrought upon the soul we see the change, but see not the hand that makes it; for the way of the Spirit is like that of the wind, which thou hearest the sound of, but canst not tell whence it comes nor whither it goes.

The people took the man to the Pharisees (verse 13).

When I read that verse, I thought of Luke 17:11-19, which is the Gospel for the Seventeenth Sunday after Trinity in Year C. Jesus healed ten lepers, and told them to visit the priest (Luke 17:14). Henry’s commentary states:

As the ceremonial law was yet in force, Christ took care that it should be observed, and the reputation of it kept up, and due honour paid to the priests in things pertaining to their function; but, probably, he had here a further design, which was to have the priest’s judgment of, and testimony to, the perfectness of the cure; and that the priest might be awakened, and others by him, to enquire after one that had such a commanding power over bodily diseases.

Perhaps some of the people had that in mind, too. However, John tells us that it was the Sabbath (verse 14), when no work was to be done. So, there was undoubtedly on the part of some in the crowd a malicious intent in bringing the man before the Pharisees so that they could further condemn Christ.

The Pharisees asked the man how he obtained his sight; the man responded with the facts, saying that He put mud on his eyes, then he washed and then he could see (verse 15).

Henry expresses the mood perfectly. His thoughts mirror those of MacArthur’s with regard to unbelief:

So much passion, prejudice, and ill-humour, and so little reason, appear here, that the discourse is nothing but crossing questions. One would think, when a man in these circumstances was brought before them, they would have been so taken up in admiring the miracle, and congratulating the happiness of the poor man, that they could not have been peevish with him. But their enmity to Christ had divested them of all manner of humanity, and divinity too. Let us see how they teased this man.

The Pharisees were divided (verse 16), as they were in John 7:

45 Finally the temple guards went back to the chief priests and the Pharisees, who asked them, “Why didn’t you bring him in?”

46 “No one ever spoke the way this man does,” the guards replied.

47 “You mean he has deceived you also?” the Pharisees retorted. 48 “Have any of the rulers or of the Pharisees believed in him? 49 No! But this mob that knows nothing of the law—there is a curse on them.”

50 Nicodemus, who had gone to Jesus earlier and who was one of their own number, asked, 51 “Does our law condemn a man without first hearing him to find out what he has been doing?”

52 They replied, “Are you from Galilee, too? Look into it, and you will find that a prophet does not come out of Galilee.”

Returning to today’s reading, the Pharisees asked the man what he thought of ‘him’, meaning Jesus; the man stated, ‘He is a prophet’ (verse 17).

MacArthur says:

he was right. He knew his Old Testament. There’s not one single healing of a blind man in the entire Old Testament. It was unheard of. He knew that …

So this man has caught the wind of this man, Jesus. He knows His name from verse 11. He knows He’s a prophet. He now believes He’s a prophet from God because of His miracle power. And so, He gives them a straightforward, sensible answer, which should’ve been the end of the investigation. Here’s the man. He can see. This must reveal Jesus as a Prophet.

This hardened the Pharisees against the man who then refused to believe that he had ever been blind, so they called in his parents (verse 18). The Pharisees asked the parents whether the man was their son who was born blind and, if so, how it was that he could see (verse 19).

MacArthur says:

Now remember, they’ve heard from the man, and the man is surrounded by all the strangers and neighbors who knew him and brought him and all that testimony collectively.  And they still don’t believe because again, unbelief is intractable.  I’m telling you this because you need to understand this is what you’re going to face when you give the Gospel.  Most of the people are going to reject what you tell them about the Gospel, throughout your whole life of ministry and evangelism, most people will not accept what you sayThen, there is an element of hostility toward the Gospel, and there’s an element of being intractable and immovable against the Gospel.  This is what we face.  The way is narrow.  Few there be that find it. 

So, this is the predisposed viewpoint.  They say look, we’re going to dig deeper into this, because they will not give up the notion that this man is a sinner and he is not from God.  So, there must be something about the story that they’re not seeing yet.  There’s some kind of cover-up here.  There’s some kind of lie.  There’s some kind of deception.  We’ve got to get to the bottom of this.

Henry has more:

This they did in hopes to disprove the miracle. These parents were poor and timorous, and if they had said that they could not be sure that this was their son, or that it was only some weakness or dimness in his sight that he had been born with, which if they had been able to get help for him might have been cured long since, or had otherwise prevaricated, for fear of the court, the Pharisees had gained their point, had robbed Christ of the honour of this miracle, which would have lessened the reputation of all the rest. But God so ordered and overruled this counsel of theirs that it turned to the more effectual proof of the miracle, and left them under a necessity of being either convinced or confounded.

The questions that were put to them (v. 19): They asked them in an imperious threatening way, “Is this your son? Dare you swear to it? Do you say he was born blind? Are you sure of it? Or did he but pretend to be so, to have an excuse for his begging? How then doth he now see? That is impossible, and therefore you had better unsay it.” Those who cannot bear the light of truth do all they can to eclipse it, and hinder the discovery of it. Thus the managers of evidence, or mismanagers rather, lead witnesses out of the way, and teach them how to conceal or disguise the truth, and so involve themselves in a double guilt, like that of Jeroboam, who sinned, and made Israel to sin.

The parents affirmed that the man was their son and that he had been born blind (verse 20).

They said they did not know how he came to see, nor by whom, so they told the Pharisees to ask him themselves, as he was an adult and could speak for himself (verse 21).

Our commentators point to the cowardice of the parents, but, we discover that they were afraid of the Jews, who had already agreed that anyone who confessed that Jesus was Messiah would be thrown out of the synagogue (verse 22). Therefore, his parents said, ‘He is of age; ask him’ (verse 23).

MacArthur explains why the parents said that:

They knew what it was to be thrown out of the synagogue, by the way, because their son had lived outside the synagogue. They knew what the ban was, what the curse was, with all its implications. They knew what being an outcast was, and they didn’t want that.

Can’t throw him out of the synagogue. He’s not in the synagogue.

MacArthur also explains how awful being thrown out of the synagogue was for worshippers. Essentially, you lost not only your fellowship of worshippers but all of your social contacts. The synagogue was every practising Jew’s meeting place:

Now, being thrown out of the synagogue was a big deal.  A very big deal.  If you were in Jewish society and you weren’t in the synagogue, you were like a leper.  There were three kinds of excommunication, but each of them had social implications, economic implications, and religious implications.  The first, according to the Talmud, there were three kinds of Shamatha, which means destruction.  That’s considered destruction, when you’re thrown out of the synagogue, cut off from God, the life of the countryThere is Nezifah, which was 7 days to 30 days.  7 days to 30 days, a week to a month.  You were out of the synagogue.  You were a pariah for those days.  Second, there was Niddui.  30 days and up.  That could last a long time.  Months, maybe years, depending on the crime.  And if you died under that ban, you had no funeral.  You were seriously dishonored.  The worst was Herem, which was an indefinite, permanent ban.  The rabbis used to say that being banned was far worse than being flogged, ‘cause of its implication socially and economically, as well as religiously. 

So, they didn’t want to get anywhere near having to experience what he experienced.  And since they couldn’t throw him out, they said, “Ask him; he’s of age.” 

The Pharisees called the man in again and asked him to recant giving Jesus the credit for his sight, which is why they said, ‘Give glory to God! We know that this man is a sinner’ (verse 24).

The man wisely answered that he did not know whether the one who healed him was a sinner, only that he was blind and now he can see (verse 25).

That verse was the inspiration for Amazing Grace, the fascinating story of which I will relate in a future post.

My exegesis concludes here.

This post continues my exegesis on John 4:5-42, the Gospel reading for the Third Sunday in Lent (Year A in the three-year Lectionary).

I normally browse Twitter on Sunday mornings. This is the first time I can recall a Sunday reading trending. This morning’s trend was ‘3rd Sunday in Lent’, and there were dozens of tweets from all over the world, many focusing on the Gospel. A few of them follow.

Some pertain to the living water of which Jesus spoke.

I like the multi-lingual posters in Mangalore:

Airedale Holy Cross (Anglican) in Leeds had two tweets:

There were others on the living water theme:

Here is a song about living water:

One priest posted his sermon:

Other tweets showed various genres of artwork depicting our Lord’s conversation with the Samaritan woman:

And, finally, the Catholic Archdiocese of Los Angeles focused on John 4:25-26 (emphases mine):

4:25 The woman said to him, “I know that Messiah is coming” (who is called Christ). “When he comes, he will proclaim all things to us.”

4:26 Jesus said to her, “I am he, the one who is speaking to you.”

Part 1 of my exegesis has the Gospel reading, a link to the others for this day and covers verses 5-19, with background on the biblical history of the animosity between the Jews and the Samaritans.

N.B.: WordPress technicians found a solution for my external links which were no longer opening automatically in new tabs. All should now open in new tabs.

Picking up on verse 19, where the woman, whom Jesus has told is guilty of adultery, says that He is a prophet, Matthew Henry‘s commentary tells us that she did not react defensively. Most sinners would have recoiled at a stranger knowing the truth about them:

She does not deny the truth of what he had charged her with, but by her silence owns the justice of the reproof; nor is she put into a passion by it, as many are when they are touched in a sore place, does not impute his censure to the general disgust the Jews had to the Samaritans, but (which is a rare thing) can bear to be told of a fault. But this is not all; she goes further: First, She speaks respectfully to him, calls him Sir. Thus should we honour those that deal faithfully with us. This was the effect of Christ’s meekness in reproving her; he gave her no ill language, and then she gave him none. Secondly, She acknowledges him to be a prophet, one that had a correspondence with Heaven. Note, The power of the word of Christ in searching the heart, and convincing the conscience of secret sins, is a great proof of its divine authority, 1 Cor 14 24, 25. Thirdly, She desires some further instruction from him. Many that are not angry at their reprovers, nor fly in their faces, yet are afraid of them and keep out of their way; but this woman was willing to have some more discourse with him that told her of her faults.

At this point, she moved on to matters spiritual.

She said to Jesus that her ancestors worshiped on ‘this mountain’ — Mount Gerizim — but that the Jews say that worship must take place in Jerusalem (verse 20). It is her way of asking which place is correct.

John MacArthur says that questions about worship are an important factor in evangelism:

That’s the question, “Where do I go to worship?” Her soul is bowing slowly. Her soul is bowing slowly and she knows that being right with God is a matter of worship. She doesn’t know where.

In evangelism, there is condescension, there is the offer of mercy, an unparalleled blessing and eternal life. There is the necessary confrontation and conviction of sin to bring the sinner to repentance. And this must be addressed, unacceptable worship must be abandoned, unacceptable worship must be abandoned …

the compelling thing I want you to see is she knew she needed to bow before God. She knew she needed to go to God and bow her knee and acknowledge Him and she didn’t know where to go. All she knew was external religion, because that’s all sinners ever know. That’s all they ever know. She is stunned by Jesus’ knowledge of her iniquitous pattern of life. Her conscience is pained. Her soul is pierced. She is unmasked as an adulterous covenant breaker. She is a stranger to righteousness. The weight of guilt which she spent a lot of her time trying to avoid has now come down in full force on her head. The reality breaks on her once indifferent mind that she needs to be right with God. And maybe that’s the path to living water and eternal life. She had to go to God.

Jesus answered her, saying that the hour is coming when she — and others — will not be worshipping God either on the mountain or in Jerusalem, emphasising His statement with the words ‘believe Me’ (verse 21).

Henry explains:

Note, It should cool us in our contests to think that those things which now fill us, and which we make such a noise about, shall shortly vanish, and be no more: the very things we are striving about are passing away: The hour comes when you shall neither in this mountain nor yet at Jerusalem worship the Father. First, The object of worship is supposed to continue still the same—God, as a Father; under this notion the very heathen worshipped God, the Jews did so, and probably the Samaritans. Secondly, But a period shall be put to all niceness and all differences about the place of worship. The approaching dissolution of the Jewish economy, and the erecting of the evangelical state, shall set this matter at large, and lay all in common, so that it shall be a thing perfectly indifferent whether in either of these places or any other men worship God, for they shall not be tied to any place; neither here nor there, but both, and any where, and every where. Note, The worship of God is not now, under the gospel, appropriated to any place, as it was under the law, but it is God’s will that men pray every where. 1 Tim 2 8; Mal 1 11. Our reason teaches us to consult decency and convenience in the places of our worship: but our religion gives no preference to one place above another, in respect to holiness and acceptableness to God. Those who prefer any worship merely for the sake of the house or building in which it is performed (though it were as magnificent and as solemnly consecrated as ever Solomon’s temple was) forget that the hour is come when there shall be no difference put in God’s account: no, not between Jerusalem, which had been so famous for sanctity, and the mountain of Samaria, which had been so infamous for impiety.

MacArthur reminds us of what happened in AD 70, a few decades after Jesus had this conversation:

“An hour is coming”–and He says it again in verse 23–“an hour is coming and now already is when neither in this mountain nor in Jerusalem will you worship the Father.” Not long after this, a few decades, 70 A.D. comes. The Romans come at the end of the Jewish rebellion that started in 66 and the Romans come and they destroy Jerusalem and they crush the temple and don’t leave one stone upon another and there’s no more temple worship. And then the Roman powers go up into the area of Samaria. They arrive at Mount Gerizim and historical accounts tell us they took out their swords and they slaughtered thousands of Samaritans on Mount Gerizim and brought an end to that worship as well. Jesus is giving the prophecy of what’s coming and coming very fast, and it already now is in the sense that the New Covenant is almost in place. It’s not long until it be ratified in His death on the cross. Our Lord’s answer is a very crucial, crucial answer.

Jesus told her that she — and the other Samaritans — worshipped what they did not know, whereas the Jews worshipped what they knew, for salvation was from the Jews (verse 22).

MacArthur interprets our Lord’s words as follows:

This is a critique, a simple and brief critique of Samaritan religion, which was limited as I said to the Pentateuch, and then the mixed in pagan, idolatrous elements of religion from those with whom they intermarried.

“You don’t even know what to worship. At least we Jews worship what we know, for salvation is from the Jews.” That is, the Scripture was given to the Jews, the Messiah comes through Israel, that’s all He means by that. It’s not for the Jews only, but it’s from the Jews. But He’s saying we have the right data, we have the Scriptures, the oracles of God (Romans 3, Paul says). We have the truth. We know the truth. That’s not a commendation of Jewish religion, by the way, because it was apostate and Jesus denounced it repeatedly.

But nonetheless God had deposited the truth with them, and through them would come Messiah. So we have that on you. You don’t even know what you’re doing. We at least have the revelation of God about worship.

Jesus said that the hour is now coming, indeed it is here, when the true worshippers will worship the Father in spirit and in truth, for the Father seeks such people to worship Him (verse 23).

Again, He was speaking of the coming destruction of the temple and all that was associated with it as well as the slaughter of the Samaritans.

MacArthur says:

There’s no more priesthood. There’s no more altars. There’s no more sacrifices. There’s no more vestments. There are no more incense, candles, all that goes with it. Whether it is the ill-informed worship of the Samaritans or the apostate worship of the Jews, it all disappears, it all passes away. No more mountains, no more temples, no more priests, no more sacrifices, no more altars, no more vestments, no more feasts, no more Sabbaths, none of it–all that is ripped apart, disappeared. And the punctuation point was made in 70 A.D. I mean, it had always been that God wanted heart worship, that’s why Amos said, “Stop your songs, your hearts aren’t right. I hate your feasts. I hate your Sabbaths. I hate what you’re doing.” Malachi said the same thing, “All you ever bring Me is lame animals.” Isaiah 1 said the same thing: your whole head is sick from top to bottom. It’s always been about the heart, but all those symbols that once pointed them in the direction of heart worship are gone, are gone

Jesus told the woman that God is spirit and, therefore, those who worship Him must do so in spirit and in truth (verse 24).

MacArthur continues:

Christ ushered in a new era of worship, doesn’t focus on externals or on symbols, but on what is internal and what is real and what is genuine. All you need to worship is the truth in the Scripture and a heart that loves God anywhere and everywhere. Such people the Father seeks to be His worshipers. He wants worshipers who worship in spirit and in truth. He is a spirit, verse 24. And those who worship Him must worship in spirit and truth.

MacArthur points out the doctrine here:

By the way, we worship the Father, we worship the Father. Twice in verse 23 refer to meaning God, the true God, God Himself, but it’s not limited to Him. He is the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. The very term “Father” ties Him into Christ as Son. He’s not a Father if He doesn’t have the Son. So we worship the God who is Father and Father of the Lord Jesus Christ, as so often is repeated in the New Testament. We worship the God who is also the Holy Spirit–God the Father, God the Son, God the Holy Spirit, the true God. And we start with truth, right? We start with the truth about God; God is the Trinity.

The woman pursued the conversation saying that she knew that Messiah — Christ — was coming and that, when He came, He would proclaim all things (verse 25).

Henry gives us the Greek used, which means that she thought Messiah’s arrival was imminent:

The Samaritans received the writings of Moses, and were no strangers to the prophets, nor to the hopes of the Jewish nation; those who knew least knew this, that Messias was to come; so general and uncontested was the expectation of him, and at this time more raised than ever (for the sceptre was departed from Judah, Daniel’s weeks were near expiring), so that she concludes not only, He will come, but erchetai—”He comes, he is just at hand: Messias, who is called Christ. The evangelist, though he retains the Hebrew word Messias (which the woman used) in honour to the holy language, and to the Jewish church, that used it familiarly, yet, writing for the use of the Gentiles, he takes care to render it by a Greek word of the same signification, who is called Christ-Anointed, giving an example to the apostle’s rule, that whatever is spoken in an unknown or less vulgar tongue should be interpreted, 1 Cor 14 27, 28.

Henry explains what she meant by Messiah’s proclamation of ‘all things’:

What she expects from him: He will tell us all things relating to the service of God which it is needful for us to know, will tell us that which will supply our defects, rectify our mistakes, and put an end to all our disputes. He will tell us the mind of God fully and clearly, and keep back nothing.” Now this implies an acknowledgement, First, Of the deficiency and imperfection of the discovery they now had of the divine will, and the rule they had of the divine worship; it could not make the comers thereunto perfect, and therefore they expected some great advance and improvement in matters of religion, a time of reformation. Secondly, Of the sufficiency of the Messiah to make this change: “He will tell us all things which we want to know, and about which we wrangle in the dark. He will introduce peace, by leading us into all truth, and dispelling the mists of error.” It seems, this was the comfort of good people in those dark times that light would arise; if they found themselves at a loss, and run aground, it was a satisfaction to them to say, When Messias comes, he will tell us all things; as it may be to us now with reference to his second coming: now we see through a glass, but then face to face.

Then Jesus said to her, ‘I am He, the One who is speaking to you’ (verse 26). One cannot imagine what she must have thought at that moment.

MacArthur gives us the text from the manuscript for that statement:

Jesus said to her, “I who speak to you AM.” There’s no “He” in the original; it’s an I AM statement, the name of God. “I who speak to you AM.” The One speaking to you is the I AM. This is the final point in the glorious culmination. The incarnate Christ is revealed–the unveiling of Christ. She is ready for the truth, and He is there to give it to her. I who speak to you, I AM.

Twenty-three times in the gospel of John we read “I AM.” Seven times He says “I AM” something: the Bread of Life, the Branch, the Way, the Truth, the Life–all references to His eternal Godhood. He reveals Himself to her.

What a blessed woman she became.

MacArthur tells us how conversion works in our Lord’s physical absence. Here we understand that He is always with us, even if we cannot see Him:

This is how it works with the sinner. It starts when we condescend in love and compassion; when we offer the marvelous realities of mercy and blessing, the promises of eternal life, and then we move to confront the sin. And if the sinner will turn under the power of the Holy Spirit and repent of sin and reach out for the truth, it is at that point that Christ is disclosed to the sinner. He reveals Himself to her.

In response to her faith, in response to her repentance, this outcast, immoral, ignorant woman that our Lord sat down to talk with was completely disinterested and now she wants the truth about the life of God that is eternal, that her heart craves so desperately. She wants forgiveness for her wretched life. And in that moment when she believes and when she repents, He is revealed to her.

This is a divine work, isn’t it? She knew nothing about Him at all when it started. Now she wants to know everything about Him that’s available so she can be a true worshiper

You know, I don’t want to overdo this, or turn it into some kind of an analogy, but I would simply say this: when you’ve taken the steps, and obviously we can’t know people’s history like Jesus did, but when you’ve taken the steps to make the condescending conversation begin, initiated it, and when you’ve taken the steps to unfold, and unpack the beauties of the promise of the satisfying gifts that God gives to those who come to Him, and when you’ve confronted sin, and when you’ve warned the people that they have to turn from false worship to true worship, if you’ve done all of that, then you can leave it to God to unveil the truth concerning Himself. That’s the divine work. That’s what heaven has to do.

Just then, our Lord’s disciples arrived, astonished to find Him speaking with a woman, although they did not ask for a reason why (verse 27). Men and women did not converse in those days.

It was part of the divine plan that they did not arrive until just after Christ revealed to the woman that He is the Messiah.

MacArthur examines that timing for us and how it fit into the overall plan for evangelisation:

… notice verse 27, “At this point,” and in the Greek that is very, very specific. “At this point,” at this specific moment. This is a critical juncture. The disciples had finished their business in Sychar. It took whatever time it took to do whatever they needed to do to get the food and walk back. They returned to the well at this moment, at this point. You wouldn’t use that phrase unless you were trying to make a point of the precise timing that was going on there. The very moment Jesus had declared who He was, and the woman turned with that in her and couldn’t get to the village fast enough to tell everyone, at that moment, as that conversation comes to an end, the disciples arrive. If they arrive earlier, the conversation gets interrupted. If they arrive earlier, they begin to ask questions. They engage in the conversation, and we know what their questions would be because they have them in their minds. If they arrive late, they don’t even know about the conversation. The timing is perfect. They’re not too early and they’re not too late. They arrive exactly on time to see Jesus shattering barriers of tradition and prejudice. They see Jesus do what He wants them to do. What does He want them to do? He’s going to tell them…He’s going to tell them before His ascension in Acts 1:8, He’s going to say, You shall be witnesses unto Me in Jerusalem, Judea”…Then what?…Samaria and the ends of the earth.” He’s showing them what He wants them to do.

Yes, the gospel was for Israel, but it was for the world. And when it couldn’t go through Israel, God put judgment on Israel and carved out a new channel—His church made up of Jew and Gentile. God foreordains everything. When it said that, of necessity, Jesus went through Samaria, it was a divine necessity to be at a certain point at a certain time. Every moment, every detail, a thousand details caused everything to converge exactly the way it did, and yet Christ moves, as He always does, effortlessly through the conversation. It’s not forced. It’s not hurried. It comes to its climactic end with the claim that He is the Messiah and she affirms that. He operated on that amazing schedule. He says over and over again, and particularly to the gospel of John that we are in debt for this, “My time has not come,” “My time has not come.” His time had not come. And there are occasions when He said, “My time has come; My hour has come.” He was operating on a divine timetable.

Both our commentators agree that the disciples said nothing to Jesus about His conversation with a woman because they thought He had a good reason for it.

Henry says:

they knew it was for some good reason, and some good end, of which he was not bound to give them an account, and therefore none of them asked, What seekest thou? or, Why talkest thou with her? Thus, when particular difficulties occur in the word and providence of God, it is good to satisfy ourselves with this in general, that all is well which Jesus Christ saith and doeth.

MacArthur says:

They kept silent. Why did they keep silent? Well, though they are new disciples, though they haven’t been with Jesus very long, they’re beginning to learn what all disciples need to learn and that is trust. Here’s how your discipleship goes. When you’re new in Christ, you question everything. When you’re mature in Christ, you question nothing. And in the process you go from questioning everything to questioning nothing.

Then the woman left her water jar and went back to the city, saying to the people (verse 28) to come and see a man who told her everything she had ever done, asking, ‘He cannot be the Messiah, can he?’ (verse 29).

John adds that marvellous detail about her leaving her water jar behind. I can think of several reasons why she did so. First, the notion that she came face to face with the Messiah who revealed everything she had ever done must have filled her with an eager awe to tell others. Secondly, she did not want to be slowed down on a mile-and-a-half trip into the city with a full jar of water. Thirdly, as she was calling people to meet Jesus, she would naturally return for her jar. Fourthly, she no doubt also left it behind for the Messiah and His companions to enjoy with their lunch.

She must have been persuasive when she went to Sychar, because John tells us that the people left the city and went to meet Him (verse 30).

Notice that she asks whether the man she met is the Messiah. She knows deep in her heart that He is but, being a woman in a patriarchal era, she must not stamp her authority on a personal statement.

However, MacArthur adds that she posed the question in order that the people discovered the truth for themselves:

she defers to them as men; she’s gracious about that, and she’s open about the fact that everything that I’ve lived, all the wretchedness of my life. He knew; He knew it all. Come see this…this…Is this the Messiah? And she poses it negatively because she wants them to make the discovery. She doesn’t want to force that on them. And so they responded.

Henry has more:

Two things affected her:—First, the extent of his knowledge. We ourselves cannot tell all things that ever we did (many things pass unheeded, and more pass away and are forgotten); but Jesus Christ knows all the thoughts, words, and actions, of all the children of men; see Heb 4 13. He hath said, I know thy works. Secondly, The power of his word. This made a great impression upon her, that he told her her secret sins with such an unaccountable power and energy that, being told of one, she is convinced of all, and judged of all. She does not say, “Come, see a man that has told me strange things concerning religious worship, and the laws of it, that has decided the controversy between this mountain and Jerusalem, a man that calls himself the Messias; but, Come see a man that has told me of my sins.” She fastens upon that part of Christ’s discourse which one would think she would have been most shy of repeating; but experimental proofs of the power of Christ’s word and Spirit are of all others the most cogent and convincing; and that knowledge of Christ into which we are led by the conviction of sin and humiliation is most likely to be sound and saving.

Meanwhile, back at the well, the disciples were urging Jesus to eat something (verse 31).

But He replied that He had food to eat that they knew nothing about (verse 32).

The disciples asked each other whether someone nearby might have brought Him sustenance in their absence (verse 33).

Jesus then gave them a brief discourse on the work of saving souls.

He said that His food was to do the will of the Father, who sent Him, and to complete His work (verse 34).

MacArthur reminds us that in the Old Testament God was often referred to as ‘God our Saviour’:

That is an Old Testament title for God. He is by nature a saving God—God who is the Savior of all men, especially of those that believe. He’s the Savior of all men in the sense that He even temporally and physically doesn’t give sinners what they deserve when they deserve it. If He did, they would all perish, we would all be dead the first time we sinned. God by nature is a Savior, is patient and gracious, and merciful and kind, hoping that His mercy leads us to repentance. And so He’s even in a temporal sense demonstrating that He’s a Savior by nature. In a spiritual sense, He does it eternally and spiritually when He brings us to true salvation …

Therefore, this was essential for Jesus:

His joy, His exhilaration, His delight was in the work of the Father in saving sinners. That’s His joy. That caused His heart to be so uplifted that He had no thought of physical hunger. There is evidence then of who He is from providence. There is evidence from priority, the focus of His life. He came to seek and save the lost.

Henry also says that Jesus takes delight in saving souls:

How Christ expresses the delight which he himself had in his work. His work was to seek and save that which was lost, to go about doing good. Now with this work we here find him wholly taken up.

Jesus asked the disciples if they did not say, ‘Four months more, then comes the harvest’, then, as if by way of illustration, told them to look around and see how the fields were ripe for harvesting (verse 35).

In older translations, ‘white’ is used for ‘ripe’. MacArthur explains that John is referring not only to crops once matured but also to the Samaritans arriving:

That’s a beautiful moment. Here come the villagers with their typically Middle Eastern, ancient white robes and when the harvest is white, it means that the tops of the grain have turned white and the harvest is ready. The green grain is still there but here come the white Samaritans and they’re like grain ready to be harvested. “Don’t say four months. I’m telling you, lift up your eyes, the harvest is now.”

What’s He talking about? He prophesies that those people are going to be saved that day. He not only knows the past of the woman, He knows the future of the village.

Jesus continued, saying that the reaper is already receiving wages and is gathering fruit for eternal life, so that sower and reaper may rejoice together (verse 36).

He said that the saying ‘One sows and another reaps’ holds true (verse 37).

He added that He sent them to reap that for which they did not labour; others had laboured, and the disciples had entered into their labour (verse 38).

MacArthur explains what Jesus meant:

Right now, you’re here and right now you are going to have the joy of reaping and receiving the benefit, the wages, the blessing that comes to those that gather fruit for life eternal. You’re going to be part of a revival right here. “And he who sows and he who reaps may rejoice together, for in this case the saying is true. One sows and another reaps.”

What does He mean by that? You’re going to reap what you didn’t sow. Who…who sowed? Who sowed into these Samaritans, Moses? They had the Pentateuch. Some of the prophets from which had developed their Messianic ideas; is it possible John the Baptist? There’s one other sower, the woman. She went and she told them what had happened to her. Something from Moses, something from the prophets, and something maybe had drifted from John the Baptist’s extensive ministry. Remember, he had moved north for the last number of months. And this is how it is. Some sow, some reap, and God…What?…gives the increase. So He’s teaching His disciples a lesson. And He’s saying, “I sent you to reap that for which you haven’t labored, others have labored and you’ve entered into their labor.” You’ve come at the end of the labor to reap the harvest, and you’re going to reap it today. What an amazing day, amazing day.

How does He know this? Because He not only knows what people think—He not only knows the past, He knows the future. He knows they’re going to be saved that day. After all, He’s the Savior; He’s the one who gives life. He’s the one who determines salvation. So evidence comes from prophecy.

Henry points to the hard work that goes on in a harvest of crops:

See here how Christ, having expressed his delight in his work, excites his disciples to diligence in their work; they were workers with him, and therefore should be workers like him, and make their work their meat, as he did. The work they had to do was to preach the gospel, and to set up the kingdom of the Messiah. Now this work he here compares to harvest work, the gathering in of the fruits of the earth; and this similitude he prosecutes throughout the discourse, v. 35-38. Note, gospel time is harvest time, and gospel work harvest work. The harvest is before appointed and expected; so was the gospel. Harvest time is busy time; all hands must be then at work: every one must work for himself, that he may reap of the graces and comforts of the gospel: ministers must work for God, to gather in souls to him. Harvest time is opportunity, a short and limited time, which will not last always; and harvest work is work that must be done then or not at all; so the time of the enjoyment of the gospel is a particular season, which must be improved for its proper purposes; for, once past, it cannot be recalled. The disciples were to gather in a harvest of souls for Christ. Now he here suggests three things to them to quicken them to diligence:—

(1.) That it was necessary work, and the occasion for it very urgent and pressing (v. 35): You say, It is four months to harvest; but I say, The fields are already white. Here is,

[1.] A saying of Christ’s disciples concerning the corn-harvest; there are yet four months, and then comes harvest, which may be taken either generally—”You say, for the encouragement of the sower at seed-time, that it will be but four months to the harvest.” With us it is but about four months between the barley-sowing and the barley-harvest, probably it was so with them as to other grain; or, “Particularly, now at this time you reckon it will be four months to next harvest, according to the ordinary course of providence.” The Jews’ harvest began at the Passover, about Easter, much earlier in the year than ours, by which it appears that this journey of Christ from Judea to Galilee was in the winter, about the end of November, for he travelled all weathers to do good. God has not only promised us a harvest every year, but has appointed the weeks of harvest; so that we know when to expect it, and take our measures accordingly.

[2.] A saying of Christ’s concerning the gospel harvest; his heart was as much upon the fruits of his gospel as the hearts of others were upon the fruits of the earth; and to this he would lead the thoughts of his disciples: Look, the fields are already white unto the harvest. First, Here in this place, where they now were, there was harvest work for him to do. They would have him to eat, v. 31. “Eat!” saith he, “I have other work to do, that is more needful; look what crowds of Samaritans are coming out of the town over the fields that are ready to receive the gospel;” probably there were many now in view. People’s forwardness to hear the word is a great excitement to ministers’ diligence and liveliness in preaching it. Secondly, In other places, all the country over, there was harvest work enough for them all to do. “Consider the regions, think of the state of the country, and you will find there are multitudes as ready to receive the gospel as a field of corn that is fully ripe is ready to be reaped.” The fields were now made white to the harvest, 1. By the decree of God revealed in the prophecies of the Old Testament. Now was the time when the gathering of the people should be to Christ ( Gen 49 10), when great accessions should be made to the church and the bounds of it should be enlarged, and therefore it was time for them to be busy. It is a great encouragement to us to engage in any work for God, if we understand by the signs of the times that this is the proper season for that work, for then it will prosper. 2. By the disposition of men. John Baptist had made ready a people prepared for the Lord, Luke 1 17. Since he began to preach the kingdom of God every man pressed into it, Luke 16 16. This, therefore, was a time for the preachers of the gospel to apply themselves to their work with the utmost vigour, to thrust in their sickle, when the harvest was ripe, Rev 14 15. It was necessary to work now, pity that such a season should be let slip. If the corn that is ripe be not reaped, it will shed and be lost, and the fowls will pick it up. If souls that are under convictions, and have some good inclinations, be not helped now, their hopeful beginnings will come to nothing, and they will be a prey to pretenders. It was also easy to work now; when the people’s hearts are prepared the work will be done suddenly, 2 Chron 29 36. It cannot but quicken ministers to take pains in preaching the word when they observe that people take pleasure in hearing it.

Returning to the Samaritans, in verse 39, John says that many of them believed in Jesus because of the woman’s testimony; he also reprises what the she said in verse 29, “He told me everything I have ever done.”

Both Henry and MacArthur point out a mass conversion such as this never happened among the Jews during our Lord’s ministry.

Henry says simply:

Who they were that believed: Many of the Samaritans, who were not of the house of Israel. Their faith was not only an aggravation of the unbelief of the Jews, from whom better might have been expected, but an earnest of the faith of the Gentiles, who would welcome that which the Jews rejected.

MacArthur reminds us of other episodes in our Lord’s ministry and contrasts those with the Samaritans in this passage:

Do you know that never happened in a village in Israel? In fact, the disciples were getting so tired of going into villages and proclaiming Christ and having Christ come in and being rejected and mistreated, that James and John came to Jesus and said, “Do You want us to call down fire from heaven and incinerate the town?” Jesus said, “Back off, guys.” This never happened. This never happened in Judea. He went to His own village in Galilee—the village of Nazareth—to preach one sermon; they tried to stone Him to death. This is a very significant event. The only time a town is converted and this is to tell us that He is the Savior of the world. And His people have rejected Him; He will go to the world. He tells the disciples what Paul says in 2 Timothy 2, “The hard-working farmer does what he does because he gets to taste the fruit.” Today you’re going to have a great experience.

Now remember, eventually they’re going to get the Great Commission. They’re going to go to the Judea, Samaria, the uttermost part of the earth. They need to know that when they go there will be fruit there. They need to know that they’ll taste the fruit. They’ll go, they’ll plant, they’ll water, they’ll labor—God will give the increase. They’ll enjoy the fruit. So this is a preview of things to come, after His ascension when the Holy Spirit came upon them and they were sent to the world. You’re going to find joy and rejoicing in the fact that God will honor your efforts.

Henry is so correct in mentioning earnest faith, because the Samaritans asked Jesus to stay with them, and He stayed there two days (verse 40). John tells us that many more believed because of His word (verse 41).

Did Jesus ever receive such hospitality from another group of people? No, he did not.

MacArthur wonders what those two days must have been like. He’s not the only one. I do, and I reckon you do, too:

I don’t know what those two days were like, but that must have been incredible. It’s the only time in His earthly ministry that ever happened. It’s the only time it ever happened where He actually spent two days with a whole town, revealing Himself who He was. And I’m sure He talked about the cross and the resurrection and the kingdom.

The Samaritans said to the woman, ‘It is no longer because of what you said that we believe, for we have heard for ourselves, and we know that this is truly the Savior of the world’ (verse 42), which sounds on the face of it to be a bit demeaning to her, but we should take it as, ‘He is everything you said He was — and more’.

Henry describes how their faith grew during those two days:

what he said and did there is not related, whether he healed their sick or no; but it is intimated, in the effect, that he said and did that which convinced them that he was the Christ; and the labours of a minister are best told by the good fruit of them. Their hearing of him had a good effect, but now their eyes saw him; and the effect was, 1. That their number grew (v. 41): Many more believed: many that would not be persuaded to go out of the town to him were yet wrought upon, when he came among them, to believe in him. Note, It is comfortable to see the number of believers; and sometimes the zeal and forwardness of some may be a means to provoke many, and to stir them up to a holy emulation, Rom 11 14. 2. That their faith grew. Those who had been wrought upon by the report of the woman now saw cause to say, Now we believe, not because of thy saying, v. 42. Here are three things in which their faith grew:(1.) In the matter of it, or that which they did believe. Upon the testimony of the woman, they believed him to be a prophet, or some extraordinary messenger from heaven; but now that they have conversed with him they believe that he is the Christ, the Anointed One, the very same that was promised to the fathers and expected by them, and that, being the Christ, he is the Saviour of the world; for the work to which he was anointed was to save his people from their sins. They believed him to be the Saviour not only of the Jews, but of the world, which they hoped would take them in, though Samaritans, for it was promised that he should be Salvation to the ends of the earth, Isa 49 6. (2.) In the certainty of it; their faith now grew up to a full assurance: We know that this is indeed the Christ; alethostruly; not a pretended Christ, but a real one; not a typical Saviour, as many under the Old Testament, but truly one. Such an assurance as this of divine truths is what we should labour after; not only, We think it probable, and are willing to suppose that Jesus may be the Christ, but, We know that he is indeed the Christ. (3.) In the ground of it, which was a kind of spiritual sensation and experience: Now we believe, not because of thy saying, for we have heard him ourselves. They had before believed for her saying, and it was well, it was a good step; but now they find further and much firmer footing for their faith: “Now we believe because we have heard him ourselves, and have heard such excellent and divine truths, accompanied with such commanding power and evidence, that we are abundantly satisfied and assured that this is the Christ. This is like what the queen of Sheba said of Solomon (1 Kings 10 6, 7): The one half was not told me. The Samaritans, who believed for the woman’s saying, now gained further light; for to him that hath shall be given; he that is faithful in a little shall be trusted with more. In this instance we may see how faith comes by hearing. [1.] Faith comes to the birth by hearing the report of men. These Samaritans, for the sake of the woman’s saying, believed so far as to come and see, to come and make trial. Thus the instructions of parents and preachers, and the testimony of the church and our experienced neighbours, recommend the doctrine of Christ to our acquaintance, and incline us to entertain it as highly probable. But, [2.] Faith comes to its growth, strength, and maturity, by hearing the testimony of Christ himself; and this goes further, and recommends his doctrine to our acceptance, and obliges us to believe it as undoubtedly certain. We were induced to look into the scriptures by the saying of those who told us that in them they had found eternal life; but when we ourselves have found it in them too, have experienced the enlightening, convincing, regenerating, sanctifying, comforting, power of the word, now we believe, not for their saying, but because we have searched them ourselves: and our faith stands not in the wisdom of men, but in the power of God, 1 Cor 2 5; 1 John 5 9, 10.

What a wonderful story. Yes, it is one most of us know well, but to dig deeper into it affords us spiritual treasure beyond value.

The Third Sunday in Lent is March 12, 2023.

Readings for Year A can be found here.

The Gospel is as follows (emphases mine):

John 4:5-42

4:5 So he came to a Samaritan city called Sychar, near the plot of ground that Jacob had given to his son Joseph.

4:6 Jacob’s well was there, and Jesus, tired out by his journey, was sitting by the well. It was about noon.

4:7 A Samaritan woman came to draw water, and Jesus said to her, “Give me a drink.”

4:8 (His disciples had gone to the city to buy food.)

4:9 The Samaritan woman said to him, “How is it that you, a Jew, ask a drink of me, a woman of Samaria?” (Jews do not share things in common with Samaritans.)

4:10 Jesus answered her, “If you knew the gift of God, and who it is that is saying to you, ‘Give me a drink,’ you would have asked him, and he would have given you living water.”

4:11 The woman said to him, “Sir, you have no bucket, and the well is deep. Where do you get that living water?

4:12 Are you greater than our ancestor Jacob, who gave us the well, and with his sons and his flocks drank from it?”

4:13 Jesus said to her, “Everyone who drinks of this water will be thirsty again,

4:14 but those who drink of the water that I will give them will never be thirsty. The water that I will give will become in them a spring of water gushing up to eternal life.”

4:15 The woman said to him, “Sir, give me this water, so that I may never be thirsty or have to keep coming here to draw water.”

4:16 Jesus said to her, “Go, call your husband, and come back.”

4:17 The woman answered him, “I have no husband.” Jesus said to her, “You are right in saying, ‘I have no husband’;

4:18 for you have had five husbands, and the one you have now is not your husband. What you have said is true!”

4:19 The woman said to him, “Sir, I see that you are a prophet.

4:20 Our ancestors worshiped on this mountain, but you say that the place where people must worship is in Jerusalem.”

4:21 Jesus said to her, “Woman, believe me, the hour is coming when you will worship the Father neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem.

4:22 You worship what you do not know; we worship what we know, for salvation is from the Jews.

4:23 But the hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father seeks such as these to worship him.

4:24 God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth.”

4:25 The woman said to him, “I know that Messiah is coming” (who is called Christ). “When he comes, he will proclaim all things to us.”

4:26 Jesus said to her, “I am he, the one who is speaking to you.”

4:27 Just then his disciples came. They were astonished that he was speaking with a woman, but no one said, “What do you want?” or, “Why are you speaking with her?”

4:28 Then the woman left her water jar and went back to the city. She said to the people,

4:29 “Come and see a man who told me everything I have ever done! He cannot be the Messiah, can he?”

4:30 They left the city and were on their way to him.

4:31 Meanwhile the disciples were urging him, “Rabbi, eat something.”

4:32 But he said to them, “I have food to eat that you do not know about.”

4:33 So the disciples said to one another, “Surely no one has brought him something to eat?”

4:34 Jesus said to them, “My food is to do the will of him who sent me and to complete his work.

4:35 Do you not say, ‘Four months more, then comes the harvest’? But I tell you, look around you, and see how the fields are ripe for harvesting.

4:36 The reaper is already receiving wages and is gathering fruit for eternal life, so that sower and reaper may rejoice together.

4:37 For here the saying holds true, ‘One sows and another reaps.’

4:38 I sent you to reap that for which you did not labor. Others have labored, and you have entered into their labor.”

4:39 Many Samaritans from that city believed in him because of the woman’s testimony, “He told me everything I have ever done.”

4:40 So when the Samaritans came to him, they asked him to stay with them; and he stayed there two days.

4:41 And many more believed because of his word.

4:42 They said to the woman, “It is no longer because of what you said that we believe, for we have heard for ourselves, and we know that this is truly the Savior of the world.”

Commentary comes from Matthew Henry and John MacArthur.

I will be writing this in more than one part, as this is almost a whole chapter. As such, Forbidden Bible Verses will appear sometime next week.

Last week’s reading — John 3:1-17 — was about the prominent Pharisee Nicodemus who sought Jesus in the night to learn more about Him.

It is interesting to contrast our Lord’s one-on-one encounter with him compared to that of the Samaritan woman, who was an outcast and an adulteress.

In both, Jesus cites spiritual analogies involving water. In the case of Nicodemus, it was being born of water and the Spirit. Here it is about receiving living water. Both analogies point to eternal salvation.

John MacArthur says:

We learn some things from Nicodemus, how to respond to someone who comes and says, “I want to enter the kingdom,” and Jesus says, “Well, wait a minute, that’s not in your power, you need to be born from above.” And we understand that.  And so you need to pray and ask God for that new birth if you want to be in His kingdom …

Unlike Nicodemus, who sought out Jesus, here’s a woman who wasn’t looking for Him at all, didn’t know He existed, had no idea who He was.  He is an unknown, unsought stranger that she meets sitting on a well who is as far as she is concerned really bizarre, strange.  He is saying very strange things, things she can’t sort out—at least that’s how it starts.

Jesus dismisses her indifference.  It’s not a barrier.  He dismisses her ignorance. It’s not a barrier.  And He dismisses, this is important, her immorality …  That’s not the enemy, that’s the mission field.  And all sinners are in the same situation headed for the same hell, even if they’re not homosexuals or they’re not Islamic terrorists. They’re alienated from God and it’s our responsibility in this world to go to them.  They are the sick who need the physician They are the unrighteous, the sinners.

After Jesus met with Nicodemus, St John tells us that He was baptising at the same time as John the Baptist (John 3:22-24):

22 After this, Jesus and his disciples went out into the Judean countryside, where he spent some time with them, and baptized. 23 Now John also was baptizing at Aenon near Salim, because there was plenty of water, and people were coming and being baptized. 24 (This was before John was put in prison.)

At the beginning of John 4, the evangelist tells us that Jesus had His disciples do the baptising. The Pharisees, who did not like John the Baptist, found out that Jesus was gaining more disciples than His cousin, hence our Lord’s departure (John 4:1-4):

Now Jesus learned that the Pharisees had heard that he was gaining and baptizing more disciples than John— although in fact it was not Jesus who baptized, but his disciples. So he left Judea and went back once more to Galilee.

Now he had to go through Samaria.

By the time that happened, John the Baptist was in prison, as Matthew Henry’s commentary tells us:

Observe, 1. When the Pharisees thought they had got rid of John (for he was by this time imprisoned), and were pleasing themselves with that, Jesus appears, who was a greater vexation to them than ever John had been. The witnesses will rise again. 2. That which grieved them was that Christ made so many disciples. The success of the gospel exasperates its enemies, and it is a good sign that it is getting ground when the powers of darkness are enraged against it.

The quickest way to Galilee was through Samaria, although because the Jews considered Samaritans unclean, the more pious among them went via one of two more circuitous routes.

MacArthur surmises there was also a divine plan involved in going through Samaria:

If you are a severely fastidious and sort of orthodox Jew, worried about defilement, you either take the coastal route, or you take the eastern route across the Jordan River because you don’t want to go through Samaria.  But here He had to pass through Samaria. 

Literally in the Greek, it was necessary, it was required for Him to go through Samaria.  We could argue that it was the shortest route and so that laid the necessity on Him.  He wanted to get out of there.  And He didn’t want to prolong His trip. He wanted to get to Galilee as quickly as possible so He took the shortest route.  But I think we would have to go beyond that and say He had to go through Samaria because there was a sovereign appointment, that it was established for Him with a woman by a well and that had been ordained before the foundation of the world. And it was going to lead to her salvation and the salvation of an entire group of people from a local Samaritan village He had to go that way. 

MacArthur says that St John includes the story of the Samaritan woman as further proof of His deity, the theme of his Gospel:

… the purpose of John is not set aside here, and the purpose of John is stated again in chapter 20, verse 31 of his gospel: “These things are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that believing you might have life in His name.”  So while it is about the woman and her conversion, that is the secondary purpose of this section as we would know, being consistent with John’s mission.  The primary purpose is to unveil Christ.  The primary purpose is to declare Jesus as the Messiah, the Son of God. The primary purpose is to put Him on display.  And in this account, His humanity is on display as He is weary and thirsty sitting by a well.

But His deity is also on display because He meets a woman whom He has never met in His life and He knows her entire history.  So we see His humanity and His weariness.  We see His deity and His omniscience.  It is then, more than it is anything else, a presentation of Christ.  And what makes it unique is that up to now in the gospel of John, John the writer, John the apostle has presented Christ as the Son of God John the Baptist has presented Christ as the Messiah.  The disciples of Jesus have given testimony to the fact that He is the Messiah. So we have the witness of John the apostle.  We have the witness of John the Baptist.  We have the witness of the disciples.  But this is the first time that the proclamation of the messiahship of Jesus comes from His own lips and that we find in verses 25 and 26 where the woman speaks of the Christ, the Messiah who will come, and Jesus said to her in verse 26, “I who speak to you am He.”

John tells us that Jesus came to a Samaritan city called Sychar, near the plot of ground that Jacob gave to his son Joseph (verse 5).

MacArthur reminds us that Samaria’s history began in 722 BC:

Samaritans were essentially a corrupted form of the Jewish race. The Jews who remained in the northern kingdom of Israel when the Assyrians came and took them captive in 722—the Jews that remained after the population was removed the land—intermarried with all kinds of pagan, idolatrous nations and so they were a hybrid people who had forsaken their Judaism and committed the most heinous crime that a Jew could commit, and that was to mingle with idolatrous Gentiles. They had done that. They were outcasts …

Now Samaria originally was the name of the capital city of the northern kingdom When the kingdoms split after Solomon—Solomon was the last king of the unified kingdom (Saul, David, Solomon, and from Solomon’s sons)—the kingdom split, ten tribes went north, two stayed south. The south became known as Judah.  The north as Israel. That’s historic.

When the kingdom was established independently in the north, Omri, who was one of the kings of the north…and by the way, all of them were evil, all of them were wicked, all of them were unrighteous, there was never a good king in the north. But Omri, according to 1 Kings 16, identified Samaria as the capital city Well, it didn’t take long for the word Samaria to extend from the capital city to the whole region, so it all became known as Samaria.

In Samaria, somewhere along the way, is a village called Sychar. So we read there that He came to this place, a city in Samaria called Sychar.  Probably modern Askar, still around, and located on the slope of Mount Ebal, opposite Mount Gerizim.  Do you remember Ebal and Gerizim from Deuteronomy 28 The mountains of cursing and blessing where God warned the people, “If they obeyed they’d be blessed, if they didn’t, they’d be cursed?”  That area … 

Now again, you go back to 720, 722 B. C., Assyria captures the northern kingdom. Transports everybody out.  You can read the story yourself in 2 Kings 17.  Takes everybody into captivity, leaves a few people there, a few of the Jews from the ten tribes, and into the district come Babylonians, people from Cuthah, Avva, Hamath, Sepharvaim. They’re even listed in that chapter of 2 Kings.  They come in, they intermingle, they bring their gods, they get married, they lose their racial purity. This is a gross crime in the eyes of the Jews.  They concoct some bizarre form of their own religion, they build a temple on Mount Gerizim and they carry on their own kind of worship 

The bitterness is profound after the Jews in the southern kingdom, Judah, came back from captivity. Remember they came back from their captivity.  After they came back and rebuilt, you remember, it was Samaritans who tried to help them. Do you remember at the story of Nehemiah? The Samaritans wanted to help them and they refused to let them help. And so the Samaritans then tried to stop what they were doing and the bitterness got deeper and deeper and it lasted, and it lasted, and it lasted. 

A renegade Jew, actually, it was a renegade Jew named Manasseh, who married a daughter of the Samaritan Sanballat. You remember he was the enemy of Nehemiah.  This renegade Jew named Manasseh, who married the daughter of Sanballat, he’s the one that went up into Samaria and built the temple to sort of be their temple because they couldn’t be a part of the new temple being built in Jerusalem So this rivalry had gone on.  Here we are four or five hundred years later and the attitudes are bitter and deep. 

MacArthur says that, if Jesus had been staying with Mary, Martha and Lazarus in Bethany, this place was about 20 miles away. It would not have been a flat walk but a hilly hike.

Jacob’s well was at this place, where Jesus arrived, exhausted from His journey; He sat by the well, and it was about noon (verse 6).

MacArthur elaborates:

He came to this place, which is also further identified by letting us know that this is a place where Jacob purchased land and dug a well and then bequeathed that land and well to his son Joseph. And Joseph, of course, was even later buried there after the land was conquered by Joshua post-captivity. So this is just identifying our historical, geographic location, which the Bible loves to do because it is a real book about real people doing real things in real places.  So Jesus goes the twenty miles and He arrives near Sychar, and some suggest that Jacob’s well—they know where that is today. It was probably between a half a mile and a mile away from the village of Sychar Askar is about a half a mile or so away.

Henry has more biblical history on the location:

The place described. It was called Sychar; probably the same with Sichem, or Shechem, a place which we read much of in the Old Testament. Thus are the names of places commonly corrupted by tract of time. Shechem yielded the first proselyte that ever came into the church of Israel (Gen 34 24), and now it is the first place where the gospel is preached out of the commonwealth of Israel; so Dr. Lightfoot observes; as also that the valley of Achor, which was given for a door of hope, hope to the poor Gentiles, ran along by this city, Hos 2 15. Abimelech was made king here; it was Jeroboam’s royal seat; but the evangelist, when he would give us the antiquities of the place, takes notice of Jacob’s interest there, which was more its honour than its crowned heads. [1.] Here lay Jacob’s ground, the parcel of ground which Jacob gave to his son Joseph, whose bones were buried in it, Gen 48 22; Josh 24 32. Probably this is mentioned to intimate that Christ, when he reposed himself hard by here, took occasion from the ground which Jacob gave Joseph to meditate on the good report which the elders by faith obtained. Jerome chose to live in the land of Canaan, that the sight of the places might affect him the more with scripture stories. [2.] Here was Jacob’s well which he digged, or at least used, for himself and his family. We find no mention of this well in the Old Testament; but the tradition was that it was Jacob’s well.

Some Bible translations express part of verse 6 in these words, ‘Jesus being wearied from His journey was sitting thus‘. MacArthur explains what ‘sitting thus’ means:

Wearied, in a wearied condition; He sat in a slumped, wearied condition by the well. It was about the sixth hour.  The day began at dawn, which means it began say around 6 A.M. and sixth hour puts it at noon.  It is high noon; it is the middle of the day. The sun is at its peak and He has walked 20 miles, a rigorous, rigorous walk that morning.  And He’s exhausted.  The word “wearied,” kopiao, means to be to the point of sweat and exhaustion.  It’s an extreme condition He is worn out.  He is spent.  And at noon, under the blazing sun, He sits down on the edge of the well.

A Samaritan woman came to draw water and Jesus said to her — in the imperative — ‘Give Me a drink’ (verse 7). His disciples had gone into the city to buy something to eat (verse 8).

Henry reminds us to keep in mind our Lord’s discomfort on this and other occasions (particularly the Cross) while we do everything we can for our own physical comfort:

[1.] Labouring under the common fatigue of travellers … Here we see, First, That he was a true man, and subject to the common infirmities of the human nature. Toil came in with sin (Gen 3 19), and therefore Christ, having made himself a curse for us, submitted to it. Secondly, That he was a poor man, else he might have travelled on horseback or in a chariot. To this instance of meanness and mortification he humbled himself for us, that he went all his journeys on foot. When servants were on horses, princes walked as servants on the earth, Eccl 10 7. When we are carried easily, let us think on the weariness of our Master. Thirdly, It should seem that he was but a tender man, and not of a robust constitution; it should seem, his disciples were not tired, for they went into the town without any difficulty, when their Master sat down, and could not go a step further. Bodies of the finest mould are most sensible of fatigue, and can worst bear it.

[2.] We have him here betaking himself to the common relief of travellers; Being wearied, he sat thus on the well. First, He sat on the well, an uneasy place, cold and hard; he had no couch, no easy chair to repose himself in, but took to that which was next hand, to teach us not to be nice and curious in the conveniences of this life, but content with mean things. Secondly, He sat thus, in an uneasy posture; sat carelessly—incuriose et neglectim; or he sat so as people that are wearied with travelling are accustomed to sit.

MacArthur adds that Jesus had the power to make Himself comfortable but never did:

… Jesus never did a miracle to quench His own thirst, satisfy His own hunger, or provide anything for Himself, never.  There’s no record in all four gospels that Jesus ever did any miracle to feed Himself, provide for Himself, and thus He honored work, and He honored effort, and He honored care, and He honored sacrifice, and He honored giving and all the things that we do in life to sustain ourselves This was also part of His commitment to humanity.  We get what we need through either our own work, and our own effort, or somebody else’s work and somebody else’s effort.  He didn’t do those kinds of miracles that would supply His own wants.

It’s important to note that men of that era, particularly Jews, did not speak to women.

MacArthur says:

It’s a shocking thing, really, very shocking.  Not so much in our culture, obviously, but in that culture it’s a shocking thing for Him to do because men don’t speak with women in public. That’s a breach of religious etiquette.  And especially rabbis don’t speak to women in public In fact, I remember reading years ago, a group of Pharisees and rabbis who were called the bruised and bleeding Pharisees and the reason they were bruised and bleeding was because every time they saw a woman they closed their eyes and they kept running into buildings.  Jewish men didn’t talk to women.  Do you know that Jewish rabbis were not supposed to talk to the women of their own family in public.

The Samaritan woman responded to our Lord’s request for water, asking how a Jew could ask a drink of a Samaritan woman, to which St John adds that Jews did not share things in common with Samaritans (verse 9).

MacArthur explains John’s parenthetical insertion:

… just to take that out of English and put it in Greek, “For Jews have no dealings with Samaritans.”  Literally the verb there is, “They don’t use the same utensils.”  Literally, “Use not anything together with Samaritans.”  They don’t use the same things.  They don’t drink out of the same cup.  Very specific.  She’s saying, “I know Your culture, I know what You think about us.”  And by the way, Jesus has shattered that because that was non-biblical tradition That kind of hatred toward the Samaritans that came from the Jews was wrong, it was illegitimate. 

Henry, as MacArthur does (see above), points out divine providence at work in this encounter:

There comes a woman of Samaria to draw water. This intimates her poverty, she had no servant to be a drawer of water; and her industry, she would do it herself. See here, First, How God owns and approves of honest humble diligence in our places. Christ was made known to the shepherds when they were keeping their flock. Secondly, How the divine Providence brings about glorious purposes by events which seem to us fortuitous and accidental. This woman’s meeting with Christ at the well may remind us of the stories of Rebekah, Rachel, and Jethro’s daughter, who all met with husbands, good husbands, no worse than Isaac, Jacob, and Moses, when they came to the wells for water. Thirdly, How the preventing grace of God sometimes brings people unexpectedly under the means of conversion and salvation. He is found of them that sought him not.

Jesus answered the woman’s query by saying that, if she only knew who was asking her for a drink, she would have asked Him instead and He would have given her living water (verse 10).

MacArthur elaborates on this verse, telling us that Jesus was showing the woman mercy by offering her the free gift of living water, or divine grace unto salvation:

This is unsolicited mercy, using physical thirst and water as the contact point, He reverses the situation.  He starts out thirsty, asks her to give Him a drink. Turns the table.  Identifies her as the thirsty one and He the source of water.  She doesn’t know where He’s going with this.  But here is mercy. It is pure mercy because He says, “If you knew the gift of God,” the dorean, the free gift of God. And this is where evangelism starts You inaugurate the conversation, you find your way in at a common point of interest, and then comes the reality that you are offering the sinner without regard to morality, okay?  It is mercy with no regard for morality.  It is mercy with no regard for religion.  It is just mercy.  It is just grace. 

It is the gift of God. This is the unique glory of the gospel.  In opposition to all religion, all religion says, “Do this, do this, do this, do this, and God will give you this.”  The gospel says, “In whatever state you’re in religiously, and whatever state you’re in morally, here’s a gift.”  It is the gift of God.  It is a gift of grace.  It is a gift of mercy.  Dorean, the word here, is “free gift.”  Paul loves that word.  Paul uses that word in Romans.  He uses it in chapter 5, the free gift, the free gift.  And that’s where our Lord starts with this unsolicited mercy being offered.

“If you knew the free gift, and if you knew who it is that said to you, ‘Give Me a drink,’ you would have”…What?…“you would have”…What?…“asked Him.”  What did we say when we were going through regeneration in John 3?  Regeneration is a work of God. You can’t participate in your own birth. All you can do is ask. All you can do is ask.  There’s a gift from God. I’m here to give it if you only ask, and if you would ask Him—speaking in the third person concerning Himself—He would have given you living water. And with that statement about living water, He takes the conversation in a strongly spiritual direction, a strongly spiritual direction.

Now the woman is listening to our Lord’s words literally. Both our commentators say that she is probably hard-bitten because of her reputation. What happens when we encounter hard-bitten people? They can be dismissive, sarcastic and off-putting — all deliberate ways of saying, ‘Leave me alone’. Here one can certainly also factor in the animosity between Jews and Samaritans.

In that mindset, she addresses Jesus as ‘Sir’ — good move — but then goes on to say that He has no bucket and the well is deep; where will He get that living water (verse 11)?

She goes on to ask if He is greater than their father Jacob, who gave them the well, along with his sons and his flocks who drank from it (verse 12).

She’s mocking Jesus. She is also saying that He is an interloper, because, in a Samaritan’s mind, Jacob was their ancestral father and no one else’s. The Samaritans were mistaken. As Henry points out:

How absurd were those pretensions! …

She was out in speaking of Christ as not worthy to be compared with our father Jacob. An over-fond veneration for antiquity makes God’s graces, in the good people of our own day, to be slighted.

Jesus continued, undeterred (as one would expect), saying that everyone drinking ‘this water’ (the well water) will be thirsty again (verse 13), but those who drink of the water that He gives them will never thirst; His water will become in them a spring of water gushing up to eternal life (verse 14).

MacArthur says:

In verse 14, our Lord promises an endless supply of satisfying water forever and really gets specific—we’re talking about eternal life. This is the fountain of youth.  This is the fountain of eternal life.  Now His point is unmistakable, unmistakable.  This is permanent, consistent, full, satisfying, everlasting mercy and blessing from God to the sinner who asks.  The analogy has now moved to its point.  The doctrine is the doctrine of eternal life. He’s offering her eternal life which is a spiritual reality—the gift of mercy, the gift of grace for all who ask.  What is it?  It’s living water.  It’s satisfaction forever, soul satisfaction forever.

The woman responded to Jesus in the imperative, ‘Give me this water’, again addressing Him as ‘Sir’, so that she would be relieved of thirst and never more have to return to the well (verse 15).

Both commentators say that it is difficult to know what was in her mind when she issued that imperative.

MacArthur says:

… all I can see in her is incredulity, who is this man and what is He talking about?  What is she talking about?  Does she get some of it?  Maybe.  Is she starting to think in terms of spiritual things and eternal things?  Maybe.  Or is this just more mockery?  Or is it mingled?  I don’t know at what point she is, as the Spirit of God works on her heart through the words of the Savior.  I don’t know. 

Henry says:

First, Some think that she speaks tauntingly, and ridicules what Christ had said as mere stuff; and, in derision of it, not desires, but challenges him to give her some of this water: “A rare invention; it will save me a great deal of pains if I never come hither to draw. But, Secondly, Others think that it was a well-meant but weak and ignorant desire. She apprehended that he meant something very good and useful, and therefore saith Amen, at a venture. Whatever it be, let me have it; who will show me any good? Ease, or saving of labour, is a valuable good to poor labouring people. Note, 1. Even those that are weak and ignorant may yet have some faint and fluctuating desires towards Christ and his gifts, and some good wishes of grace and glory. 2. Carnal hearts, in their best wishes, look no higher than carnal ends. “Give it to me,” saith she, “not that I may have everlasting life” (which Christ proposed), “but that I come not hither to draw.

Then Jesus issued her with a command to go get her husband and bring him to the well (verse 16).

This is the turning point for the woman, even though she does not yet realise it.

MacArthur give us this analysis:

she likely turned at that point to take her water and go back to the village, wondering about this somewhat delusional stranger making such strange claims. And then in verse 16 we come to the next element in this encounter. “He said to her, ‘Go call your husband and come here.’That’s a bold command and that’s a very strong command. And Jesus always spoke with a great amount of authority, perhaps authority the likes of which no one has ever possessed but Him. This is a command. Go call your husband and come here–which means that she was probably on the way. And He commands her to go call her husband and bring him back.

The woman said that she had no husband; Jesus told her that she was correct in saying that (verse 17), because, in fact, she has had five husbands and that the man with her at that time was not her husband, therefore, what she said was true (verse 18).

That explains why she was at the well at the hottest point of the day to collect water. Respectable women collected water later in the day, when the weather was cooler. It was probably a time when they gathered around for a bit of chat. They probably would have shunned this woman for being immoral, for being an adulteress. Therefore, she went to gather water when she would have gone unnoticed. Otherwise, she might have received verbal abuse.

Let us look at what Jesus said in verses 17 and 18. MacArthur continues with his analysis:

“To which she responds correctly, ‘I have no husband.’” That brings us to the fourth component in His personal evangelism. First there was that condescension to talk to her about something that God had for her that was wonderful, living water, to extend that to the fact that it was eternal life, unparalleled promise. But there’s something else that has to be talked about. And so the fourth point is an unhesitating conviction…an unhesitating conviction sought. “Yes,” unexpected condescension offered, unsolicited mercy granted, unparalleled promise given, but–stop right there. If you had a person at that point pray a prayer, you might well have a false convert, because there’s something that hasn’t been dealt with and that’s sin. If you evangelize purely on the basis of all the gifts of God, everybody signs up, everybody signs up.

… If all you do is that and then ask for a response, you’re going to get a false conversion, and then you’re going to get somebody who is deceived about their true condition.

Well, like all sinners, she doesn’t want to tell the whole truth, so she says, “I have no husband.” Well, that was right and Jesus acknowledged that. He said at the end of verse 18, “You have truly said.” I mean, it’s not the whole truth but she didn’t have a husband. When she said that, there was a mega shift in the conversation. No more talk of blessing, no more talk of mercies, no more talk of satisfaction, everything changes now. She will not be able to take a drop of living water. This initially indifferent, ignorant, careless sinner must be brought to conviction and repentance over her wretched condition. Since she’s unwilling to tell the whole truth, Jesus tells it for her.

She would have known about divorce and adultery, because the Samaritans accepted the first five books of the Bible, those belonging to Moses, the Pentateuch:

Samaritans accepted the Pentateuch. Most historians think they accepted only the Pentateuch, but that’s enough. Exodus 20, “Thou shalt not commit adultery,” and there’s plenty in the Pentateuch about the penalty for adultery was death, death. It’s wonderful to present to the sinner all the glories of the gospel, all the blessings, the gift of God, the living water, the eternal life. But it’s not enough to stop there, not enough to present the positive truth of soul-satisfying blessing from God …

We know divorce was very common among the Jews in Israel. It was also equally common, maybe more so, among the Samaritans. And so we can assume that this woman lived this kind of life where she was an adulteress on repeated occasions and consequently led to repeated divorces and now she’s following the same pattern, living with a man who is not her husband. She’s an adulteress living in an immoral relationship.

And by the way, I just want to make a footnote here because this comes up in conversations. Jesus says, “The one you now have is not your husband.” She had a man in her life living with her but he was not her husband. So I need to remind you that living together doesn’t make a marriage? Living together doesn’t make a marriage. Living together is idolatry–adultery without marriage. Marriage is…marriage is always restricted to a covenant, a binding, formal, social, official, public covenant.

When Jesus stated that He knew about her, which would have been through His omniscience, she addressed Him once more as ‘Sir’ and said, ‘I see that you are a prophet’ (verse 19).

In older translations ‘see’ is ‘perceive’. MacArthur explains the word for us:

When the word “perceive” is used in the original language, it’s theoreo, which means “to come to the knowledge of.” It’s used in John chapter 6 of beholding the Son in a knowing way. She came to know and believe that He is at least a prophet, because He can’t know this unless God is telling Him. He knew her sin. “You are a prophet.”

She then moved on to a spiritual realm in her conversation.

To be continued tomorrow …

The Second Sunday in Lent is March 5, 2023.

Readings for Year A can be found here.

Those looking for an exegesis on the alternative Gospel reading, Matthew 17:1-9, can find it here, as it was read two weeks ago on Transfiguration Sunday.

The Gospel reading is as follows (emphases mine):

John 3:1-17

3:1 Now there was a Pharisee named Nicodemus, a leader of the Jews.

3:2 He came to Jesus by night and said to him, “Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher who has come from God; for no one can do these signs that you do apart from the presence of God.”

3:3 Jesus answered him, “Very truly, I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God without being born from above.”

3:4 Nicodemus said to him, “How can anyone be born after having grown old? Can one enter a second time into the mother’s womb and be born?”

3:5 Jesus answered, “Very truly, I tell you, no one can enter the kingdom of God without being born of water and Spirit.

3:6 What is born of the flesh is flesh, and what is born of the Spirit is spirit.

3:7 Do not be astonished that I said to you, ‘You must be born from above.’

3:8 The wind blows where it chooses, and you hear the sound of it, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.”

3:9 Nicodemus said to him, “How can these things be?”

3:10 Jesus answered him, “Are you a teacher of Israel, and yet you do not understand these things?

3:11 “Very truly, I tell you, we speak of what we know and testify to what we have seen; yet you do not receive our testimony.

3:12 If I have told you about earthly things and you do not believe, how can you believe if I tell you about heavenly things?

3:13 No one has ascended into heaven except the one who descended from heaven, the Son of Man.

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

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

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

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

Commentary comes from Matthew Henry and John MacArthur.

This episode in our Lord’s ministry appears only in John’s Gospel. This is because John was the only Gospel writer with Jesus from the beginning, having previously been a disciple of John the Baptist (John 1:29-42, Second Sunday after Epiphany in Year A).

John tells us that there was a Pharisee named Nicodemus who was a leader of the Jews (verse 1).

Matthew Henry’s commentary calls our attention to the fact that he was one of the few privileged whom Jesus called to faith. Recall that the Pharisees believed more in legalism than saving faith through grace:

Not many mighty and noble are called; yet some are, and here was one. Not many of the rulers, or of the Pharisees; yet. 1. This was a man of the Pharisees, bred to learning, a scholar. Let it not be said that all Christ’s followers are unlearned and ignorant men. The principles of the Pharisees, and the peculiarities of their sect, were directly contrary to the spirit of Christianity; yet there were some in whom even those high thoughts were cast down and brought into obedience to Christ. The grace of Christ is able to subdue the greatest opposition. 2. He was a ruler of the Jews, a member of the great sanhedrim, a senator, a privy-counsellor, a man of authority in Jerusalem. Bad as things were, there were some rulers well inclined, who yet could do little good because the stream was so strong against them; they were over-ruled by the majority, and yoked with those that were corrupt, so that the good which they wished to do they could not do; yet Nicodemus continued in his place, and did what he could, when he could not do what he would.

Nicodemus called on Jesus at night, calling him ‘Rabbi’ — teacher — and acknowledging that God must have sent Him, for no one could do the signs that He could apart from God (verse 2).

Nicodemus must have seen Jesus in Jerusalem at the first Passover in His ministry. John 2 ends with these verses:

23 Now while he was in Jerusalem at the Passover Festival, many people saw the signs he was performing and believed in his name.[d] 24 But Jesus would not entrust himself to them, for he knew all people. 25 He did not need any testimony about mankind, for he knew what was in each person.

John MacArthur says that Nicodemus had a spiritual concern, hence his visit:

Here He was, the Son of God, the Messiah, the One they had all been waiting for and His greatest enemies were the religious teachers of Israel—the scribes, the Pharisees, the Sadducees, the rabbis—everybody who was in spiritual influence and spiritual power turned against Him. And it is then remarkable that there is one Pharisee who seeks Him out, a man by the name of Nicodemus. He wants to talk to Jesus and he comes to Him, as chapter 3 begins, at night. And he comes with a very, very profound ache in his heart. He has “sinner’s worry.” He is full of anxiety, fear, dread

According to history, he’s one of the three wealthiest men in Jerusalem. He is the teacher in Israel. He is the elevated and most noble, and maybe the most respected, of all the teachers of Judaism in its apostate form at that time. He’s a member of the Supreme Court of Israel. He’s ascended to that level. He is a very important figure with a huge, huge fear in his heart. He doesn’t know God. He has no assurance of heaven. He does not believe that he is reconciled to God. He’s full of angst and fear, and he comes to Jesus in the hope that maybe Jesus can tell him what’s missing because he’s convinced that Jesus is a teacher sent from God. That’s what he says in chapter 3, the first verse or two: “I know, we know You’re a teacher from God because no one can do what You do unless God is with him.” So here is a better teacher than he is. If he’s the teacher in Israel, he’s supposed to have all the information. There’s nobody lower than him that might have information that he doesn’t have, but here he’s met somebody who has to be a more elevated teacher than he is because he’s never known anybody to do the miracles that Jesus has done.

So here is his opportunity to get an answer to the hypocrisy that has marked his entire life. So he comes to Jesus and here we find Jesus evangelizing a Pharisee. Here we find Jesus evangelizing a very elevated religious leader. Therefore what Jesus says to this man is highly instructive for us.

Henry gives us the reasons Nicodemus might have visited Jesus at night rather than during the daytime:

Observe, (1.) He made a private and particular address to Christ, and did not think it enough to hear his public discourses. He resolved to talk with him by himself, where he might be free with him. Personal converse with skilful faithful ministers about the affairs of our souls would be of great use to us, Mal 2 7. (2.) He made this address by night, which may be considered, [1.] As an act of prudence and discretion. Christ was engaged all day in public work, and he would not interrupt him then, nor expect his attendance then, but observed Christ’s hour, and waited on him when he was at leisure. Note, Private advantages to ourselves and our own families must give way to those that are public. The greater good must be preferred before the less. Christ had many enemies, and therefore Nicodemus came to him incognito, lest being known to the chief priests they should be the more enraged against Christ. [2.] As an act of zeal and forwardness. Nicodemus was a man of business, and could not spare time all day to make Christ a visit, and therefore he would rather take time from the diversions of the evening, or the rest of the night, than not converse with Christ. When others were sleeping, he was getting knowledge, as David by meditation, Ps 63 6, and 119 148. Probably it was the very next night after he saw Christ’s miracles, and he would not neglect the first opportunity of pursuing his convictions. He knew not how soon Christ might leave the town, nor what might happen betwixt that and another feast, and therefore would lose no time. In the night his converse with Christ would be more free, and less liable to disturbance. These were Noctes Christianæ—Christian nights, much more instructive than the Noctes Atticæ—Attic nights. Or, [3.] As an act of fear and cowardice. He was afraid, or ashamed, to be seen with Christ, and therefore came in the night. When religion is out of fashion, there are many Nicodemites, especially among the rulers, who have a better affection to Christ and his religion than they would be known to have. But observe, First, Though he came by night, Christ bade him welcome, accepted his integrity, and pardoned his infirmity; he considered his temper, which perhaps was timorous, and the temptation he was in from his place and office; and hereby taught his ministers to become all things to all men, and to encourage good beginnings, though weak. Paul preached privately to those of reputation, Gal 2 2. Secondly, Though now he came by night, yet afterwards, when there was occasion, he owned Christ publicly, ch. 7 50; 19 39. The grace which is at first but a grain of mustard-seed may grow to be a great tree.

As Henry says, the next time we see Nicodemus is in John 7, after Jesus taught during the Festival of Tabernacles. The people were disconcerted that a prophet could come from Galilee and some, along with the Jewish hierarchy, wanted Him arrested:

40 On hearing his words, some of the people said, “Surely this man is the Prophet.”

41 Others said, “He is the Messiah.”

Still others asked, “How can the Messiah come from Galilee? 42 Does not Scripture say that the Messiah will come from David’s descendants and from Bethlehem, the town where David lived?” 43 Thus the people were divided because of Jesus. 44 Some wanted to seize him, but no one laid a hand on him.

Unbelief of the Jewish Leaders

45 Finally the temple guards went back to the chief priests and the Pharisees, who asked them, “Why didn’t you bring him in?”

46 “No one ever spoke the way this man does,” the guards replied.

47 “You mean he has deceived you also?” the Pharisees retorted. 48 “Have any of the rulers or of the Pharisees believed in him? 49 No! But this mob that knows nothing of the law—there is a curse on them.”

50 Nicodemus, who had gone to Jesus earlier and who was one of their own number, asked, 51 “Does our law condemn a man without first hearing him to find out what he has been doing?”

52 They replied, “Are you from Galilee, too? Look into it, and you will find that a prophet does not come out of Galilee.”

Returning to today’s reading, Jesus told Nicodemus, beginning with ‘Very truly’, that no one can see the kingdom of God without having been born from above (verse 3).

Jesus says ‘Very truly’ three times in this reading in verses 3, 5 and 11.

Henry interprets the words for us:

As positively and vehemently asserted by our Lord Jesus: Verily, verily, I say unto thee. I the Amen, the Amen, say it; so it may be read: “I the faithful and true witness.” The matter is settled irreversibly that except a man be born again he cannot see the kingdom of God. “I say it to thee, though a Pharisee, though a master in Israel.”

MacArthur explains why Jesus used the birth analogy here:

We need to be born again. That is, having been born physically, we need now to be born spiritually. That birth comes from above. In a sense, our first birth, of course, was a direct creation of God as well, even in the physical sense. And so it is with our second birth that comes down from above. There is, however, no human aid to that birth, as there is in physical birth. It is a divine work of God. That is why it is referred to as being born of the Spirit, born of the Spirit.

It is the work of the Holy Spirit to give us life. That’s what “born again” means. And the reason the Lord uses this analogy is because it expresses to us the fact that we have no participation in this birth. You had nothing to do with your first birth, your physical birth. And you will have nothing to do with your spiritual birth. It is a divine work of God. Theologians call it monergistic rather than synergistic. You don’t participate in it. I didn’t participate in it. No person who is born again makes a contribution to that. There isn’t a way to make that happen. That is a divine work of God.

For whatever reason — even though the Old Testament has references to this, which he would have known — Nicodemus asked about the physical birth and how it would be possible to be born again of one’s mother as an adult (verse 4).

MacArthur gives us examples of being ‘born again’ in the Old Testament:

Now Nicodemus, according to verse 10 of chapter 3, was the teacher in Israel, the teacher in Israel. He should have known that truth. He knew all those stories that we read in Hebrews chapter 11. He should have known that God wanted faith. He knew the story of Abraham. He knew Genesis 15:6 that Abraham was justified, declared righteous by God, purely on the basis of his faith. He knew that. He also knew that God was the One who gave, who granted life to the sinner and forgiveness. He knew that God as a pardoning God. He knew the prophet had said that. He knew what Isaiah said that if you come to God, He’ll wash you and make you clean. He knew God was a Savior. But he was the leader of an apostate form of Judaism. He was a Pharisee. He was devoted to the counterfeit religion. He was devoted to a satanic system that called itself Judaism, attached itself to the Old Testament but taught salvation by morality and salvation by religious works ... The apostle Paul was in the same system and himself a Pharisee when he saw it for what it was—called it manure.

Again, Jesus answered, once more beginning with ‘Very truly’, no one can enter the kingdom of God without being born again; this time Jesus says, ‘of water and the Spirit’ (verse 5).

Henry explains the significance of water in this verse:

First, The regenerating work of the Spirit is compared to water, v. 5. To be born again is to be born of water and of the Spirit, that is, of the Spirit working like water, as (Matt 3 11) with the Holy Ghost and with fire means with the Holy Ghost as with fire. 1. That which is primarily intended here is to show that the Spirit, in sanctifying a soul, (1.) Cleanses and purifies it as water, takes away its filth, by which it was unfit for the kingdom of God. It is the washing of regeneration, Tit 3 5. You are washed, 1 Cor 6 11. See Ezek 36 25. (2.) Cools and refreshes it, as water does the hunted hart and the weary traveller. The Spirit is compared to water, ch. 7 38, 39; Isa 44 3. In the first creation, the fruits of heaven were born of water (Gen 1 20), in allusion to which, perhaps, they that are born from above are said to be born of water. 2. It is probable that Christ had an eye to the ordinance of baptism, which John had used and he himself had begun to use, “You must be born again of the Spirit,” which regeneration by the Spirit should be signified by washing with water, as the visible sign of that spiritual grace: not that all they, and they only, that are baptized, are saved; but without that new birth which is wrought by the Spirit, and signified by baptism, none shall be looked upon as the protected privileged subjects of the kingdom of heaven. The Jews cannot partake of the benefits of the Messiah’s kingdom, they have so long looked for, unless they quit all expectations of being justified by the works of the law, and submit to the baptism of repentance, the great gospel duty, for the remission of sins, the great gospel privilege.

Jesus added that what is born of the flesh is flesh and what is born of the Spirit is spirit (verse 6).

What is born of the flesh is sinful, because that is what mankind at its core is through Original Sin. However, the Holy Spirit regenerates the sinful soul and exhorts it to holiness, ultimately sharing in the kingdom of God.

MacArthur tells us about regeneration, this divine calling, or summons, also known as the effectual call:

It is by a divine call. When we talk about being called of God, we are first and foremost talking about the call to come to life, to come out of the grave. It is a call to reconciliation, yes. It is a call to justification, yes. It is a call to redemption. It is a call to enter into the eternal kingdom of God. It is a call to sonship with all its rights and privileges. It is a call to love and service and obedience to the Lord. It is a call from bondage into freedom. It is a call to joy and peace. It is a call to holiness. The gospel call is referred to by the writers of the epistles as a high call, a holy call, a heavenly call. It is clearly a rare call. It is an undeniable call. It is an irreversible call.

The language of the New Testament makes much of the fact that our regeneration came in response to the call of God, the call of God. And I am saying that word repeatedly because I want you to see this word as it unfolds in the rest of the New Testament, so that whenever you read the New Testament this word in particular will come off the page with new and fresh meaning. This is a call that is a divine summons; it is a divine subpoena to come to life, to come into the family of God, into the kingdom of God, into the court of God to stand before God and to be declared forgiven and righteous and free forever from any judgment or any condemnation. Theologians have talked about this call and they have attached many adjectives to it. It has been called an effective call, an efficacious call, an irresistible call, a powerful call, a determinative call, a decisive call, a conclusive call, an operative call—and all of those are certainly suitable and fitting. It is a call to salvation. It is a call to life.

Jesus, being omniscient, knew what Nicodemus was thinking in his spiritual confusion and told him not to be astonished that he must be born from above (verse 7).

Jesus went on to say that the wind blows where it chooses but we do not know where it comes from or where it goes; so it is with everyone born of the Spirit (verse 8).

Henry explains:

This comparison is here used to show, 1. That the Spirit, in regeneration, works arbitrarily, and as a free agent. The wind bloweth where it listeth for us, and does not attend our order, nor is subject to our command. God directs it; it fulfils his word, Ps 148 8. The Spirit dispenses his influences where, and when, on whom, and in what measure and degree, he pleases, dividing to every man severally as he will, 1 Cor 12 11. 2. That he works powerfully, and with evident effects: Thou hearest the sound thereof; though its causes are hidden, its effects are manifest. When the soul is brought to mourn for sin, to groan under the burden of corruption, to breathe after Christ, to cry Abba—Father, then we hear the sound of the Spirit, we find he is at work, as Acts 9 11, Behold he prayeth. 3. That he works mysteriously, and in secret hidden ways: Thou canst not tell whence it comes, nor whither it goes. How it gathers and how it spends its strength is a riddle to us; so the manner and methods of the Spirit’s working are a mystery. Which way went the Spirit? 1 Kings 22 24. See Eccl 11 5, and compare it with Ps 139 14.

Nicodemus still did not understand, asking Jesus how these things could be (verse 9).

Jesus rebuked him, saying that he is a teacher of Israel, yet he did not understand these things (verse 10).

MacArthur gives us other examples from the Old Testament which point to regeneration:

What can the sinner do? Ask, that’s all. And Nicodemus doesn’t know what to do with this. And Jesus ends the first part of the conversation in verses 9 and 10 by saying, “How is it that you don’t know this? You study the Old Testament. How is it you don’t know this? Do you remember Jeremiah 31, Ezekiel 36? Do you remember all the times God said, ‘I will take out your heart of stone. I will give you a new heart. I will give you My Spirit. I will cause you to walk in My statutes and My ways.’” Those two New Covenant passages are all about God’s sovereign power regenerating the dead sinner. How is it you’re the teacher of Israel and you don’t know this? How is it?

Jesus said, beginning with ‘Very truly’ for the third time and using the first person plural here, that He speaks of what He knows, testifying to that which He has seen, yet Nicodemus — and the rest of the Pharisees — did not receive His testimony (verse 11).

Henry examines our Lord’s use of ‘we’ in that verse:

That the truths Christ taught were very certain and what we may venture upon (v. 11): We speak that we do know. We; whom does he mean besides himself? Some understand it of those that bore witness to him and with him on earth, the prophets and John Baptist; they spoke what they knew, and had seen, and were themselves abundantly satisfied in: divine revelation carries its own proof along with it. Others of those that bore witness from heaven, the Father and the Holy Ghost; the Father was with him, the Spirit of the Lord was upon him; therefore he speaks in the plural number, as ch. 14 23: We will come unto him. Observe, First, That the truths of Christ are of undoubted certainty. We have all the reason in the world to be assured that the sayings of Christ are faithful sayings, and such as we may venture our souls upon; for he is not only a credible witness, who would not go about to deceive us, but a competent witness, who could not himself be deceived: We testify that we have seen. He spoke not upon hear-say, but upon the clearest evidence, and therefore with the greatest assurance. What he spoke of God, of the invisible world, of heaven and hell, of the divine will concerning us, and the counsels of peace, was what he knew, and had seen, for he was by him as one brought up with him, Prov 8 30. Whatever Christ spoke, he spoke of his own knowledge. Secondly, That the unbelief of sinners is greatly aggravated by the infallible certainty of the truths of Christ. The things are thus sure, thus clear; and yet you receive not our witness. Multitudes to be unbelievers of that which yet (so cogent are the motives of credibility) they cannot disbelieve!

Jesus asked Nicodemus that if he cannot understand earthly things and believe how can he understand heavenly things and believe (verse 12).

Henry explains:

The truths Christ taught, though communicated in language and expressions borrowed from common and earthly things, yet in their own nature were most sublime and heavenly; this is intimated, v. 12: “If I have told them earthly things, that is, have told them the great things of God in similitudes taken from earthly things, to make them the more easy and intelligible, as that of the new birth and the wind,— if I have thus accommodated myself to your capacities, and lisped to you in your own language, and cannot make you to understand my doctrine,—what would you do if I should accommodate myself to the nature of the things, and speak with the tongue of angels, that language which mortals cannot utter? If such familiar expressions be stumbling-blocks, what would abstract ideas be, and spiritual things painted proper?” Now we may learn hence, First, To admire the height and depth of the doctrine of Christ; it is a great mystery of godliness. The things of the gospel are heavenly things, out of the road of the enquiries of human reason, and much more out of the reach of its discoveries. Secondly, To acknowledge with thankfulness the condescension of Christ, that he is pleased to suit the manner of the gospel revelation to our capacities, to speak to us as to children. He considers our frame, that we are of the earth, and our place, that we are on the earth, and therefore speaks to us earthly things, and makes things sensible the vehicle of things spiritual, to make them the more easy and familiar to us. Thus he has done both in parables and in sacraments. Thirdly, To lament the corruption of our nature, and our great unaptness to receive and entertain the truths of Christ. Earthly things are despised because they are vulgar, and heavenly things because they are abstruse; and so, whatever method is taken, still some fault or other is found with it (Matt 11 17), but Wisdom is, and will be, justified of her children, notwithstanding.

Then Jesus said that no one has ascended into heaven except the one who descended from heaven: the Son of Man (verse 13).

MacArthur puts this into context for us:

At this point Nicodemus doesn’t believe, he doesn’t buy it, he doesn’t accept this. So Jesus reminds him in verse 13 that no one has ascended into heaven but He who descended from heaven, the Son of Man. That He has been a part of a system of religion like all systems of religion that are earthly or demonic, and now he’s hearing from heaven. No one has been to heaven and brought a message back. Only the Son of Man has come from heaven. So you better listen to this message. This isn’t just another human and demonic message. This is coming to you by way of the Son of Man. Nicodemus isn’t speaking anymore but he’s there. The pronoun “you” stops being singular and broadens out, and now He’s talking to Nicodemus, and He’s talking through Nicodemus to all the Pharisees who are part of Nicodemus’ group, and all the nation of Israel who are following the Pharisees, and the rest of the world that are caught up in religion and He is simply saying, “You had better listen to the One who came from heaven because only One has come from heaven with the truth, only One.”

“I tried to tell you earthly things, I used an earthly illustration of regeneration and birth, and you couldn’t even get an earthly thing. I know you’re not going to believe now when I tell you heavenly things, but I’m going to reveal those heavenly things anyway.” And He starts to talk about heavenly things, first of all, by saying, “I came down from heaven and I’m the one with the truth and the only one with the truth.”

Jesus then moved onto a historic event, citing Moses’s last miracle, via God, of healing the snakebitten Israelites who gazed upon the bronze serpent he lifted up. Numbers 21 tells us:

The Bronze Snake

They traveled from Mount Hor along the route to the Red Sea,[c] to go around Edom. But the people grew impatient on the way; they spoke against God and against Moses, and said, “Why have you brought us up out of Egypt to die in the wilderness? There is no bread! There is no water! And we detest this miserable food!”

Then the Lord sent venomous snakes among them; they bit the people and many Israelites died. The people came to Moses and said, “We sinned when we spoke against the Lord and against you. Pray that the Lord will take the snakes away from us.” So Moses prayed for the people.

The Lord said to Moses, “Make a snake and put it up on a pole; anyone who is bitten can look at it and live.” So Moses made a bronze snake and put it up on a pole. Then when anyone was bitten by a snake and looked at the bronze snake, they lived.

That snake was an example of Christ. The Israelites did not have to earn the right via works to gaze at the serpent. God gave it to them as a means of showing His forgiveness for their sin of complaining. It was a free offer of forgiveness.

Jesus said to Nicodemus that, just as Moses lifted the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up (verse 14), meaning on the cross for our sins and later in His exaltation.

Jesus then said that whoever believes in Him may have eternal life (verse 15).

Henry has an excellent analysis:

It was the last miracle that passed through the hand of Moses before his death. Now in this type of Christ we may observe,

First, The deadly and destructive nature of sin, which is implied here. The guilt of sin is like the pain of the biting of a fiery serpent; the power of corruption is like the venom diffused thereby. The devil is the old serpent, subtle at first (Gen 3 1), but ever since fiery, and his temptations fiery darts, his assaults terrifying, his victories destroying. Ask awakened consciences, ask damned sinners, and they will tell you, how charming soever the allurements of sin are, at the last it bites like a serpent, Prov 23 30-32. God’s wrath against us for sin is as those fiery serpents which God sent among the people, to punish them for their murmurings. The curses of the law are as fiery serpents, so are all the tokens of divine wrath.

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

Thirdly, The way of applying this remedy, and that is by believing, which plainly alludes to the Israelites’ looking up to the brazen serpent, in order to their being healed by it. If any stung Israelite was either so little sensible of his pain and peril, or had so little confidence in the word of Moses as not to look up to the brazen serpent, justly did he die of his wound; but every one that looked up to it did well, Num 21 9. If any so far slight either their disease by sin or the method of cure by Christ as not to embrace Christ upon his own terms, their blood is upon their own head. He hath said, Look, and be saved (Isa 45 22), look and live. We must take a complacency in and give consent to the methods which Infinite Wisdom has taken is saving a guilty world, by the mediation of Jesus Christ, as the great sacrifice and intercessor.

Fourthly, The great encouragements given us by faith to look up to him. 1. It was for this end that he was lifted up, that his followers might be saved; and he will pursue his end. 2. The offer that is made of salvation by him is general, that whosoever believes in him, without exception, might have benefit by him. 3. The salvation offered is complete. (1.) They shall not perish, shall not die of their wounds; though they may be pained and ill frightened, iniquity shall not be their ruin. But that is not all. (2.) They shall have eternal life. They shall not only not die of their wounds in the wilderness, but they shall reach Canaan (which they were then just ready to enter into); they shall enjoy the promised rest.

MacArthur directs our attention to the word ‘whoever’ in verse 15. Jesus said that salvation was not limited to the Jews:

The shock is in the “whoever.” Why? Because the Jews believed that when the Messiah came He would save Israel and punish all the nations. He would punish them for their blasphemy. He would punish them for their idolatry. He would punish them for their mistreatment of Israel. And now Jesus says, “Whoever believes.” And He says nothing about Moses, nothing about Abraham, nothing about the Temple, nothing about the tabernacle, nothing about the Law. He simply says it’s about believing in the Son of Man who is lifted up and whoever believes will have eternal life.

Then Jesus spoke those words that Christians have come to treasure and know so well: “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life (verse 16).

Henry marvels:

Behold, and wonder, that the great God should love such a worthless world! That the holy God should love such a wicked world with a love of good will, when he could not look upon it with any complacency.


MacArthur gives us a theological explanation for the verse before moving on into a general one:

First of all we have the remote efficient cause. Then we have the approximate efficient cause. Then we have the instrumental cause. And then we would add the material cause. Does that move your heart? Is that gripping you? That’s the theological way to explain John 3:16. The remote efficient cause—God’s love. The approximate efficient cause—God’s grace. The instrumental cause—belief. And then they would add the material cause—the cross. And the result, eternal life.

The reason that God makes salvation available to anyone who believes and the reason that anybody can believe is because God actually loves the world. Shocking, absolutely shocking. That’s the motive.

The object is the world and anybody in the world whoever, whoever. The world here is a term simply for humanity, humanity, that’s all—just God loves humanity. Titus 3:4 uses a similar expression, mankind. God loves mankind. It doesn’t mean that He’s going to save everyone who ever lives. That’s pretty clear because verse 18 talks about the ones that are going to be judged ’cause of their unbelief.

There’s only one world, one realm of humanity, and God has determined to set His love on that world. He didn’t do that with angels. The angels that sinned were cast into hell and have never known God’s love since their rebellion. But God chose to love the world. So the motive for salvation is love, and the object of salvation is the world. God’s love shows up across the world in common grace and gospel invitation. That’s the broadest sweep of God’s love.

Jesus concluded by saying ‘Indeed’ — adding emphasis — God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world but in order that the world might be saved through Him (verse 17).

Our Lord will judge at His Second Coming, but, until then, He wants to save sinners.

It should be noted that we read of Nicodemus once more in the New Testament. We have reason to believe that Nicodemus became a follower of Jesus, because he helped Joseph of Arimathea prepare His body in the tomb. He brought with him 75 pounds of a myrrh and aloe mixture (John 19:39-40).

MacArthur explains our part in being saved:

I’ve done questions and answers through the years in every place I’ve ever gone in the world, and every time there is an open question and answer session, I am asked this question: “How can salvation be solely a work of God and me be held responsible for believing or not believing? How can those two go together?”

Now I want to say this to you, first of all. Most people in doing evangelism would avoid that question all together, assuming that Christians who have been Christians for a long time don’t even like to face that question. They would do everything they could to keep a non-believer in the dark about it, and they would be doing exactly the opposite of what Jesus did. Jesus is talking to a non-believer and He presents to him the twin parallel truths of divine sovereignty in salvation and human responsibility, and He does it at the very beginning of the conversation. This is a work of God, solely a work of God, but you will be held responsible if you do not believe, and you are called to believe and eternal life awaits you if you will believe. Those are twin truths that run parallel.

May I tell you? They will always run parallel. They will always run parallel. They will never come together. They will never intersect. They will never be diminished; legitimately, they are what they are. The fact that you don’t understand how they go together only proves that you’re less than you should be. It doesn’t say anything about God. Your inability to harmonize those things is a reflection of your fallenness, my fallenness. People ask me all the time, “How do you harmonize those?” And my answer is, “I don’t. I can’t.” They can’t be harmonized in the human mind. But realize this, you are a puny mind and so am I, and collectively we are puny compared to the infinite, vast, limitless mind of God. All I can tell you is that in the Word of God, these truths run parallel. And the answer is to believe them both with all your heart. And the one, divine sovereignty, will inform your worship and the other, human responsibility, will motivate your evangelism.

So how are we to understand these things? ... I’ve been around a long time and I have seen every imaginable, every conceivable effort to harmonize those things done by people, well-intentioned people, very gifted people, well-known preachers, theologians, writers, commentators who tried to harmonize it. Anybody whoever tries to harmonize those two things destroys one or the other of them, or both of them. You can’t change them, you can’t tamper with them. You must be content to believe them both.

Now how can I help you to deal with that? I can’t harmonize it. I can’t bring it all together. I can’t solve your dilemma. I can’t answer the apparent paradox. So what am I left with? I want to make you comfortable with your inability not to get it. Okay? That’s my objective, okay? I just want you to be completely happy that you don’t get it. Okay? Just put you to rest, stop fighting that. That’s where we’re going today. I want you to be comfortable with the fact that, wow, you just might not understand something. I know that’s a big pill to swallow because of human pride, but get over it and be content not to get it.

Now I want you to understand that when the Bible deals with these things, it doesn’t explain itself. It isn’t self-conscious. You don’t read—I know this is really tough to get—you don’t have caveats like that. You don’t have underlying statements. You don’t have efforts to make explanations. These things are stated in Scripture as parallel realities and never really explained or harmonized because they both exist. And the fact that we can’t understand them leaves us with one option, and that is to believe them both and be content with that.

May all reading this have a blessed Sunday and a good Lent.

The First Sunday in Lent is February 26, 2023.

Readings for Year A can be found here.

In addition to the Gospel, it is important to read — at minimum — the First Reading, Genesis 2:15-17; 3:1-7, which is the account of Original Sin. Satan, in the form of a serpent, worked his wiles on Eve before Adam also succumbed.

Note Genesis 2:16-17 (emphases mine):

16 And the LORD God commanded the man, “You may freely eat of every tree of the garden;

17 but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall die.”

They ate the fruit. They did not die immediately, but they did die eventually. They died because they sinned. We die because we sin.

This is why St Paul wrote (Romans 6:23):

23 For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in[a] Christ Jesus our Lord.

The Gospel reading is as follows:

Matthew 4:1-11

4:1 Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil.

4:2 He fasted forty days and forty nights, and afterwards he was famished.

4:3 The tempter came and said to him, “If you are the Son of God, command these stones to become loaves of bread.”

4:4 But he answered, “It is written, ‘One does not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.’”

4:5 Then the devil took him to the holy city and placed him on the pinnacle of the temple,

4:6 saying to him, “If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down; for it is written, ‘He will command his angels concerning you,’ and ‘On their hands they will bear you up, so that you will not dash your foot against a stone.’”

4:7 Jesus said to him, “Again it is written, ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test.’”

4:8 Again, the devil took him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their splendor;

4:9 and he said to him, “All these I will give you, if you will fall down and worship me.”

4:10 Jesus said to him, “Away with you, Satan! for it is written, ‘Worship the Lord your God, and serve only him.’”

4:11 Then the devil left him, and suddenly angels came and waited on him.

Commentary comes from Matthew Henry and John MacArthur.

This is another long post, as it explores Satan’s crafty manipulations in temptation and sin.

John MacArthur puts this reading into context for us:

Chapter 3, verses 13 to 17, is the baptism of Christ at the baptism the King was commissioned. Remember that Matthew’s focus in his gospel is on Jesus as King. He is seeing Him as King, he is presenting Him as King. That’s why the royal genealogy, that’s why the, the involvement in the royal birth, that’s why the royal visit of the Magi who honor Him as a King.  And they were the official kingmakers of the Orient. Everything that Matthew does focuses on the element of His kingship. And last time we saw the commissioning of the King, how His baptism and His anointing by the Holy Spirit and the word of God – “This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased” – came toget­her to be the commissioning of the King, the anointing of the King for His saving work.

But there is another step in the process and Matthew follows on it by presenting the temptation, and that is this: it is one thing to proclaim the King as king, it is something else to prove it. And in the baptism it is the proclamation; and here it is the proof. In His baptism it is, it is the Spirit, as it were, anointing Him as King, and it is the Father proclaiming Him as a fitting One to be the worthy King, but here it is the One who is proclaimed proven to be the King, the worthy One. He enters into a testing; He enters into a temptation to verify His right to royalty. If He is the King, if He is to receive the kingdom, if He is to redeem and reign over His people, He must not only be declared to be King; He must be demonstrated to be King. And the baptism declares it, and the testing demonstrates it. For here the One who is declared to be King enters into a test, to prove that when God said, “This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased,” He could live up to God’s word. He has been attested by God as being in perfect harmony with the heavenly plan, and now He is proven to be so. And, fittingly, since it is heaven that has declared Him to be fit, He must show His victory, as it were, over hell. He is now to face the disorder and the ugliness of Satan’s dominion, to show His power over evil. Goodness at its highest has commended Him, and evil at its lowest will be conquered by Him. The combination of both accredit Him as King.

Jesus was led by the Holy Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil (verse 1).

MacArthur tells us where Jesus likely was:

Now what is “the wilderness?” Well, the word in the Greek is the word for “desert.” When you leave Jerusalem you go down, I mean you go really down. Jericho is on the – down on the flat where the Dead Sea is, and it’s one thousand somethin’ or other feet below sea level. It is really down; you go down, and I mean down into a desert wilderness. Now He was not far from there, no doubt at the Jordan River, when He was baptized by John. The area is the – known as the wilderness is very likely the area between Jerusalem – Jerusalem sits up on a plateau – and the Dead Sea, which is sunken way down. The area in the middle is known as the wilderness; it would be on the west bank of the Jordan. In fact, um, the Old Testament calls this area Jeshimon, and Jeshimon means “the devastation.” It is called “the devastation,” about a 35- by 15-mile area, just absolutely God forsaken desolation. George Adam Smith described it in these words: “It is an area of yellow sand, crumbling limestone, of scattered shingle. It is an area of contorted strata where the ridges run [all] in all directions as if they were warped and twisted. The hills are like dust heaps, the limestone is blistered and peeling, rocks are bare and jagged, often the ground sounds hollow, it runs right to the Dead Sea and then there comes a drop of twelve hundred feet down.” I should say it runs right to Jerusalem and, and then the drop twelve hundred feet to the Dead Sea. In that wilderness, says Smith, Jesus would be more alone than anywhere else in Palestine.

MacArthur contrasts our Lord’s wilderness with Adam’s temptation in the Garden of Eden:

I was thinking about the fact that that was quite a different place than the place where Satan met Adam, the first Adam, wasn’t it? What a horrible, devastated, desolate place. The Second Adam, Jesus Christ, confronted Satan. The first Adam confronted him in an absolute paradise. The beautiful perfections of the garden, the incredible beauty of Eden, all the abundance, the special garden – you know even the good earth wasn’t good enough for Adam. God made him a special garden, in an already perfect earth ... Put there every good thing, and there Satan and the first Adam entered into conflict. And the first Adam lost, in a perfect environment. Here is Jesus in an environment of desolation, in a wilderness which Deuteronomy 8:15 calls, quote, “The terrible and great wilderness, wherein are fiery serpents, and scorpions, and thirsty ground, where here is no water.” And Mark 1:13 adds that the wilderness was a place inhabited by wild beasts. In that terrible wilderness, surrounded by snakes and scorpions and beasts the King met the foe, after 40 days of fasting – 40 days of total fast, in weakness – indeed a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief. But what Adam lost in a perfect environment, the Second Adam won in an imperfect one, and the difference was the character of the individual. And it’s always the way; it’s not the circumstances that cause the fall, it’s the character of the individual. And so we see the place.

Matthew Henry discusses temptation and how it often comes at a high period in life, either temporally or spiritually:

Concerning Christ’s temptation, observe,

I. The time when it happened: Then; there is an emphasis laid upon that. Immediately after the heavens were opened to him, and the Spirit descended on him, and he was declared to be the Son of God, and the Saviour of the world, the next news we hear of him is, he is tempted; for then he is best able to grapple with the temptation. Note, 1. Great privileges, and special tokens of divine favour, will not secure us from being tempted. Nay, 2. After great honours put upon us, we must expect something that is humbling; as Paul has a messenger of Satan sent to buffer him, after he had been in the third heavens. 3. God usually prepares his people for temptation before he calls them to it; he gives strength according to the day, and, before a sharp trial, gives more than ordinary comfort. 4. The assurance of our sonship is the best preparative for temptation. If the good Spirit witness to our adoption, that will furnish us with an answer to all the suggestions of the evil spirit, designed either to debauch or disquiet us.

Then, when he was newly come from a solemn ordinance, when he was baptized, then he was tempted. Note, After we have been admitted into the communion of God, we must expect to be set upon by Satan. The enriched soul must double its guard. When thou has eaten and art full, then beware. Then, when he began to show himself publicly to Israel, then he was tempted, so as he never had been while he lived in privacy. Note, The Devil has a particular spite at useful persons, who are not only good, but given to do good, especially at their first setting out. It is the advice of the Son of Sirach (Ecclesiasticus 2 1), My son, if thou come to serve the Lord, prepare thyself for temptation. Let young ministers know what to expect, and arm accordingly.

Incidentally, Henry surmised that Jesus was in the Sinai wilderness:

II. The place where it was; in the wilderness; probably in the great wilderness of Sinai, where Moses and Elijah fasted forty days, for no part of the wilderness of Judea was so abandoned to wild beasts as this is said to have been, Mark 1 13. When Christ was baptized, he did not go to Jerusalem, there to publish the glories that had been put upon him, but retired into a wilderness. After communion with God, it is good to be private awhile, lest we lose what we have received, in the crowd and hurry of worldly business. Christ withdrew into the wilderness, 1. To gain advantage to himself. Retirement gives an opportunity for meditation an communion with God; even they who are called to the most active life must yet have their contemplative hours, and must first find time to be alone with God. Those are not fit to speak of the things of God in public to others, who have not first conversed with those things in secret by themselves. When Christ would appear as a Teacher come from God, it shall not be said of him, “He is newly come from travelling, he has been abroad, and has seen the world;” but, “He is newly come out of the desert, he has been alone conversing with God and his own heart.” 2. To give advantage to the tempter, that he might have a readier access to him than he could have had in company. Note, Though solitude is a friend to a good heart, yet Satan knows how to improve it against us. Woe to him that is alone. Those who, under pretence of sanctity and devotion, retire into dens and deserts, find that they are not out of reach of their spiritual enemies, and that there they want the benefit of the communion with saints. Christ retired, (1.) To make his victory the more illustrious, he gave the enemy sun and wind on his side, and yet baffled him. He might give the Devil advantage, for the prince of this world had nothing in him; but he has in us, and therefore we must pray not to be led into temptation, and must keep out of harm’s way. (2.) That he might have an opportunity to do his best himself, that he might be exalted in his own strength; for so it was written, I have trod the wine-press alone, and of the people there was none with me. Christ entered the lists without a second.

It is possible that the Holy Spirit took Jesus, all divine and all human, into the desert so that He would know the temptations that sinful man endures.

Henry continues:

He was directed to the combat; he did not wilfully thrust himself upon it, but he was led up of the Spirit to be tempted of the Devil. The Spirit that descended upon him like a dove made him meek, and yet made him bold. Note, Our care must be, not to enter into temptation; but if God, by his providence, order us into circumstances of temptation for our trial, we must not think it strange, but double our guard. Be strong in the Lord, resist stedfast in the faith, and all shall be well. If we presume upon our own strength, and tempt the devil to tempt us, we provoke God to leave us to ourselves; but, whithersoever God leads us, we may hope he will go along with us, and bring us off more than conquerors.

Christ was led to be tempted of the Devil, and of him only. Others are tempted, when they are drawn aside of their own lust and enticed (Jam 1 14); the Devil takes hold of that handle, and ploughs with that heifer; but our Lord Jesus had no corrupt nature, and therefore he was led securely, without any fear or trembling, as a champion into the field, to be tempted purely by the Devil.

Now Christ’s temptation is, (1.) An instance of his own condescension and humiliation. Temptations are fiery darts, thorns in the flesh, buffetings, siftings, wrestlings, combats, all which denote hardship and suffering; therefore Christ submitted to them, because he would humble himself, in all things to be made like unto his brethren; thus he gave his back to the smiters. (2.) An occasion of Satan’s confusion. There is no conquest without a combat. Christ was tempted, that he might overcome the tempter. Satan tempted the first Adam, and triumphed over him; but he shall not always triumph, the second Adam shall overcome him and lead captivity captive. (3.) Matter of comfort to all the saints. In the temptation of Christ it appears, that our enemy is subtle, spiteful, and very daring in his temptations; but it appears withal, that he is not invincible. Though he is a strong man armed, yet the Captain of our salvation is stronger than he. It is some comfort to us to think that Christ suffered, being tempted; for thus it appears that temptations, if not yielded to, are not sins, they are afflictions only, and such as may be pleased. And we have a High Priest who knows, by experience, what it is to be tempted, and who therefore is the more tenderly touch with the feelings of our infirmities in an hour of temptation, Heb 2 18; 4 15. But it is much more a comfort to think that Christ conquered, being tempted, and conquered for us; not only that the enemy we grapple with is a conquered, baffled, disarmed enemy, but that we are interested in Christ’s victory over him, and through him are more than conquerors.

Jesus fasted forty days and forty nights and afterwards was famished (verse 2).

Henry explains:

He was dieted for the combat, as wrestlers, who are temperate in all things (1 Cor 9 25); but Christ beyond any other, for he fasted forty days and forty nights, in compliance with the type and example of Moses the great lawgiver, and of Elias, the great reformer, of the Old Testament. John Baptist came as Elias, in those things that were moral, but not in such things as were miraculous (John 10 41); that honour was reserved for Christ. Christ needed not to fast for mortification (he had no corrupt desires to be subdued); yet he fasted, (1.) That herein he might humble himself, and might seem as one abandoned, whom no man seeketh after. (2.) That he might give Satan both occasion and advantage against him; and so make his victory over him the more illustrious. (3.) That he might sanctify and recommend fasting to us, when God in his providence calls to it, or when we are reduced to straits, and are destitute of daily food, or when it is requisite for the keeping under of the body, or the quickening of prayer, those excellent preparatives for temptation. If good people are brought low, if they want friends and succours, this may comfort them, that their Master himself was in like manner exercised. A man may want bread, and yet be a favourite of heaven, and under the conduct of the SpiritWhen he fasted forty days he was never hungry; converse with heaven was instead of meat and drink to him, but he was afterwards an hungred, to show that he was really and truly Man; and he took upon him our natural infirmities, that he might atone for us. Man fell by eating, and that way we often sin, and therefore Christ was an hungred.

MacArthur explains the terms for ‘devil’:

The word “devil,” maybe we could say a word about that – diabolos, it means “slanderer.” And he goes by many names in the Bible, all of which indicate that he is a real person. You don’t give names to a floating fog, or an idea. He is called, “the prince of this world,” “the prince of the power of the air,” “the god of this age,” “the prince of demons,” “Lucifer,” “Satan,” “the serpent,” “the great dragon,” “the evil one,” “the destroyer,” “the tempter,” “the deceiver,” and “the spirit that works in the sons of disobedience” – he’s got a lotta names. Here he is called “the slanderer,” diabolos, “the devil.” And he comes to Christ, and he comes to tempt Him right at the point of His strengths, you know, and he does this to us. If you have charm, Satan will tempt you to use your charm to get what you want. If you have a way with words he will tempt you to use your ability to communicate, to produce glib excuses, to justify your conduct, and to talk people into what you want. If you have mental brilliance you will be tempted to use it to become the master and not the servant of men. It’s a grim fact, people, but it’s true. Temptation usually comes where we are the strongest, and where we think we’re really being strong we get pushed over the edge. Jesus entered a real confrontation with a real devil, and Satan hit Him right where He was.

The tempter came and said to Jesus, ‘If you are the Son of God, command these stones to become loaves of bread’ (verse 3).

MacArthur sees two purposes in our Lord’s temptation:

the test first of all comes, ah, to prove the royalty of Christ, to prove the deity of Christ, to affirm that He is the King. Secondly, I believe it is included in the Word of God as a demonstration of victory over sin, to show how the believer is to tackle the situation of peirasmos, testing and temptation.

MacArthur calls our attention to the word ‘if’ in verse 3, as if Satan meant to instil doubt in our Lord’s mind that He was not the Son of God:

The first word Satan said, “if,” the doubt. Satan’s ever present if, always there. So he tempted Eve, so he tempted Christ, so he tempts us. He always begins by trying to create doubt about the reality of the divine standard. He doesn’t say, “You are the Son of God” right out. He says, “if you are,” implying that there needs to be the proving of it. If he can create doubt about the reality of the standard, doubt about the authority figure involved, he can lessen the concern of the one being tempted. So he tempts us with his evil whispers, breathing doubt into our souls, doubts about who we are in Christ, doubts about the veracity of God’s revelation, doubts about God’s power, doubts about God’s love, doubts about our conversion – “If thou be a child of God.” Doubts about our inabilities, doubts about our strengths. He suggests again and again the terrible “if” – harassing the soul of a man with fear, with perplexing doubt.

He knew Jesus was God’s Son, and Jesus knew Jesus was God’s Son, but that didn’t stop Satan from starting with “if.” Always questioning, always wanting to plant doubt. As we study the book of Ephesians you’ll see that one of the armor pieces of the Christian is the helmet of salvation. In, ah, Thessalonians Paul says there, he gives us the full title of it: “The helmet of the hope of salvation.” And one of the crushing things that Satan wants to do is smash the believer in the head with doubt, and it is the helmet of the hope of salvation that thwarts that doubt. In other words, the confidence that our salvation is secure. That’s an ever-present attack of Satan.

Satan wanted to use our Lord’s hunger as a means of planting doubt that God would take care of Him:

Satan was saying, “You better second guess God. God’s not fulfilling His part of the deal.” It was ah, an urging on Satan’s part for Jesus to sweep aside every human want by a divine act. And it was a temptation to, to really exercise personal selfish authority to do what would satisfy His own wants because He believed God had let Him down. “Why are You hungry? You’re the Son of God. If You’re the Son of God, You shouldn’t be hungry. Make these stones into bread, take a little right to Yourself, grab a little of the authority that’s Yours. You’re too dignified for this thing. If God isn’t gonna meet Your need, You take it Yourself. You were born in a stable, but You’re the Son of God. Hurried off to Egypt for fear of Herod’s wrath, You’re the Son of God. A carpenter’s roof supplied You with a home, and in the obscurity of a despicable town called Nazareth You spent thirty years. Is that fitting for the Son of God? The voice of God comes from heaven, ‘This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.’ Listen Jesus, You’ve suffered enough indignity. You’ve suffered enough. You’re the Son of God, now grab some satisfaction. You have a right to it. You linger for weeks here in the desert, wandering among wild beasts and craggy rocks, unhonored, unattended, unpitied, ready to starve. Is this befitting the Son of God? If You are the Son of God, then take Your prerogatives.

The food issue was no doubt intentional:

… it was a wicked attempt to cause the Last Adam to fail where the first Adam – Adam had failed with a food issue. You see, the first Adam blew it with the apple, and Satan wanted the Last Adam to blow it with the bread. But the temptation was far beyond that. The point of Satan was this: he wanted to make Jesus distrust the Father’s care. He wanted to destroy the Son’s confidence in the Father.

Jesus responded by citing the second half of Deuteronomy 8:3, words that Moses spoke to the Israelites (verse 4):

He humbled you, causing you to hunger and then feeding you with manna, which neither you nor your ancestors had known, to teach you that man does not live on bread alone but on every word that comes from the mouth of the Lord.

Our Lord kept His eye on God rather than on His hunger.

That was not the only time, either.

MacArthur reminds us of other examples in His life on earth:

The crowd said the same thing at the cross. “If You’re the Son of God, get off that cross. If You’re the Son of God, what are You doin’ up there?” Remember that? You hear that voice of Satan, don’t ya? “You’re a Christian. You deserve better than this. Get it your way. Don’t wait for God; He hasn’t delivered.”

To succumb to Satan’s temptation would be to distrust God. Jesus in the garden, sweating, as it were, great drops of blood, prayed a prayer, “O Father, let this cup pass from me.” “Father, this is not something I would choose; this is not something I would want.” And I’m sure right there the test was going on, and Satan was trying to turn it again into a temptation for Him to, to say to Himself, “Why am I doing this? I don’t deserve to die like this.” And yet Jesus burst out finally in a victorious statement. He said, “Not my will but” – What? – “thine be done.” Listen, Jesus had given Himself to the Father’s will.

MacArthur explains our Lord’s message to Satan by quoting Deuteronomy 8:3:

We could paraphrase it this way: “Satan,” Jesus says, “you are proceeding on a false assumption, and that false assumption is that for a man, in order to appease hunger and stay alive, he’s gotta have bread. That is wrong. Over against this erroneous idea I now declare to you that it is not bread, but it is the creative, energizing, sustaining power of God that is the only real source of any man’s existence.” He’s right.

Henry gives us two other aspects of Satan’s wiles. The first is that God does not love us. The second is that we can get by without God:

The Devil carries on his designs very much by possessing people with hard thoughts of God, as if he were unkind, or unfaithful, and had forsaken or forgotten those who had ventured their all with him. He endeavored to beget in our first parents a notion that God forbade them the tree of knowledge, because he grudged them the benefit of it; and so here he insinuates to our Saviour, that his Father had cast him off, and left him to shift for himself. But see how unreasonable this suggestion was, and how easily answered. If Christ seemed to be a mere Man now, because he was hungry, why was he not confessed to be more than a Man, even the Son of God, when for forty days he fasted, and was not hungry?

Secondly, “Thou hast now an opportunity to show that thou art the son of God. If thou art the Son of God, prove it by this, command these stones” (a heap of which, probably, lay now before him) “be made bread, v. 3. John Baptist said but the other day, that God can out of stone raise up children to Abraham, a divine power therefore can, no doubt, out of stones, make bread for those children; if there thou has that power, exert it now in a time of need for thyself.” He does not say, Pray to thy Father that he would turn them into bread; but command it to be done; thy Father hath forsaken thee, set up for thyself, and be not beholden to him. The Devil is for nothing that is humbling, but every thing that is assuming; and gains his point, if he can but bring men off from their dependence upon God, and possess them with an opinion of their self-sufficiency.

Then the devil took Him to the holy city — Jerusalem — and placed Him on the pinnacle of the temple (verse 5).

Henry says that Jesus allowed Satan to lead Him to this pinnacle, which, in itself, has connotations of temptation:

He took Christ, not by force against his will, but moved him to go, and went along with him, to Jerusalem. Whether Christ went upon the ground, and so went up the stairs to the top of the temple, or whether he went in the air, is uncertain; but so it was, that he was set upon a pinnacle, or spire; upon the fane (so some), upon the battlements (so others), upon the wing (so the word is), of the temple. Now observe, First, How submissive Christ was, in suffering himself to be hurried thus, that he might let Satan do his worst and yet conquer him. The patience of Christ here, as afterward in his sufferings and death, is more wonderful than the power of Satan or his instruments; for neither he nor they could have any power against Christ but what was given them from above. How comfortable is it, that Christ, who let loose this power of Satan against himself, does not in like manner let it loose against us, but restrains it, for he knows our frame! Secondly, How subtle the Devil was, in the choice of the place for his temptations. Intending to solicit Christ to an ostentation of his own power, and a vain-glorious presumption upon God’s providence, he fixes him on a public place in Jerusalem, a populous city, and the joy of the whole earth; in the temple, one of the wonders of the world, continually gazed upon with admiration by some one or other. There he might make himself remarkable, and be taken notice of by everybody, and prove himself the Son of God; not, as he was urged in the former temptation, in the obscurities of a wilderness, but before multitudes, upon the most eminent stage of action.

Note, Pinnacles of the temple are places of temptation; I mean, (1.) High places are so; they are slippery places; advancement in the world makes a man a fair mark for Satan to shoot his fiery darts at. God casts down, that he may raise up; the Devil raises up, that he may cast down: therefore they who would take heed of falling, must take heed of climbing. (2.) High places in the church are, in a special manner, dangerous. They who excel in gifts, who are in eminent stations, and have gained great reputation, have need to keep humble; for Satan will be sure to aim at them, to puff them up with pride, that they may fall into the condemnation of the Devil. Those that stand high are concerned to stand fast.

The devil said to Jesus, ‘”If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down; for it is written, ‘He will command his angels concerning you,’ and ‘On their hands they will bear you up, so that you will not dash your foot against a stone'”‘ (verse 6).

There the devil referred to Psalm 91:11-12:

11 For he will command his angels concerning you
    to guard you in all your ways;
12 they will lift you up in their hands,
    so that you will not strike your foot against a stone.

Henry says that the devil twisted Scripture here:

See here, 1. How he misquoted it; and that was bad. The promise is, They shall keep thee; but how? In all thy ways; not otherwise; if we go out of our way, out of the way of our duty, we forfeit the promise, and put ourselves out of God’s protection. Now this word made against the tempter, and therefore he industriously left it out. If Christ had cast himself down, he had been out of his way, for he had no call so to expose himself. It is good for us upon all occasions to consult the scriptures themselves, and not to take things upon trust, that we may not be imposed upon by those that maim and mangle the word of God; we must do as the noble Bereans, who searched the scriptures daily. 2. How he misapplied it; and that was worse. Scripture is abused when it is pressed to patronize sin; and when men thus wrest it to their own temptation, they do it to their own destruction 2 Pet 3 16. This promise is firm, and stands good; but the devil made an ill use of it, when he used it as an encouragement to presume upon the divine care. Note, It is no new thing for the grace of God to be turned into wantonness; and for men to take encouragement in sin from the discoveries of God’s good will to sinners. But shall we continue in sin, that grace may abound? throw ourselves down, that the angels may bear us up? God forbid.

MacArthur tells us where this pinnacle was:

Now let me talk about this a minute. The devil again in­sinuates doubt. Apparently he can’t stand to admit the truth about Christ. He wants Christ to force the issue and to prove it; so he wants Him to commit a sin. So verse 5, he takes Him up into this place in Jerusalem on the pinnacle of the temple. Now we don’t exactly where it is; but, most people feel that on the Kidron Valley – which was east – in the, in the great temple – Herod’s great temple – there was a royal portico. The Kidron Valley, ah, looking, ah; if this is the west and this is the east, it just drops, and the temple ground is right here; it’s just a sheer drop, ah, at some point as much as 450 feet, straight down. And ah historians tell us that there was a roof edge over Herod’s royal portico that stuck out over the precipice. And it would be a dizzy height. Josephus says it’s a dizzy height of 450 feet. And, by the way, tradition tells us that the, the Lord’s brother, James, who was the head of the Jerusalem church, ah, was finally martyred by being thrown off that porch. And so it perhaps is there, and there Satan and Jesus are, and I don’t know how they got transported there but they did. And, and they’re looking over and Satan says, “You gonna trust God? You’re just gonna let God take care of everything, aren’t ya? You’re gonna have God take care of the whole thing, then jump. After all He says He’s not gonna let Ya dash Your foot against a stone. If You’ll not prove Your messiahship by working a miracle to save Yourself, then why don’t Ya let God prove You’re a Messiah by doing a miracle Himself? If God’s the One You’re concerned about, let Him do it.”

Jesus responded by citing Deuteronomy 6:16, again, words that Moses spoke to the Israelites (verse 7):

16 Do not put the Lord your God to the test as you did at Massah.

MacArthur explains that Jesus did not minister among us to create sensations, even when that is what people wanted. He came to bring us to salvation through His sacrifice on the cross and His resurrection:

Faith which depends on signs and sensations isn’t faith; it’s doubt looking for proof. If faith can’t believe without sensation, it’s not faith at all. Jesus refused the way of sensation, for it was the people’s way, it was the wrong way, it was the way to failure. And to long for the sensation, and to long for the thing that’s visible, and to long for the big miracle, and the big sign, and the big act, is nothing but masked doubt. Not trusting God. And so Jesus said there’s no sense in testing God. You wanna know why? You know why there’s no sense in testing God? Because there’s nothin’ to – What? – there’s nothin’ to prove; it’s already proven. You don’t need in your life to say, “Alright God, I don’t know whether You’re for real, so I’m gonna get myself in this mess and You get me out and show me You’re for real.” Listen, God has already proven Him­self real, right? Don’t you put God to the test. You might jump and He just might not catch ya. Jesus knew that had He tested God He would have perverted the plan of God.

Henry explains why we should not test God:

… it is an abuse of the privilege we enjoy, in having him for our God; he has thereby encouraged us to trust him, but we are very ungrateful, if therefore we tempt him; it is contrary to our duty to him as our God. This is to affront him whom we ought to honour.

MacArthur has a very practical example of testing God:

For example, the guy who’s the deadbeat, who says, “Well, I don’t see any reason to work if God’s gonna provide.” See, now you’re testing God. Because God has said in His Word, “If you don’t work, you don’t” – What? – “eat.” One way He provides is through you working. So you can’t bypass the means of grace and then expect God to be put to the test; that’s a sin.

Again, the devil took Jesus to another elevated place, a very high mountain, and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their splendour (verse 8).

Henry describes where the mountain might have been as well as Satan’s artifices in play here:

The pinnacle of the temple is not high enough; the prince of the power of the air must have him further up into his territories. Some think this high mountain was on the other side of Jordan, because there we find Christ next after the temptation, John 1 28, 29. Perhaps it was mount Pisgah, whence Moses, in communion with God, had all the kingdoms of Canaan shown him. Hither the blessed Jesus was carried for the advantage of a prospect; as if the devil could show him more of the world than he knew already, who made and governed it. Thence he might discover some of the kingdoms situate about Judea, though not the glory of them; but there was doubtless a juggle and a delusion of Satan’s in it; it is probable that that which he showed him, was but a landscape, an airy representation in a cloud, such as that great deceiver could easily frame and put together; setting forth, in proper and lively colours, the glories and the splendid appearances of princes; their robes and crowns, their retinue, equipage, and lifeguards; the pomp of thrones, and courts, and stately palaces, the sumptuous buildings in cities, the gardens and fields about the country-seats, with the various instances of their wealth, pleasure, and gaiety; so as might be most likely to strike the fancy, and excite the admiration and affection. Such was this show, and his taking him up into a high mountain, was but to humour the thing, and to colour the delusion; in which yet the blessed Jesus did not suffer himself to be imposed upon, but saw through the cheat, only he permitted Satan to take his own way, that his victory over him might be the more illustrious.

Satan said to Jesus, ‘All these I will give you, if you will fall down and worship me’ (verse 9).

It sounds absurd, but MacArthur explains that this was Satan’s way of persuading Jesus not to die on the cross for our sins:

So first of all he tempts Him whether He’s gonna trust the Father’s will. Then he tempts Him to presume on the Father’s will, and now he says, “How about this, I’ll even give Ya the Father’s will.” But not by the Father’s means, see; there’s always a catch. Psalm 2:8 God said, “Ask of me, and I will give thee the heathen for thine inheritance, and the uttermost part of the earth for thy possession.” Psalm 2:8 was the promise of the Father to the Son that He was to have. But Satan says, “Compromise and get it my way,” see. Christ can have it all and it was, it must have been a legiti­mate test because it would have meant bypassing what great event? The cross, the death that had been pictured in His baptism. He wouldn’t have to be the sin offering to get the kingdoms of the world. He could just have all of it turned over to Him, but He would have to sell His soul to Satan. Instead of the long, bitter road to the throne, just one short bow and He’d get it. He could rule at once – no shame; no glory; no hatred; no persecution; no animosity; no bitterness; no, no buffeting, spitting, crucifying – none of that. He could have it. Just what Satan told Eve, “You shall be as God.”

Jesus answered, ‘Away with you, Satan! for it is written, “Worship the Lord your God, and serve only him”‘ (verse 10).

There Jesus was referring to Deuteronomy 6:13:

13 Fear the Lord your God, serve him only and take your oaths in his name.

MacArthur warns us about the very real aspects of temptation:

People, don’t forget this, that in the kingdom that Jesus has prepared for His people, the whole world will be yours, you understand that? ... But don’t seek to gain it sinfully. If you want happiness, let God give you happiness. Don’t seek it at the, at the expense of an immoral love affair. If you want, ah, comfort, let God make you comfortable. Don’t seek to gain money to be rich to buy comfort, you see. And you see how Satan twists everything? Receive it on God’s terms.

So, what are the lessons that we see here? Satan will tempt us, first, to distrust the providential care of God. “Take up your own problems, get your own answers, solve your own struggles, grab your own satisfaction, get happiness your own way.” And then he will tempt us to presume in a wanton appeal to God’s care. And you know some­thing, people? Every time you sin, you are really presuming on God’s forgiveness, aren’t ya? You’re saying, “God will forgive me. God will, God wil1 take care of me. I’m under the blood. I’m safe, saved. Salvation forever. I’m okay.” You’re presuming on God. Don’t tempt God; that’s sin.

Thirdly, Satan will tempt you to fulfill your ambition for yourself, his way. Remember James and John? They sent their mother to Jesus, ah, “Jesus, my two boys would like to sit on the right and left hand in the kingdom.” Oh, that is so ugly, isn’t it? Listen, the Lord’s gonna to give them a place of rulership in the kingdom in His good time. They don’t need to seek it by personal ambition.

No, listen. Those are the three areas that Satan always attacks. First of all, distrusting the providential care of God, then presuming on God by a wanton appeal to His existent grace, and thirdly, temptation to use your own ambition to fulfill the goals that God has already promised you, but on your terms. You’re gonna fulfill ’em in a wrong manner.

Now in this temptation, who do we turn to? We turn to Christ and we see the victory. We keep our eyes on the Master “who was in all points tempted like as we are, yet without sin.” Satan always comes in the same areas.

Then the devil left Jesus, and suddenly angels came and waited upon Him (verse 11).

MacArthur says:

They were there at His birth; all during His earthly life they protected Him. He said He could have called twelve legions of ’em if He wanted to. They were there at His resurrection, announcing it. They’ll be there at His second coming, and here they are taking care of Him. Listen, the angels care for Christ.

MacArthur gives us the lesson we can learn from our Lord’s temptation — keep our eye on God rather than the shiny bauble of sin:

And so there are tests – all around us – tests provided for us by God, and then pushed into temptations by the evil one, to drive us to internalize the test, to kindle lust about the test, which generates sin. Everybody has to deal with it, “such as is common to man; but God is faithful.” And God has provided, says 1 Corinthians 10:13, “an ekbasis,” “an out,” literally. In fact, it has a definite article, the out,” “the way out.” There is a way of victory. There is a way to go right through a temptation. There is a way to bear the temptation, to win in the temptation. And that is, of course, to respond in obedience to God and to fight temptation in the only way that it could ever be fought, and that is the way it was fought by the Lord Jesus Christ. If you want to know how to handle temptation, you’ve got to learn your lesson from Christ, because He is the only one who ever lived on the face of the earth who was able to take temptation right to its limit and never internalize it, never let it kindle lust, never let it become sin. He knows how to handle every temptation, every category of temptation. He is the one who shows us the way through. He is the one who shows us victory. He is the only one who can give that victory to us. So we’re looking then at His temptation, not with a historic perspective, but with a present perspective. Not to find out – Isn’t it interesting how He did it? – but look how He did it and how it can be applied to how we must face the reality of temptation.

May everyone reading this enjoy a blessed Sunday.

Ash Wednesday is February 22, 2023.

Readings can be found here.

The Epistle is as follows (emphases mine):

2 Corinthians 5:20b-6:10

5:20b We entreat you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God.

5:21 For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.

6:1 As we work together with him, we urge you also not to accept the grace of God in vain.

6:2 For he says, “At an acceptable time I have listened to you, and on a day of salvation I have helped you.” See, now is the acceptable time; see, now is the day of salvation!

6:3 We are putting no obstacle in anyone’s way, so that no fault may be found with our ministry,

6:4 but as servants of God we have commended ourselves in every way: through great endurance, in afflictions, hardships, calamities,

6:5 beatings, imprisonments, riots, labors, sleepless nights, hunger;

6:6 by purity, knowledge, patience, kindness, holiness of spirit, genuine love,

6:7 truthful speech, and the power of God; with the weapons of righteousness for the right hand and for the left;

6:8 in honor and dishonor, in ill repute and good repute. We are treated as impostors, and yet are true;

6:9 as unknown, and yet are well known; as dying, and see–we are alive; as punished, and yet not killed;

6:10 as sorrowful, yet always rejoicing; as poor, yet making many rich; as having nothing, and yet possessing everything.

Commentary comes from Matthew Henry and John MacArthur (as indicated below).

Here we have a discourse from Paul on the ministry of reconciliation, being an ambassador of Christ and the truth of the Gospel. As all of these require explanation, this is another long post.

On the truth of the Gospel message, John MacArthur says:

Once we’ve been called to preach, once we’ve been called to proclaim, we have been given the word of reconciliation.

Just a – a brief note about that. The term “word” here is logos. It really can be a synonym for “message.” But it carries even something beyond that. “Logos in ancient times indicated not just a word or a message, but it indicated what is true and trustworthy, as opposed to what was, on the other hand, muthos. Not logos, but muthos; muthos meaning myth. Muthos described what was fictitious, what was spurious, what was not verifiable. Its very opposite was logos, what was true and trustworthy …

And opposed to all the myths that exist in the world, it is the truth about salvation, it is the truth about the cross, it is the truth about life with God and it is the truth about reconciliation. This was the heart of Paul’s preaching. To go back to 1 Corinthians chapter 1 in verse 17, Paul says, “For Christ did not send me to baptize, but to preach the gospel, not in cleverness of speech that the cross of Christ should not be made void.”

To adulterate or to at all alter the simple straight-forward message of reconciliation in the cross is somehow to render that cross null and void. And though the word of the cross may be to those who are perishing foolishness; to us who are being saved, it is indeed the power of God.

It is interesting to note the first half of 2 Corinthians 5:20:

We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us.

MacArthur says that the Greek root of the word ‘ambassador’ is similar to that of ‘presbyter’, or ‘elder’:

We are ambassadors for Christ. Quite an interesting term, presbeuomen from the verb presbeuō. It’s a very rich term. It is related to the term – though it’s not the exact term – it is related to the term for elders. But in this case, it is the word for ambassador. Presbeuō and presbutēs are connected to presbus, which means old, which, of course, is connected to presbuteros which means elders, which we are familiar with. It is a word that means ambassador, but it has that idea of being old because in ancient times old and experienced men were usually the ones chosen to be ambassadors of emperors and of kings. It’s a very noble word.

It still has a nobility about it when we hear about someone being the ambassador to some country. It – it has the ring of dignity about it. It conveys a great deal. An ambassador represents his government in all of its character and all of its dignity, in all of its philosophy. To scorn then an ambassador or to mistreat him is to scorn and mistreat the government which he represents. To send him away is to break off relations with the government and the ruler whom he represents.

An ambassador speaks wholly for his ruler. He is his ruler’s mouthpiece. He never utters his own thoughts. He never offers promises, demands his own things, but rather those things of his kingdom. And certainly, an ambassador’s person and character and virtue lend weight to the authenticity and dignity of his kingdom. So an ambassador then is a messenger. An ambassador is a representative. His message, his authority are given to him by his king. And in Paul’s day such a duty was as highly respected as it is today, if not more so.

Generally speaking, when the Roman government would conquer a particular country, they would put into that country as many as ten ambassadors who have responsibility for representing their interest and their presence in that conquered land. So an ambassador is also in a foreign land. He spends his life with those who are strange to him. He has to speak a different language. He has to interface with a different culture. He has to bear a different life style. He has to endure a different tradition. He lives, really, in a foreign world. And in that foreign world he represents his own king, his own monarch, his own kingdom and he brings the message of his sovereign. Very graphic terms, aren’t they, in which to understand our calling.

Here we are in this alien world and we are ambassadors for the kingdom of God. Our citizenship is not here, it is in heaven. We belong to another dimension and we have been called into this role of ambassador to tell the people of this perishing world that they can be reconciled to the King of our Kingdom who desires to make them subjects of His eternal kingdom and glory.

In the second half of verse 20, the Apostle urged the Corinthians — and us — on behalf of Christ to be reconciled to God.

MacArthur says:

Now remember, the apostle Paul was under major assault in Corinth by those who wanted to discredit him. And here he defends himself and he defends his ministry and defends his calling as an ambassadorship for God on behalf of Jesus Christ. He reminds them that like all truly called preachers, he is given the commission of preaching the word of reconciliation, he is the ambassador of God on behalf of Christ. We are ambassadors huper, on behalf of Christ.

Christ made our reconciliation with the Father possible through His sacrificial death on the cross.

Matthew Henry‘s commentary tells us:

Reconciliation is here spoken of as our indispensable duty, 2 Corinthians 5:20; 2 Corinthians 5:20. As God is willing to be reconciled to us, we ought to be reconciled to God. And it is the great end and design of the gospel, that word of reconciliation, to prevail upon sinners to lay aside their enmity against God. Faithful ministers are Christ’s ambassadors, sent to treat with sinners on peace and reconciliation: they come in God’s name, with his entreaties, and act in Christ’s stead, doing the very thing he did when he was upon this earth, and what he wills to be done now that he is in heaven. Wonderful condescension! Though God can be no loser by the quarrel, nor gainer by the peace, yet by his ministers he beseeches sinners to lay aside their enmity, and accept of the terms he offers, that they would be reconciled to him, to all his attributes, to all his laws, and to all his providences, to believe in the Mediator, to accept the atonement, and comply with his gospel, in all the parts of it and in the whole design of it.

MacArthur explains the Greek meaning of ‘reconciliation’:

The word “reconcile,” katallassō, means “to change, to exchange, to reconcile.” Now mark it. Man never makes reconciliation. It is not what he – what he does, it is what he receives. It is not what he accomplishes, it is what he embraces. To put it another way, this reconciliation with God is not something we accomplish when we decide to stop rejecting God …

The great plan of reconciliation, of salvation by which we are reconciled to God is due to God Himself. And wherever the language of reconciliation is found in the New Testament, God is always the subject of the reconciling activity. There is no hint ever in the Scripture – and mark this – that Jesus Christ is the gracious one who must somehow overcome unwillingness on God’s part to be reconciled with sinful humanity. It isn’t that God is reluctant and Jesus is pleading. It is God Himself who initiates and effects the reconciliation through Christ. This is the incredible reality of the gospel

And the wonder of it all is that we can say to people, “God has removed the barriers and made available reconciliation for you if you will receive it.” You don’t have to do it, you just have to embrace it. You don’t have to accomplish it, you just need to receive it. God is the author. God is the source. God is the power behind reconciliation which was initiated and accomplished through the death of Jesus Christ. And apart from that divine initiative, then there would be no way for men to be reconciled. And that is what we preach.

Paul says that, on the cross, God made Jesus, who knew no sin, to be sin so that in Him we might become the righteousness of God (verse 21).

Henry explains the first part of the verse:

He was made sin; not a sinner, but sin, that is, a sin-offering, a sacrifice for sin.

Of the second half of the verse, he says:

The end and design of all this: that we might be made the righteousness of God in him, might be justified freely by the grace of God through the redemption which is in Christ Jesus. Note, [1.] As Christ, who knew no sin of his own, was made sin for us, so we, who have no righteousness of our own, are made the righteousness of God in him. [2.] Our reconciliation to God is only through Jesus Christ, and for the sake of his merit: on him therefore we must rely, and make mention of his righteousness and his only.

MacArthur has more:

It doesn’t mean that we’re not sinners in reality. We still are, but it means we are covered in the righteousness of Christ, blanketed, robed. And our sins then are made invisible.

And so it is by this means called justification. Now, remember, justification is a declaration by God in which He declares the sinner righteous because He has covered him with the righteousness of Christ. He doesn’t count our trespasses against us, rather robes us in the imputed righteousness of Jesus Christ. That is what happens when you put your faith in Jesus Christ. At that very moment, you are clothed in the righteousness of Christ. God then imputes to you righteousness and does not count your trespasses against you.

It doesn’t mean you’ve reached a place where you’re better and so you’ve achieved righteousness. That’s impossible. By – by your works you cannot become righteous. Salvation is not by works. What it does mean is that you put your faith in God, you’ve trusted in the person of Jesus Christ to be your – your sacrifice for sin. And by your faith God covers your sin with the righteousness of Christ, imputing to you that righteousness in a declaration of justification that makes you just before Him permanently.

It is also important to note that not everyone is saved:

You have a Savior of infinite value who provides a sacrifice of infinite worth that is valid for as many or as few as God saves. Therefore the intrinsic merit of His death is unlimited so that the offer is legitimately unlimited as well, and we can call every person in the world to Christ.

But the actual atonement, the actual atonement was made only for those who would believe. Only their sins were expiated; otherwise nobody could go to hell if God had in Christ borne the punishment for their sins. There would be no sins for them to be punished for. Now, obviously, there is more here than we can comprehend. No sense in going much farther. The Father already knew those people who would believe in Him. They had their names written in the Lamb’s Book of Life from before the foundation of the world so that when Jesus died, His death was designed to be absolutely personally efficacious to those people.

When Christ died He actually paid the penalty for the sins of those whom God had designed to belong to Him. That is why you have other scriptures which present a narrow perspective of the beneficiaries of Christ’s death. For example, John 10:11, “The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.” John 10:15, “I lay down My life for the sheep” …

Jesus prays in the high priestly prayer in John 17, “I’m not praying for the world but for those whom You have given Me for they are Yours. I do not pray for these only, but for those who believe in Me through their word.” The focus and attention of the actual atonement of Christ, the actual expiation, the actual sin bearing was in behalf of those who would believe. Christ died then, and in His death produced an infinitely valuable sacrifice which could reconcile all who came to God, however few or many.

The offer then is extended to all. The actual payment, however, was limited to those who believed whose names were written in the Lamb’s Book of Life before the foundation of the world.

This is what makes Christianity so distinctive and so perfect. No other world religion can match it.

MacArthur reminds us:

It was the Father who chose us in Him before the foundation of the world. It was the Father who predestined us to the adoption as sons through Jesus Christ. Everything is through the praise of His glory. It is He who freely bestowed on us salvation in the beloved, who gave us redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of sins, etc., etc. It was the Father who designed to lavish on us all wisdom and insight and all riches of grace.

Listen. This is very different in the religions of the world. The religions of the world basically operate on a premise of fear that God is an angry, hateful or indifferent God who could really care less about the prosperity of beings who grovel around underneath Him in this world. And so the goal of most all religions is to somehow appease an otherwise hostile and angry God. Somehow, they have to devise a system if they’re going to be reconciled to God so that He doesn’t crush out their life and punish them eternally. They’re going to have to appease this God. And so they are busily inventing systems of appeasement by which through certain religious ceremonies or through certain religious duties and actions or certain good works they can somehow appease this deity and somehow hold back His deadly fury.

On the other hand, Christianity proclaims a God who loves, who loves so much He is a Savior, God our Savior who will have all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth. We have a God who doesn’t hate but a God who loves sinners and has Himself designed a way for them to have fellowship with Him forever and ever. We don’t have to appease God. God loves the sinner. And God in His love provides the sacrifice and wonderfully and graciously and freely and magnanimously and eagerly offers the gift of forgiveness. This is the good news. The good news is you don’t have to appease God. The good news is you don’t have to figure out a plan of – of reconciliation. The good news is you don’t have to somehow work out your own righteousness. The good news is God is the benefactor. He knows what satisfies His righteousness and His holiness. He has effected that satisfaction. The price of sin has been paid and He now offers you forgiveness and reconciliation. That’s the gospel.

At the beginning of Chapter 6, Paul referred to himself in the third person plural, which he often did, presumably finding it preferable to writing ‘I, I, I’.

He said that as he works — ‘we work’ — together with God, he urged the Corinthians not to accept the grace of God in vain (verse 1).

MacArthur gives us the reasons why Paul would have written that:

he could be concerned with the salvation issue, that the grace of God expressed in the gospel of salvation has been preached to them but some of them aren’t truly saved. Some of them haven’t really believed. They have the knowledge about the gospel, but they do not have saving faith. I think that’s true. I think that is the case and that is why in Corinth, in chapter 13 verse 5, he says, “Test yourself to see if you’re in the faith, examine yourselves.” Because there were people in that congregation who were socially a part of it for whatever reason but who had not come to faith. And all the gospel preaching and all the grace of God in salvation proclaimed to them up to now was for nothing.

And along came another group of false teachers preaching another Jesus, another Spirit, another gospel and they were following that. And Paul is saying “Have I preached you the true grace of God in vain?” It’s very similar to his expression to the Galatians. In chapter 1 verse 6, he says, “I am amazed you are so quickly deserted – deserting Him who called you by the grace of Christ, for a different gospel.” I came, I preached you the grace of Christ and you’ve deserted that for a different gospel, which is really not another gospel. It’s a distortion of the true gospel. And anybody who preaches it ought to be damned, he says. So he could be concerned as he was there in Galatians, he could be concerned about people in the church who had not yet been saved abandoning the truth of salvation by grace for the false teachers’ legalistic Judaizing, cursed other gospel.

On the second hand, he could be concerned about not a salvation issue but a sanctification issue. That the grace of God which had saved them and they were redeemed was now going to be set aside for a new kind of sanctification. In this case it was the circumcision party, the Judaizing kind of element, and they were going to turn in living in the Spirit for living in the flesh by legalism. That, too, by the way, occurred in the Galatian situation. That’s why in chapter 3 of Galatians in verse 3 Paul says, “Are you so foolish having begun by the Spirit are you now being perfected by the flesh?” You started in the Spirit, now you’re going to turn to the flesh and think you can sanctify yourself. You knew you couldn’t save yourself, but you think you can sanctify yourself?

You see, the false teachers said you could save yourself. The gospel says you can’t. The false teachers said you could sanctify yourself. The Bible says you can’t. Sanctification is a work of God only. It’s not by our legalistic external ceremonial conformity to some religious code or some set of rules that we are sanctified. It’s by a deepening devotion of heartfelt obedience and adoration and praise toward the Lord Jesus Christ generated by the Holy Spirit. Now, these false teachers followed Paul all over the place trying to corrupt things.

And so the apostle Paul says to the Corinthians essentially what he said to the Galatians, “I preached to you the grace of God, the grace of Christ, some of you are turning to another gospel. I told you the path of sanctification was in the power of the Spirit, some of you are turning to another path of sanctification, legalism, mysticism, Judaism, whatever it is. You began in the Spirit, you’re not about to be perfected by the flesh.”

Citing Isaiah 49:8, Paul says that the acceptable time for God’s salvation is now (verse 2).

Isaiah 49:8 says:

This is what the Lord says:

“In the time of my favor I will answer you,
    and in the day of salvation I will help you;
I will keep you and will make you
    to be a covenant for the people,
to restore the land
    and to reassign its desolate inheritances,

Henry reinforces Paul’s message:

The present time is the only proper season to accept of the grace that is offered, and improve that grace which is afforded: NOW is the accepted time, NOW is the day of salvation, 2 Corinthians 6:2; 2 Corinthians 6:2. The gospel day is a day of salvation, the means of grace the means of salvation, the offers of the gospel the offers of salvation, and the present time the only proper time to accept of these offers: To-day, while it is called to-day. The morrow is none of ours: we know not what will be on the morrow, nor where we shall be; and we should remember that present seasons of grace are short and uncertain, and cannot be recalled when they are past. It is therefore our duty and interest to improve them while we have them, and no less than our salvation depends upon our so doing.

MacArthur says that, despite all the wrongs going on in the world, we are still in a time of grace and, as Henry says, must not delay receiving and preaching the Gospel:

People talk about the judgment of God and I believe we’re experiencing it in our nation. As you know, they talk about the imminent reality of the return of Jesus Christ. They talk about the disaster of our world. They talk about the way things are declining so rapidly, the chaos, the destruction of all that we hold precious, the death of morality, the demise of ethics and how are we going to hold our society together? And still I say to you, this is still God’s time. This is still an acceptable time, it is still the day of salvation. With all that is wrong I don’t know how close we are to the end, but this is still the day of grace.

The grace of God has come in the substitutionary work of Christ, as chapter 5 verse 21 says. This is the time to preach that substitutionary work. And so there needs to be a relentless urgency, a persistence, a passion about proclaiming truth as God’s coworker, about leading the church to do the same, fulfilling the ministry of reconciliation. This is not a time to waste, not a time to be feeble or vacillating, not a time to be deceived by false teachers, not a time to be led astray, it is a time to be clear about the truth and faithful to its proclamation.

Paul knew that there were false teachers in Corinth trying to destroy his reputation, so he defended himself, saying that he put no obstacles in anyone’s way in order that no one could criticise his ministry (verse 3).

MacArthur says that this is an enduring problem in ministry:

… verse 3, “Giving no cause for offense in anything.” And again I remind you, there are so many people who want to justify their rejection because of the glaring iniquities in the lives of people who identify with Christ. They wanted to find an Achilles heel in Paul. They just couldn’t find it so they lied. They manufactured lies. People still do that. But Paul didn’t need to change anything. What I am doing, he says in chapter 11 verse 12, I’ll continue to do. Nothing changes. There was nothing in his life and ministry that he needed to stop. It wasn’t that he was perfect, it was that he dealt with his imperfection. It wasn’t that he was sinless, it was that he dealt with his sin.

And, beloved, it is so sad and tragic to review the lives of those who by sin and scandal have disgraced Christ and His gospel and given fuel to the fires of the unbelievers who want to justify their rejection. The world loves it. The world revels in it. The press eats it up. They want to spread it all over the place. And sometimes, they want to exaggerate it and sometimes they want to make it up. And when I see that, I always have mixed emotions. Because when I see some scandalous exposure of someone in the ministry, I know that the gospel is discredited and the name of Jesus Christ is brought to shame. I understand that.

But on the other hand, I’m happy in my heart because public exposure is still better than concealment. And at least the corruption that’s eating at the heart of the church is exposed for what it is. Paul wanted no such thing in his life. He was protective of the glory and the integrity of the truth. He was protective of the honor of his Lord. He was protective of the credibility of his message. He says it there in verse 3, “In order that the ministry not be discredited.”

That’s why he wrote this whole epistle, thirteen chapters of this. Not to save his ego, his reputation or his income, but to save his opportunity to preach truth and not be thought of as a liar and a fake. He defends himself here for the sake of the proclamation of the truth, so he won’t be supplanted by false teachers who will lead people to hell. He is determined that no real blame will stand against him, no blemish, no disgrace. He wants to wield an untarnished sword. And he wants people to be able to look at his life as close as they can possibly look with as much scrutiny as they can possibly muster, and find nothing that would destroy his ministry.

Paul listed the negatives that he had experienced as a servant of God with commendation through great endurance: afflictions, hardships, calamities (verse 4), beatings, imprisonments, riots, labours, sleepless nights and hunger (verse 5).

MacArthur points out the word ‘endurance’ to us:

… Paul here says, “In everything commending ourselves as servants of God.” On the negative side, he said, “I’m careful what I don’t do,” on the positive side, “I’m careful what I do in endeavoring to commend myself as a true servant of God.” How do you know a true servant of God? How do you know one? How is one commended to you? How – how is one identified? By a degree from a seminary? By education? By having the right theology? By popularity? By personality? By giftedness? By success? By building a religious empire? By fame? By material prosperity? No. No, Paul says that faithful servants of God are commended – listen to this – by their ability to endure. See it there in verse 4. “But in everything commending ourselves as servants of God in much endurance.”

In much endurance. That’s the only one in the list that has an adjective added. So it stands out as a singular point which is then defined by what comes after it. In everything – afflictions, hardships, distresses, beatings, imprisonment, tumult, labors, sleeplessness, hunger, purity, knowledge, patience, kindness, the Holy Spirit, genuine love, the word of truth, the power of God, the weapons of righteousness – in all of those things, in everything, he says, “Commending ourselves as servants of God in much endurance.”

You see, the faithful servant of God is commended, listen, first of all, by his ability to survive the hostility of the enemies of the truth and remain faithful. I’ll say that again. The servant of God is commended by his ability to survive the hostility of the enemies of the truth and remain faithful. That’s the negative side. He endures the hostilities.

Paul explained how he greatly endured the hostilities he experienced: by purity, knowledge, patience, kindness, holiness of spirit, genuine love (verse 6), truthful speech, and the power of God; with the weapons of righteousness for the right hand and for the left (verse 7).

MacArthur says:

Verses 4 and 5 talk about the negatives and 6 about the positives. But the commendation is the same, the man endures through all of them. It doesn’t matter what the attack is. It doesn’t matter what the difficulty is, he endures. That’s how you commend yourself. Now these words starting in verse 4 and running down to verse 7 are emotionally charged. They tell us that in the ministry of reconciliation it is not – as the “name it and claim it” people say – we who make demands on God, but rather it is God who makes tremendous demands on us.

He demands that we endure all kinds of hostility. He demands that we endure in purity, knowledge, patience, kindness, the Holy Spirit, love, the word of truth, the power of God and the weapons of righteousness. He demands an unfaltering step, an unwavering line. Ambassadors of Jesus Christ then are those who are so loyal to Christ that they seek not greater comfort but greater endurance. They seek not greater prosperity but greater purity.

… And Paul is here defining ministry that is willing to make sacrifice, to endure hostility, to be unpopular, to live as the gospel demands, not as the culture suggests. What commands the loyal ambassador is not popularity. It is endurance. And the word “endurance” here, hupomonē, that remarkable untranslatable word in the Greek that means to triumph under difficulty, to endure with a triumphant attitude under hardship. That’s what commends him.

And look at the things that he lists that define that endurance. He was in much endurance in afflictions. That’s the word thlipsis. It means anything that expresses pressure, the exerts pressure, physical, emotional, spiritual pressure. Those crushing experiences. Those vicissitudes that weigh us down and burden the heart, those crushing disappointments, those pains of life. It’s the same word Paul used in Acts 20 when he said he was going to Jerusalem bound in his spirit

Here was a man who could say, “The sufferings of this world are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be ours.”

Paul wrote that he endured in honour and dishonour, in ill repute and good repute; he was treated as an impostor, yet he was true (verse 8) to God.

MacArthur discusses the paradox of ministry expressed in that verse:

Paradox. In spite of all of that, look at verse 8, in spite of the nobility and the commendable character of this marvelous man, he lived his life by glory and dishonor, by evil report and good report, regarded as deceivers and yet true, as unknown yet well-known, as dying yet behold we live, as punished yet not put to death, as sorrowful yet always rejoicing, as poor yet making many rich, as having nothing yet possessing all things. You see, that is the mark of his ministry. When you want to see a ministry that has character, look for the paradox, look for the paradox. Because an ambassador who is faithful to the word of reconciliation in a ministry of reconciliation, believe me, is going to have opposite extreme responses.

Even with all the noble devotion to the other perspectives, even though his heart was overwhelmed with his privilege, even though he was a man of passion, even though he was a man who totally protected the integrity and purity of his own life before God by the power of the Spirit, still he lived out a paradox of love and hate, contrasts that show how it is in a hostile world. We become to those who hear and believe the message, beloved, and to those who refuse and reject the message, enemies. And it’s not something to try to change. To some, we are a saver of life to life, and to some we are a saver of death to death, but in either case we rise as a fragrance to God.

You mean to tell me God is pleased when we are a saver of death to death? Yes. Because God is pleased with our faithfulness. This is the very chaos and dichotomy of the ministry. This is the life of one who is a force for truth, a confronter. This is the life of one who divides the true from the false, the right from the wrong, the sinner from the saint. This is the life of the one who incarnates the Word. This is how it is and this is how we should expect it to be.

MacArthur discusses Paul’s weapons of righteousness, in his right hand and his left:

What are the weapons of righteousness? Truth, truth, the truth of the Word of God, or the truths if you want to stay in the plural. It’s the truth of God’s revelation, no artificial atmosphere, no gimmicks. What we’re talking about here is confronting a fortress of ideologies with the truth … Because of the level of his spiritual commitment, because he was so powerful with the weapons of righteousness to devastate the strongholds of sinners, because he was so passionate and unrelenting in the assault, they both loved him who believed and despised him who did not. 

Paul wrote that he was treated as unknown, yet was well-known, as dying when he was alive, as punished yet not killed (verse 9).

MacArthur says:

… it is the paradox of ministry that he talks about in verses 8-10.

… Praised and despised, treated as a man of honor and respect, and treated as an archcriminal, exalted and maligned, criticized and flattered, vilified and cherished, it all goes with the job. It all goes with the witness. Light and dark, sun and shadow filled his life. No bland life of routine. The swing was from pole to pole, such is the legacy of spiritually-faithful men and women. They are someone’s hero and somebody else’s anti-hero. They’re someone’s friend and somebody else’s enemy. They encourage and they infuriate. They receive glory from some and are given nothing but dishonor from others.

This is the very chaos of dichotomy that was going on right in the Corinthian church. There were those in the church who loved and adored Paul, and there were those who vilified him. And Satan, believe me, wants to set that in motion to destroy anyone who preaches the truth and any congregation who has been founded in the truth. But this is the life of one who is a force for truth, someone who makes an impact, a confronter, a divider of sinners from saints, one who really incarnates the truth and proclaims it faithfully. It is his legacy to have this polarized kind of response where he is the most beloved and the most despised.

He was widely respected and honored in the community of those Pharisees and those Jews who hated Christianity and basically was unknown to the Christians until he began the persecution. But then he became a Christian, and it all reversed: The ones who knew him well wanted nothing to do with him. The ones who didn’t know him at all wanted everything to do with him. And he who was known and unknown became unknown and known. The was unknown now to the world that he used to be a part of, and he was now well known to believers. He was ignored by many who never heard of him. Yet for others he was the most-important person that ever lived because he brought them the truth. For some he was an obscure nobody; for others, he was everything. And that’s how it is, that’s how it is. There is a world out there that doesn’t know who the faithful are, but we know. And they’re unknown and yet they’re known.

Then he says in verse 9, “As dying yet behold we live.” What does he mean by this? Always on the brink of death. Back in chapter 1 he talked about that in this epistle. Just constantly burdened excessively beyond our strength so that we despaired even of life, we had the sentence of death within ourselves. I mean it was just a daily thing. He talks about it in chapter 4 again, every day facing death, every day facing death, always on the brink, always on the brink. His enemies dogging his steps to destroy him in his ministry. And just when they thought they had him, he got away. They stoned him and left him for dead and he rose from the ashes. Went back into the city and preached again to the same people. Just when they thought they could get him, he escaped. They thought they were gonna get him in Jerusalem and tie him up and deal with him. That didn’t work. He wound up in Caesarea, finally wound up in Rome. Everywhere he went he had a tremendous impact for the Gospel.

He always had the power because the Spirit of God was working through him to break the bands of his enemies and burst forth in a more powerful life. And you know what always happened to them is they escalated their persecution and increased the trouble to try to wipe him out. All they did was make him stronger because that’s what trouble does, doesn’t it? And they just made it more formidable. But death was his constant stalker, but death was unsuccessful until the moment when God determined that it was time for him to go to glory. So on the one hand, he was dying daily and yet he was absolutely alive with a vibrant, vivacious, aggressive life right on the brink of life. And again that celebrates the fact that his life was lived among those who loved him, and his death was imminent by those who hated him, and the truth was the divider.

Paul said that he was seen as sorrowful, yet was always rejoicing; poor, yet making many men rich; having nothing, yet possessing everything (verse 10).

MacArthur explains:

Here again is paradox in ministry. He was sorrowful. When? All the time. You say, “How do you know that?” Because he said in Romans, “I have continual sorrow and heaviness of heart.” It was always there. There was no way he could look at life trivially. He had a deep sorrow. He had a deep pain. He had a broken heart over the unconverted sinners, particularly among Israel. He had a broken heart over disobedient believers, over false teachers, and over corruption and sin in his churches. It just tore him up. It just distressed him. As he says in this very letter, “It depressed him.” Yes, he had constant sorrow, and yet he was always rejoicing. Why? Because he had a deep unfailing joy that dwelt way down in the untouched part of his soul. Because of God’s grace and God’s power and God’s goodness in his life, he rejoiced always. Periodically as he writes his letters he bursts into praise, and that’s why we have doxologies scattered throughout his epistles. He was not impervious. He was not immune to sorrow. He knew what it was to be discouraged and disappointed. He knew what it was to feel the pain of life, far more than we would ever imagine. And yet he never lost his joy, and he said, “Rejoice always and again I say rejoice.” Joy was never touched. That’s how it is, it’s this paradox of unending joy and unending sorrow.

And then he adds, “As poor yet making many rich.” He had very little of this world’s possessions. In fact, when he writes to the Thessalonians in 1 Thessalonians 2:9, he’s telling them that he’s been willing to work with his hands so nobody has to take up his support. But he says this, “Working night and day so as not to have to cause you to support me.” Night and day. In other words, he didn’t have any reservoir. He didn’t have any bank account. He didn’t have any savings bag. He had to work day and night just to sustain his support and the support of those who were with him. He knew what it was to be hungry. He knew what it was to go without sleep. He knew what it was to suffer the difficulties of hard labor just to make ends meet. He had very little of the wealth or possessions of this world. There was a time when he had that, and occasionally there would be churches that would send him more than he would need so he could say to the Philippians, “I know what it’s like to be in abundance, to be in prosperity. I know also what it’s like to have absolutely nothing. And in either state I am,” – what? – “content.” He had none of this world’s goods but he sure made everyone around him who believed what he said rich. He had nothing to give. Like you remember Peter and John, “Silver and gold have I none, yet such as I have give I unto thee.” That’s what we have to offer. We may not have the world’s material goods, but we have what the true riches are.

He was an amazing man. Working all his years to support himself, really had nothing, and yet made people eternally rich. And he closes this section by saying, “As having nothing, yet personally possessing all things. Don’t feel bad about my poverty. Don’t feel as if I’ve been poor just to make you rich. I’ve possessed everything, absolutely everything.” In 1 Corinthians chapter 3, verse 21, Paul says, “All things belong to you. Whether Paul or Apollos or Cephas or the world or life or death or things present or things to come. All things belong to you and you belong to Christ, and Christ belongs to God.” That’s riches, calls them the unspeakable riches in Ephesians. Paul had all the lasting treasure, all the gifts God’s grace could bestow.

MacArthur says that Paul never suffered burnout because he never had unrealised expectations:

he understood the paradox of ministry. People talk about burnout. They talk about people who get weary in well-doing. That is not related to work as I have told you. That’s not related to effort; that’s related to unrealized expectations. And if you don’t have any expectations, you’re not gonna suffer from that. Paul expected the best and what? The worst. So when the best came, he accepted it gladly, and when the worst came, he accepted it gladly. One who understands paradox of ministry, one who understands the pendulum swings to two extremes is ahead of the game really, because you’re not gonna be put off. You’re not gonna be knocked down. You’re not gonna be discouraged when you see it happen. It happened to Jesus. It happened to Paul. It happens to every faithful witness. You have to expect it. You have to expect that response to your life in ministry will be a wildly-oscillating experience. And through all that oscillation from glory to dishonor, you maintain endurance, contentment, integrity. You learn to accept the lows and highs. You learn to rejoice when someone comes to Christ. You learn to accept it when someone becomes hostile. The paradox is expected. It happened to Jesus. It happened to Paul. It’s happened to all those who faithfully preach the ministry of reconciliation to alienated sinners. It happens to all those who take the weapons of righteousness in the right and left hand, namely the truth, and storm the ideological fortresses of life. So here was a man who endured through all of this, because he had a sense of privilege, passion, protection, and paradox. Understanding those things is really crucial if you’re gonna be an effective ambassador for Jesus Christ, and that’s what God has called you and me to be.

MacArthur gives us another lesson we can learn from Paul:

Here we are 2,000 years from the events of the Gospel having been lived out in the Saviour’s life. Here we are after 2,000 years of theology and dialogue and study and scholarship, and here we are 2,000 years later, and what is it that we are still trying to sort out and understand against the backdrop of all the assaults? The Gospel! On the one hand, we’re not sure whether Jesus needs to be Lord. On the other hand, we’re not sure what you have to believe to be a Christian, and maybe we can just throw our arms around everybody who calls Christ their Savior without regard to what it is they believe. How could we be confused about the Gospel after all of these centuries have gone by? Answer: It is because at that point where the enemy assaults most viciously, ’cause that’s the point of salvation. Paul never wavered on the Gospel. He was faithful to it, faithful to the revealed Gospel.

Secondly, he says, “In the power of God.” He preached the Gospel and as Romans 1:16 says, “He did it not ashamed because it is the power of God unto salvation.” That’s a tremendous truth. He understood the power of the Gospel. In fact, earlier in his writings to the Corinthians in the first letter, first scriptural letter, chapter 1, verse 18 he says, “The word of the cross is to those who are perishing foolishness, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.” He understood the power of the Gospel. He didn’t hesitate on the Gospel. He didn’t mitigate the Gospel. He didn’t redefine the Gospel. He didn’t make it shallow and simplistic. He didn’t avoid the difficulties of the Gospel. He didn’t stay away from the terms that may seem too profound for the average human mind. He preached the Gospel clearly because he knew it was the power of God, and the worldly wise thought it was beneath them and foolish, but those who are being saved experienced it as the power of God.

What a message for Lent. If ever there was a spiritual discipline to begin cultivating, we need look no further than to Paul’s life as an example.

Transfiguration Sunday is February 19, 2023.

Readings for Year A can be found here.

Transfiguration Sunday is the last in the season of Epiphany. Ash Wednesday, the beginning of Lent, is February 22.

It is important to note that the First Reading and the Epistle relate to the Gospel.

The First Reading, Exodus 24:12-18, is the story of Moses going up on Mount Sinai, where the glory of God settled. Moses entered the cloud that covered the mountain and stayed there 40 days and 40 nights.

The Epistle, 2 Peter 1:16-21, is Peter’s testimony of witnessing the Transfiguration. Verses 16 and 19 stand out in particular (emphases mine below):

1:16 For we did not follow cleverly devised myths when we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we had been eyewitnesses of his majesty.

1:19 So we have the prophetic message more fully confirmed. You will do well to be attentive to this as to a lamp shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts.

The Gospel reading is as follows:

Matthew 17:1-9

17:1 Six days later, Jesus took with him Peter and James and his brother John and led them up a high mountain, by themselves.

17:2 And he was transfigured before them, and his face shone like the sun, and his clothes became dazzling white.

17:3 Suddenly there appeared to them Moses and Elijah, talking with him.

17:4 Then Peter said to Jesus, “Lord, it is good for us to be here; if you wish, I will make three dwellings here, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.”

17:5 While he was still speaking, suddenly a bright cloud overshadowed them, and from the cloud a voice said, “This is my Son, the Beloved; with him I am well pleased; listen to him!”

17:6 When the disciples heard this, they fell to the ground and were overcome by fear.

17:7 But Jesus came and touched them, saying, “Get up and do not be afraid.”

17:8 And when they looked up, they saw no one except Jesus himself alone.

17:9 As they were coming down the mountain, Jesus ordered them, “Tell no one about the vision until after the Son of Man has been raised from the dead.”

Commentary comes from Matthew Henry and John MacArthur.

Matthew Henry’s commentary cites 2 Peter 1:16 above and states:

We have here the story of Christ’s transfiguration; he had said that the Son of man should shortly come in his kingdom, with which promise all the three evangelists industriously connect this story; as if Christ’s transfiguration were intended for a specimen and an earnest of the kingdom of Christ, and of that light and love of his, which therein appears to his select and sanctified ones. Peter speaks of this as the power and coming of our Lord Jesus (2 Pet 1 16); because it was an emanation of his power, and a previous notice of his coming, which was fitly introduced by such prefaces.

Therefore, many Bible scholars see the Transfiguration as a glimpse of the Second Coming.

Between the end of Matthew 16 and these verses, nothing was recorded of our Lord’s activities or teachings.

Henry says:

St. Luke saith, It was about eight days after, six whole days intervening, and this the eighth day, that day seven-night. Nothing is recorded to be said or done by our Lord Jesus for six days before his transfiguration; thus, before some great appearances, there was silence in heaven for the space of half an hour, Rev 8 1. Then when Christ seems to be doing nothing for his church, expect, ere long, something more than ordinary.

At the end of those six days, Jesus took Peter and the brothers James and John by themselves, leading them up a mountain (verse 1).

John MacArthur picks up from the end of Matthew 16 to provide more context:

Let’s look back at verse 27 of chapter 16 and get our bearings. Jesus says there, “For the Son of Man shall come in the glory of His Father with His angels, and then He shall render to every man according to his works.”

Now, here is the first overt promise of the second coming recorded in Matthew’s Gospel. And our Lord is here saying to the disciples, “Listen, I’ve been talking to you about self-denial. I’ve been talking to you about bearing your cross. I’ve told you that I must go to Jerusalem to suffer many things and be killed. You’re very much aware of the persecution, the hostility, the rejection that we’ve seen from the people. You know that the message that I’ve given you is a message of suffering and death: my death and your death.”

But it will not always be that way. There will be a time when there is glory. There will be a day when the Son of Man comes in the full blazing glory of the Father with His angels, and then He will in judgment upon every man. There will be a glory time; there will be a time when the Son of Man comes not in humiliation, but in royal majesty.

And this is such an important message for them. It’s so balancing to what they have just heard, because they’ve just been told, in verse 24, that Jesus requires self-denial, cross bearing, and loyal obedience; that suffering will be, for them, a way of life; that they are to anticipate rejection, hostility, and even death. But that will be wonderfully compensated by the coming in glory.

Those who have been reading the past few weeks of exegeses of Matthew’s Gospel will know that he wrote it in order to establish our Lord’s Kingship over all, particularly to a Jewish audience, demonstrating that Jesus is the Messiah.

MacArthur explains that the Second Coming is part of His divine Kingship:

Now, the second coming of Jesus Christ, then, is introduced here, and it becomes, for Matthew, a very important truth. He talks about it in some more detail in chapter 24, chapter 25, and then even in chapter 26. Because Matthew, you know, is presenting Jesus as King. And as the King comes into the world, the first time, as we know, He’s rejected. And so, the end of the story must be when He comes and is royally acclaimed and crowned and enters into His reign and accepts His throne and His scepter, and rules as King of Kings and Lord of Lords. And so, He says it will come. It will come.

In fact, in the Old Testament, there are probably 1,500 and about 25 prophecies of the second coming. In the New Testament, 1 out of every 25 verses, or 319 or [3]20 verses talk about the second coming of Jesus Christ in glory and power and majesty to judge and to reign. And so, the Bible is very clear about this.

And thus, when our Lord says this in verse 27, it’s not an obscurity. It isn’t just a New Testament message; it was an Old Testament one as well. And, well, the disciples should have remembered that the Messiah would suffer first and then be glorified. But it seems as though all they can see is the glory; and all they can anticipate is the kingdom, and all the wonder, and all the majesty, and all the splendor of that; and they cannot handle what’s going on in the present tense. They can’t handle the suffering, the death, the pain, the rejection. And so, the Lord makes them this promise.

… And so, the Lord, in His wonderful grace, goes a step beyond the prophecy.

Henry explains why Jesus went on a mountaintop:

Christ chose a mountain, (1.) As a secret place. He went apart; for though a city upon a hill can hardly be hid, two or three persons upon a hill can hardly be found; therefore their private oratories were commonly on mountains. Christ chose a retired place to be transfigured in, because his appearing publicly in his glory was not agreeable to his present state; and thus he would show his humility, and teach us that privacy much befriends our communion with God. Those that would maintain intercourse with Heaven, must frequently withdraw from the converse and business of this world; and they will find themselves never less alone than when alone, for the Father is with them. (2.) Though a sublime place, elevated above things below. Note, Those that would have a transforming fellowship with God, must not only retire, but ascend; lift up their hearts, and seek things above. The call is, Come up hither, Rev 4 1.

Students of the Gospels know that Peter, John and James were the leaders of the Twelve, which is why Jesus chose them as witnesses of His transfiguration.

Henry says:

He took with him Peter and James and John. (1.) He took three, a competent number to testify what they should see; for out of the mouth of two or three witnesses shall every word be established. Christ makes his appearances certain enough, but not too common; not to all the people, but to witnesses (Acts 10 41), that they might be blessed, who have not seen, and yet have believed. (2.) He took these three because they were the chief of his disciples, the first three of the worthies of the Son of David; probably they excelled in gifts and graces; they were Christ’s favourites, singled out to be the witnesses of his retirements. They were present when he raised the damsel to life, Mark 5 37. They were afterward to be the witnesses of his agony, and this was to prepare them for that. Note, A sight of Christ’s glory, while we are here in this world, is a good preparative for our sufferings with him, as these are preparatives for the sight of his glory in the other world. Paul, who had abundance of trouble, had abundance of revelations.

MacArthur tells us:

Now, Deuteronomy 19:15 laid down and established a principle that any testimony was confirmed in the mouth of how many? Two or three witnesses. And so, the Lord, going to display His glory, wants it confirmed in the mouth of three witnesses – trustworthy witnesses.

And so, they are taken to be those three witnesses. Secondly, they’re taking because they were the intimates of the Savior. They were the closest to Him. They were around Him the most. And very frequently, perhaps, accompanied Him into intimate times of prayer.

And so, as He takes them into the high mountain, I don’t think they would have been very shocked by that. It perhaps had happened on many occasions. They were frequently alone with Jesus. Certainly Mark 5:37 indicates they were there at the raising of the young girl. They accompanied Him. You remember, in Mark 14 it says, into the Garden of Gethsemane the night that He agonized and sweat, as it were, great drops of blood. They were there with Him in His intimacy also.

And so, we’re not surprised that it’s Peter, James, and John. And I guess, in a way, we can understand why, because it seems proper that those who most intimately knew His sorrow, and those who most intimately knew His suffering, should most intimately see His glory.

And I think, too, they who would suffer. Peter crucified upside down, James beheaded, and John exiled should as well see His glory. And so, it was their intimacy with the Lord that drew them to this occasion.

Some might wonder why the rest of the Twelve did not go along. The answer is in verse 9. It would have been the wrong thing to do for the following reasons:

If all of the disciples had seen this, or if all of the disciples plus the crowd that was gathered there that day in upper Galilee, if all of them had seen it, too, there would have been no way to prevent widespread chaos, because having seen the glory of Jesus Christ on display, you can imagine that those people would have come running down that hillside and been unable to restrain themselves. And they would have propagated what they had seen, and again, Jesus would have been pushed into becoming the political military Messiah that the people wanted Him to be.

And so that they might not do that, He restricts it just to three that He can trust, three that are very intimate with Him, but three that can confirm Him as the Son of God.

MacArthur adds further insight, reminding us that Luke’s account says that the three men slept when they reached the mountaintop:

Now, we don’t know what mountain it was, somewhere in upper Galilee, south of Caesarea Philippi, where they had been for a while in rest and teaching. And now they’re moving toward Jerusalem as Christ moves that way, knowing it’s only months now till He will die.

And as they’re coming down from Caesarea Philippi, on their way to Jerusalem, about to enter into Capernaum, in some mountain in upper Galilee, in a high place that we’ll not know, He takes these three …

Now, when they get up in the mountain, what do you think the disciples were doing? Well, they did what usually did: slept. Matthew doesn’t tell us that, but Luke does in the parallel account. Luke says they were sleeping. And Jesus was – what? – praying … When into the high mountain they went, Jesus would pray, and they would sleep. And we’re not surprised, because we see this again. In fact, we see it later on – don’t we? – when the Lord is in the Garden of Gethsemane, pouring out His heart to the Father in that agonizing prayer.

And at that very time, the disciples also sleep. And Jesus, in fact, rebuked them and said, “Can’t you even watch with Me for an hour?” But if you were to look into Luke’s Gospel, chapter 22, verse 45, you would find that there was a reason they were asleep. The Bible says they were sleeping for sorrow. You know what happens when you get really depressed? You want to sleep. Many people do that. In fact, ultimately, depressed people want to sleep for good, so they take their life. Sleep is a way to escape, isn’t it? Some people take sleeping pills just so they can get away from things. And maybe it was what happened in Luke 22 they were sleeping because it was the only to deal with their sorrow was just to shut it out by falling asleep. Maybe here the same thing. Because here, too, they’re living in the very near announcement of the fact that everybody’s going to die in this deal.

Jesus was transfigured before the three men; His face shone like the sun and His clothes became dazzling white (verse 2).

Henry discusses this divine light:

He was transfigured before them. The substance of his body remained the same, but the accidents and appearances of it were greatly altered; he was not turned into a spirit, but his body, which had appeared in weakness and dishonour, now appeared in power and glory. He was transfigured, metamorphothehe was metamorphosed. The profane poets amused and abused the world with idle extravagant stories of metamorphoses, especially the metamorphoses of their gods, such as were disparaging and diminishing to them, equally false and ridiculous; to these some think Peter has an eye, when, being about to mention this transfiguration of Christ, he saith, We have not followed cunningly devised fables when we made it known unto you, 2 Pet 1 16. Christ was both God and man; but, in the days of his flesh, he took on him the form of a servantmorphen doulou, Phil 2 7. He drew a veil over the glory of his godhead; but now, in his transfiguration, he put by that veil, appeared en morphe theou—in the form of God (Phil 2 6), and gave his disciples a glimpse of his glory, which could not but change his form.

The great truth which we declare, is, that God is light (1 John 1 5), dwells in the light (1 Tim 6 16), covers himself with light, Ps 104 2. And therefore when Christ would appear in the form of God, he appeared in light, the most glorious of all visible beings, the first-born of the creation, and most nearly resembling the eternal Parent. Christ is the Light; while he was in the world, he shined in darkness, and therefore the world knew him not (John 1 5, 10); but, at this time, that Light shined out of the darkness.

Now his transfiguration appeared in two things:

1. His face did shine as the sun. The face is the principal part of the body, by which we are known; therefore such a brightness was put on Christ’s face, that face which afterward he hid not from shame and spitting. It shone as the sun when he goes forth in his strength, so clear, so bright; for he is the Sun of righteousness, the Light of the world. The face of Moses shone but as the moon, with a borrowed reflected light, but Christ’s shone as the sun, with an innate inherent light, which was the more sensibly glorious, because it suddenly broke out, as it were, from behind a black cloud.

2. His raiment was white as the light. All his body was altered, as his face was; so that beams of light, darting from every part through his clothes, made them white and glittering. The shining of the face of Moses was so weak, that it could easily be concealed by a thin veil; but such was the glory of Christ’s body, that his clothes were enlightened by it.

MacArthur says that, from verses 5 to 13, Matthew gives us five more testimonies that Jesus is King:

… the events that follow, from verse 5 to 13, we have five great proofs that this is the king of glory. Five great verifications that this is the Messiah, the Christ, the Son of the living God. Five great testimonies to the fact that Jesus is the promised King. In spite of what it looks like on the outside, He is the one. And they need this affirmation, and so do we.

Let’s look at the first element of that testimony. I’ll call it the transformation of the Son. The transformation of the Son. Verse 2, “And He was transformed” – metamorphosis; he was totally changed. And that term morphoō has to do with the body and form. His body, his form was totally changed, and that’s all really we can say about it. We don’t know any of the explanation for it; it’s supernatural …

And this, beloved, is the greatest testimony to Jesus Christ, I think, of any passage in the Bible. If you really want to know who Jesus is, here it is. The glory is radiating from the inside out. You can only understand it if you can understand the some kind of supernaturally infinite light bulb. The light coming within spreads out, and Jesus is aglow like a divine light bulb. And His brilliance is as the sun. The glow right through His garments sends its beams of light.

There’s little doubt who this is, folks. Little doubt. For whenever scripturally God manifests His invisible Spirit essence, it is manifest as light, isn’t it? You go back and find the Shekinah, the glow of God’s light in the Old Testament. God manifests Himself in blazing light, pillars of fire, a cloud. In fact, that light appears as fire sometimes and as a brilliant cloud other times, and here as just blazing light like the sun. When God, who is invisible Spirit, chooses to take a form to reveal Himself, apart from the incarnation of Jesus Christ, that form is light – blazing light. This is God.

And Peter gave testimony to that. In 2 Peter 1, he says, “We do not speak to you about the second coming of the Lord Jesus Christ in power as some fable, but we were eyewitnesses of His majesty; we saw it.” And John writes, “We beheld His glory” – John 1:14 – glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth We saw the very essence of God pouring out of that human form, transformed before our very eyes.

And, of course, when the Son of Man comes, Matthew 24:31 and 25:31 says, when the Son of Man comes, He comes in power and great glory, blazing glory. And lest you think this might be some other thing, in Revelation chapter 1, we have a picture of Jesus Christ in marvelous terms. It shows Him moving among His churches, and it says His head and His hair were white like wool, as white as snow. His eyes were like a flame of fire; His feet like fine bronze, as if they burned in a furnace; His voice like the sound of many waters. And He had in His right hand seven stars. And out of His mouth went a sharp, two-edged sword. And His face was as the sun shining in its strength. His face was like the brightest sun blazing. It’s the same picture You see right here.

Suddenly, there appeared to them Moses and Elijah, talking with Him (verse 3).

Henry explains the importance of those two eminent men from the Old Testament:

These two were Moses and Elias, men very eminent in their day. They had both fasted forty days and forty nights, as Christ did, and wrought other miracles, and were both remarkable at their going out of the world as well as in their living in the world. Elias was carried to heaven in a fiery chariot, and died not. The body of Moses was never found, possibly it was preserved from corruption, and reserved for this appearance. The Jews had great respect for the memory of Moses and Elias, and therefore they came to witness of him, they came to carry tidings concerning him to the upper world. In them the law and the prophets honoured Christ, and bore testimony to him. Moses and Elias appeared to the disciples; they saw them, and heard them talk, and, either by their discourse or by information from Christ, they knew them to be Moses and Elias; glorified saints shall know one another in heaven. They talked with Christ. Note, Christ has communion with the blessed, and will be no stranger to any of the members of that glorified corporation. Christ was now to be sealed in his prophetic office, and therefore these two great prophets were fittest to attend him, as transferring all their honour and interest to him; for in these last days God speaks to us by his Son, Heb 1 1.

MacArthur has more:

Moses was the agent of the coming of the Ten Commandments. He was the instrument through whom God gave the law expressing His will and revealing His character. In fact, as I said, the Old Testament is known as Moses and the Prophets. Moses was the greatest man of all men in the Jewish mind.

Who could stand with Moses? Only one: Elijah. Elijah. He fought against the nation’s idolatry. If Moses gave the law, Elijah guarded the law; the greatest guardian of God’s law. The man was zeal personified. He had courage. He spoke words of bold and profound judgment. He had a heart for God; he walked with God; he had miraculous power.

You read 1 Kings, 2 Kings, and you see the miraculous nature of this man’s miracles and prophesies. He was zeal incarnate. His zeal for God was unequaled. Every prophet should be like Elijah. Elijah stands for all the prophets. He is considered the most zealous and preeminent of them all.

So, Moses gave the law – its great giver. Elijah – its great guardian. And what do they represent? The law and the prophets. And what is the law and the prophets? It’s the Old Testament. And why are they there? They are there as the Old Testament saying, “This is the one of whom we spoke.” It is the affirmation of the law and the prophets. A tremendous scene.

It is Old Testament verification. It is all that Jesus said when He said, “I have come to fulfill the law and the prophets,” coming and gathering around Him, standing in His glory and saying, “Yea, it is He.” It is the affirmation.

MacArthur directs us to Luke 9 to discover the nature of the conversation involving Jesus, Moses and Elijah:

You go to Luke 9, and it says, “Behold” – in verse 30 – “there talked with Him two men who were Moses and Elijah, who appeared in glory” – in the Lord’s glory – and they were speaking about His departure which He should accomplish at Jerusalem?” What were they talking about? Talking about Christ’s what? Christ’s death. Was that important? Oh was that important. The word, by the way, there for “decease” – you might have “decease,” you might have “departure” – it’s a Greek word exodos, final outcome it means. They were talking about His final outcome. They were talking about His coup de grâce. They were talking about the big event at the end. And what was the big end? The cross. Departure, exodos, is a soft word for death.

And so, they were speaking of Christ’s death as an exodus, just as the exodus under Moses delivered the people from the bondage of Egypt, so the exodus of Christ’s death would deliver His people from the bondage of sin. A beautiful use of the word.

Is it important that they talk about His death? Sure, because what was the one element about this whole thing the disciples couldn’t understand that didn’t fit their messianic program? His what? His death. They couldn’t handle that.

And so, here is the law and the prophets represented in these two men, and they’re saying, “Hey, Lord, we’re on schedule. We’re talking about your final outcome when you go to Jerusalem to die.” Oh, what an important conversation to hear. And that’s why Peter could stand up at Pentecost and say that the Lord was crucified by the determinant council and foreknowledge of God.

So, what is going on here is a tremendous testimony from the Old Testament saying, “This is indeed the King, and He is indeed on schedule, and death is a part of the plan.” In spite of what some people have tried to do with the life of Jesus Christ, He didn’t die as a well-meaning patriot who got in over His head; He died as the one ordained to die from before the foundation of the world, and His death was as much a part of the plan as His second coming will be. And it’s so important for the disciples to know that.

And so, they see and they hear the Old Testament representatives affirming Christ. Do you see why I say this passage is so important as to the deity of Jesus Christ? Tremendous passage unequaled in all the Gospel records for testimony to Jesus Christ.

Then Peter said to Jesus that it was ‘good’ — ‘excellent’, according to MacArthur — to be there; he offered to build three booths, one for Him, one for Moses and one for Elijah (verse 4):

the phrase that he uses there, he says, “Lord, it is good,” is “excellent.” It’s really, “It is excellent.” “This is the best thing that had ever happened to me,” he says. “I mean I’ve caught a lot of fish in my day” – “but this is the best thing that ever happened to me. I have never had an experience like this. And this, Lord, you see, now You’re getting close to what we’ve been talking about, Lord. I mean this is – that’s what we want, see?”

Henry expands on Peter’s feelings:

Though upon a high mountain, which we may suppose rough and unpleasant, bleak and cold, yet it is good to be here. He speaks the sense of his fellow-disciples; It is good not only for me, but for us. He did not covet to monopolize this favour, but gladly takes them in. He saith this to Christ. Pious and devout affections love to pour out themselves before the Lord Jesus. The soul that loves Christ, and loves to be with him, loves to go and tell him so; Lord, it is good for us to be here. This intimates a thankful acknowledgment of his kindness in admitting them to this favour. Note, Communion with Christ is the delight of Christians. All the disciples of the Lord Jesus reckon it is good for them to be with him in the holy mount. It is good to be here where Christ is, and whither he brings us along with him by his appointment; it is good to be here, retired and alone with Christ; to be here, where we may behold the beauty of the Lord Jesus, Ps 27 4. It is pleasant to hear Christ compare notes with Moses and the prophets, to see how all the institutions of the law, and all the predictions of the prophets, pointed at Christ, and were fulfilled in him.

Henry has a more empathetic view than MacArthur of Peter’s offer to build three tabernacles. It’s important to remember that the first Pentecost was some way in the future and that the disciples were less than perfect, as we would have been were we in their sandals.

Henry explains Peter’s well-intended zeal and his human folly:

There was in this, as in many other of Peter’s sayings, a mixture of weakness and of goodwill, more zeal than discretion.

(1.) Here was a zeal for this converse with heavenly things, a laudable complacency in the sight they had of Christ’s glory. Note, Those that by faith behold the beauty of the Lord in his house, cannot but desire to dwell there all the days of their life. It is good having a nail in God’s holy place (Ezra 9 8), a constant abode; to be in holy ordinances as a man at home, not as a wayfaring man. Peter thought this mountain was a fine spot of ground to build upon, and he was for making tabernacles there; as Moses in the wilderness made a tabernacle for the Shechinah, or divine glory.

It argued great respect for his Master and the heavenly guests, with some commendable forgetfulness of himself and his fellow-disciples, that he would have tabernacles for Christ, and Moses, and Elias, but none for himself. He would be content to lie in the open air, on the cold ground, in such good company; if his Master have but where to lay his head, no matter whether he himself has or no.

(2.) Yet in this zeal he betrayed a great deal of weakness and ignorance. What need had Moses and Elias of tabernacles? They belonged to that blessed world, where they hunger no more, nor doth the sun light upon them. Christ had lately foretold his sufferings, and bidden his disciples expect the like; Peter forgets this, or, to prevent it, will needs be building tabernacles in the mount of glory, out of the way of trouble. Still he harps upon, Master, spare thyself, though he had been so lately checked for it. Note, There is a proneness in good men to expect the crown without the cross. Peter was for laying hold of this as the prize, though he had not yet fought his fight, nor finished his course, as those other disciples, ch. 20 21. We are out in our aim, if we look for a heaven here upon earth. It is not for strangers and pilgrims (such as we are in our best circumstances in this world), to talk of building, or to expect a continuing city.

Yet it is some excuse for the incongruity of Peter’s proposal, not only that he knew not what he said (Luke 9 33), but also that he submitted the proposal to the wisdom of Christ; If thou wilt, let us make tabernacles. Note, Whatever tabernacles we propose to make to ourselves in this world, we must always remember to ask Christ’s leave.

Now to this which Peter said, there was no reply made; the disappearing of the glory would soon answer it. They that promise themselves great things on earth will soon be undeceived by their own experience.

While Peter was still speaking, suddenly, a bright cloud overshadowed them; from the cloud, a voice said (verse 5), ‘This is my Son, the Beloved; with him I am well pleased; listen to him!’

Let’s go to today’s First Reading from Exodus 24 for a similar scene that took place with Moses and the Israelites. Note verses 15 through 17:

15 Then Moses went up on the mountain, and the cloud covered the mountain.

16 The glory of the LORD settled on Mount Sinai, and the cloud covered it for six days; on the seventh day he called to Moses out of the cloud.

17 Now the appearance of the glory of the LORD was like a devouring fire on the top of the mountain in the sight of the people of Israel.

MacArthur calls our attention to clouds in the Bible:

Starting in Exodus chapter 13, verse 21, take your Bible sometime and just begin to look for white clouds. And whenever you see one, guess who will be there? God. God will be there. And you can follow those white clouds all the way to the fourteenth chapter of Revelation.

Henry has more references to clouds:

(1.) There was a cloud. We find often in the Old Testament, that a cloud was the visible token of God’s presence; he came down upon mount Sinai in a cloud (Exod 19 9), and so to Moses, Exod 34 5; Num 11 25. He took possession of the tabernacle in a cloud, and afterwards of the temple; where Christ was in his glory, the temple was, and there God showed himself present. We know not the balancing of the clouds, but we know that much of the intercourse and communication between heaven and earth is maintained by them. By the clouds vapours ascend, and rains descend; therefore God is said to make the clouds his chariots; so he did here when he descended upon this mount.

(2.) It was a bright cloud. Under the law it was commonly a thick and dark cloud that God made the token of his presence; he came down upon mount Sinai in a thick cloud (Exod 19 16), and said he would dwell in thick darkness; see 1 Kings 8 12. But we are now come, not to the mount that was covered with thick blackness and darkness (Heb 12 18), but to the mount that is crowned with a bright cloud. Both the Old-Testament and the New-Testament dispensation had tokens of God’s presence; but that was a dispensation of darkness, and terror, and bondage, this of light, love, and liberty.

(3.) It overshadowed them. This cloud was intended to break the force of that great light which otherwise would have overcome the disciples, and have been intolerable; it was like the veil which Moses put upon his face when it shone. God, in manifesting himself to his people, considers their frame. This cloud was to their eyes as parables to their understandings, to convey spiritual things by things sensible, as they were able to bear them.

(4.) There came a voice out of the cloud, and it was the voice of God, who now, as of old, spake in the cloudy pillar, Ps 99 7. Here was no thunder, or lightning, or voice of a trumpet, as there was when the law was given by Moses, but only a voice, a still small voice, and that not ushered in with a strong wind, or an earthquake, or fire, as when God spake to Elias, 1 Kings 19 11, 12. Moses then and Elias were witnesses, that in these last days God hath spoken to us by his Son, in another way than he spoke formerly to them. This voice came from the excellent glory (2 Pet 1 17), the glory which excelleth, in comparison of which the former had no glory; though the excellent glory was clouded, yet thence came a voice, for faith comes by hearing.

MacArthur reminds us of God’s nature, something essential to know:

God is a spirit, and as a spirit is invisible. The Bible says, “A spirit hath not flesh and bones.” That is God is an invisible spirit; God has no form; God is everywhere. He cannot be confined to a form in the fullness of His being.

Henry points out that God spoke similarly when John the Baptist baptised Jesus:

The great gospel mystery revealed; This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased. This was the very same that was spoken from heaven at his baptism (ch. 3 17); and it was the best news that ever came from heaven to earth since man sinned. It is to the same purport with that great doctrine (2 Cor 5 19), That God was in Christ, reconciling the world unto himself …

This repetition of the same voice that came from heaven at his baptism was no vain repetition; but, like the doubling of Pharaoh’s dream, was to show the thing was established. What God hath thus spoken once, yea twice, no doubt he will stand to, and he expects we should take notice of it. It was spoken at his baptism, because then he was entering upon his temptation, and his public ministry; and now it was repeated, because he was entering upon his sufferings, which are to be dated from hence; for now, and not before, he began to foretel them, and immediately after his transfiguration it is said (Luke 9 51), that the time was come that he should be received up; this therefore was then repeated, to arm him against the terror, and his disciples against the offence, of the cross. When sufferings begin to abound, consolations are given in more abundantly, 2 Cor 1 5.

God was calling Peter, James and John — and us — to pay attention to and obey His Son’s teaching:

God is well pleased with none in Christ but those that hear him. It is not enough to give him the hearing (what will that avail us?) but we must hear him and believe him, as the great Prophet and Teacher; hear him, and be ruled by him, as the great Prince and Lawgiver; hear him, and heed him. Whoever would know the mind of God, must hearken to Jesus Christ; for by him God has in these last days spoken to us. This voice from heaven has made all the sayings of Christ as authentic as if they had been thus spoken out of a cloud. God does here, as it were, turn us over to Christ for all the revelations of his mind

MacArthur sees this verse as Matthew’s third testimony that Jesus is the King of Kings, the second being that Moses and Elijah were present and the first being that Jesus was transformed into His glorious nature:

There’s a third line of evidence in this passage; let’s look at it. We see the testimony of the Scriptures or the saints of the Old Testament, the transformation of the Son. I want you to notice a third and most powerful testimony of all. We could call it the terror of the Sovereign or the terror of the Father in verse 5. And here is the epitome of testimony. “While Peter yet spoke” – it’s hard to shut Peter up; we know that. So, he just keeps talking – “And behold, a bright cloud overshadowed them” – we saw last week that’s associated with the presence of God – “and behold, a voice out of the cloud, which said, ‘This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased; hear ye Him.’”

Now, if you really want to have believable testimony to the deity of Jesus Christ, how about God? Will that do? Three times – Matthew 3:17, John 12:28 and 29, and Matthew 17, verse 5 – three times in the holy record of the Gospels, God speaks out of heaven and says, “This is My Son,” or, “This is the one.” Now, that is testimony beyond argumentation. And when God gives His testimony, men should listen. And this is a very traumatizing thing; they’re already scared.

When the three men heard God speak, they fell to the ground and were overcome by fear (verse 6), as those persons in the Bible did who encountered God and/or Jesus, depending on the circumstances.

MacArthur explains:

Why are people so afraid in the presence of God? What scares them so much? Well, you see, God is infinitely holy, and men are hopelessly sinful. And you just, all of a sudden, feel naked, don’t you? You feel exposed. Adam and Eve sinned. What’s the first thing they said – the Bible says about it? “And they saw that they were” – what? – “naked.” And they made aprons to cover themselves, and they ran off to try to hide, and God comes through the garden and says, “Adam, where are you?”

Finally He finds them, and Adam says, “Well, Lord, we, ah, uh, er, we were afraid, because we were naked.” In other words, they were ashamed to be seen, because they knew they were not only being seen on the outside, but they were being seen right through to the sin. And sinners in the presence of an infinitely holy God always feel like they need to hide. That’s just how it is. And the disciples, if they had been moles, would have crawled into the ground. But since they were just men, they just fell flat on it, their faces down in it.

Jesus, in His compassion, love and mercy, touched the men saying, ‘Get up and do not be afraid’ (verse 7).

Henry says:

Observe, After they had an express command from heaven to hear Christ, the first word they had from him was, Be not afraid, hear that. Note, Christ’s errand into the world was to give comfort to good people, that, being delivered out of the hands of their enemies, they might serve God without fear, Luke 1 74, 75.

And when the three men looked up, there was Jesus alone with them (verse 8).

Henry reminds us:

Note, Christ will tarry with us when Moses and Elias are gone. The prophets do not live for ever (Zec 1 5), and we see the period of our ministers’ conversation; but Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, to-day, and for ever, Heb 13 7, 8.

As they came down the mountain, Jesus ordered them not to say anything to anyone of their ‘vision until after the Son of Man has been raised from the dead’ (verse 9).

I feel sorry for Peter being unable to tell his brother Andrew about what he experienced. He and Andrew were, with James and John, the first of John the Baptist’s followers to go to Christ, on their leader’s command.

MacArthur explains that Jesus did not want this to be revealed lest the people make Him out to be a supernatural yet temporal Messiah:

They wanted a political Deliverer. They wanted somebody to knock off the Romans. And their misguided intentions and expectations only confused the scene. And if down the mountain these three guys came, with this incredible message, “Boy, you’ll never believe what we saw,” all it’s going to make the people think is, “Boy, this is really the guy, and let’s really push hard to get Him to throw the Romans out.” They’d already tried to push Him into rebellion several times.

So, He says, “Don’t say anything about it, until” – verse 9 – “the Son of Man is raised again from the dead.” Why? “Because if you wait till after the resurrection, they’ll know that I didn’t come to conquer the Roman; I came to conquer death.” See? And they’ll know that that is a spiritual reality, not an earthly one, not a political one, not a material one, not a military one, not an economic one. Jesus is not involved in politics; He is involved in conquering death and sin and hell. And if you wait till after the resurrection, they’ll see that. So, they aren’t to say anything.

MacArthur gives us the fourth testimony that Jesus is the King of Kings:

So, we see the transformation of the Son and the testimony of the saints of Scripture. And we see the terror of the sovereign — the Father. Can I give you fourth? I believe another great element of this picture is the tapestry of the scene. This fascinates me. And I could take a lot longer to sort of develop it, but let me just fire it out, and you watch how this works. Jesus says, back in 16:28, “I’m going to show you the Son of Man coming in His royal majesty.”

Now, how does it – how does this fulfill that? It gives us, in miniature, a picture of the second coming. Marvelous. Watch. First of all, Christ is the center of this picture. And Christ will be the center of the second coming. Right? It is the coming of Christ. And when Christ comes, Matthew 24 says, and Matthew 25 says, and Matthew 26 says, “He will come in glory and power.” And here we see Him in glory. Right? And in power. So, that’s a good picture.

Secondly, when He comes, Zechariah 14:4 says, “He will come, and His feet will touch” – what? – “the Mount of Olives.” Look at verse 1. When Jesus took them to the preview, he took the up into an high mountain. Interesting that even the preview happens on a mountain, just as the reality will.

And when Jesus comes in glory – listen – He will come to His people, won’t He? He’ll come to His people, to gather them together. And so, when He goes into the mountain, verse 1 says, He takes Peter, James, and John, and they are there with Him when He’s glorified. And they are representative of the people to whom Christ returns.

And then there’s another dimension. When Christ returns, He returns not only to His saintsbut what? – with His saints. Those saints that have already been gathered to Him, they’ll come with Him, represented by Moses and Elijah. “They were with Him in glory,” says Luke.

Now we come to the fifth indicator of our Lord’s kingship, which takes us into the verses that follow today’s reading:

That brings us to the fifth indication that Jesus was the Messiah, Son of God. I call it the “tie with the forerunner,” the connection with the forerunner.

Verse 10, “His disciples asked Him, saying” – they had just seen Elijah, so Elijah was on their mind. And they knew Elijah was to be the forerunner of the Messiah, because that’s what … Malachi the prophet said.

In Malachi chapter 4, verses 5 and 6 – those are the last two verses in the Old Testament. They say, “Elijah shall come and restore all things, and turn the hearts of the children to the fathers, and the fathers to the children, and make the things ready for the Lord. It’s a prophecy that Elijah would come as the forerunner to Messiah. And so, they know that.

And now that they’ve seen Elijah on the mountain, it sort of triggers that in their minds. And as we’re coming down the mountain, they probably talked about a lot of things. One of the things that the text brings up is, “The disciples asked Him, saying, ‘Why then say the scribes that Elijah must first come? I mean if you’re the Messiah, why do the scribes say that Elijah has to come first? We haven’t seen any Elijah.’”

See, this is the one thing they couldn’t quite understand. And I’m convinced that very often the Jews must have questioned them on that. “How can this Jesus that you follow be the Messiah when there has yet been no Elijah?” Right? Because Malachi 4:5 and 6 said that the Elijah would come first. And if there’s not been an Elijah, how can He be the Messiah?

Now, there were some people who really wanted Him to be in that messianic context. And so, in chapter 16, when Jesus said to the disciples, “Who do men say that I am,” they answered, “Some say that you are Elijah.” Right? Some thought He could be Elijah getting things ready for the Messiah, but He couldn’t be the Messiah because there hadn’t been an Elijah.

So, they said, “Well, why do the scribes say Elijah has to come first?”

Well, they say it because it was in Malachi chapter 4, verses 5 and 6. But they really embellished it. I mean really embellished it. They said that Elijah would come, and he would gather together the people. He would restore everything, get ready for the Messiah. They believe that Elijah would be a flaming, fiery, great and terrible reformer who would reform the people, bringing holiness out of unholiness, bringing order out of chaos. He would destroy all evil, they taught. He would set everything right so that all the perfection would be set in motion. When the Messiah arrived, He would just sort of fall into it. They saw Elijah as the real preparer, the real restorer, and then the Messiah just sort of came to control it.

“But they say – they keep saying that Elijah ought to come. Why did they say that? I mean if You’re the Messiah, are they right? And where’s Elijah?”

So, verse 11, “Jesus answers, and He said to them, ‘Elijah truly shall first come and restore all things.’” Now listen, Elijah will come. That’s right; he’ll come. And he’ll restore all things. And that means before the setting up of the kingdom. Right? Before the establishing of the kingdom, Elijah will come.

Now, what does that verse 11 tell us about the future? What’s going to happen in the future before the kingdom is established on the earth, before the glory? Who’s going to come? Elijah. That’s what it’s saying, “Elijah will come.” That says it right there, “He’ll come, and he’ll restore things.”

But then He says a strange thing in verse 12, “But I say unto you, Elijah is come already.” What?

They say, “Should Elijah come?”

He says, “Oh, yeah. Elijah will come.” And then He says, “And Elijah has come.” He has? “They knew him not” – verse 12. He came; they didn’t know who he was. “And they did unto him whatever they wanted.” Really? Who was this?

Verse 13, “Then the disciples understood that He spoke to them of” – whom? – “John the Baptist.”

Listen to me, John the Baptist, you say, “Is he Elijah?” He is Elijah in the way the prophet spoke. When the prophet said, “Elijah must come,” he didn’t mean the real, actual Elijah. He was speaking of one who would come in the same manner as Elijah, with the same style as Elijah, in the same mode of operation as Elijah, one like Elijah. An Elijah-like man will come.

And, of course, the problem with the Jews was, they were looking for the literal Elijah. And they said to John – you remember in John 1, they said to John the Baptist – the chief priests did – “Are you Elijah?”

And he said, “I’m not Elijah.”

And people have fits at this point. They say, “Wait a minute. In Matthew 17:12, Jesus says, ‘Elijah is come, and it’s John the Baptist.’ When John the Baptist was asked, ‘Are you Elijah,’ he said, ‘No, I’m not Elijah.’”

That’s right. He is not Elijah, but he was one who came in the spirit and power of Elijah. But because they rejected him, he couldn’t be the fulfillment of Malachi’s prophesy; he couldn’t be the Elijah before the kingdom. So, there yet will be another who will come in the spirit and power of Elijah who will be that Elijah fulfilling that prophesy before the coming glorious kingdom …

The prophet said this, “Elijah will come.” What he meant was one in the spirit and power of Elijah. An Elijah-like prophet. If they had received John the Baptist, if they had believed his message, if they had received the Messiah, if the Messiah had set up His kingdom, John the Baptist would have fulfilled that prophecy. He would have been that Elijah-like prophet to restore all things for the kingdom. But when they did to him whatever they desired – and what did they do to him? They cut off his head. They refused him. They didn’t allow him to restore.

Then they did – look at verse 12 at the end – “Likewise shall also the Son of Man suffer at their hands.” They wiped out the Elijah-like preparer of the Messiah. They killed the Messiah. And so, consequently, they rejected the restoration, and they rejected the kingdom. So, Elijah couldn’t then be that – or rather John the Baptist couldn’t then be that Elijah to fulfill that.

MacArthur thinks there will be another Elijah-like prophet in future:

So, we believe that in the future, before Jesus comes again, another great prophet will come in the spirit and power of Elijah to set things right. And he will restore all things. And they won’t do to him what they did to John the Baptist. And they won’t miss who he is. And following him will come the King in His royal majesty and glory.

Henry is non-committal:

Marvel not that Elias should be abused and killed by those who pretended, with a great deal of reverence, to expect him, when the Messiah himself will be in like manner treated. Note, The sufferings of Christ took off the strangeness of all other sufferings (John 15 18); when they had imbrued their hands in the blood of John Baptist, they were ready to do the like to Christ. Note, As men deal with Christ’s servants, so they would deal with him himself; and they that are drunk with the blood of the martyrs still cry, Give, give, Acts 12 1-3.

The disciples’ satisfaction in Christ’s reply to their objection (v. 13); They understood that he spake unto them of John the Baptist. He did not name John, but gives them such a description of him as would put them in mind of what he had said to them formerly concerning him; This is Elias. This is a profitable way of teaching; it engages the learners’ own thoughts, and makes them, if not their own teachers, yet their own remembrancers; and thus knowledge becomes easy to him that understands. When we diligently use the means of knowledge, how strangely are mists scattered and mistakes rectified!

May all reading this have a blessed Sunday.

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