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The Second Sunday after Epiphany is January 16, 2022.

Readings for Year C can be found here.

The Gospel reading is as follows (emphases mine):

John 2:1-11

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Commentary comes from Matthew Henry and John MacArthur.

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

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

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

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

John writes about eight miracles that Jesus performed:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Henry says:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Henry says that Mary and Jesus were the principal guests:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Henry says:

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

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

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

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

MacArthur sees it as a mild rebuke:

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

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

MacArthur says:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

MacArthur explains why He wanted them completely filled:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

May all reading this have a blessed Sunday.

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

The readings for Year C can be found here.

The Gospel reading is as follows (emphases mine):

Luke 3:15-17, 21-22

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

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

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

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

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

Commentary comes from Matthew Henry and John MacArthur.

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

Verse 18, also included in that post, reads:

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

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

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

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

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

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

Matthew Henry’s commentary says:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

May all reading this have a blessed Sunday.

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

The readings for Year C can be found here.

The Gospel is as follows (emphases mine):

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

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

1:2 He was in the beginning with God.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

MacArthur explains:

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

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

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

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

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

Matthew Henry’s commentary says:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Henry explains how excellent and unsurpassed the New Covenant is:

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

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

Henry interprets the verse as follows:

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

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

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

This is the wonder and awe of the Christmas story.

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

Forbidden Bible Verses will appear tomorrow.

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

The readings are the same regardless of Lectionary year.

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

These posts have more detail about the Circumcision:

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

January 1: why Jesus was circumcised (2021)

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

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

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

The Gospel reading is as follows (emphases mine):

Luke 2:15-21

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Commentary comes from Matthew Henry and John MacArthur.

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

The Shepherds and the Angels

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

MacArthur says:

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

Henry elaborates on the scene at the manger:

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

MacArthur shares that perspective of deep, abiding faith:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It is also Boxing Day in the United Kingdom:

Boxing Day – a history

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

St Stephen, the first martyr

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

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

The Gospel is as follows (emphases mine):

Luke 2:41-52

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Commentary comes from Matthew Henry and John MacArthur.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Henry reminds us of His ancestor David in this context:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Neither parent understood what Jesus said (verse 50).

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

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

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

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

MacArthur reminds us:

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

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

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

Henry says this was a gradual process:

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

May all reading this have a blessed Sunday.

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

Readings for Year C can be found here.

The Gospel reading is as follows (emphases mine):

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Commentary comes from Matthew Henry and John MacArthur.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

MacArthur gives us a geographical note:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Elizabeth was probably six months pregnant at this point.

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

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

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

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

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

MacArthur tells us:

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

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

Henry explains:

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

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

Henry says:

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

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

MacArthur explains the prophecy behind it:

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

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

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

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

MacArthur says:

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

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

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

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

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

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

MacArthur tells us that she understood and believed Scripture:

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

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

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

MacArthur gives us the reference:

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

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

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

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

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

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

MacArthur gives us the Old Testament verses:

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

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

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

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

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

Also:

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

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

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

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

Henry explains:

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

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

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

Henry says:

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

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

MacArthur runs us through the possible scenarios:

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

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

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

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

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

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

The First Sunday of Advent is November 28, 2021.

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

The Gospel reading is as follows (emphases mine):

Luke 21:25-36

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Commentary comes from Matthew Henry and John MacArthur.

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

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

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

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

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

John MacArthur says:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

His appearance, MacArthur says, is the final sign:

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

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

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

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

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

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

MacArthur says:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

MacArthur explains:

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

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

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

Henry says:

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

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

Henry says:

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

MacArthur says:

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

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

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

Reign of Christ, or Christ the King, Sunday is November 21, 2021.

Readings for Year B can be found here.

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

John 18:33-37

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

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

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

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

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

Commentary comes from Matthew Henry and John MacArthur.

In the early hours of Friday morning, Pontius Pilate had been conferring with the chief priests just outside of the hall of judgement, or Praetorium. Praetor means governor or procurator. The chief priests did not enter the hall because they considered it Gentile territory, therefore, it was unclean. If they had entered, they would have been defiled and unable to partake of the Passover feast. That belief came about through rabbinical tradition and is not in Scripture.

Pilate then re-entered the hall of judgement, summoned Jesus and asked whether He was the King of the Jews (verse 33).

Both Matthew Henry and John MacArthur say that Pilate’s question was scornful and contemptuous.

Henry says:

… he was far from imagining that really he was so, or making a question of that. Some think Pilate asked this with an air of scorn and contempt: “What! art thou a king, who makest so mean a figure? Art thou the king of the Jews, by whom thou art thus hated and persecuted? Art thou king de jure–of right, while the emperor is only king de facto–in fact?”

MacArthur looks at the Greek text:

In fact, in the original language it’s like this: “You? Are You the King of the Jews, as if – this is absurd, this is ridicule, this is ridiculous. You’re the one everybody’s so worked up about?” He probably remembered back to the original day when He came into the city with all the hail hosannas. “You’re the one? It’s You? You’re no threat.” This is ridicule.

Jesus responded by asking Pilate whether he came up with that question on his own or if others — the Jews — had told him to ask it (verse 34).

MacArthur interprets our Lord’s response:

Jesus answered, “Are you saying this on your own initiative or did others tell you about Me? Is this your charge, Pilate? I’m in your court. Are you actually charging Me with something? Is this your idea that I’m an insurrectionist, that I’m a threat to Caesar, that I’m a revolutionary, that I’m leading an attempt to overthrow Rome? Is this your idea or are you just an errand boy for those Jews?

If Jesus had brought about a temporal kingdom of Israel, the chief priests would have defended Him against Pilate. Henry explains:

If others tell it thee of me, to incense thee against me, thou oughtest to consider who they are, and upon what principles they go, and whether those who represent me as an enemy to Cæsar are not really such themselves, and therefore use this only as a pretence to cover their malice, for, if so, the matter ought to be well weighed by a judge that would do justice.” Nay, if Pilate had been as inquisitive as he ought to have been in this matter, he would have found that the true reason why the chief priests were outrageous against Jesus was because he did not set up a temporal kingdom in opposition to the Roman power; if he would have done this, and would have wrought miracles to bring the Jews out of the Roman bondage, as Moses did to bring them out of the Egyptian, they would have been so far from siding with the Romans against him that they would have made him their king, and have fought under him against the Romans; but, not answering this expectation of theirs, they charged that upon him of which they were themselves most notoriously guilty-disaffection to and design against the present government; and was such an information as this fit to be countenanced?

Pilate feigned ignorance, saying that he himself was not a Jew, that the chief priests handed Jesus over to him; he asked what Jesus had done (verse 36).

It is worth noting that Pilate and the Jews did not get on well. In fact, they had sent a few negative reports back to the emperor in Rome about him. Pilate knew Jesus was innocent but wanted to keep his job.

MacArthur says:

In chapter 19 … verse 12, the Jews said to Pilate, “If you release this man you’re no friend of Caesar. We’re going to tell him again.” Why does Pilate even release Jesus when he knows He’s innocent? Blackmail, blackmail. His previous mistakes and misjudgments made it impossible for him to defy the Jews and keep his job. He lost it anyway in 35 A.D., and historians tell us not long after that he killed himself. I guess he wanted to do the right thing as a judge in one sense, but he had no courage because he killed Jesus to keep his job. That was Pilate.

MacArthur tells us:

Pilate’s answer is, “I’m not a Jew, am I?” verse 35. “Are You kidding? I don’t carry their agenda. Your own nation and the chief priests to me; what have You done?”

Again, the culpability of the leaders of Israel for the execution of Jesus Christ is patently obvious: “I have nothing to do with You; You have nothing to do with me. Rome has nothing to do with You; You have nothing to do with Rome. You’re no threat. This isn’t an issue with Rome. You, You are some kind of a king? I don’t know anything about that, it’s Your own nation and Your own chief priests who delivered You to me. And once again, what have You done?”

There is no crime; he can’t find any; he can’t identify any. This is some kind of Jewish issue that has nothing to do with the military or politics. Pilate knew this for sure, that the Jews would welcome a real king who could gather an army to overthrow Rome; they would welcome that. He also knew that they wanted Jesus dead for envy, jealousy, so he says, “What have You done? There’s no accusation at all.”

Jesus says that His kingdom is not of this world and acknowledges that if it were, the Jews would be fighting to protect Him; He then repeats that His kingdom is not an earthly one (verse 36).

Pilate turns the question of kingship back on Jesus, who replies that it is he who says so; as for Himself, He came to this world to testify to the truth and that everyone who belongs to the truth listens to His voice (verse 37).

MacArthur elaborates on the meaning of that verse:

He came to testify to the truth. What truth? The truth of His kingdom, the truth of His nature, the truth of God, the truth of man, the truth of sin, the truth of salvation, the truth of heaven and hell; gospel truth, saving truth, to tell men the truth about God, about themselves, about life, about death, about eternity, about forgiveness.

The days of guessing are over. The days of half truths and lies, over. He said, “I am the truth.” John says, “If you obey Him, you will know the truth and the truth will set you free.” Free from what? Free from the search for the truth.

He is the truth, and that statement at the end of verse 37 is so important. “Everyone, everyone – ” this is an exclusive statement. “Everyone who is of the truth hears My voice.” There isn’t a person on the planet, and never has been, who knows the truth who rejects Christ. If you reject Christ you do not know the truth. He is the truth.

We live in an era when people’s idea of truth is extremely subjective and erroneous. However, believers can be assured that the truth they know endures forever:

If you’re not hearing the voice of Christ revealed on the pages of Holy Scripture you do not know the truth. I don’t know what you know, but you don’t know the truth. You may know the truth about certain temporal things, but you don’t know the truth that matters, and that’s the truth about eternal things. “Everyone, everyone, everyone who is of the truth hears My voice,” and when you begin to hear His voice, that’s the end of the search, you’ve been set free from the search.

It’s really wonderful to live in a cynical post-modern world where people have decided there is no truth, and to step up and say, “Yeah, there is, and we know the truth, we know the truth.” The truth is the Son of God living in incarnate, the Word of God inspired and inerrant, that’s the truth.

This Sunday closes the Church year.

Next Sunday is the first Sunday of Advent. Readings for Year C will commence as we enter a new Church year.

The other day, I read the comments to an agony aunt column in The Guardian concerning a family issue.

One of the paper’s readers remarked that ‘blood is thicker than water’, which received this response

The original meaning of “Blood is thicker than water” was that a blood bond (where two friends or comrades cut their hands or wrists to mingle their blood together and vow eternal support) was regarded as stronger and of more importance than the accident of birth (the “water” being the amniotic fluid, as in the phrase, “Her waters have broken”).

… followed by this one (emphases mine below):

Incorrect. The phrase is a corruption of the original saying, which is “The blood of the Covenant is thicker than the water of the womb”.

The original saying meant that people’s relationship to each other through their Christian faith was even more important than kinship. Over time, it was shortened to “blood is thicker than water” and the modern meaning is now precisely the opposite of the original meaning.

I learned something new that day.

By His Grace; For His Glory has a thought-provoking devotional on this saying, affirming its religious meaning. Excerpts follow.

One example from the Bible is Luke 8:19-21:

Over the past 8 months of devoted Bible study I have come to terms with the grief I often felt by what I had considered a “lost relationship” in my life. One that should have been much stronger than it is. My lesson from the Lord began in Luke chapter 8.

19 Then Jesus’ mother and brothers came to see him, but they couldn’t get to him because of the crowd. 20 Someone told Jesus, “Your mother and your brothers are standing outside, and they want to see you.” 21 Jesus replied, “My mother and my brothers are all those who hear God’s word and obey it.”

Here I began to understand that the relationship I grieved was not necessarily a void in my life; but rather, God began to show me He has provided the satisfaction and fullness of what that relationship should bring through others that are not of any blood relation.

The author of the devotional gives several other examples from Scripture, one of which is from the Old Testament, involving Jonathan and David in 1 Samuel 20:16-17:

I Samuel 20:16,17, “So Jonathan made (cut) a covenant with the house of David, saying, ‘Let the Lord even require it at the hand of David’s enemies.’ And Jonathan caused David to swear again, because he loved him: for he loved him as he loved his own soul.”

The author then cites an explanation from Pastor Johnie Akers of how the blood covenant ceremony in the ancient world was done:

The expression “blood is thicker than water” may be familiar with us in general terms, but its true meaning, especially in Western culture, is somewhat foreign. An understanding of ancient Eastern covenants brings new light to this obscure phrase. During the ritual of ancient covenant making, the two parties involved would divide an animal in half, and stand together in the blood, with their right hands clasp, and swear a mutual oath binding them to each other. In some cases, each party would cut their respective hands, bind them together with the other party, allowing their blood to mingle. The resulting union of this blood oath was never to be broken. In effect, the two participants in the covenant would become “blood brothers,” and thus become one flesh. The relationship born of this union was so knit, that brothers made through the blood of covenants were closer to each other than brothers who were born from the same womb. Hence, blood (of the covenant) is thicker than water (of the womb).

In the … scripture above, Jonathan and David cut a covenant and become, likewise, blood brothers. This bond lasted until deathChrist, too, makes a blood covenant with his disciples and thereby binding himself to them, and all disciples to follow, with a covenant that exceeds any natural relationship. As ancient covenants go, Christ’s was also “till death us do part.”

The devotional concludes:

Of course we should love and pray for our families. However we must be aware that some boundaries are needed even between family. We can love without enabling, we can care without subjecting ourselves to a situation that brings harm. We can pray for them but one thing we have to remember is that we can not change them! Only God can bring about true change. I’m not saying it’s easy to do but proper relational balance is in order.

So pay close attention to those you spend your time and energy with. If you don’t have a good relationship with the ones you think should be closest to you, don’t count it as a loss. God can still fulfill that desire through others in the family of God.

Wise words, indeed.

The Twenty-fourth Sunday after Trinity — the Twenty-fifth Sunday after Pentecost — is November 14, 2021.

Readings for Year B can be found here.

The Gospel reading is as follows (emphases mine):

Mark 13:1-8

13:1 As he came out of the temple, one of his disciples said to him, “Look, Teacher, what large stones and what large buildings!”

13:2 Then Jesus asked him, “Do you see these great buildings? Not one stone will be left here upon another; all will be thrown down.”

13:3 When he was sitting on the Mount of Olives opposite the temple, Peter, James, John, and Andrew asked him privately,

13:4 “Tell us, when will this be, and what will be the sign that all these things are about to be accomplished?”

13:5 Then Jesus began to say to them, “Beware that no one leads you astray.

13:6 Many will come in my name and say, ‘I am he!’ and they will lead many astray.

13:7 When you hear of wars and rumors of wars, do not be alarmed; this must take place, but the end is still to come.

13:8 For nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom; there will be earthquakes in various places; there will be famines. This is but the beginning of the birthpangs.

Commentary comes from Matthew Henry and John MacArthur.

Last week’s reading was about the venal, money-grubbing hypocrisy of the Jewish hierarchy at the temple.

This week’s reading picks up from that point, with one of the disciples remarking in awe about the temple’s magnificence (verse 1).

Matthew Henry’s commentary remarks on the dichotomy between the greed the disciple had just witnessed and the splendour of what was supposed to be a holy place:

How apt many of Christ’s own disciples are to idolize things that look great, and have been long looked upon as sacred. They had heard Christ complain of those who had made the temple a den of thieves; and yet, when he quitted it, for the wickedness that remained in it, they court him to be as much in love as they were with the stately structure and adorning of it.

Unimpressed with earthly splendour, Jesus prophesied the destruction of the temple (verse 2), which took place in AD 70.

The temple was supposed to be indestructible, yet the Romans, unknowingly accomplishing God’s will, destroyed it. It was a judgement on the Jewish people for having rejected Jesus. With it ended the sacrificial system.

Those two verses complete the prophecy about the temple.

The next six verses — and, when one reads the full chapter, up to and including verse 13 — concern the millennia leading to Christ’s second coming.

John MacArthur summarises these 11 verses:

So, in between the first and second coming, life on this planet will be marked by relentless trouble.

Matthew and Luke’s Gospels also include this discourse from Jesus on the temple and the world.

This discourse, from whatever of the synoptic gospels one chooses, is important to know because it answers the question many agnostics and atheists have: ‘Why does God allow war and natural disasters?’

These terrible things are part of His divine plan. One day, when we are with Him in glory, we will come to understand it.

The disciples and Jesus were on their way back to Bethany for the night. They had been walking from the temple to the Mount of Olives, from which one had a magnificent view of the temple:

In the morning, when you came over the top of the Mount of Olives, you couldn’t even look at the building, because the morning sun reflected off the gold would blind one; in the evening, its glory was only slightly diminished – perhaps the most strikingly beautiful building in the ancient world.

The in-group of Apostles — Peter, James, John and Andrew (verse 3) — asked Jesus when the temple would be destroyed and what sign would there be just before the establishment of the messianic kingdom (verse 4).

MacArthur says:

their question is bigger than the destruction of the temple, because in Matthew 24:3, Matthew records that they asked about the coming of the end of the age; the coming of the end of the age, and the sign of the end of the age – and even the word coming means presence – parousia.

When will there be divine presence, the end of this age – the end of this age, if you will, of apostasy, and the fulfillment of all kingdom promise – how soon will it come? And they’re still asking this question 40 days after the resurrection, because in Acts chapter 1, after 40 days of being instructed by Jesus, they still ask the question, “Will You at this time restore the kingdom to Israel?” They think maybe all it was going to be was 40 days of wars, rumors of wars, nation against nation, kingdom against kingdom, and earthquakes, famines, etc., etc.

Looking beyond the destruction of the temple, Jesus told them to be sure that no one led them astray (verse 5), because many would come in His name and deceive people with false prophecies (verse 6).

MacArthur gave his sermon on these verses in 2011, around the time that Harold Canning was taking the world by storm with his misguided prediction that the world was going to end that year:

If you want a name, stay away from Nostradamus, and the ilk that follow that particular genre. Don’t follow deceivers; there will be many. The latest in the moment in which we live is Harold Camping of Family Radio, who has now established another date for the coming of Christ – he already established one and that was wrong; now he’s at it again. False teachers, false prophets, false Christs will fill up the centuries, and they will make false prophecies about all kinds of things – do not be deceived, do not be misled.

How do you avoid being misled? By staying true to the Scripture. Now, these people who come along who want to convince you, some of them are even going to be so bold as to acknowledge themselves as Christ – verse 6: “Many will come in My name saying, ‘I am He,’ and mislead many.” There will be Christ figures; the bizarre kind – like Charles Manson and the People’s Temple leader, Jones – are simply illustrations of the myriad of these false Christs, these people who claim to be Jesus. They will continue to deceive; they will all have followers who will follow them, in many cases, to death.

Jesus told them not to be worried by wars and rumours of wars, because these must take place, long before the end of the world (verse 7).

MacArthur says:

Our Lord accurately foresaw the world would never know peace, never – never improve morally, never improve socially, never improve spiritually – that it would rather devolve and devolve and devolve into worse and worse condition.

Jesus said that nation would rise against nation but that there would also be earthquakes and famines, all of which are just the beginning of ‘birthpangs’ (verse 8).

MacArthur explains why Jesus used that word. Much worse will befall the world just before He returns again in glory:

It’s the nature of living in a cursed planet; it’s not yet the end. In fact, if you will look at the end of verse 8, it says they’re merely the beginning of birth pangs. That’s an analogy of a woman’s contractions – they are separated, they are mild, and they intensify and intensify and intensify to a great degree just before birth. What we’re seeing in human history is just the beginning, is just the mild contractions; wait till you see what’s going to happen just before the very end.

Two thousand years of these milder contractions will explode in the end

Henry counsels that the Lord will protect His own, provided they are not provoking these events:

The world shall be full of troubles, but be not ye troubled; without are fightings, within are fears, but fear not ye their fear.Note, The disciples of Christ, if it be not their own fault, may enjoy a holy security and serenity of mind, when all about them is in the greatest disorder.

MacArthur summarises the importance of these verses for us:

Let me just add a footnote here – this is another evidence of our Lord’s deity, because the things that He said would be true are, in fact, true. He predicted the destruction of the temple in verses 1 and 2, and it was destroyed in 70 A.D. He predicted that not one stone would be on another, and that’s exactly what happened in 70 A.D. and it’s never been rebuilt. He predicted the nature of life on a corrupt, cursed planet, and everything He said is true; and if you want to get all that He said, you put Matthew and Mark and Luke’s account together, and you get the full picture of what life is like on this planet.

All the things that He said would come to pass, have come to pass, and they are very familiar to all of us. We conclude from that – and this is an important thing to hear – the Bible always perfectly corresponds to reality. When the Bible says something will be a certain way, that is exactly how it will be; it will be what Scripture says it will be, both in general terms as well as in absolutely specific terms. You have a specific event in 70 A.D. that fulfills the words of our Lord and fulfills what the Scripture records.

And you have the very general description of time between the two comings of Christ that we obviously know is the way life really is, and in the future time of tribulation, the very specific things mentioned there concerning the abomination of desolation, and the end of that period, the sign in the sky of the return of Jesus Christ. It’ll all be exactly the way the Scripture says it will be because any examination of history and comparing history with what Scripture says always validates the Scripture.

Next Sunday — Christ the King or Reign of Christ Sunday — is the last in the Church calendar. Advent begins on the Sunday after that and, with it, a new liturgical year.

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