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John F MacArthurThe other Sunday, a group of parishioners who had attended an Anglican diocesan series on church growth spoke after the service.

Oh, dear, I thought. Church growth programmes are so wrong, so very, very wrong.

John MacArthur explains how to get people coming in the doors and get them out again, evangelising. It involves teaching doctrine and the Scripture at every church service.

This excerpt is from a 1973 sermon I cited in my post on Acts 11. MacArthur had been at Grace Church for a little over four years at the time. This is his gimmick-free formula (emphases mine):

For four years, plus, I have endeavored basically to do one thing and that is to teach doctrine. Now we teach through the Bible verse after verse after verse, but really what we’re doing is taking Scripture and framing a doctrine, framing a principle. Doctrine is just principles. And we’ve endeavored for four plus years to build a strong doctrinal base.

I believe in my heart for all the time I’ve been here this has been my goal, my one single desire. And I really think that God in His wonderful providence has blessed His Word here. It’s not me. I’m the first one to know that. It’s the Word of God. But as you teach the Word of God strength is built, doctrine becomes firm and strong. That’s the very basis. The Word is established and my commitment has been to do just that, to spend the time establishing with the Word.

During that same time I feel God has prepared instruments and I prayed this would happen. I prayed that we wouldn’t just have a good theology on paper, but that we’d have a lot of people who had grown up with that theology and who were a part of it, and who lived it, and who would mature, and I prayed that this would happen …

I think the last two months have been one of the most exciting times in my life. I couldn’t begin to remember the names or even count the people who come to me and say, “John, I’ve had enough. I’m full. I’ve learned. I’ve got to get out of here. I’ve got to take it somewhere. What can I do?” You wouldn’t believe how many people have been coming and telling me this. Everyday I hear this.

Sat down last night playing basketball, a guy on the basketball team says to me, “God wants me to go on the mission field. I never dreamed this could even happen. I just feel in my heart I have to go on the mission field. I got to share. I got to get out.” That’s just one in a long chain. A lady came in my office the other day and she says, “Is there a place for me in this church? I just want to serve the Lord Jesus Christ. I want to evangelize women.” I can count on my hand five people I can think of who told me they’ve got to go to the mission field soon. God’s just leading them. God’s calling.

People come to me and say, “I got to start a work of evangelism. I want to do this. Can I work here?” We trust God by the time fall comes around we’re going to have a campus evangelist on almost every high school campus in the Valley, people establishing Bible studies and winning people to Christ and nurturing Christians. We’re going to do the same thing on every college campus and I haven’t generated any of it, haven’t invented a program, haven’t done one single thing, just teaching and praying that God will raise some people up. You know what they do, they knock my door down and finally I just tell them, “Go ahead and do it.” Shows you what kind of an administrator I am. But anyway, that’s the way everything works around here. Just wait till people get excited about it. They’ll do it. Get them praying about it. A guy prays long enough the Lord will shoot him out and that’s the supreme joy for me I’m telling you.

Somebody told me the other day that by next semester we have 24 young men at seminary, Calvin Seminary. You don’t know what a joy that is. That’s reproduction. See that’s reproduction. Those men are going to affect thousands of people in their lifetime. And that’s what I hoped would happen, and I praise God that we’re beginning to see the little murmurings of it beginning to happen. People are coming to me and say I feel God’s calling me to begin a work over here and over there. Will you help support us?

I think our church is going to have to catch a vision, people, because we’ve come to the place now where we’ve got prepared people and they’re going to demand, by the Spirit of God, that we turn them loose on this world, and we’re going to have to be ready to handle it and it’s going to mean sacrifice to do it financially. But oh the dividends are eternal, amen? We got to be ready. It’s coming. Believe you me if I come up here in the next month and tell you there’s ten new staff members. You’d better be ready to handle that. Don’t laugh, it might be. The way God’s working right now I’m just drowning in them. You don’t know what a joy this is.

I think it’s a similar thing right here in this situation in this text. The groundwork was laid and it took seven years. For us it’s been four years of teaching and teaching and teaching and teaching and we’ll keep doing that because there’s new people coming all the time and we’ll just keep flip flopping them over and someone says, “Do you want more people in your church?” I want more people in here for a little while so I can send more people out of here. That’s what I want. I don’t people want to just come here and stay. I want people to come here and leave. Now some of you can stay because we need some of you here to train the people to leave. Don’t everybody go so next Sunday I’m here alone, right? …

Some people have talked to me about beginning pastorates; about outreach on campuses, about adult evangelism mobilizing people for reaching out, all kinds of things. I’m just thrilled and I think we’re seeing a phase like we see here in the 11th Chapter of Acts. As a church, when the groundwork is laid, begins to move out. And you know it’s not something you have to generate. Amazingly the Spirit of God does it. He does it.

So, one of our local Anglican churches is opening a café as part of church growth. Big deal. Our area has half a dozen cafés.

I told a good friend of mine — Anglican, but no longer a churchgoer — about the café. He thought it was absurd to think that it would bring more people to church. I agree.

He said he no longer goes to church because the services have been watered down such that there’s no more mysterium tremendum that takes you out of the world and puts you in God’s presence.

He also complained about the poor preaching.

He said that if the Church of England wants people coming back in droves, they will have to go back to basics regarding the liturgy and the sermons. In short, have more 1662 Book of Common Prayer services and robust preaching that gets one thinking about the state of one’s soul.

In short — my friend’s advice is not far from what John MacArthur advocated in 1973 and continues to advocate today. His Grace Church in California is jam packed every Sunday. His Masters Seminary is also highly successful. His Grace To You Ministries is international. That is because MacArthur is doing what the Apostles did.

Church growth programmes do not work. Return to doctrine and Scripture instead for real, lasting growth in the Spirit.

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John F MacArthurJohn MacArthur has a new book, The Truth War, which he is adapting for a series of blog posts on his GTY — Grace To You — site.

On September 18, 2017, he wrote ‘Modernity to Postmodernity: From Bad to Worse’. It is a good summation of how we got to where we are with our 21st century thinking. Excerpts follow, emphases mine:

Postmodernism in general is marked by a tendency to dismiss the possibility of any sure and settled knowledge of the truth … Objectivity is an illusion. Nothing is certain, and the thoughtful person will never speak with too much conviction about anything. Strong convictions about any point of truth are judged supremely arrogant and hopelessly naive. Everyone is entitled to his own truth.

Postmodernism therefore has no positive agenda to assert anything as true or good. Perhaps you have noticed that only the most heinous crimes are still seen as evil. (Actually, there are many today who are prepared to dispute whether anything is “evil,” so such language is fast disappearing from public discourse.) That is because the notion of evil itself does not fit in the postmodern scheme of things. If we can’t really know anything for certain, how can we judge anything evil?

Therefore postmodernism’s one goal and singular activity is the systematic deconstruction of every other truth claim. The chief tools being employed to accomplish this are relativism, subjectivism, the denial of every dogma, the dissection and annihilation of every clear definition, the relentless questioning of every axiom, the undue exaltation of mystery and paradox, the deliberate exaggeration of every ambiguity, and above all the cultivation of uncertainty about everything.

If you were to challenge me to boil down postmodern thought into its pure essence and identify the gist of it in one single, simple, central characteristic, I would say it is the rejection of every expression of certainty. In the postmodern perspective, certainty is regarded as inherently arrogant, elitist, intolerant, oppressive—and therefore always wrong.

Postmodernism has resulted in a widespread rejection of truth and the enshrinement of skepticism. Postmodernists despise truth claims. They also spurn every attempt to construct a coherent worldview, labeling all comprehensive ideologies and belief systems “metanarratives,” or grand stories. Such “stories,” they say, can’t possibly do justice to everyone’s individual perspective, and therefore they are always inadequate.

Postmodernism’s preference for subjectivity over objectivity makes it inherently relativistic … Instead, truth, if acknowledged at all, becomes something infinitely pliable and ultimately unknowable in any objective sense.

Postmodernism therefore signals a major triumph for relativismthe view that truth is not fixed and objective, but something individually determined by each person’s unique, subjective perception. All this is ultimately a vain attempt to try to eliminate morality and guilt from human life.

And as we’ll see next time, eliminating rational thought is key to those objectives.

It’s a funny thing, postmodernism. A postmodernist will deny Christianity as being subjective or irrational. Yet, that same person will say that it is established science that diet soft drinks are bad for everyone and that climate change science is settled.

Postmodernists pick and choose their ‘truths’, generally alighting firmly on something that needs more research, the way a bluebottle eagerly lands on decaying rubbish to lay its eggs.

MacArthur’s next essay is called ‘Rationality Without the Rationalism’. We all know how atheists pride themselves on being rational, whereas, in their eyes, the Christian is irrational. Similarly, an increasing number of Christians eschew the study of philosophy, which they consider harmful because there is no Scripture involved.

However, MacArthur says:

Rationality (the right use of sanctified reason through sound logic) is never condemned in Scripture. Faith is not irrational. Authentic biblical truth demands that we employ logic and clear, sensible thinking. Truth can always be analyzed and examined and compared under the bright light of other truth, and it does not melt into absurdity. Truth by definition is never self-contradictory or nonsensical. And contrary to popular thinking, it is not rational to insist that coherence is a necessary quality of all truth. Christ is truth incarnate, and He cannot deny himself (2 Timothy 2:13). Self-denying truth is an absolute contradiction in terms. “No lie is of the truth” (1 John 2:21).

Nor is logic a uniquely “Greek” category that is somehow hostile to the Hebrew context of Scripture. (That is a common myth that is often set forth in support of postmodernism’s flirtation with irrationality.) Scripture frequently employs logical devices, such as antithesis, if-then arguments, syllogisms, and propositions. These are all standard logical forms, and Scripture is full of them—Paul’s long string of deductive arguments in 1 Corinthians 15:12–19 being a great example.

MacArthur points out that what postmodernists object to about Holy Scripture and Christianity are propositional statements which are either true or false, with no middle ground:

The reason behind postmodernism’s contempt for propositional truth is not difficult to understand. A proposition is an idea framed as a logical statement that affirms or denies something, and it is expressed in such a way that it must be either true or false. There is no third option between true and false. (This is the “excluded middle” in logic.) The whole point of a proposition is to boil a truth-statement down to such pristine clarity that it must be either affirmed or denied. In other words, propositions are the simplest expressions of truth value used to express the substance of what we believe. Postmodernism, frankly, cannot endure that kind of stark clarity.

In reality, however, postmodernism’s rejection of the propositional form turns out to be totally untenable. It is impossible to discuss truth at all—or even tell a story—without resorting to the use of propositions. Until fairly recently, the validity and necessity of expressing truth in propositional form was considered self-evident by virtually everyone who ever studied logic, semantics, philosophy, or theology. Ironically, to make any cogent argument against the use of propositions, a person would have to employ propositional statements! So every argument against propositions is instantly self-defeating.

That is no doubt why so many established denominations are moving away from centuries-old dogma and doctrine. Whereas the ancient Church thinkers and, later, the Reformers repeated the same biblical truths, these have now become ‘offensive’ to many Christians, hence, the movement towards ‘all are saved’ and ‘Jesus loves you’. Yes, and no. Mankind must submit to God’s will in order to be saved. All mankind seems to do these days is to submit to addiction (including psychotropes) and/or depravity.

Although MacArthur acknowledges that there is more to Christianity than adopting a set of beliefs, we cannot claim to have our hearts and heads allied with the Lord unless we accept certain truths — which are propositional:

While it is quite true that believing the truth entails more than the assent of the human intellect to certain propositions, it is equally true that authentic faith never involves anything less. To reject the propositional content of the gospel is to forfeit saving faith, period.

Postmodernists are uncomfortable with propositions for an obvious reason: They don’t like the clarity and inflexibility required to deal with truth in propositional form. A proposition is the simplest form of any truth claim, and postmodernism’s fundamental starting point is its contempt for all truth claims. The “fuzzy logic” of ideas told in “story” form sounds so much more elastic—even though it really is not. Propositions are necessary building blocks for every means of conveying truth—including stories.

But the attack on propositional expressions of truth is the natural and necessary outworking of postmodernism’s general distrust of logic, distaste for certainty, and dislike for clarity. To maintain the ambiguity and pliability of “truth” necessary for the postmodern perspective, clear and definitive propositions must be discounted as a means of expressing truth. Propositions force us to face facts and either affirm or deny them, and that kind of clarity simply does not play well in a postmodern culture.

Hence the accusations of notional Christian ‘hate’ towards others. Fellow Christians accuse each other of that, too. We see it in the controversy over same-sex marriage in church, the Anglican synod being one example. Those who oppose it were shouted down as being haters or reactionaries. No, they are simply being true to Scripture. It also doesn’t mean they don’t want persons of same-sex persuasion banned from church. What they object to is the church performing misplaced wedding ceremonies.

It seems to me, from what I have seen, that postmodernism has produced a lot of unhappy people. Never before are there so many depressed, angry and violent men, women and children. They react negatively at the drop of a hat — over anything that even politely contradicts their little, individual worldview.

That includes churchgoers.

Clergy aren’t helping the situation by turning sermons into ‘addresses’ and making what should be worship of God into therapy for humankind.

I just reread a recent church bulletin I received. It mentions a new programme on the Bible which will be conducted in ‘a non-confrontational atmosphere’. It is sure to be steeped in postmodernist relativism.

When Christians, through the aid of prayer, open their hearts and minds to the truth of Scripture — all of which condemns man’s base, sinful nature — and see a good explanation of it, they will come to understand the unchanging truth of Jesus Christ and reject postmodernist thought.

That time cannot come too soon.

John F MacArthurIn this final instalment on St Peter‘s spiritual journey, what follows are excerpts from the other two blog posts from John MacArthur on this great Apostle.

My other two in this series, based on MacArthur’s posts, are ‘John MacArthur on Peter’ and ‘John MacArthur on Peter’s leadership qualities’.

MacArthur tells us that Jesus taught Peter a number of lessons, all of which helped his spiritual and apostolic development. He outlined these in ‘Peter: Learning from Life Experience’, excerpts from which follow. Emphases mine below.

Previous entries covered Peter’s denial of Jesus early on Good Friday. However, there were other episodes which were also learning experiences for him. Highs were followed by lows:

… the experiences—even the difficult ones—were all necessary to shape Peter into the man he needed to become.

He learned, for example, that crushing defeat and deep humiliation often follow hard on the heels of our greatest victories. Just after Christ commended him for his great confession in Matthew 16:16 (“You are the Christ, the Son of the living God”), Peter suffered the harshest rebuke ever recorded of a disciple in the New Testament. One moment Christ called Peter blessed, promising him the keys of the kingdom (Matthew 16:17–19). In the next paragraph, Christ addressed Peter as Satan and said, “Get behind me!” (Matthew 16:23)—meaning, “Don’t stand in My way!”

That incident occurred shortly after Peter’s triumphant confession. Jesus announced to the disciples that He was going to Jerusalem, where He would be turned over to the chief priests and scribes and be killed. Upon hearing that, “Peter took Him aside and began to rebuke Him, saying, ‘God forbid it Lord! This shall never happen to You!’” (Matthew 16:22). Peter’s sentiment is perfectly understandable. But he was thinking only from a human standpoint. He did not know the plan of God. Without realizing it, he was trying to dissuade Christ from the very thing He came to earth to do. As usual, he was speaking when he ought to have been listening. Jesus’ words to Peter were as stern as anything He ever spoke to any individual: “He turned and said to Peter, ‘Get behind Me, Satan! You are a stumbling block to Me; for you are not setting your mind on God’s interests, but man’s’” (Matthew 16:23).

Ultimately:

Peter had just learned that God would reveal truth to him and guide his speech as he submitted his mind to the truth. He wasn’t dependent upon a human message. The message he was to proclaim was given to him by God (Matthew 16:17). He would also be given the keys to the kingdom—meaning that his life and message would be the unlocking of the kingdom of God for the salvation of many (Matthew 16:19).

But now, through the painful experience of being rebuked by the Lord, Peter also learned that he was vulnerable to Satan. Satan could fill his mouth just as surely as the Lord could fill it. If Peter minded the things of men rather than the things of God, or if he did not do the will of God, he could be an instrument of the enemy.

He backslid only once — and briefly — but the Apostle Paul sharply corrected him. The incident is in Galatians 2, discussed here.

MacArthur says that, whatever Peter’s experiences with Jesus, he learned to truly be a fisher of men:

Sometimes the experiences were bitter, distressing, humiliating, and painful. Other times they were encouraging, uplifting, and perfectly glorious—such as when Peter saw Christ’s divine brilliance on the Mount of Transfiguration. Either way, Peter made the most of his experiences, gleaning from them lessons that helped make him the great leader he became.

There is one more illustrative exchange between Jesus and Peter, which taught the Apostle about obeying earthly law. MacArthur discusses it in ‘Peter: The Submissive Leader’. It is the story of the temple tax in Matthew 17:

This account comes at a time when Jesus was returning with the twelve to Capernaum, their home base, after a period of itinerant ministry. A tax collector was in town making the rounds to collect the annual two-drachma tax from each person twenty years old or older. This was not a tax paid to Rome, but a tax paid for the upkeep of the temple. It was prescribed in Exodus 30:11–16 (cf. 2 Chronicles 24:9). The tax was equal to two days’ wages, so it was no small amount.

Matthew writes, “Those who collected the two-drachma tax came to Peter and said, ‘Does your teacher not pay the two-drachma tax?’” (Matthew 17:24). Peter assured him that Jesus did pay His taxes.

But this particular tax apparently posed a bit of a problem in Peter’s mind. Was Jesus morally obliged, as the incarnate Son of God, to pay for the upkeep of the temple like any mere man? The sons of earthly kings don’t pay taxes in their fathers’ kingdoms; why should Jesus? Jesus knew what Peter was thinking, so “when he came into the house, Jesus spoke to him first, saying, ‘What do you think, Simon? From whom do the kings of the earth collect customs or poll-tax, from their sons or from strangers?’” (Matthew 17:25).

Peter answered, “From strangers.” Kings don’t tax their own children.

Jesus drew the logical conclusion for Peter: “Then the sons are exempt” (Matthew 17:26). In other words, Jesus had absolute heavenly authority, if He desired, to opt out of the temple tax.

But if He did that, it would send the wrong message as far as earthly authority is concerned. Better to submit, pay the tax, and avoid a situation most people would not understand. So although Jesus was not technically obligated to pay the temple tax, he said, “However, so that we do not offend them, go to the sea and throw in a hook, and take the first fish that comes up; and when you open its mouth, you will find a shekel. Take that and give it to them for you and Me” (Matthew 17:27).

As Christ’s example is the ultimate of all time, from it Peter learned to submit to earthly authority in his own ministry. He also encouraged his converts to do so, too, thereby following Christ’s example:

… in 1 Peter 2:13–18, he would write,

Submit yourselves for the Lord’s sake to every human institution, whether to a king as the one in authority, or to governors as sent by him for the punishment of evildoers and the praise of those who do right. For such is the will of God that by doing right you may silence the ignorance of foolish men. Act as free men, and do not use your freedom as a covering for evil, but use it as bondslaves of God. Honor all people, love the brotherhood, fear God, honor the king. Servants, be submissive to your masters with all respect, not only to those who are good and gentle, but also to those who are unreasonable.

That is a tall order to fulfil, especially when governments are tyrannical and employers unreasonable.

MacArthur reminds us:

Remember, the man who wrote that epistle was the same man who when he was young and brash slashed off the ear of the high priest’s servant. He is the same man who once struggled over the idea of Jesus’ paying taxes. But he learned to submit—not an easy lesson for a natural leader. Peter especially was inclined to be dominant, forceful, aggressive, and resistant to the idea of submission. But Jesus taught him to submit willingly, even when he thought he had a good argument for refusing to submit.

MacArthur’s posts came at a serendipitous time, just as Peter’s great works and miracles are the subject of where I am in Acts (most recently here and here). Peter will be the dominant Apostle for the next few weeks.

Let us remember MacArthur’s words of wisdom as we read more about this great saint in the weeks ahead.

End of series

John F MacArthurLast week, I wrote about two of John MacArthur’s Grace To You blog posts about St Peter.

MacArthur had three more, all from the end of July 2017, which I have just found.

My post today excerpts MacArthur’s entry of July 26, ‘Peter: Raw material for leadership’. Excerpts follow, emphases mine.

So often, we think only of Peter of the Gospels rather than Peter post-Pentecost. As I explained last week, Peter had a powerful, Spirit-driven ministry, which included healing miracles. Yesterday’s post concerned his raising — through the power of Christ Jesus — Dorcas from the dead.

Jesus prepared his friend and Apostle for the future. MacArthur opens his post with this:

Are great leaders born or made? Peter is a strong argument for both. Without the Lord’s discipleship and tutelage, he never would have been more than a fisherman. But true leaders also require certain innate gifts—think of it as the raw material of leadership.

Peter had the God-given fabric of leadership woven into his personality from the beginning. Of course, it was the Lord who fashioned him this way in his mother’s womb (cf. Psalm 139:13–16).

MacArthur details the raw leadership characteristics that made Peter into a great Apostle.

Peter was inquisitive:

Leaders need to have an insatiable curiosity. They need to be people who are hungry to find answers. Knowledge is power. Whoever has the information has the lead. If you want to find a leader, look for someone who is asking the right questions and genuinely looking for answers …

In the gospel accounts, Peter asks more questions than all the other apostles combined. It was usually Peter who asked the Lord to explain His difficult sayings (Matthew 15:15; Luke 12:41). It was Peter who asked how often he needed to forgive (Matthew 18:21). It was Peter who asked what reward the disciples would get for having left everything to follow Jesus (Matthew 19:27). It was Peter who asked about the withered fig tree (Mark 11:21). It was Peter who asked questions of the risen Christ (John 21:20–22). He always wanted to know more, to understand better. And that sort of inquisitiveness is a foundational element of a true leader.

Peter showed initiative:

If a man is wired for leadership, he will have drive, ambition, and energy. A true leader must be the kind of person who makes things happen. He is a starter. Notice that Peter not only asked questions; he was also usually the first one to answer any question posed by Christ. He often charged right in where angels fear to tread.

There was that famous occasion when Jesus asked, “Who do people say that the Son of Man is?” (Matthew 16:13). Several opinions were circulating among the people about that. “And they said, ‘Some say John the Baptist; and others, Elijah; but still others, Jeremiah, or one of the prophets’” (Matthew 16:14). Jesus then asked the disciples in particular, “But who do you say that I am?” (Matthew 16:15, emphasis added). It was at that point that Peter boldly spoke out above the rest: “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God” (Matthew 16:16). The other disciples were still processing the question, like schoolboys afraid to speak up lest they give the wrong answer. Peter was bold and decisive. That’s a vital characteristic of all great leaders. Sometimes he had to take a step back, undo, retract, or be rebuked. But the fact that he was always willing to grab opportunity by the throat marked him as a natural leader.

Of course, Peter made some glaring errors in judgement, such as his attack on the high priest’s servant in the Garden of Gethsemane during Jesus’s arrest:

A typical Roman cohort consisted of six hundred soldiers, so in all likelihood there were hundreds of battle-ready Roman troops in and around the garden that night. Without hesitating, Peter pulled out his sword and took a swing at the head of Malchus, the servant of the high priest. (The high priest and his personal staff would have been in the front of the mob, because he was the dignitary ordering the arrest.) Peter was undoubtedly trying to cut the man’s head off. But Peter was a fisherman, not a swordsman. Malchus ducked, and his ear was severed. So Jesus “touched his ear and healed him” (Luke 22:51). Then He told Peter, “Put your sword back into its place; for all those who take up the sword shall perish by the sword” (Matthew 26:52).

Think about that incident. There was an entire detachment of Roman soldiers there—perhaps numbering in the hundreds. What did Peter think he was going to do? Behead them all, one by one? Sometimes in Peter’s passion for taking the initiative, he overlooked the obvious big-picture realities.

Properly channelled, Peter was able to use his initiative to build the numbers of the early Church:

to do the task Christ had for him, he needed moxie, chutzpa—courage to stand up in Jerusalem on Pentecost and preach the gospel in the face of the same population who had lately executed their own Messiah. But Peter was just the sort of fellow who could be trained to take that kind of courageous initiative.

Peter got involved:

There’s a third element of the raw material that makes a true leader: involvement. True leaders are always in the middle of the action. They do not sit in the background telling everyone else what to do while they live a life of comfort away from the fray. A true leader goes through life with a cloud of dust around him. That is precisely why people follow him. People cannot follow someone who remains distant. The true leader must show the way. He goes before his followers into the battle.

Jesus came to the disciples one night out in the middle of the Sea of Galilee, walking on the water in the midst of a violent storm. Who out of all the disciples jumped out of the boat? Peter. There’s the Lord, he must have thought. I’m here; I’ve got to go where the action is. The other disciples wondered if they were seeing a ghost (Matthew 14:26). But Peter said, “Lord, if it is You, command me to come to You on the water.” Jesus answered, “Come” (Matthew 14:27–28)—and before anyone knew it, Peter was out of the boat, walking on the water. The rest of the disciples were still clinging to their seats, trying to make sure they didn’t fall overboard in the storm. But Peter was out of the boat without giving it a second thought. That is involvement—serious involvement. Only after he left the boat and walked some distance did Peter think about the danger and start to sink.

People often look at that incident and criticize Peter’s lack of faith. But let’s give him credit for having faith to leave that boat in the first place. Before we disparage Peter for the weakness that almost brought him down, we ought to remember where he was when he began to sink.

And, in the early hours of Good Friday, although Peter denied Jesus three times, Peter — and John — followed Jesus to the high priest’s house:

And in the courtyard of the high priest’s house, Peter was the only one close enough for Jesus to turn and look him in the eyes when the rooster crowed (Luke 22:61). Long after the other disciples had forsaken Christ and fled in fear for their lives, Peter was virtually alone in a position where such a temptation could snare him, because despite his fear and weakness, he couldn’t abandon Christ completely. That’s the sign of a true leader. When almost everyone else bailed out, he tried to stay as close to his Lord as he could get. He wasn’t the kind of leader who is content to send messages to the troops from afar. He had a passion to be personally involved, so he is always found close to the heart of the action.

I will post on MacArthur’s other two articles about Peter. I hope these will give all of us a more positive perspective on this great saint who did not hesitate to preach Christ and Christ alone.

John F MacArthurAt the beginning of August 2017, John MacArthur posted a few articles on his Grace To You website about St Peter.

As I have been posting on the Book of Acts and am currently studying more of St Peter‘s ministry, this is serendipitous.

MacArthur says that the post-Pentecost Peter was a very different man from the one in the Gospels.

In ‘Peter: The Servant Leader’, MacArthur says:

Restraint, humility, and servanthood aren’t obvious leadership qualities in the corporate world. Nor are they character traits that readily spring to mind for modern churches focused on growth and vision. But Christ prioritized those three qualities as he cultivated future leaders of the Christian church, most notably Peter.

MacArthur surmises that Peter — before and after he received the Holy Spirit — had the driven personality of a CEO (emphases mine):

Most people with strong leadership abilities don’t naturally excel when it comes to exercising restraint. Self-control, discipline, and moderation aren’t common qualities among those who live life at the head of the pack. That is why so many leaders have problems with anger and out-of-control passions. Anger-management seminars have become the latest fad for CEOs and people in high positions of leadership in American business. It is clear that anger is a common and serious problem among people who rise to such a high level of leadership.

Peter had similar tendencies. Hotheadedness goes naturally with the sort of active, decisive, initiative-taking personality that made him a leader in the first place. Such a man easily grows impatient with people who lack vision or underperform. He can be quickly irritated by those who throw up obstacles to success. Therefore he must learn restraint in order to be a good leader.

Therefore, during His time on Earth:

The Lord more or less put a bit in Peter’s mouth and taught him restraint. That is one of the main reasons Peter bore the brunt of so many rebukes when he spoke too soon or acted too hastily. The Lord was constantly teaching him restraint.

Jesus also taught Peter about humility, especially when the Apostle found that he had denied Him three times, as foretold:

Of course, as usual, Peter was wrong and Jesus was right. Peter did deny Christ not once, but multiple times, just as Jesus had warned. Peter’s shame and disgrace at having dishonored Christ so flagrantly were only magnified by the fact he had boasted so stubbornly about being impervious to such sins!

However, the Spirit-filled Peter went on to become a great preacher and, as we know from Acts, a great healer. Peter also wrote epistles to his flock:

… when Peter wrote his first epistle, he said:

Clothe yourselves with humility toward one another, for “God is opposed to the proud, but gives grace to the humble.” Therefore humble yourselves under the mighty hand of God, that He may exalt you at the proper time. (1 Peter 5:5–6)

He specifically told church leaders, “[Don’t lord] it over those allotted to your charge, but proving to be examples to the flock” (1 Peter 5:3). Humility became one of the virtues that characterized Peter’s life, his message, and his leadership style.

MacArthur goes on to say that Peter learned about servanthood and love from Jesus, particularly during the footwashing at the Last Supper:

Love became one of the hallmarks of his teaching. In 1 Peter 4:8 he wrote, “Above all, keep fervent in your love for one another, because love covers a multitude of sins.” The Greek word translated “fervent” in that verse is ektenes, literally meaning “stretched to the limit.” Peter was urging us to love to the maximum of our capacity. The love he spoke of is not about a feeling. It’s not about how we respond to people who are naturally lovable. It’s about a love that covers and compensates for others’ failures and weaknesses: “Love covers a multitude of sins.” This is the sort of love that washes a brother’s dirty feet. And Peter himself had learned that lesson from Christ’s example.

In ‘Peter: The Compassionate and Courageous Leader’, MacArthur traces the Apostle’s transformation.

In the Gospels:

The apostle Peter was not an obvious candidate for leading the early church. He was impulsive, reckless, and vacillated between chest-beating bravado and cowardly retreat—not exactly the kind of guy you’d want to have responsible for your own well-being.

MacArthur enumerates more lessons that Jesus taught Peter. Returning to the denial in the early morning hours of Good Friday, Peter was remorseful, to say the least:

His ego was deflated. His self-confidence was annihilated. His pride suffered greatly. But his faith never failed.

What was this all about? Jesus was equipping Peter to strengthen the brethren. People with natural leadership abilities often tend to be short on compassion, lousy comforters, and impatient with others. They don’t stop very long to care for the wounded as they pursue their goals. Peter needed to learn compassion through his own ordeal, so that when it was over, he could strengthen others in theirs.

This shows in his epistles:

In 1 Peter 5:8–10, he wrote,

Be of sober spirit, be on the alert. Your adversary, the devil, prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour. But resist him, firm in your faith, knowing that the same experiences of suffering are being accomplished by your brethren who are in the world. After you have suffered for a little while, the God of all grace, who called you to His eternal glory in Christ, will Himself perfect, confirm, strengthen and establish you.

MacArthur says that Jesus also prepared Peter to be courageous in the best sense of the word, because he was going to suffer in his ministry:

Christ told him,

Truly, truly, I say to you, when you were younger, you used to gird yourself and walk wherever you wished; but when you grow old, you will stretch out your hands and someone else will gird you, and bring you where you do not wish to go. (John 21:18)

What did that mean? The apostle John gives a clear answer: “Now this He said, signifying by what kind of death [Peter] would glorify God” (John 21:19).

The price of preaching would be death for Peter. Persecution. Oppression. Trouble. Torture. Ultimately, martyrdom. Peter would need rock-solid courage to persevere.

The first Pentecost transformed Peter dramatically. He was no longer foolhardy but openly resolute in his faith:

Acts 4 describes how Peter and John were brought before the Sanhedrin, the Jewish ruling counsel. They were solemnly instructed “not to speak or teach at all in the name of Jesus” (Acts 4:18).

Peter and John boldly replied, “Whether it is right in the sight of God to give heed to you rather than to God, you be the judge; for we cannot stop speaking about what we have seen and heard” (Acts 4:19–20). Soon they were brought back before the Sanhedrin for continuing to preach. Again they told them the same thing: “We must obey God rather than men” (Acts 5:29). Peter, filled with the Holy Spirit and driven by the knowledge that Christ had risen from the dead, had acquired an unshakable, rock-solid courage.

That divinely-given courageous faith sustained him throughout his ministry:

Peter was secure in Christ, and he knew it. He had seen the risen Christ, so he knew Christ had conquered death. He knew that whatever earthly trials came his way, they were merely temporary. The trials, though often painful and always distasteful, were nothing compared to the hope of eternal glory (cf. Romans 8:18). The genuineness of true faith, he knew, was infinitely more precious than any perishing earthly riches, because his faith would redound to the praise and glory of Christ at His appearing. That hope is what gave Peter such courage.

Peter said and did many wonderful things in the name of our Lord. He also converted thousands of people in Jerusalem alone. These are what I have covered in my study of Acts to date:

Acts 2:33-35 – Peter, Pentecost, Peter’s first sermon, Jesus the Messiah and Lord

Acts 4:22 – Peter, John, the lame man, miracle, healing miracle (includes Acts 3:4-10)

Acts 5:1-6 – Ananias, Peter, lying to the Holy Spirit and God, hypocrisy, sin, deception, death

Acts 5:7-11 – Sapphira, Peter, testing the Holy Spirit, deception, death, sin

Acts 5:12-16 – Signs and wonders, healing miracles, the Apostles, Peter, women

Acts 8:14-25 – Philip, Simon Magus, sorcery, money, divine gifts, God, Holy Spirit, Peter, John

Acts 9:32-35 — Simon, Aeneas, healing miracles, paralysis

Repentance of St Peter, Jose de Ribera, 17th cThere was only one time in his ministry when he briefly backtracked:

In Galatians 2 the apostle Paul relates an incident in which Peter compromised the gospel of grace due to intimidation by influential heretics. We see a brief flash of the old Simon. Paul rebuked Peter in the presence of everyone (Galatians 2:14).

To Peter’s credit, he responded to Paul’s correction. And when the error of the heretics was finally confronted at a full council of church leaders and apostles in Jerusalem, it was Peter who spoke up first in defense of the gospel of divine grace. He introduced the argument that won the day (Acts 15:7–14). He was in effect defending the apostle Paul’s ministry. The whole episode shows how Simon Peter remained teachable, humble, and sensitive to the Holy Spirit’s conviction and correction.

(Image credit: Art Hermitage)

Peter and Paul were martyred together in Rome. This is why they are so often associated together and are both the patron saints of that great city.

MacArthur tells us about Peter’s martyrdom — and that of his wife. She was put to death before he was. He witnessed it. How horrible:

We know that Jesus told Peter he would die as a martyr (John 21:18–19). But Scripture doesn’t record the death of Peter. All the records of early church history indicate that Peter was crucified. Eusebius cites the testimony of Clement, who says that before Peter was crucified he was forced to watch the crucifixion of his own wife. As he watched her being led to her death, Clement says, Peter called to her by name, saying, “Remember the Lord.” When it was Peter’s turn to die, he pleaded to be crucified upside down because he wasn’t worthy to die as his Lord had died. And thus he was nailed to a cross head-downward.

MacArthur concludes:

Peter’s life could be summed up in the final words of his second epistle: “Grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ” (2 Peter 3:18). That is exactly what Simon Peter did, and that is why he became Rock—the great leader of the early church.

It is important to remember the Peter that arose following the first Pentecost. Too many of us — Protestants, in particular — think only of the Peter of the Gospels, but he became a great, Spirit-filled Apostle who lived and died for Christ.

Yesterday’s post introduced Saul — later, Paul — whom Christ brought to the ground and, with that fall, accomplished the most dramatic conversion in Christian history.

That post has much information on Saul’s background. It is important to know, as it helps reveal the man who wrote so many letters to his converts — Epistles which we hear most Sundays — and, other than Jesus, contributed the most to Christian theology.

The painting at left shows what happened as described in Acts 9:1-9.

Yesterday’s post covered Acts 9:1-2. Today’s will cover the next seven verses.

Commentary comes from Matthew Henry and John MacArthur.

I’ve used the English Standard Version below:

Acts 9:1-9

The Conversion of Saul

But Saul, still breathing threats and murder against the disciples of the Lord, went to the high priest and asked him for letters to the synagogues at Damascus, so that if he found any belonging to the Way, men or women, he might bring them bound to Jerusalem. 3 Now as he went on his way, he approached Damascus, and suddenly a light from heaven shone around him. And falling to the ground, he heard a voice saying to him, “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?” And he said, “Who are you, Lord?” And he said, “I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting. But rise and enter the city, and you will be told what you are to do.” 7 The men who were traveling with him stood speechless, hearing the voice but seeing no one. Saul rose from the ground, and although his eyes were opened, he saw nothing. So they led him by the hand and brought him into Damascus. And for three days he was without sight, and neither ate nor drank.

Saul, journeying from Jerusalem to the ancient city of Damascus to round up Christian converts, probably travelled there with a retinue of men. All were likely to be on horseback, as it was a long journey.

Yesterday’s post explained that Saul was on a religious mission that he devised himself. He asked the high priest for letters to the synagogues in Damascus to reveal their Christian members. The temple in Jerusalem had jurisdiction over all Jews, wherever they might be. The temple was like the Vatican, all powerful in matters religious. Christians were to be brought back to Jerusalem for trial on grounds of heresy, akin to the Spanish Inquisition.

John MacArthur describes the journey as follows (emphases mine below):

he probably had really a large entourage of people going along with him to bring these prisoners back. So this whole gang is going north.

And what’s a fantastic note is this. Just think about this. To go north to Damascus, 160 miles, he’s got to go right through Samaria. Now … you know what’s going on in Samaria. And if he was irritated already, you can imagine how irritated he was by the time he got through Samaria, because who had just finished going through Samaria? Philip, who was immediately followed by Peter and John. The gospel was preached all over Samaria. People were turning to Jesus Christ by the thousands. A revival was going on in Samaria. That must have really irritated him.

I wrote about Philip the Evangelist’s powerful ministry, as documented in Acts 8, here, here and here. Acts 8 ends with Philip’s conversion of the Ethiopian eunuch, a man well placed in Queen Candace’s household.

MacArthur continues:

But he didn’t seem to stop at any point. He made his way through, infuriated, no doubt, at what he saw, but intent on getting to Damascus, and figuring he’d mop this area up later. It normally took a caravan six days to get there, so it was a pretty good trip. Well, on that sixth day, as they got near town, something fantastic happened, and that, in verse 3, begins the conversion of Saul of Tarsus.

For such a long trip, the men were securely and comfortably saddled. That is important to keep in mind.

Matthew Henry gives us a bit of history about Damascus and its significance in Saul’s conversion:

Some observe that he who was to be the apostle of the Gentiles was converted to the faith of Christ in a Gentile country. Damascus had been infamous for persecuting God’s people formerlythey threshed Gilead with threshing instruments of iron (Amos 1:3), and now it was likely to be so again.

Also important to keep in mind is that Saul was a well educated man, a knowledgeable and rational thinker. Although short in stature — his Roman name Paul meant ‘little’ — he was probably physically powerful, very determined and rarely frightened.

As they approached Damascus, then, a shaft of light from heaven shone around him (verse 3). It shone only on him, although the men around him, particularly those nearest him, saw it, too, although it did not envelop them. Henry explains:

… the Lord Jesus was in this light, and appeared to him by the way. He saw that just One (Acts 22:14), and see Acts 26:13. Whether he saw him at a distance, as Stephen saw him, in the heavens, or nearer in the air, is not certain. It is not inconsistent with what is said of the heavens receiving Christ till the end of time (Acts 3:21) to suppose that he did, upon such an extraordinary occasion as this, make a personal visit, but a very short one, to this lower world; it was necessary to Paul’s being an apostle that he should see the Lord, and so he did, 1 Corinthians 9:1,15:8. (1.) This light shone upon him suddenly–exaiphnes, when Paul never thought of any such thing, and without any previous warning

Also:

It was a light from Heaven, the fountain of light, from the God of heaven, the Father of lights. It was a light above the brightness of the sun (Acts 26:13), for it was visible at mid-day, and outshone the sun in his meridian strength and lustre, Isaiah 24:23. (3.) It shone round about him, not in his face only, but on every side of him; let him turn which way he will, he finds himself surrounded with the discoveries of it. And this was designed not only to startle him, and awaken his attention (for well may he expect to hear when he is thus made to see something very extraordinary), but to signify the enlightening of his understanding with the knowledge of Christ. The devil comes to the soul in darkness; by this he gets and keeps possession of it. But Christ comes to the soul in light, for he is himself the light of the world, bright and glorious to us, as light.

Paul — prepared, determined, fearless and, likely, secure in his saddle — fell to the ground. However, the Lord saw that he broke no bones. Henry describes the scene:

It is probable that he was mounted, as Balaam, when he went to curse Israel, and perhaps better mounted than he; for Saul was now in a public post, was in haste, and the journey was long, so that it is not likely he should travel on foot. The sudden light would frighten the beast he rode on, and make it throw him; and it was God’s good providence that his body got no hurt by the fall: but angels had a particular charge concerning him, to keep all his bones, so that not one of them was broken. It appears (Acts 26:14) that all that were with him fell to the earth as well as he, but the design was upon him.

MacArthur reminds us of what happened in the Garden of Gethsemane, hours before His death:

if you read further, in chapter 22 and chapter 26, you’ll find that those two chapters also record this same event, and they fill in a lot of details. What happened was, the light shone and the whole crowd hit the ground. They just completely fell over. They were face to face with Jesus Christ. They did the same thing, you remember, the soldiers in the Garden? Jesus walked out, and the whole army went just like that. And they all hit the ground. Apparently, as you put the narratives together, some of the soldiers started picking themselves back up again, and they were dumb with amazement. They couldn’t figure out what was going on.

Saul heard Christ’s voice from heaven asking why he was persecuting Him. Up to now, Saul no doubt knew about Jesus’s ministry on earth but, for him, the story stopped with the Crucifixion. Saul considered Jesus’s followers heretics.

However, being surrounded by a ray of light brighter than the noonday sun, which, in that part of the world is startlingly bright, Saul’s recognition of Jesus came instantly.

Now, the all-powerful Saul was prostrate on the ground, lying defeated, immediately addressing Christ as ‘Lord’ (verse 5)!

What a moment that must have been.

Henry offers this analysis:

This may be considered, (1.) As the effect of Christ’s appearing to him, and of the light which shone round about him. Note, Christ’s manifestations of himself to poor souls are humbling; they lay them very low, in mean thoughts of themselves, and a humble submission to the will of God … (2.) As a step towards this intended advancement. He is designed not only to be a Christian, but to be a minister, an apostle, a great apostle, and therefore he must thus be cast down. Note, Those whom Christ designs for the greatest honours are commonly first laid low. Those who are designed to excel in knowledge and grace are commonly laid low first, in a sense of their own ignorance and sinfulness. Those whom God will employ are first struck with a sense of their unworthiness to be employed.

That unworthiness is a continual theme in Paul’s letters to his flock. For that reason, he was vigilant in exhorting others to see their own sinfulness and repent.

Note that Jesus told him that, by persecuting His followers, Saul was persecuting Him (verse 5). That was emphasised in the previous verse when He used Saul’s name twice. MacArthur explains that the double use of a name in Luke’s Gospel and here in Acts, also by Luke, denotes a warning:

… in Luke’s writing, the repetition of a name refers to a rebuke or a warning, whether Luke says, “Martha, Martha,” “Simon, Simon,” or “Jerusalem, Jerusalem,” and here, “Saul, Saul.” In Luke’s mind, that’s rebuke and warning. And it was.

Henry’s assessment agrees but further posits that Saul was so stunned that Jesus had to call him twice:

First, The deep sleep that Saul was in; he needed to be called again and again, as Jeremiah 22:29, O earth, earth, earth. Secondly, The tender concern that the blessed Jesus had for him, and for his recovery. He speaks as one in earnest; it is like Martha, Martha (Luke 10:41), or Simon, Simon (Luke 22:31), or O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, Matthew 23:37. He speaks to him as to one in imminent danger, at the pit’s brink, and just ready to drop in: “Saul, Saul, dost thou know whither thou art going, or what thou art doing?”

As for Christ’s asking Paul why he was persecuting Him via His followers, Henry explains:

Christ never complained so much of those who persecuted him in his own person as he did here of those who persecuted him in his followers. He complains of it as it was Saul’s sin: “Why art thou such an enemy to thyself, to thy God?” Note, The sins of sinners are a very grievous burden to the Lord Jesus. He is grieved for them (Mark 3:5), he is pressed under them, Amos 2:13.

It was more powerful for Jesus, in His infinite wisdom, to ask than to tell:

Those have no knowledge who eat up God’s people, Psalms 14:4. Why persecutest thou me? He thought he was persecuting only a company of poor, weak, silly people, that were an offence and eye-sore to the Pharisees, little imagining that is was one in heaven that he was all this while insulting; for surely, if he had known, he would not have persecuted the Lord of glory. Note, Those who persecute the saints persecute Christ himself, and he takes what is done against them as done against himself, and accordingly will be the judgment in the great day, Matthew 25:45.

Henry says we would do well to remember this story in light of our own sins:

It is convincing language: “Why dost thou thus: Canst thou give any good reason for it?” Note, It is good for us often to ask ourselves why we do so and so, that we may discern what an unreasonable thing sin is

If God contend with us for our sins, we are not able to answer for one of a thousand, especially such a one as the sin of persecution. Convictions of sin, when they are set home with power upon the conscience, will silence all excuses and self-justifications.

Jesus told Saul to enter Damascus and to await further instructions (verse 6).

Although he was still on the ground, Saul’s travelling companions were now standing, startled. They could hear Christ’s voice but could see no one (verse 7). Henry tells us that Acts 22 describes this further:

… when they were up, (1.) They stood speechless, as men in confusion, and that was all, Acts 9:7. They were going on the same wicked errand that Paul was, and perhaps, to the best of their power, were as spiteful as he; yet we do not find that any of them were converted, though they saw the light, and were struck down and struck dumb by it. No external means will of themselves work a change in the soul, without the Spirit and grace of God, which distinguish between some and others; among these that journeyed together, one is taken, and the others left. They stood speechless; none of them said, Who art thou, Lord? or, What wilt thou have me to do? as Paul did, but none of God’s children are born dumb. (2.) They heard a voice, but saw no man; they heard Paul speak, but saw not him to whom he spoke, nor heard distinctly what was said to him: which reconciles it with what is said of this matter, Acts 22:9, where it is said, They saw the light and were afraid (which they might do and yet see no man in the light, as Paul did), and that they heard not the voice of him that spoke to Paul, so as to understand what he said, though they did hear a confused noise.

Saul rose, but he was blinded (verse 8) — blinded by the Light. He was now helpless. His men had to lead him by the hand into Damascus. He, who was to lead a sweeping mission against Christians and Christ, could not do a thing.

Henry describes Saul’s condition at that point. A divine plan was at work:

(1.) He arose from the earth, when Christ commanded him, but probably not without help, the vision had made him so faint and weak, I will not say like Belshazzar, when the joints of his loins were loosed and his knees smote one against another, but like Daniel, when upon the sight of a vision no strength remained in him, Daniel 10:16,17. (2.) When his eyes were opened, he found that his sight was gone, and he saw no man, none of the men that were with him, and began now to be busy about him. It was not so much this glaring light that, by dazzling his eyes, had dimmed them–Nimium sensibile lædit sensum; for then those with him would have lost their sight too; but it was a sight of Christ, whom the rest saw not, that had this effect upon him. Thus a believing sight of the glory of God in the face of Christ dazzles the eyes to all things here below.

This is essential to understanding Saul’s loss of sight and why Saul remained not only blind but also unable to take any food or drink for three days (verse 9):

Christ, in order to the further discovery of himself and his gospel to Paul, took him off from the sight of other things, which he must look off, that he may look unto Jesus, and to him only

So far from this that we have reason to think he was all this time rather in the belly of hell, suffering God’s terrors for his sins, which were now set in order before him: he was in the dark concerning his own spiritual state, and was so wounded in spirit for sin that he could relish neither meat nor drink.

We find out that they went to the house of a man named Judas in the street called Straight, nothing more. The important thing is that Saul was reduced to nothing for three days. In Damascus, he planned to persecute many — and violently. Now he was in spiritual lockdown — a spiritual prison — to ruminate on and repent of his sins in order to fully acknowledge Jesus Christ as Lord.

The number three is significant in Holy Scripture. Bible Study tells us, in part:

The number 3 is used 467 times in the Bible. It pictures completeness, though to a lesser degree than 7. The meaning of this number derives from the fact that it is the first of four spiritually perfect numerals (the others being 7, 10 and 12)

There are 27 books in the New Testament, which is 3x3x3, or completeness to the third power.

Dr Richard D Patterson has much more, with a list of all the occurrences of the number 3, except for Saul’s conversion story. That said, his detailed essay is well worth reading, especially as his general theme for the number 3 is one of not only completion but also expectation of a future event.

In this case, that event is Paul’s magnificent ministry, unequalled in the Church.

In closing, MacArthur gives in his sermon a few interesting details about his own conversion. You might find these events from his youth as surprising as I did:

Some people God gently calls. And some people hear the still, small voice. But there are other people who are making so much noise that God’s got to make a lot of racket to get through, see. You know, I think about my own life, and the years and years that I was in a Christian home, and went to church so many years, and all this stuff. And I was in…I knew everything. I had seven zipper Bibles from the graduation from every department, and, you know, and I always had sticker stains on my head from turkeys and gold stars. I’d been in Sunday School since the year one. And I knew all of the things there were to know, and God continually spoke to my heart, and I continued to rebel in my own heart about really committing my life to Him.

And so, finally, going 75 miles an hour, a car flipped, He threw me out, I hit the pavement, slid 100 yards on my…and after it was all over, God could communicate. I said, “You know, I can only go so far, Lord. If you’re going to do it like this, I can’t fight it.” But it was one of those kind of things in my life where God had to get dramatic

If you’re a sinner here and you die and go to hell, it won’t be because you lied. I’ve lied, and I’m not going to hell. It won’t be because you stole something. I stole something. Even got put in the Glendale City Jail. But I’m not going to hell. If you go to hell, it won’t be because you went out and got drunk, because you took drugs. I’ve never done that. I’ve done a lot of other things. If you go to hell, it’ll be because you didn’t acknowledge Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord. That’s the only reason.

The next part of this series concludes with what happened next to Saul in Damascus.

jesus-christ-the-king-blogsigncomHappy Easter! He is risen!

I hope that all of us enjoy this feast day, the most important in the Church year.

I have many past posts on Easter:

Easter: the greatest feast in the Church year

Easter Sunday: Thoughts on this greatest of days

Happy Easter — He is risen!

The significance of Easter to the Church (various questions answered)

Psalm 118, Christ’s Passion and Eastertide

Easter poems from an inspired Anglican, the Revd George Herbert

Part I of a Martin Luther Easter sermon: the story of Christ’s Resurrection

Part II of a Martin Luther Easter sermon: the fruits and benefits of Christ’s Resurrection

Holy Week and Easter — the two-part story

The road to Emmaus — a great Easter story

Epistle for Easter in Year C — Acts 10:34-43 (2016)

The Easter story: reflections on Mark 16:1-8 (Dr Gregory Jackson, Lutheran)

Judge Andrew Napolitano on the meaning of Easter (great, especially from a layman)

Easter documentaries — when knowing the Bible helps — part 1

Easter documentaries — when knowing the Bible helps — part 2

Easter, the egg and the hare (one of the fullest accounts about Easter symbolism)

Mary Magdalene and the legend of the egg (Christian — not pagan!)

Many of us have lingering questions about Easter, myself included, and this is probably because we are not that well acquainted with all the Gospel accounts of the time between Jesus’s death and the Resurrection.

Today’s post provides excerpts from two of John MacArthur’s sermons on the subject: ‘The Amazing Burial of Jesus, Part 1’ and ‘The Resurrection of Jesus Christ, Part 1’.

Subheads and emphases mine below.

Summary

Anyone knowledgeable about the Christian faith is aware of the significance of the cross, where our sins were borne by the Lord Jesus Christ to free us from the penalty and guilt of sin. Just as significant is the resurrection of Jesus Christ–the single greatest miracle the world will ever know. It demonstrates Christ’s finished work of redemption and reminds us that His power over death will bring us to glory.

Why Jesus died within a few hours

Interestingly, there was discussion on some of my Holy Week posts this year about the rapidity of Jesus’s death on the cross.

MacArthur explains:

Jesus was nailed to the cross at nine in the morning, but most victims lingered much longer on the cross, some for many days. No one took His life from Him; He voluntarily gave it up (John 10:17-18). Pontius Pilate, the Roman governor who ordered His execution, was astounded when He heard Christ was dead so soon (Mark 15:44).

Also significant is that the day He died was a Friday, meaning that Sabbath started at sunset that day:

It was imperative that Christ be dead early enough in the day so He could be put in the grave some time on Friday. That day had to be included as one of the three days He would be in the earth (the others being Saturday and Sunday).

John 19:31-33 states that the Jewish leaders were concerned about Jesus and the two criminals remaining on the cross before a Passover Sabbath. They would have to die and be removed beforehand. The quickest way of ensuring death was to have their legs broken:

31 Since it was the day of Preparation, and so that the bodies would not remain on the cross on the Sabbath (for that Sabbath was a high day), the Jews asked Pilate that their legs might be broken and that they might be taken away. 32 So the soldiers came and broke the legs of the first, and of the other who had been crucified with him. 33 But when they came to Jesus and saw that he was already dead, they did not break his legs.

MacArthur says:

They derived this particular rule from Deuteronomy 21:22-23, which says, “If a man have committed a sin worthy of death, and he be put to death, and thou hang him on a tree, his body shall not remain all night upon the tree, but thou shalt surely bury him that day (for he who is hanged is accursed by God), that thy land be not defiled.” Apparently they didn’t always follow that regulation since historians tell us that bodies were often left on crosses for days. But on this Passover they made sure to perform this particular injunction to the limit.

John 19:34:37 says:

34 But one of the soldiers pierced his side with a spear, and at once there came out blood and water. 35 He who saw it has borne witness—his testimony is true, and he knows that he is telling the truth—that you also may believe. 36 For these things took place that the Scripture might be fulfilled: “Not one of his bones will be broken.” 37 And again another Scripture says, “They will look on him whom they have pierced.”

Why did the soldiers pierce the crucified?

the soldiers would give the victim what Jewish scholar Alfred Edersheim termed the “coup de grace” (lit., “the stroke of mercy”)–the death stroke (The Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah, 2 vols. [Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1953], 2:613). A soldier would ram his spear into the victim’s heart … One proposal is that the pain of his shattered legs would traumatize the victim so that the spear thrust would be somewhat of a relief … The general idea behind the spear thrust and the leg breaking was to cause the victim to die immediately. 

Onee prophecy fulfilled, mentioned in John 19:36, is in Psalm 34:20:

He keeps all his bones;
    not one of them is broken.

Another prophecy fulfilled, regarding the piercing in John 19:37, is in Zechariah 12:10:

10 “And I will pour out on the house of David and the inhabitants of Jerusalem a spirit of grace and pleas for mercy, so that, when they look on me, on him whom they have pierced, they shall mourn for him, as one mourns for an only child, and weep bitterly over him, as one weeps over a firstborn.

There were other prophecies fulfilled that day:

Verse 34 tells us that blood and water came out of Christ’s pierced side–a sign of death. That’s a fulfillment of a prophecy from Psalm 69–a psalm that contains prophecies of the crucifixion scene, such as verse 21: “They gave me also gaul for my food, and in my thirst they gave me vinegar to drink.” Verse 20 says, “Reproach hath broken my heart.” Under the intense weight of all the sins of everyone who ever lived or will live, it is not inconceivable that a human heart could rupture. Thus another prophecy was fulfilled.

The importance of Jesus’s burial

The burial of Jesus as told in Matthew 27:57-66 is:

a marvelous account of God’s intervention into every detail in the life of Christ. We see God’s testimony unfold through Joseph of Arimathea (vv. 57-60), the two Marys (v. 61), and the chief priests and Pharisees (vv. 62-66). They play important roles in the burial of Jesus, validating the truthfulness of Christ’s claim to be the Son of God.

Joseph of Arimathea — prophecies fulfilled

jesus-laid-in-a-tomb-f5462516571Joseph of Arimathea’s actions played a significant role in fulfilling two prophecies regarding Jesus:

57 When it was evening, there came a rich man from Arimathea, named Joseph, who also was a disciple of Jesus. 58 He went to Pilate and asked for the body of Jesus. Then Pilate ordered it to be given to him. 59 And Joseph took the body and wrapped it in a clean linen shroud 60 and laid it in his own new tomb, which he had cut in the rock. And he rolled a great stone to the entrance of the tomb and went away. 

MacArthur tells us:

The entire chapter of Isaiah 53 is devoted to the death of Christ. It says He was despised and rejected, truly a man of sorrows (v. 3). He bore our griefs and carried our sorrows (v. 4). He was wounded for our transgressions and bruised for our iniquities (v. 5). He was taken from prison into judgment (v. 8). Verse 9 says, “His grave was assigned to be with wicked men, yet [He was] with a rich man in his death” (NASB). That unusual prophecy would be difficult to understand apart from the scenario of Christ’s burial. He was supposed to have been buried with criminals, but instead was buried in a rich man’s tomb.

Then, there were Jesus’s words regarding Jonah (Matthew 12:40):

Jesus said, “Just as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of the sea monster, so shall the Son of Man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth” (NASB). Jesus predicted that there would be three days between His death and resurrection–that He would be in the earth for three days.

Therefore:

God used Joseph of Arimathea to fulfill those prophecies, and thus provide testimony to the deity of Christ.

MacArthur says:

I don’t know what caused Joseph of Arimathea to publicly manifest himself as a follower of Jesus Christ. Perhaps it was the earthquake, the darkness, the graves opening, and the veil of the Temple ripping from top to bottom (Matt. 27:45, 51-54). Perhaps it was simply his love for Jesus and the agony he felt watching Him endure pain and suffering on the cross. One thing we can be sure of: God worked on his heart to bring to pass the fulfillment of prophecy.

The three days

How can we be sure there were three days between His burial and Resurrection? This is a recurring question, one which is sometimes hotly debated.

MacArthur explains:

Some people have difficulty reconciling what Jesus said in Matthew 12:40 about the length of His stay in the grave: “As Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of the great fish, so shall the Son of man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth.” Does that mean Jesus had to be in the earth three full days and nights? No. Many commentators take that view and back the crucifixion to Thursday, so the three days and nights are Thursday, Friday, and Saturday, with His rising on Sunday. The obvious problem with that view is that we are left with a fourth- day resurrection. Yet all the passages in Scripture dealing with this issue indicate He was to rise on the third day. That eliminates the need for interpreting Matthew 12:40 as referring to three 24-hour periods. The phrase “three days and three nights” was simply an idiom of the Jewish people referring to a three-day period.

For example, if you were to say, “I’m going to San Diego for three days,” does that mean you’ll be there for three 24-hour periods? Not necessarily. It could mean you’ll be there for a few hours one day, all day the next day, and a few hours the third day. That is how Scripture refers to Christ’s burial.

In Luke 24:21 the disciples traveling the road to Emmaus were bemoaning the death of Christ, saying, “We hoped that it had been he who should have redeemed Israel; and, besides all this, today [Sunday] is the third day since these things were done.” They understood that the Lord’s prophecy of His resurrection wasn’t going to take place after three 24-hour periods, but on the third day, which from Friday would be Sunday. After all, Jesus said He would “be killed, and be raised again the third day” (Matt. 16:21). Matthew 17:23 repeats, “They shall kill him, and the third day he shall be raised again.” The chronological, historical references to the death of Christ indicate a third-day resurrection, not one following three 24-hour periods. When Jesus referred to three days and three nights, we can conclude He was referring to a part of three 24-hour periods. Rabbi Eleazar ben Azariah (who lived around A.D. 100) said, “A day and night are an Onah [a portion of time] and the portion of an Onah is as the whole of it (Jerusalem Talmud, Shabbath ix.3; cf. Babylonian Talmud Pesahim 4a).

The two Marys

Matthew 27:61 says:

Mary Magdalene and the other Mary were there, sitting opposite the tomb.

MacArthur tells us:

Mary Magdalene came from Magdala, a village on the west coast of the Sea of Galilee. The other Mary was the mother of James and Joseph (v. 56). John 19:25 calls her the wife of Clopas, or Alphaeus. (Matthew 10:3 refers to James as the son of Alphaeus to differentiate him from James the son of Zebedee.) She was one of the ladies who followed Him from Galilee to attend to His physical needs by providing food and sustenance. Other ladies had been present during the crucifixion and burial, but they apparently left with Joseph and Nicodemus (v. 60). Only these two women remained.

These two ladies also went to Jesus’s tomb on the third day (Matthew 28:1):

Now after the Sabbath, toward the dawn of the first day of the week, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary went to see the tomb.

They went to the tomb because they loved Jesus that much, but also, MacArthur says:

perhaps hoping against hope that what He said might come to pass.

The earthquake — the third day

The two Marys approached the tomb at dawn of the third day, when an earthquake took place and an angel appeared, whose appearance was ‘like lightning’ (Matthew 28:2-7). The words ‘and behold’ are a call to pay close attention:

And behold, there was a great earthquake, for an angel of the Lord descended from heaven and came and rolled back the stone and sat on it. 3 His appearance was like lightning, and his clothing white as snow. And for fear of him the guards trembled and became like dead men. But the angel said to the women, “Do not be afraid, for I know that you seek Jesus who was crucified. He is not here, for he has risen, as he said. Come, see the place where he[a] lay. Then go quickly and tell his disciples that he has risen from the dead, and behold, he is going before you to Galilee; there you will see him. See, I have told you.” So they departed quickly from the tomb with fear and great joy, and ran to tell his disciples.

MacArthur breaks this down for us:

Now this is the second earthquake in three days. There was an earthquake when Christ died, you remember, that split the rocks wide open and opened graves and dead people came alive among the saints. So this is the second earthquake. And God again is moving and God is demonstrating in a physiological way His activity. It’s not new for God. You can look to the past. For example, back in Exodus 19:18 at the giving of the law, 1 Kings chapter 19 verse 11, God came in an earthquake. You can look into the future and you read about it in Joel 2:10 that the time of the coming of the Lord there will be an earthquake. Revelation 6, Revelation 8, Revelation 11 describe that kind of thing. Jesus Himself even referred to it in the great Olivet Discourse, Matthew 24:7, about the earthquake that’s going to be coming or earthquakes attendant with His return. So when God begins to move in the world, the world shakes.

And here these women are approaching…they haven’t yet come to the garden. Instantly there is an earthquake. The epicenter of the earthquake is at the tomb. And the seismic radiation waves rumble through the ground beyond the grave and no doubt rock the land on which the women walk. They feel the earthquake not knowing what has happened.

Now what caused the earthquake? I suppose most people have just sort of concluded, “Well, the resurrection of Christ,” but that’s not the right answer. The resurrection didn’t cause the earthquake. Matthew tells us what caused the earthquake. “There was a great earthquake for or because an angel of the Lord descended from heaven.” When this angel hit the garden it created seismic waves. The word for “earthquake” is the root word seismos from which we get seismograph. And when the angel hit the land it sent out an earthquake. And these women not even knowing what was going on felt the movement of the earth, no doubt, as they approached the tomb. But the earthquake was not caused by the resurrection of Christ, it was caused by the arrival of an angel to open the tomb. Nothing, by the way, says that he let Jesus out of the tomb. That is a fallacy.

Have you ever seen a picture of an angel and a stone rolled back and Jesus coming out? That isn’t right. I mean, Jesus did not have the power to raise Himself from the dead and then wait in there until somebody moved the stone so He could get out. No one actually saw the resurrection. The women experienced the seismic ramifications of that event of the angel coming and the phenomena around the resurrection. The resurrection occurred in an invisible way, no one was in there to see it. Christ came out of that grave.

Put it this way very simply. The angel did not move the stone to let the Lord out. The angel moved the stone to let the women in so they could see that He was already gone.

You say, “Well, how could He get out of there?” Well the same way John 20:26 says the disciples were meeting on the eighth day and Jesus was in their midst, the door being shut. The same way He came through the wall into the upper room is the same way He went out of the rock of the grave which we shouldn’t imagine as any problem for one in His glorified form. So no one saw the resurrection. The angel came not to let the Lord out but to let the women in and to let the apostles in and to let us in and to let the whole world in to see that He wasn’t there.

Faith on display

The faith of the Marys was stronger than that of the disciples.

MacArthur says:

God honored their faith by allowing them to give testimony to what they saw. However feeble their faith may have been, it certainly was stronger than that of the disciples.

Remember, too, that the men were reluctant to believe the women:

The truth is that the disciples were reluctant to believe what the women said (Luke 24:6-12). Thomas was reluctant to believe when he heard from the other disciples who had seen their risen Lord (John 20:24-25). So God gave us first-hand witnesses to spread the word of the resurrection. Through eyewitness testimony and fulfilled prophecy in the burial of Christ, God was at work vindicating Jesus Christ as His Son.

What they saw

The Gospel accounts differ slightly in who went to the tomb and on the number of angels or men there.

Matthew 28 says only the two Marys went and that there was one angel. Only Matthew mentions the earthquake.

Mark 16 says that Salome (not Herod’s stepdaughter, by the way) accompanied the Marys. Mark says there was a ‘young man’ dressed in a white robe sitting inside the tomb.

Luke 24 names the two Marys, says there were two men present in dazzling apparel and records that Peter went to the tomb later.

John 20 records that only Mary Magdalene went and that Peter and an unnamed disciple went to the tomb after she met them. John himself was ‘the other disciple, the one whom Jesus loved’. John mentions two angels later (verse 12) who appeared to Mary Magdalene after Peter and John left the tomb.

Regardless, MacArthur looks at Matthew’s and John’s accounts and describes what they saw.

In Matthew 28:

… there were the linen wrappings undisturbed the way they had been wrapped around His body. And the head napkin in a separate place. There was no turmoil, no big hurry to unwrap Him and throw everything on the floor and get out of there. It was just the way it had been when His body was in it only He was gone.

And then the angel came after He left to move the stone so the world could come in and see that He was gone and sat there as the heavenly witness to what had happened. What a scene.

 I can’t imagine for a moment what that must have been like.

In John 20:

I believe this is the proper point to harmonize John’s special interest in Mary Magdalene. Mary was to the women what Peter was to the Apostles. She was impetuous. What happens here is fascinating. The women come into the garden and I think this is the best place to insert this, although we can’t be dogmatic, it seems to me to fit so perfectly here. When Mary comes in all she sees with her rather myopic viewpoint is this whole and the stone is gone. And she doesn’t take note of this angel. And seeing that the stone is moved and the grave is empty is enough for her.

John tells us her reaction. Let’s look at John chapter 20. “The first day of the week comes Mary,” and then he notes, “[She] started out when it was yet dark unto the sepulcher and sees the stone taken away from the sepulcher.” Now apparently that’s all she saw. She missed the angel. She saw just that the stone was removed. And then verse 2, “Then…without a delay…she ran.” She took off. “And she went right to the two most prominent apostles, she went to Simon Peter and to the other disciple whom Jesus loved,” which is John’s term used to describe himself and the fact that it’s to Peter and to the other disciple probably indicates they were in two different homes during this Passover time. We can’t be certain. But anyway, she ran to Peter and John to tell them.

And what did she tell them? “They have taken away the Lord out of the grave and we know not where they’ve laid Him.” They’ve taken Him…they? I don’t know who they are. She didn’t know who they are…somebody. “Peter therefore went forth and so did John and they came to the grave.” Verse 4 says they ran and John outran Peter and arrived first.

MacArthur returns to Matthew 28 to tie these two accounts together:

So as we come to the women then in the confrontation with the angel, Mary Magdalene is apparently gone. She’s bolted to tell Peter and John that the body had been stolen. The other ladies stayed and they have the wonderful experience of an encounter with an angel.

As I mentioned earlier, John 20 records that, after Peter and John returned home from the tomb, Mary Magdalene stayed behind. Not only did she see two angels, but, even better, she also saw Jesus. What an indescribable moment that must have been:

11 But Mary stood weeping outside the tomb, and as she wept she stooped to look into the tomb. 12 And she saw two angels in white, sitting where the body of Jesus had lain, one at the head and one at the feet. 13 They said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping?” She said to them, “They have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid him.” 14 Having said this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing, but she did not know that it was Jesus. 15 Jesus said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping? Whom are you seeking?” Supposing him to be the gardener, she said to him, “Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have laid him, and I will take him away.” 16 Jesus said to her, “Mary.” She turned and said to him in Aramaic,[b] “Rabboni!” (which means Teacher). 17 Jesus said to her, “Do not cling to me, for I have not yet ascended to the Father; but go to my brothers and say to them, ‘I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.’” 18 Mary Magdalene went and announced to the disciples, “I have seen the Lord”—and that he had said these things to her.

MacArthur describes the angel in Matthew 28:

The angel is described for us in verse 3. “His countenance…or his face…was like lightning.” Now that’s a pretty graphic description, isn’t it? Like lightning flashing, brilliant, blazing. This, no doubt, to transmit the effulgence or the essence, the deity, the brilliance of the character of God. This is the glow of God. This is the Shekinah somehow transmitted from God to that angel, as it was on one occasion from God to Moses and shown on his face, do you remember that in the book of Exodus? This angel, this one representative of God, this messenger from God possessed the very character of deity. And it emanated from his glowing face. Also it says his raiment or garment was white as snow and this is emblematic of purity, holiness, of virtue.

So here is a holy angel…the holy angel sent from God bearing the very imprimatur of the character of God, an angel representative of deity, a created being who represents the uncreated cause of all beings, God Himself, this holy angel. This to distinguish him from some man, this to distinguish him from some demon, this to identify him as the agent of God, this beautiful, glorious, glowing, pure, holy being sitting on the stone as living witness to the risen Christ…God’s own assigned witness.

The angel’s presence frightened the guards in the extreme (Matthew 28:4):

And for fear of him the guards trembled and became like dead men.

MacArthur explains:

They went into temporary coma. They were knocked literally unconscious out of terror. Fear will do that. Fear will cause people to be paralyzed to the point where they go unconscious and that’s precisely what happened. They were knocked cold out of fear. They were victims of divine power. They had seen something they had never seen or thought of or ever been able to comprehend and they were not now able to comprehend it.

The women were afraid, too, but because they loved Jesus, they listened to the angel.

‘He has risen’

Jesus Light of the World 616Matthew 28:6 states that the angel said:

He is not here, for he has risen, as he said. Come, see the place where he[a] lay.

Luke 24:6-7:

He is not here, but has risen. Remember how he told you, while he was still in Galilee, 7 that the Son of Man must be delivered into the hands of sinful men and be crucified and on the third day rise.”

Mark 16:6:

And he said to them, “Do not be alarmed. You seek Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. He has risen; he is not here. See the place where they laid him.

MacArthur’s version of the Bible has ‘He was raised’. This indicates:

that He was raised by the power of the Father. Over and over again it says that in Scripture…Romans 6:4, Galatians 1:1, 1 Peter 1:3, a couple of those I mentioned to you. He was raised by the power of the Father. It also says, doesn’t it, in John 10:18, “I have power to lay My life down and I have power to…what?…take it up again.” So He was raised not only by the Father but He was raised by His own power. And then in Romans 8:11 it says He was raised by the power of the Spirit. “It is the Spirit of Him that raised up Jesus from the dead.” So the whole trinity is involved in the resurrection of Jesus Christ. And the angel gives this incredible announcement, “He’s not here He was raised.” The point is He’s alive.

And then I love this, “He was raised,” it says, “as He said.” Isn’t that great? I mean, He just jolts them with the memory that this is exactly what He said He would do on the third day, just like He said. And by the way, Luke 24:8 says, “And they remembered His words.” So, that’s what He meant…so that’s what He was saying.

What a day of drama and glory!

Truly, Jesus Christ is the Son of God.

Being there for the Lord

JesusChristIt amazes students of the Bible that the Apostles, who spent three years day in and day out with Jesus, were not the first to arrive at the tomb on the third day.

It was the women who were there. And they were blessed by the presence of an angel or angels. Mary Magdalene was further blessed by the presence of Jesus.

MacArthur says we can draw a lasting lesson from being faithful to and present for the Lord:

You know what that says to me? I don’t want to extrapolate too much on this but it’s nice if you’re there when the Lord does wonderful things. There’s a great spiritual truth in that somewhere and that is that the closer you stay to the Lord and what He’s doing, the more you’re going to enjoy what He’s doing. I don’t know about you but I’d rather be there and experience it than hear it from somebody else, wouldn’t you? I praise God for people who are there. I mean they’re there when the Lord is working. They’re there when His people gather together. They’re there when His Word is taught. They’re there when it’s time to come to your knees before Him. They’re there when it’s time to call on His power in ministry. And they’re the ones that experience first hand the moving of the power of God. No, they saw it because they were there.

I trust that you will be the kind of person like those women. What you may lack in faith you make up for in devotion, what you may lack in understanding you make up for in loyalty. And God will confirm your weakness and turn it into strength because you’re faithful enough and loyal enough to be where He is and where He’s moving and where He’s working.

Amen.

Once again, happy Easter, everyone. I hope we have a beautiful day, rain or shine, as we reflect on the Resurrection of our Lord and Saviour, Jesus Christ our Lord.

CranachWeimarAltarCyberbrethren

The painting above is by the Renaissance artists Lucas Cranach the Elder and Lucas Cranach the Younger, father and son. Lucas Cranach the Younger finished the painting in 1555. It is the centre altar painting in Sts Peter and Paul (Lutheran) Church in Weimar, Germany. Read more about it:

Meditations on the Cross

I have a variety of posts on Good Friday. The following three concern Martin Luther’s view of the Crucifixion:

Martin Luther’s ‘How to Contemplate Christ’s Sufferings’: the false views

Martin Luther’s ‘How to Contemplate Christ’s Sufferings’: the true views

Martin Luther’s ‘How to Contemplate Christ’s Sufferings’: the comfort

The next set of posts present a number of perspectives on the Crucifixion:

Reflections on the Crucifixion

Good Friday: in whom can we trust? (John 18:12-27)

Holy Week and Easter — the two-part story

The greatest reality show ends with a popular vote

Barabbas: an inspiration for liberation theology?

John MacArthur’s sermon on Matthew 27  — ‘The Wickedness of the Crucifixion, Part 2’ — is one of the most comprehensive expositories on the events that we contemplate on Good Friday.

Excerpts and a summary follow. Subheads and emphases are mine.

Society at that time

MacArthur cites a theologian, David Thomas, who described the social atmosphere of Jesus’s time as pure evil:

So, as we go through the passage in Matthew that describes the crucifixion, we see just unrelenting evil. David Thomas wrote, “For thousands of years wickedness had been growing. It had wrought deeds of impiety and crime that had rung the ages with agony and often roused the justice of the universe to roll her fiery thunderbolts of retribution through the world. But now it had grown to full maturity. It stands around the cross in such gigantic proportions as had never been seen before. It works an enormity before which the mightiest of its past exploits dwindle into insignificance and pale into dimness. Wickedness crucifies the Lord of life and glory,” end quote.

The Gospels record Jesus speaking of wickedness not only of the religious leaders but that generation as a whole. The disciples also experienced wickedness in their ministries.

Politically, the Jews looked for their Messiah to deliver them from the Romans and to make their land and their people into a mighty kingdom. As my aforementioned post on Barabbas explains, a small group of radical Jews banded together as the Zealots with the objective of throwing off the Roman yoke through violence and theft.

How people saw Jesus

The people directly involved with Jesus’s condemnation, scourging, mocking and death did not know who He was, even when they thought they did.

The crowd yelling for Barabbas to be freed thought that Jesus could not be their Messiah because he was not fighting the Romans.

MacArthur divides these people into four groups:

Let’s call them the ignorant wicked, the knowing wicked, the fickle wicked and the religious wicked. And I want to suggest to you that every person in the world who does not come to faith in Jesus Christ, every Christ‑rejecting person fits into these groups. They are constant. They were there at the cross. They’re around today. And everybody fits somewhere in these four groups.

The soldiers — the ignorant wicked

We saw that the callous soldiers basically were Roman Legionnaires stationed in Caesarea, no doubt, with Pilate. They didn’t really have first‑hand information about Jesus. They were not very well apprised of who He was. They may have had a very limited smattering of information. They basically are ignorant. To them Jesus is another criminal and a somewhat deranged one at that. There seems to be no legitimate criminal act that He has done. He seems to be more a maniac who thinks Himself to be a king but by who any … by any definition they know of a king is not a king at all. They no doubt think Him to be somewhat deficient intellectually and mentally and through all the tortures that they bring upon. Him, He never says a word which probably confirms their suspicion.

Pontius Pilate — the ignorant wicked

He has already stated on several occasions that Jesus is innocent. He has given the findings of the court when he said, “I find no fault in this man.” He really doesn’t want to execute a man he knows to be innocent. His wife has warned him against that and his own conscience has done the same. But he is being blackmailed into a corner by the Jews and he thinks maybe he can satiate their thirst for blood by showing Jesus to be such a foolish, foolish looking person that they will understand Him to be little threat to Rome or to Israel. And so he brings Jesus out and says, “Behold the man.” And the scream the more for His blood and say if you don’t kill Him we’ll report you to Caesar. And trapped for the fear of the loss of his position, he indicates that Jesus is to be crucified. And so it is determined.

The two robbers — the knowing wicked

They knew something of the claims of Jesus. They knew something about it as is evidenced by the future record of what they say. We find that in verse 44. “The lesti, the robbers also who were crucified with Him,” and the Authorized says, “cast the same in His teeth.” Actually, what the text says is “heaped insults at Him.” They heaped the same insults at Him. The same insults they were hearing from the Jewish leaders who were saying, “If You’re the king of Israel, come down. You say You trust in God, let God deliver You. You said You were the Son of God,” so forth. So they knew some of the claims of Jesus.

They were familiar because they were a part of the Jewish society with perhaps the work of Jesus Christ, may have been familiar with His person, may on occasion have heard Him in a crowd. We don’t know that. But obviously they knew something about Him, something more than the Roman legionnaires would have known who had nothing to do with life in that part of the world …

… these crass materialistic bandits, for them life revolves around possessions, materialism, loot. They have not thought about righteousness, truth, justice, honor, godliness. They have no concern for morality. They have no concern for Messiahs and kingdoms; they’re just out for the loot.

However, Luke recorded that one of the thieves did believe at the eleventh hour and that he rebuked the other (Luke 23:39-43):

39 One of the criminals who were hanged railed at him,[d] saying, “Are you not the Christ? Save yourself and us!” 40 But the other rebuked him, saying, “Do you not fear God, since you are under the same sentence of condemnation? 41 And we indeed justly, for we are receiving the due reward of our deeds; but this man has done nothing wrong.” 42 And he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” 43 And he said to him, “Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in paradise.”

The crowd — the fickle wicked

The people who joyously acclaimed Jesus on Palm Sunday were the same who wanted Him to die. They preferred Barabbas.

It was bad enough that they sentenced Jesus to death by shouting for the release of Barabbas (Luke 23:13-25), but, as He agonised on the cross, they walked by to taunt Him (Matthew 27:39-40).

They had a place for Jesus, they wanted His miracles, they wanted His signs and wonders, they listened to His teaching. The crowd was fascinated by Jesus, to some extent. And they knew full well who He claimed to be and they knew there was a demonstration of the veracity of those claims …

Jesus didn’t fulfill their expectation. In fact, when Jesus rode in, they thought He would attack the Romans. He came back into town and attacked the Jews by wiping out the temple buying and selling. And that was not in His favor. They thought He ought to attack Rome, not them. And now how could this be the Messiah? All week long and He’s done nothing. He’s been here all week and now look at Him, He’s hanging on a cross, put there by the Romans. He is a victim. This is not our Messiah

Because they assumed the Messiah would come in a military triumph over Rome and all the other nations. It all was coming to pieces and they had forgotten their hallelujahs and hosannas and now in their disappointment over Jesus’ failure to give them what they wanted when they wanted it, they had turned against Him and were blaspheming His name. So fickle.

The Jewish leaders — the religious wicked

The wors[t] group is yet to come in verses 41 to 43, the religious wicked. They are illustrated to us by the canting, and that word basically means insincere and hypocritical, the canting leaders, insincere, hypocritical, the lowest level of blasphemers, religious hypocrites who parade their pi[e]ty, who want to appear to represent God and know the truth and be pure and godly and virtuous and represent the Word of God. And the truth of it is they’re filled with hate and vilification toward the very Christ of God Himself.

In verse 41 we meet them. It wasn’t just a fickle crowd, likewise also the chief priests. All those various orders of priests that operated within the temple ministries were mocking Him along with the scribes who were the authorities on the law and the elders who were suppose to be the revered and renowned men of maturity and wisdom in the land. They constitute the Sanhedrin, the ruling body of Israel.

So, all of these leaders who are supposedly the religious elite, who suppose … are supposed to know everything there is to know about the truth of God and the Word of God and the mind of God and the heart of God, who pretend to love God and revere His Word and hold up His name. They come along and what did they say? And notice, please, that the crowd talked to Jesus, the leaders don’t talk to Christ. They hate Him. He is so despised by them they will not talk to Him, they only talk about Him. So they talk to each other about Him.

Verse 42, “He saved others.” And they mean by that His healing ministry, His deliverance from demons. “He did it for others, Himself He cannot save.” They never denied ever in the New Testament the miracles of Jesus, never. It was impossible to do that. There, is never an indication that the religious leaders of Israel denied His miracles. They said they were by Satan done, by Satan accomplished, but they never denied them. They said He does what He does by the power of Beelzebub, but they never denied them.

And now, to see Jesus hanging on the cross unable to come down, will affirm in their minds that indeed He did have power but it was Satan’s power. So when we put Him on the cross, we can be sure He’ll stay there because God is on our side. Look, the fact that He is there shows that His power is not as great as ours. His is Satan’s, ours is God. God’s with us.

They’re mocking His power. If He is the king of Israel, let Him now come down from the cross and we’ll believe Him, if He has such sovereignty and such authority and such power, let us see it now. They put in the word “now,” right now. They were forever and always asking for a sign. The truth of the matter is even if He had come down from the cross, they wouldn’t have believed, their hearts were so evil.

The horror of Jesus’s suffering

MacArthur describes in detail how horrifically Jesus suffered that day for our sins — the sins of the whole world, believers and unbelievers alike.

One thing is made abundantly clear throughout the pages of Holy Scripture and that is that man is wicked, that he is sinful. And given over to his own devices unrestrained will perpetrate crimes beyond imagination. Now the wickedness of man is no more clearly seen, nor does it reach a higher apex than it does in the execution of Jesus Christ. The crucifixion of the Savior is the greatest expression of human evil in history, the epitome of demonstration of the depth and comprehensiveness of the sinfulness of human nature

Yes, the crucifixion was the greatest act of love on the part of God and that seems to be John’s focus and even more the emphasis of Mark and Luke, but it was also the greatest expression of human evil which seems to be Matthew’s particular interest under the direction of the Spirit as he writes

wickedness is not content just to execute Jesus Christ. It must torment Him also in the process. It must taunt Him in the process. It must heap on Him all imaginable evil. It cannot just kill Him, it must slap Him and punch Him and stab Him and spit on Him and defame Him and blaspheme Him and keep that up all the time He is dying. Inconceivable. But such is the cruelty of the human heart when fully exposed.

… according to Isaiah 53:4, He carried our griefs and He carried and bore our sorrows and in addition to that His own sorrow in being alienated and separated from His Father. So He not only suffered more than any man has suffered, but He suffered more than all men together have ever suffered.

During His earthly life, Jesus suffered for us temporally through poverty and self-denial. He also suffered spiritually by temptation from Satan. As if those were not bad enough, He suffered continual rejection by His own people. On the day He was crucified, He also suffered His father’s wrath because of mankind’s wickedness:

God then had to pour out all of heaven’s fury against all of earth’s sin and it all came on Jesus Christ. So He suffered the unmitigated wrath of God.

The scourging

MacArthur described how the aforementioned soldiers scourged Jesus:

they’ve tied His wrists to a post, His feet suspended from the ground, His body taut and they have taken leather thongs attached to a piece of wood and in the end of the leather thongs are bits of stone and bone and metal and they have lashed Him until His flesh is ripped off and His internal organs are laid bare and exposed and blood rushes from out of His body.

If you have seen Mel Gibson’s The Passion of the Christ, you saw exactly that. (MacArthur had not written from Gibson’s perspective, because he wrote his sermon in 1985. The film came out in 2004.) I was quite disgusted with every other Christian I know in the offline world, none of whom liked the film because it was too gory and violent: ‘It never would have happened like that!’ NO! It did happen like that — for our sake!

The mocking

They have then clothed Him again. They brought Him back into Pilate’s hall and they start a little game under the watchful supervision of Pilate. And that little game is to make Jesus to appear as a king. And you’ll notice what happens in verse 28. They stripped Him. They took off His own robe which had been placed over His open wounds and they put on Him a scarlet robe, that’s the heavy outer robe Rome…worn by a Roman soldier. No doubt causing excruciating pain to those open wounds, a mock royal robe. And then they braided a crown of thorns and put it around His head. Put a reed in His right hand representative of a crown and a scepter. They bowed their knees before Him and mocked Him saying, “Hail, king of the Jews.” And as they rose from the ground they spit in His face. Then they took the reed out of His hand in a mocking gesture of snatching away His pitiful sovereignty and smashed Him in the head with His own scepter. In John 19:3 it says they kept on punching Him. He is a fool. He is a clown. He’s a buffoon. He is an object of mockery. This one who claims to be a king, what a farce, what a joke, how ridiculous. And the soldiers with joy and glee trained in the art of killing and maiming people enjoy to the very fullest their leisure expression on Jesus Christ at His expense.

By the way, this is the second time He has been punched and spit on. The Jewish leaders did it back in chapter 26 verses 67 and 68. There they spit on Him because He claimed to be a prophet. Here they spit on Him because He claimed to be a king. Little did they know the King that He was and long will they know it in hell in eternity. Little did they know that indeed He was a King and indeed He will wear a robe and a blood‑spattered robe at that. In Revelation chapter 19 and verse 13 it shows Jesus Christ coming in Second Coming glory out of heaven and He is indeed wearing a robe of royalty and it is a robe spotted with blood but it is not, at that time, His own blood but rather the blood of His enemies. And indeed some day He will wear a royal crown. It will be far different from this crown, not a stephanos, not a crown made of some earthly thing but a diadema, a diadem, a royal regal crown. Yes, Revelation 19:12 says He will wear many crowns for He will not only have His own but He will wear the crown that once belonged to every other sovereign in the world for He alone will be King.

And some day He will wield a scepter and it will be no reed, it will be according to Revelation 19:15, a rod of iron with which He will bring instant judgment on the unbelieving world

The blows from the reed which was heavy enough to cause a painful blow to the head are added and more bumps and bruises appear. His body is dripping with blood, oozing from His pores. A lack of sleep, the anguish of sin has contorted and twisted His face so that He is hardly recognizable as human, let alone as Jesus of Nazareth. And He is thought to be nothing more than a fool.

The way of the cross

They put back on His own garment. And they lead Him away to crucify Him. As they leave the city in verse 32, they conscript a man by the name of Cyrus … of Simon who is from Cyrene. And this man, as we saw last time, is to carry the cross of Christ. They then, verse 33, come to a place called Golgotha, meaning skull place named for the shape of the hill. They give Him vinegar to drink, actually wine, oinos in the better texts. They give Him wine to drink and mingled with bitter herbs. That’s a general term. Mark tells us the bitter herbs were in fact myrrh. And myrrh would act like a sedative. This was provided by Jerusalem women. There was an association of women who provided this for people who were to be crucified as an expression of the fulfillment of Proverbs 31 where it says that strong drink is for those who face death. These women did it out of kindness. The soldiers appreciated it not because they wanted to show kindness, but because it was easier to crucify a drugged victim. So it accommodated them as well.

He tasted it and wouldn’t drink it because He wanted to go to the cross with all of His senses acute and alert

The crucifixion

I’m so amazed at the fact that the crucifixion itself is passed over with such brevity. In fact, as I told you, in the Greek text it actually says the having crucified Him on[ce] parted His garments. It almost throws away the crucifixion in the original text. And we really don’t have anything given to us about the details of it so we need to kind of fill in just for a moment. The cross would be lying on the ground, the victim would be placed down on the cross and first His feet would be extended, His toes pulled down and then a large nail would be driven through the arch of one foot and then the arch of another foot. And then His hands would be extended allowing His knees to flex a little bit and there would be great nails driven through His wrists just below the bottom part of His hand, the heel of His hand because there is the place where it would hold. In the middle of the hand it wouldn’t hold, it would pull through the fingers.

Once the victim was nailed there, the cross would be picked up and dropped into a hole. And when it hit the bottom of the socket, of course, it would rip and tear the flesh and send the nerve impulses to make explosions in the brain in regard to pain. The victim is now crucified. Slowly He would begin to sag down more and more the weight being placed upon the nails running through His wrists, excruciating fiery pain would shoot up the arms and into the mind. Pressure put on the median nerves would be beyond almost the ability to endure.

The Lord then would try to push to relieve the pain and so He would push with His feet and be pushing on the two wounds in His feet. And the same thing would happen. And hour after hour this wrenching twisting torment of the body back and forth, trying to relieve one and then the other, the hands and the feet, it would become very impossible after a while to do any pushing upward because of the pain and the sagging would put the greatest weight upon the hands.

Dr. Truman, Davis writes, “At this point, another phenomenon occurred as the arms fatigued, great waves of cramps sweep over the muscles nodding them in deep relentless throbbing pain. With these cramps comes the inability to push Himself upward. Hanging by His arms, the pectoral muscles are paralyzed and the inner costal muscles are unable to act. Air can be drawn into the lungs but it can’t be exhaled. Jesus fights to raise Himself to get even one short breath. Finally carbon dioxide builds up in the lungs and in the blood stream and the cramps subside. He would grasps short breaths of air, hours of limitless pain, cycles of twisting joint‑rending cramps, intermittent partial asphyxiation, searing pain as tissue is torn from His lacerated back as He moves up and down the rough timber. A deep crushing pain in the chest as the pericardium slowly fills with scorum (?) and begins to compress the heart. And this leads to death.”

‘King of the Jews’

After Jesus took His last breath, the soldiers had to nail to the cross the reason for His death. Pilate gave that to them:

They set over His head an accusation because it was required that a man who was crucified be crucified for some criminal reason. And there was no legitimate criminal reason to crucify Christ. Pilate, wanting to make his statement of the innocence of Christ and also wanting to affirm his … despising of the Jews, puts over the head of Jesus, “THIS IS JESUS,” the other writers tell us he put, “THIS IS JESUS OF NAZARETH THE KING OF THE JEWS.” And in all three languages of the times so everyone could read it. And the Jews … protested and said, “We don’t want that up there, we want, “He said He is king of the Jews.'” And Pilate said, “What I have written I have written.” And thus in cynical sarcastic words he mocked the Jews by saying to the whole world, “There’s your king, there’s your king, you despicable people, you deserve such a king.”

A statement

There is much more to read. This is a compelling sermon, not to be missed.

The same types of people who sentenced, mocked and killed Jesus are around today. Some even attend church.

All of them are convinced of their own self-righteousness. They reject Jesus Christ. They reject the Bible. They do not want to know. Their way is better.

They know more than the Christian humbly praying for more grace, praying for sanctification, praying to be delivered from temptation.

The day will come when we will be at the seat of divine and holy judgement. Where are we now? Where will we be then?

MacArthur concludes with this:

I don’t know where you are today. He longs to embrace you into His arms, to give you the salvation He so freely offered. He stayed on the cross not because He couldn’t come down, He stayed on the cross because He wouldn’t come down. And I believe that the Savior shed tears for those who shed His very blood. Such is the compassion of God and the gift of salvation. Let’s bow in prayer.

Thank You, Father, for the scene that we have viewed today from Your holy Word. Thank You for the friend of sinners who died for the very ones who crucified Him in all generations. Thank You that His arms are open to all who come. O Father, may we be grateful enough, thankful enough not only to receive the Lord Jesus Christ, but to live our lives totally in obedience to Him.

Amen.

John MacArthur says that the triumphal entry of Jesus into Jerusalem, which we commemorate on Palm Sunday, actually took place on a Monday, which means that His cleansing of the temple took place on a Tuesday.

As I’d like to look at another event that happened 24 hours later, let us look at the righteous anger of Jesus towards the money changers today.

I wrote about Matthew 21:12-13 in 2009, discussing the reason for and the nature of Jesus’s anger:

Jesus and the money changers

John MacArthur has more on this scene, which created quite a stir, since the temple was teeming with people attempting to buy a proper animal for ritual sacrifice. In reality, these money changers — and those selling sacrificial animals — were running an organised racket.

Excerpts follow from MacArthur’s ‘Purging the Perverted Temple’, which examines Matthew 21:12-17:

12 And Jesus entered the temple[b] and drove out all who sold and bought in the temple, and he overturned the tables of the money-changers and the seats of those who sold pigeons. 13 He said to them, “It is written, ‘My house shall be called a house of prayer,’ but you make it a den of robbers.”

14 And the blind and the lame came to him in the temple, and he healed them. 15 But when the chief priests and the scribes saw the wonderful things that he did, and the children crying out in the temple, “Hosanna to the Son of David!” they were indignant, 16 and they said to him, “Do you hear what these are saying?” And Jesus said to them, “Yes; have you never read,

“‘Out of the mouth of infants and nursing babies
    you have prepared praise’?”

17 And leaving them, he went out of the city to Bethany and lodged there.

Emphases mine below.

Now as we approach verses 12 to 17, which is the temple encounter, I want us to look at it from a very special perspective. I want us to see it as the presentation of Jesus’ Messianic credentials. I believe what He does is give the populous of Jerusalem and most specifically the chief priests and scribes a very clear testimony as to the nature of His Kingliness and the nature of His Kingdom. He makes a statement here that could never be misunderstood.

Now remember that from the first demonstration that really ever happened around Jesus in Galilee … He revealed His great power, His miracle ability. The people had tried to take Him and make Him a king by force so that He would overthrow Rome and provide all that they needed socially and economically and militarily and so forth. And all through His ministry, He had resisted those attempts. Whenever they tried to make Him a king, He resisted that. And on Monday, as we saw last time, in a great statement about the nature of His kingship, He had ridden into the city for His coronation on the foal of a donkey, sitting on a used robe thrown over that donkey by one of the disciples while people threw tree branches and old clothes in His path. He was weaponless and His retinue was a group of common nobodies. And He was saying, in effect, the nature of My Kingdom is not as the kingdoms of this world. You see no pomp and glory, you see no earthly majesty, you see no military might. But still in their hearts, they hoped that He would do that, that He would overthrow the Roman yoke, that He would break the bands of the Roman oppressor, that He would free them to the nobility they themselves believed as Jews that they should have, the nobility that comes only to free people.

And just to be sure that they haven’t missed His message, He enters into the temple and demonstrates to them again the nature of His kingliness and the nature of His Kingdom. And it is a far broader, a far greater demonstration even then was His lowly inauguration.

Now I want you to look at these verses and mark the kingly credentials of Christ. First of all, He showed He was on a divine mission…He showed He was on a divine mission. And that is simply pointed out in the first statement of verse 12, “And Jesus went into the temple of God.”

Now, there are some manuscripts that eliminate “of God,” some good manuscripts that eliminate it. There are some other good manuscripts that include it. It’s one of the more difficult textual issues to try to resolve …

He went to God’s temple. Now this to say that He was on a divine mission. I mean, that was His turf, you understand that? I mean, if He had done what the people wanted Him to do, He would have gone to Fort Antonius because Fort Antonius because Fort Antonius housed the Roman army, the Roman garrison. Or He would have gone to the abode of Pilate and He would have started the military coup. He would have overthrown Pilate and all of his retinue or He would have eliminated the Roman army and liberated the land and the people. But He didn’t go there. He didn’t go there at all, He went to the temple of God. That was where He wanted to be.

You see, the temple is the issue, not Rome

And this ought to be abundantly clear to any student of the New Testament because when Jesus came the first time to Jerusalem, this is exactly where He went also. And if you go back to John chapter 2 and notice verses 13 to 17, you will find there how He began His ministry at a Passover. And the Jews’ Passover was at hand. Jesus went to Jerusalem, found in the temple those that sold oxen and sheep and doves and the changers of money sitting. And when He made a whip of small cords, He drove them all out of the temple and the sheep and the oxen and poured out the changers money and overthrew the tables and said to them that sold doves, “Take these things from here, make not My Father’s house a house of merchandise.”

So, when He started His ministry, He started it at the temple and when He ends it, He ends it at the temple. Now I submit to you that He’s seen a lot of things in the years intervening. He has seen social injustice. He has seen economic inequities. He has seen oppression by the Romans. He has seen deprivation. He has seen the poor suffering abuse. He has seen lot of things. But His mission never changes. His whole ministry here is given very clear perspective. He was concerned with how people worshiped, with how people worshiped. He was concerned with their relationship to God, not their relationship to earthly kingdoms. It wasn’t so important to Him how it was with men and men as it was with men and God, you understand that? And so by going to the temple as the first official act after His inauguration, He is identifying for us clearly the turf, or the territory of His mission.

Peter picked it up from the Lord and said it this way in 1 Peter 4:17, “Judgment must begin at the house of God.” It begins at the house of God. As long as things were wrong in the house of God, they would be wrong in the nation. You see, the measure of any society is the relation it has to God. Worship is the issue. Read Romans 1, worship is always the issue. The problem with society is not that it has bad laws, the problem with society is not that it has human inequities. The problem with society is that it has abandoned God. And some would accuse us of being indifferent to the national political issues, indifferent to the social issues and the social scene, that is not true. We are not indifferent to those things but we know what Jesus knew and what Peter reiterated, that judgment must begin at the house of God …

Therefore, when Christians — Americans, in particular — advocate prayer for their own country, they are saying, ‘Look, we need to get right with God and national blessings will follow’. It is not necessarily a matter of saying, ‘My country has a certain divine exceptionalism about it’, it is more a case of social and political structures improving once more people improve their relationship with God through His Son Jesus Christ.

MacArthur describes the temple layout, which is in a series of courts — courtyards — each of which served a particular purpose. The money changers and the sellers of sacrificial elements were in the Court of the Gentiles:

And you paid dearly for those concessions because here’s how the system worked. Every offering had to be approved by the priests, right? When you finally got into the Court of the Israelites and you brought what you were going to give, it had to be approved. And maybe they had approving stations even before you got that far in. But the priests had to say your sacrifice is okay, and the odds were that if you bought it outside the temple, it was not going to be approved. If you had raised a lamb way out where you lived and brought that little lamb in to be offered, they’d say that lamb is not acceptable, you must have a lamb purchased in the Court of the Gentiles. Go see So-and-so. And so you’d go to buy a lamb from him, only according to Edersheim, the great Jewish historian, you would pay ten times the value of that lamb. So you were extorted, you were fleeced to reverse the picture a little. You were taken by robbers.

Poor people, according to Levitical law, didn’t have to bring a lamb because they couldn’t afford lamb, so they were allowed to have a dove or a pigeon in the place of a lamb. And most historians feel that in today’s currency, a couple of birds might be worth a nickel or a dime. But you would have paid four or five dollars for them there. And if you wanted to exchange your money because you had to have exactly a half shekel so you had to have the right change, and if you came from a foreign country with foreign currency and it had to be changed, you would pay twenty-five percent fee just to make small change.

And so, you can see that they would pay dearly for concessions inside the temple, right? Because they would work along with the priests to extort the people, to cheat the people. All this in the name of religion, if you can imagine. All this in the name of religion.

But this is Jesus’ turf because this is the house of God. And it has been turned into a cave for robbers. And so He comes and sees this horrifying but familiar scene. And it says to us something so important, it says that Christ came first of all to deal with men on a spiritual level, you understand that? That’s the point. He came to throw out corrupt worship and to bring in true worship. He is on a divine mission.

Second point, He has divine authority. He has divine authority. If we can’t see that He’s the Messiah because of His mission, boy, we ought to see that He’s the Messiah because of His authority. Now listen, the most powerful thing going on in that country was the temple … if you walked passed the Gate Beautiful, for example, and you were a Gentile, the Romans had given them the right to kill you. They had plenty of power. They had great authority within the walls of that temple precinct area.

the last thing that could have happened to themselves would have been to be made shameful in the eyes of the population of the city by some Galilean would-be Messiah, but that’s exactly what happened. Against all of what you would think would happen, it happened. It simply says, “He cast out all them that sold and bought,” just threw them all out. Not only the sellers but the buyers, too. He just threw everybody out of there that was involved in that enterprise. And the leaders, they couldn’t stop Him. There was no way

And then Mark adds a wonderful note. He says in Mark 11:16 that He wouldn’t allow anybody to carry any vessel through the temple … And they apparently were using the temple area just like a thoroughfare, a street like any other public street and He just stopped that immediately. And nobody carried anything through there.

It may also imply that nobody carried anything out of there. That they had to get thrown out and left all their debris there. Now if you can get all those people to split and run and leave their stuff behind, they’re scared. Now this is the same Jesus riding on the colt, the foal of an ass, meek and lowly and humble.

He came meek and lowly. He came as one who was to die in humility. But at the same time, He also gave a glorious demonstration of the reason for which He came and that is to change men from false worshipers to true worshipers. And so He went to the temple. He never used the same power He had to overthrow Rome, the only thing He wanted to do was clean up their corrupt worship. What power. I just wish I could have been there to see it. He kicked over everything, created chaos and they fled.

You say, “Well, why didn’t they stop Him?” Why didn’t they stop Him? They couldn’t…they couldn’t. I mean, they were pressed, the chief priests. They were really pressed because the crowd was hailing Him as the Messiah, for one thing. Secondly, the people hated the b[a]za[ar]s of Annas. By the way, they themselves started an insurrection that put them out of business, even before 70 A.D. when the temple was destroyed. So the people were with Him …

There’s a third credential that I want you to see in verse 13. He not only showed He was on a divine mission and demonstrated divine authority, but He revealed a commitment to divine Scripture. He revealed a commitment to divine Scripture. See, He vindicates what He does by this in verse 13. “He said unto them, It is written.” And then He quotes Isaiah 56:7, “My house shall be called the house of prayer.” And Isaiah adds and Mark also includes, “Of all nations.” Matthew leaves it out because his audience is primarily Jewish.

But the Lord says I vindicate what I do because I am doing something consistent with the Word of God. Oh, that’s so great. As Messiah He was always hooked to the Word of God. In John He says, “I never do anything that the Father doesn’t show Me to do. I never do anything that the Father doesn’t tell Me to do.” Everything He ever did was consistent with the Word of God. He vindicates His anger by basing it on Scripture. He says, Isaiah said it, God said through him, “My house shall be called the house of prayer.” See, the temple was to be a place of prayer. It was to be a quiet place, a place of worship, a place of devotion, a place of meditation, a place of contemplation, a place of confession, a place of prayer, a place of praise, a place where people went to commune with God, to seek God, to open their hearts to God, not to be a business, not a stockyard, not a crooked bank, not a thoroughfare for people carrying on their worldly business …

There’s a fourth thing I want you to see. He not only shows His divine mission, His divine authority, and His commitment to the divine Word, but we see Him as the Messiah because of His divine compassion. As I said, for a moment, the place was clean. And in that moment verse 14 comes to beautifully to us, “And the blind and the lame came to Him in the temple and He healed them.” He’s still there. He’s standing there in the midst of all the debris and it’s clean for a moment. And here come the blind and the lame who always hung around the temple anyway because that’s where God was and that’s where the people were and they needed to beg from the people and they needed to beg from God so that was the best place to be. And they, no doubt, filled the Court of the Gentiles, begging God and men for help. And when Jesus did that, you would have thought that they would have also gotten out of there one way or another. I mean, if the fury of Jesus was enough to dispense all the able bodied people, I mean, if they ran for their lives under His authority, we would think that these people would be cowering in some dark corner…scared to death. But not so, because ever and always in Jesus Christ is the perfect exhibited balance of holy vengeance and compassion.

And so, those who were guilty see His anger and those who are true seekers see His compassion. It’s marvelous. And He stands in the temple and they come to Him. I love that. I love that. You see, if you want to see the compassion of God in Christ, you see it in His healing ministry …

And then another mark of divine credential, if you will. We see His divine mission, His divine authority, His commitment to the divine Word, divine compassion and also His divine power…and we can’t ignore that. Verse 14 says that He healed them. I mean, that is a display of divine power. He just healed them all, the blind, the lame and they’re probably only representative of the deaf and the dumb and whoever else was ill and begging. And He healed them in front of everybody that was left. And everybody else would have known very soon when they started running around town saying, “Hey, it’s us, only now we see and hear and speak and walk.” And even the chief priests in verse 15 saw the wonderful things that He did.

The chief priests were livid. They cared only for themselves, not the notional little people. They became angrier when the children sang His praises.

And Jesus says, “Have you heard this, Out of the mouth of babes and sucklings,” two Hebrew words used in Psalm 8:2 to refer to infants under the age of three because Hebrew mothers suckled their babies until they were about three, “Out of the mouths of babes and sucklings, Thou has perfected praise.”

Jesus then took His leave and returned to Bethany for the night.

In conclusion, MacArthur warns that we cannot be lukewarm about Jesus Christ:

You either embrace the Lord Jesus Christ as Savior or you refuse Him. You either stand with, as it were, in the symbolic sense the children singing His praises, or the religious leaders whom He leaves and to whom He has nothing more to say.

Anyone in any doubt would do well to make the most of recalling the biblical events surrounding Holy Week in preparation for Easter, the greatest feast in the Church year. Pray and study the Gospels.

John F MacArthurA John MacArthur sermon I cited yesterday has a lovely explanation of marriage.

Excerpts follow from his exposition of Matthew 19:10-12, ‘Jesus’ Teaching on Divorce, Part 4′. Emphases mine below.

Leaders of every youth group from secondary school through university would do well to borrow from this sermon. Too many of us do not fully appreciate matrimony.

MacArthur sets out the main points of marriage. Each begins with a ‘P’.

Procreation

Children are an heritage from the Lord, so there is marriage to have children.  Procreation … Nothing is more clear than you two are one when you see your selves in that one that is born of your union. 

Pleasure

It’s for pleasure.  Hebrews 13:4 says, “Marriage is honorable in all and the bed is undefiled.”  The bed is undefiled, you can’t do anything in that place that is defiling.  Great liberation, 1 Corinthians 7 says, your body is not yours, and her body is not hers they belong to each other and the Old Testament … from Proverbs, talks about the satisfaction of the physical relationship, the pleasure.

Purity

It’s for purity.  In 1 Corinthians 7:2, the Bible says, that for fornication let every man have his own wife.

This is the verse (ESV):

But because of the temptation to sexual immorality, each man should have his own wife and each woman her own husband.

Provision

I love this.  Ephesians 5 says that the man is to nourish, cherish, provide for, care for, be like a savior to his wife

… marriage is a provision of security, it’s a provision of carrying and nourishing and cherishing.  Providing for[;] in fact, it says, if a man doesn’t provide for his own household, he’s worse than an unbeliever

Partnership

It’s for partnership.  When God made Eve, he said he made Adam a what?  A helper.  A helper. Somebody to come along side and help so you don’t do things alone, you do them togetherThere is strength in that fellowship, isn’t there.  And I confess to you that my wife is strong where I am weak and that I tend to be strong where she is weak and that’s the way it ought to be.  She tells me when I need to be told and if she didn’t, she wouldn’t be strength to my weakness.  She has wonderful ways of reminding me of my weaknesses.  In fact, I can hear the speech coming before she gives it.  I know, speech number 8, you don’t have to give it.  But there is real partnership isn’t there, real partnership.  I mean, I go here and I work here and I study and I do the things I need to do and she’s home providing all the home needs all that the children need, all that I need to be free to do what I do.  It’s real partnership.  And I provide all the resources that she needs to do what God has ordained for her to do and so that’s partnership.

Picture

And then finally, marriage is picture.  It’s picture and what is it picture of?  It is picture of Christ and his what?  Church.  Ephesians 5, it is a graphic demonstration in the face of the world that God loves and has an ongoing unending relationship with the bride whom he loves.  And for whom he lives and dies and I dare say that the whole metaphor of marriage of a symbol of Christ and his church has lost its punch because the church is so rife with divorce and fouled up marriages. 

Conclusion

Some psychologists did a study and came up with a theory that you are what you are because you are adjusting to the most important person in your life.  Whoever the most important person is in your life, that’s the person you are trying to please.  Very simple for the Christian, isn’t it?  Who is the most important person in our life?  Christ.  That settles the issue, really, because now we can say, I receive it, if you say it.  It’s God’s order. 

If more of us heard, read and heeded those succinct yet necessary messages about marriage, we would have fewer divorces and many more happy unions.

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