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

The readings for Year B can be found here.

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

John 10:11-18

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It is useful to put this passage in context.

Matthew Henry’s commentary tells us:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

As for a menacing wolf, Henry says:

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

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

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

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

MacArthur explains the repetition:

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

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

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

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

Henry explains:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Henry expresses this as follows:

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

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

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

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

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

MacArthur points out that Jesus was speaking of His soul:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

May all reading this have a very blessed Sunday.

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

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

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

John 20:1-18

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

20:10 Then the disciples returned to their homes.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Commentary comes from Matthew Henry and John MacArthur.

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

John MacArthur tells us:

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

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

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

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

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

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

Matthew Henry says:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

MacArthur adds:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Henry’s commentary agrees:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Daytime readings for Holy Saturday — along with posts on Easter foods and traditions — can be found here.

This is one of the two Gospel choices (emphases in bold mine):

John 19:38-42

19:38 After these things, Joseph of Arimathea, who was a disciple of Jesus, though a secret one because of his fear of the Jews, asked Pilate to let him take away the body of Jesus. Pilate gave him permission; so he came and removed his body.

19:39 Nicodemus, who had at first come to Jesus by night, also came, bringing a mixture of myrrh and aloes, weighing about a hundred pounds.

19:40 They took the body of Jesus and wrapped it with the spices in linen cloths, according to the burial custom of the Jews.

19:41 Now there was a garden in the place where he was crucified, and in the garden there was a new tomb in which no one had ever been laid.

19:42 And so, because it was the Jewish day of Preparation, and the tomb was nearby, they laid Jesus there.

I have chosen this as 2021’s Lenten readings and Holy Week’s have come from John’s Gospel.

Commentary comes from Matthew Henry and John MacArthur.

John MacArthur tells us of burial customs for people who had been crucified:

Now what would happen normally to a crucified individual? The Romans would simply let them be eaten by birds or thrown like roadkill on the side of a road somewhere, as continuing the example of not violating Rome. They might even end up in the dump. They might even end up dead bodies thrown in Gehenna where the fire never ceased and the garbage of Jerusalem was burned. But the Romans did not bury criminals. The Jews did bury them; that was typically a Jewish thing to do. But I don’t know that they had any particular plans to bury Jesus whom they viewed as a blasphemer.

The emergence of Joseph of Arimathea in wishing to bury the body of Jesus (verses 38, 41) was a fulfilment of prophecy. MacArthur says:

Now there is a prophecy back in Isaiah 53, Isaiah 53:9. Speaking of Jesus, Isaiah writes, “His grave was assigned to be with wicked men, but He was with a rich man in His death.” His grave was assigned to be with wicked men. Sure, He was going to be thrown wherever criminals were thrown. But He was with a rich man in His death …

“After these things Joseph of Arimathea,” – that’s the town – “being a disciple of Jesus, but a secret one for fear of the Jews.” So here is a man who is a secret disciple. He was afraid to entertain any public confession of faith about Christ even though he believed. If you go back into chapter 12 you remember it says, “There were many of the rulers who believed in Him, but they didn’t acknowledge it for fear of the Jews. They were more concerned about what men thought than what God thought.” So here is this secret believer.

MacArthur tells us more about him and what compelled him to reveal his belief:

Now we know a lot about him because he’s mentioned in the other gospels. He is rich. Matthew 27:57, he is very rich. He is a good man. He is a member of the Jewish supreme court, the Sanhedrin that sentenced Jesus to death – no doubt he didn’t vote that. He has been a coward, afraid to acknowledge himself when Jesus was ministering and alive. Somehow, in some dramatic way, by divine work on his heart, the coward becomes almost heroic in bravery; and as soon as Jesus has died – which means he must have been around – he sets aside all that fear and all that dread and all that cowardice, and he goes to Pilate and has to reveal that he is a disciple of Jesus, and he asks that he might take away the body of Jesus; and Pilate granted permission after checking to make sure He was dead; and he came and took away His body. So now instead of Jesus, Isaiah 53:9 says, having a grave with the wicked, He’s going to be with a rich man in His death.

It says in Mark 15:43 that Joseph gathered up courage. No doubt power of the Lord came on him. He fulfills prophecy, because Jesus had said in Matthew 12:40 that He would be in the grave three days and rise. He has to be in the grave on Friday. Joseph appears to do that.

Jesus, dead, had moved Joseph in ways that Joseph wouldn’t be moved when Jesus was alive. Jesus, dead physically, brought Joseph to an open confession and moved him into the plan in a critical way; and he was the right guy, because he was a believer; and he was the right guy, because he had a tomb that had never been used, it wasn’t occupied; and he was the right guy, because the tomb that he had was right next to where Jesus was crucified, which meant they could get Him in there Friday.

Nicodemus is similarly moved to help bury Jesus by bringing a very heavy load of myrrh and aloes weighing 100 pounds (verse 39).

Nicodemus first approached the living Jesus at night in John 3. That passage was read a few weeks ago on the Fourth Sunday of Lent — Laetare Sunday (Year B) in March 2021.

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

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

So we have two high-ranking men of the religious establishment, both secret and now open believers, burying the body of Jesus according to Jewish custom (verse 40).

Matthew Henry’s commentary says:

Hereby they showed the value they had for his person and doctrine, and that it was not lessened by the reproach of the cross. Those that had been so industrious to profane his crown, and lay his honour in the dust, might already see that they had imagined a vain thing for, as God had done him honour in his sufferings, so did men too, even great men. They showed not only the charitable respect of committing his body to the earth, but the honourable respect shown to great men. This they might do, and yet believe and look for his resurrection nay, this they might do in the belief and expectation of it. Since God designed honour for this body, they would put honour upon it.

MacArthur is less sure that they — or anyone else — anticipated the Resurrection:

Would you please remember that these are not disciples plotting a resurrection or they wouldn’t have used a hundred-pound weight on Him. They weren’t planning to steal His body. Certainly the other disciples weren’t; they aren’t even there.

Although John does not mention it in his account, the other Gospels tell us that women also helped the two men prepare our Lord’s body for burial.

The new tomb was located near the place where Jesus was crucified (verse 41). MacArthur says we can be sure it belonged to Joseph of Arimathea, because:

Matthew 27:60 says that tomb belonged to Joseph of Arimathea.

Henry points out the significance of the gardens in our Lord’s life and death as well as in the Bible:

That in a sepulchre in a garden Christ’s body was laid. In the garden of Eden death and the grave first received their power, and now in a garden they are conquered, disarmed, and triumphed over. In a garden Christ began his passion, and from a garden he would rise, and begin his exaltation. Christ fell to the ground as a corn of wheat (John 12:24), and therefore was sown in a garden among the seeds, for his dew is as the dew of herbs, Isaiah 26:19. He is the fountain of gardens, Song of Song of Solomon 4:15.

Because it was Friday, the Day of Preparation for the Sabbath — and at that particular time for the Passover Sabbath — that tomb was chosen to expedite matters for religious reasons (verse 42).

Henry elaborates:

1. Observe here the deference which the Jews paid to the sabbath, and to the day of preparation. Before the passover-sabbath they had a solemn day of preparation. This day had been ill kept by the chief priests, who called themselves the church, but was well kept by the disciples of Christ, who were branded as dangerous to the church and it is often so. (1.) They would not put off the funeral till the sabbath day, because the sabbath is to be a day of holy rest and joy, with which the business and sorrow of a funeral do not well agree. (2.) They would not drive it too late on the day of preparation for the sabbath. What is to be done the evening before the sabbath should be so contrived that it may neither intrench upon sabbath time, nor indispose us for sabbath work.

2. Observe the convenience they took of an adjoining sepulchre the sepulchre they made use of was nigh at hand. Perhaps, if they had had time, they would have carried him to Bethany, and buried him among his friends there. And I am sure he had more right to have been buried in the chief of the sepulchres of the sons of David than any of the kings of Judah had but it was so ordered that he should be laid in a sepulchre nigh at hand, (1.) Because he was to lie there but awhile, as in an inn, and therefore he took the first that offered itself. (2.) Because this was a new sepulchre. Those that prepared it little thought who should handsel it but the wisdom of God has reaches infinitely beyond ours, and he makes what use he pleases of us and all we have. (3.) We are hereby taught not to be over-curious in the place of our burial. Where the tree falls, why should it not lie? For Christ was buried in the sepulchre that was next at hand …

In closing, some will wonder about the three-day period from death to resurrection. MacArthur clarifies this for us:

Therefore because of the Jewish day of preparation, Friday, since the tomb was nearby they laid Jesus there. So He was in the grave on Friday, that’s Day One. He was in the grave on Saturday, that’s Day Two. He was in the grave on Sunday until the morning, that’s three days.

Any part of a day to a Jew constituted that day. Prophecy was fulfilled. He had power over His dying. He had power over the treatment of His body after He was dead. He had power over His burial to fulfill prophecy. Truly this is the Son of God.

Passiontide and Lent end on the evening of Holy Saturday. Catholic churches hold a lengthy Easter Vigil service at that time with several Bible readings, including the Gospel (Mark 16:1-8) wherein Mary Magdalen, Mary the mother of James, and Salome (not Herod’s step-daughter) are shocked to find the stone rolled back and the tomb empty.

Readings for Good Friday, along with links to several of my previous posts about this day, can be found here.

This is the full Gospel reading (emphases in bold mine):

John 18:1-19:42

18:1 After Jesus had spoken these words, he went out with his disciples across the Kidron valley to a place where there was a garden, which he and his disciples entered.

18:2 Now Judas, who betrayed him, also knew the place, because Jesus often met there with his disciples.

18:3 So Judas brought a detachment of soldiers together with police from the chief priests and the Pharisees, and they came there with lanterns and torches and weapons.

18:4 Then Jesus, knowing all that was to happen to him, came forward and asked them, “Whom are you looking for?”

18:5 They answered, “Jesus of Nazareth.” Jesus replied, “I am he.” Judas, who betrayed him, was standing with them.

18:6 When Jesus said to them, “I am he,” they stepped back and fell to the ground.

18:7 Again he asked them, “Whom are you looking for?” And they said, “Jesus of Nazareth.”

18:8 Jesus answered, “I told you that I am he. So if you are looking for me, let these men go.”

18:9 This was to fulfill the word that he had spoken, “I did not lose a single one of those whom you gave me.”

18:10 Then Simon Peter, who had a sword, drew it, struck the high priest’s slave, and cut off his right ear. The slave’s name was Malchus.

18:11 Jesus said to Peter, “Put your sword back into its sheath. Am I not to drink the cup that the Father has given me?”

18:12 So the soldiers, their officer, and the Jewish police arrested Jesus and bound him.

18:13 First they took him to Annas, who was the father-in-law of Caiaphas, the high priest that year.

18:14 Caiaphas was the one who had advised the Jews that it was better to have one person die for the people.

18:15 Simon Peter and another disciple followed Jesus. Since that disciple was known to the high priest, he went with Jesus into the courtyard of the high priest,

18:16 but Peter was standing outside at the gate. So the other disciple, who was known to the high priest, went out, spoke to the woman who guarded the gate, and brought Peter in.

18:17 The woman said to Peter, “You are not also one of this man’s disciples, are you?” He said, “I am not.”

18:18 Now the slaves and the police had made a charcoal fire because it was cold, and they were standing around it and warming themselves. Peter also was standing with them and warming himself.

18:19 Then the high priest questioned Jesus about his disciples and about his teaching.

18:20 Jesus answered, “I have spoken openly to the world; I have always taught in synagogues and in the temple, where all the Jews come together. I have said nothing in secret.

18:21 Why do you ask me? Ask those who heard what I said to them; they know what I said.”

18:22 When he had said this, one of the police standing nearby struck Jesus on the face, saying, “Is that how you answer the high priest?”

18:23 Jesus answered, “If I have spoken wrongly, testify to the wrong. But if I have spoken rightly, why do you strike me?”

18:24 Then Annas sent him bound to Caiaphas the high priest.

18:25 Now Simon Peter was standing and warming himself. They asked him, “You are not also one of his disciples, are you?” He denied it and said, “I am not.”

18:26 One of the slaves of the high priest, a relative of the man whose ear Peter had cut off, asked, “Did I not see you in the garden with him?”

18:27 Again Peter denied it, and at that moment the cock crowed.

18:28 Then they took Jesus from Caiaphas to Pilate’s headquarters. It was early in the morning. They themselves did not enter the headquarters, so as to avoid ritual defilement and to be able to eat the Passover.

18:29 So Pilate went out to them and said, “What accusation do you bring against this man?”

18:30 They answered, “If this man were not a criminal, we would not have handed him over to you.”

18:31 Pilate said to them, “Take him yourselves and judge him according to your law.” The Jews replied, “We are not permitted to put anyone to death.”

18:32 (This was to fulfill what Jesus had said when he indicated the kind of death he was to die.)

18:33 Then Pilate entered the headquarters again, summoned Jesus, and asked him, “Are you the King of the Jews?”

18:34 Jesus answered, “Do you ask this on your own, or did others tell you about me?”

18:35 Pilate replied, “I am not a Jew, am I? Your own nation and the chief priests have handed you over to me. What have you done?”

18:36 Jesus answered, “My kingdom is not from this world. If my kingdom were from this world, my followers would be fighting to keep me from being handed over to the Jews. But as it is, my kingdom is not from here.”

18:37 Pilate asked him, “So you are a king?” Jesus answered, “You say that I am a king. For this I was born, and for this I came into the world, to testify to the truth. Everyone who belongs to the truth listens to my voice.”

18:38 Pilate asked him, “What is truth?” After he had said this, he went out to the Jews again and told them, “I find no case against him.

18:39 But you have a custom that I release someone for you at the Passover. Do you want me to release for you the King of the Jews?”

18:40 They shouted in reply, “Not this man, but Barabbas!” Now Barabbas was a bandit.

19:1 Then Pilate took Jesus and had him flogged.

19:2 And the soldiers wove a crown of thorns and put it on his head, and they dressed him in a purple robe.

19:3 They kept coming up to him, saying, “Hail, King of the Jews!” and striking him on the face.

19:4 Pilate went out again and said to them, “Look, I am bringing him out to you to let you know that I find no case against him.”

19:5 So Jesus came out, wearing the crown of thorns and the purple robe. Pilate said to them, “Here is the man!”

19:6 When the chief priests and the police saw him, they shouted, “Crucify him! Crucify him!” Pilate said to them, “Take him yourselves and crucify him; I find no case against him.”

19:7 The Jews answered him, “We have a law, and according to that law he ought to die because he has claimed to be the Son of God.”

19:8 Now when Pilate heard this, he was more afraid than ever.

19:9 He entered his headquarters again and asked Jesus, “Where are you from?” But Jesus gave him no answer.

19:10 Pilate therefore said to him, “Do you refuse to speak to me? Do you not know that I have power to release you, and power to crucify you?”

19:11 Jesus answered him, “You would have no power over me unless it had been given you from above; therefore the one who handed me over to you is guilty of a greater sin.”

19:12 From then on Pilate tried to release him, but the Jews cried out, “If you release this man, you are no friend of the emperor. Everyone who claims to be a king sets himself against the emperor.”

19:13 When Pilate heard these words, he brought Jesus outside and sat on the judge’s bench at a place called The Stone Pavement, or in Hebrew Gabbatha.

19:14 Now it was the day of Preparation for the Passover; and it was about noon. He said to the Jews, “Here is your King!”

19:15 They cried out, “Away with him! Away with him! Crucify him!” Pilate asked them, “Shall I crucify your King?” The chief priests answered, “We have no king but the emperor.”

19:16 Then he handed him over to them to be crucified. So they took Jesus;

19:17 and carrying the cross by himself, he went out to what is called The Place of the Skull, which in Hebrew is called Golgotha.

19:18 There they crucified him, and with him two others, one on either side, with Jesus between them.

19:19 Pilate also had an inscription written and put on the cross. It read, “Jesus of Nazareth, the King of the Jews.”

19:20 Many of the Jews read this inscription, because the place where Jesus was crucified was near the city; and it was written in Hebrew, in Latin, and in Greek.

19:21 Then the chief priests of the Jews said to Pilate, “Do not write, ‘The King of the Jews,’ but, ‘This man said, I am King of the Jews.’”

19:22 Pilate answered, “What I have written I have written.”

19:23 When the soldiers had crucified Jesus, they took his clothes and divided them into four parts, one for each soldier. They also took his tunic; now the tunic was seamless, woven in one piece from the top.

19:24 So they said to one another, “Let us not tear it, but cast lots for it to see who will get it.” This was to fulfill what the scripture says, “They divided my clothes among themselves, and for my clothing they cast lots.”

19:25 And that is what the soldiers did. Meanwhile, standing near the cross of Jesus were his mother, and his mother’s sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene.

19:26 When Jesus saw his mother and the disciple whom he loved standing beside her, he said to his mother, “Woman, here is your son.”

19:27 Then he said to the disciple, “Here is your mother.” And from that hour the disciple took her into his own home.

19:28 After this, when Jesus knew that all was now finished, he said (in order to fulfill the scripture), “I am thirsty.”

19:29 A jar full of sour wine was standing there. So they put a sponge full of the wine on a branch of hyssop and held it to his mouth.

19:30 When Jesus had received the wine, he said, “It is finished.” Then he bowed his head and gave up his spirit.

19:31 Since it was the day of Preparation, the Jews did not want the bodies left on the cross during the sabbath, especially because that sabbath was a day of great solemnity. So they asked Pilate to have the legs of the crucified men broken and the bodies removed.

19:32 Then the soldiers came and broke the legs of the first and of the other who had been crucified with him.

19:33 But when they came to Jesus and saw that he was already dead, they did not break his legs.

19:34 Instead, one of the soldiers pierced his side with a spear, and at once blood and water came out.

19:35 (He who saw this has testified so that you also may believe. His testimony is true, and he knows that he tells the truth.)

19:36 These things occurred so that the scripture might be fulfilled, “None of his bones shall be broken.”

19:37 And again another passage of scripture says, “They will look on the one whom they have pierced.”

19:38 After these things, Joseph of Arimathea, who was a disciple of Jesus, though a secret one because of his fear of the Jews, asked Pilate to let him take away the body of Jesus. Pilate gave him permission; so he came and removed his body.

19:39 Nicodemus, who had at first come to Jesus by night, also came, bringing a mixture of myrrh and aloes, weighing about a hundred pounds.

19:40 They took the body of Jesus and wrapped it with the spices in linen cloths, according to the burial custom of the Jews.

19:41 Now there was a garden in the place where he was crucified, and in the garden there was a new tomb in which no one had ever been laid.

19:42 And so, because it was the Jewish day of Preparation, and the tomb was nearby, they laid Jesus there.

As the Gospel reading is long, I will be focusing only on John 18 this year.

Commentary comes from Matthew Henry and John MacArthur.

John MacArthur explains what John wants us to see in this chapter:

John wants us to see the glory of Christ in His arrest – betrayal and arrest. This is as ugly a scene as we could expect. Judas, the ugliest of all apostates, the traitor of all traitors, the archetypal hypocrite is on display. It is in the middle of the night, everything is dark, and the darkest of it all is the hearts of the people surrounding Jesus and the disciples. But in the midst of this darkness, John shows us our Lord’s glory. We see His divine resolve, we see His divine power, we see His divine love, and we see His divine righteousness. Those four things are going to come through in this passage. The wretchedness, the injustice, the hellishness of Satan’s plot to kill Jesus unfolds.

But it isn’t just Satan’s plot to kill Jesus, as we heard Peter say from Acts 2 – it is God’s predetermined plan. So here, God and Satan come together on the same person for two very different reasons, and God triumphs. Instead of debasing Christ, as the devil intended, He is exalted in these scenes to the highest heaven. His unbounded magnificence explodes on us in all these settings.

After Jesus gave His final messages to the Apostles at the Last Supper, He and they crossed the Kidron valley to a garden, the Garden of Gethsemane (verse 1).

Matthew Henry’s commentary explains the biblical significance of the valley, known in his day as the brook Cedron:

That he went over the brook Cedron. He must go over this to go to the mount of Olives, but the notice taken of it intimates that there was something in it significant and it points, (1.) At David’s prophecy concerning the Messiah (Psalm 110:7), that he shall drink of the brook in the way the brook of suffering in the way to his glory and our salvation, signified by the brook Cedron, the black brook, so called either from the darkness of the valley it ran through or the colour of the water, tainted with the dirt of the city such a brook Christ drank of, when it lay in the way of our redemption, and therefore shall he lift up the head, his own and ours. (2.) At David’s pattern, as a type of the Messiah. In his flight from Absalom, particular notice is taken of his passing over the brook Cedron, and going up by the ascent of mount Olivet, weeping, and all that were with him in tears too, 2 Samuel 15:23,30. The Son of David, being driven out by the rebellious Jews, who would not have him to reign over them (and Judas, like Ahithophel, being in the plot against him), passed over the brook in meanness and humiliation, attended by a company of true mourners. The godly kings of Judah had burnt and destroyed the idols they found at the brook Cedron Asa, 2 Chronicles 15:16 Hezekiah, 2 Chronicles 30:14 Josiah, 2 Kings 23:4,6. Into that brook the abominable things were cast. Christ, being now made sin for us, that he might abolish it and take it away, began his passion by the same brook. Mount Olivet, where Christ began his sufferings, lay on the east side of Jerusalem mount Calvary, where he finished them, on the west for in them he had an eye to such as should come from the east and the west.

The Apostles — Judas included — were well acquainted with the garden, because Jesus often met with them there (verse 2).

Henry has this to say about Christ’s sufferings in a garden and His burial in another, circumstances which he enjoins us to consider when we enjoy our own open spaces:

This circumstance is taken notice of only by this evangelist, that Christ’s sufferings began in a garden. In the garden of Eden sin began there the curse was pronounced, there the Redeemer was promised, and therefore in a garden that promised seed entered the lists with the old serpent. Christ was buried also in a garden. (1.) Let us, when we walk in our gardens, take occasion thence to meditate on Christ’s sufferings in a garden, to which we owe all the pleasure we have in our gardens, for by them the curse upon the ground for man’s sake was removed. (2.) When we are in the midst of our possessions and enjoyments, we must keep up an expectation of troubles, for our gardens of delight are in a vale of tears.

MacArthur explains the meaning of Gethsemane:

The other writers – Matthew, Mark, and Luke – tell us its name. And “Gethsemane” means “oil press.” It is, after all, the Mount of Olives, and olives are pressed to make olive oil. Jesus and His disciples had been there; they’d been there many times. They’d been to that garden many times.

Many of the people in the city of Jerusalem outside the city on the Mount of Olives – they would have little fences around their gardens, or walls around their gardens, and a gate to keep them private – they were private gardens – and I would assume that this garden, because the Lord went there so many times, was always made available to Him.

Matthew Henry arrived at the same conclusion about a private garden whose owner made it available to Jesus and His disciples.

Then a huge group of armed Romans and Jews arrived on the scene, led by Judas (verse 3).

Both our commentators say there were several hundred in this group of men, perhaps up to one thousand, some accompanied by their servants.

MacArthur describes them:

… it’s appropriate to add that it’s a “Roman cohort.” The word is speira in the Greek. A Roman cohort usually consisted of six hundred men. There could be a detachment from a cohort called a maniple, which would have two hundred men. So it could be as many as six hundred men, and add a few hundred of the temple police and a few others. And maybe as the crowd moved through the darkness, they could have collected other people on the way. You could have as many as a thousand people coming into the darkness of that little place.

they had their full force under full command. This is, of course, a recognition on all their parts of the power of Jesus. They recognized His power. They’d seen it on display in the temple. They knew that He had raised Lazarus from the dead. They knew He was a miracle worker. They were very aware of His power.

Such is the idiocy of unbelief. They send an army to take an unarmed Galilean carpenter and teacher.

Jesus came forward and asked them whom they were looking for (verse 4). When He affirmed that he was Jesus of Nazareth (verse 5), whom they sought, they fell backwards to the ground (verse 6).

Henry notes that the mob coming to arrest Jesus were terrified. The Apostles, who had been asleep, were now awake:

See how he terrified them, and obliged them to retire (John 18:6): They went backward, and, like men thunder-struck, fell to the ground. It should seem, they did not fall forward, as humbling themselves before him, and yielding to him, but backward, as standing it out to the utmost. Thus Christ was declared to be more than a man, even when he was trampled upon as a worm, and no man. This word, I am he, had revived his disciples, and raised them up (Matthew 14:27) but the same word strikes his enemies down.

The same exchange took place again (verse 7).

Jesus reaffirmed His identity and asked that His disciples be left to go unharmed (verse 8). John mentions that this was to fulfil our Lord’s affirmation to His Father that He would not lose anyone God gave him to cherish and protect (verse 9).

MacArthur says that Jesus had made that statement only a short time before:

Back in chapter 17, verse 12 – in the prayer – He said, “Of those whom You have given Me, I lost not one.” So He protects them out of that love that He has for them, in a moment when if they had been taken prisoner they would have been lost.

I want you to think about that. He does not allow the disciples to be arrested and brought to trial and judgment. He protects them from that so that He will fulfill the Scripture that they will not be lost. Hypothetically then, had He allowed them to get arrested, their faith would have been completely overwhelmed. It was hard enough as it was. They scattered, and Peter was a rabid denier of Christ. But our Lord knew that if they were arrested and put through what He was going to be put through, their faith would fail

Here is a dramatic illustration of the Great High Priest, out of love, protecting His weak sheep. They’re not going to be arrested. He acts in a special, unique way. It’s kind of like 1 Corinthians 10:13. You could take that as a personal promise: “No temptation will ever come to you such as is common to man; and God will make a way of escape that you maybe be able to” – What? – “be able to bear it.”

Not surprisingly, Simon Peter — big and brash at the time — decided to defend Jesus by cutting off the right ear of a slave called Malchus (verse 10).

Henry points out that Peter could have been aiming for Judas and missed:

We must here acknowledge Peter’s good-will he had an honest zeal for his Master, though now misguided. He had lately promised to venture his life for him, and would now make his words good. Probably it exasperated Peter to see Judas at the head of this gang his baseness excited Peter’s boldness, and I wonder that when he did draw his sword he did not aim at the traitor’s head.

Jesus calmly told Peter to put away his weapon, because it was time to ‘drink the cup’ that His Father had given to Him (verse 11).

MacArthur defines the ‘cup’ for us:

The cup of wrath, the cup of fury, the cup of the vengeance of God, “Shall I not drink it?”

Commentary for verses 12-27 can be found here, with more insights from John MacArthur, particularly on the theme of trust.

The Jews led Jesus away from Caiaphas and delivered him to Pilate’s headquarters, which they did not enter because they did not want to defile themselves for Passover (verse 28).

Henry points out their spiritual blindness and hypocrisy:

This they scrupled, but made no scruple of breaking through all the laws of equity to persecute Christ to the death. They strained at a gnat, and swallowed a camel.

Pilate asked what the charges were against Jesus (verse 29).

They assured him that they would not have brought Jesus before him if He were not a criminal (verse 30).

Pilate, knowing that a Jewish crime involved an offence against Judaism, told them to judge Jesus themselves. The Jews countered that their laws did not permit sentencing someone to death (verse 31). They meant ‘under Roman law’.

John says that this scene fulfilled the prophecies of Jesus about His death (verse 32).

Henry elaborates:

Those sayings of Christ in particular were fulfilled which he had spoken concerning his own death. Two sayings of Christ concerning his death were fulfilled, by the Jews declining to judge him according to their law. First, He had said that he should be delivered to the Gentiles, and that they should put him to death Mark x. 33 Luke xviii. 32,33), and hereby that saying was fulfilled. Secondly, He had said that he should be crucified (Matthew 20:19,26:2), lifted up, John 3:14,12:32. Now, if they had judged him by their law, he had been stoned burning, strangling, and beheading, were in some cases used among the Jews, but never crucifying. It was therefore necessary that Christ should be put to death by the Romans, that, being hanged upon a tree, he might be made a curse for us (Galatians 3:13), and his hands and feet might be pierced. As the Roman power had brought him to be born at Bethlehem, so now to die upon a cross, and both according to the scriptures.

Pontius Pilate summoned Jesus and asked Him if He was ‘the King of the Jews’ (verse 33).

Jesus asked Pilate if he asked that question from a notion he had or from what he had heard from others (verse 34). Pilate obfuscated, saying that he himself was not a Jew, yet the Jews handed Jesus — one of their own — over to him. Pilate asked Jesus of what He was guilty (verse 35).

Jesus gave an answer which must have flummoxed them all (verse 36): His Kingdom is not of this world; if it were, He said, His followers would have rushed to His defence.

Today’s radical clergy would do well to remember that neither Jesus nor His disciples took up arms or created unrest against either the Jews or the Romans. They were not social justice warriors.

Pilate asked Jesus if He was a king. Jesus replied that Pilate used that term, not He Himself. He, knowing that He is the King of Kings, went further and said that He came to testify of the truth and that all who believe in the eternal truth listen to His voice (verse 37).

Pilate asked an excellent question — ‘What is the truth?’ — but left before Jesus could answer. Clearly, he did not understand; nor did he wish to understand. Instead, he went back to the Jews and said he could find no evidence of a crime against our Lord (verse 38).

Then Pilate offered to release Jesus, since, at Passover, a Jewish criminal was released and allowed back into freedom (verse 39).

They shouted their disapproval at Pilate’s idea and said they wanted Barabbas, a thief and a radical, released instead (verse 40).

Matthew Henry concludes:

Thus those do who prefer their sins before Christ. Sin is a robber, every base lust is a robber, and yet foolishly chosen rather than Christ, who would truly enrich us.

John 18 ends there, a sad account of the worst in men, particularly those who claim to be religious, awaiting the Messiah, when He was there before their very eyes. Instead, they chose to have him condemned to death.

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

What is the Triduum?

‘One of you will betray Me’ (John 13)

Passover, the Last Supper and the New Covenant

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

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

John MacArthur on Passover as celebrated at the Last Supper

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

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

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

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

John 13:1-17, 31b-35

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Commentary comes from Matthew Henry and John MacArthur.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

MacArthur says:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Henry points out:

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

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

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

Henry explains:

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

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

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

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

Henry explains why Jesus said that:

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

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

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

One of You Will Betray Me

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It is a compelling sermon.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

This is MacArthur’s closing prayer on these verses:

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

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

The readings for Wednesday of Holy Week — traditionally known as Spy Wednesday — can be found here.

The following posts might also be of interest:

Gospel reading for Wednesday of Holy Week — John 13:21-32 (2016)

Wednesday of Holy Week — Spy Wednesday

More on Spy Wednesday

More on Judas

Today’s post looks at the Epistle — Hebrews 12:1-3 (emphases mine below):

Hebrews 12:1-3

12:1 Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight and the sin that clings so closely, and let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us,

12:2 looking to Jesus the pioneer and perfecter of our faith, who for the sake of the joy that was set before him endured the cross, disregarding its shame, and has taken his seat at the right hand of the throne of God.

12:3 Consider him who endured such hostility against himself from sinners, so that you may not grow weary or lose heart.

Commentary comes from Matthew Henry and John MacArthur.

The author of Hebrews was writing for a predominantly Jewish audience: mostly converts to Christianity along with some who had not yet come to believe in Christ as Saviour.

Most of these people were still clinging to Mosaic law. They found it difficult to accept that the New Covenant had abolished it. They were looking for something more: their old legalism.

Therefore, the author asks them, with such a great cloud of witnesses from the Old Testament, to lay aside ‘every weight and the sin that clings so closely’ in order to ‘run with perseverance the race’ set before them (verse 1).

John MacArthur explains, drawing on his own experience of having been on his school’s track team during his youth:

Well, here they were, trying to run this race of faith with weights of legalism hanging all over them: Still being attached to the temple, still being hung up on – on the ritual of the ceremonialism of Judaism, still being attached to the priesthood and all this kind of stuff. They were trying to run a race of faith, dragging weights, like a guy trying to run down the track with a ball and chain on both feet. Dead works is dead weight, folks. And they were trying to run with dead works. Legalism.

Now, our Lord calls them to a life of faith. And all they are is a whole lot of great big, fat blobs with super sweat suits on and weights all over their feet, trying to run a race. And He says, “Get rid of all that legalism. Strip down.” And it’s amazing what had happened to them. They were so big and blobby, with so much bulk and so much weight, that they ran a step and collapsed in a pile of legalistic sweat. Panting to death, hanging on to Judaism, wouldn’t let go. You can’t run the race of faith weighted down by self-righteousness. Did you know that? You can’t run the race of faith weighted down and bogged down by your own works, trying to please God and earn His favor. That’s just like dead weight. The race is run, beloved, by faith plus nothing, just believing God, and He’ll produce the fruits of that faith within you.

“Works is a way to please God.” Don’t speed you up; they slow you down. “Well, I’m going to do some works for God, and work for God, and that’ll please Him, and that’ll please Him,” and that’ll just drag you down. Unload Judaism. Drop all of the old covenant stuff and go.

MacArthur thinks that the sin the author of Hebrews is talking about is mostly one of unbelief, although all sin would apply in general:

“The sin that doth so easily beset us.” The word “beset” is interesting. It’s very graphic. I’m not going to tell you the word, because it’s kind of a complicated word; it doesn’t really matter anyway, but it comes from a verb that means to surround periistēmi. It means to surround or stand around. And this is – this is the picture of a guy running through race in a Harris Tweed overcoat. See? Just some huge, big thing, and he’s flopping along in it. Something that just surrounds him. And it is the sin which doth so easily surround us and encumber us.

Now, that’s not too – perhaps it’s a general thought. Perhaps He’s talking about any sin. And sin is certainly a hindrance, but I think He’s talking about something specific. He says here, “The sin which doth so easily beset us.” Now, if you’re trying to run – watch this – a race of faith, what would be the biggest hindrance? Unbelief. I think that’s obviously implied right there. The thing that they were running into was doubting God. Do you see? Doubting God, combine that thing, get the fat man running in his sweat suit, and then put an overcoat on him, and you’ve got the picture of them trying to run the race, and they’re just sitting there, big blobs in the middle of the track.

And you know there’s a lot of Christians like that today. As I say, you know, the people who are moving have got to also be hurdlers, because they’ve got to keep jumping over all of the – all of the piles of people who are sitting in the track. Believe me, that’s true, friends. I mean in the body of Christ, if the body doesn’t function, we got to jump over the non-functioning members. And they’re often in the way, believe me.

A lot of us, myself included, think that being a Christian is a time to relax. Christ’s blood redeemed us. His resurrection opened the gates of eternal life to us. Yet, it is actually a struggle against temptation. Most of us would also like more faith. Therefore, we need to be spiritually fit so that we are ready for the endurance of the race.

MacArthur says of the intention of the author of Hebrews, inspired by the Holy Spirit:

“Let us run with patience the race” – and the word “patience,” hupomonē is endurance. Some Christians are in the race, but they’re not running the race. So, I think we can safely say that the term “let us,” used in the primary sense that it’s used in the book of Hebrews is used for the intellectually convinced, but it also has direct implication to the believer in at least one other passage, and very likely we would say it does here as well.

So, what He’s saying then is two things – all that to say this: if you’re not a Christian, get in the race because there’s only one way to live and that’s by faith; and if you are a Christian, and you’re in the race, run the race with endurance. So, really, the statement is general.

Now, it’s sad to say that most Christians aren’t running. A for example are jogging, we’ll admit that. Some are trotting. A lot of them are walking. Most of them are crawling or sitting, going nowhere; and some of them are going backwards. But the Christian life is not a trot; the Christian life is not your morning constitutional. The Christian life is not a loaf; the Christian life is a race. There it is; look at it. Let us run with patience the race. The Greek word for race agōn from which we get agony. This is a race where you’ve got to put out a little bit. It’s not even a sprint, either; it’s not a dash; it’s a marathon kind of race. It is to be run with endurance. And like any good runner must train and follow rigid kind of standards if he’s going to effectively run, so must the Christian. To effectively run, there must be self-denial, discipline, tremendous exertion. The Christian life is not a thing of passive luxury.

In this race, we are to look up to Jesus at all times — ‘the pioneer and perfecter of our faith’ — who suffered so much for our sakes and endured the shame of the Cross only to reap the ‘joy’ of taking His seat at the right hand of God the Father (verse 2).

Matthew Henry explains:

2.) What trials Christ met with in his race and course. [1.] He endured the contradiction of sinners against himself (Hebrews 12:3) he bore the opposition that they made to him, both in their words and behaviour. They were continually contradicting him, and crossing in upon his great designs and though he could easily have both confuted and confounded them, and sometimes gave them a specimen of his power, yet he endured their evil manners with great patience. Their contradictions were levelled against Christ himself, against his person as God-man, against his authority, against his preaching, and yet he endured all. [2.] He endured the cross–all those sufferings that he met with in the world for he took up his cross betimes, and was at length nailed to it, and endured a painful, ignominious, and accursed death, in which he was numbered with the transgressors, the vilest malefactors yet all this he endured with invincible patience and resolution. [3.] He despised the shame. All the reproaches that were cast upon him, both in his life and at his death, he despised he was infinitely above them he knew his own innocency and excellency, and despised the ignorance and malice of his despisers.

(3.) What it was that supported the human soul of Christ under these unparalleled sufferings and that was the joy that was set before him. He had something in view under all his sufferings, which was pleasant to him he rejoiced to see that by his sufferings he should make satisfaction to the injured justice of God and give security to his honour and government, that he should make peace between God and man, that he should seal the covenant of grace and be the Mediator of it, that he should open a way of salvation to the chief of sinners, and that he should effectually save all those whom the Father had given him, and himself be the first-born among many brethren. This was the joy that was set before him.

(4.) The reward of his suffering: he has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Christ, as Mediator, is exalted to a station of the highest honour, of the greatest power and influence he is at the right hand of the Father. Nothing passes between heaven and earth but by him he does all that is done he ever lives to make intercession for his people.

Therefore, we must look upon Him as our only Mediator and Advocate:

We must, [1.] Look unto him that is, we must set him continually before us as our example, and our great encouragement we must look to him for direction, for assistance, and for acceptance, in all our sufferings. [2.] We must consider him, meditate much upon him, and reason with ourselves from his case to our own. We must analogize, as the word is compare Christ’s sufferings and ours and we shall find that as his sufferings far exceeded ours, in the nature and measure of them, so his patience far excels ours, and is a perfect pattern for us to imitate.

Christ, the Son of God, suffered more at the hands of angry and twisted sinners than we ever will, so we must continually keep His example in mind as we endure our race in this world (verse 3):

Observe, [1.] There is a proneness in the best to grow weary and to faint under their trials and afflictions, especially when they prove heavy and of long continuance: this proceeds from the imperfections of grace and the remains of corruption. [2.] The best way to prevent this is to look unto Jesus, and to consider him. Faith and meditation will fetch in fresh supplies of strength, comfort, and courage for he has assured them, if they suffer with him, they shall also reign with him: and this hope will be their helmet.

MacArthur advises us:

I really believe we need to live by faith. And that’s the only way to take a spiritual diet and get off your sweat suit is start believing God. As soon as you start living by faith, you just start shedding the spiritual pounds. You strip down; you’re ready for action; you unload your overcoat, your sweat suit, and you’re ready to go. And it all happens by faith. Don’t be that kind of overweight, bulky thing in the middle of the track. GO on a spiritual diet and trim down. And a spiritual diet is simply understanding to live by faith. Eliminate all unbelief and self-righteousness, and then you’re stripped down, ready to run.

May we keep our eye on the prize of eternal life by focusing on Christ Jesus alone.

The readings for Tuesday of Holy Week are here.

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

John 12:20-36

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

MacArthur elaborates:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

MacArthur says:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

These are the readings for Monday of Holy Week.

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

John 12:1-11

12:1 Six days before the Passover Jesus came to Bethany, the home of Lazarus, whom he had raised from the dead.

12:2 There they gave a dinner for him. Martha served, and Lazarus was one of those at the table with him.

12:3 Mary took a pound of costly perfume made of pure nard, anointed Jesus’ feet, and wiped them with her hair. The house was filled with the fragrance of the perfume.

12:4 But Judas Iscariot, one of his disciples (the one who was about to betray him), said,

12:5 “Why was this perfume not sold for three hundred denarii and the money given to the poor?”

12:6 (He said this not because he cared about the poor, but because he was a thief; he kept the common purse and used to steal what was put into it.)

12:7 Jesus said, “Leave her alone. She bought it so that she might keep it for the day of my burial.

12:8 You always have the poor with you, but you do not always have me.”

12:9 When the great crowd of the Jews learned that he was there, they came not only because of Jesus but also to see Lazarus, whom he had raised from the dead.

12:10 So the chief priests planned to put Lazarus to death as well,

12:11 since it was on account of him that many of the Jews were deserting and were believing in Jesus.

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

Today’s reading features the contrast of two polar opposites: Mary, the sister of Lazarus, and Judas, the betrayer and thief.

Lazarus and his sisters gave a dinner to honour Jesus, particularly because Jesus had raised Lazarus from the dead (verses 1, 2).

John MacArthur points out that this was the last Sabbath under the Old Covenant:

By the way, this is the last legitimate Sabbath.  This is the final Sabbath in the Old Covenant because on Friday, Jesus will die and ratify the New Covenant The Old Covenant will fade away.  The New Covenant being ratified is in place, and there’s no more authorized official Sabbaths.  So the church immediately gathers itself on Sunday when He was raised from the dead, and continued to do that every Sunday up until this very Sunday today. 

John tells us that Martha served (verse 2). In an earlier visit to the house where Lazarus and his sisters lived, Jesus criticised Martha when she asked Him to ask Mary to help her with food preparations. Yet, she is still serving.

MacArthur rightly says that we are sometimes too critical of Martha:

I need to rescue Martha a little bit because Martha gets bad press.  That comes out of the account in Luke 10.  On another occasion, when our Lord was traveling, He came to Bethany and came to the village and Martha welcomed Him into her home.  She had a sister called Mary who was seated at the Lord’s feet listening to the Word.  Martha was distracted with all her preparations.  She came up to Him and said, “Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me to do all the serving alone?  Then tell her to help me.” 

She’s a little obsessed with this serving stuff.  The Lord answered and said to her, “Martha, Martha – ” and if you’re named Martha, you have heard that many, many times.  “You are worried and bothered about so many things, but only one thing is really necessary, and Mary has chosen the good part, which shall not be taken away from her.”  Let me tell you something.  The truth that Mary is listening to is forever The meal and the stuff in the kitchen, that has a short shelf lifeSo instruction, divine truth, worship is a priority.

Based upon that experience, and you can go back to John 12.  We sort of degrade Martha a little bit, and I think we need to lift her back up She served and service is regarded nobly in scripture, very noblyIn fact, the word “serving” there is the word diakone  from which we get the word “deacon” and servers in the church were a very important part of the life of the church People were first appointed in the sixth chapter of Acts There are references all through the book of Acts to people who served.  Paul in Romans 16 talks about all the people who served, men and women who served his ministry and the ministry of those associated with him So we don’t want to belittle this service that Martha rendered

There is a bone of contention as to whether this dinner actually took place at the home of Lazarus and his sisters. MacArthur said that it took place at the home of Simon, a healed leper. Only Jesus could have healed him, by the way.

However, Matthew Henry says there were two different dinners, one at Simon’s and this one at Lazarus’s:

It is queried whether this was the same with that which is recorded, Matthew 24:6, &c., in the house of Simon. Most commentators think it was for the substance of the story and many of the circumstances agree but that comes in after what was said two days before the passover, whereas this was done six days before nor is it likely that Martha should serve in any house but her own and therefore I incline with Dr. Lightfoot to think them different: that in Matthew on the third day of the passover week, but this the seventh day of the week before, being the Jewish sabbath, the night before he rode in triumph into Jerusalem that in the house of Simon this of Lazarus. These two being the most public and solemn entertainments given him in Bethany, Mary probably graced them both with this token of her respect and what she left of her ointment this first time, when she spent but a pound of it (John 12:3), she used that second time, when she poured it all out, Mark 14:3.

Mary was moved enough by the occasion to anoint the feet of Jesus with a costly and powerful perfume — nard — and wipe them with her hair (verse 3).

I would like to think this was part of Mary’s spontaneous, emotional make up as a person. It is interesting that she undid her hair in order to wipe our Lord’s feet, because no respectable woman at that time let her hair down, so to speak, in front of men other than her husband.

MacArthur discusses Mary’s action and tells us more about nard, which was often used in burials. It came from the Himalayas, which proves that trade routes to the East were in place at that time:

I don’t really think this is something calculated, premeditatedThis is the heart of Mary bursting, “And she took a pound of very costly perfume of pure nard.”  That’s a lot of pure perfume, pure fragrant oil.  The term is “myron” which is a term for oil Nard was a very rare herb grown in the high pasture lands of China, Tibet, and IndiaIt wouldn’t find its way into a home in Bethany unless it had been carried there by camels from India, from China, far, far, far awayBecause it came so far, because it was so pure, it was very valuable, very valuable.  In fact, its value was known by the man who always thought only about the price of things: Judas.  He named the price in verse 5 as 300 denarii.  A denarius is a day’s wage.  That’s 300 days of work.  That’s essentially a year’s work if you take some days off out.  Very expensive. 

In Matthew 26:7 we read that it was in an alabaster jar Alabaster is a white translucent stone that would be carved out to contain this nard.  Probably, that’s how it was shipped and delivered and kept.  Now, why would people have this?  Well, for one use and we’ll see more about that in a minute, this kind of fragrant oil was used at a funeral.  Since there was no embalming, to somehow lower the impact of the stench of a decaying body, fragrant oils were placed on the body You remember Joseph of Arimathea.  Nicodemus did that to the body of Christ.  They anointed His body with spices and things like that at His own burial. 

This is a very valuable thing to the family They’ve got some of their estate in this very valuable oil in this alabaster jar Maybe it was to be used for the funeral of family members.  It hadn’t been used for Lazarus’s funeral, so that maybe open to question, but families did use perfume like this for purposes like that.  It could also be used just for the ladies to enjoy the fragrance and the home to enjoy the fragrance

Here are the Gospel differences in describing this event. There was also a similar episode with a fallen woman:

According to Mark 14:3, she smashes the alabaster jar and opens it Matthew and Mark tell us it went on His head and here we find in John that it went all the way down to His feet Then she loosened her hair, which was a radical thing for a woman to do in the presence of men, and used her hair to wipe His feet.  Foot washing at a meal was part of the meal because people had sandals, and there was no pavement …

It’s not the first time we’ve seen this on behalf of Jesus Go back to Luke 7.  It had happened before earlier in His ministry, not in Bethany, but in Galilee.  Not in the house of Simon the leper, but in the house of a Pharisee Not by a believing woman whom Jesus knew, but by a prostitute He didn’t know Luke 7:37, “There was a woman in the city who was a sinner and when she learned that He was reclining at the table in the Pharisees’ house, she brought an alabaster vial of perfume standing behind Him at His feet weeping.  She began to wet His feet with her tears, kept wiping them with the hair of her head and kissing His feet and anointing them with perfume Now, when the Pharisee who had invited Him saw this, he said to himself, ‘If this man were a prophet, He would know who and what sort of person this woman is who is touching Him, that she is a sinner.’”

That would be the most frightening things imaginable for a self-righteous Pharisee to imagine himself to be touched by a prostitute He wouldn’t survive that because Pharisees as legalists were highly seducible, even by a touch.  But the touch of a most sinful woman, couldn’t diminish the pure, holiness of Christ Instead of it making Him unholy, He could make her holy Apparently, this was a lavish way for people to express overwhelming love and affection

Judas, the betrayer, piped up and asked why the perfume wasn’t sold with the proceeds going to the poor (verses 4, 5).

John, sometimes called the apostle of love, was always pointed in his descriptions of Judas, and one of these is in verse 6. John was quick to tell us that Judas was a thief. According to John, Judas didn’t care at all about the poor, but, as he was the one in charge of donations given to Jesus and the apostles, he also dipped into those funds from time to time for himself.

Both of our commentators have much to say about the covetous nature of the betrayer.

MacArthur begins with another description of Judas from John 6, Christ’s own words, in fact:

The scene is tortured by the intrusion of a man identified by Jesus back in chapter 6 as a devil.  Verse 70, chapter 6, “One of you is a devil,” and He meant Judas the son of Simon Iscariot, “For he, one of the twelve, was going to betray Him.”  Always one of the twelve, one of the disciples who was going to betray Him.  That is his epitaph, and it was his epitaph before he died.  That’s how he was identified: greed, ambition, worldliness, self-interest, owned his heart, driving him now to a frenzy, a frenzy.

He cast his lot in thinking he would be wealthy.  He cast his lot in thinking he would be elevated to some position of power and authority, and it began to become clear to him pretty early I think that this thing wasn’t going the direction he wanted it to go While everyone else was growing to love Christ more, he was growing to hate Him more He labored in difficulty.  There was resistance.  There was rejection.  He was left with nothing but the basest necessities of life.  From day to day, it was merely survival.  The idea of a kingdom was becoming ridiculous to him.  Everything was going wrong, but he has to keep up the hypocrisy so he says in verse 5, “Why was this perfume not sold for 300 denarii and given to poor people?”  It sounds so noble, but John tells us in verse 6, “He said this not because he was concerned about the poor, but because he was a thief and as he had the money box, he used to pilfer what was put into it.” 

When the thing began to go the direction he didn’t think it should go, he began embezzling the money, the little money they had to sustain them He wanted the money and all the money he could get He was ready now to get out, whatever was going to be the end of this thing for Jesus.  Jesus had said He was going to die.  They were going to take His life.  He can see the hostility, the animosity.  He knows the end is coming.  He knows He’s not going to be able to be in the position he is to get the money that’s in the box very much longer.  He wants as much as he can get.  By the way, this is sadMatthew 26:8 says the other disciples chimed in on this Yeah, why wasn’t that sold and the money given to the poor?  Stirred up by Judas to join the protest.  It actually says the disciples protested.

He had a lot of influence That’s why he had the money box because everybody what?  Trusted him.  I will say this, true honor to Jesus Christ, a place where true honor is offered to Jesus Christ will always bring out the hostility of those who belong to Satan If you honor Jesus Christ, those who belong to Satan will be hostile This is a devil.  It actually says Thursday night of this week coming, the devil himself entered into him He was not just a devil, but the devil himself entered into Judas

Henry has a lengthy analysis of Judas’s greed and devilishness:

The pretence with which he covered his dislike (John 12:5): Why was not this ointment, since it was designed for a pious use, sold for three hundred pence” (8l. 10s. of our money), “and given to the poor? (1.) Here is a foul iniquity gilded over with a specious and plausible pretence, for Satan transforms himself into an angel of light. (2.) Here is worldly wisdom passing a censure upon pious zeal, as guilty of imprudence and mismanagement. Those who value themselves upon their secular policy, and undervalue others for their serious piety, have more in them of the spirit of Judas than they would be thought to have. (3.) Here is charity to the poor made a colour for opposing a piece of piety to Christ, and secretly made a cloak for covetousness. Many excuse themselves from laying out in charity under pretence of laying up for charity: whereas, if the clouds be full of rain, they will empty themselves. Judas asked, Why was it not given to the poor? To which it is easy to answer, Because it was better bestowed upon the Lord Jesus. Note, We must not conclude that those do no acceptable piece of service who do not do it in our way, and just as we would have them as if every thing must be adjudged imprudent and unfit which does not take its measures from us and our sentiments. Proud men think all ill-advised who do not advise with them.

Also:

(2.) It did come from a principle of covetousness. The truth of the matter was, this ointment being designed for his Master, he would rather have had it in money, to be put in the common stock with which he was entrusted, and then he knew what to do with it. Observe,

[1.] Judas was treasurer of Christ’s household, whence some think he was called Iscariot, the bag-bearer. First, See what estate Jesus and his disciples had to live upon. It was but little they had neither farms nor merchandise, neither barns nor storehouses, only a bag or, as some think the word signifies, a box, or coffer, wherein they kept just enough for their subsistence, giving the overplus, if any were, to the poor this they carried about with them, wherever they went. Omnia mea mecum porto–I carry all my property about me. This bag was supplied by the contributions of good people, and the Master and his disciples had all in common let this lessen our esteem of worldly wealth, and deaden us to the punctilios of state and ceremony, and reconcile us to a mean and despicable way of living, if this be our lot, that it was our Master’s lot for our sakes he became poor. Secondly, See who was the steward of the little they had it was Judas, he was purse-bearer. It was his office to receive and pay, and we do not find that he gave any account what markets he made. He was appointed to this office, either, 1. Because he was the least and lowest of all the disciples it was not Peter nor John that was made steward (though it was a place of trust and profit), but Judas, the meanest of them. Note, Secular employments, as they are a digression, so they are a degradation to a minister of the gospel see 1 Corinthians 6:4. The prime-ministers of state in Christ’s kingdom refused to be concerned in the revenue, Acts 6:2. 2. Because he was desirous of the place. He loved in his heart to be fingering money, and therefore had the moneybag committed to him, either, (1.) As a kindness, to please him, and thereby oblige him to be true to his Master. Subjects are sometimes disaffected to the government because disappointed of their preferment but Judas had no cause to complain of this the bag he chose, and the bag he had. Or, (2.) In judgment upon him, to punish him for his secret wickedness that was put into his hands which would be a snare and trap to him. Note, Strong inclinations to sin within are often justly punished with strong temptations to sin without. We have little reason to be fond of the bag, or proud of it, for at the best we are but stewards of it and it was Judas, one of an ill character, and born to be hanged (pardon the expression), that was steward of the bag. The prosperity of fools destroys them.

[2.] Being trusted with the bag, he was a thief, that is, he had a thievish disposition. The reigning love of money is heart-theft as much as anger and revenge are heart-murder. Or perhaps he had been really guilty of embezzling his Master’s stores, and converting to his own use what was given to the public stock. And some conjecture that he was now contriving to fill his pockets, and then run away and leave his Master, having heard him speak so much of troubles approaching, to which he could by no means reconcile himself. Note, Those to whom the management and disposal of public money is committed have need to be governed by steady principles of justice and honesty, that no blot cleave to their hands for though some make a jest of cheating the government, or the church, or the country, if cheating be thieving, and, communities being more considerable than particular persons, if robbing them be the greater sin, the guilt of theft and the portion of thieves will be found no jesting matter. Judas, who had betrayed his trust, soon after betrayed his Master.

Jesus rebuked Judas, telling him to leave Mary alone because she was keeping the nard for His burial (verse 7). He also pointed out that the poor would always be among them but that He would not (verse 8).

MacArthur interprets this as follows:

It’s right to take care of the poor It’s right to care for them, but not now, not now.  I’m here.  You don’t always have Me I don’t want to spiritualize that.  I just want to say that in life there are priorities.  There is temporal relief, and there is eternal worship, and you better know the difference

MacArthur compares Judas’s sinful words in denying an honour bestowed on our Lord with the price he received for betraying Him:

His first words ever spoken are in verse 5.  These are the first words in the Scripture from the lips of Judas: “Why was this perfume not sold for 300 denarii and given to poor people?”  Do you want to know his last words?  Matthew 27, “I have betrayed innocent blood.”  That’s Judas.  For 300 denarii, he would rob Jesus of the gift of Mary’s love.  Later, he would sell Jesus for 30 pieces of silver.  Three hundred denarii, that’s about a year’s wages; 30 pieces of silver, 4 months.  The perfume was worth 3 times to him what he sold Jesus for

Several years ago, someone commented here to say that Judas wasn’t really bad, only misunderstood, largely because of the bad press he got in the New Testament! No. There is no rationalisation of Judas. He was a bad man, and he committed suicide after Jesus was condemned on Good Friday. Judas was a tortured soul, a man given over to judgement in life and in death (Matthew 27:3-5):

Then when Judas, his betrayer, saw that Jesus[a] was condemned, he changed his mind and brought back the thirty pieces of silver to the chief priests and the elders, saying, “I have sinned by betraying innocent blood.” They said, “What is that to us? See to it yourself.” And throwing down the pieces of silver into the temple, he departed, and he went and hanged himself.

Acts 1:15-19 has a different version of his death:

15 In those days Peter stood up among the brothers (the company of persons was in all about 120) and said, 16 “Brothers, the Scripture had to be fulfilled, which the Holy Spirit spoke beforehand by the mouth of David concerning Judas, who became a guide to those who arrested Jesus. 17 For he was numbered among us and was allotted his share in this ministry.” 18 (Now this man acquired a field with the reward of his wickedness, and falling headlong[d] he burst open in the middle and all his bowels gushed out. 19 And it became known to all the inhabitants of Jerusalem, so that the field was called in their own language Akeldama, that is, Field of Blood.)

MacArthur sums up Mary and Judas:

Bitter, greedy, murderous, betraying hatred is juxtaposed against this lavish love that is memorialized permanently.  Mary: overflowing extravagant, sacrificial loveJudas: bitter, greedy, murderous, betraying hate, extreme.

Not surprisingly, people flocked to the house of Lazarus to see him and to see Jesus (verse 9). Not everyone came in faith. Some came out of curiosity.

The Jewish leaders wanted to put Lazarus to death — along with Jesus — to stop him evangelising. Because of his resurrection, many Jews were becoming followers of Jesus (verse 11). That must have really rankled.

The Jewish hierarchy — the notionally holiest men in the entire Jewish population — could not deny that Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead, so they wanted to kill the evidence, then probably deny it ever happened. They were so wilfully blind and, because of that, so sinful. How sick and perverse. God passed judgement on them with the destruction of the temple in AD 70. To date, it has never been rebuilt.

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

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

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

Readings for the Fifth Sunday in Lent — Year B

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

John 12:20-33

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Henry tells us:

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

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

MacArthur gives us more information:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Henry explains:

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

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

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

Henry says:

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

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

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

MacArthur explains:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

MacArthur interprets this for us:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Henry explains:

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

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

MacArthur provides this analysis:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

In 2021, the Third Sunday in Lent is March 7.

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

Readings for the Third Sunday in Lent — Year B

The Gospel reading is as follows (emphases mine):

John 2:13-22

2:13 The Passover of the Jews was near, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem.

2:14 In the temple he found people selling cattle, sheep, and doves, and the money changers seated at their tables.

2:15 Making a whip of cords, he drove all of them out of the temple, both the sheep and the cattle. He also poured out the coins of the money changers and overturned their tables.

2:16 He told those who were selling the doves, “Take these things out of here! Stop making my Father’s house a marketplace!”

2:17 His disciples remembered that it was written, “Zeal for your house will consume me.”

2:18 The Jews then said to him, “What sign can you show us for doing this?”

2:19 Jesus answered them, “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.”

2:20 The Jews then said, “This temple has been under construction for forty-six years, and will you raise it up in three days?”

2:21 But he was speaking of the temple of his body.

2:22 After he was raised from the dead, his disciples remembered that he had said this; and they believed the scripture and the word that Jesus had spoken.

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

This episode in the temple follows the miracle at Cana in John’s Gospel.

This was the first of two purges that Jesus did at the temple. The second comes near the end of His ministry, days before the Crucifixion.

He had departed for Jerusalem (verse 13) from Capernaum, His headquarters in Galilee.

Once at the temple, he found a marketplace for animals to be sacrificed (verse 14). This was a real racket, especially for poorer people. Some carefully raised their own birds for sacrifice only to be told before entering the temple that they had blemishes, forcing them to buy a bird from one of the sellers at an inflated price. Money normally had to be exchanged for this to take place, hence the money changers.

Matthew Henry’s commentary says that what Christ came to reform, He first had to purify:

Christ came to be the great reformer and, according to the method of the reforming kings of Judah, he first purged out what was amiss (and that used to be passover-work too, as in Hezekiah’s time, 2 Chronicles 30:14,15, and Josiah’s, 2 Kings 23:4, &c.), and then taught them to do well. First purge out the old leaven, and then keep the feast. Christ’s design in coming into the world was to reform the world and he expects that all who come to him should reform their hearts and lives, Genesis 35:2. And this he has taught us by purging the temple. See here,

[1.] What were the corruptions that were to be purged out. He found a market in one of the courts of the temple, that which was called the court of the Gentiles, within the mountain of that house. There, First, They sold oxen, and sheep, and doves, for sacrifice we will suppose, not for common use, but for the convenience of those who came out of the country, and could not bring their sacrifices in kind along with them see Deuteronomy 14:24-26. This market perhaps had been kept by the pool of Bethesda (John 5:2), but was admitted into the temple by the chief priests, for filthy lucre for, no doubt, the rents for standing there, and fees for searching the beasts sold there, and certifying that they were without blemish, would be a considerable revenue to them. Great corruptions in the church owe their rise to the love of money, 1 Timothy 6:5,10 Secondly, They changed money, for the convenience of those that were to pay a half-shekel in specie every year, by way of poll, for the service of the tabernacle (Exodus 30:12), and no doubt they got by it.

[2.] What course our Lord took to purge out those corruptions. He had seen these in the temple formerly, when he was in a private station but never went about to drive them out till now, when he had taken upon him the public character of a prophet.

Henry tells us why Jesus did not have a quiet conversation with the chief priests:

He did not complain to the chief priests, for he knew they countenanced those corruptions.

So, in the Court of the Gentiles, where this took place, He made a whip and drove men and livestock out of the area then poured the money collected on the ground before tipping over the money changers’ tables (verse 15).

He told those selling doves to remove them and not to make His Father’s holy place a marketplace (verse 16).

John MacArthur says that this was not the first time something like this had happened within the confines of the temple:

There’s a book called The Jews at the Time of Jesus. It’s written by a man named Wylen, W-y-l-e-n, and he says in there, and this is a quote, “Such incidents were not unusual as trouble in the Temple.” And he gives one very interesting one. The high priest was in the Temple at one of these events and the Jews were very unhappy with the high priest. And so they started throwing lemons at him, blasting the high priest with lemons. He unleashed his private mercenaries, his mercenary army, and according to the record, slaughtered the people in the courtyard in the multiple thousands for throwing lemons at the high priest. That’s a far cry from what our Lord does. He doesn’t kill anybody, but He does more than throw lemons at the high priest because He doesn’t like the high priest. He pronounces judgment on the entire religious system, priests and people.

Henry describes the wisdom of Jesus in His approach:

First, Drove out the sheep and oxen, and those that sold them, out of the temple. He never used force to drive any into the temple, but only to drive those out that profaned it. He did not seize the sheep and oxen for himself, did not distrain and impound them, though he found them damage faissant-actual trespassers upon his Father’s ground he only drove them out, and their owners with them. He made a scourge of small cords, which probably they had led their sheep and oxen with, and thrown them away upon the ground, whence Christ gathered them. Sinners prepare the scourges with which they themselves will be driven out from the temple of the Lord. He did not make a scourge to chastise the offenders (his punishments are of another nature), but only to drive out the cattle he aimed no further than at reformation. See Romans 13:3,4,2 Corinthians 10:8.

Secondly, He poured out the changers’ money, to kermathe small money–the Nummorum Famulus. In pouring out the money, he showed his contempt of it he threw it to the ground, to the earth as it was. In overthrowing the tables, he showed his displeasure against those that make religion a matter of worldly gain. Money-changers in the temple are the scandal of it. Note, In reformation, it is good to make thorough work he drove them all out and not only threw out the money, but, in overturning the tables, threw out the trade too.

Thirdly, He said to them that sold doves (sacrifices for the poor), Take these things hence. The doves, though they took up less room, and were a less nuisance than the oxen and sheep, yet must not be allowed there. The sparrows and swallows were welcome, that were left to God’s providence (Psalm 84:3), but not the doves, that were appropriated to man’s profit. God’s temple must not be made a pigeon-house. But see Christ’s prudence in his zeal. When he drove out the sheep and oxen, the owners might follow them when he poured out the money, they might gather it up again but, if he had turned the doves flying, perhaps they could not have been retrieved therefore to them that sold doves he said, Take these things hence. Note, Discretion must always guide and govern our zeal, that we do nothing unbecoming ourselves, or mischievous to others.

Fourthly, He gave them a good reason for what he did: Make not my Father’s house a house of merchandise. Reason for conviction should accompany force for correction.

His disciples stood by watching. They remembered Psalm 69:9 (verse 17).

MacArthur explains:

these six men were really true Old Testament believers. They were followers of John the Baptist, preparing for the Messiah. And John it was, you remember, who said, “Follow Christ,” and they had followed Him. They have been with Him now for a while, a week at least between when they first started following Him and had the wedding at Cana and now a few days more. They know their Old Testament. And when they see Jesus do this, they remember a verse; it’s Psalm 69:9. This is the verse they remembered: “Zeal for Your house will consume me.” They know that passage. Psalm 69 was written by David. And David was calling the people to true worship, that’s the scene. David was calling the people to true worship and what He was getting back was resistance and hatred and hostility. The people were in the same condition then that they are in Jesus’ time. But David is doing his best to call them back to faithfulness. And David says they’re mistreating me, they’re hating me; and then he says in verse 9 of Psalm 69, “But zeal for Your house has consumed me and the reproaches of those who reproach You are fallen on me.”

The Jewish hierarchy wanted to know on whose authority Jesus acted, so they asked for a sign from Him (verse 18).

Henry posits that the act itself, which met with no resistance from the guilty, was itself proof enough of a sign:

His ability to drive so many from their posts, without opposition, was a proof of his authority he that was armed with such a divine power was surely armed with a divine commission. What ailed these buyers and sellers, that they fled, that they were driven back? Surely it was at the presence of the Lord (Psalm 114:5,7), no less a presence.

As we know, the hierarchy was opposed to Jesus from the start. Their hearts grew ever harder throughout His ministry.

Jesus was aware of this, so He spoke of His death and resurrection by referring to His body as the temple (verse 19), which He knew would confound them (verses 20, 21). They were thinking of the building, asking how raising it again in three days could be humanly possible.

Looking at it from our Lord’s perspective, He knew how things would end and begin again. Therefore, He told them.

John MacArthur offers this analysis:

They don’t even know they’re going to kill Him, yet this is the beginning of His ministry. All that stuff hasn’t really taken shape in their minds and hearts, formed itself into motives, and then become a passion that finally ends in Him being executed at the hands of the Romans. They don’t even know that all of that is working, but He knows: “Destroy this Temple and I will raise it up.” He knows the future, they will destroy Him. He knows that He will rise from the dead on the third day. He knows all of that. That’s the knowledge of the future that He has.

His resurrection then will be the sign from heaven that ultimately validates His claim to be the Son of God. And why would you consider it a sign from heaven? Because He will die and He will be dead, as verified by the Romans withholding the breaking of His legs because He was already dead, jamming a spear into His side, all of which the leaders of Israel knew–blood and water coming out, He is dead. He is buried in the grave. He is a dead man. The sign from heaven is that He comes back. And the sign from heaven further is that at His resurrection there are angels sitting in the tomb who had been sent from heaven by God. There’s ample testimony to that angelic presence. You want a sign? I’ll give you a deferred sign, I’ll give you a deferred sign. I will raise it up.

By the way, this is a good place to make a little note. When He says, “I will raise it up,” He’s saying, “I will…I will raise Myself from the dead.” In other places in the New Testament, for example in Romans 1, it says that God through the Holy Spirit raised Jesus from the dead. In 1 Corinthians 15 it says, “God raises the dead.” So in Romans 1 the Spirit raises Christ. In 1 Corinthians 15, God raises Christ. And here, Christ raises Himself. Is that a problem?

Well, it’s not a problem here anymore than it’s a problem with creation. God creates; the Holy Spirit moves to make the creation take shape. And Christ creates everything that is created, and nothing is created that He didn’t create. This is the Trinity’s work. They are one in nature. They are one in operation. One in nature, one in operation.

So they want a sign. Jesus says, “I’ll give you a sign deferred. A sign from heaven that will involve someone who dies and goes out of this world and comes back from heaven, attested by angelic angels.”

Although it is unlikely that those in the pulpit preach about it very often, this episode at the temple was a sign of God’s sovereignty, as MacArthur says:

And when I use the word omniscience, I mean that He knows everything, He knows everything. Science is for knowledge, omni means “everything.” He has all-inclusive knowledge. That’s what that word means. He knew what people can know and He knew what they can’t know. He knew what people discover, and He knew it without discovering it. He knows everything there is to know. He knows the future, He knows the present. He knows what is happening. He knows what is invisible. He knows the visible and the invisible. He knows the past. He knows the present. He knows the future. This we see on display in Jesus here. This is testimony to His deity. God alone knows everything. God alone knows the past, the present and the future. God alone knows every thought, every word, every action, and the collective effect of all thoughts, all words, all actions. Only God knows, according to 2 Corinthians 4, the intent of the heart…1 Corinthians 4, rather…the intent of the heart. God will judge every man when the motives and intentions of the heart are made manifest, because God knows them. He knows history and He knows all that is behind history. He knows everything that has happened perfectly, everything that is happening perfectly, everything that will happen before it happens perfectly. And, in fact, He not only knows all of this but He controls it all, He controls it all. That’s His sovereignty. God doesn’t learn anything, nobody teaches God anything. He knows everything that can be known. He knows all the incalculable motives, all the effects. He has known them forever. He knows them perfectly. He knows them eternally. He has to gain no knowledge and He loses no knowledge. His presence and power control absolutely everything exactly the way they need to be controlled to bring about His purpose and His glory, because that’s the goal of everything.

The disciples understood what Jesus was saying because they knew Holy Scripture and all the Old Testament prophecies. Therefore, after Jesus rose from the dead, they were even more confirmed in their belief that He is the Son of the Living God (verse 22).

My takeaway message from this is that it is important to read, understand and remember what the Bible says. It answers all questions of faith.

As those in the Reformed (Calvinist) churches so often say, ‘Know what you believe and why you believe it’. The Bible gives us the key to articulating our beliefs.

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