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The Nineteenth Sunday after Trinity — Twentieth Sunday after Pentecost — is October 10, 2021.

Readings for Year B can be found here.

The Gospel reading is as follows (emphases mine):

Mark 10:17-31

10:17 As he was setting out on a journey, a man ran up and knelt before him, and asked him, “Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?”

10:18 Jesus said to him, “Why do you call me good? No one is good but God alone.

10:19 You know the commandments: ‘You shall not murder; You shall not commit adultery; You shall not steal; You shall not bear false witness; You shall not defraud; Honor your father and mother.'”

10:20 He said to him, “Teacher, I have kept all these since my youth.”

10:21 Jesus, looking at him, loved him and said, “You lack one thing; go, sell what you own, and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me.”

10:22 When he heard this, he was shocked and went away grieving, for he had many possessions.

10:23 Then Jesus looked around and said to his disciples, “How hard it will be for those who have wealth to enter the kingdom of God!”

10:24 And the disciples were perplexed at these words. But Jesus said to them again, “Children, how hard it is to enter the kingdom of God!

10:25 It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God.”

10:26 They were greatly astounded and said to one another, “Then who can be saved?”

10:27 Jesus looked at them and said, “For mortals it is impossible, but not for God; for God all things are possible.”

10:28 Peter began to say to him, “Look, we have left everything and followed you.”

10:29 Jesus said, “Truly I tell you, there is no one who has left house or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or fields, for my sake and for the sake of the good news,

10:30 who will not receive a hundredfold now in this age–houses, brothers and sisters, mothers and children, and fields with persecutions–and in the age to come eternal life.

10:31 But many who are first will be last, and the last will be first.”

Commentary comes from Matthew Henry and John MacArthur.

This is a long read, so grab a cuppa and a snack.

We pick up where we left off last week.

Jesus is in the last phase of His ministry and is in Peraea.

John MacArthur says:

He’s on the east side of the Jordan River, down in the south. He is in the last days of His ministry in a place called Peraea, the region east of the Jordan, been ministering there. He’s headed for Jerusalem for the final time to die and rise again. Verse 32 of this chapter says they were on the road going to Jerusalem. They first arrive in Jericho and then up the hill to Jerusalem. So it’s at the end of His ministry, the end of this brief ministry in the region called Peraea. We don’t know any more detail than that about the location.

There are two themes in this reading. Verses 17-23 deal with what is considered ‘good’, and verses 24-31 address what is humanly impossible.

I have had problems in the past with verses 17-23, because it seems that Jesus was harsh with this young man.

If you are of the same mind, this is MacArthur‘s explanation for our Lord’s reaction. The young man’s:

idol was property, money, possessions, and self. He was, therefore, a blasphemer of God. He was a breaker of the back half of the Ten Commandments and the front half. Every time he used the name God, it was in a blasphemous way in vain. Every time he went to the synagogue or the temple on a Sabbath day, it was with hypocrisy because his true God was money. He wanted eternal life but only in addition to what he really worshiped. He had another god. In the end, it was himself.

And what the lesson here is that if you want anything more than salvation, if you want anything more than eternal life, if you want anything more than Christ, if you want anything more than God, you lose everything – you lose everything. He went away sorrowful, it says. He went away saddened. He went away grieving because he owned much property. So he exchanged his eternity for time. That’s a sad story – a sad story. He wanted eternal life but he wanted it as an addition, not as a complete substitution for everything else in life.

As Jesus (and the disciples) set out on a journey, a man ran up and knelt before Him, addressing Him as ‘good teacher’ and asking what he must do to inherit eternal life (verse 17).

There is much to look at in that verse, as Matthew and Luke also tell the same story. The man was a young ruler, therefore, a senior layman in a synagogue. That sort of position normally went to an older man by dint of increased religious knowledge and application. The fact that this man achieved so much for his age means that the elders in the synagogue held him in very high esteem. Therefore, so did everyone else.

Matthew Henry’s commentary says that this could have been a potentially hopeful encounter for the young man:

I. Here is a hopeful meeting between Christ and a young man; such he is said to be (Matthew 19:20; Matthew 19:22), and a ruler (Luke 18:18), a person of quality. Some circumstances here are, which we had not in Matthew, which makes his address to Christ very promising.

People in his elevated position would not run, yet he did:

1. He came running to Christ, which was an indication of his humility; he laid aside the gravity and grandeur of a ruler, when he came to Christ: thus too he manifested his earnestness and importunity; he ran as one in haste, and longing to be in conversation with Christ. He had now an opportunity of consulting this great Prophet, in the things that belonged to his peace, and he would not let slip the opportunity.

2. He came to him when he was in the way, in the midst of company: he did not insist upon a private conference with him by night, as Nicodemus did, though like him he was a ruler, but when he shall find him without, will embrace that opportunity of advising with him, and not be ashamed,Song of Solomon 8:1.

3. He kneeled to him, in token of the great value and veneration he had for him, as a teacher come from God, and his earnest desire to be taught by him. He bowed the knee to the Lord Jesus, as one that would not only do obeisance to him now, but would yield obedience to him always; he bowed the knee, as one that meant to bow the soul to him.

4. His address to him was serious and weighty; Good Master, what shall I do, that I may inherit eternal life? Eternal life was an article of his creed, though then denied by the Sadducees, a prevailing party: he asks, What shall he do now that he may be happy for ever. Most men enquire for good to be had in this world (Psalms 4:6), any good; he asks for good to be done in this world, in order to the enjoyment of the greatest good in the other world; not, Who will make us to see good? But, “Who will make us to do good?He enquires for happiness in the way of duty; the summum bonum–chief good which Solomon was in quest of, was that good for the sons of men which they do should do,Ecclesiastes 2:3.

However, Jesus responded, focusing on the word ‘good’, saying that no one is ‘good’ except God alone (verse 18). How did the young ruler know Jesus was good when He was a total stranger to him?

MacArthur explains ‘good’ in Greek:

“Good teacher.” Good teacher. He acknowledges Jesus as not only a legitimate teacher, not a teacher to be rejected, but as a good teacher, agathe didaskale, agathe. That’s the word agathos from which we get the old name Agatha. Agathos means good internally, virtuous. Kalos, the other word for good, means looking good, good in form. This means good to the core, virtuous, beneficent. This is a deep kind of inherent goodness.

MacArthur then goes into the reaction from Jesus, which revolves around the word ‘good’:

Now, as you look at that, you say, “Well, you know, it seems like everything is in the right place here. Where is the problem here?” Amazingly, it comes up where you wouldn’t expect it. The problem shows up in one word. That word is in verse 17, and it’s the word “good.” It’s the word “good.” You know, if there’s any word that the world doesn’t understand, it’s that word. Good. Stop anybody on the street and say, “Are you a good person?” What are they going to say? “Of course, I’m a good person” …

Now remember, he thought he was good and everybody he associated with good and the whole synagogue crowd was good and everybody was good. And so he’s loose with the word. Thinks he’s commending Jesus by using that word for Him. That’s the problem. And if you understand that that word is the problem, then you begin to understand Jesus’ answer. “Good teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?”…

If somebody comes running up to you and says, “What do I do to take possession of eternal life?” You say, “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ – believe on the Lord Jesus Christ.”

Well, Jesus didn’t say that. He did not say that because there’s something else that has to be confronted here. Faith, essential. But something else is essential as well and it is repentance – repentance. The gospel hangs over this account but it never enters. You can feel it because you know it, but Jesus never says it. It looms in the shadow of this event. It is never uttered. No word of faith ever appears. No comment about believing is ever stated because the issue here is sin and the law and repentance first.

And our Lord makes that clear in one profound statement. “Why do you call me good?” Why are you throwing that word around? You don’t know me. I am a total stranger. Why are you calling me good? He used the word casually. It was a word he used concerning himself and most of the people in his world …

Now, as a Jewish religious leader, he should have known the Psalms – should have known the Psalms. And if he knew the Psalms, he would know that the Psalms say this: “There is none righteous, no not one.” There is none who is good. There is none who seeks after God. All of that comes from the Psalms but it is also collected by Paul in Romans 3. In Romans 3, verses 10 to 18, Paul collects sayings out of the Psalms, none righteous, no not one, none does good, no one. He borrows from Psalm 14, Psalm 53, Psalm 5, Psalm 140, Psalm 10, Psalm 36 and even throws in a verse from Isaiah 59.

He collects from the Old Testament the testimony that no one is good, no one, because good is not a relative reality, it is an absolute – it is an absolute.

What does it mean? To be perfect as your Father in heaven is perfect. As God says, “I am holy, I am holy, I am holy, I am holy, without sin, without flaw, without error.” It is perfect righteousness, perfect holiness, absolute goodness. The law is given to reveal that. How perverted had these Jewish people become when they took the law as a means to establish their own goodness when the purpose of the law was to reveal the goodness of God to which they could never attain? You understand the difference?

Jesus recited the six Commandments that concern our relationships with others (verse 19).

Henry looks at the way Jesus recited these Commandments:

He mentions the six commandments of the second table, which prescribe our duty to our neighbour; he inverts the order, putting the seventh commandment before the sixth, to intimate that adultery is a sin no less heinous than murder itself. The fifth commandment is here put last, as that which should especially be remembered and observed, to keep us to all the rest. Instead of the tenth commandment, Thou shalt not covet, our Saviour here puts, Defraud not.

The man replied that he had kept these Commandments since his youth (verse 20).

Henry says that this was the man’s mistake. He thought himself better than he was:

He thought he had [kept the Commandments], and his neighbours thought so too. Note, Ignorance of the extent and spiritual nature of the divine law, makes people think themselves in a better condition than they really are.

MacArthur compares and contrasts this man’s attitude with St Paul’s, starting from when he was still Saul the Pharisee. Post-conversion, Paul came to understand that the law is meant to convict us and lead us to repentance:

The testimony of the apostle Paul would be very much like this young man. I see a lot of parallels. The apostle Paul was doing really well for a while as a legalist, wasn’t he? Circumcised the eighth day, born of the tribe of Benjamin, Philippians 3, he goes through all of that. He says he was a traditionalist. He was zealous for the law. He was blameless before the law. He toed the line. He had all these credits to himself as a legalist. And then something happened to Paul, which he speaks of in Romans 7:7.

He says this: “I wouldn’t have come to know sin except through the law.” Once he began to really understand the law of God, he saw how sinful he was. What is the law of God? The law of God, which defines for us sin and holiness, is simply a revelation of the nature of God. God discloses His nature as holy in His law. God has revealed Himself in His law. And when Paul saw the reality of the nature of God in the law and knew he couldn’t keep the law, he said, “The law killed me,” Romans 7. “It slew me, it resulted in death for me,” he says, verse 10 …

You say, “What’s the purpose of that?” So that you’re slain, so that you’re devastated, so that you’re crushed and broken. Then the law becomes, Galatians 3:24, the tutor that drives you to Christ who alone can save you from your own corruption. The purpose of the law is to kill, to crush, to show how perfectly good God is and how utterly evil man is, therefore to produce guilt and fear and dread and remorse.

Well, the rich young ruler totally missed that. Totally. He had a superficial view of the law, like all legalists do, all phony religionists. His response is consistent with fallen human nature that thinks it’s good, and the religious people think they’re better than everybody else. He is sure that he’s good. He has met the law’s demands. He is good. Since Jesus is a teacher from God, He’s good, too.

Jesus, looking at the man, loved him — only Mark’s version has that part — and told him to sell everything he had, give the proceeds to the poor, thereby gaining treasure in heaven, and then follow Him (verse 21).

MacArthur says the love Jesus had for him was one of sorrow:

Maybe a tear like the tears He shed over Jerusalem, coursed down Jesus’ cheeks, tears of sympathy and compassion. So sad because this man was a blasphemer and didn’t know it. This man was a violator and didn’t know it. This man was the worst.

By telling him to sell his possessions and give the proceeds to the poor, Jesus was homing in on the man’s sin.

The young man was ‘shocked’ by what Jesus asked him to do and went away ‘grieving’ because he had many possessions (verse 22).

MacArthur explains the idolatry involved:

Here comes the exposure. “One thing you lack, just one thing.” You say, “How can you say that? One thing?” “Go sell all you possess, give to the poor, you’ll have treasure in heaven.” It’s what you said you wanted. “Come follow me.” How can it be that simple? “But at these words, he was saddened and he went away grieving, for he was one who owned much property.” Hmm. You know why he is a blasphemer? Because he has another god. Who is his other god? He had much what? Property? He had an idol. He didn’t love the Lord his God with all his heart, soul, and mind.

That’s the one thing Jesus asked him to do. Let me just have you do one thing. Get rid of the idol, which is your money and your possessions. You don’t get saved by lowering your bank account, you get saved when you get rid of your idol and you embrace the true God. He’s a blaspheming idolater. And again I’ll say it, every time he opened his mouth, he took the Lord’s name in vain. Every time he showed up on a Sabbath, he violated that Sabbath as a hypocritical, idolatrous blasphemer.

Earthly wealth, temporal satisfaction was his God. In fact, he was his own god. Jesus preached the law to him and he never got to the gospel because you can’t get to the gospel, which is the good news, until someone accepts the bad news, the condemnation of the law. How do you tell a highly respected, revered, honored, religious man who sees his prosperity as the beneficence of a God who is pleased with him, who sees his position in the synagogue as evidence of his true spiritual virtue, how do you tell that man that good is not relative, it is absolute, and there’s only one who is good and that’s God, and he is not?

And then tell him, as a student of the law, that he is a regular violator of the whole law of God from the top to the bottom who worships himself. And that’s the way it is with all people who refuse the gospel, who never get to the gospel. That’s why I say the gospel hangs in the shadows silently here. If the law doesn’t drive you to Christ, it will drive you to hell in your own spiritual pride. He’s a blasphemer who has another god. If he would do one thing, it would be to get rid of the other god and love the Lord with all his heart, soul, and mind.

Jesus, indirectly referring to the man’s idolatry while eyeing the crowd, said how hard it is for those with wealth to enter the kingdom of God (verse 23).

MacArthur says:

Looking around, just taking stock of who was there, perhaps making eye contact with certain people He knew that fit into the category of those who were rich. “He then said to His disciples, ‘How hard it will be for those who are wealthy to enter the kingdom of God. How hard it will be.’”

Then Jesus said, to the disciples’ shock, how difficult it is to enter the kingdom of God (verse 24) and that it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for the wealthy to inherit that kingdom (verse 25).

The rich have everything, and many believe they achieved it by themselves, so why would they want anything to do with the afterlife? Note how many celebrities and captains of industry are unbelievers. They have it all, so they think.

The disciples were shocked because, in the Jewish world at that time, wealth meant divine blessing. Lack of it was believed to be a divine curse.

MacArthur tells us about this traditional belief:

Our Lord said this about a very religious man. “How hard it is for those who are wealthy to enter the kingdom of God.” In the context of Israel, these are religious people who are wealthy. And according to their theology, they were wealthy because they were blessed by God. If you were wealthy, you were blessed by God, and if you were poor, you were cursed by God. If you were healthy, you were blessed by God; if you were sick, you were cursed by God.

That was the simplicity of their theology – and a wrong theology to be surebut the idea was that a very, very religious man like this who was very, very wealthy would be easily able to enter into the kingdom of God because he had so much money he could buy all the animal sacrifices, he could buy the spotless lamb where somebody else with less money would have to take a blemished lamb by the sheer money factor, or even lesser than a lamb, maybe even down to a bird.

This man had the money to purchase as many sacrifices as he wanted, maybe in the morning and evening sacrifices, they were capable, the rich were, of making more than the rest. Also, the fact that they continued to be blessed meant that God was pleased with them and it just kept escalating. And so up the ladder of spiritual confidence they would climb – not only in their own eyes but in the eyes of the people around them.

The rabbis said that with alms, one purchases his redemption. That’s what they said. Some of the writings are very interesting. One writing taken from Tobit says this: “It is good to do alms rather than to treasure up gold, for alms deliver from death, and this will purge away every sin.” Okay, that was Judaism. If you want your sins washed away, give money, or Sirach 3 says, “Alms will atone for sin.” Or the Talmud, “Almsgiving is more excellent than all offerings and is equal to the whole law.”

In other words, if you give alms, you have virtually kept the whole law and further will deliver from the condemnation of hell and make one perfectly righteous. Wow. So how do you become perfectly righteous? How are you delivered from the condemnation of the law and of hell? By giving money – by giving money. That was their system. So when Jesus says, “Look, it is hard for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God,” this is completely counterintuitive to them. They don’t get that at all. It is a shocking statement, it is a jolt to their system.

Now remember, they had come to faith in Christ – and Peter will make that confession again in verse 28, as we’ll see in a few minutes – but they still had all the stuff of the legalistic system, which they had imbibed for their entire lives. They still saw wealth as a sign of divine blessing and wealth as a means of entering the kingdom of God because you bought your way in with your giving. They assumed a causal relationship between wealth and power and blessing from God.

Now we come to analysing the word ‘camel’. This is where we enter the theme of something being humanly impossible.

MacArthur looks at ancient writings outside the Bible for the answer:

What is this talking about? This is an expression found in writings outside the Bible. It is found in the Talmud, Jewish writings. And the expression there uses an elephant. It is easier for an elephant to go through the eye of a needle. That statement is used in the Talmud to reflect something that can’t happen. This is impossible. Since the elephant was the largest animal in the Middle East, an elephant was used in the Talmud. In this case, the largest animal in Israel – there were no elephants, as far as we know – was a camel, so they used the camel – fit their experience.

What is our Lord saying? It’s impossible, that’s what He’s saying. You cannot put a camel through the eye of a needle. Some have tried to tamper with that saying. Really, some have tampered even with original manuscripts, kamēlos, camel, kamilos, slight difference in the vowel, rope. Maybe some scribe made a mistake, put the wrong letter and it came out camel but it should be rope. That doesn’t help because you can’t put a rope through the eye of a needle, either. But that’s not the point. The point is this is a very common expression that appears even outside the Bible to express something that is impossible – it’s impossible.

The disciples, still astounded, asked who could be saved (verse 26).

Jesus replied that it was impossible for mortals to save themselves, but not for God, because, with God, all things are possible (verse 27).

MacArthur tells us:

That same phrase is used in Luke 1 to refer to the virgin birth. That’s an impossibility, right? This is an impossibility of that same category. As a child cannot be born without an earthly father, so a sinner cannot be reborn without a heavenly work of the Spirit of God.

It’s interesting that those two statements are made in those two contexts. One having to do with the virgin birth of Christ, which is a divine miracle from above, the other having to do with the regeneration of a sinner, which is a divine miracle from above. Only God can do this mighty, mighty work. John 1 opens up, “As many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, even to those who believed in His name who were born not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God” – but of God.

Or John 3, Nicodemus says in his heart, “What do I do to be born again? What do I do to get into the kingdom?” And Jesus says, “You need to be born again, but that which is born of the flesh” – is what? – “is flesh.” You need to be born from above, anōthen, you need to be born of the Spirit, born from above. Only God can work the work of regeneration. It is a divine miracle, and it is possible with God.

Peter said that he and the other disciples left everything to follow Jesus (verse 28).

Jesus replied that anyone who leaves his or her house, family, friends and livelihood (‘fields’) behind for His sake and that of the Good News (verse 29) will receive ‘a hundredfold’ the same comforts — with persecutions in this life and eternal life to come (verse 30).

Mark is the only one to mention persecution in this story.

Henry offers an interpretation, saying that the comforts we receive in following Christ might not be literally the same but will be comparable to what we left behind:

They shall receive a hundred-fold in this time, houses, and brethren, and sisters; not in specie, but that which is equivalent. He shall have abundance of comfort while he lives, sufficient to make up for all his losses; his relation to Christ, his communion with the saints, and his title to eternal life, shall be to him brethren, and sisters, and houses, and all. God’s providence gave Job double to what he had had, but suffering Christians shall have a hundred-fold in the comforts of the Spirit sweetening their creature comforts. But observe, It is added here in Mark, with persecutions. Even when they are gainers by Christ, let them still expect to be sufferers for him; and not be out of the reach of persecution, till they come to heaven.

Jesus concluded by saying that many who are first (on earth) will be last (in the life to come) and the last will be first (verse 31).

Henry says that Jesus was telling the disciples to stop squabbling about their status, as there would be further and greater disciples to follow in the future, e.g. St Paul:

because they talked so much, and really more than became them, of leaving all for Christ, he tells them, though they were first called, that there should be disciples called after them, that should be preferred before them; as St. Paul, who was one born out of due time, and yet laboured more abundantly than all the rest of the apostles, 1 Corinthians 15:10. Then the first were last, and the last first.

On the other hand, MacArthur says this is a verse of equality:

“Many who are first will be last and the last first.” That principle – so important. They were always arguing about who’s going to be the greatest – right? – who’s going to be first, and our Lord says this to make a statement that can’t be mistaken, and yet many people mistake the meaning of the statement. What does it mean? It means everybody ends up equal, that’s what it means. If you’re first, you’re last, and you’re last, you’re first, then everybody’s the same.

This is defined for us in Matthew 19, verse 30, through 20, verse 16, when Jesus tells the story about people who worked one hour, three hours, five hours, eight hours, all different amounts of work and they all received the same pay. And Jesus said, “That’s because the last are first and the first are last,” everybody ends up the same.

At the conclusion of his sermon about the young ruler, MacArthur leaves us with these thoughts:

And the question is for you. What will you do? Many of you come near to Christ. You have a conversation with Him here on Sunday mornings. You walk away clinging to your cherished blasphemy, holding onto your own self-worship, your own pride, your own achievement, unwilling to recognize the profound depth and damning power of your own sin. You ignore the law’s condemnation. And instead of letting it be the tutor that drives you to Christ, you let it drive you into hell.

You just want to say to this young man, “Don’t you understand that the goodness you can’t achieve will be given to you as a gift? The righteousness you cannot attain will be given to you as a gift through the sacrifice of Christ? He was made sin for you, that you might become the righteousness of God in Him?”

This is Paul, isn’t it? That the thing that he pursued was garbage when he found there was an alien righteousness, the very righteousness of God that would be credited to his account. You can’t come into eternal life unless you’re as good as God, and the only way you can be as good as God is to have the goodness of God credited to you. That’s the gospel. Christ takes your punishment, pays for your sin, gives you His perfect goodness.

Beware of the selfish seeker, deluded about his own goodness, her own goodness. Stop the selfish seeker in his tracks with the law and judgment and a biblical definition of what it really means to be good.

May everyone reading this have a blessed Sunday.

The Eighteenth Sunday after Trinity — Nineteenth Sunday after Pentecost — is October 3, 2021.

Readings for Year B can be found here.

The Gospel reading is as follows (emphases mine):

Mark 10:2-16

10:2 Some Pharisees came, and to test him they asked, “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife?”

10:3 He answered them, “What did Moses command you?”

10:4 They said, “Moses allowed a man to write a certificate of dismissal and to divorce her.”

10:5 But Jesus said to them, “Because of your hardness of heart he wrote this commandment for you.

10:6 But from the beginning of creation, ‘God made them male and female.’

10:7 ‘For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife,

10:8 and the two shall become one flesh.’ So they are no longer two, but one flesh.

10:9 Therefore what God has joined together, let no one separate.”

10:10 Then in the house the disciples asked him again about this matter.

10:11 He said to them, “Whoever divorces his wife and marries another commits adultery against her;

10:12 and if she divorces her husband and marries another, she commits adultery.”

10:13 People were bringing little children to him in order that he might touch them; and the disciples spoke sternly to them.

10:14 But when Jesus saw this, he was indignant and said to them, “Let the little children come to me; do not stop them; for it is to such as these that the kingdom of God belongs.

10:15 Truly I tell you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God as a little child will never enter it.”

10:16 And he took them up in his arms, laid his hands on them, and blessed them.

Commentary comes from Matthew Henry and John MacArthur.

There is a lot to discuss here, so grab yourself a cup of tea and a biscuit.

We pick up where we left off last Sunday.

It is unclear why the Lectionary editors left out Mark 10:1, so here it is:

And he left there and went to the region of Judea and beyond the Jordan, and crowds gathered to him again. And again, as was his custom, he taught them.

John MacArthur explains:

… we find Him, according to verse 1, having concluded His Galilean ministry. And actually, by the time we get into this chapter in Mark, He has also concluded His Judean ministry, which lasted quite a number of months. Mark gives us no record of that at all. If you want the record of that period of ministry, look at Luke 10 through 18, and those months are covered in a summary fashion by Luke.

So we jump from the Galilean ministry right over the top of the Judean ministry, and here we find our Lord beyond the Jordan in the area called Peraea, often referred to, then, as His Peraean ministry. This is the last little bit of ministry He does before He goes down to Jericho and in chapter 11 enters Jerusalem for the final week of His life. So we’re at the end of His earthly ministry here, virtually at the end of it. And He is teaching His disciples some very, very important lessons, and this one happens to be about the subject of divorce.

Also:

There were lots of people there. He was ministering there at the very end. Why? Because when He left Galilee, He left the hostility of Galilee. Six months in Judea has escalated the hostility of Judea, so He spent the last brief time before His death crossing the Jordan into Peraea.

So in chapter 10, you really have His Peraean ministry. It’s just one chapter. As I say, Mark doesn’t even tell us about the six months, we just have one chapter, and then in chapter 11, verse 1, He enters Jerusalem. The Galilean Jews who went down to Jerusalem, which they would start doing now because Passover would be coming – that’s why Jesus went there, to be the Passover – Galilean Jews would travel south on the east side of Jordan because if they were on the west side, they’d be going through Samaria, and they hated the Samaritans because they were inter-married half-breeds.

And so they would all go down the east side, all the way down to Jericho, and from Jericho up to Jerusalem, and so our Lord would find crowds there at the last time of His ministry, crowds of people, because there were many Jews who had moved there during the reign of Herod the Great, and they lived there but there would also be many pilgrims, traversing on their way to Jerusalem.

It had a large Jewish population, as I said, that developed during the reign of Herod the Great, the father of the current ruler, Herod Antipas. So we read here there were crowds gathered around Him. Those would be the Jews that lived in that area, as well as the pilgrims headed to Jerusalem, as the migration would have begun toward the coming feasts.

The Pharisees were on hand to test him with a question about divorce (verse 2).

MacArthur says that the question being posed and where the Pharisees posed it was no accident, but part of a plan to put Jesus in danger:

They were putting Him to the test with the purpose of discrediting Him. They wanted Him to say things that would alienate Him from the people. Since divorce was popular among the leaders, it was popular among the people, the men especially. And they wanted Jesus to say what they knew He believed because they had heard it before.

They wanted Him to say that divorce was wrong, and they wanted Him to condemn everybody that was divorced, and that would set Him against the leaders and against the people, irritate the people, and thus Jesus would not be nearly so popular. But even more than that, it happened to be that they confront Him on the subject in Peraea because they’re in the territory under Herod Antipas, and Herod had divorced his wife and married the divorced wife of his own brother and committed incest with her because she was his relative.

And John the Baptist had confronted this divorce and Herod chopped his head off. They were hoping that if Jesus took John’s position on divorce, Herod might rise again and destroy Jesus the way he had destroyed John the Baptist. So they had some plans to discredit Jesus and even to have Him killed by bringing up the question.

We do not normally think of the ancient Jews as favouring divorce, but they did in the Old Testament.

MacArthur tells us of the books of Nehemiah and Malachi where Jewish men divorced their Jewish wives in order to marry pagan women. In the time of Jesus, Jewish men were divorcing their wives under petty claims of indecency, which could be anything trivial, to marry other Jewish women:

What they were doing was divorcing their Jewish wives to marry pagan Gentile women. That’s how, essentially, the Old Testament history ends. Nehemiah and Malachi give us the last word, and the last word of the Old Testament to the priests and the people is, “Do not divorce your wives, I hate divorce.” Four hundred years later, we arrive in Mark’s gospel in the New Testament period, and you can go back to chapter 10. Divorce now has been reestablished as a noble alternative, a righteous behavior.

The Jews of our Lord’s day have a rationalized framework to make divorce acceptable. They’re engaged in it. It was rampant through the culture of Israel and including the priests who were the ones indicted originally four hundred years earlier by Malachi and Nehemiah. This issue of pervasive divorce in the land of Israel becomes the subject of the opening verses of this chapter.

Jesus responds by asking them what Moses commanded (verse 3).

They responded by saying that Moses allowed a man to write a certificate of dismissal and to divorce a wife (verse 4).

Jesus replied that Moses allowed that provision because of their hardness of heart (verse 5).

Matthew Henry says that some men would have killed their wives just to be rid of them:

That the reason why Moses, in his law, permitted divorce, was such, as that they ought not to make use of that permission; for it was only for the hardness of their hearts (Mark 10:5; Mark 10:5), lest, if they were not permitted to divorce their wives, they should murder them; so that none must put away their wives but such as are willing to own that their hearts were so hard as to need this permission.

Jesus referred to Genesis 1:27: Adam and Eve, male and female (verse 6). There were no other humans in the Garden of Eden.

MacArthur discusses God’s plan for a union between a man and a woman:

Now, what’s important about that is there is no provision for polygamy. There isn’t Adam and Eve and Sally and Alice. And there is no provision for divorce because there are not a few single women hanging around as options or alternatives. In the order of creation, there was one man and one woman. There are no spare parts. There are no spare people. They were created for each other and for no one else. Their union was complete, their union was unique, and they are a pattern for all to follow. Every marriage is no less an indissoluble union between one man and one woman.

And there were no provisions for any other people. The argument is clear. In the case of Adam and Eve, divorce is not only inadvisable, it is not only wrong, it is impossible where there isn’t anybody else for either of them to marry.

Jesus went on to cite Genesis 2:24: a man shall leave his mother and father to be joined to his wife and the two will become one flesh (verses 7, 8).

Matthew 19:5 uses the word ‘cleave’ or ‘cling’, as in sticking to each other as one:

Verse 7, “For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother,” and Matthew adds, “and shall cling to his wife.” This is Genesis 2:24. This is the God-ordained view of marriage. It is an independent, strong union. You leave father and mother. You break the prior family bond. And in the language of Matthew 19:5, which is taken from Genesis 2:24, “You cling” or cleave “to your wife.” The idea of that word is glue – glue. You’re literally stuck together.

It is not a – arm’s-length relationship, it is not a look-and-see trial. You are glued together. And it also, that word, carries the idea – cleaving carries the idea of pursuing hard after. It is two people unbreakably connected together, glued together, and pursuing hard after each other to be united in mind and will and spirit and body and emotion. The Jewish term for marriage is kiddushin. It means sanctification or consecration. Both of those words mean something completely set apart for special use. It was used to describe something dedicated to God as His exclusive possession, His personal possession.

Jesus said what God has joined together, no man must separate (verse 9).

MacArthur explains:

You can’t divide one. One is the indivisible number – one is the indivisible number.

That oneness, that indivisibility is seen in the product of those two, isn’t it? Children. The child is the one that comes out of the two. It is an indivisible oneness that manifests itself in the offspring that are the ones that come from the two. Family plays into this, then, by implication. We all understand the destructiveness of the family in divorce.

Later, once they were in the house where they were staying, the disciples asked Jesus again about divorce (verse 10).

He responded, saying that a man who divorces his wife and marries another woman commits adultery against her (verse 11) and that a woman who divorces her husband to marry another man commits adultery (verse 12).

Henry says:

No more is here related of this private conference, that the law Christ laid down in this case–That it is adultery for a man to put away his wife, and marry another; it is adultery against the wife he puts away, it is a wrong to her, a breach of his contract with her, Mark 10:11; Mark 10:11. He adds, If a woman shall put away her husband, that is, elope from him, leave him by consent, and be married to another, she commits adultery (Mark 10:12; Mark 10:12), and it will be no excuse at all for her to say that it was with the consent of her husband. Wisdom and grace, holiness and love, reigning in the heart, will make those commands easy which to the carnal mind may be as a heavy yoke.

Children feature in Mark 10, just as they did in Mark 9.

People were bringing their children to Jesus so that He might touch them, but the disciples rebuked them (verse 13).

We would find that a strange response, but the disciples, still thinking of works-based salvation, disregarded small children because they did not understand Mosaic law nor could they accomplish what was involved in keeping those laws.

MacArthur explains:

So while they had come to salvation by grace, they had imbibed so much of their former system (salvation by works) that they didn’t think children fit in anywhere. And, of course, the Lord hadn’t apparently said anything to this point about the children, so this is their teaching moment. They strongly protest this group of parents who desired the Lord to bless their babies and pray for their babies, convinced that this would just be an unnecessary, trivial interruption.

And, again, if you just took a Greek New Testament, took the word epitimaō and started in Mark 3 and traced it through Mark 10, you would see that every time it’s used, it’s a very intense reprimand. So the disciples really let those parents have it

And that is a very strong word, epitimaō, a compound word intensified again by a preposition as verbs tend to be in the Greek language. Literally, it means they censured them or they reprimanded them. In a noun form, it means punishment. They turned on these parents. Their worldview, their religious worldview, was such that children had no place in the system of religion, no place before God, not until they arrived at the point where they could do the things they needed to do to gain God’s favor.

The practice of a Jewish blessing either by a patriarch or a religious elder was widespread throughout history:

There are Old Testament illustrations of how fathers blessed their children. There are a number of them. All through the patriarchal period, fathers blessed their children, Noah blessed Shem and Japheth, and we see that through the patriarchs, through Jacob and passed down to the next generation and the next, Isaac blessing his sons and Jacob blessing his sons, and this was a typical fatherly benediction pronounced on the heads of children.

What was it about? It was a desire, including a prayer, for their spiritual blessing. It was that God would show favor to them. In fact, it was even more specific. The elders used to say that when you pray for your child and you pray blessing on your child, you pray this, that the child would be famous in the law, faithful in marriage, and abundant in good works. Famous in the law, faithful in marriage, and abundant in good works. The father would lay his hands on the child’s head, the elders of the synagogue would come together and they would do the same and bless the child, and they would pray for the child.

The Talmud tells us that it was a very customary thing for parents to bring their children, their little children, to be blessed by the elders of the synagogue, and in Judaism, there was a special day set aside for this, the day before the Day of Atonement, the day before Yom Kippur. In fact, they would bring their children that day before praying that, of course, the atonement the next day would be applied to those children.

The children in today’s reading were toddlers, little innocents.

Jesus was indignant with the disciples, telling them that they should not stop the children coming to Him because they were part of the kingdom of God (verse 14).

MacArthur tells us:

“He was indignant” – again, a very strong verb, to be angry, to be irate. This is not an insignificant issue, not a minor issue. Jesus doesn’t pass over this lightly. He is very angry that they would treat children this way. The parents were not wrong. He did not rebuke the parents. Only the disciples were rebuked for their wrong assumptions and their bad understanding of Scripture.

MacArthur says this is an unconditional promise for children and is not dependent on baptism. This is important for parents who have lost their little ones:

The kingdom of God belongs to such as these. There are no qualifiers there. Okay? There are no caveats there. There are no conditions there. This is so very important. He doesn’t say the kingdom of God belongs to these as if somehow these particular babies were in the kingdom. He says the kingdom of God belongs to such as these, meaning the whole category or the whole class of beings to which these babies belong. Literally, the kingdom of God belongs to these kind, babies, infants, little children.

Matthew calls it the kingdom of heaven and says the same thing, it belongs to such as these. Not just to these but to the whole category to which these belong. The kingdom of God belongs to babies. They have a place in the kingdom. They have a part in the kingdom.

What is He talking about, the kingdom? He’s talking about the sphere of salvation – the sphere of salvation – same thing He was always talking about. The sphere in which God rules over those who belong to Him, the spiritual domain in which souls exist under His special care.

Now, what’s important here is He just said that babies, as a category, have a part in the kingdom. They belong to it, it belongs to them, same thing. Nothing is said about the parents’ faith, nothing is said about a covenant as if there was some family covenant. Nothing is said about baptism. Nothing is said about circumcision. Nothing is said about any rite, any ritual, any parental promise, parental covenant, or any national covenant. His words simply and completely engulf all babies. They belong to the kingdom; the kingdom belongs to them.

And if our Lord was ever going to teach infant baptism, this would have been the perfect spot. All He would have to have said was, “These children will possess the kingdom if you baptize them.” But He doesn’t say that. This was His golden opportunity, but He said nothing, and neither does anybody else in the Bible say anything about infant baptism. This is not about personal faith, either. He doesn’t commend the parents’ faith. He doesn’t commend the babies’ faith, which would be nonexistent. He simply says babies belong in the kingdom and the kingdom belongs to them, as a category

This is not salvation, but this is His special care. And in the event that the child dies, I think the testimony of Scripture is that child receives salvation at the point of death because of God’s sovereign grace. Another way to look at it is to understand that all babies that die are elect. They’re all saved. Christ’s sacrifice is applied to them all.

Jesus was emphatic — ‘Truly, I tell you’ — that whoever does not receive the kingdom of God as a little child will never enter it (verse 15).

That means that we need to be as little innocents when approaching the Gospel and our Lord.

MacArthur says:

You have to come the way children come – simple, open, trusting, unpretentious, dependent, weak, lacking achievement, humbly. And if you don’t come like that, you’ll never enter the kingdom.

Henry has an eloquent commentary on that verse:

We must receive the kingdom of God as little children (Mark 10:15; Mark 10:15); that is, we must stand affected to Christ and his grace as little children do to their parents, nurses, and teachers. We must be inquisitive, as children, must learn as children (that is the learning age), and in learning must believe, Oportet discentem credere–A learner must believe. The mind of a child is white paper (tabula rasa–a mere blank), you may write upon it what you will; such must our minds be to the pen of the blessed Spirit. Children are under government; so must we be. Lord, what wilt thou have me to do? We must receive the kingdom of God as the child Samuel did, Speak, Lord, for thy servant heareth. Little children depend upon their parents’ wisdom and care, are carried in their arms, go where they send them, and take what they provide for them; and thus must we receive the kingdom of God, with a humble resignation of ourselves to Jesus Christ, and an easy dependence upon him, both for strength and righteousness, for tuition, provision, and a portion.

Jesus took the children in His arms, laid His hands on them and blessed them (verse 16).

Henry says this was a fulfilment of prophecy:

See how he out-did the desires of these parents; they begged he would touch them, but he did more. (1.) He took them in his arms. Now the scripture was fulfilled (Isaiah 40:11), He shall gather the lambs in his arms, and carry them in his bosom. Time was, when Christ himself was taken up in old Simeon’s arms, Luke 2:28. And now he took up these children, not complaining of the burthen (as Moses did, when he was bid to carry Israel, that peevish child, in his bosom, as a nursing father bears the sucking child,Numbers 11:12), but pleased with it. If we in a right manner bring our children to Christ, he will take them up, not only in the arms of his power and providence, but in the arms of his pity and grace (as Ezekiel 16:8); underneath them are the everlasting arms. (2.) He put his hands upon them, denoting the bestowing of his Spirit upon them (for that is the hand of the Lord), and his setting them apart for himself. (3.) He blessed them with the spiritual blessings he came to give. Our children are happy, if they have but the Mediator’s blessing for their portion. It is true, we do not read that he baptized these children, baptism was not fully settled as the door of admission into the church until after Christ’s resurrection; but he asserted their visible church-membership, and by another sign bestowed those blessings upon them, which are now appointed to be conveyed and conferred by baptism, the seal of the promise, which is to us and to our children.

In closing, I wanted to share with you John MacArthur‘s views on marriage. Like him, I would like to see as many people married as possible.

He says not to wait too long or be too fussy:

… by the way, marriage is the grace of life. And here’s a verse all you ladies know, “A man who finds a good wife finds a good thing. A wife is a gift from the Lord,” Proverbs 19:14. A wife is the best gift that God can ever give a man; a husband is the best gift that God could ever give a woman. It’s the best thing in life. It’s the greatest joy in life. It’s the greatest fulfillment in life.

The disciples were talking on a very theoretical and pragmatic level. It’s not good for man to be what? Alone. It is the grace of life. It is the joy of all joys, the blessing of all blessings. It is the path to fruitfulness, to children, the blessing of children, the blessing of grandchildren, the blessing of family. So He says it’s a nice sentiment, but you’re made to be married. Find somebody. Don’t look for the Messiah, just find somebody.

I keep saying that to girls, you know, the Messiah came and went, you’ve got to settle for somebody else. Not everybody can receive it. He means not everybody can be fulfilled in a single state. Not everybody – literally, the word means have space or room for that. You need to be married. We say, “Well, if marriage is so hard….”

Well, look, let me tell you how to make a marriage work. Two people perfectly related to Jesus Christ will be perfectly related to each other. Two people who seek to honor Christ will have no problem honoring each other. How do you treat your spouse? You treat your spouse the way you would treat Christ because when you receive that person, you receive Christ. You treat that person the way Christ would treat that person.

People sometimes say to me, “You seem to have a good marriage.” I do have a good marriage. I’m ecstatic about the marriage that God has given to me. I love my wife more now than I’ve ever loved her. I can’t even – I don’t even know where I stop and she starts. That’s the way it is. She has not been married to a perfect man, but she has been married to a man who pursues the things in her life that I believe Christ would want for her. And the same for me. She pursues in my life the things that Christ would want for me. And it’s the joy of all joys, it’s supreme joy.

And I’ll tell you young people, I know some of you are hanging around, waiting for the perfect person to come up. Look, just find somebody in whom Christ lives who desires to serve Christ and don’t postpone marriage needlessly. Get married. This is the grace of life. We need more kids in the nursery. The kingdom grows that way.

You know, hanging around until you’re 30 years of age, just checking everybody out, guess what – they’re checking you out, and they’re not thrilled, either, so just find somebody. You’re wasting great years, do you understand that? You’re wasting great, great years. If I could wish anything for myself, I wish that I had gotten married younger because it’s such a wonderful thing, a blessed thing, God-honoring thing. In Christ, your marriage can be anything that Christ wants it to be, if you walk with Him.

You’re in the best of circumstances here to have a sanctifying influence. Let me tell you something: It’s not good to be single. It’s good to have a sanctifying influence in your life right next to you 24 hours a day. And you want a strong believer. Just find one and let that person be a spiritual influence on you.

I could not agree more.

Let us pray for singletons seeking a suitable partner for life’s journey.

Marriage is an amazing blessing! I am most grateful for mine; it is a tremendous gift from God.

The Sixteenth Sunday after Trinity — Seventeenth Sunday after Pentecost — is September 18, 2021.

Readings for Year B can be found here.

The Gospel reading is as follows (emphases mine):

Mark 9:30-37

9:30 They went on from there and passed through Galilee. He did not want anyone to know it;

9:31 for he was teaching his disciples, saying to them, “The Son of Man is to be betrayed into human hands, and they will kill him, and three days after being killed, he will rise again.”

9:32 But they did not understand what he was saying and were afraid to ask him.

9:33 Then they came to Capernaum; and when he was in the house he asked them, “What were you arguing about on the way?”

9:34 But they were silent, for on the way they had argued with one another who was the greatest.

9:35 He sat down, called the twelve, and said to them, “Whoever wants to be first must be last of all and servant of all.”

9:36 Then he took a little child and put it among them; and taking it in his arms, he said to them,

9:37 “Whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes not me but the one who sent me.”

Commentary comes from Matthew Henry and John MacArthur.

In last week’s reading, Jesus and the disciples were in Caesarea Philippi.

They left there to pass through Galilee, although Jesus did not want anyone to know it because of their unbelief (verse 30). His ministry was finished there.

As such, He was using His remaining time to teach the Apostles privately, particularly to prepare them for His death and resurrection (verse 31). He always spoke of rising again, as in Mark 8:31:

Then he began to teach them that the Son of Man must undergo great suffering, and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes, and be killed, and after three days rise again.

Matthew Henry’s commentary says of Galilee and His ministry:

He passed through Galilee with more expedition than usual, and would not that any man should know of it (Mark 9:30; Mark 9:30); because he had done many mighty and good works among them in vain, they shall not be invited to see them and have the benefit of them, as they have been. The time of his sufferings drew nigh, and therefore he was willing to be private awhile, and to converse only with his disciples, to prepare them for the approaching trial, Mark 9:31; Mark 9:31.

MacArthur tells us:

There will be a little more public ministry in Judea when He gets into the south, and Matthew and Luke tell us about that, Mark really doesn’t tell us about that. Mark jumps right through the teaching lessons here, right to the arrival in Jerusalem. But for Galilee, public ministry is really over. They have made their decision concerning Him, and it is confirmed by His absence.

He was teaching, verse 31 says, His disciples. You’ll find that again in chapter 10. It flows through the tenth chapter, one lesson after another, after another, after another, given to His disciples. He is preparing them for their future. Not only does He remind them all the time about His death and prepare them for that, as much as could be done, but He instructs them on matters related to the kingdom and life in the kingdom so they’ll be able to know and instruct others.

Although they knew that Jesus is Lord, they had a difficult time understanding that their long-awaited Messiah must die; it was something that made them afraid and reluctant to discuss (verse 32).

The Jews of that time had a well-developed idea of the Messiah. Death was not part of that concept, as MacArthur explains:

Now remember, they have said, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” They know He is the Messiah, the Christ. They also know He is the Son of God, God the Son, deity.

In spite of the fact that they know that that is the case, He tells them He’s going to die. They can’t process that. They can’t handle that. They can’t comprehend that. You remember in 1 Corinthians 1:23 and following, Paul says that the cross is to the Jews a stumbling block. Right? To the Jews, it is a stumbling block. It is a stumbling block to the Jews to whom Paul writes and identifies, but it was also a stumbling block to these Jews. A crucified Messiah didn’t make sense.

They now know He is the Messiah. They know He is the Son of God. They can’t – they don’t even know the cross is the way He will die, but death, the death of the Messiah, is unacceptable to them, and so he that is convinced against his will is unconvinced still. They just don’t process it …

They could understand that as long as He was alive that He had power over death, but if He’s dead, who’s going to raise Him? First of all, they can’t understand the theology of a dead Messiah and they can’t understand where the power is going to come from. They’re really overcome by fear.

Verse 32, “They didn’t understand the statement and they were afraid to ask Him.” They certainly didn’t like what they’d heard up to that point, and they really didn’t want any more information. They didn’t want any details. Matthew adds they were deeply grieved – deeply grieved. They were in pain. They were in sorrow. They were in sadness even to think about this and so they just rejected it, which is a defense mechanism that we do – don’t we? – when perhaps someone that we know about and we care for and love has some terrible disease or some terrible accident and we get the initial word about death and we say, “I can’t really believe it.”

When they arrived in Capernaum in Galilee and were in the house, Jesus asked them what they had been arguing about along the way (verse 33).

The disciples had been arguing about who among them was the greatest and who would receive honour in heaven; they were ashamed to admit it to Jesus, so they remained silent (verse 34).

Mark 9 opens with the Transfiguration, which Peter along with James and John — the two sons of Zebedee — witnessed. They had seen the awe of divine glory.

Therefore, it is not surprising that the discussion became contentious, with each disciple presenting his own case for preferment.

Jesus, being omniscient, knew what the argument was about, but, as Henry says, He wanted them to confess their pride:

He knew very well what the dispute was, but he would know it from them, and would have them to confess their fault and folly in itNothing could be more contrary to the two great laws of Christ’s kingdom, lessons of his school, and instructions of his example, which are humility and love, than desiring preferment in the world, and disputing about it. This ill temper he took all occasions to check, both because it arose from a mistaken notion of his kingdom, as if it were of this world, and because it tended so directly to be debasing of the honour, and the corrupting of the purity, of his gospel, and, he foresaw, would be so much the bane of the church.

MacArthur says the dispute would have been a long one:

They’d been walking for a long time, we don’t know exactly how long, but it would be a significant journey for miles, 20, 30 – who knows? – miles, up into Caesarea Philippi, coming all the way down to Capernaum. And on the way, they were having a discussion, it was a prolonged discussion. It was a heated discussion. It was, frankly, a really ugly discussion. They were hassling with each other all the way down the trail. It was an embarrassing discussion. And our Lord exposes that.

They didn’t want to admit what they were talking about, but it related to this whole idea of death and self-denial and taking up a cross and suffering and persecution because they’re still ambitious. They’re still self-seeking. They’re highly competitive. And they’re following sort of their lifelong models of self-glorification. Very hard to overcome this. The apostles were struggling with it – even preachers in the modern world struggle with this – and what they were struggling with was which of them (verse 34) was the greatest.

The next several verses, then, focus on humility.

MacArthur explains why humility is an alien concept to fallen man:

If I were to title this section and the lesson, I might call it, “The Virtue of Being Last” – “The Virtue of Being Last.” That title would seem offensive to the culture in which you and I live because everybody wants to be first – number one – that’s the whole idea. Humility is not viewed as a virtue in our culture, and it wasn’t viewed as a virtue in ancient pagan culture, either. And it’s not just a cultural issue. Humility is foreign to fallen DNA. Humility is alien to the human heart.

The human heart, every human heart, every fallen human heart, is a relentless worshiper of itself. It is the nature of man to be dominated by pride. In a bizarre, convoluted emphasis in our society to diagnose people’s ills because they lack self-esteem, our culture has poured gas on a fire. Nobody lacks self-esteem – that’s a lie. People are dominated by self-esteem, dominated by pride, it just comes in many forms. And in those forms, people manipulate the things around them and the people around them the way they want to manipulate them and using the means they use.

Nobody lacks self-esteem, everybody is consumed with himself or herself in one way or another. To then diagnose all human ills because people lack self-esteem is to really cry out for people to be more proud when they’re already dominated by deadly pride. It is alien, then, to human life to talk about being humble, to be content to be last. And so I say if we put a big banner out in front of the church and said we’re going to have a conference on how to be last, nobody would show. We wouldn’t attract a crowd at all.

Jesus wanted to correct the disciples’ lack of humility, so He told them that whoever wants to be first must be the least and the servant of all (verse 35). He would demonstrate that at the Last Supper by washing the Apostles’ feet.

However, at this time, His message did not sink in. It comes up again in Mark 10.

MacArthur says:

you come over to chapter 10, verse 35, Jesus again (in 33 and 34) talks about His death. Again, He brings up His death, which, of course, again, is the model of humility. And immediately after that, James and John, the sons of Zebedee, came to say, “Teacher, we want you to do for us whatever we ask of you.” “What do you want me to do?” He said. “Just grant that we may sit one on your right and one on your left in your glory.”

I mean this – the brashness of this, this is mind-boggling. This was deep into the fabric of their fallenness and of their religion. Pride just devastates unity. They actually brought their mother with them to ask on their behalf. Pride destroys unity, and unity is critical.

Returning to today’s verses, Jesus reinforced His message by bringing a small child into their midst, taking it into His arms (verse 36).

He chose a small child for its innocence and lack of pride.

Jesus said to the disciples that anyone who welcomes such a child welcomes Him and anyone who welcomes Him welcomes not only Him but also God the Father (verse 37).

Henry rephrases this for our understanding:

He took a child in his arms, that had nothing of pride and ambition in it. “Look you,” saith he; “whosoever shall receive one like this child, receives me. Those of a humble, meek, mild disposition are such as I will own and countenance, and encourage every body else to do so too, and will take what is done to them as done to myself; and so will my Father too, for he who thus receiveth me, receiveth him that sent me, and it shall be placed to his account, and repaid with interest.”

Two sentences in MacArthur’s sermon struck me:

God, who gives the rewards, gives grace to the humble, James 4:6. So pride will forfeit honor.

Here is a third:

How you treat another believer is how you treat Christ.

Those are thoughts to ponder in the week ahead.

May everyone reading this have a blessed Sunday.

The Fifteenth Sunday after Trinity — Sixteenth Sunday after Pentecost — is September 12, 2021.

The readings for Year B can be found here.

The Gospel reading is as follows (emphases mine):

Mark 8:27-38

8:27 Jesus went on with his disciples to the villages of Caesarea Philippi; and on the way he asked his disciples, “Who do people say that I am?”

8:28 And they answered him, “John the Baptist; and others, Elijah; and still others, one of the prophets.”

8:29 He asked them, “But who do you say that I am?” Peter answered him, “You are the Messiah.”

8:30 And he sternly ordered them not to tell anyone about him.

8:31 Then he began to teach them that the Son of Man must undergo great suffering, and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes, and be killed, and after three days rise again.

8:32 He said all this quite openly. And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him.

8:33 But turning and looking at his disciples, he rebuked Peter and said, “Get behind me, Satan! For you are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things.”

8:34 He called the crowd with his disciples, and said to them, “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.

8:35 For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake, and for the sake of the gospel, will save it.

8:36 For what will it profit them to gain the whole world and forfeit their life?

8:37 Indeed, what can they give in return for their life?

8:38 Those who are ashamed of me and of my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, of them the Son of Man will also be ashamed when he comes in the glory of his Father with the holy angels.”

Commentary comes from Matthew Henry and John MacArthur.

Matthew Henry’s commentary puts the miracles of Jesus, His teachings and this reading in context for us:

We have read a great deal of the doctrine Christ preached, and the miracles he wrought, which were many, and strange, and well-attested, of various kinds, and wrought in several places, to the astonishment of the multitudes that were eye-witnesses of them. It is now time for us to pause a little, and to consider what these things mean; the wondrous works which Christ then forbade the publishing of, being recorded in these sacred writings, are thereby published to all the world, to us, to all ages; now what shall we think of them? Is the record of those things designed only for an amusement, or to furnish us with matter for discourse? No, certainly these things are written, that we may believe that Jesus is the Christ the Son of God (John 20:31); and this discourse which Christ had with his disciples, will assist us in making the necessary reflections upon the miracles of Christ, and a right use of them.

MacArthur says:

This is just a compelling passage. This is the high point of the entire Gospel of Mark. Everything prior leads up to it; everything after flows from it. This is the moment in time when the disciples settle the matter of the person of Jesus. This is the moment when they believe and are convinced and confess as to who His person is. He is the Christ, the Son of the living God, as Peter gives us in the full statement recorded in Matthew.

But there is still great confusion about not the person, but the plan. They affirm the person; they deny the plan. From the perspective of Peter and the disciples, the good news was the affirmation that they understood the person Jesus Christ to be the Messiah, the Son of the living God. To a hopeful Jew that is the ultimate revelation…

However, fast on the heels of that most glorious of all revelations, that most wondrous of all knowledge and conviction and confidence, comes the incomprehensible bad news that the Messiah is going to be killed. And I’m not sure after that they heard the part about the resurrection. Shocking news. So shocking that Peter goes from being a hero to being an antihero. So shocking that he goes from being a spokesman for God to being a spokesman for Satan. Such is the paradox of this hour. Two colliding revelations. He is Messiah, the One whose life will bring salvation and blessing to Israel and the world. Yet He will be killed by the people of Israel and the world.

As He was over two years into His ministry, Jesus used His remaining months to train and test the Apostles.

We pick up roughly where we left off last week, although Jesus performed two miracles which are not included in today’s reading. One was the Feeding of the Four Thousand and the other was an incremental healing of a blind man near Bethsaida. Some scholars say that the blind man’s healing was incremental because his faith was weak. Jesus drew him away from the crowd in private. Afterwards, when the man could see fully, Jesus told him to go home and not discuss his healing with his townspeople, many of whom were blind in unbelief, although the inference is that he could go elsewhere and speak of it.

Jesus and His disciples left Bethsaida for Caesarea Philippi; along the way, He asked them who people thought He was (verse 27).

MacArthur discusses the journey and Caesarea Philippi:

That would be 25 miles straight north of Bethsaida, which was very near the Sea of Galilee, called Fishing House, so we would assume its connection with fishing – that is, Bethsaida – straight north to Caesarea Philippi. That is on the – that’s the last outpost in Galilee. That’s the last outpost in Israel. It’s very near the ancient town of Dan.

And do you remember, back in Judges chapter 20 and in 1 Chronicles, when you wanted to know the length of the land of Israel, you would say that it went from Dan to Beersheba. Beersheba was the southernmost outpost on the border, and Dan was the northernmost outpost on the border. And Caesarea Philippi was up there on that northern border, mostly a Gentile city. It was mostly occupied by Gentiles, although officially it was in the territory of Galilee in Israel.

Originally, its name was Paneas. It had been named by the pagans who lived there once and dominated that city for the God Pan. Have you ever heard of a Pan flute? It is because, in Greek mythology, Pan is a half-man/half-goat who plays a flute. And supposedly, this mythical character was born in a cave in this vicinity, and so it came to be identified with that. There would have been a shrine to Pan still there, although his name had been replacedThis area fell into the hands of Philip the Tetrarch, and it was a political thing to do, when you got an area, to do deference to Caesar to keep him on your good side. So, he changed the name to Caesarea, which is a form of Caesar. It’s not to be confused, by the way, with the southern coastal Caesarea, west of Jerusalem. But, you know, naming cities after Caesar was something lots of folks wanted to do to curry political favor. This was, however, Caesarea Philippi connected with Philip the Tetrarch.

It is, as I said, a Gentile area. If you go 25 miles north of the Sea of Galilee, you get into the shadow of the foot of Mount Hermon which rises 9,000 feet up. And this area would have been one of the three headwaters for the water that flowed down into and made up the Jordan River. A place filled with idols because filled with Gentiles, because connected with idolatry in the past. A temple was there to Caesar Augustus. He was a mortal deity, if there is such a thing. Paneas was a mythical deity; he was a mortal deity.

The area was generally hostile to Judaism; it was generally hostile to Scripture. And so, that’s a good location for the Lord to clarify that not all religions are, after all, acceptable.

MacArthur posits that Jesus posed the question of His identity as a test:

Now look; they’ve had two-and-a-half years of school; it’s time for the exam. Two-and-a-half years they have been 24/7 with our Lord. Two-and-a-half years of divine revelation. Two-and-a-half years of thousands of miracles. Two-and-a-half years of the most profound teaching imaginable and unimaginable …

So, when we come to this passage, then, first comes the good news, and that is the confession. And it is launched by an exam. I love these kinds of exams. There are only two questions in this exam. I like a two-question exam, get right to the point. Two questions. Question number one, “He was questioning His disciples, saying to them” – and this is in conversation back and forth, ebb and flow – “‘Who do the people’” – hoi anthrōpoi – that’s a generic term – “‘Who do the people say that I am?’” Just another prophet? Who do they say I am, the people?

Jesus received the answer, which one would expect of onlookers who were astounded by His miracles yet could not quite grasp His teaching. People thought he was John the Baptist, Elijah or one of the prophets (verse 28).

Note that none said He was the Messiah.

MacArthur explains why:

Their messianic concept was highly developed.

they couldn’t get to the point where they saw Jesus as the Messiah because He didn’t fit that. He wasn’t a military leader. He wasn’t a conqueror. He wasn’t a destroyer of armies. He didn’t look like a king, act like a king. So, they come up short. John 3:1 to 2, “We know You are a teacher come from God, because nobody can do what You do except God be with him. So, we get that. We get it. You are a prophet from God.” And that’s what they’re all saying. That’s the popular view: John the Baptist, Jeremiah, Elijah. And I’m sure they threw in some others. That’s question number one on the test.

If we follow MacArthur’s line of reasoning, Jesus asked the second exam question, soliciting the opinion of the disciples as to who He is; Peter said the He is the Messiah (verse 29).

MacArthur says:

Peter confesses exactly what the gospels are demonstrating. He doesn’t have the gospels. He’s there; he lives it. So, he comes to the conclusion that any good, faithful gospel reader has to come to.

MacArthur warns us about the dangers of not reading the Bible to learn about Jesus:

they – the disciples – conclude exactly what John says the gospels were written to prove. John 20:31, “These things are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the living God.” That’s why the four gospels were written, John 20:31. It comes at the end of the fourth gospel. They’re all written that you might believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the living God.

… So, don’t give me any nonsense about you’re searching for the historical Jesus outside the gospels. That is a pretext for trying to destroy the Scriptures, and that is Satan’s game.

Jesus sternly told them not to say anything about His identity (verse 30). This is because His work was not finished.

This becomes clearer in verse 31 when he said that He must — note the use of the imperative — undergo great suffering, rejection by the religious and secular authorities, be killed, then, three days later, rise again.

Jesus spoke of those events openly, and Peter took Him aside to rebuke Him (verse 32).

MacArthur analyses what must have been going through the disciples’ minds:

How could they ever process this? I guess they didn’t think of Isaiah 53, “He would be wounded for our transgressions, bruised for our iniquities, and the chastisement of our peace would fall on Him, and by His stripes we would be healed.” Isaiah 53 lays it out: the suffering servant, the servant will suffer and die. And so, the bad news comes on the heels of the good news. And it’s the worst news imaginable. It’s incomprehensible. They can’t even process it. I don’t think they even heard the last part, “And after three days rise again.” He had said that before, early in His ministry, before these guys even were a part of His life, when He said, “Destroy this body, in three days I’ll raise it up.” Here He says it again …

Did they not know Isaiah 53 ends, in verses 10 to 12, that the Messiah will be glorified and exalted and lifted up after His substitutionary sacrificial death in which He dies as a substitute for transgressors? The resurrection is certain. It’s as certain as the crucifixion.

Jesus rebuked Peter in front of the disciples, calling him Satan and telling him that he is focusing on the human rather than the divine (verse 33).

Henry says the rebuke was public so that the other disciples could correct their own mistaken thinking:

He turned about, as one offended, and looked on his disciples, to see if the rest of them were of the same mind, and concurred with Peter in this, that, if they did, they might take the reproof to themselves, which he was now about to give to Peter; and he said, Get thee behind me, Satan.

MacArthur introduces the next four verses:

When we come to chapter 8, verses 34 to 38, we really come to the diamond for which the rest of the gospel is the setting. This is the jewel of the Gospel of Mark. If you could only hear one message in the Gospel of Mark, this would perhaps be the most important one that you could ever hear because it is the pinnacle of our Lord’s teaching, with regard to inviting sinners to come to Him.

Jesus called the crowd to join with the disciples to hear Him say that those who wished to follow Him would have to deny themselves and take up their own cross in order to do so (verse 34).

MacArthur says that this is in stark contrast to what we hear in church:

It doesn’t sound, perhaps, like any invitation you ever heard in a church. This invitation deals a death blow to man-centered, self-centered invitations. This is not an invitation to health, or wealth, or fulfillment, or prosperity, or healing, or a boosted self-image, or trouble-free living. This is an invitation to self-denial, cross bearing, and obedience. But this is the Lord’s invitation, and this is the one that we must give if we would be faithful.

Jesus went on to say that those who follow Him will lose their temporal lives for an eternal life for His sake and the sake of the Gospel (verse 35).

He asked what the point would be of gaining the whole world and deny Him only to lose one’s soul for eternity (verse 36). What would they have to offer in eternity for a worldly life (verse 37)?

Henry’s explanation of those verses includes a marvellous saying of an Anglican, Bishop Hooper, martyred during the reign of Mary ‘Bloody Mary’ Tudor:

For what shall it profit a man, if he should gain the whole world, and all the wealth, honour, and pleasure, in it, by denying Christ, and lose his own soul? True it is,” said Bishop Hooper, the night before he suffered martyrdom, “that life is sweet, and death is bitter, but eternal death is more bitter, and eternal life is more sweet. As the happiness of heaven with Christ, is enough to countervail the loss of life itself for Christ, so the gain of all the world in sin, is not sufficient to countervail the ruin of the soul by sin.

Jesus concluded with a stark warning, another one we rarely hear in church: those who are ashamed of Him in this perfidious and sinful world will face shame from Him when the final, glorious judgement day comes (verse 38).

The use of ‘adulterous’ applies to turning away from Him — and, by extension, God — to be comfortable in this life.

Henry provides this analysis:

Something like this we had, Matthew 10:33. But it is here expressed more fully. Note, [1.] The disadvantage that the cause of Christ labours under this world, is, that it is to be owned and professed in an adulterous and sinful generation; such the generation of mankind is, gone a whoring from God, in the impure embraces of the world and the flesh, lying in wickedness; some ages, some places, are more especially adulterous and sinful, as that was in which Christ lived; in such a generation the cause of Christ is opposed and run down, and those that own it, are exposed to reproach and contempt, and every where ridiculed and spoken against. [2.] There are many, who, though they cannot but own that the cause of Christ is a righteous cause, are ashamed of it, because of the reproach that attends the professing of it; they are ashamed of their relation to Christ, and ashamed of the credit they cannot but give to his words; they cannot bear to be frowned upon and despised, and therefore throw off their profession, and go down the stream of a prevailing apostasy. [3.] There is a day coming, when the cause of Christ will appear as bright and illustrious as now it appears mean and contemptible; when the Son of man comes in the glory of his Father with his holy angels, as the true Shechinah, the brightness of his Father’s glory, and the Lord of angels. [4.] Those that are ashamed of Christ in this world where he is despised, he will be ashamed of in that world where he is eternally adored. They shall not share with him in his glory then, that were not willing to share with him in his disgrace now.

Returning to Peter, after receiving the Holy Spirit on the first Pentecost, he understood our Lord’s teaching. MacArthur reminds us of the letter Peter wrote to his converts:

Peter learned; he really did. It would be good to close by looking at 1 Peter, just a couple of comments. First Peter 2:21, Peter writes, “You’ve been called for this purpose, since Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example for you to follow in His steps.” He suffered and so will you. “He committed no sin, nor was any deceit found in His mouth” – verse 22 – “and while being reviled, He didn’t revile in return; while suffering, He uttered no threats, but kept entrusting Himself to Him who judges righteously.” He’s writing to suffering believers who are being persecuted, and He’s saying, “This is the path to glory, and the model is your Savior.” This is Jesus’ path to glory; this is our path as well.

And then verse 24 shows He understood the substitutionary atonement of Christ, “He Himself bore our sins in His body on the cross so that we might die to sin and live to righteousness.” Ah, and he did now understand Isaiah 53, for he draws this final statement from it, “by His wounds you are healed.”

So, he understood the substitutionary atonement, and he understood the path to glory through suffering for even the Savior, as well as for all who follow the Savior. So, he says in chapter 4, verse 12, “Don’t be surprised at the fiery ordeal among you.” Don’t be surprised. Verse 13, “To the degree you share the sufferings of Christ, keep on rejoicing.” Verse 19, “Those who suffer according to the will of God shall entrust their souls to a faithful Creator in doing what is right.” Learn to suffer; it’s the path. It’s the path to glory.

Chapter 5, verse 10, “After you’ve suffered a little while, the God of all grace, who called you to His eternal glory in Christ, will Himself perfect, confirm, strengthen, and establish you.” And then here is a doxology that must have come from his own experience, “To Him be dominion forever and ever. Amen.”

Peter died in Rome along with his wife, martyrs both for His everlasting glory.

May all reading this have a blessed Sunday in the life and love of Christ.

The Fourteenth Sunday after Trinity — Fifteenth Sunday after Pentecost — is September 5, 2021.

Readings for Year B can be found here.

The Gospel reading is as follows (emphases mine):

Mark 7:24-37

7:24 From there he set out and went away to the region of Tyre. He entered a house and did not want anyone to know he was there. Yet he could not escape notice,

7:25 but a woman whose little daughter had an unclean spirit immediately heard about him, and she came and bowed down at his feet.

7:26 Now the woman was a Gentile, of Syrophoenician origin. She begged him to cast the demon out of her daughter.

7:27 He said to her, “Let the children be fed first, for it is not fair to take the children’s food and throw it to the dogs.”

7:28 But she answered him, “Sir, even the dogs under the table eat the children’s crumbs.”

7:29 Then he said to her, “For saying that, you may go–the demon has left your daughter.”

7:30 So she went home, found the child lying on the bed, and the demon gone.

7:31 Then he returned from the region of Tyre, and went by way of Sidon towards the Sea of Galilee, in the region of the Decapolis.

7:32 They brought to him a deaf man who had an impediment in his speech; and they begged him to lay his hand on him.

7:33 He took him aside in private, away from the crowd, and put his fingers into his ears, and he spat and touched his tongue.

7:34 Then looking up to heaven, he sighed and said to him, “Ephphatha,” that is, “Be opened.”

7:35 And immediately his ears were opened, his tongue was released, and he spoke plainly.

7:36 Then Jesus ordered them to tell no one; but the more he ordered them, the more zealously they proclaimed it.

7:37 They were astounded beyond measure, saying, “He has done everything well; he even makes the deaf to hear and the mute to speak.”

Commentary comes from Matthew Henry and John MacArthur.

The Lectionary continues with Mark 7, where we left off last week.

John MacArthur provides context for today’s readings. Jesus is now far away from Capernaum and is in Gentile territory. MacArthur also gives us an insight into the audience for Mark’s Gospel:

Now remember that Mark is in Rome when he writes this Gospel. Mark is writing from Rome, and he’s writing an account of the life and death and resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ for Gentile readers, primarily. Obviously it extended to everyone, but his primary goal is to write for the Gentile world. It is then important to Mark that he communicates in his Gospel that salvation extends to the whole world. You wouldn’t get that message if you just talked to the Jews of New Testament times. They viewed Gentiles as outcasts

But that was not the attitude of our Lord and nor was that what the Old Testament promised. For example, in the book of Isaiah it comes very clear to us that there is only one God for the whole world – only one God for the entire world. Isaiah 42 says, “Thus says God the LORD, who created the heavens and stretched them out, who spread out the earth and its offspring, who gives breath to the people on it and spirit to those who walk in it.” This is God, the only God …

In Isaiah 45 verse 5, “I am the LORD; there is no other. Besides Me there is no God.” There is only one God – only one God, no other gods, all the idols of the world are not gods …

Salvation has always intended to be to the world. If you ask the question, “Then why in John 4 did Jesus say, ‘Salvation is of the Jews?’” Why in Matthew 10 verses 5 and 6 did Jesus say, “I have not come but for the lost sheep of the house of Israel?” The answer is that Israel was never intended to be the end of God’s saving purpose but the means to the end. The reason our Lord came to Israel was to bring salvation to Israel so that Israel could be the means to Gentile salvation. And while the nation rejected, there were enough who believed – the Twelve, the 120, the 500 in Galilee – who then took the gospel on the heels of the Great Commission to the ends of the earth. We’re a part of the fruit of that. Aren’t we? We’re the Gentiles who make up the church, along with those Jews who have come to embrace their Messiah. We’re the fruit of that early generation of believers who were the means. And the first evangelists were Jewish. The early church was Jewish, three thousand converted on the Day of Pentecost, thousands more as the weeks rolled on, who began to extend the gospel and fulfill the Great Commission

We get a glimpse of that here in the story in Mark 7 verses 24 to 30. Here Jesus leaves Israel and He goes on a very long foray deep into Gentile territory. He’s into the last year of His ministry. The gospel ministry in Galilee has been going on for over a year. There are not a lot of believers. Most have rejected, the Pharisees and Sadducees hate Him. They’re looking to kill Him. There will be a national rejection and a cry for His death soon to come. But there will be enough Jews in the kingdom to carry the message to the world.

Jesus — and the Twelve — went to the region of Tyre, where He entered a house and wanted to go in without anyone noticing, yet He could not escape being seen (verse 24).

MacArthur tells us about Tyre:

The region of Tyre would be in the country known as Phoenicia. Phoenicia has two famous cities, Tyre and Sidon. This account of Mark is paralleled in Matthew 15 verses 21 to 28, and Matthew says, “Tyre and Sidon.” They’re two coastal cities, twenty miles apart – famous, famous cities, famous in history, famous in the Old Testament, as I told you, quoted in Psalm 87, famous because of the conquering of Alexander the Great. They are the main cities in Gentile country, Phoenicia, north and west of Galilee, pressing against the Mediterranean coast.

This was not a day trip:

He went to Tyre and He was there a while. We don’t know how long. And then He went 20 miles and Tyre was 50 miles away from Capernaum, Galilee – Sea of Galilee area. Then He went 20 miles north and He went through Sidon, the sister city. We don’t know how long He was there. And then He followed the highway east back across the mountains of Lebanon, a very circuitous route, even going further north than Sidon, and going through the mountains and then down to the south, east of the Sea of Galilee and then back toward the Sea of Galilee in the middle of Decapolis which didn’t begin until the southern part of the Sea of Galilee, was a Gentile area called Decapolis, a Greek word for ten cities. This is a very long trip. He would have walked at least – if He just took a direct route – 120 to 150 miles. It took weeks, maybe months.

There are no great teaching events in Tyre. There are no great teaching events in Sidon. In all the weeks that He was trekking through the challenging trails of the mountains of Lebanon, there is no indication that anything happened. He had with Him His Twelve Apostles. The assumption is, the rejection of Galilee is fixed, now it’s time to turn to these men and train them. He’s already reached the point where He only explains the parables to them, not the crowds. Now it’s time to intensify their training.

A woman whose daughter had an unclean spirit — a demon — heard He was there, so she sought Him and bowed down at his feet (verse 25).

She humbled herself before Him, as we all should.

Matthew Henry’s commentary says:

Note, Those that would obtain mercy from Christ, must throw themselves at his feet; must refer themselves to him, humble themselves before him, and give up themselves to be ruled by him. Christ never put any from him, that fell at his feet

She was a Syrophonecian, a Gentile, and begged Him to cast the demon out of her daughter (verse 26).

In using an analogy of feeding children first, then dogs, Jesus replied that He came to save the children of Israel first (verse 27).

Henry said that He replied in such a way in order to test her faith:

Where Christ knows the faith of poor supplicants to be strong, he sometimes delights to try it, and put it to the stretch.

Yet, He knew that He would be going into Gentile areas after His own rejected Him:

Let the children first be filled, intimates that there was mercy in reserve for the Gentiles, and not far off; for the Jews began already to be surfeited with the gospel of Christ, and some of them had desired him to depart out of their coasts. The children begin to play with their meat, and their leavings, their loathings, would be a feast for the Gentiles. The apostles went by this rule, Let the children first be filled, let the Jews have the first offer; and if their full souls loathe this honeycomb, Lo, we turn to the Gentiles!

The woman pointed out that even dogs ate the crumbs that fell from the dining table (verse 28).

She meant that she did not require a full loaf, just one crumb — one healing — from Him would suffice for her.

Henry offers this analysis, positing that she might have heard of the miracle of the Feeding of the Five Thousand, which had happened not long before:

This she speaks, not as undervaluing the mercy, or making light of it in itself, but magnifying the abundance or miraculous cures with which she heard the Jews were feasted, in comparison with which a single cure was but as a crumb. Gentiles do not come in crowds, as the Jews do; I come alone. Perhaps she had heard of Christ’s feeding five thousand lately at once, after which, even when they had gathered up the fragments, there could not but be some crumbs left for the dogs.

MacArthur thinks that the woman might even had seen Jesus in Galilee. This would be feasible, as there was a lot of travel and mixing between Jew and Gentile, although not in a deep sense of friendship and marriage. They knew of each other’s religions and customs:

She’s certainly very familiar with Jesus. She not only knows what He’s capable of doing, she even knows who He is. My guess is that she had been there in Galilee, probably for a long enough time to really be sure about this person Jesus. She had been there, in those crowds.

You remember that it tells us in the New Testament that if the miracles that were done in Capernaum had been done in Tyre and Sidon, they would have repented. Well this is one of the ladies that would have repented because she did repent. Not because of what she saw in Tyre and Sidon, but because of what she must have seen in Capernaum. So Jesus goes into Gentile territory. This is a preview of what is to come when the gospel goes to the ends of the earth. This is a personal affirmation from Jesus that salvation belongs outside Israel.

This woman understood her place — as a dog — in the eyes of the Jews:

Matthew says she was a Canaanite. Bad enough to be a Gentile, worse to be a Canaanite, because the Canaanites were cursed by God and they were supposed to be exterminated. There shouldn’t be any Canaanites left. So she’s vestiges of a cursed race and a Syrophoenician. Humm, what does that mean?

Well Phoenicia was the name of the country, but under a Roman general, Ptolemy, who ruled there for a while, he had annexed Phoenicia to Syria. So Syria and Phoenicia became one, and she was a Syrophoenician. Her influences were all to be rejected by the Jews. First of all, she was a woman, that was bad enough. And then she was a Canaanite, the general category of Gentile, of course. But being a Syrophoenician identified her, of course, with the Romans. She was therefore as a Canaanite corrupted by Baal worship and as somebody in a Romans-influenced culture, corrupted doubly by the gods of the Romans. And in the city of Tyre, of course, that’s where Jezebel lived, and that’s where Baal worship originated. But they also had the Roman gods and there’s some evidence that they worshiped a god named Astarte. Astarte was the goddess of beauty and the moon goddess, and Astarte is a Greek name for Ashtoreth. And you will remember that Baal and Ashtoreth were worshiped by Israel of old. So they made a transition from Baal and Ashtoreth to the Astarte version, so they were just engulfed in idolatry. The Jews had been cleansed of idolatry when they came back from the Babylonian captivity.

Jesus acknowledged the woman’s faith by healing her daughter (verse 29).

The woman returned home to find her little girl lying on the bed, the demon gone (verse 30).

MacArthur says that the girl was probably somewhere between the ages of seven and ten and that the demon caused her to act in immoral ways:

This is a little girl. This is a young girl, an unmarried girl under the age of twelve, thirteen, when people got married. Who knows? Eight, nine, ten, seven – who knows? A demon-possessed child. Horrific experience for a mother. I think much more common in the world today than we understand or that demons want us to understand …

The unclean aspect would probably mean that the demon was manifesting itself in some kind of immoral conduct in a child. Horrible, horrible situation, and her heart is grieved and broken, and she has nowhere to turn. Do you think she had gone through whatever ceremonies her idol gods required? Probably. Do you think she had tried to appeal to whatever deities she had been taught existed? Sure. Whatever she had done in the past, she had lost all confidence in them. She is now doing what 1 Thessalonians 1:9 says the Thessalonians did, “They turned from idols to the living God.” Whenever you talk about idols and the living God, it’s because there’s a contrast between a living God and dead idols. Read Isaiah 44 and watch how foolish it is to make a god out of a piece of wood.

Or today’s trendy crystals, for that matter …

Our Lord’s ministry took Him and the Twelve from the region of Tyre to that of Sidon, the other principal city, which was towards the Sea of Galilee in the region of the Decapolis — ‘ten cities’ (verse 31).

MacArthur describes the journey:

He’s now moving directly north. Sidon is twenty miles north of Tyre, straight up the coast. There is no record that He taught there. There’s no record that He healed anybody there. There’s no record that He had any public presence there. It’s possible, because in John 21:25 it says that if all the things He did were written down, the books of the world couldn’t contain them. We can assume that He had a divine purpose in going from Tyre to Sidon. We just don’t have a record of what that was. But again, John says more is left out of the record even with four Gospels than is included. This again is important for Him because after going to Tyre, it says that He moves from there, according to verse 31, through Sidon to the Sea of Galilee within the region of Decapolis.

Now Decapolis is on the east of the Sea of Galilee and the south end. It’s called Decapolis because it is a region with ten cities, Hellenized, Greek-influenced cities, pagan cities, heathen cities, non-Jewish cities, but it is from the lower part of the eastern side of the Sea of Galilee and south from there. So He’s all the way to the northwest and He ends up all the way in the southeast of Galilee. And He takes that complete circuitous trip going way further north than one would need to go to get to the area of Decapolis for the purpose of extending the time in order that He might teach the Twelve personally. He visits on His journey outlying areas of Galilee, Bethsaida, Caesarea Philippi, way, way up on the north border between Israel and Lebanon, twenty-five miles north of the lake.

There the people brought before Him a man who had a speech impediment and asked Him to heal him by laying a hand on him (verse 32).

MacArthur explains the importance of this request and says that this story appears in Mark’s Gospel alone:

Believe me, they had never seen anything like this from any or all of their deities combined. They recognize that the God of Israel is a God of a completely different nature than theirs. Now it is in that context that we come to Mark 7, because it is in that context that this miracle takes place. This is one of those who was thrown at His feet by friends and family, a deaf mute. And again, this is one of three accounts in Mark’s Gospel that appear nowhere else in the other three Gospels.

In both Gentile and Jewish cultures, life was very difficult for the deaf because they could not make themselves understood. Blind people could at least speak but the deaf were often considered insane because of their indistinct verbal communication:

Even in Israel – and this is a sad reality – but even in Israel, deaf mutes were categorized with the insane because the rabbis said, we have no way of knowing what they understand. They were not granted normal human rights. And in the Gentile world, it was worse. Who knows what life was like for this man or for all the others. The Jews would also heap on the person the fact that if they had that kind of malady they were under the curse of God and the judgment of God, and it would be viewed by the Pharisees and Sadducees as unclean because they were under divine judgment. We don’t know what perspective all the Gentiles had, depending on what deities they worshiped, but these would be people who in any culture were outcasts, treated with disdain. Because it was virtually impossible to communicate with them, it was assumed that they had these limiting capacities mentally.

Jesus took the man away from the crowd and did four things He normally did not do when performing a healing miracle.

He put His fingers into the man’s ears, He spat, He touched his tongue (verse 33) and, looking up to heaven, He sighed on him, saying, ‘Ephphatha’ — ‘Be opened’ (verse 34).

Immediately, the man could hear, his tongue functioned normally and he could speak clearly (verse 35).

Henry gives us a lengthy analysis of these actions, all meant to convey divine healing power:

2. He used more significant actions, in the doing of this cure, than usual. (1.) He put his fingers into his ears, as if he would syringe them, and fetch out that which stopped them up. (2.) He spit upon his own finger, and then touched his tongue, as if he would moisten his mouth, and so loosen that with which his tongue was tied; these were no causes that could in the least contribute to his cure, but only signs of the exerting of that power which Christ had in himself to cure him, for the encouraging of his faith, and theirs that brought him. The application was all from himself, it was his own fingers that he put into his ears, and his own spittle that he put upon his tongue; for he alone heals.

3. He looked up to heaven, to give his Father the praise of what he did; for he sought his praise, and did his will, and, as Mediator, acted in dependence on him, and with an eye to him. Thus he signified that it was by a divine power, a power he had as the Lord from heaven, and brought with him thence, that he did this; for the hearing ear and the seeing eye the Lord has made, and can remake even both of them. He also hereby directed his patient who could see, though he could not hear, to look up to heaven for relief. Moses with his stammering tongue is directed to look that way (Exodus 4:11); Who hath made man’s mouth? Or who maketh the dumb or deaf, or the seeing or the blind? Have not I the Lord?

4. He sighed; not as if he found any difficulty in working this miracle, or obtaining power to do it from his father; but thus he expressed his pity for the miseries of human life, and his sympathy with the afflicted in their afflictions, as one that was himself touched with the feeling of their infirmities. And as to this man, he sighed, not because he was loth to do him this kindness, or did it with reluctancy; but because of the many temptations which he would be exposed to, and the sins he would be in danger of, the tongue-sins, after the restoring of his speech to him, which before he was free from. He had better be tongue-tied still, unless he have grace to keep his mouth as with a bridle,Psalms 39:1.

5. He said, Ephphatha; that is, Be opened. This was nothing that looked like spell or charm, such as they used, who had familiar spirits, who peeped and muttered,Isaiah 8:19. Christ speaks as one having authority, and power went along with the word. Be opened, served both parts of the cure; “Let the ears be opened, let the lips be opened, let him hear and speak freely, and let the restraint be taken off;” and the effect was answerable (Mark 7:35; Mark 7:35); Straightway his ears were opened, and the string of his tongue was loosed, and all was well: and happy he who, as soon as he had his hearing and speech, had the blessed Jesus so near him to converse with.

MacArthur looks at the command ‘Ephphatha’ and the fact that the man could speak when he never before heard any language:

Verse 34, “He said to him, ‘Ephphatha,’ that is ‘be opened.’” That’s probably an Aramaic statement – verb. Some think it might be a Hebrew, but the weight of evidence is on Aramaic, which would have been the language Jesus spoke every day. Ephphatha – be opened.” The response was instant, absolutely instant. With a word out of His mouth, one verb, ephphatha, the power came. Verse 35 says, “His ears were opened and the impediment” – the bond, the desmos, it’s the word for chains that chain a prisoner, the chain of his tongue – “was broken and he began speaking plainly.” In an instant he could hear perfectly and he could speak plainly.

Do you understand the extent of this? To hear is one thing. To be able to know that what you’re hearing is language when you’ve never heard language is another miracle. Right? There’s no speech therapy here. He doesn’t have to go to language class to learn Aramaic or Greek. He has full facility in the language that he’s never heard. To hear it and understand it and speak it plainly. The word plainly in the Greek is orthōs from which we get orthopedics. It means to straighten things out. Correctly would be the right translation, to put something back to the correct alignment. He heard and spoke perfectly. No therapy, no learning curve, nobody had to teach him how to form the letters, form the words, nobody had to teach him what the words were. He received an instant facility in the language to hear it and speak it implanted in his brain. It’s really stunning. No recovery period, but then there never is in Jesus’ miracles. There’s no progression here. He couldn’t hear; now he hears. He couldn’t speak, and now he speaks. And he hears perfectly and he speaks perfectly. This is staggering. The man unable to speak is now enabled to speak.

And then we come to a third point. He is unable not to speak. Now that he can speak, he can’t hold it back.

Jesus told the crowd not to tell anyone of the miracle, but they could not contain themselves, even when He repeatedly ordered them to again (verse 36).

MacArthur says that this is because Jesus did not want to be known solely as a miracle worker but as our Redeemer. His authorship of our redemption — crucifixion and resurrection — had not yet been accomplished but was to come. At this point, His ministry could be at risk of spinning out of control, so He had to rein the crowd in:

Don’t spread the message that I’m a healer and a miracle worker. That’s not the whole story. It would be like you having one part of the gospel story that Jesus was born of a virgin, came into the world, did miracles and healed people, and preached the kingdom of God, and that’s the story. That’s not the story, because it doesn’t include – what? – the cross, and it doesn’t include the resurrection. That’s the full story. So He says this again.

This was not the case earlier in Gerasa, where the Gadarene swine miracle took place. The man whom Jesus rid of demons was the first missionary to Decapolis. Jesus wanted him to tell the people who He was:

… back in chapter 5 when Jesus was in Gadara, Gerasa which is also in Gentile territory over in the same area, and He healed the man who had the legion of demons, He said to him, “Go home to your people and report to them what great things the Lord has done for you and how He had mercy on you. And the man went away and began to proclaim in Decapolis what great things Jesus had done for him and everyone was amazed.” He tells that man to tell everybody. He tells this man to tell nobody. What’s the difference here? How do we explain that?

We explain that because the maniac was the first missionary to Decapolis. There had never been anybody to talk about Jesus there before. And it needed to be established who He was and what He could do and His power. But now it’s reached epic proportions, massive crowds.

The crowd’s astonishment knew no bounds and they marvelled at His perfection in healing the deaf and the mute (verse 37).

Henry explains their sense of astonishment:

… they that told it, and they that heard it, were beyond measure astonished, hyperperissos–more than above measure; they were exceedingly affected with it, and this was said by every body, it was the common verdict, He hath done all things well (Mark 7:37; Mark 7:37); whereas there were those that hated and persecuted him as an evil-doer, they are ready to witness for him, not only that he has done no evil, but that he has done a great deal of good, and has done it well, modestly and humbly, and very devoutly, and all gratis, without money and without price, which added much to the lustre of his good works. He maketh both the deaf to hear, and the dumb to speak; and that is well, it is well for them, it is well for their relations, to whom they had been a burthen; and therefore they are inexcusable who speak ill of him.

MacArthur says that the only time ‘hyperperissos’ is used is in the New Testament:

The word for utterly astonished, one word in Greek, huperperissōs – huperperissōs. It’s used only here in the New Testament. It is a compound word, very, very strong. It means above all measure, over the top, superabundantly amazed and astonished. They had their minds blown in the vernacular. They’re just completely amazed. They can’t contain it. They cannot keep this in. So they spread it everywhere.

I hope there will be good sermons on this reading on Sunday. Henry and MacArthur’s respective commentaries have made me see these two miracles in a new light.

The Thirteenth Sunday after Trinity — the Fourteenth Sunday after Pentecost — is August 29, 2021.

Readings for Year B can be found here.

The Gospel reading is as follows (emphases mine):

Mark 7:1-8, 14-15, 21-23

7:1 Now when the Pharisees and some of the scribes who had come from Jerusalem gathered around him,

7:2 they noticed that some of his disciples were eating with defiled hands, that is, without washing them.

7:3 (For the Pharisees, and all the Jews, do not eat unless they thoroughly wash their hands, thus observing the tradition of the elders;

7:4 and they do not eat anything from the market unless they wash it; and there are also many other traditions that they observe, the washing of cups, pots, and bronze kettles.)

7:5 So the Pharisees and the scribes asked him, “Why do your disciples not live according to the tradition of the elders, but eat with defiled hands?”

7:6 He said to them, “Isaiah prophesied rightly about you hypocrites, as it is written, ‘This people honors me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me;

7:7 in vain do they worship me, teaching human precepts as doctrines.’

7:8 You abandon the commandment of God and hold to human tradition.”

7:14 Then he called the crowd again and said to them, “Listen to me, all of you, and understand:

7:15 there is nothing outside a person that by going in can defile, but the things that come out are what defile.”

7:21 For it is from within, from the human heart, that evil intentions come: fornication, theft, murder,

7:22 adultery, avarice, wickedness, deceit, licentiousness, envy, slander, pride, folly.

7:23 All these evil things come from within, and they defile a person.”

Commentary comes from Matthew Henry and John MacArthur.

This episode in the ministry of Jesus comes after the events of John 6, which concluded last week.

John MacArthur explains:

We have just come from some events in the ministry of Jesus that mark the peak of His popularity. A sort of peak event is described in [Mark’s] chapter 6, the feeding of the, let’s say, twenty-five thousand people. Jesus created fish and crackers out of His own hands, fed them all, and they collected twelve baskets to feed the twelve apostles. It is a miracle of power, creative power, and a miracle of amazing precision. Just exactly enough and twelve left over to feed the apostles.

This massive miracle stunned the crowd. And according to John – all four gospels record that miracle. According to John’s gospel, they were so overwhelmed by this that they wanted to make Him the king by force. This is the apex of His popularity. He refuses that shallow, superficial, self-interested effort to make Him king so that they could continue to benefit from His powers without necessarily believing His message. He refused that. And He said, “I would rather talk about the bread of life, spiritual things far more important than these physical things.”

They wanted nothing to do with that. In that same chapter in John, it tells the story of them wanting to make Him a king, ends with the comment that many of His disciples left Him and walked no more with Him. They went away when He told them the issues that He was concerned about were spiritual and not material. They were materialists. They were religious materialists. Their religion was superficial, not from the heart. Superficial religion doesn’t change the heart. They were materialists at heart and they were supernaturalists in their ceremonies. But in any case, they did not love God nor worship Him from the heart. They didn’t hate their own sin, they didn’t embrace Jesus as the Redeemer and the Savior

His popularity then begins to fade, and the work of the scribes and Pharisees to discredit Him is beginning to gain momentum. In fact, we know the timing of this because John 6 says it was around the Passover that He fed that crowd, probably preliminary to the Passover. So we know it’s a year now from His death. The Galilean ministry is coming to its end. During that last year of ministry, He spends His time training the twelve.

Well, here a conflict occurs that probably happened a lot – a lot. We can’t assume that this a rare occasion but more likely this is a common occasion. Maybe the issue shifted a little bit. Maybe it was on this issue as well other times, but He was in constant conflict with the leaders of Israel embodied in the scribes and Pharisees.

The Pharisees and some of the scribes came from Jerusalem to gather around Jesus (verse 1).

MacArthur surmises that the Galilean leaders wanted support from the temple:

Very prestigious group, no doubt requested by Galilean counterparts who needed some help to discredit Jesus and wanted the experts from Jerusalem to show up. They are legalistic, self-righteous, external, hypocritical, phony, religious members of the establishment. They are of their father, the devil, full of hate for the truth, hate for the Son of God, purveyors of lies. They are the darkness and they hate the light. They come from Jerusalem, which means they have more prestige than anybody else. They want Jesus dead, and they’re looking for more ways to make sure that can happen, things for which to indict Him. And the battle intensifies. This is a head-on collision between true and heart religion and false and external religion.

The leaders from Jerusalem pointed out that our Lord’s disciples had not washed their hands before eating (verse 2).

The Jews had many traditions about hand washing (verse 3), including under what circumstances and what implements (verse 4).

Matthew Henry’s commentary says that these traditions had added to the hygiene requirements specified in Scripture and enforced them as vigorously:

There were many cases in which, by the law of Moses, washings were appointed; but they added to them, and enforced the observation of their own impositions as much as of God’s institutions.

MacArthur tells us how these traditions originated and developed. One rule for washing one’s hands included a ritual involving the fist:

They were not nearly so concerned about Scripture as they were their tradition. They had made their tradition equal to the Scripture.

… It all started – Moses gave the oral law at Sinai and then the law of God was written down, the Pentateuch being the primary law, and the rest of the Old Testament came. The Jews were concerned about the holiness of the law in external ways and they wanted to protect the law.

So when the law was handed down, there were some of the leaders of the great synagogue at Jerusalem who said, “We need to build a fence around the law. We need to make sure that that law is kept. And in order to make sure that law is kept, let’s put a fence around it away from it, and if people stop at the fence, then they’ll never get close to violating the law.” So the fence consisted of generation after generation of rituals and rules and ceremonies and behaviors of all kind, prohibitions, precepts to protect, supposedly, the law of God. And that’s the accusation. Not that Jesus broke the law, but that He violated the traditions.

When the Jews came back from captivity, they did want to protect the law. They wanted to keep the law. Remember Ezra? Ezra studied the law and observed the law and taught the law, and you remember he got up and read the law, and there was a great revival. The law was recovered when they came back at the end of the seven-year captivity. And so Ezra was the first of a group of men known as scribes, and their job was to study the law and explain the law so that people would know what the law was and they would be able to avoid violating God’s holy law.

Well, hypocrisy was already everywhere soon after Israel came back, and so they decided that in order to assure that people wouldn’t break the law, they’d just put up more and more and more and more and more barriers. A massive amount of material developed, I mean massive, called the Tradition of the Elders. In fact, 200 A.D., not long after the life of our Lord, Rabbi Jehuda pulled together all of this material, and it was an eclectic array of material, some of it sort of authoritative teaching by rabbis, some of it scribbled notes by students. It was all kinds of material, good, bad, and indifferent, ranging from things that were stupid and foolish and crazy to things that were more sensible. This mass of material was all collected together, put in one form, and it was called the Mishnah and that means “to repeat.” It represented the total accumulated content of Jewish tradition. It contains the decisions of wise men and the musings of idiots and everything in between. But the idea was to elucidate and interpret the law. The material is full of books, tracts, treatises, headings, chapters, paragraphs.

For example, Mark tells us they had all kinds of laws about the washing of cups and pitchers and copper pots. Actually, there are thirty chapters in the Mishnah about the ceremonial ritual cleansing of pots and pans. Come on, thirty chapters? Because it wasn’t about sanitation, it’s about ceremonial ritual cleansing. So it takes thirty chapters for you to follow the minutia and the prescription of this kind of ritualistic cleaning of a pot or a pan.

Well, there’s one whole volume on rinsing your hands ceremonially, and that may be where the fist comes in. I’m not sure just how that worked. Well, it was discovered that the Mishnah needed clarity, the Mishnah needed supplementation, and so commentaries were written explaining the Mishnah and they were called Gemara. At first they were oral, and then they began to be collected. Gemara means complete. So you have the Mishnah and then explaining the Mishnah, you have the Gemara. The rabbinical school at Jerusalem then took the Mishnah and the Gemara and put them both together and came up with the Talmud. Have you heard that word? That’s all of that stuff. And then the rabbis at Babylon wrote their own Talmud four times larger than the Jerusalem Talmud. Now, no wonder Jesus said, “You bind heavy burdens on people, they can’t even carry them.” How could you eve get through that stuff?

Then they didn’t have enough, so then came the Midrash. The Midrash was all the rabbinic commentary on the books of the Bible. So you had this mass of material that totally covered up the actual Scripture

With this in mind, such as it was at the time of this confrontation, the Pharisees and scribes asked Jesus why His disciples were not obeying tradition and washing their hands before eating (verse 5).

Jesus responded, referencing Isaiah’s words about the Jews of that time honouring God with their lips only and not their hearts (verse 6).

Henry elaborates:

They honour me with their lips, they pretend it is for the glory of God that they impose those things, to distinguish themselves from the heathen; but really their heart is far from God, and is governed by nothing but ambition and covetousness. They would be thought hereby to appropriate themselves as a holy people to the Lord their God, when really it is the furthest thing in their thought. They rested in the outside of all their religious exercises, and their hearts were not right with God in them, and this was worshipping God in vain; for neither was he pleased with such sham-devotions, nor were they profited by them.

MacArthur points out:

They didn’t say to Jesus, “You broke the law of God.” They said, “You” – what? – “You violated the tradition.” This is the point of attack …

Jesus said that their worship was in vain because they were placing human precepts — traditions — above Scripture, as if they were the law that God gave to Moses (verse 7).

MacArthur says:

After condemning them from the text of Isaiah 29, “You honor me with your lips, your heart is far from me,” this is empty worship, He says, “You neglect the commandment of God and hold to the tradition of men.”

After addressing the leaders from Jerusalem, Jesus turned to the crowd and called them to listen carefully to what He had to say (verse 14).

He said that nothing entering a person can defile him, only what comes out of that person’s mouth can defile him (verse 15).

MacArthur explains the word ‘defile’:

… you have a form of the word “defile” from the verb koinoō. It means to be dirty, to be unclean, to be impure, to be corrupt, to be defiled, used often in the New Testament, very frequently in the New Testament. Even more frequently, the Hebrew counterpart of that word chalal in the Old Testament used probably over 225 times. Why? Because impurity and purity is a biblical issue, because it’s an issue with God. Throughout Scripture we are told to be able to distinguish between what is impure and what is pure. So it’s a common theme and, therefore, it’s a common word.

Jesus listed the many sins that defile: fornication, theft, murder (verse 21), adultery, avarice, wickedness, deceit, licentiousness, envy, slander, pride, folly (verse 22).

Jesus said that these sins come from within a person and defile him (verse 23).

These are incredibly widespread sins today. Many people make excuses for themselves as they commit them. Even worse, our lawmakers and social experts make excuses for people committing them.

We question a monogamous relationship. I heard a television discussion on that subject on Friday, along with advocates for polyamory.

Our laws are not being enforced. Shoplifting is punishable in Britain these days with a mere fine. Police do not want to investigate larger thefts of private property. They are too busy.

People who steal or cheat ‘cannot help themselves’ because of a difficult childhood. Judges are lenient.

Yet, we are bound up in pharasaical preoccupations with eating ‘clean’ foods, smoking bans and a new temperance movement. Our bodies have to look good, as if we were all celebrities.

The truth is that many ‘clean’ living people are but whited sepulchres on the inside. They look good, but they ignore God at their peril.

The Eleventh Sunday after Trinity — the Twelfth Sunday after Pentecost — is August 15, 2021.

Readings for Year B can be found here.

The Gospel reading is as follows (emphases mine):

John 6:51-58

6:51 I am the living bread that came down from heaven. Whoever eats of this bread will live forever; and the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh.”

6:52 The Jews then disputed among themselves, saying, “How can this man give us his flesh to eat?”

6:53 So Jesus said to them, “Very truly, I tell you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you.

6:54 Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood have eternal life, and I will raise them up on the last day;

6:55 for my flesh is true food and my blood is true drink.

6:56 Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood abide in me, and I in them.

6:57 Just as the living Father sent me, and I live because of the Father, so whoever eats me will live because of me.

6:58 This is the bread that came down from heaven, not like that which your ancestors ate, and they died. But the one who eats this bread will live forever.”

Commentary comes from Matthew Henry and John MacArthur.

Today’s reading from John 6 continues. In last week’s reading, Jesus began a discourse on His being the bread of life.

The Jews found it troubling (verse 52) that He said that He came down from heaven and that He would give Himself up for the life of the world (verse 51).

Jesus spoke metaphorically, as Matthew Henry’s commentary states, which enlightened some of the multitude and confused others:

This is certainly a parable or figurative discourse, wherein the actings of the soul upon things spiritual and divine are represented by bodily actions about things sensible, which made the truths of Christ more intelligible to some, and less so to others, Mark 4:11-12.

Those with carnal minds could not understand it:

It was misconstrued by the carnal Jews, to whom it was first delivered (John 6:52): They strove among themselves; they whispered in each other’s ears their dissatisfaction: How can this man give us his flesh to eat? Christ spoke (John 6:51) of giving his flesh for us, to suffer and die; but they, without due consideration, understood it of his giving it to us, to be eaten, which gave occasion to Christ to tell them that, however what he said was otherwise intended, yet even that also of eating of his flesh was no such absurd thing (if rightly understood) as prima facie—in the first instance, they took it to be.

John MacArthur says there was another factor here that the Jews found shocking. Mosaic law forbade partaking of blood. Again, they were taking His words literally instead of figuratively:

I have to tell you, this is so shocking for the Jews in the synagogue that day that I’m surprised there wasn’t a riot Leviticus, first of all, Leviticus 17, Deuteronomy 12, Deuteronomy 15 forbids Jews drinking blood.  So this is just – this is, if nothing else, really insensitive.  But He’s not really talking about drinking blood … Blood is simply a metonym for His death, as it is throughout the New Testament So what is He saying?  You must accept the person that I am and the death that I died.

Furthermore, the Jews thought that the Messiah would be a temporal king, not a spiritual one who was going to sacrifice His own life for them. As such, the thought of the Messiah dying was unthinkable.

MacArthur says:

These Jews had a big, big problem with this issue.  The idea that their Messiah would die as a sacrifice, a huge problem for them.  They were utterly unwilling to accept that Even the disciples struggled with that, right?  When Jesus said, “I’m going to die,” no, no, no, no Lord.  Peter says, “No, no,” and Jesus said, “Get behind me, Satan!”

Jesus continued, saying that unless they — and we — partake of His precious body and blood, we have no life in us (verse 53), meaning that we will not inherit eternity with Him.

However, if we do receive His body and blood, we will share eternity with Him and He will raise us up on the last day (verse 54).

Jesus really wanted His audience to understand that He truly is the spiritual food that we need for a blessed eternity: true food and true drink (verse 55). By receiving that spiritual food, we abide in Him and He in us (verse 56).

Henry says that we should have an appetite for spiritual nourishment through Holy Communion:

What is meant by eating this flesh and drinking this blood, which is so necessary and beneficial; it is certain that is means neither more nor less than believing in Christ. As we partake of meat and drink by eating and drinking, so we partake of Christ and his benefits by faith: and believing in Christ includes these four things, which eating and drinking do:—First, It implies an appetite to Christ. This spiritual eating and drinking begins with hungering and thirsting (Matthew 5:6), earnest and importunate desires after Christ, not willing to take up with any thing short of an interest in him: “Give me Christ or else I die.” Secondly, An application of Christ to ourselves. Meat looked upon will not nourish us, but meat fed upon, and so made our own, and as it were one with us. We must so accept of Christ as to appropriate him to ourselves: my Lord, and my God, ; John 20:28. Thirdly, A delight in Christ and his salvation. The doctrine of Christ crucified must be meat and drink to us, most pleasant and delightful Fourthly, A derivation of nourishment from him and a dependence upon him for the support and comfort of our spiritual life, and the strength, growth, and vigour of the new man. To feed upon Christ is to do all in his name, in union with him, and by virtue drawn from him; it is to live upon him as we do upon our meat. How our bodies are nourished by our food we cannot describe, but that they are so we know and find; so it is with this spiritual nourishment.

Jesus went on to say that, just as God the Father sent Him to us and He lives thanks to the Father, whoever partakes of His spiritual food will live (verse 57).

Jesus concluded by saying that, although God gave the Israelites manna in the desert, it was for temporal nourishment, because they died when their time came. However, the spiritual food and drink that Jesus provides means that those who receive it will live forever with Him (verse 58).

MacArthur says that we must believe the concept of substitutionary atonement, Christ’s sacrifice of Himself on the Cross on our behalf for our sins:

it starts with believing in the person of Christ, okay?  Believing in His preexistence, His incarnation, God in human flesh, believing in the person of Christ But let me tell you something quickly, believing in the person of Jesus Christ as the living bread is not enough.  Not enough.  Something else.

You not only have to believe in Him as living bread, you have to believe in Him as dying blood What?  Verse 51, “I am the living bread.  I came down out of heaven.  If anyone eats this bread, he will live forever.  And the bread also which I will give for the life of the world is My flesh.”  Now, he’s talking about giving up His life Very specific terms Verse 53, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink His blood, you have no life in yourself.”  54, “He who eats My flesh and drinks My blood has eternal life.”  Verse 55, “For My flesh is true food and My blood is true drink.”  Verse 56, “He who eats My flesh and drinks My blood abides in Me in and I in him” …

You can believe in Jesus as the preexistent Son of God who came into the world and is the source of eternal life, but unless you believe in His sacrificial death, you cannot be saved You cannot possess eternal life.

He died that we might live, as Henry explains:

It is said to be given for the life of the world, that is, First, Instead of the life of the world, which was forfeited by sin, Christ gives his own flesh as a ransom or counterprice. Christ was our bail, bound body for body (as we say), and therefore his life must go for ours, that ours may be spared. Here am I, let these go their way. Secondly, In order to the life of the world, to purchase a general offer of eternal life to all the world, and the special assurances of it to all believers. So that the flesh and blood of the Son of man denote the Redeemer incarnate and dying; Christ and him crucified, and the redemption wrought out by him, with all the precious benefits of redemption: pardon of sin, acceptance with God, the adoption of sons, access to the throne of grace, the promises of the covenant, and eternal life; these are called the flesh and blood of Christ

Next week’s reading concludes John 6, one of the most powerful chapters in the New Testament, as it tells us so much about Jesus and equally as much about sinful mankind.

John 6 should be taught to all new believers who are about to partake of Holy Communion for the first time. What can be a better means of instruction than our Lord’s own words about His body and blood?

His life was, as He said, ‘a ransom for many’ (Mark 10:45).

The Tenth Sunday after Trinity — Eleventh Sunday after Pentecost — is August 8, 2021.

Readings for Year B can be found here.

The Gospel reading is as follows (emphases mine):

John 6:35, 41-51

6:35 Jesus said to them, “I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never be hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.

6:41 Then the Jews began to complain about him because he said, “I am the bread that came down from heaven.”

6:42 They were saying, “Is not this Jesus, the son of Joseph, whose father and mother we know? How can he now say, ‘I have come down from heaven’?”

6:43 Jesus answered them, “Do not complain among yourselves.

6:44 No one can come to me unless drawn by the Father who sent me; and I will raise that person up on the last day.

6:45 It is written in the prophets, ‘And they shall all be taught by God.’ Everyone who has heard and learned from the Father comes to me.

6:46 Not that anyone has seen the Father except the one who is from God; he has seen the Father.

6:47 Very truly, I tell you, whoever believes has eternal life.

6:48 I am the bread of life.

6:49 Your ancestors ate the manna in the wilderness, and they died.

6:50 This is the bread that comes down from heaven, so that one may eat of it and not die.

6:51 I am the living bread that came down from heaven. Whoever eats of this bread will live forever; and the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh.”

Commentary comes from Matthew Henry and John MacArthur.

It is important to cover the missing verses here. I suspect the Lectionary compilers did not include them because it would lead to a potential argument between Arminians (free will in approaching conversion) and Calvinists (God chooses whom He saves).

In providing John 6:36-40, I am including verse 35 again for context. Please note verses 37 and 39 in particular:

35 Jesus said to them, “I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in me shall never thirst. 36 But I said to you that you have seen me and yet do not believe. 37 All that the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never cast out. 38 For I have come down from heaven, not to do my own will but the will of him who sent me. 39 And this is the will of him who sent me, that I should lose nothing of all that he has given me, but raise it up on the last day. 40 For this is the will of my Father, that everyone who looks on the Son and believes in him should have eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day.”

We pick up where we left off last week. These events happened on the day after the Feeding of the Five Thousand.

Jesus pressed on with teaching the multitude that He is the bread of life, that whoever comes to Him will never be hungry and that those who believe in Him will never thirst (verse 35).

He reproved them again for seeing Him and not believing that He is the Son of God (verse 36). He knew that many found Him a sensation for His miracles. However, they did not want to hear His teaching about the life to come and His role as our Redeemer.

Matthew Henry’s commentary says that Jesus includes a sense of spiritual understanding in the use of the word ‘seen’:

I rather understand seeing here to mean the same thing with believing, for it is theoron, which signifies not so much the sight of the eye (as John 6:36, heorakate meye have seen me) as the contemplation of the mind. Every one that sees the Son, that is, believes on him, sees him with an eye of faith, by which we come to be duly acquainted and affected with the doctrine of the gospel concerning him. It is to look upon him, as the stung Israelites upon the brazen serpent. It is not a blind faith that Christ requires, that we should be willing to have our eyes put out, and then follow him, but that we should see him, and see what ground we go upon in our faith. It is then right when it is not taken up upon hearsay (believing as the church believes), but is the result of a due consideration of, and insight into, the motives of credibility: Now mine eye sees thee. We have heard him ourselves.

Jesus explicitly said that all the souls that the Father gives to Him will follow Him, and those souls He will never cast out (verse 37).

He added that it is His Father’s will that He lose none of those souls whom God has entrusted in His care; in fact, He will raise those souls on the last day, the Day of Judgement (verse 39).

Henry says:

There is a certain number of the children of men given by the Father to Jesus Christ, to be his care, and so to be to him for a name and a praise; given him for an inheritance, for a possession.

No one knows exactly who those people are, only the Father and Son know. Some regular churchgoers will not be included. On the other hand, some unbelievers will certainly be in the number of the saved. One day, they will follow Jesus before it is too late.

Jesus reiterated that He will do the will of His Father in giving His Father’s spiritual children the gift of eternal life (verse 40).

Jesus told the crowd that He had come down from heaven to accomplish His Father’s will (verse 38).

That statement gravely bothered some of the Jews listening to Him (verse 41). They asked how He could make such a bold claim of coming down from heaven when they knew Him as the son of Joseph and Mary, with whom they were acquainted (verse 42).

Henry explains their error:

They took it amiss that he should say that he came down from heaven, when he was one of them. They speak slightly of his blessed name, Jesus: Is not this Jesus. They take it for granted that Joseph was really his father, though he was only reputed to be so. Note, Mistakes concerning the person of Christ, as if he were a mere man, conceived and born by ordinary generation, occasion the offence that is taken at his doctrine and offices. Those who set him on a level with the other sons of men, whose father and mother we know, no wonder if they derogate from the honour of his satisfaction and the mysteries of his undertaking, and, like the Jews here, murmur at his promise to raise us up at the last day.

Jesus told them to stop complaining among themselves (verse 43).

He reiterated that no one can come to the Father except through Him and he will raise that person — and others — on the last day (verse 44).

Jesus cited Isaiah 54:13 about the faithful being taught by God and said that all of those people will go and follow Him (verse 45), the Good Shepherd.

John MacArthur says:

Verse 45 is a very important verse, often overlooked I think.  It’s a quote from Isaiah, Isaiah 54:13.  “It is written in the prophets and they shall all be taught of God.”  The only way anybody can come to the truth is if God is his teacher.  “Everyone who has heard and learned from the Father comes to Me.”  People don’t come to God under the powerful sway of human reason The preacher is not the means.  The preacher is only a tool to present the truth The drawing is divine The Father is the true teacher.  The Father is the instructor of the heart and the mind.

Henry tells us:

[a.] It is here implied that none will come to Christ but those that have heard and learned of the Father. We shall never be brought to Christ but under a divine conduct; except God by his grace enlighten our minds, inform our judgments, and rectify our mistakes, and not only tell us that we may hear, but teach us, that we may learn the truth as it is in Jesus, we shall never be brought to believe in Christ. [b.] That this divine teaching does so necessarily produce the faith of God’s elect that we may conclude that those who do not come to Christ have never heard nor learned of the Father; for, if they had, doubtless they would have come to Christ. In vain do men pretend to be taught of God if they believe not in Christ, for he teaches no other lesson, Galatians 1:8-9.

Jesus then reworded what He said in verse 36: no one has seen God ‘except the one who is from God’ — He Himself has seen His Father (verse 46).

MacArthur reminds us of the opening verses of John’s Gospel:

Over and over and over Jesus speaks of His preexistence.  John began his Gospel, “In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God and the Word was God,” the Word meaning Christ Therefore, Christ was there preexistent with God, coexistent with God, self-existent with God eternally.  You cannot ever reduce Jesus to a created being Yes, His body was prepared by God for Him, but as a person He is the eternal Son of God.  He existed everlastingly in the presence of God the Father and God the Holy Spirit He is God of very God That’s why John 1:14 says, “We beheld His glory and it was the same glory as the Father.” 

If you go back to John, chapter 3, there’s a helpful statement our Lord makes in the conversation with Nicodemus He says, “No one has ascended into heaven.  No one has ascended into heaven, but He who descended from heaven,” and who is that?  The Son of Man.

Jesus then exhorted the crowd to believe in Him because they will have eternal life (verse 47).

He repeated that He is the bread of life (verse 48).

He then picked up a point of contention from the crowd, John 6:31-32, included in last week’s reading, that Moses was able to give the Israelites manna for many years, yet Jesus performed only one grand feeding miracle:

6:31 Our ancestors ate the manna in the wilderness; as it is written, ‘He gave them bread from heaven to eat.’”

6:32 Then Jesus said to them, “Very truly, I tell you, it was not Moses who gave you the bread from heaven, but it is my Father who gives you the true bread from heaven.

Jesus made it clear that the manna was not life-giving; Israelites died regardless (verse 49). Therefore, the people should not put too much stock in God-given manna for their physical sustenance.

He said that they should focus on the bread of eternal life that He will provide (verse 50).

Jesus reinforced this further by saying that He is the living bread that came down from heaven, that those who partake of it will have eternal life and, furthermore, that His own flesh is that living bread (verse 51).

Of course, that is a figurative expression, not to be taken literally, as Henry explains:

This is certainly a parable or figurative discourse, wherein the actings of the soul upon things spiritual and divine are represented by bodily actions about things sensible, which made the truths of Christ more intelligible to some, and less so to others, Mark 4:11-12.

However, we also have responsibilities as those called and those who believe, as MacArthur says:

It’s not enough to come and listen It’s not enough to admire to get some kind of information.  You have to eat.  You have to appropriate.  You have to receive MeThat’s our responsibility.

Since we don’t know who God has chosen, we can only know we have all been held accountable to come, see, and believe.  Believe what?  That I am the bread.  He says that over and over, “That I am the bread that came down out of heaven, that I am the bread that came down out of heaven.”  So it starts with believing in the person of Christ, okay?  Believing in His preexistence, His incarnation, God in human flesh, believing in the person of Christ But let me tell you something quickly, believing in the person of Jesus Christ as the living bread is not enough.  Not enough.  Something else.

You not only have to believe in Him as living bread, you have to believe in Him as dying blood What?  Verse 51, “I am the living bread.  I came down out of heaven.  If anyone eats this bread, he will live forever.  And the bread also which I will give for the life of the world is My flesh.”  Now, he’s talking about giving up His life.  Very specific terms

John 6 is one of the most powerful chapters in the Bible. It is well worth reading and rereading.

More on what happened that day will continue in next Sunday’s reading.

The Ninth Sunday after Trinity — Tenth Sunday after Pentecost — is August 1, 2021.

Readings for Year B can be found here.

The Gospel reading is as follows (emphases mine):

John 6:24-35

6:24 So when the crowd saw that neither Jesus nor his disciples were there, they themselves got into the boats and went to Capernaum looking for Jesus.

6:25 When they found him on the other side of the sea, they said to him, “Rabbi, when did you come here?”

6:26 Jesus answered them, “Very truly, I tell you, you are looking for me, not because you saw signs, but because you ate your fill of the loaves.

6:27 Do not work for the food that perishes, but for the food that endures for eternal life, which the Son of Man will give you. For it is on him that God the Father has set his seal.”

6:28 Then they said to him, “What must we do to perform the works of God?”

6:29 Jesus answered them, “This is the work of God, that you believe in him whom he has sent.”

6:30 So they said to him, “What sign are you going to give us then, so that we may see it and believe you? What work are you performing?

6:31 Our ancestors ate the manna in the wilderness; as it is written, ‘He gave them bread from heaven to eat.'”

6:32 Then Jesus said to them, “Very truly, I tell you, it was not Moses who gave you the bread from heaven, but it is my Father who gives you the true bread from heaven.

6:33 For the bread of God is that which comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.”

6:34 They said to him, “Sir, give us this bread always.”

6:35 Jesus said to them, “I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never be hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.

Commentary comes from Matthew Henry and John MacArthur.

We pick up where we left off last week with the Feeding of the Five Thousand.

Over the next few weeks, the Lectionary readings will feature the rest of John 6, one of the most powerful chapters in the New Testament, because we see how many of our Lord’s notional followers rejected Him when He taught about eternal life.

John MacArthur describes them, saying that they had:

carnal enthusiasm for worldly things, they wanted freedom and fulfillment and satisfaction on an earthly level.  The shallow follower has no interest in the eternal, no interest in the heavenly, no interest in the spiritual, no interest in the theological, not interested in matters of sin and righteousness and repentance and holiness and true love of God

There’s no adoring reverence. There’s no holy awe. They come for the external They come for the show They come for the promise, the hope of some temporal fulfillment There’s no real obedience. There’s no longing for the glory and honor of God and the exaltation of Christ. So that’s where we drew it to a close last time.  False disciples are drawn by the crowd, fascinated by the promise of a spiritual experience, desires of earthly satisfaction, and void of any interest in real worship. They’ll watch a show and listen to music, but that’s a far cry from real worship.

On another level, they were pursuing Jesus (verse 24) because they still wanted to make Him their king from the miracle of the loaves and the fishes the previous day.

Matthew Henry’s commentary says:

their hearts being set upon making him a king, they way-laid his return, and the day following, the hot fit of their zeal still continuing

It is not much different from the social justice warrior notions that some Christians have about Jesus. Such people downplay matters spiritual and look for the temporal.

The crowd asked when Jesus arrived in Capernaum (verse 25). They addressed him as ‘rabbi’, or teacher.

Henry explains that they found Him in the synagogue there and that ‘when’ was more ‘how’:

It should seem by John 6:59; John 6:59 that they found him in the synagogue. They knew this was the likeliest place to seek Christ in, for it was his custom to attend public assemblies for religious worship, Luke 4:16. Note, Christ must be sought, and will be found, in the congregations of his people and in the administration of his ordinances; public worship is what Christ chooses to own and grace with his presence and the manifestations of himself. There they found him, and all they had to say to him was, Rabbi, when camest thou hither? They saw he would not be made a king, and therefore say no more of this, but call him Rabbi, their teacher. Their enquiry refers not only to the time, but to the manner, of his conveying himself thither; not only When, but, “How, camest thou thither?” for there was no boat for him to come in. They were curious in asking concerning Christ’s motions, but not solicitous to observe their own.

Jesus reproved them by saying they came only because they had eaten their fill the day before and wanted more (verse 26).

MacArthur says:

In verse 24, “When the crowd saw that Jesus wasn’t there, nor His disciples“, they knew they were in the wrong place Jesus isn’t there. We’re not getting any food.

Jesus went further, telling them that they should not be preoccupied with bodily food but spiritual food for eternal life, which He will provide with the authority — ‘seal’ — that He has from God the Father (verse 27).

Henry tells us:

What authority he has to give it; for him has God the Father sealed, touton gar ho Pater esphragisen, ho Theosfor him the Father has sealed (proved and evidenced) to be God; so some read it; he has declared him to be the Son of God with power. He has sealed him, that is, has given him full authority to deal between God and man, as God’s ambassador to man and man’s intercessor with God, and has proved his commission by miracles. Having given him authority, he has given us assurance of it; having entrusted him with unlimited powers, he has satisfied us with undoubted proofs of them; so that as he might go on with confidence in his undertaking for us, so may we in our resignations to him. God the Father scaled him with the Spirit that rested on him, by the voice from heaven, by the testimony he bore to him in signs and wonders. Divine revelation is perfected in him, in him the vision and prophecy is sealed up (Daniel 9:24), to him all believers seal that he is true (John 3:33; John 3:33), and in him they are all sealed, 2 Corinthians 1:22.

They asked what they needed to do to ‘perform the works of God’ (verse 28).

MacArthur posits that they are not asking about works salvation as much as obtaining the same miraculous power that Jesus has:

I don’t think they’re asking Jesus, “What works do we need to do that we aren’t doing?” although that could be a possibility I think it’s a more remote possibility.  I think in the context and getting into the minds of these people, they are simply saying, “We want the power that You’ve got”

They see His power.  There’s never been anything like it.  And I think what they’re saying is, “We want that power.  We want that power.” 

They’re asking not for information about works they can do to please God That is pretty well cast in concrete in their minds.  They have a system that’s highly developed.  They want Jesus to transfer His ability to them You hear this all the time in the health, wealth environment.  “You are little gods.  You have all divine power.  You can do what Jesus did.  You can create your own world the way you want it.”  They’re not asking what spiritual works, what righteous deeds they can do.  They want power. 

Jesus tells them that the ‘work of God’ for them is to believe that He is the Son of God (verse 29). In other words, they are to have faith that He is the Redeemer.

Henry says:

That faith is the work of God which closes with Christ, and relies upon him. It is to believe on him as one whom God hath sent, as God’s commissioner in the great affair of peace between God and man, and as such to rest upon him, and resign ourselves to him. See ; John 14:1.

Incredibly, they ask Him for a sign, as if their magnificent, perfect, miraculous feast the day before had not been enough of a sign (verse 30).

They go further, however, minimising the Feeding of the Five Thousand. They counter Jesus by saying that Moses gave their ancestors heavenly manna in the desert for many years (verse 31).

Jesus corrects them by saying that Moses did not provide the manna, God did. Furthermore, God will provide the true bread from heaven, meaning Jesus Himself (verse 32). Furthermore, the bread of God which comes down from heaven gives life to the world (verse 33).

Henry has a marvellous discourse on bread from the Bible. As Jesus came to save the Jews first, it is no wonder that He refers to himself as ‘the true bread from heaven’:

Observe, [1.] That Christ is bread is that to the soul which bread is to the body, nourishes and supports the spiritual life (is the staff of it) as bread does the bodily life; it is the staff of life. The doctrines of the gospel concerning Christ—that he is the mediator between God and man, that he is our peace, our righteousness, our Redeemer; by these things do men live. Our bodies could better live without food than our souls without Christ. Bread-corn is bruised (Isaiah 28:28), so was Christ; he was born at Bethlehem, the house of bread, and typified by the show-bread. [2.] That he is the bread of God (John 6:33), divine bread; it is he that is of God (; John 6:46), bread which my Father gives (John 6:32), which he has made to be the food of our souls; the bread of God’s family, his children’s bread. The Levitical sacrifices are called the bread of God (Leviticus 21:21-22), and Christ is the great sacrifice; Christ, in his word and ordinances, the feast upon the sacrifice. [3.] That he is the bread of life (John 6:35, and again, John 6:48), that bread of life, alluding to the tree of life in the midst of the garden of Eden, which was to Adam the seal of that part of the covenant, Do this and live, of which he might eat and live. Christ is the bread of life, for he is the fruit of the tree of life. First, He is the living bread (so he explains himself, ; John 6:51): I am the living bread. Bread is itself a dead thing, and nourishes not but by the help of the faculties of a living body; but Christ is himself living bread, and nourishes by his own power. Manna was a dead thing; if kept but one night, it putrefied and bred worms; but Christ is ever living, everlasting bread, that never moulds, nor waxes old. The doctrine of Christ crucified is now as strengthening and comforting to a believer as ever it was, and his mediation still of as much value and efficacy as ever. Secondly, He gives life unto the world (John 6:33), spiritual and eternal life; the life of the soul in union and communion with God here, and in the vision and fruition of him hereafter; a life that includes in it all happiness. The manna did only reserve and support life, did not preserve and perpetuate life, much less restore it; but Christ gives life to those that were dead in sin. The manna was ordained only for the life of the Israelites, but Christ is given for the life of the world; none are excluded from the benefit of this bread, but such as exclude themselves. Christ came to put life into the minds of men, principles productive of acceptable performances. [4.] That he is the bread which came down from heaven; this is often repeated here; John 6:33, John 6:50-51, John 6:58. This denotes, First, The divinity of Christ’s person. As God, he had a being in heaven, whence he came to take our nature upon him: I came down from heaven, whence we may infer his antiquity, he was in the beginning with God; his ability, for heaven is the firmament of power; and his authority, he came with a divine commission. Secondly, The divine original of all that good which flows to us through him. He comes, not only katabasthat came down (; John 6:51), but katabainoithat comes down; he is descending, denoting a constant communication of light, life, and love, from God to believers through Christ, as the manna descended daily; see Ephesians 1:3. Omnia desuper—All things from above. [5.] That he is that bread of which the manna was a type and figure (John 6:58), that bread, the true bread, John 6:32. As the rock that they drank of was Christ, so was the manna they ate of spiritual bread, ; 1 Corinthians 10:3-4. Manna was given to Israel; so Christ to the spiritual Israel. There was manna enough for them all; so in Christ a fulness of grace for all believers; he that gathers much of this manna will have none to spare when he comes to use it; and he that gathers little, when his grace comes to be perfected in glory, shall find that he has no lack. Manna was to be gathered in the morning; and those that would find Christ must seek him early. Manna was sweet, and, as the author of the Wisdom of Solomon tells us (Wisd. xvi. 20), was agreeable to every palate; and to those that believe Christ is precious. Israel lived upon manna till they came to Canaan; and Christ is our life. There was a memorial of the manna preserved in the ark; so of Christ in the Lord’s supper, as the food of souls.

The multitude asked Him to give them this bread ‘always’ (verse 34). 

That statement sounds as if they understand what they are saying, but MacArthur says that they are trying to make a bargain with Jesus: ‘If you won’t give us the power, at least keep us in temporal bread’:

You won’t give us the power to feed ourselves all the time? Give us the bread all the time We always want the bread.  Here, again, we see the superficiality and the shallowness of false followers, the curious self-centered who continue to tell the Lord what they want and when they want it and how they want it And either they want the power to do it themselves or they want the Lord to deliver.  If they’re going to believe in Him, He’s going to have to operate on their command.

Jesus pressed on with teaching them that He is the bread of life, that whoever comes to Him will never be hungry and that those who believe in Him will never thirst (verse 35).

MacArthur adds a thought to that verse, one that Jesus might well have been thinking:

False disciples do not find their satisfaction in the person of Jesus Christ And this is going to be our subject next Sunday, but let me introduce it to you.  Verse 35, Jesus said to them, “I am the bread of life; he who comes to Me will not hunger, and he who believes in Me will never thirst But I said to you that you have seen Me, and yet do not believe.”

How terrible.

The story continues next Sunday.

The Seventh Sunday after Trinity — Eighth Sunday after Pentecost — is July 18, 2021.

Readings for Year B can be found here.

The Gospel reading is as follows (emphases mine):

Mark 6:30-34, 53-56

6:30 The apostles gathered around Jesus, and told him all that they had done and taught.

6:31 He said to them, “Come away to a deserted place all by yourselves and rest a while.” For many were coming and going, and they had no leisure even to eat.

6:32 And they went away in the boat to a deserted place by themselves.

6:33 Now many saw them going and recognized them, and they hurried there on foot from all the towns and arrived ahead of them.

6:34 As he went ashore, he saw a great crowd; and he had compassion for them, because they were like sheep without a shepherd; and he began to teach them many things.

6:53 When they had crossed over, they came to land at Gennesaret and moored the boat.

6:54 When they got out of the boat, people at once recognized him,

6:55 and rushed about that whole region and began to bring the sick on mats to wherever they heard he was.

6:56 And wherever he went, into villages or cities or farms, they laid the sick in the marketplaces, and begged him that they might touch even the fringe of his cloak; and all who touched it were healed.

Commentary comes from Matthew Henry and John MacArthur.

This reading follows on from last week’s. The Apostles had returned from their tours of ministry, as described in the reading for the Fifth Sunday after Trinity, and told Jesus what they had done and taught (verse 30).

John MacArthur says the Apostles’ brief ministry was ‘a blitz’. Jesus had invested His powers in them, meaning that they could heal people via miracles:

We don’t have specifics about that journey, about the impact, but it was a blitz on that small region of Galilee by men that were known to the Galileans because they were, eleven out of twelve of them, all but Judas Iscariot, were from that very area

This lasted weeks, probably maybe just a few months. They come back. They gather with Jesus. This is reporting time, debriefing.

He tells us where Jesus was in His ministry at this point:

Jesus has been circulating through Galilee now for well over a year, and there are only a few months left in His ministry there.

He’s going to finalize His ministry there. This [the Feeding of the Five Thousand] is kind of the capstone miracle of His work there, at least in the public sense. After this miracle, He will go toward Tyre and Sidon, He will have a ministry there, which is on the northeast coast, and then He will come back across Galilee one more time and begin His journey down through Decapolis, which is east of Galilee, headed toward Judea, spend the last months of His life in Judea, and ultimately in Jerusalem where He will die and rise from the dead and then ascend back into glory.

So we’re coming to the end of His Galilean ministry, and His Galilean ministry has been marked by several trips through that region. We would say that this is the third and sort of final canvassing of Galilee. And remember now, as we came in to chapter 6, Jesus delegated His power, power to conquer disease, death and demons to the twelve, which multiplied Himself twelve times, and told them to go preach repentance in the Kingdom of God the way He had done for all of the months up to that point. He had done it alone, now He spreads the power. They went out, they preached in His name, they healed in His name, they cast out demons in His name, they raised the dead in His name.

By this time, the Apostles would have been exhausted, and Jesus knew that, so He invited them to a deserted place where they could recoup their energy and have something to eat (verse 31).

However, our commentators agree that this respite was not a lengthy one.

Matthew Henry’s commentary says:

He calls them only to rest awhile; they must not expect to rest long, only to get breath, and then to go to work again. There is no remaining rest for the people of God till they come to heaven.

MacArthur says:

The Lord knew this was going to be very brief – very, very brief – in fact, almost nonexistent.

They went away on the boat to a deserted place (verse 32):

The only rest they got was on the boat. They probably were able to eat while they were trudging across the north end of the Sea of Galilee, about four miles if you go from Capernaum to the point on the northeast shore where this village is believed to have been. It was eight miles if you went around by foot. The crowds were aggressive. The crowds were huge. They numbered in the multiples of thousands. Hard to get away from them.

The Apostles and Jesus went near a village called Bethsaida, which is in Luke’s account:

In Luke 9:10, it says He was taking them with Him. He was taking them with Him. He was the leader who was leading them to the place of rest. And then it says, “He took them to a city called Bethsaida” – to a city called Bethsaida. That’s what Luke tells us. Mark doesn’t tell us where they went, but Luke fills that in.

This city is very likely Bethsaida Julias, a fishing village on the northeast shore of the Sea of Galilee. We don’t know exactly the precise location of it. It was a small enough village that it didn’t leave any lasting ruins.

They went near Bethsaida because the village itself could not accommodate the tens of thousands of people who would soon arrive.

Along with Capernaum, Bethsaida is the other place upon which Jesus passed judgement later on:

Now, Bethsaida is an important village in the New Testament because it is the village where Peter and Andrew and Philip and Nathaniel, four of the apostles, the first four called to the Lord – John 1:43 and 44grew up. It was their town. It was where they learned their fishing trade. Everybody in town knew them, and everybody in that little village who knew them perhaps had just recently experienced their return …

There’s little doubt that Jesus Himself had been there. He had literally traversed Galilee twice over the more than a year that He had already ministered there in Galilee.

So that little village had high exposure to the Lord Jesus, but nothing like they were going to have on this day – on this day – because it was near that little village that our Lord arrives on this day, heals many people … and then does this massive miracle. One would expect that whatever the population of that little village, a few hundred, most of that village was there that day and was fed along with the rest of the crowd, as it tells us, who had come from cities and areas all over that part of Galilee. So they had a very intimate experience with the power of Christ.

Now, why is that important? It is important because of the words of our Lord in Luke 10 and also in Matthew 11:21, the same thing. But I’ll have you look at Luke 10. Luke 10:13, our Lord pronounces a judgment on Bethsaida. “Woe to you, Bethsaida.” Damnation, cursing, condemnation, judgment pronounced on you. “Woe” is actually an onomatopoetic word. An onomatopoeia is a word that sounds like its meaning. “Ouai,” that’s the Greek. “Ouai,” that’s a woe to you, Bethsaida, for if the miracles had been performed in Tyre and Sidon which occurred in you, they would have repented long ago, sitting in sackcloth and ashes. It’ll be more tolerable for Tyre and Sidon in the judgment than for you.

However, the crowds spotted Jesus and the Apostles and hurried on foot to arrive ahead of them (verse 33).

When Jesus saw the massive crowd, He had compassion for them, recognising that they were sheep without a shepherd, meaning bereft of spiritual leadership from the Jewish hierarchy, and He began to teach them many things (verse 34).

Essentially, they were helpless, as MacArthur explains:

sheep without a shepherd will die. They can’t feed themselves. They can’t protect themselves. If they get on their backs, they can’t even put themselves back on their feet. Somebody has to clean them. Somebody has to feed them. Somebody has to peck out of their lanolin-filled wool the bugs and the thorns that bother them and irritate them. Someone has to care for them, lead them to a safe place. Someone has to provide the place for them to drink. All of that.

The missing verses include the Feeding of the Five Thousand and Jesus walking on water afterwards in the early hours of the following morning. He calmed adverse winds which prevented the Apostles from reaching their next destination, Genneseret.

They moored the boat at Genneseret (verse 53) and got out, at which point the townspeople recognised Jesus immediately (verse 54).

From Genneseret, Jesus and the Apostles walked to Capernaum, where He lost a lot of His disciples, as John 6 recounts.

MacArthur tells us:

Well, He took the little bit of time it would take, once they moored the boat, to walk to Capernaum, and John tells us He was in the synagogue at Capernaum when He preached the Sermon on the Bread of Life, the sermon they didn’t want to hear and didn’t want to believe. By the way, in that sermon He said something very important. Not only did He say that the Father had given Him some whom He received and would keep and raise, but He said this, verse 51 of that sermon in John 6, “I am the living bread that came down out of heaven. If anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever and the bread also which I will give for the life of the world is my flesh.” And He promised His death. His death.

It was a great sermon. It even incorporated His death. And, of course, it unmasked all the superficial people, and it allowed for the open confession to be repeated again that day, that morning. “To whom shall we go? You and you alone have the words of eternal life. And we believe and know that you are the Son of God.”

The people rushed around the area to bring the sick to Jesus for healing in Capernaum (verse 55). 

Wherever He went, people brought those who were sick to Him and begged to touch the fringe of His cloak (as the woman with the blood issue did); all who touched the fringe were healed (verse 56).

Henry points out that they were more concerned about their bodies than their souls:

We do not find that they were desirous to be taught by him, only to be healed. If ministers could but cure people’s bodily diseases, what multitudes would attend them! But it is sad to think how much more concerned the most of men are about their bodies than about their souls.

MacArthur asks us:

do you want from Jesus what He really comes to bring, and that is eternal life? Do you want Him as the bread of life which upon eating you never hunger? The water of life which upon drinking you never ever thirst?

Jesus did not come to establish a temporal kingdom, to settle social issues or to bring about prosperity. It is no surprise that He lost disciples in Capernaum. One wonders what would happen if He gave that sermon today. Then as now, many would walk away, disillusioned, to die an eternal death.

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