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John F MacArthurIn writing this week’s Forbidden Bible Verses post on Philippians 2:14-18, I used, as per usual, John MacArthur’s sermons.

‘Stop Complaining, Part 1’ begins with his view of an overly indulged, complaining generation.

He says that the problem is getting worse, rather than better.

Emphases mine below:

Let me sort of ease in to our subject a little bit, if I might.  We’re in Philippians chapter 2 verses 14 through 16.  And I titled the message, “Stop Complaining.”  There’s a reason for that, and it’s fairly obvious if you look at verse 14 where Paul says, “Do all things without grumbling or disputing,” which are really two ways of saying stop complaining And as I was thinking about this very pertinent message about living your Christian life without complaining, it became very apparent to me that we live in a very complaining society.  And I really believe we are breeding a generation of complainers, and they seem to be getting worse with each passing generation

And as I’ve said to you on a number of occasions, it is a curiosity to me that the most indulged society is the most discontent society, that the more people have, the more they seem to be discontent with what they have and the more complaining they seem to be.  In thinking about this, and there would be many ways to approach it, I was just inadvertently flipping on the radio this week and I heard a speech by a sociologist that was quite curious to me and quite interesting The sociologist made a very interesting point.  He was talking about the young people in our culture, talking about their discontent, talking about their complaining attitude, their resistance to responsibility, and how that nothing is ever the way they would like it And they go through life with a kind of sullen discontent, kind of rejection of things the way they are And he had an interesting thesis What he basically said was this: that in many ways this discontented generation of young people is a product of small families His thesis was that where you have families where the average is two or less, of course the average family now in America is 1.7 children, which is kind of strange to think about; as one brother said to his sister, “I’m the one and you’re the point seven.”  But every family seems to come out at about 1.7.7.  We realize that families are getting smaller and smaller and moving toward one child families, if that.  Most families in America have either none, one, or two children …

And the difference is where you have a small family, the system bends to the child Where you have a large family, the child bends to the system And so, what you have, he said, is young people growing up in an environment where the system bends to them And you have child-centered parenting.

MacArthur grew up in a large family, where choice was not an option:

I know as a child myself, one of the reasons I wanted to grow up was I wanted freedom I lived in a totally conformed society.  I ate what they gave me I don’t ever remember going shopping with my mother, everI wore whatever she brought home I never picked out a thing, never.  I don’t even remember going to a department store clothing section as a young person.  My mother brought me what I needed, and I put it on.  And I conformed to the system.  And I looked forward to adulthood so that I could be free to make my own choices The reverse is true now; children grow up controlling the family and they don’t want to become adults because that means conformity Then, they have to go to work, and nobody at work says, “Now, how would you like your office decorated?  And what time would you like to take a break for lunch?”  Nobody says that.  They put you on an assembly line or they put you in a place where you are forced to conform, so what you have then is a generation of young people who don’t want to grow up.

And this sociologist said on the radio, you ask the average high-school kid, what do you want to do when you get out of school?  What’s his answer?  “I don’t know.”  You ask the average college student, what do you want to do when you’re out of college?  “I don’t know.”  And the reason he doesn’t know is because he is postponing responsibility because responsibility means conformity to a system, whereas childhood for him has been absolute freedom Eat what you want when you want, wear what you want when you want, and your mother will take you anywhere you want to go whenever you want.  And so, you breed a generation of young people who are irresponsible And when they do get a job, they get a job simply to finance themselves so they can enjoy their indulgences, and then when they’re 28 years old their license plate says, “He wins who has the most toys.”  And the whole idea of adulthood is to collect toys, boats, cars, vacation trips, on and on and on.

Now, what you have in this kind of thing, said this sociologist, is breeding moody discontent And you build young people who cannot conform and cannot be satisfied, over-indulged kids who don’t want to be adults, continue to push off responsibility; they grow up in an environment they control They don’t like being controlled And they become discontent They don’t want to take responsibility.  They don’t want to work And their adult years are sad.  They become sullen, very often, they become complainers And I really believe that he’s right in many cases.  One of the curses of our culture are overindulged childish kind of adults who are really complainers about everything Nothing is ever enough.  That’s why we have a whole society with a critical mentality, constantly attacking everything.

The church environment is no different:

Now, I want you to know this has found its way into the church And the church is full of its own complainers, and what is really sad is many of them are run by their children’s discontent People leaving the church because their children don’t like it Can’t imagine such a thing, unless their children control the family.  The church has its complainers.  And here we are with so much, so much.  How in the world could we possibly complain just because every little thing in life isn’t exactly the way we want it?  Frankly, I would suggest to you that few sins are uglier to me and few sins are uglier to God than the sin of complaining.  Frankly, I think the church at large does much to feed this thing by continuing to propagate this self-esteem, self-fulfillment garbage that just feeds the same discontent There’s little loyalty There’s little thankfulness There’s little gratitude.  And there’s very little contentment.  And sadly, what happens eventually is your griping, grumbling, murmuring discontent is really blaming God because, after all, God is the one who put you where you are So, just know who you’re complaining against.

He discusses how famous people from the Bible railed against God, from the very beginning:

Now, having said all of that there is a sense in which this complaining is part of our culture There’s another sense in which it’s not new at all Who was the first complainer who ever walked the earth?  Who was it?  The first complaining human being who ever walked was the first human being whoever walked.  And what was Adam’s first complaint?  “God, the woman You gave me.”  We are in this mess because of this woman.  He didn’t blame Eve; he blamed God.  Eve had nothing to do with it.  God made Eve.  Adam wasn’t married; he woke up one morning he was married.  God could have picked anybody He wanted, He picked her.  Why?  It’s God’s fault.  She led the whole human race in sin.  The woman You gave me, complaining.  Cain complained to God about God’s work in his life, Genesis 4:13 and 14 Moses complained to God for not doing what he wanted Him to do when he wanted Him to do it, Exodus 5:22 and 23 Aaron and Miriam complained to God against Moses, His chosen leader and their own brother in Numbers chapter 12.  Jonah complained to God because he was mad at God for saving the Ninevites, Jonah chapter 4 verses 9 and 10.  And it is still a popular pastime to complain at God And may I say that all of your complaints in one way or another are complaints against the providential purpose and will of God.

There’s a new book out called “Disappointment With God,” very popular and being promoted very heavily.  It seems to me to make complaining against God okay It sort of tries to define God as a lonely misunderstood lover who is really trying to work things out, but is really kind of a victim of all of us and we shouldn’t complain against Him, we ought to love Him What a strange view of God.  He is not some lonely misunderstood lover; He is the sovereign God who has ordered the circumstances of all of our lives And to complain against God, to grumble against God is a sin and we must see it as such.

In the ninth chapter of Romans verse 20, “O man, who answers back to God?  The thing molded will not say to the molder, ‘Why did you make me like this,’ will it?”  Who in the world are you to answer back to God?  What an unthinkable thing to do.  And when describing the apostates in Jude 16, it says they are grumblers finding fault following after their own lusts All they want is what they want when they want it, they don’t get it, they grumble and find fault.  It’s characteristic sin of the proud and it is characteristic sin of the wicked.

Now, the tragedy of this particular sin is that it is so contagious Let me take a minute to usher you back into the Old Testament, chapter 13 of Numbers.  And I want you to follow me and we’ll at least get through this little introduction and I think set the stage for what is ahead of us.  This is really very, very interesting and very important.  We go back to the number one illustration of grumbling, murmuring belly-aching griping people the world has ever known, namely whom?  The Israelites.  Numbers 13 just gives us a little insight in to the potential power of this attitude to spread.  Verse 30 says, “Caleb quieted the people before Moses and said, we should by all means go up and take possession of it for we shall surely overcome it.”  Joshua, you remember, and Caleb came back from spying out the land and they said we can do it; God is on our side, we can take it.  “But the men who had gone up with him said, we are not able to go up against the people for they are too strong for us.”  Which is nothing but doubting God.  “So, they gave out to the sons of Israel a bad report of the land which they had spied out saying the land through which we have gone in spying it out is a land that devours its inhabitants, and all the people whom we saw in it are men of great size.”  And then, they said this, “Also we saw the Nephilim, the sons of Anak are part of the Nephilim, and we became like grasshoppers in our own sight and so were we in their sight.”

So, they come back with this complaining: we’ll never do it, we can’t make it, we can’t defeat them.  It’s a bad report.  It will fail, it will never make it.  Prophets of doom, they are.  And they’re really complaining against the fact that God has told them to go in.

God hates complaining as much as He hates sin.

God killed complaining Israelites. The wages of complaining were death:

Now, go over to chapter 14, watch what happens in verse 36, “As for the men whom Moses sent to spy out the land and who returned and made all the congregation,” what?  “Grumble against him by bringing out a bad report concerning the land, even those men who brought out the very bad report of the land,” follow this, “died by a plague before the Lord.”  You know what the Lord thinks of grumblers?  He killed them because they spread a brooding discontent against God That’s the issue.  These people complained against God, they complained against God calling them to go into the land, they complained because the odds were against them humanly speaking.  And in their disbelief and complaining against God, they caused the whole nation to grumble, and as a result God killed them with a plague Grumbling really spreads, and your discontent, and your critical spirit, and your grumbling attitude, and your murmuring complaints will infect other people.

Here were the children of God They had been led out of Egypt.  God had parted the Red Sea for them They had seen ten plagues, miraculous plagues at the point of their deliverance And as soon as they got out of the land of Egypt they started to complain, and it never really ended Can I take you through a little trek?  Go back to Exodus and let’s go back to where it started in the Exodus.  Verse 11 of chapter 14, “Then, they said to Moses,” and they’re out in the wilderness now.  “Is it because there were no graves in Egypt that you have taken us away to die in the wilderness?”  They said, “What do you bring us out here for, because there weren’t any graves in Egypt?”  Which is a mocking statement.  I mean, wasn’t there a place to bury us there?  You’re going to have to take us to the desert to bury us?  “Why have you dealt with us in this way, bringing us out of Egypt?”  Here’s the complaint, it’s not like they want it.  They’ve left Egypt, it’s not the way they want it Pharaoh is moving after them, and they begin to complain.  Of course, God did a marvelous thing, He opened the Red Sea, drowned Pharaoh’s entire army and saved them.

Go to chapter 15, they come through the Red Sea, they’ve been delivered, and in that great 15th chapter, the song of Moses sings of God’s great deliverance And it’s no sooner than they’ve done that, verse 22, then Moses led Israel from the Red Sea, and they went out into the wilderness of Shur, and they went three days and they didn’t have any water, three days.  And they came to Marah, they couldn’t drink the waters of Marah, they were bitter therefore it was named Marah, so the people what?  Grumbled at Moses saying, “What shall we drink?”  Again, the same attitude.  Chapter 16, by the way, God provided water for them You remember it.  Verse 27 of chapter 15, 12 springs of water and they camped there and 70 date palms and they had a feast.  “Then, they set out from Elim and all the congregation of the sons of Israel came to the wilderness of Sin which is between Elim and Sinai, on the 15th day of the second month after their departure from the land of Egypt, and the whole congregation of Israel grumbled against Moses.”  Nothing is ever enough.  Part the Red Sea, provide the water, more grumbling.  “Would that we had died by the Lord’s hand in the land of Egypt, we would have been better off there when we sat by the pots of meat, when we ate bread to the full.”  Boy, this is a crass crowd, right?  They don’t care about anything but food.  “We’re all going to die of hunger.”  Boy, they’re real deep, aren’t they?  Real deep people.  “And the Lord provides again.”  It’s absolutely incredible.  God sends quail, God sends manna down.

Then, you come to chapter 17 “Then, all the congregation of the sons of Israel journeyed by stages from the wilderness of Sin according to the command of the Lord and camped at Rephidim and there was no water for the people to drink.  Therefore the people quarreled with Moses and said, give us water that we may drink.”  See, here’s more complaining, griping, grumbling, quarreling, disputing.  “Moses said to them, why do you quarrel with me?  Why do you test the Lord?  He is the one who has ordained the circumstances.  But the people thirsted there for water and they grumbled against Moses and they said, why now have you brought us up from Egypt to kill us and our children and our livestock with thirst?”

Well, Moses is getting to the end of his rope.  So, Moses cried to the Lord, and I’m sure it was loud, “What shall I do to this people?  A little more and they’ll stone me.”  Some group, huh?  So, the Lord said, “Pass before the people, take with you some of the elders of Israel, take in your hand your staff with which you struck the Nile and go.  I’ll stand before you there on the rock at Horeb and you’ll strike the rock and water will come out of it the people may drink Moses did so in the sight of the elders of Israel, he named the place Massah and Meribah because of the quarrel of the sons of Israel, and because they tested the Lord saying, is the Lord among us or not?”  It doesn’t take very long for people to forget the provision of God.

Now, go over to Numbers for just a moment or two because I want you to see this pattern.  Now, they’re at the other end of the 40 years They’re ready.  Time is ready to go into the land.  And it’s not much different Verse 1 of chapter 11 of Numbers, “Now, the people became like those who complain.”  You ought to underline that.  “They became like those who complain of adversity.  Complaining of adversity in the hearing of the Lord.”  That’s where their complaint really was directed.  “And when the Lord heard it His anger was kindled, and the fire of the Lord burned among them and consumed some of the outskirts of the camp The people therefore cried out to Moses and Moses prayed to the Lord and the fire died out.  So, the name of the place was called Taberah because the first of the Lord burned among them.”  40 years later, and they have been complaining the whole time about everything.

Verse 4 says, “The rabble who were among them had greedy desires, and the sons of Israel wept again and said, who will give us meat to eat?  We remember the fish and the cucumbers and the melons and the leeks and the onions and the garlic, and we’ve got nothing but manna, crummy manna.”  Day after day, this is typical complaining.  Chapter 14, God keeps on providing.  God sends the spies into the land.  And what happens?  They come out, they give this evil report, we can’t do it.  Verse 27 of chapter 14, “How long,” the Lord says to Moses and Aaron, “shall I bear with this evil congregation who are grumbling against Me?  I have heard the complaints of the sons of Israel which they are making against Me.  Say to them as I live, says the Lord, just as you have spoken in my hearing, so I will surely do to you.  Your corpses shall fall in this wilderness, even all your numbered men according to your complete number from 20 years old and upward who have grumbled against Me.”  God says I’ll kill the whole lot of you, you’ll never enter the promised land, and He did it.  He did it.

Chapter 16 verse 41, “On the next day,” what next day?  The next day after God had just punished some people for invading the priesthood The next day after God’s object lesson about serious treatment of His law, “All the congregation of the sons of Israel,” verse 41, “grumbled against Moses and Aaron, and they’re saying you are the ones who caused the death of the Lord’s people.”  And the Lord was furious.  Verse 45, He says, “Get away from among this congregation that I may consume them instantly.  Then, they fell on their faces.”  And Moses said to Aaron, “Take your censer and put in a fire from the altar and take incense in and bring it quickly to the congregation and make atonement for them, for wrath has gone out from the Lord, the plague has begun Then, Aaron took it as Moses had spoken, ran into the midst of the assembly, for behold the plague had begun among the people so he put on the incense and made atonement for the people.  And he took his stand between the dead and the living and the plague was checked, but those who died by the plague were 14,700, besides those who died on account of Korah,” where the ground swallowed them all up God just starts slaughtering thousands of them because of their grumbling, complaining, discontent.

You find it again in chapter 20 You find it again in chapter 21 I won’t read them to you.  I suppose the summary of all of it could be in Psalm 106, just listen to this, verse 25.  It says, “They didn’t believe in His word but grumbled in their tents.  They didn’t listen to the voice of the Lord.  Therefore, He swore to them that He would cast them down in the wilderness.”  And that’s exactly what He did.

I read with interest and thought that this must be quite a recent sermon.

How old do you think it is?

MacArthur delivered that sermon on January 15, 1989!

Let’s return to our generation of complainers from that era, 33 years ago, as I write in 2022.

Their parents would have been born in the late 1950s through to the early 1960s, in most cases.

Those young adults, their children, in 1989, would have started getting married and bearing their own offspring in the 1990s.

Here we are, three decades — and three generations — later.

I have an update on today’s youth from Saturday’s Telegraph, July 30, 2022: ‘Our fixation with feelings has created a damaged generation’.

The article is about British youth. Post-pandemic, the main topic that appears in many news articles and parliamentary debates is mental health.

If I had £1 for every time I’ve heard the words ‘mental health’ in parliamentary debates between 2020 and 2022, I’d be living in Monaco right now.

Not only do we have a new generation of complainers, they say they are suffering.

They are suffering because they are too introspective.

Feelings are the order of the day. A dangerous solution to that is the Online Safety Bill currently in the House of Commons. Pray that we can put an end to it, because it has provisions for ‘legal but harmful’ speech. The Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport — currently Nadine Dorries — can decide what is ‘legal but harmful’ speech.

Whoa!

That is a very dangerous route.

Even more dangerous are the voices coming from Labour MPs, who say that if they are ever in government again — a likely possibility — they will clamp down on whatever free speech remains.

Even worse, the legislation has not been passed, yet, here are Hampshire Constabulary just last Saturday, July 30, 2022, arresting a military veteran for tweeting a meme. The person who complained said that the meme caused him or her ‘anxiety’.

The police don’t ordinarily go to people’s homes to investigate crime these days. Yet, they are all too ready to look into social media.

Five officers attended this man’s residence and arrested him. It appears that no charges stuck, possibly because of the Reclaim Party’s Laurence Fox’s video of the incident. Perhaps the police were embarrassed?

The man tweeting this — unrelated to the incident — is former firefighter Paul Embery, a GB News panellist and Labour Party member who is active in unions, someone concerned about freedom of expression:

Guido Fawkes has more on the story and points out (emphasis in the original):

Arresting people for causing offence or anxiety, all while Hampshire recorded 8,000 burglaries in the last year, probably isn’t the best use of police time…

How did we get here?

The Telegraph article consists of an interview with Gillian Bridge, 71, who is an addiction therapist, mental health advocate, teacher and author of many years’ experience in schools and prisons.

Now you might think she makes all manner of apologies for today’s youth.

Au contraire!

Gillian Bridge was aghast to find that the BBC put great emphasis earlier this year on how young Britons were reacting to the war in Ukraine. She said:

there was this expectation that they were going to be enormously distressed – and about something that was not affecting them directly. Meanwhile, what were they doing in Ukraine? Living in bomb shelters; giving birth in cellars. But we were supposed to worry about the ‘anxiety’ young people were experiencing here? Frankly, I found that terrifying.

She said that this was not surprising, because in our post-pandemic world, feelings in a world of short attention spans are the only thing that matter.

As such, Ukraine is less important now. It shouldn’t be, but it is:

Terrifying, but “not surprising”, she adds with a sigh. “And you’ll notice that just like other political subjects that have prompted huge emotional outpourings on and off social media of late, things have now gone very quiet on that front. Once we’ve had these ‘big’ emotions, we are no longer particularly interested, it seems.” She cites our celebration of the NHS as another example. “People were virtually orgasmic about their pan-banging, but how many of them then went on to volunteer or do something tangibly helpful?” It’s in part down to our gnat-like attention span, says Bridge, “but also the fact that a lot of the time we’re not interested in the actual subject, just the way we feel about it.”

Mental health problems, real or otherwise, have spun out of control over the past few years, even pre-pandemic:

the 71-year-old has watched our “fixation with feelings” balloon out of all proportion, eclipsing reason, and predicted how damaging it would be, especially for the young. However, even Bridge was shocked by figures showing that more than a million prescriptions for antidepressants are now written for teenagers in England each year, with NHS data confirming that the number of drugs doled out to 13 to 19-year-olds has risen by a quarter between 2016 and 2020.

Child mental health services are reported to be “at breaking point”, with referrals up by 52 per cent last year and some parents even admitting that they have been sleeping outside their children’s bedrooms in order to check they are not self-harming. There is no doubt that we are dealing with an unprecedented crisis – one that was definitely heightened by the pandemic. “But Covid cannot be held responsible for all of it,” cautions Bridge. “And while antidepressants can be very effective, we need to be asking ourselves how we reached this point? Because whatever we’ve been doing clearly isn’t working.”

Bridge blames this on too much introspection:

At the Headmasters’ and Headmistresses’ Conference in 2019 Bridge told the 250 independent school heads in attendance what she believed to be the root cause of this mass unhappiness: “This focus on ‘me, myself and I’ is the problemIt’s taking people who are vulnerable to begin with and asking them to focus inwards.” And in Bridge’s ground-breaking book, Sweet Distress: How Our Love Affair With Feelings Has Fuelled the Current Mental Health Crisis, the behavioural expert explains why too much emphasis on emotion is as bad for our health as a surfeit of sweet treats. Indeed the “empty calories contained in some feelings” have only helped our “sense of self-importance to grow fat”, she says. Hence the “emotional obesity many are suffering from now”.

Cancel culture and censorship are part of this dreadful focus on feelings:

The book – which kicks off with Bridge’s assertion, “We’ve been living in a gross-out world of personal emotional self-indulgence and sentiment for decades now … decades which have seen the nation’s mental health worsening” – is a succession of equally magnificent declarations. Magnificent because she has pinpointed the cause of a whole range of societal problems, from mental distress and the determined fragility of the young to the woke chaos of universities and cancel culture.

Interestingly, Bridge believes that this toxic focus on feelings began in the 1970s. MacArthur and the sociologist he cited spoke in 1989The timing makes sense.

Bridge told The Telegraph:

Certainly the touchy-feely approach to things had already started in classrooms back in the 1970s.

From there, it gradually expanded, year after year, decade after decade:

Flash forward to today, when every boss can be silenced by an employee starting a sentence with: “I just feel that …”

Whereas you could do so in the old days, it is now taboo to downplay someone’s feelings, and that is not a good thing:

The great value of feelings today, Bridge tells me, “is that no one else can ever deny them … so if you feel offended then someone has genuinely harmed you”. Celebrity culture has promoted this new way of thinking as much as social media, “where you can witness people actually gorging on themselves, getting high on the strength of their own feelings just as they do on sugar – self-pleasuring, basically. And listen, it may feel good in the short term, but it’s very bad for us in the long run.”

People can convince themselves that their feelings are the truth, their truth, anyway. That omits fact, what really happened. Bridge mentioned Meghan Markle’s complaints:

Take the Duchess of Sussex, she points out, and her litany of “heartfelt” complaints. “Just last week there she was explaining that she didn’t lie to Oprah about growing up an only child, because she felt like one, so it was, as she put it ‘a subjective statement’.” Bridge laughs; shakes her head. “We really are tying ourselves up in knots now, aren’t we? Because it’s all about me, myself and I, and someone like Meghan has made it so much easier for people to follow in her footsteps, when the reality is that feelings are not immutable. They are not fixed, an absolute. They are not fact. And they are certainly not something that must override everything else.”

Yet there is a natural neurological process whereby the brain is able to turn feelings into fact, Bridge explains. “If you revise, rehearse, repeat and reinforce, then you create a fact, and that fact will then be embedded in your memory: ‘your truth’. Going back to Markle, that’s crucially a truth that no amount of counter-evidence can challenge.”

Bridge says that encouraging children to emote and focus on their feelings is unhelpful for them and for society at large. The focus on feelings originated in the United States, the source of all bad ideas in our time:

“The worst possible thing you can do with a child is to give them a fixed idea that they are feeling a certain way,” she says with aplomb. So those “emotional literacy” classes that started in California and are now being taught at schools here in the UK? The ones using a “traffic light” system, with pupils as young as four being asked to describe their “happiness levels” accordingly? “A terrible idea,” Bridge groans. “Feelings are simply physiological sensations mediated by cultural expectations; they go up and they go down!” Yet thanks to the pervasive narrative that every feeling should be given weight, “instead of enjoying the limitless health and optimism of youth” many youngsters “are now entrenched in their own misery”.

Bridge then tapped unknowingly into what MacArthur preached about in 1989, the notion that there were once roles for us in life, conformity to social expectations:

The desire to feel significant (either by embracing victimhood or by other means) is hardly new where young people are concerned, Bridge reminds me, and her tone is notably empathetic. “Let’s not forget that people used to have a role in life assigned for them within their communities. You might do an apprenticeship and then go and work in a factory or go into your father’s firm, or you might be preparing to get married and have babies. Now people have to find their role, they have to choose an identity, and that is much more complicated for them.”

Remember when we older folk — the 60+ group — were taught resilience at home when we were children? ‘Tomorrow’s another day’? It meant that today’s setback was temporary and, sure, we were hurt or upset, but better times were on the way. And, sure enough, they were.

Parents and schools are not teaching children about the temporary nature of setbacks. Therefore, today’s children lack resilience, which gave all of us who learned it so long ago hope for the future:

“The reason ‘everything will look better in the morning’ is so important,” says Bridge, “is that just like the children who did well in [Walter Mischel’s famous 1972] marshmallow experiment, they were able to predict the future based on their past.” That ability to delay and see the bigger picture is closely associated with the development of the hippocampus, she explains, “which is memory, navigation and good mental health. Yet by immersing ourselves in feelings and the now, we’ve blotted out the ‘OK so I’m feeling bad, but tomorrow will be another day’ logic, and we’re trusting the least intelligent part of our brains. As parents, we should all be discouraging this in our children. Because a child has to believe in tomorrow.”

Developing resilience is good for brain health, and it helps us to survive.

Bridge says that altruism also helps our brain health. We look out for others, not just ourselves. She says:

Studies have shown that it protects us from mental decline in our later years, but that the self-involved are more likely to develop dementia.

She cautions against cancelling or revising our history, whether it be factual or cultural:

Learning and a sense of history are equally important when it comes to brain health. “Yet again we seem to be distancing ourselves from the very things that we need to thrive. We’re so threatened by history and its characters that we try to cancel them! When you only have to read something like Hamlet’s ‘to be, or not to be’ speech to understand that it encapsulates all of the issues and irritations we still suffer from today. And surely knowing that gives you a sense of belonging, a sense of context, continuity and, crucially, relativity?

Alarmingly, Bridge says that some young people believe that suicide is a melodrama, not a final act:

they don’t actually realise it’s the end of them. Instead, they are almost able to view it as a melodrama that they can observe from the outside. Which is a deeply distressing thought.

Scary.

Bridge warns that too much introspection can lead to criminality:

Although it’s hard to condense everything she learnt about the criminal brain during those years down to a tidy sound bite, “what was notable and important in this context,” she says, “was their fixation on themselves. So the more a person looks inwards at the me, myself and I, the more they’re likely to run afoul of everything, from addiction to criminality. In a way, the best thing you can do for your brain is to look beyond it.”

She tells me about a prisoner she was working with “who came up to me and said: ‘I’ve got mental health’ – as though that were a disorder. Because people have become so ‘into’ the problem that the phrase is now only negative. That’s surely one of the most worrying developments of all. And it’s why I refuse to use or accept the term ‘mental health’ unless it is prefixed by ‘good’ or ‘bad’.”

Incredibly, with all the misplaced importance on feelings, Bridge says she has never had a bad reception to her talks:

… she stresses she “has never encountered negativity anywhere I have spoken”. Yet another reason why Bridge isn’t about to dampen her argument.

She thinks there might be the seeds of a turnaround, based on news items over the past few weeks:

“I think people understand that it’s time for some tough talking,” she writes in Sweet Distress. “There is increasing evidence that families, schools and universities are being overwhelmed by an epidemic of mental ill health.” So whatever we are doing isn’t just “not helping”, but harming? “Absolutely. But I am seeing more and more people speaking up about this now. The narrative is changing. Just look at what the Coldstream Guards fitness instructor, Farren Morgan, said last week about body positivity promoting ‘a dangerous lifestyle’. He’s right.” She shrugs. “It’s no good saying ‘it’s OK to be any size you please’ when we know that if children have bad diets, that can in turn lead to obesity – which in turn makes it more likely that they will suffer both physically and mentally later on.”

She mentions the new smart dress code implemented by the head of Greater Manchester Police – the one that, according to reports last week, helped turn the force around into one of the “most improved” in the country. “These officers were performing better at work because they were dressed smarter. So what does that tell us? That if you have a disciplined life and if you accomplish the things you set out to do, that gives you self-esteem – which makes you happier. But of course none of this happens if we are just sitting around ‘feeling’ things.”

She suggests that a good way of getting young people out of the cancel culture narrative is to point out that, someday, they might be cancelled, too. Also note the final word:

How do we get people out of themselves when they are so entrenched, though? How do we root them when they are flailing to such an extent? “By giving them a sense of being part of history! By getting them to see that if they want to cancel someone who lived 50 or 100 years ago, then in 50 or 100 years’ time someone may have entirely ‘valid’ reasons to cancel them. By building the inner scaffolding that will keep them standing throughout life’s ups and downs. And you know what that inner scaffold is called?” she asks with a small smile. “Resilience.”

Get Gillian Bridge into the new Government, coming soon, as an adviser. The nation needs someone like her. She would be perfect in helping us to defeat our mental health pandemic.

John F MacArthurThere’s nothing better than a good conversion story.

I could read them all day long.

In 1988, John MacArthur gave a sermon on Philippians 1:19-21, which I used for my Forbidden Bible Verses post on that passage.

MacArthur began that sermon, ‘Joy in spite of death’, with an amazing conversion story effected through the Gospel according to St Matthew.

Emphases mine below:

As we come to the study of God’s Word this morning, I – before we get into it – want to share with you a wonderful experience I had this week.  I met this week a gentleman who will fit into my rather short list of the most unforgettable people I have ever met I had about three or four days to spend with him off and on because we kept intersecting one another and at some times we spent hours together talking.  He’s a fascinating man who reminded me again of the power of the Word of God His name is Ezekiel, and that’s a great start Ezekiel is a man in his sixties, a man who for many, many years was one of the greatest generals in the Israeli army, who can tell you tale after tale after tale of battles and victories that he won with his troops that have no explanation other than divine intervention.  He was one of the master strategists in the history of Israel.  He is a true Israelite in the sense of geography and heritage His family lived in the land of Israel before it was the state of Israel.  In fact, his family goes back to the time of the Ottoman Turks before the British occupation.  So he is truly a man of the land.  He is of genius capacity intellectually, being the chess champion of Israel who has competed internationally and is renowned for his ability.  He is what is called a grand master in bridge and has won all over the world, defeating most of the world’s teams with the team which he leads.

When he retired from military service in Israel after being very successful and very eminent as a strategist, he went into business for himself And in a matter of a few years, because of his abilities and his contacts, he became a multi-millionaire And it wasn’t very long before he was making so much money that he had plenty of time and plenty of money on his hands and he became a compulsive gambler And so he traveled all over the world, everywhere from Atlantic City to Las Vegas to Monte Carlo to you name it.  Where there was gambling, he was there, gambling huge amounts of money up to the losses of one million dollars in a given year.

Finally he was about ten months ago struck with a heart attack – no, I guess a little longer than that – struck with a heart attack and almost died And while he was in the hospital his wife said to him, “This has got to stop I’m not going to live with this anymore, this running around wasting money and being gone all the time.  And I don’t want you to do it, and now you’ve had a heart attack and you’ve got to stop this and settle down.”  She said, “If you do it again, I’ll leave you.”  And so in good faith to her he put all of his assets in her name to protect himself from himself And no sooner was he over his heart attack then his compulsion dictated to him what he would do So he took off again to gamble, at which point she divorced him And so he came to Atlantic City, his wife divorced him and now had possession of everything which was in her name. And all he had was what he had in his pocket, which he proceeded to lose in gambling in Atlantic City.

With just a few thousand left in his pocket and destitute now and realizing that he had lost his marriage and that he had lost his dignity and he had no reason to live, he decided to go to the twenty-second floor of Trump Tower and dive out He planned the whole suicide.  And on the way from his hotel room to the top of the building to jump out, he got sick.  And he told me, interestingly enough, he got too sick to kill himself, which I thought was pretty curious.  And he went back to his room – he was too sick to jump.  And he went back to his room and he began to spit up blood and so he called the house doctor, and they determined that he had pneumonia, rushed him to the hospital On the way somebody rolled him and took all his money And he got to the hospital with no money.  They let him stay for about a week until he was cured of pneumonia.  And upon his release, all he had in his pocket was a ticket to Israel seventeen days later – no wallet, no identification, no money, no nothing.  He said, “Where am I going to go?”  And they suggested the Atlantic City rescue mission.

So this great Israeli general, this great genius, this chess champion, grand master bridge player, wealthy entrepreneur, world jet-setter landed at the Atlantic City rescue mission.  For fifteen years of his military life he had studied the Old Testament with a fine-toothed comb because he wanted to be the master of all the military strategy of the Old Testament so that he could apply it in the contemporary battles in which Israel fought So he became a master of Old Testament data.  Since the age of six he had systematically memorized the Old Testament, so he knew it all from beginning to end.

He went into that rescue mission with nothing but the clothes on his back and a ticket to Israel seventeen days later, figuring he would stay there as nothing more than an indigent until he could get on his plane and leave.  The first day he was there another person staying there came up to him and said, “You look Jewish.”  He said, “I am.”  He said, “Here’s a Bible; read Matthew.”  He said having nothing else to do he sat down and read Matthew twice.  At the end of the second reading, he knew Jesus was the Messiah and embraced Him as his Savior.

Two readings of the gospel of Matthew.  He said to me, he said, “When I finished the second reading of Matthew, I totally understood the whole Old Testament. I understood every bit of it.”  And he said, “I want to tell you, Jesus is on every page, every page.”  And he said to me, “In fact, Jesus is Jehovah.  And Jesus is Elohim.  And the lights were going on.”

That was nine months ago He still hasn’t used the ticket.  He is still here.  He has nowhere to go.  He has no home.  He is still here studying the Bible eight to ten hours a day And now he’s beginning to understand the New Testament.  He said, “I understand the New. I understand everything Paul said. I understand everything Jesus confronted.  I know all about the Pharisees.  I understand that I was raised in Pharisaic Judaism.”  He says, “The whole Bible has come alive to me from cover to cover.”  And we sat by the hour and discussed the Word of God.

And he had a Hebrew Old Testament and a Hebrew New Testament, and we were going at it hour after hour after hour.  And he said, “All I want to do the rest of my life is study the Bible – study the Bible and tell my people about the Bible.”  He said, “I’m going back to Israel.  I’m going to buy a yarmulke because you can’t teach the law without a yarmulke.  I’m going to put on a yarmulke, and I’m going to teach the Bible.”

Incredible mind.  In fact, he is overwhelming with his insight in Scripture because his culture is so totally Old Testament orientation that everything makes sense to him.  And I walked away from that thrilled again at the power of the Word of God.  And I thought to myself, How do you approach a genius, Jewish, gambling, entrepreneurial military general?  What approach do you use?”  How about saying, “Read Matthew”?  What a powerful simplicity there is in that.

Hezzy, as he likes to be called – that’s his nickname – Hezzy and I have become friends.  He wants to come here and meet you.  Some day I think he will, if the Lord gives him life.  He has angina.  But again, I was reminded of the power of the Word of God.

Now having made that justification, I will preach from it – Philippians chapter 1.  Let’s open our Bibles together – with the confidence, the confidence in our hearts that the Word of God is alive and – What? – powerful, alive and powerful.

What an amazing story.

I hope that Hezzy returned to Israel eventually and that God blessed him abundantly, in life and in death.

Because he knew the Old Testament by heart, Matthew’s Gospel tied everything together for him and made the Bible come alive.

Other Jews have become Christians by reading Matthew, which the Apostle purposely began with our Lord’s earthly lineage for their benefit.

It is a pity that more people do not read the Bible regularly. Admittedly, it took a long time for me to do so. I was in my 50s when I started in earnest.

My advice is not to wait, because the sooner one understands Scripture, the sooner one truly embraces Jesus Christ as Lord and Saviour.

John F MacArthurJohn MacArthur has told the following story in more than one of his sermons.

I have run across it twice before and meant to post on it but never did.

In short, a playwright, Channing Pollock (1880-1946), was converted through the power of Mark’s Gospel.

The story, which is in ‘Responding to the New Covenant’, follows. I used this sermon in my Good Friday post this year. Emphases mine below:

You say, “Now, I’d like to know more about faith. I want to have faith in God. How does faith work?” Well, let me give you an illustration. Three points. First of all, faith begins with a felt need. It begins when you sense a need. For example, Paul, on the road to Damascus, was just shaking in his tracks, stunned, and he said, “Lord, what wilt thou have me to do?” That’s a need. He felt a need.

Whether it’s a need for forgiveness, whether it’s a need for purpose in life, whether it’s a need for fellowship with God, whether it’s a need for somebody to love you, whether it’s a need to get rid of guilt, whether it’s a need for peace in your heart, whatever the need is, the real kind of faith begins only when you feel a need. And I say that because if you don’t feel a need for God, and if you don’t feel any needs in your life, then you’re nowhere near faith, at least faith toward God. It begins with a felt need.

Secondly, it continues with collecting evidence. If you have a need, you want to look around and find out how that can be supplied. Right? The Bible presents the evidence that Jesus Christ is the only worthy object for faith. In Romans 10:17, it says, “Faith cometh by hearing, and hearing by a speech about Jesus.” Hearing by a speech about Jesus. So you collect the evidence, and maybe you examine the person of Jesus Christ, and you say, “Oh, maybe He’s the one that can fulfill my need.”

There was an article by Dan Poling of an experience that he had with Channing Pollock, who was a pretty well-known playwright. And he related the story this way, he said, “Mr. Pollock was collaborating with another author in writing a play. They were working late one night in Pollock’s New York apartment. Something in the work that they were doing caused the friend to say to Pollock, ‘Have you ever read the New Testament?’ He admitted that he had never read the New Testament, and he went on working. After that, the men worked into the night, and, finally, in the wee hours of the morning, they parted.

“Pollock went, assuming that he could sleep, to bed. But he couldn’t sleep. And he was haunted by the question, ‘Have you ever read the New Testament?’ Finally, he got out of bed, searched all over the place and found a New Testament, sat down, and read it. He read straight through the Gospel of Mark. After he had finished reading the Gospel of Mark, he put his clothes on, and he walked the streets of Manhattan until dawn. When he returned to his apartment, exhausted, he said this, relating the story to his friend, ‘I found myself on my knees, passionately in love with Jesus Christ.’”

And, you see, that’s the process of collecting the evidence and making a decision. Faith begins with a felt need, continues in collecting evidence. Thirdly, it climaxes in commitment. You can say, “I believe,” but it doesn’t mean anything until you commit yourself to it.

Channing Pollock’s story is amazing and inspiring.

Another man who converted thanks to the New Testament is British actor David Suchet, best known for playing Hercule Poirot.

I wrote about him in 2013. That year, he gave an interview to the Radio Times saying that he converted in 1986 after reading St Paul’s letters, beginning with Romans 8. He was alone in a hotel room at the time. He had no religious upbringing and became a practising Anglican.

Several years ago, Suchet completed an audio series of the books of the Bible. It was a decades-long ambition of his to do such a project.

Here he is reading St Mark’s Gospel at St Paul’s Cathedral:

I wish those reading the Bible for the first time every blessing. May God’s grace guide them to the eternal truth found only in Jesus Christ.

John F MacArthurIn 2017, John MacArthur preached a sermon on Galatians 4:19-20 called ‘The Primary Importance of Sanctification’.

In addition to preaching well on the text, he also gave a discourse on why today’s churches are so, well, awful, for lack of a better word.

The excerpt follows, emphases mine:

We talk a lot about the economy in America and the economy growing. You do understand, don’t you, that the economy in America grows on massive self-interest, not on altruism, not on wanting to help others; it grows on massive self-interest. The church has bought into that as a way to appeal to those people who live for their own fulfillment. Churches then look and sound and feel like the world, and they advertise God as if He was a product that would satisfy your heart’s desires. Carefully they avoid anything that condemns people, anything that convicts them, certainly anything that terrifies them, like the judgment of hell. They avoid anything that expects people to deny themselves, take up a cross, pursue with passion what is holy, pure, and good. And, again, even in churches where there’s a strong emphasis on justification, and maybe a now and then emphasis on glorification, there is a strict avoidance of sanctification. This plays out all the time.

The church is supposed to look like Christ in the world. And rarely does a day go by that there isn’t some blatant, gross sin and immorality attributed to someone in the media across the country, if not across the world, who is anything but Christlike. Faithful churches are always led by godly shepherds who lead their people away from the world, away from themselves to God, away from the fulfillment of their own desires, their own longings, to seek those things which are above, not things on the earth. The church is in a sad state.

Now, how did we get to this point? I don’t want to belabor this, but this is a little bit of helpful history. Churches for centuries were theological, theological, and biblical. The Bible was the centerpiece, and the theology that the Bible taught established the convictions, and churches were God-centered.

It was even demonstrated architecturally. You go back a few generations, and when churches were built they were built to manifest a kind of transcendent perspective. They were tall, they were high; they wanted to demonstrate something that was above the earth. Some of you have visited those kinds of places where you look up, perhaps in some cases a hundred feet or more, and you see paintings and stained glass and things like that.

There was a sense in which when you went to church you were encountering God, and transcendence was important. It was God-centered, it was Christ-centered. And they trusted in the Holy Spirit for the growth of the church. I’ll say that again. They trusted in the Holy Spirit for the growth of the church.

Churches opposed worldliness. They opposed sin categorically ... But even Protestant churches, even gospel-preaching churches had a sense of transcendence. There was a dignity about them. The music had a dignity. The way people conducted themselves had a dignity. The leadership carried themselves in a dignified fashion. One commentator I read this week said, “Modern pastors look like they buy their wardrobes at Forever 21.” There was a loftiness. There was an ascendency. You came to hear from heaven. You came for an encounter with God.

New churches are not theological, they’re not biblical; they are psychological, sociological. They have given up transcendence – a heavenly experience, for imminence – an earthly experience, to make it as much like what is familiar in the world as possible; to not make you think that you’ve stepped into any kind of different category, either in the style, the fashion, or anything else; make it as worldly, as flat as possible. It is man-centered. And though the names of Jesus and God are used, Jesus and God are like imaginary friends who give you what you want. Churches today trust in their growth techniques, not the Holy Spirit. They trust that by sucking in the world and redefining worship as a mindless musical stimulation while the people think only about their own desires, that somehow this is how you grow a church.

You can collect a crowd that way, but only the Holy Spirit can build a church. Vague spirituality has replaced sound doctrine. True holiness is not an issue, because that would be way too confrontive. You can’t talk to people about self-denial, of giving up everything they long for, everything they think satisfies them, giving it all up in total self-denial for the sake of God; can’t do that. This culture today has drunk too deeply of the wine of self-fulfillment for too long. They are drunk on it.

Attendance in a church and loyalty to a church is never related, it seems, to the love of the truth or the love of Christ, but always to the love of self: “I like what they do, it’s my style; makes me feel good about me.” You might say, “How did we get here?” We got here because ideas have consequence.

Sigmund Freud died in 1939. He was the father of psychoanalysis. His system was a system that rejected God. His system was a system that said man is the ultimate. And so he said, there is in every human being, what he called, the id. And the id is the real you, the authentic you. It’s basically the complex out of which comes all your desires. And if you want to be who you are you’ve got to let your desires go. If you want to be an authentic person, you need to be you. Whatever you is, whatever the complex of your heart’s desires are, you have to be able to fulfill them to be a healthy, authentic person. In other words, unleash your sinfulness.

Obviously, the most eager people to buy into that were young people, because young people haven’t learned lessons in life about how living like that destroys you. So they’re the fertile ground to sow those seeds. The most liberated sinners are the youngest, because they lack the restraints that come from the lessons of life, and so youth become the symbol of authenticity. Youthful, irresponsible desire is elevated to a noble level, and the perpetual adolescent is the most authentic person.

We see it in our culture. The heroes of this culture are so profoundly sinful and so proud about it, that it would be hard to track the record of their iniquitous behavior. But they’re real; they’re the real people. The church is a restrainer. The church is bondage. The church is full of hypocrites, people who dress up like we do because they’re phonies and they are not authentic.

Over the years since Freud, this youthful authenticity movement has taken over the culture. Dramatically it made strides in the 1960s when, for the first time, the selfish, self-indulgent, immoral young person, hedonistic young person became the cultural hero: the hippies – sex, drugs, rock and roll. This is played out in songs like “I’ve Got To Be Me,” “I Did It My Way.” “And so if a church doesn’t let me be me, I reject it.”

This has reached severe proportions. An illustration: same-sex marriage. Homosexual people don’t care about marriage – just mark it – they don’t care about marriage, they just care about doing what they want to do. They don’t care about marriage.

Why do they want same-sex marriage? They want it established by law for one reason: so that they can put those who are against that sin out of business. That’s all they want; LGBTQ lobbying constantly for acceptance in the culture. It isn’t that they want some kind of political acceptance, they want to make criminals out of the people who spell that out as sin. They want to criminalize Christianity. That’s the only reason any of this is happening. They’re free to do what they want, and they do it. But what bothers them is those who denounce that behavior as sin; they want to make us criminals. So we’re in a tough spot.

The culture, mostly young people, is against us. In the ‘60s after the hippie movement, when immorality just broke loose, there were some kids who supposedly came to Christ; they became the Jesus people. They came to Southern California down to Orange County. There was a guy named Lonnie Frisbee who was leading that movement, who was secretly a homosexual and died of AIDS.

But Lonnie Frisbee had decided they needed to take their kids, that were meeting on the beach and baptizing in the Pacific Ocean, to church. So they went to Calvary Chapel in Orange County where Chuck Smith was pastor. Then it was a four square church, traditional church. And they all showed up on a few Sundays barefoot, long hair, irreverent, casual, with their own kind of music; and the leaders of the church said, “We’ve got to hold onto the young people. If we don’t give them what they want they’ll leave.”

That was already being discussed a lot of places, because the hippie movement caught fire across America – the movement of rebellion against authority, responsibility, duty, expectation; rebellion against right, honor; it caught fire. So the church feared, “We’re going to lose these people if we don’t acquiesce.” So for the first time when the Jesus people came to church, first time I can find in church history, the church began to redefine its own identity and worship based upon the wishes of a rebellious subculture. That definition started then and spread; started in California, spread clear across the country.

Prior to the ‘60s, nobody expected a church service to be rock concert. Nobody expected a church service to be entertainment. Nobody expected worship to be physical stimulation, emotional feelings without engaging your mind. Nobody expected church to be a manipulation of people’s desires to fulfill their own self-styled identity. A church was a church, and it was a place where there was thoughtful, prayerful, biblical, sober-minded hearing from the Word of God, leading to conviction and edification and elevation. It was a heavenly encounter.

But to this modern generation of young peopleserious, sober, thoughtful, scriptural preaching about God, and confrontation of sin, and a call to holiness, and a call to separate from the world and from iniquity is far too absolute and far too offensive. People who want to feel good about themselves the way they are don’t want that, so the church caved in. The church caved in and gave them what they want. And now pastors continue to accommodate those same people – irresponsible, lazy, undisciplined rebels who want what they want – and the church, instead of confronting it, conforms to it. No preaching on sanctification, no preaching on holiness can be done in those environments; they’d empty the place.

This is the situation today. Strong preaching on holiness against worldliness, confronting the desires of the hearts of the “me” generation as sin from which they need to repent is a far cry from the trend.

How true.

I put this post together on Easter Day. What was the Archbishop of Canterbury’s sermon about? The Resurrection? No. Justin Welby preached about the ungodliness of processing economic migrants crossing the English Channel from France to the UK — overwhelmingly single, young men without papers — in Rwanda. That is the Conservative government’s plan which is scheduled to start in several weeks’ time. It is an attempt to reduce the number of migrant crossings which went up from several hundred per annum a few years ago to 28,000+ in 2021.

In a further note on the Church of England, which illustrates what MacArthur is rightly condemning, a 30-something ordinand, GB News commentator Calvin Robinson, is unable to be formally ordained yet because he follows the Bible and is not conforming to the world. The C of E doesn’t like biblical preaching. The C of E is one of the worldliest denominations around. However, many of us stick around because we love the Thirty-Nine Articles of Religion and, where we can find it, the liturgy of the 1662 Book of Common Prayer. We ignore everything and everyone else.

The channel’s article on Robinson’s struggle appeared on Holy Saturday:

When asked what reason the Church gave to him as to why they cancelled his curacy, Calvin added: “They said it would be too turbulent for me to be an ordained minister and have a public profile.

“The official line will be that there [are]n’t enough curacies in London but that is nonsense as I have had several offers for title posts, but even then the Church says no.

“It’s not about there not being enough space, it’s purely politics.”

In response to Calvin’s comments, the Diocese of London told GB News: “In the Diocese of London, we have a limited number of curacies available each year that are considered on a case-by-case basis.

“We work with and support Ordinands throughout the discernment process to establish the right path for each person.

“In this instance, it was felt that there was no suitable option available that London could offer.

“Calvin continues to be a candidate sponsored for ordination. We continue to be willing to work with him to discern the right way forward, and we keep him in our prayers.”

Last year, Calvin Robinson presented an hour-long programme, The Meaning of Christmas.

This year, he presented a similar programme on Easter, featuring classic hymns, a biblical viewpoint and interviews with clergy and laity discussing the meaning of the Crucifixion and Resurrection as well as what it was like living in our Lord’s era under Roman rule:

I, too, will keep Calvin in my prayers for his future. He was a teacher for several years, and he would make a good priest. He’d be an ideal Archbishop of Canterbury.

One can only live in hope for the future.

John F MacArthurOne of John MacArthur’s sermons that I used for my Holy Saturday exegesis on the Epistle is ‘Breaking Sin’s Grip’ from 1992.

It might seem as if 1992 were a long time ago, but his sermon is as fresh today 30 years on as it was then.

In it, he asks, ‘Whatever happened to sin?’

Excerpts follow, emphases mine:

… it struck me that the present political scene is talking a lot about values.  Have you noticed that?  Everybody wants to talk about family values, moral values, traditional values, and it strikes me as a rather a fruitless discussion since no one is willing to talk about sin.  And as long as you will not define sin then you cannot define morality; and so all the talk about values amounts to little more than some sentimentality.

In fact, I’ve been so concerned about this that I have a three-book contract with Word Publishers and I said to them, I said, “This third book that I’m going to write which hasn’t yet been done, I would like to write on the subject of sin,” thinking that I would immediately get told that that would never work.  I was amazed when they responded by saying, “We think that’s great.”  So I’m prepared in the next few months to dig into the subject of whatever happened to sin.

And it’s kind of a curious thing to me because it’s, if anything is true of our society, true that we don’t want to even acknowledge sin.  We continue down a path of improperly diagnosing man’s behavior and therefore not having any clue about how to cure it.

Several years ago Dr. Karl Menninger, of the famous Menninger Clinic, which is a psychiatric clinic and he’s a world-famous psychiatrist, wrote a book and the title of the book was just that, Whatever Happened To Sin?  Here was a renowned psychiatrist basically saying, “I operate a psychiatric clinic and if I’m going to help people with their problems, I have got to tell them about sin.”  He tried to make people face the reality of sin as the curse that creates the problems of lifeThe book was somewhat widely read but also widely rejected.

Frankly, sin isn’t as nearly as marketable as other things.  Today in our culture I think it would be fair to say that sin isn’t even an acceptable wordYou don’t hear anybody talk about sin, certainly not a politician, rarely a preacher in some casesNot only is it an unacceptable word, it is an unacceptable cause for the troubles of man.  With all this talk about values and no talk about sin, the definition of values is hopelessly vague.

Certainly sin is not an acceptable diagnosis of man’s problems.  We look at the world and what do we see?  We see evil everywhere but it’s not defined as evilWe see sin everywhere but it’s not defined as sin.  It’s not an acceptable word. It’s not an acceptable cause. It’s not an acceptable diagnosis of man’s nature.

In fact, things that we used to willingly say were sin we don’t want to call sin anymore.  There was a column in the August 29 Dallas Morning News written by columnist Anne Melvin.  She wrote this column about sin interestingly enough. This is what it says, part of it: “Most sins have gained respectability through politics or profitability.  They’re mostly all legalized, advertised, organized, supervised and taxed.  We’ve got liquor by the drink, and young girls dress like hookers just to be in fashion at their homecoming dance.  We’ve got your basic graphic sex on cable TV and an entertainment market from wind-up toys to electronic state-of-the-art based solely on violence. So, hey, is it fair to name all these little diversions sins?”

She goes on, “Sin, go figure out how you can make a fortune for Time Warner with a recording about killing cops, how you can refuse to let school children say grace for lunch and then teach them how to use a condom before recess.  Clearly we are foundering here, a society preoccupied with values yet hopelessly vague on sin,” end quote.

It isn’t just the politicians and it isn’t just the profit takers who want to market sin and sell it.  The politicians don’t want to talk about sin because they don’t want to alienate any sinning votes.  The entrepreneurs and the materialists don’t want to talk about sin because they can sell it.  The government doesn’t want to talk about sin because they can tax it.   But what is really most amazing, I guess, of all is that even the people helpers, the counselors, the psychologists, the psychiatrists, they don’t want to talk about sin either.  And again I remind you, they don’t want to talk about sin because they don’t want to deal with the sin in their own lives, and secondly, because sin doesn’t sell very wellSickness sells a lot better.   Addiction is a much nicer word than iniquity.

I read a book yesterday, the title of it is, I’m Dysfunctional, You’re Dysfunctional.  It’s a short book, I read it in the morning and then I thought about it in the afternoon.  It’s written by a lady by the name of Wendy Kaminer and it’s a secular book.  And in this secular book she confronts as a critic the new anthropology, the new theology, the new psychology.  That new stuff that is called abuse psychology, or codependency, all of that kind of stuff that basically is saying, “You’re really a wonderful person and everybody keeps abusing you and what’s happening outside of you is the problem because everything inside of you is so wonderful.”

She talks about the fact that this new anthropology, this new sociology, psychology, theology and she even lists…well she lists secular sociologists, secular psychiatrists, Christian psychologists into one big bag as all affirming basically the same thing.  She writes this in evaluating the movement and articulating what they believe. This isn’t her view but this is what she says they are espousing, “No matter how bad you’ve been in the narcissistic 1970s and the inquisitive 1980s, no matter how many drugs you’ve ingested, or sex acts you’ve performed, or how much corruption you’ve enjoyed, you’re still essentially innocent.  The divine child inside you is always untouched by the worst of your sins.”

And then she further says these new definers of man’s nature say, quote: “Because no one is inhabited by evil or unhealthy urges because inside every addict” that’s the new word for sinner “is a holy child yearning to be free.”  And then she goes on assessing what they say, “They say inner children are always good, innocent and pure, like the most sentimentalized Dickens characters, which means that people are essentially good and evil is merely a mask, a dysfunction.”  She says, “The therapeutic view of evil as sickness not sin is strong in codependency theory.” that’s that new kind of theory.  “Shaming children, for example, is considered a primary form of abuse.”

In other words, what she’s saying, if I can digress, is that if you make your child feel any shame about anything, any guilt about anything, that is a form of child abuseThat will wind up, you can be sure, in the courts, and it already has as child abuse.

She goes on, “Both guilt and shame are not useful, they say.”  And then she adds, “Someone should remind these people that there is a name for people who lack guilt and shame. They’re called sociopaths.”  She’s right.

But here is a secular writer looking at the face of the people-helping industry and saying these people are saying that innately inside in the deepest heart of man, he is innocent, pure, holy and good.  Boy, it’s amazing how all these people who are that way on the inside can be so rotten on the outside.

The point is this. You basically have a culture that denies the reality of sin.  And as we said in our discussions about homosexuality, if you misdiagnose the problem then you’re not going to be able to offer the proper cure.  So what happens is, if you alleviate people of the responsibility for dealing with the sin in their lives, you have, in effect, made them unredeemable.  You have damned them.

That’s the kind of culture we live in, not just minimizing sin but eliminating itAnd then coming up with the unbelievable idea that man is some kind of good, holy, pure thing inside, longing to be free from these terrible dysfunctions that have occurred on his outside because of the way he’s been abused by others, usually his parents.

Now we’re victims, to some extent, of that kind of thing in our culture.  We have as wicked, as wretched, as sinful, and as vile a culture as could be imagined.  And at the same time we have a massive campaign to remove the word “sin” from our vocabulary.  You talk about putting people in an unredeemable position. They aren’t even going to understand that they are responsible for their own offense against God. They’re not even going to be in a position to seek a deliverer from their iniquity, thus they are unredeemable.  I can’t imagine that Satan could have devised any more effective plan than to move a culture toward the most wretched, vile kind of life, and at the same time sell it wholesale the philosophy that no such thing as sin exists innately in the human heart.  Talk about damning a culture, damning a world, that’s how to do it.

Now the fallout to this…the fallout to this we feel in the church, and the church tends to minimize the reality of sin, even in its own life even among Christians.  We tend to be desensitized, don’t we, to the iniquity around us, and if we are desensitized, let me tell you this, to the iniquity around us we will be desensitized to the iniquity in us.  If I am not outraged by the sin I see outside, then I will be less likely to be outraged by the sin I see inside.  People always decry the Victorian era, periods of history where even the society itself has had a highly developed sense of sin.  But those kinds of societies at least articulated a morality that held the church accountableNow society holds the church accountable for nothing because society has no morality, no definition of sin, therefore the church can behave itself in just about any way it wants.  In fact, I imagine today that because of the way the church has behaved itself in our culture, it would be very hard for anybody in the church to do anything that would shock the world.

So the fallout of this kind of sinless definition of man and the overexposure that even Christians have to iniquity and to sin through the media, desensitizes us to our own sin.  And I’ll tell you what that can do.  Because we don’t really see the sinfulness of sin, because we don’t really see how sinful we are, it is possible to think of ourselves as more holy than we really areIf you go back, for example, and read in the writings of godly men in…in the past, you very often find them bemoaning and bemoaning and bemoaning their own sin.  And you read about their lives and they seem so holy and so pure and so devoted to Christ and yet so overwrought with sinSin was highly defined in ancient times, even in the society in many cases.  And it held even the people who were Christians up to a high standard.  Nobody was letting them off the hook in the cultureNobody was blaming their parents for the way they acted, nobody was blaming some codependency or some addiction. Everybody was dealing in the culture with sin as sin, at least to some degree.  And consequently people were confined to those definitions, saw them for what they really are and I think in some ways the sort of general human goodness in the culture, the sort of pervasive morality helped control the thinking even of ChristiansNow we don’t have that benefitWe can just about call ourselves Christians and live any way we want to live.  And if we sort of exceed the average, we tend to think of ourselves as holy.

J.I. Packer, who is a well-known theologian and a skilled thinker, writes this, “Christians often imagine themselves to be strong, healthy and holy.  But the way to health is to recognize that we are weak and sick and sinful.”

The point is, don’t let the society give you the standard.  I mean, if you’re a little better than the society you’re in, that doesn’t make you very good because they don’t have any definition of sin.

Packer goes on to say, “The first truth is that we are all invalids in God’s hospital,” all of us Christians. He’s talking about believers.  “In moral and spiritual terms we are sick and damaged, diseased and deformed, scarred and sore, lame and lopsided to a far, far greater extent than we realize.  We need,” he writes “to realize that the spiritual health we testify to is only partial and relative, a matter of being less sinful and less incapacitated than we were before.” And then here’s a great statement: “Our spiritual life is a fragile convalescence.  It is a fragile convalescence easily disrupted and we are prone to damaging delusions about it.” Profound.

I grieve because the way our culture goes does affect the churchAnd because we’re two notches above the way they live we assume that we are holyWe are engaged in a fragile convalescence from the near fatal disease of unregenerate life. Therefore we need to deal with sin and we need to deal with it strongly in our livesAnd we cannot allow the world’s standard to become ours.  The politicians can talk all they want about values, family values, traditional values, but when they talk about that they do not mean what you and I understand as biblical Christianity.  We’ve got to deal with it on biblical terms.

At that point in the sermon, MacArthur begins preaching on 1 Peter 4:1-8, on turning from sin to doing God’s will.

He discusses our Lord’s death on the Cross, taking our sins onto His body, which believers remembered on Good Friday last week:

sin was thrown upon Him in its fullness as He bore our sins.  In fact, the Bible says He was made sin on the cross and there the heavy weight of sin was placed upon HimHe suffered, as it were, in the flesh and He suffered from the attacks of sin.  Sin attacked Him in temptation, obviously from outside since He was impeccable, sinless and could not sin on the inside because He was holy God.  Sin attacked Him through the persecutions.  Sin, of course, then was even poured upon Him in its fullness by God the Father as He became the substitute.

In every case remember this, will you, sin made Christ suffer.  He battled it through temptation.  He suffered the indignities and the persecution and the blasphemy and the hatred and the hostility and the violence of evil men and women.  And He suffered until it crushed out His life when He bore sin on the cross.

So look back.  If you’re going to entertain sin in your life, says Peter, look backHe’s reminding persecuted believers here, by the way, who are undergoing some heavy, heavy persecution.  And under that kind of duress it is not unreasonable to assume that some of them may have begun to defect, maybe not wanting to take the heat, some small compromises.  And he reminds them that Christ, the very One he has just described in verses 18 to 22 of chapter 3, who gave His life for them, who when reviled reviled not again, who when He was being evil spoken of never retaliated, and who paid for their sins, that same Christ suffered extremely beyond anything they will ever know and never sinned and never fell to sin, and never stopped trusting the Father, and never yielded up His confidence, and never gave away His hope, and never defectedAnd He becomes your pattern.

Sin did everything it could to destroy ChristIt was ineffective and He was triumphantBut He endured it all and it was all painful.  Even temptation must have been some kind of an offense to His holy nature.  Certainly blasphemy was and mockery and all the rest, and to say nothing of sin bearing.  He suffered.  He suffered and naver…never gave in.  He suffered and never sinned.  And he says, does Peter, you have to arm yourself with the same purpose and you know that the one who has suffered in the flesh has ceased from sin.  The one who goes all the way to death is relieved from sin.

Well what is that point?  The point is this, if you’re faithful like Christ was even to the place where they take your life, as bad as it sounds it’s really good because when you die you cease from what? From sin.  That’s the arm… That’s how you arm your mind.  You say, “I will be holy and I will be pure like my Lord, He is the author and the finisher of faith.  He is the model and the example and He suffered all the way to blood.  And if I go that far in my suffering, if I stand for Christ and holiness and righteousness and it cost me my life, the reward is no more sin, for death means sin has ceased.”

When Christ died on the cross He was relieved from sin.  Never again would He be tempted.  Never again would He be persecuted.  Never again would anybody spit in His face.  Never again would they mock Him to His face.  He was exalted to the right hand of the Father.  Never again would He bear in His own body our sins.  Sin was gone forever from any personal contact with Christ.

And so it is with us.  He says, look, if you’re going to deal with sin you’ve got to have the same kind of purpose, the same kind of…the word in the Greek means idea, thought, concept, the same perspective is probably the best way to say it, that Christ had.  I will endure to the very end, even if I die in the process I will then be freed from sin for good.  That’s the resoluteness of purpose that you see exemplified in Christ.  The One who was made sin, the One who came into the world in the likeness of sinful flesh, Paul says in Romans 8:3, gives us the pattern.  If we’re going to live no longer in the flesh, following the lusts of men, we have to have that kind of perspective.

And then there’s a second thought here at the end of verse 2 that strikes me.  If we are going to have this same perspective, and if we’re going to see what sin did to Christ and therefore its horror and its heinousness and realize that like He we are to endure without compromise to the very end because even that means only reward and bliss, beyond that if we’re going to live the rest of the time in the flesh we have to recognize not only how sin affected Christ, but how it affects God, how it affects God.

Look back in the past.  He says you are to live no longer in the lust of men but for the will of God.  You’ve got to realize that every time you’ve committed a sin in your past, you’ve defied God’s will, you’ve disobeyed God’s will, you’ve rejected God’s will.  In a sense, you’ve usurped the throne.  You’ve pushed God aside and said I will take command of my life; I will do whatever I want to do.  You’re not in charge, I’m in charge.  It is the ultimate act of blasphemy, really, because it questions God’s authority, it questions God’s sovereignty.  Follow this, it questions God’s wisdom.  It questions God’s goodness because sin says I’m in charge, I’ll do it if I want, I’ll make this thing work out into my life, I’ll do it because it will bring me pleasure, it will bring me satisfaction.  And all of that says, “God, You don’t really love me or You wouldn’t withhold this thing from me cause it’s going to be so good.  God, You’re not really wise or You’d really see how this thing can work in my life some way and produce some benefit.  You’re not really in charge because You can’t stop me from doing this.”

You see all of that is inherent in sinning.  When I sin I say, “God, move over, I’m in charge.”  I say, “God, You’re not as wise as You think You are because if You were You’d let me do this and understand it will all work out.  And thirdly, You’re not as good and gracious and kind as You ought to be because if You were You’d let me have what I so desperately want.”

You see, all of that attacks the character and the purpose of God and I become then a rebel.  Look back at your sin and understand what it was. It was an attack on the will of God, an attack on the authority of God, the sovereignty of God, the purpose of God.  It is flat, outright, overt disobedience to God.  And how can you, as we read this morning, say you love Him and not obey Him?  See sin for what it is.  Back in Psalm 51 David said, “Against Thee, Thee only, have I sinned.”  All sin is against God.  It attacks Him first and foremost.  That’s why the point of confession is to God.  You may affect others with your sin but the primary point of confession is always to God.  You may need to seek forgiveness from others because you have sinned against them. The primary point of confession is still God.  He is the One most holy, He is the One most offended.

If I’m going to deal with sin in my life, then, I’ve got to look back and see what it did to Christ, how it pursued Him all through His life and brought Him only pain, only sadness, even tears, ultimately death.  That’s what sin is like, it wants to kill Christ. It wants to kill the purest who ever livedYou need to remember that.  That’s what it wants to do and that’s what it wants to do to you, kill what is pure, what is Christ-like.

And, secondly, you need to remember, too, that sin is a violation of the will of God.  And every time you have sinned in the past you have, as it were, usurped the role that God has as the authority and the leader.  Jeremiah, the prophet, wrote a couple of times the words where God said, “I have spoken to you again and again yet you haven’t listened to Me.”  How it must grieve the heart of God that His children are so rebellious.  Every time we sin it is outright rebellion, and what a long track record of rebellion.  It isn’t helpful to go back into the past and regurgitate all your specific sins. God has forgotten them.  He’s buried them in the depths of the deepest sea. They’re removed as far as the east is from the west.  He remembers them no more.  But it is good to remind yourself that every time you ever sinned you absolutely, rebelliously struck a blow against the will of God.

And there’s a third thing that I think comes out in this text and that is very vivid in verses 3 to 5.  You must remember what sin has done to lost humanity. You must remember what sin has done to lost humanity.  Or to put it more personally, remember what sin was doing in your life before you became a Christian

What a powerful meditation for Easter Week.

Let us remember the power of the Crucifixion and the Resurrection as we move forward in the Easter season. More loving acts have never been done for sinful mankind.

Therefore, let us show God and His Son Jesus Christ the reverence and devotion they so rightly and richly deserve from us.

Let us turn away from sin and lead a new life, following in their Commandments.

Mothering Sunday is March 27, 2022, which is also Laetare Sunday, the joyful day in Lent:

Laetare Sunday, Mother’s Day and the Golden Rose

Laetare Sunday is Mothering Sunday

Some churches in the UK will be departing from the usual Lectionary lesson and read the latter part of 1 Samuel 1 instead.

Here is the whole chapter, the highly moving story of Hannah and her long-awaited son, Samuel (emphases mine below):

The Birth of Samuel

There was a certain man from Ramathaim, a Zuphite[a] from the hill country of Ephraim, whose name was Elkanah son of Jeroham, the son of Elihu, the son of Tohu, the son of Zuph, an Ephraimite. He had two wives; one was called Hannah and the other Peninnah. Peninnah had children, but Hannah had none.

Year after year this man went up from his town to worship and sacrifice to the Lord Almighty at Shiloh, where Hophni and Phinehas, the two sons of Eli, were priests of the Lord. Whenever the day came for Elkanah to sacrifice, he would give portions of the meat to his wife Peninnah and to all her sons and daughters. But to Hannah he gave a double portion because he loved her, and the Lord had closed her womb. Because the Lord had closed Hannah’s womb, her rival kept provoking her in order to irritate her. This went on year after year. Whenever Hannah went up to the house of the Lord, her rival provoked her till she wept and would not eat. Her husband Elkanah would say to her, “Hannah, why are you weeping? Why don’t you eat? Why are you downhearted? Don’t I mean more to you than ten sons?”

Once when they had finished eating and drinking in Shiloh, Hannah stood up. Now Eli the priest was sitting on his chair by the doorpost of the Lord’s house. 10 In her deep anguish Hannah prayed to the Lord, weeping bitterly. 11 And she made a vow, saying, “Lord Almighty, if you will only look on your servant’s misery and remember me, and not forget your servant but give her a son, then I will give him to the Lord for all the days of his life, and no razor will ever be used on his head.”

12 As she kept on praying to the Lord, Eli observed her mouth. 13 Hannah was praying in her heart, and her lips were moving but her voice was not heard. Eli thought she was drunk 14 and said to her, “How long are you going to stay drunk? Put away your wine.”

15 “Not so, my lord,” Hannah replied, “I am a woman who is deeply troubled. I have not been drinking wine or beer; I was pouring out my soul to the Lord. 16 Do not take your servant for a wicked woman; I have been praying here out of my great anguish and grief.”

17 Eli answered, “Go in peace, and may the God of Israel grant you what you have asked of him.”

18 She said, “May your servant find favor in your eyes.” Then she went her way and ate something, and her face was no longer downcast.

19 Early the next morning they arose and worshiped before the Lord and then went back to their home at Ramah. Elkanah made love to his wife Hannah, and the Lord remembered her. 20 So in the course of time Hannah became pregnant and gave birth to a son. She named him Samuel,[b] saying, “Because I asked the Lord for him.”

Hannah Dedicates Samuel

21 When her husband Elkanah went up with all his family to offer the annual sacrifice to the Lord and to fulfill his vow, 22 Hannah did not go. She said to her husband, “After the boy is weaned, I will take him and present him before the Lord, and he will live there always.”[c]

23 “Do what seems best to you,” her husband Elkanah told her. “Stay here until you have weaned him; only may the Lord make good his[d] word.” So the woman stayed at home and nursed her son until she had weaned him.

24 After he was weaned, she took the boy with her, young as he was, along with a three-year-old bull,[e] an ephah[f] of flour and a skin of wine, and brought him to the house of the Lord at Shiloh. 25 When the bull had been sacrificed, they brought the boy to Eli, 26 and she said to him, “Pardon me, my lord. As surely as you live, I am the woman who stood here beside you praying to the Lord. 27 I prayed for this child, and the Lord has granted me what I asked of him. 28 So now I give him to the Lord. For his whole life he will be given over to the Lord.” And he worshiped the Lord there.

Hannah vowed that Samuel would take a life-long Nazirite vow (verse 11):

… no razor will ever be used on his head …

The only other men in the Bible to do so were Samson and John the Baptist. Most Nazirite vows were short-term in nature.

John MacArthur explains the vow:

That last little part was a Nazarite vow, described in Numbers 6:3 to 6.  If a Jew wanted to take a vow of total consecration to God, he would not cut his hair, no concern for physical appearance, not drink the wine and the strong drink, abstaining from the banquetings and the celebrations and all of that, living an austere, consecrated, God-centered life. 

Commentary on Hannah’s story comes from John MacArthur’s 1987 sermon, ‘Hannah: A Godly Mother’.

Hannah truly had faith. Even though she was sterile, she believed the Lord would reverse her condition, which He did.

The name Hannah means ‘grace’. It befits this woman:

We meet her in 1 Samuel 1.  Hannah, her name speaks of her beauty; it means grace, and indeed she is the emblem of the grace of womanhood She became a mother by faith She first appears, as 1 Samuel opens, as a childless woman.  Then she becomes a mother, the mother of one of the greatest men who ever walked the earth, Samuel.  And as you see the account of the birth of Samuel, you note the profile of a godly mother.

Incidentally, the name Anna is a form of Hannah.

This was not a propitious era for Israel, which was experiencing a time of turmoil:

As the book opens, it is the period of the Judges There is no king in Israel as yet It is a time of turmoil; it is a time of confusion It is a time when Israel is vulnerable to the Philistines It is a time when they are debauched morally It is a time when their religion has grown cold And it is a time for a great man to rise and take the leadership of the nation, a period of religious degeneracy, of political distress.  With the death of Samson the country was divided and leaderless The Philistines were hanging on the edge.  The priesthood was corrupt Moral scandals were rampant among the family of the priests The nation was weak.  The nation was impotent.  And the worst of all, chapter 3, verse 1 says, “word from the Lord was rare in those days, and visions were infrequent.”  God even had nothing to say.  The nation needed a great leader, a great man, and God needed a great woman to shape that great man.  And Samuel, one of the greatest men who ever walked the earth, was not only the product of the work of God, but the product of a godly mother And she gave to her nation and the world the greatest legacy a woman can ever give, a godly child.

MacArthur gives us his perspective on what denotes a godly mother:

As we are introduced to this story, I want us to note three things that profile a godly mother She had a right husband relationship, she had a right heavenly relationship, and she had a right home relationship Those three things stand out and profile her for us.

First of all, let’s consider her right husband relationship And may I say that this is, at the very outset, essential for you to understand.  The most important relationship in a family in raising godly children is not the relationship between the parents and the children, it’s the relationship between the mother and the father What you communicate to your children by your relationship dominates their thinking They are learning about human relationships from the two of you They are learning about virtue, they are learning about sin.  They are learning about love.  They are learning about forgiveness.  They’re learning about sympathy.  They’re learning about understanding.  They’re learning about compassion.  They’re learning about virtue.  They’re learning about honesty and integrity.  They’re watching, and far more important than your relationship to your child in the long run is the relationship you have to your spouse, that’s projected to your child.  And so at the very outset, the Word of God is clear to tell us the relationship between Hannah and Elkanah.

Now, first of all, let me say that it wasn’t a perfect relationship; so ladies, you want to start out by realizing you’re not married to a perfect man.  That’s a given.  I want you to understand what the Scripture says.  Hannah was married to a polygamist Now, I don’t know how that would sit with you as a woman, but I can guess.  And I can also tell you that it didn’t sit any better with Hannah than it does with you, to have a rival in the house, to have another wife in the house And worst of all, she is producing boys and girls and Hannah has none, and so she is the unfruitful, unproductive wife who cannot give to her husband that which her heart most longs to give.

He wasn’t a perfect man.  The very fact that he was a polygamist indicates his imperfection.  But understand this, this is a primitive time, and polygamy was a part of human culture; never God’s design, never.  God always designed one man, one woman, leaving their parents, joining together for life, and becoming one flesh, from Genesis on.  But human society was rife with polygamy, and when the truth of God came into human society, it was so pervasive, polygamy, that it took time to root it out

And so Elkanah created for Hannah a very difficult situation.  We don’t know the details, but it may well have been that he went on to marry Peninnah because of Hannah’s barrenness, and in order to produce a generation who could then possess his inheritance.  And so that would even make the pain deeper, because Peninnah came to do in that union what Hannah could not do.  Not a perfect relationship, but nonetheless a good one, a right one.  Let me show you why.

First of all, they shared worship Now, “this man,” Elkanah, verse 3 says, “would go up from his city yearly to worship and to sacrifice to the Lord of hosts in Shiloh.”  It doesn’t mean he went once a year, it meant that every year he went.  In Deuteronomy, chapter 16, verse 16, it explains the prescription; three times a year – yes, it was the Feast of Unleavened Bread, the Feast of Weeks, and the Feast of Booths The man had to go to the place of worship.  In this particular time, in 1 Samuel, the place of worship was at Shiloh, because that’s where the Ark of the Covenant was located before it was transferred to Jerusalem

Starting out, then, they had a shared worship; so vital.  How you worship communicates volumes of information to your children Are you faithful?  Are you faithful to come and meet with God’s redeemed people, week in and week out?  Are you faithful to make the Word of God the priority in your life?  Are you faithful that prayer should have a high place in your experience spiritually?  Are you faithful to live what you affirm that you believe?  In other words, the attitude of your spiritual devotion is communicating a Christianity to your children that they will have a hard time overcoming, if it in fact is less than it ought to be.

Secondly, they not only had a right relationship in their marriage because of worshiping together, but secondly, they shared love Notice verse 4, “And when the day came that Elkanah sacrificed” – one of those times when he took the trip to Shiloh – “he would give portions to Peninnah his wife and all her sons and her daughters, but to Hannah he would give a double portion, for he loved Hannah.”  Stop at that point.  He didn’t love Peninnah That’s the implication.  Peninnah was there to produce the children that Hannah couldn’t have Peninnah was there to create a future for his family, his inheritance.  But Hannah was the one he loved, and he made no attempt to hide that And when they went to offer their sacrifices, I don’t know if you know how that worked, but they would go to offer peace offerings, and they would offer the offering on the altar there.  The priest would take a small part, then most of it would come back to the family, and they’d have a feast And when passing out the feast, he would give a double portion to Hannah, because she was the one he loved.  This was a gesture in the East to an honored guest She was the one who had his heart.  And it was not just the love of emotion, it was the love of kindness, and the love of thoughtfulness, and the love of sacrifice, the love of honor.  He loved herAnd this love was her security

Men, if you don’t know it yet, you ought to know it; a woman’s security is in your love for her, not in your bank account, not in a fancy house, not in new furniture, not in a retirement plan.  A woman finds her security in your love, and it needs to be demonstrated so frequently that there’s never a question about it People wonder often why women tend to be suspicious of their husbands, and wondering if they might have some other attraction or be fooling around with some other person, and the reason is because it’s so deeply rooted in a woman that her security is in the love of her man.  And that’s the way it was with Elkanah and Hannah And she was secure in his love, because he took the time to demonstrate his love to her in very public ways, such as he had done at this feast in front of everyoneThey shared love, and thus she was secure in that love; and she needed that, believe me, when he had another wife …

They shared love … There is the absence of anxiety and frustration, so that the woman can give herself to the children, and not always feel that she’s got to be a beauty queen to win the affection of her husband.  Once the husband with his love wraps that woman up and secures her, then she can give herself away to her children, and not have to feel that she must always fight the uphill battle to attract her husband.

Thirdly, they shared another thing.  They shared feelings Shared worship, their relationship to God was a common one.  They shared love, and they shared feelings.  Look at verse 6.  “Her rival, however,” – that’s Peninnah – “would provoke her bitterly to irritate her because the Lord had closed her womb.”  It said that also at the end of verse 5, twice it says the Lord had closed her womb What it’s trying to say is this isn’t Hannah’s problem; the Lord did this The Lord closed her womb.  And this Peninnah would harass her, you know, that kind of thing, “Too bad you can’t have any children, Hannah,” just sticking the knife in And it happened year after year; “as often as she went up to the house of the Lord, she would provoke her so she wept and wouldn’t eat.” 

Here she goes to the big feast Elkanah is sympathetically, lovingly giving her a double portion She won’t eat anything, ’cause on the other side of the table, Peninnah’s really rubbing it in that she has no children The response – I would not want to be in Elkanah’s position, trying to pull these two women together.  But Elkanah, her husband, said to her, “Hannah, why do you weep?  And why do you not eat?  And why is your heart sad?  Am I not better to you than ten sons?”  They shared feelings.  Boy, he read her feelings and he didn’t pontificate, he asked a question.  Why are you doing this, Hannah?  Haven’t I been better than ten sons to you?He knew the conflict, and he knew the conflict was intensified from Peninnah’s side, and he knew that it was deep and painful and it was a hard, hard place for her to be And so he was tender, and sympathetic, and thoughtful, and he felt her feelings in his own heart.

She has a right husband relationshipThey share worship, the deepest dimension of human life They share love, maybe the next deepest dimension of human life.  They share feelings, maybe the next deepest dimension of human life.  They have a deep relationship.  They move together in the presence of God, with one another, and over the issues of life that involve other people.

As devestated as she was about her sterility — which God had given her — she believed that He could reverse her condition. She never lost her faith. Not only did she pray and pray for a child, she also made a vow to the Lord. Many women would have been bitter and turned away from God, but not Hannah:

The high priest is in the temple.  She goes there.  She came into the temple greatly distressed.  Her soul was bitter, it literally says And she prayed to the Lord and wept bitterly She is just crushed – crushed.  And she made a promise, a vow.  “O Lord,” and she goes on to make her vow.  But notice this about this godly woman: she was a woman of prayer.  It’s a beautiful characteristic.  She understood that God was the source of children.  She understood that God alone could alter her sterility.  Her distinctive virtue was her faith, constant faith.  Verse 12, “It came about as she continued praying before the Lord” – constant.  She remained there.  She stayed there.  Her heart was broken She was pouring out her prayersThis is the spirit of true prayer

So she promised God, “I’ll give You this child, I just want to be fulfilled as a mother, I just want to raise a godly son to give back to Your glory.  And if You give him to me I’ll give him back.”  This is her promise, to present her child to God.  That’s the essence of a godly mother.  While praying for a child, she prays for that child not for a wrong reason but a right reason, to turn that child back to God, from where the child came.  That’s the essence of a godly mother – to give the child to God, to give the child to God.  My mother only had one son, and I am that son Before I was born she dedicated me to the Lord from birth, and told my father that she wanted a son who would preach the gospel That’s a wonderful legacy And that may not be what every son is to do, it is not what every son is to do, but every godly mother will give that child to the Lord for whatever he has; the same with a daughterSo Hannah made her promise.

We also find out more about Eli and his sons. Wasn’t it awful for Eli to accuse Hannah in her brokenness of being drunk?

The next thing we see about Hannah was her purity.  Eli was the high priest, but I’ve got to tell you, he was really a lousy high priest And nothing could be said about his discernment, either.  “It came about when she was praying continually before the Lord, Eli was watching her mouth.”  Sitting off on a – he was a big, fat manIn fact, when his sons died, he was so shook he fell over, and landed on his neck and broke it and killed himself So Eli was sitting there watching her, and she was in there pouring out her heart and weeping and crying.  And she was speaking in her heart.  She wasn’t speaking out loud, it says in verse 13, only her lips were moving.  Have you ever had that experience where you’re really talking in your heart but your lips are moving, though not a sound was heard?  So Eli thought she was drunk Isn’t he discerning?  Now, I don’t know anything about my discernment as relative to other people, or to Eli’s, but I’ll tell you, I think I know the difference between a drunk and a woman broken in prayer

So Eli decided to play the spiritual role “How long will you make yourself drunk?  Put away your wine from you,” he says to her.  And Hannah is so gracious, and answered and said, “No, my lord, I’m a woman oppressed in spirit I have drunk neither wine nor strong drink, but I have poured out my soul before the Lord.  You misjudge me.  Do not consider your maidservant as a worthless woman.”  That tells us a little bit about drinking wine or strong drink and its relationship to worthlessness regarding women.  That’s an Old Testament attitude.  “Don’t consider me like that.  I have spoken until now out of my great concern and my provocation.”  Then Eli, hearing such a lucid answer, answered and said, “Go in peace, and may the God of Israel grant your petition that you’ve asked of Him.”  It’s sort of a mild apology But he mistook her for being drunk.  “Don’t think your maidservant a worthless woman” – literally, a son of Belial, profitless.  A common term, by the way, in the Old Testament, associated with idolatry, Deuteronomy 13; rebellion, 1 Samuel 2; lewd, sensuous acts in Judges 19 and 20; a term used to speak of arrogance and stupidity in 1 Samuel 25, and even murder in 1 Kings 21 “Don’t think that I’m in that group.  I’m not that kind of person.”  She was a virtuous woman, like the woman of Proverbs 12:4 and 31:10, she was a woman of virtue.  She was a godly woman, she was a pure woman …

… the rest of chapter 2 into chapter 3 into chapter 4 is the sad, pathetic tragedy of the family of Eli His sons were fornicators They died, and he himself fell over, as I said, and died.  It was a tragic, ugly scene.  And the commentary of Scripture on Eli was that he could not restrain his sons from doing evil; and his wife is never mentioned I don’t know what part, if any, she had, but she was a long way from what Hannah was in producing godly Samuel

MacArthur explains why Hannah was able to enjoy eating after she was so upset in prayer:

I’ll tell you why: because she had patient faith.  She had patient faith She gave it to God, what else could she do?  She wasn’t about to remain frustrated.  This is true faith True faith doesn’t pray, “O God, here’s my problem, here’s my problem,” walk away in utter frustration.  That’s really doubt.  Faith says, “Here it is, God,” and walks away, and is no longer sad.  That’s trust.  “I trust You.”  Very much the mark of a godly mother, one who totally trusts God – she casts her burden on God, and that’s the end of it.  She walks away.  She eats.  She is no longer sad.

Samuel was a little boy — older than a toddler — when Hannah dedicated him to the Lord:

“For she said to her husband, ‘I will not go up until the child is weaned.’”  Now wait a minute.  That’s a couple of years, Hannah.  Three years?  I don’t know exactly how long Hannah nursed little Samuel, but several years surely “I won’t go.”  It was only about a two or three week trip, at the longest, to go up there and be there for a week, traveling there, traveling back.  It’s less than 200 miles from one end of Palestine to the other.  She wouldn’t go, she wouldn’t go at all.  Why?  She was dedicated to the child.  When God gave the child, she was dedicated to the child

Samuel means heard by God And boy, once that child came, Hannah said, “This is the child of my passion, this is the child of my vow; I will not forsake my time with this child I won’t leave this child for several weeks.  I won’t take this little child along and make it uncomfortable,” because they would necessarily walk The child needs sleep, and the child needs the gentleness of home, the quietness of a nursing environment … 

And she dedicates the weaned child to God So verse 24, “When she had weaned him, she took him up with her, along with a three-year- old bull, and one ephah of flour, and a jug of wine, and brought him to the house of the Lord in Shiloh, although the child was young.  They slaughtered the bull and brought the boy to Eli, and she said, ‘O my lord, as your soul lives, my lord, I am the woman who stood here beside you praying to the Lord.  For this boy I prayed, and the Lord has given me my petition which I asked of Him So I have also dedicated him to the Lord; as long as he lives he is dedicated to the Lord.’  And he worshiped the Lord there.”

Samuel’s story begins in 1 Samuel 2:

Look at chapter 2, verse 18:  “Now Samuel was ministering before the Lord, as a boy wearing a linen ephod.”  In other words, he was girded like a priest would be, dressed as a little boy His whole life was ministering before the Lord.  “And his mother would make him a little robe,” verse 19, “and bring it to him from year to year when she would come up with her husband to offer the yearly sacrifice Then Eli would bless Elkanah and his wife and say, ‘May the Lord give you children from this woman in place of the one she dedicated to the Lord.’  And they went to their own home.  The Lord visited Hannah; and she conceived and gave birth to three sons and two daughters And the boy Samuel grew before the Lord.”

She never really let go of her responsibility; every time she came, she came with a new little robe for her growing Samuel That’s the result of godly mothering And that’s the insight that you never stop being Mother, no matter how old they become God blessed her. To be a godly mother involves a right husband relationship, a right heavenly relationship, and a right home relationship Hannah had all of that.  God honored it, and she gives us a model to follow.

In closing, may I wish all mothers celebrating in a few days’ time a happy — and blessed — Mothering Sunday.

John F MacArthurJohn MacArthur often laments the state of the Church today.

In May 1998, he gave a sermon on 2 Corinthians 13:1-2, which I cited in my post yesterday.

The sermon is called ‘The Pattern of Sanctification, Part 1: Church Discipline’.

Whilst discussing the first two verses of 2 Corinthians 13, he also gave an excellent exposition of everything that is wrong in the Church today. Excerpts follow, emphases mine below.

Since 1998, the following has exploded in churches around the Western world. Around the end of the 20th century, church growth rose to prominence. Moving on to the 21st century, the last decade saw a rise in home churches. Online church services surfaced during the pandemic and became normalised. The Church of England hierarchy wants more online services and fewer church buildings, retaining them only in community ‘hubs’. I do despair.

MacArthur points out the folly of it all:

Now, before we look at the text itself, I want to kind of get us into the importance of the subject and the importance of the attitude of the apostle Paul here by sharing with you perspective that I think exists in the Church today. Many people are concerned about the state of the Church. The condition of churches today have caused a myriad of seminars and conferences and books to be written. There are constant calls for renewal in the Church, for better understanding of the culture, for changing the style of the Church to fit the style of the ‘90s, replacing preaching of the Scripture with more interesting methodologies and technologies.

All across our country – in fact, all around the world there are these efforts being made to reinvent the Church. The fear is that the Church is not speaking to the time, people are not listening. The Church has somehow become irrelevant; it has become obsolete. Self-styled experts are saying that the future of the Church is in the balance, and the Church may not survive in the West if it doesn’t become culturally relevant, if it doesn’t learn how to package its message better, if it doesn’t target felt needs, if it doesn’t employ more popular and efficient communication devices that it currently uses.

All of this comes into focus in a new book that’s just been out a couple of weeks. It’s one of those books that you could pick up and read rather rapidly. I read it fairly rapidly; I couldn’t put it down. It just kept compelling me to read. It was sort of like enjoying the pain, actually. It was like there’s something redeeming in this self-flagellation that I’m going through, and I’m going to carry it all away to the end. The book pained me deeply, and every page added more to my pain, but I couldn’t put it down because I was so startled by what the book was saying.

It is a book that calls for the Church to do what I just said: reinvent itself. And it says, on the cover of the book, “Today’s Church is incapable of responding to the present moral crisis. It must reinvent itself or face virtual oblivion by mid twenty-first century.” End quote.

So, the book says that if the Church doesn’t reinvent itself, and put itself in better cultural relevance, it’s going to go out of existence in 50 years. That statement alone was overwhelming for me. Do you mean to tell me that the eternal God who determined in the counsels of the Trinity, before the foundation of the world, before time began, who He would redeem and how He would gather His own to Himself and bring them to eternal glory is somehow going to find His whole plan coming unglued in the next 50 years? Do you mean to tell me that the Church which Jesus Christ purchased with His own blood is somehow going to escape His purposes for redemption and atonement? Do you mean to tell me that the Church which Jesus said He would build, and the gates of Hades could not prevail against it is somehow going to become victimized by its own inept[itude]? That is a brash and irresponsible statement, to say that if the Church doesn’t reinvent itself, it’ll face oblivion by the mid twenty-first century.

The only thing that could possibly obliterate the Church on earth by then would be the end of the age and the return of Jesus Christ and the glorification of the Church. That’s a very irresponsible thing to say. And the author of the book fearing – and I think he probably genuinely fears that the Church might go out of existence – suggests that there are some ways to save the Church, and these are the suggestions. “Develop cyber churches, virtual churches on the Internet.

Secondly, develop house churches which appeal to people because they have low control, low authority, and operate without historical tradition, I might add, or theology.” “Eliminate congregational churches” – like this – “for more congenial, less confrontational, and more dispassionately interactive forums. Preachers must be replaced by presenters who have no notes and don’t hide behind pulpits, and who generate a more positive response for their listeners.

“We must get rid of sermons, because one-sided communication is ineffective, and eliminate series and Bible exposition, because everybody’s attendance is sporadic, and people really get irritated coming in and out of series that they can’t consistently hear. So, we need to play to their sporadic attendance. And every sermon should be a unit in itself because most of the folks will miss the next two weeks before they decide to come back.”

You say, “Well, where did he get those ideas?”

They were the result of a survey. If you ask unbelievers outside the Church what they want, you can get answers like that. If you ask unbelievers inside the Church what they want, you can get answers like that. If you ask believers in the Church, ignorant of Scripture, what they want, you can get answers like that. But if you were to survey biblically literate believers, you wouldn’t get answers like that.

So, who is it that determines the character of the Church? You go to the lowest possible source. Unbelievers outside the Church, unbelievers inside the Church, or ignorant believers in the Church. What is the hope of the Church? Is this really it, if we can just disband congregational churches and develop a virtual church on the Internet, will that solve our problem? Will that dramatically affect the Church’s ability to confront the moral crisis of our day, as if that were somehow our reason for existence? And it’s not. Ours is not a moral agenda. Ours is a spiritual one.

Would it be better if we had presenters instead of preachers, and we got rid of pulpits, and got rid of sermon notes, and sat on stools, would that be the difference? And just sort of told stories?

Would it be better if instead of somebody preparing to preach a sermon and giving forth an exposition of Scripture we had a pooling of everyone’s ideas? Would it be better if we never had any continuity in or sermons but had little units week in and week out? Would that really save the Church from virtual oblivion?

And by the way, are we the ones responsib[le for] sav[ing] the Church from going out of existence? Is that our job? That’s all the result of a survey. You see, that’s what people want. And what they want is what they should get. That’s the basic thesis behind all of that.

Now, if you ask me what the Church needs, I don’t need a survey. I just ask the Lord of the Church, and He’s revealed it in His Word. And what the Church really needs is more consistent, faithful, clear theological exposition of the mind of God through the pages of Scripture. What it needs is better preaching, better sermons – and I may get in trouble for saying this – fewer small churches with ungifted, untrained, and unskilled preachers.

The Word must dominate the Church and bear its God-intended power and authority over all who hear. You see, the only way that the Church will ever effectively counter the crisis of our time – moral crisis, spiritual crisis – is when the Word of God is working powerfully in the Church – listen to what I say – to produce not information, but “holiness.” There’s the operative word, folks. Write that down somewhere; that’s the theme of the message this morning.

You see, the hope of the Church and the impact of the Church is all connected to the purity of the Church. Holiness is the issue. When Jesus first addressed the Church in Matthew 18, the first time he ever said anything related to the Church, in that great sermon in Matthew 18:7, the first thing he said about it is this, “If somebody’s in sin, go to him. If he doesn’t listen, take two or three witnesses. If he doesn’t listen, tell the church. And after the church has pursued him, if he still doesn’t repent, throw him out; treat him like an outcast.

The first instruction our Lord ever gave to the CHURCH had to do with sin. In that very first sermon, Jesus said, “If you ever lead another believer into sin, you’d be better off if a millstone were put around your neck and you were drowned in the depths of the sea.” The Lord of the Church is concerned about the purity of the Church. He’s concerned about the holiness of the Church. Sin is the issue to the Lord of the Church, and it should be the issue for us. But I daresay you can go from conference to conference to conference, and book to book to book, and this is not the concern today. You won’t hear talk about the holiness of the Church, the purity of the Church.

When I was at Moody this week, I spoke, and I basically said to them, “You know, I’m going to preach the sermon I’ve prepared for my own church on Sunday.” I kind of tweaked it here and there a little bit. But I said to them what I’m going to say to you, because everybody’s talking about church growth and how to grow your church and have a successful church in a flourishing ministry and more folks and church growth is a begin thing. And I said to them, “It may surprise you to hear this, but I really believe the single greatest contributor to the impact of our church, to the growth of our church, to the ministries of our church, to the effect of our church – the single greatest factor that exists – has existed through the years of Grace Community Church – the single greatest contributor to the influence, and the strength, and the growth of our church has been” – and I paused, and it got real quiet, and I said – “church discipline.” And there was a pall over the meeting.

Church discipline. That is not normally considered a principle of church growth. Most people would assume, “If you want to kill a place, do that. Just start poking around in everybody’s life and they’ll split.” Not the people who love righteousness. Not the people who hate sin. Not the people who want to honor God. Not the people who care about obedience. And that’s the Church, isn’t it? That’s the true and redeemed Church.

It may surprise you to hear this. I believe that ignoring church discipline is the most visible and disastrous failure of the Church in our time. Because what it conveys is we aren’t really concerned about – what? – sin. The Lord of the Church is concerned about sin. The apostle Paul was concerned about sin. It left him with a constant, unrelenting ache in his heart.

The problem with the Church is not that it’s got bad methodology or bad technology. The problem with the Church is it’s lost its interest in holiness. It’s lost its interest in maintaining purity. Churches have become content to be fellowships of independent members with minimal accountability to God, and even less to each other

The absence of church discipline – and I mean it’s absolutely a foreign thing in churches – the absence of church discipline is a symptom of the moral decline, the theological indifference of the Church. It’s a symptom, I believe, of a shallow commitment to Scripture. It’s not as if the Bible is unclear on the subject. It couldn’t be more clear. It is a lack of reverence for the Lord of the Church. It is saying, “Well, I know you’re concerned about the holiness of the Church, but we’re really not. We have other things to be concerned about.” Church discipline is not an elective; it is not an option; it is a necessary an integral mark of true Christianity and life in the church.

And I say it again; the absence of church discipline is the most glaring evidence of the worldliness of the Church. And the worldliness of the Church is the reason for its impotence. And you can have all of the entertainment, and all the hoopla, and all the big crowds that you want and not impact the world. It’s the purity of the Church; it’s the holiness of the Church that is the cause of its power. The problem is the Church is unholy.

Even the idea of confession of sin is outdated in an age of moral relativism and moral ambiguity. The answer is not let’s break up the congregation and produce less accountability; let’s get down to house churches where we have less authority, less confrontation, more autonomy, more independence. The answer is not let’s have more compassion; let’s have a kinder, gentler church.

Albert Mohler, who’s the president of Southern Seminary, writes – and I quote – “Individuals now claim an enormous zone of personal privacy and moral autonomy. The congregation, redefined as a mere voluntary association, has no right to intrude into this space. Many congregations have forfeited any responsibility to confront even the most public sins of their members.” He says congregations are consumed with pragmatic methods of church growth and what he calls congregational engineering. And most churches just ignore the issues of sin.

Let us contrast that approach with that of St Paul:

Well, the apostle Paul wasn’t that way. We’re learning, at the end of the book here, about the faithful pastor’s concerns. What is it that concerns a faithful pastor? What is it that concerns Paul? Well, he’s giving us a summary of that, starting in chapter 12, verse 19, running all the way to chapter 13, verse 10. That whole section is a summation of what concerns Paul.

And we could sum it up in a word. He’s concerned with the spiritual well-being of his flock. That’s what he’s concerned about. Corinth was a challenge. The city was gross in terms of its wickedness. People who came to Christ in that city were coming out of very immoral backgrounds. They brought some of that garbage into the church. He had to write to them 1 Corinthians to confront a long litany of iniquities that they were still engaging in, even though they were in the church and calling themselves believers.

Having sorted out those problems in the writing of 1 Corinthians, it wasn’t long until false teachers had come, and along with false teachers came pride, and along with pride came more sin. And Paul could see the subsequent impotence of that unholy situation and the loss of testimony, the loss of evangelistic impact that would follow.

Paul knew that the problem in Corinth was not going to be whether they were culturally relevant or not. The false teachers criticized Paul for not having a relevant message, not taking into account the expectations of the Corinthians for what oratory ought to be because of what they were used to. They had criticized Paul because his person, his persona was unimpressive, and his speech was contemptible; he was a lousy communicator; he didn’t speak in the venue that people were used to hearing. He didn’t have all of the personal charm to woo the audience.

He had already addressed the issues that he didn’t speak with men’s wisdom, and he didn’t come in the wisdom of the world to achieve divine purposes. He already had laid it down that he was going to come and speak the Word of God, and he believed the Word of God, and he believed the Word of God was the power. And behind that came this conviction and commitment to the fact that the church had to be holy. And what Paul feared in his church was error and sin. Either one of those destroys the church. Theological error, theological ignorance or inequity devastates the church.

I can think of very few pastors who would pursue Paul’s route. Yet, it is the correct one for the Church.

There is the world, the slave to sin. And there is the Church, which teaches that the way to eternal life is through the repentance of sin, a turning around of ourselves and our worldly ways towards … holiness.

Do we notice how the more modern and relevant the Church becomes, the more people avoid it?

There is another problem and that is the use of churches as tools for evangelising. Evangelising is a necessary activity but, done properly, it takes place outside of the church service, not during it.

The church service is designed for worship of our Lord and the exposition of Scripture, not winning converts off the street.

How bad do things have to get before our clergy realise the error of their ways? Sadly, I fear this will drag on and on for decades.

John F MacArthurThroughout his letters, St Paul often wrote of endurance, a resilience to the end.

John MacArthur has a sermon on the subject, ‘Secrets to Endurance’, based on 2 Corinthians 4:16-18:

16 So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self[a] is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day. 17 For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, 18 as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal.

Excerpts follow, emphases mine.

Because we all want to know what St Paul’s secret to endurance was, I’ll start there, even though it is near the end of MacArthur’s sermon:

The secret is focusing on the inner man not the outer man, focusing on the spiritual and not the physical. The secret is to look to the future not the present, to take your eyes off present pain, and look at future glory. And the secret is to be consumed with what is invisible and not what is visible; to give your life to what will never perish, not what will perish. Place the unseen far above the seen, the future far above the present, and the spiritual far above the physical.

And when you do that, you will be able to say, “We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not despairing; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed.”

Paul suffered much persecution during his life, which, as an Apostle, though not one of the original twelve, brought him much physical pain. There was emotional pain also, because a lot of people wanted to kill him.

It could have been so different for him. As a Pharisee growing up far from Jerusalem, he was educated in Greek ways of thinking. When he moved to Jerusalem for religious training, he learned under the best teacher, Gamaliel. He could have had a highly privileged life.

Yet, the Lord chose Paul to evangelise in His name, far and wide, to Asia Minor, Macedonia and Greece.

Paul’s three-day long Damascene conversion began with an appearance by Christ along the road to Damascus which left him blinded during that time. Our Lord spoke to him, uncomfortable, yet eternal, truths for a persecutor of Christians such as Saul.

Paul wrote that he had seen the face of Christ. That blinding moment helped him persevere through the hardest trials of persecution.

MacArthur cites 2 Corinthians 3:18:

… he found the solution for his trouble, and his trial, and his anxiety, and his depression by looking at the face of Jesus. And as long, “beholding as in a mirror” – as verse 18 of chapter 3 says – “the glory of the Lord in the face of Jesus Christ” – as long as he did that, he found strength, and comfort, encouragement, and even joy in the midst of his trials.

MacArthur wants us to develop a similar spiritual strategy, imagining the face of Christ from the pages of the Bible and making that ‘image’, for lack of a better expression, a living one we look at every day:

So, we’ve been suggesting to you that looking into the face of Jesus is the way to live your Christian life. And that is an objective thing, not a subjective one. We’re not asking you to find some mystical image of Jesus in space somewhere and fix yourself on it, but rather to look at the Lord Jesus Christ as revealed on the pages of Scripture. And finding there the real Christ, learn to trust in Him.

Now, I want to sort of approach the same program, the same issue this morning, the same pattern of vision, looking at the person of Christ, but from a bit of a different angle, rather than just talking about looking at the face of Jesus, I want to take a step beyond that, and I want to define that look as love, if I may, and say to you that the reality of the Christian life, as I have been saying, is looking at the face of Jesus. And the reality of that is simply loving the Lord Jesus Christ. That’s really what that is. That is synonymous with loving the Lord Jesus Christ.

The reality of loving the Lord Jesus Christ is at the heart and soul and core of the Christian life. Love for the Savior is present in every true Christian. I’ll say it again; love for the Savior is present in every true Christian. In fact, we could be defined as those who love the Lord Jesus Christ. Most frequently we say, “Well, I accepted Christ,” or, “I trusted Christ,” or, “I confessed Christ,” or, “I put my faith in Christ.”

And perhaps what would be more true would be to say, “I love the Lord Jesus Christ,” and in so saying, you are saying he is the object of my highest affection. He is my highest joy. He is the one to whom I am supremely devoted. He is the object of my desires, and my interest, and my love. My whole life is centered on Christ. To use the words of Paul, “For to me, to live is Christ,” is another way of saying, “I love Christ with all my heart, soul, mind, and strength.” And Paul certainly exhibits that kind of devotion.

This is what Jesus asks us to do, as documented in the Gospels:

In John 8:42, Jesus said this, “If God were your Father, you would love Me.” “If God were your Father, you would love Me.”

In John 14:21, Jesus said, “He who has My commandments and keeps them, he it is who loves Me; and he who loves Me shall be loved by My Father, and I will love him and reveal Myself to him.”

This matter of being a Christian, then, is a matter of loving the Lord Jesus Christ – and being loved by Christ, by God the Father – and demonstrating that love in sacrifice a willingness to alienate yourself, if need be, from family, willing to give your life, a willingness to give up your life, and certainly a willingness to obey.

That is a tall order and one which I struggle with at times. I know very few believers, because there are few in Britain. Obedience is also something difficult for me, as I occasionally strain at the bit. Those are my weak points.

MacArthur summarises temptation rather well:

we take our eyes off Christ, don’t we? We fluctuate in the intensity of our love. We fluctuate; we wax and wane in the regularity of our devotion to Christ. Why? Because we become enamored with other attractions. Other things vie for our affections. Things in the world, material things; other people; other goals, and dreams, and ambitions, and desires, they compete.

And so, the love that we have for the Lord Jesus Christ, while always there, because it is an incorruptible love, fluctuates in its intensity, and we fluctuate in our devotion. When we take a our eyes off Jesus Christ, we become weak and sinful

and it’s hard to look if your affection is diverted.

I mean that’s true in the human life. You can and should be fixed and devoted to the object of your love, your marriage partner, an undiminished, incorruptible, and singular devotion. But there are other things, very, very often, that get in the way. And once other things or other people begin to distract our attention, no matter to what level of involvement we might come or not come, it begins to take away the singular devotion of attention that should be given to our own partner. The same thing is true in the spiritual dimension. So, Satan just parades a string of other things in front of us to divert us. And when we take our eyes off Jesus Christ, and our love for Him diminishes, we become weak and sinful.

This is something we must guard against because it can become a destructive habit.

MacArthur mentions our Lord’s letter to the church in Ephesus in Revelation 2:

Perhaps as graphic an illustration of that as is in the Scripture we would find in Revelation chapter 2. Let’s look at it, because it’ll set in motion what I want to say to you, and we’ll come a full circle by the time we’re finished and come back to this concept.

But do you remember the letter of the Lord to the church at Ephesus, a very, very well-known letter. And the Lord writes to them, and in verses 2, 3, and 6 of Revelation 2, He commends them. In verse 2 of Revelation 2, “I know your deeds and your toil and perseverance” – in other words, “I know that you serve; I know that you work hard, you labor, you toil to the point of exhaustion. I know your perseverance – that is your steadfastness – that is you stay at it; you stay at it. “I also know you can’t endure evil men” – you don’t tolerate wickedness. I also know that you put to the test those who call themselves apostles” – in other words, you measure them by the Scripture – “and if they are not, you will find them to be false.”

Verse 3, “You have perseverance, and you have endured for My name’s sake, and you have not grown weary.” And then in verse 6, “Yet the – this you do have, that you hate the deeds of the Nicolaitans, which I also hate.” They were a group of people involved in sinful indulgence, uncleanness, and immorality. He commends them for their purity, their discernment, their hatred of sin, their doctrinal soundness, their endurance, their service, their hard work. So much to be commended.

But the fatal flaw comes down there in verse 4, where He says, “I have this against you, that you have left your first love.” Sadly, the honeymoon had ended. Love was cold. No longer were they fixed on the Lord Jesus Christ …

And so, then we have an essential word here for us as to the church at Ephesus. Verse 5, “Remember, therefore, from where you have fallen” – get back to that first affection, that first love – “repent and do the deeds which you did at first. If you don’t, I’ll remove your lampstand.”

The church in Ephesus was dying then. The Muslim invasions of the 7th century ended what was left of it.

Returning to Paul’s endurance, MacArthur says:

And so Paul here, as he writes, back to 2 Corinthians chapter 4, is in the middle of severe trials, severe problems, heartbreaking issues in the church, physical things pale beside the immense emotional trauma that he was feeling as everything was up for grabs, and his whole ministry was being assaulted as to its integrity.

And in the midst of that he finds his equilibrium, and he finds his strength, and he finds his victory, and he finds his peace, and he finds even joy not by changing circumstances, but by looking at the face of Jesus and seeing the glory of God revealed.

And so, we have said that as he talks [about] the new covenant here, and the great privileges of being a new covenant preacher, he’s not just talking about something for which others are privileged, but he himself, because his own joy is found in looking into the glories of the Lord Jesus Christ who is the new covenant.

And so, in verse 18, he says looking at the face of Jesus and seeing the glory of God is a clarifying look. In verse 18 he says it’s a transforming look. Then in chapter 4, verse 1, it is a strengthening look. At the end of the verse, we do not lose heart. Looking into the face of Jesus, in verse 2, is a purifying look. It causes us to renounce the things that are hidden because of shame and not walk in deception.

It is a truth-loving look. It causes us never to adulterate the Word of God, but always by the manifestation of the truth commend ourselves to ever man’s conscience in the sight of God. So, it is a truth-loving look. So, Paul has found that no matter what the trial, things become clear. He becomes transformed, strengthened, purified, and begins to love the truth as he gazes at the face of Jesus Christ in any situation.

Paul could have boasted about that, but he remained humble:

Whenever Paul talked about himself, he talked about his weakness. Whenever he referred to himself, he referred to himself in terms of his inabilities. The apostle Paul never promoted himself, never preached himself. His vision of Christ caused the glory of Christ to dominate his life. His love for Christ caused him to be completely consumed by Jesus Christ, and Christ was the focus of everything. If we would boast in glory, he would glory in the Lord. And if there was anything to boast about in him, it was his weakness – so in his weakness he could be made strong. He never promoted himself.

He goes further, in verse 5, “For we do not preach ourselves but Christ Jesus as Lord.” I think we could safely conclude from that that Paul was a lordship preacher. I think that’s a safe assumption. He preached Christ Jesus as Lord.

Humility is essential:

Let me tell you something, a true look into the face of Jesus results in humility. It results in humility. I mean this is very, very basic. Anyone looking at the face of Jesus is turned into a humble, self-effacing person. It’s true.

And conversely, anyone who is not humble is not looking into the face of Jesus. Anyone who is in love with Christ and deeply, profoundly devoted to Christ, anyone who has established the Lord Jesus Christ as the object of his affections, the singular object of his love is going to manifest humility. He’s going to be a servant of the one he loves and a servant of those whom the one he loves loves. Going to be a servant of God’s people.

Where there is a real look at Jesus, where there is a real love for the Lord Jesus Christ, you will see humility. And where there is no humility, there is no real vision of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ, and there is a kind of love that we could say is less than first love. In fact, where you see pride, there’s another person vying for that love, and it’s self. Right?

That’s why when I – when I look at someone who names the name of Jesus Christ, particularly someone who claims to be a preacher and represent the Lord Jesus Christ and proclaim His truth, the first thing I look for is – what? – humility. Because I’m going to know the level of love for the Lord Jesus Christ in that person’s life by the demonstration of humility. And if there’s not humility there, then self is the main object of affection, and they’re not looking into the face of Jesus and seeing the glory of God.

The reason for humility is the realisation that we cannot accomplish salvation ourselves:

And salvation or redemption is as much a divine operation as was creation, and it’s as much a creative operation. Spiritual darkness covers the minds of men and women until God shines in their hearts. Colossians 1 says, “Giving thanks to the Father” – verse 12 – “who has qualified us to share in the inheritance of the saints in Light. For He delivered us from the domain of darkness.” Thanks to Him, He did it. He delivered us. It wasn’t our cleverness, ingenuity, insight, ability to comprehend. It wasn’t our good sense, common sense, and it wasn’t the cleverness of a preacher; it was simply the truth presented. God turned on the light. God alone can dispel the darkness. Second Corinthians 5:18 says, “All these things are from God, who reconciled us to Himself in Christ.” God alone can dispel the darkness of sin and ignorance in which people are perishing under Satan’s deception. Only the creative power of the Almighty can transfer men from that kingdom of darkness to the kingdom of God’s dear Son.

It’s right back there in Isaiah 2, “The people who walk in darkness will see a great light. Those who live in a dark land, the light will shine on them.” And Jesus came and said, “I’m the fulfillment of that.” He was the true Light that lights every man who comes into the world.

Christ bore the light of God. God alone can turn on the light in the heart. So, the point that he’s making is creation and redemption are each works of God. God commanded the light to shine out of darkness at the creation. And the light which shined in a creative way has now begun to shine in a redemptive way. The light of creation has become the light of salvation. The light placed in the heavens has now become a light placed in the heart. He light which was material has become immaterial or moral. The physical light of the sun – S-U-N – has become the spiritual light of the Son – S-O-N. The universal light has become the personal light. The sovereign God shines the gospel light into the human heart, when the truth is preached, and God designs to save.

And so, he says in verse 6, “God is the one who has shone in our hearts to give the light, to make the light known. And what is that light? It is the light that is the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ. What is the light? It is to know who Christ is: that He is graduate incarnate, that He is the clearest revelation of God. It is the illumination of the truth about God revealed in Christ. That’s it.

And Paul is saying, “Whatever might happen to me, I can’t despair. Whatever might happen to me, I can’t be depressed for very long. Whatever may happen to me, I can’t be sad and sorrowful. Whatever difficulties of ministry, I can’t quit, bail out and fail, and give up, because I am so immensely, immensely blessed that my heart is overwhelmed with thanksgiving, that in the midst of my darkness, a sovereign God chose to turn on the light.

MacArthur concludes:

So, rekindle that first love. Remember from where you are fallen. Begin again to focus all your life on knowing Jesus Christ, gazing at Him through the mirror of Scripture that reflects the glory of God in the face of Christ, and you’ll find in Him all the realities and all the resources for triumph, for peace, and for joy.

It’s an encouraging message for the week ahead.

In 2021, the First Sunday in Lent is February 21.

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

Readings for the First Sunday in Lent — Year B

My focus today is on the Gospel reading from Mark, which concerns the baptism of Jesus (emphases mine):

Mark 1:9-15

1:9 In those days Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan.

1:10 And just as he was coming up out of the water, he saw the heavens torn apart and the Spirit descending like a dove on him.

1:11 And a voice came from heaven, “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.”

1:12 And the Spirit immediately drove him out into the wilderness.

1:13 He was in the wilderness forty days, tempted by Satan; and he was with the wild beasts; and the angels waited on him.

1:14 Now after John was arrested, Jesus came to Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God,

1:15 and saying, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news.”

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

I have often written about the accounts of our Lord’s baptism as a sign of obedience to God the Father. There was no reason for Jesus to undergo immersion in the River Jordan for His sins as He had none. Yet, He partook in what would become a sacrament in order to obey the ordinances of his Father under the New Covenant and to share in our human experience.

However, there is a far greater reason why Jesus was baptised. This was His earthly coronation, as John MacArthur ably explains.

Those who have read Mark’s Gospel know that it skips parts of Jesus’s earthly life and early ministry. This is because Mark wrote it for the Gentiles in Rome. He wanted them to understand quickly and simply that Jesus is the Son of God and our Saviour.

Instead of beginning with the lineage or Jesus or the Nativity, Mark begins with John the Baptist’s ministry, but not before introducing his Gospel as follows (Mark 1:1):

The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.[a]

Christ’s baptism has many scriptural hallmarks of being His coronation, through baptism, a religious ceremony that is not part of the Jewish tradition in terms of repentance.

There are ritual baths, mostly for women, but those are for the purposes of ceremonial rather than spiritual cleansing.

MacArthur looks at both the coronation and the sacramental aspect of baptism.

First, the coronation, involving this meeting between Jesus and His cousin, John the Baptist, as adults:

This is the only one recorded in the New Testament. Though they contacted each other through their disciples, there is no other indication they had met. But this meeting is monumental. This meeting has significance that is sweeping and far-reaching because on this occasion of their meeting, there is the coronation of the new King. Remember I told you that in the gentile world, as well as the Jewish world, the word euaggelion, the word gospel had to do with the ascent of a king, the accession of a king to his throne. And Mark is writing about God’s great King, the new King who is coming, who will declare a new era for the world. This is His coronation.

From the Greek word euaggelion we derive the words ‘evangelist’ and ‘evangelical’. In French, the word évangile means ‘Gospel’.

From Matthew 3:14, we know that John was reluctant to baptise Jesus, because he knew who He was, so He gave this reason:

15 But Jesus answered him, “Let it be so now, for thus it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness.” Then he consented.

Jesus obeyed the commands of His Father, and baptism was one of them (verse 9).

MacArthur explains:

If God said this is to be done, then I will do this. It is that perfect obedience of Christ that is imputed to you and to me when we put our trust in Him. It’s what’s called His active righteousness.

But, how could the King of the Jews come from Galilee, let alone a little-known place called Nazareth?

The Jews considered Galilee unclean. MacArthur lays out the reasons why:

I don’t know if you know the history of Galilee. It was originally, of course, part of the land conquered by Joshua around the eighth century, I think – it was about then – it was invaded by the Assyrians, yes. And when it was invaded by the Assyrians, obviously they deported the Jews and many Gentiles came to live there. In the second century, they tried to – they tried to circumcise those gentiles, that didn’t go over real big.

They tried to attach them all to Judaism, that didn’t go over real big, either. So by the time you get to the ministry of John the Baptist, there are just a lot of Gentiles in that area. That’s why it’s called Galilee of the Gentiles. In fact, it was hated or treated with scorn and disdain by the Jews. One of the things that was said concerning Peter in Mark 14:70 was, “Isn’t he a Galilean?” There was nothing but scorn for Galilee. In fact, the further you were from Jerusalem, the more disdain they had for you, and this was a long, long way from Jerusalem. It was out on the fringes where the unclean people lived.

Yet — and yet — Isaiah prophesied that the Messiah would come from Galilee:

It would be unthinkable for the Messiah to come from Galilee, Galilee of the gentiles, that scorned place. And yet did they forget Isaiah 9, “There will be no more gloom for her who was in anguish. In earlier times he treated the land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali with contempt, but later on He shall make it glorious by the way of the sea on the other side of Jordan, Galilee of the gentiles. The people who walk in darkness will see a great light, the light will shine on them.”

That’s the Messianic prophecy, that the Messiah would come from Galilee of the gentiles, Messiah would come from the land of Zebulun and Naphtali. This is Galilee, northern part of Israel.

Let us take a closer look at Nazareth. MacArthur says:

the town is Nazareth, so obscure it has to be named and it has to be located into Galilee. If you said Jesus came from Nazareth, nobody would know where it was. Nazareth in Galilee because Nazareth is not known. There is no place in any existing Jewish literature, ancient Jewish literature, where Nazareth is ever mentioned. It’s not in Josephus, it’s not in the Talmud, it’s not in the Old Testament, most obscure no-place place.

Except that Nathanael knew about Nazareth (John 1:46; Readings for the Second Sunday after Epiphany, Year B). He asked of the newly-called Apostle Philip, rather bluntly:

1:46 Nathanael said to him, “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” Philip said to him, “Come and see.”

Historically, the Jews expected the Messiah to come from Jerusalem, but the prophets knew better. MacArthur tells us:

The assumption was Messiah would come from Jerusalem, the temple is there, but the head, you know, the core, Jerusalem was corrupt, apostate. So the prophets said the Messiah will come from the fringes. The Messiah will come from the outskirts. He’ll come far at the most remote place from the religious establishment that is apostate. This in itself is a commentary on the corruption of Judaism at the time. And so He came and was baptized by John in the Jordan.

MacArthur explains the River Jordan:

You may have idyllic visions of the Jordan River, this mighty river. No. Jordan River is 105 miles long if you just fly down the Jordan. If you float, it’s 200 miles like that. Ten feet deep. At the widest, 100 feet across. “River” is stretching the word.

But it was there, away again from Jerusalem, in the wilderness, away from civilization because the center was so polluted. But John was baptizing as he had been commanded by God and Jesus came to be baptized.

MacArthur discusses John’s baptism of Jesus and the origin of the Greek word for this sacrament:

Baptizō means to immerse into water, Jesus was immersed, the symbol of the washing away of the old and purification that leads to newness, He was baptized. And He was baptized because God had commanded everybody to be baptized, and He was a man, and He would fulfill all righteousness.

And He was baptized secondarily because it was symbolic, I think, of going through the river of death, bearing the sins of His people.

As Jesus emerged from the water, two dramatic things happened (verse 10).

First, the heavens were ‘torn apart’. Secondly, the Holy Spirit descended upon Jesus in the form of a dove.

MacArthur interprets this for us via Luke’s version of events:

“Immediately coming up out of the water,” Luke adds, Luke 3:21, “while He was praying” – Jesus was in communion with the Father the whole time – “coming up out of the water,” which is an indication that He was immersed. It doesn’t mean He walked up on the riverbank, it means He came up out of the water. The scene, by the way, is trinitarian, right? Trinitarian, one of the great trinitarian texts in Scripture.

Our Heavenly Father had not rent the heavens apart for four centuries prior to this. During that era, He had also silenced prophesy. John the Baptist was the first prophet to emerge since that time.

Then God rent the heavens — tore them apart for that moment when His only begotten Son was baptised — and crowned. The Holy Spirit also appeared.

God also spoke (verse 11).

These three phenomena were open to public witness.

People were there to witness what Isaiah had prophesied centuries before, as MacArthur explains:

as He comes up out of the water, the coronation takes place. Has two parts, a visual and an audible – a visual and an audible. First, the anointing by the Holy Spirit and secondly, the affirmation by the Father. Let’s look at the anointing by the Holy Spirit. “Immediately coming up out of the water, he saw the heavens opened.” This is not a vision, by the way, folks, this is not a vision. We know it’s not a vision because … John 1:32 and following where John says, “I saw it. I saw it. I saw the Spirit descend, I saw it.”

And there’s no reason to think that others didn’t see it as well. It’s not a vision, it’s a visible reality, in contrast, for example, to the vision of Ezekiel 1. He saw the heavens opening. This is a signal of God breaking into time and space. I mean, this is huge. Now, remember, God hasn’t spoken in four hundred years. Four hundred years of divine silence until an angel comes and talks to Zacharias and Elizabeth. And another angel comes and talks to Joseph and Mary, but none of that is public. The heavens have been closed for four hundred years. And now they split.

He saw the heavens opening, and Mark uses a verb that Matthew and Luke do not use, schizō which means to rip. It’s dramatic, the heavens rip open. It’s only used one other time in the New Testament, when the veil in the temple at the death of Christ was ripped from top to bottom. This is so significant because Isaiah has been talking about the coming of Messiah, the coming of Messiah through the 40 chapters and the 50 chapters, and when you come to chapter 64, here’s the cry of the people, here’s the cry of the prophet’s heart, “O, that” – this is Isaiah 64:1. “O, that you would rip the heavens and come down.”

They were waiting for that, that God would rip open the heavens and come down and make His name known. This is anticipation of Messiah. The day is going to come when the silent heavens are going to rip open and God is going to come. The text of Isaiah 64 is a cry for God to do just that, break into history. And the Jews saw that text as evidences that Messiah would come and heaven would split open and down would come God.

MacArthur continues detailing this holy mystery of the Triune God:

God is about to come down, and He does in the form of the Holy Spirit – I love this – “and the Spirit like a dove descending upon Him.” Heaven rips open and you might think of something violent happening, something crashing down, but the Spirit like a dove descends upon Him.

Now, first of all, folks, this isn’t saying the Holy Spirit is a dove. I know there are doves all over Bible covers, and all over paraphernalia and holy hardware and all that, symbolizing the Holy Spirit, but the Holy Spirit is not a dove. The Holy Spirit is not a dove. That’s not what it’s saying. It simply says the Holy Spirit descended visibly – visibly. Luke says, think it’s chapter 3, maybe verse 21 or so, in bodily form, in some visible form, He descended like a dove. The question is not why is He a dove, the question is how does a dove descend. You understand the difference?

A dove doesn’t come crashing down. The dove is the gentlest, according to one text of Scripture, the gentlest of the birds. It comes down lightly, delicately, and rests in its place. That’s how the Holy Spirit came. That’s all it’s saying. It isn’t saying the Holy Spirit is a dove. The Holy Spirit is nowhere pictured as a dove. You don’t have to connect it with the dove that Noah sent out of the ark, like many commentators try to do, which is impossible. A dove is a very gentle, beautiful, delicate bird, and the Spirit came down in some visible form with the same kind of gentleness and beauty which is displayed when a little dove lands softly.

This is important because Isaiah made it very clear that when the Messiah comes, He will be empowered by the Holy Spirit. So this is confirmation that Jesus is the Messiah because here comes the Spirit. Listen to Isaiah 11:1, “A shoot will spring from the stem of Jesse,” that’s the father of David, out of David’s line, “A branch from his roots will bear fruit.” That’s the Messiah coming through Jesse’s line through David. “The Spirit of the Lord will rest on Him.” Messianic prophecy. Thirty-second chapter of Isaiah in the fifteenth verse, “Until the Spirit is poured out upon us from on high.” They knew that when the Messianic Kingdom comes, when Messianic glory arrives, it will be with the full power of the Holy Spirit.

Listen to 42:1, Isaiah 42:1, “Behold my Servant, whom I uphold, my Chosen One whom my soul delights, I have put my Spirit upon Him.” Those are prophecies. The Messiah would have the full presence power of the Holy Spirit. In John 3:34 it says this, that God gave Jesus the Spirit – this is the key phrase – without measure – without measure, without limit. That’s not true of everybody else. Everybody else has the Spirit in measure. Even the New Testament says that even those of us living in the age of the Holy Spirit receive a measure of the Spirit.

But He received the Spirit without measure, the full presence, the full power of the Holy Spirit came down and rested on Him. The infinite presence and power of the Spirit so that the whole life of Jesus was controlled by the Holy Spirit. His whole life was controlled by the Spirit. At the risk of over-simplifying something that is profoundly mysterious and beyond the grasp of all of us, let me see if I can give you a way to understand it. You have the Man Jesus here, you have the Son of God, eternal deity here, and that which is deity is conveyed to the man which is humanity through the means of the Holy Spirit.

As it says, He grew in wisdom and stature and favor with God and man, it was the Holy Spirit dispensing to the man, Jesus, the developing realities of truth that matured Him. That’s how you have to understand it. The Holy Spirit is the mediator between deity and humanity. John Owen makes the point that His divine nature did not directly communicate anything at all to the human Jesus. His divine nature did not communicate anything directly to the human Jesus, it all went through the mediation of the Holy Spirit, part of His self-emptying.

Through the Holy Spirit, divine power came, understanding came, enlightenment came, revelation came, so that His human nature was under the full control of the Holy Spirit, so that everything He did, He did in the power of the Spirit.

Then the Holy Spirit directed Jesus to the wilderness (verse 12).

Mark arrives at this part of the story without filling in intervening details that the other Gospels do because he wants to demonstrate the authority of Jesus.

MacArthur explains Mark’s reasoning:

He demonstrates the authority of Christ over three realms. One, over Satan and his realm. Two, over sin and its dominion. Three, over sinners. It is important for us to know that if the new King is going to take His throne, if the new King is going to reign, if the new King is going to overthrow the usurper, the temporary king, Satan himself, and if the King is going to conquer Satan and sin and sinners, He has to demonstrate the power to do that.

And so that’s where Mark establishes His authority. First in His temptation, His authority over Satan becomes clear … He can overpower and will overpower Satan. He can overpower and will overpower sin.

Mark tells us that Jesus was in the wilderness for 40 days — which is how we derived the period of our Lenten season — and, whilst there, the angels tended to Him (verse 13).

During this time, Jesus went without food, which is the root for Lenten fasting accompanied by prayer.

MacArthur continues, reminding us not only of scriptural precedent but also that Satan was ever present, tempting Him to worldly comforts:

Now, Mark doesn’t tell us what Matthew and Luke tell us, and that is this: that Jesus went without food for the entire forty days. Matthew 4:2, Luke 4:2, He didn’t eat for forty days. Forty-day fasts had happened before. According to Exodus chapter 34, Moses had a forty-day fast. According to 1 Kings 19, Elijah had a forty-day fast. That’s a long time, almost six weeks of eating nothing. Verse 13 says He was in the wilderness forty days, being tempted by Satan. Forty days alone, forty days in isolation, forty days in a dangerous, devastating place. Forty days without anything to eat.

So you have no support system, no one to help Him, no one to comfort Him, no one to instruct Him, no one to encourage Him, and He is at His lowest possible physical condition. His strength would be gone long before the sixth week. It would begin to diminish seriously the second week. But if He is the King, He must be able, alone at His weakest, to conquer the enemy. And so the Holy Spirit throws Him into that conflict.

He is not only to be a King – and this is what you want to keep in mind. He is a King, and He is reigning over His people now, and He will reign over the earth and over all the new heaven and the new earth in eternity. He is a King, He will always reign, and He will ultimately and finally reign over everything. But He is also a suffering servant. And while as a King He is exalted, as a suffering servant, He is humiliated. The new King is also the suffering servant, it is a paradox, it is a paradox. The most exalted one is the one who suffers most.

Wandering in that place alone for nearly six weeks with nothing to eat in the wilderness, He is tempted the whole time by Satan. Some people assume that He was only tempted at the end of the forty days. Well, the temptations that came at the end of the forty days are given in Matthew 4 and Luke 4, but here we are told He was tempted the whole time. The whole time. And the interesting thing about the temptation Mark doesn’t describe, he leaves that to Matthew and to Luke, the interesting thing about the temptation was that the temptation was never a temptation for Him to give up His sovereignty.

It was never a temptation to give up His royalty, if you will. It was never a temptation for Him to give up His rights and His privileges and His honor and His exaltation and His elevation. It was a temptation for Him to abandon His humiliation.

We do not know exactly how the angels ministered to Jesus. Perhaps they kept him away from dangerous beasts, which were in the wilderness. Perhaps they distracted Him in good ways to look at the natural beauty of his surroundings. Even a desert offers God-given flowers and stunning sunsets.

Matthew Henry says:

Note, The ministration of the good angels about us, is matter of great comfort in reference to the malicious designs of the evil angels against us but much more doth it befriend us, to have the indwelling of the spirit in our hearts, which they that have, are so born of God, that, as far as they are so, the evil one toucheth them not, much less shall be triumph over them.

MacArthur says that on the final day, the angels found food for Jesus:

How did the angels minister to Him? They fed Him. After forty days of fasting, they gave Him something to eat. But I think they ministered in another way as well. I think they brought by their very presence and the food the confirmation of the Father. This was God’s way of saying, “I am still well pleased.” The divine approval of His holy triumph over Satan and fierce temptation is signaled by God sending holy angels to minister to Him at the end in the exhaustion of His victory.

Then Herod had John the Baptist arrested, after which Jesus proclaimed the Good News in Galilee (verse 14).

In real time — according to the other three Gospels — this was probably over four months after the end of His time in the wilderness, according to MacArthur.

Note that Jesus preached in Galilee, the region where He grew up. MacArthur says:

Galilee was the northern part of the land of Israel, the hinterlands, the outskirts, far from the religious center in Jerusalem. The fact that Jesus really launched His ministry in full power there was a testimony to the apostasy of the core, the corruption of Jerusalem.

Jesus preached that the kingdom of God, as we still say today, was at hand (verse 15). When people say it now, we understand it to be that the end of the world is nigh.

However, when Jesus spoke of it, he did so proclaiming the era of the long-awaited Messiah. This is the best news the people of faith at that time could receive.

MacArthur explains the message of Jesus:

… this is the message. It is the good news, it is good news, it is the best news the world has ever heard. And what is it? Verse 15, it is this, “The time is fulfilled,” the kairos, not the chronos, not clock time, not calendar time, epochal time – the era, the fixed point in history for an event to happen. Or in the words of Galatians 4:4, “The fullness of time.” The administration of the fullness of time, it’s called in Ephesians 1:10. God’s sovereign moment. The significant hour in human history.

This is it for which the world has long waited, the most significant era in the world’s history, the arrival of the Savior who will pay the penalty for sin and thus provide salvation for all who have believed from the beginning of history to the end. The time is fulfilled. This is God’s great epochal moment. The promises of the Old Testament regarding Messiah, the promises regarding the Kingdom, the promises of salvation are about to be fulfilled. What is the message? That Christ has come not only to conquer Satan but to conquer sin – to conquer sin through the gospel.

The new King has arrived and with Him the Kingdom. The Kingdom is here because the King is here. Wherever the King is present, the Kingdom is. Jesus’ message, very simple, unmistakable: the Kingdom of God is at hand, here it is. I’m here, the Kingdom’s here.

When He was in Nazareth in Galilee, Luke 4, just after His temptation, right at this same time, goes in to the synagogue and He says, “Today this prophecy is fulfilled in your ears.” And He was talking about the Messianic prophecy from Isaiah 61. It is the message, the good news, God’s hour has come, the Kingdom is here because the King is here. How do you enter that Kingdom? Repent and believe in the gospel, writes Mark. Repent of your sin. Believe in the gospel, the good news concerning Jesus Christ.

Matthew Henry says that that people, by and large, forgot the ancient prophesies. Jesus reminded them:

Observe, (1.) The great truths Christ preached The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand. This refers to the Old Testament, in which the kingdom of the Messiah was promised, and the time fixed for the introducing of it. They were not so well versed in those prophecies, nor did they so well observe the signs of the times, as to understand it themselves, and therefore Christ gives them notice of it “The time prefixed is now at hand glorious discoveries of divine light, life, and love, are now to be made a new dispensation far more spiritual and heavenly than that which you have hitherto been under, is now to commence.” Note, God keeps time when the time is fulfilled, the kingdom of God is at hand, for the vision is for an appointed time, which will be punctually observed, though it tarry past our time.

The baptism of Jesus signified His kingship as Christ our Lord forevermore.

Having posted most, though not all, of the readings for the three Lectionary years, it is now time to delve into the readings.

The readings for Sunday, December 6 — St Nicholas Day, incidentally — are in the following post:

Readings for the Second Sunday of Advent — Year B

You can read more about St Nicholas and his feast day below:

St Nicholas Day (much to learn about a man of great faith)

More on St Nicholas — feast day December 6

St Nicholas Day — December 6 (1970s celebrations in Germany)

Let us look at the Gospel reading for the Second Sunday of Advent in Year B (emphases mine):

Mark 1:1-8

1:1 The beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.

1:2 As it is written in the prophet Isaiah, “See, I am sending my messenger ahead of you, who will prepare your way;

1:3 the voice of one crying out in the wilderness: ‘Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight,’”

1:4 John the baptizer appeared in the wilderness, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.

1:5 And people from the whole Judean countryside and all the people of Jerusalem were going out to him, and were baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins.

1:6 Now John was clothed with camel’s hair, with a leather belt around his waist, and he ate locusts and wild honey.

1:7 He proclaimed, “The one who is more powerful than I is coming after me; I am not worthy to stoop down and untie the thong of his sandals.

1:8 I have baptized you with water; but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.”

John MacArthur preached an excellent sermon on these verses in 2009. Mark was the last book of the New Testament on which he preached.

Excerpts from ‘The Herald of the New King’ follow, emphases mine.

Unlike Matthew, who went into the full earthly genealogy of our Lord, Mark begins by stating ‘the good news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God’ (verse 1): no ifs, ands or buts.

That is because Matthew wrote for a Jewish audience and Mark wrote for the Gentiles, specifically, those in Rome:

He’s writing to Roman Christians – and, of course, Roman non-Christians – who will hear his history read. He is not concerned primarily about the Jews, so he doesn’t frontload his book with a lot of prophecies. He doesn’t make efforts to connect the arrival of Jesus with the Old Testament, say, by giving genealogies like Matthew and Luke are so careful to give. He doesn’t give specific prophesies about Jesus, such as the virgin birth, Bethlehem, called out of Egypt. And there are a number of prophesies that Matthew refers to and Luke refers to. None of those does Mark refer to in the beginning of his history. It is simply enough to say, “He is the Son of God.” He is the Son of God.

As Christians, we take for granted that Mark used the words ‘the good news’, but, interestingly, that phrase was also used of Roman emperors. Furthermore, the word in Greek is euaggelion, ‘of the gospel’:

This is an inscription from the Roman world. The date is 9 B.C. Okay? Before Christ. This is the inscription, “The Providence, which has ordered the whole of our life” – translated into English, obviously – “showing concern and zeal, has ordained the most perfect consummation for human life by giving it to Augustus, by filling him with virtue for doing the work of a benefactor among men and by sending in him, as it were, a savior for us and those who come after us, to make war to cease, to create order everywhere. The birthday of the god Augustus is the beginning for the world of the euaggelion” – of the gospel – “that has come to men through him.”

How interesting. They used the word euaggelion on that occasion, in that inscription, to describe the arrival of Caesar Augustus. Caesar Augustus is – “by the Providence,” it says – the one who will bring to us the work of a benefactor, the work of a savior, make war cease, create order everywhere. It is the arrival of a god. The good news, then, is that Augustus Caesar has arrived. That actual inscription was dedicated to him, apparently, on his birthday. Then, as a technical term again to refer to the ascendancy of the triumph of an emperor.

So, the Jews and the pagans would both see that word as signifying the arrival of a new monarch, and that would signify the arrival of a new era. And the new era would be an era of order and peace and salvation and blessing.

Mark intended for his story to describe a King that was not of this realm and to ensure it was understood as such:

This is the story of the new King who has arrived, who is about to inaugurate His kingdom and bring a new era of salvation, blessing, peace, and order to the world. One historical writer says, “The parallel between ‘evangel’” – or the gospel – “in the imperial cult and the Bible is Caesar and Christ, the emperor on the throne and the despised rabbi on the cross confront each other. Both are gospel to men. They have much in common, but they belong to two different worlds.”

So, Mark begins his historical account of the life of Jesus with language that would make his Roman readers know that the new and most glorious King has come, and He sets Himself against all other kings, including Caesar. He is the theme of this history. And this is only the beginning of His story. And what is His name? Jesus Christ, the Son of God.

Jesus identifies His human name, Yeshua or Yehoshua in Hebrew – basically, Joshua – meaning Yahweh is salvation. Yehoshua – Yahweh is salvation. That’s His name. “Call Him Jesus, for He will save His people from their sins,” Matthew 1:21. His title – His name is Jesus, His title is Christ. That is not a name; that is not His last name. That’s a title. Royal title. The Anointed One. That’s what Messiah means. Christ and Messiah are the same thing. It means Anointed One. It’s a royal title. His human name is Jesus. His royal title is Messiah, the Anointed One. Simply King. And his lineage? He is the Son of God. One in nature with God, coeternal and coequal.

And thus does Mark introduce us to the beginning of the history of King Jesus. The beginning of the history of King Jesus, the Son of God. Not the Son of some other earthly monarch.

The next two verses refer to passages from the Old Testament. Just as earthly kings had family history, Mark wanted his audience to know that our Lord had been prophesied in Scripture:

No king ever arrived and said, “Hey, I’m the king, and I’m here.” The king always had a forerunner. The king always had an entourage. The king always had some coming before him to prepare the way and make the people ready, and then was appropriately introduced by someone who bore authenticity and authority to make that introduction.

So, Mark, consistent with the Gentile approach to how kings were announced, goes to the Old Testament for the only time in the beginning of his Gospel, not to find a prophecy about Jesus, but to find a prophecy about His herald, to give authenticity to His herald.

But there was more. Mark wanted to include the story of John the Baptist, who preached of His imminent ministry:

With all the Old Testament texts that connect to Jesus Christ, Mark uses prophecy not about the new King at all, but about His forerunner, the one who is to proclaim His arrival. This would be in the kind of official structure of what people in the Gentile world will be used to.

MacArthur says that the Gentile believers in Rome would have known Isaiah’s prophecy:

So, there is coming a messenger. That’s identified in verse 2, “I send My messenger.” And he further identifies the messenger as someone who will be a voice crying in the wilderness. This is from the ancient prophets. He’s quoting from the ancient prophets, and he labels this from Isaiah the prophet. Certainly Isaiah was well-known to even Gentile Christians because of his vast book, much of which was centered on the arrival of Messiah, the servant of Jehovah, as Isaiah identifies Him. So, he draws prophecies out of Isaiah.

By the way, Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John all use – all use these prophecies to label John the Baptist as the fulfillment. John the Baptist is the fulfillment of these prophecies, and all four Gospel writers indicate that. “As it is written in Isaiah the prophet” – or preferably “as it has been written.” The new King is not a new plan; the new King is not an afterthought. This is the plan that God was working out in ancient times. The plan is one culminating in the arrival of the new King, Jesus Christ, the Son of God.

The Gentile readers need to know that the one who announced His arrival is the one prophesied by the ancient prophets, and by the notable prophet Isaiah from the Old Testament. He is an official, divinely commissioned herald for the new King. And so, he’s the one being described in these prophecies.

To be precise, verse 2 is from Malachi and verse 3 is from Isaiah:

Verse 2 is actually Malachi 3:1; and verse 3 is Isaiah chapter 40, verse 3. This is not an uncommon thing to do, to refer to only one of the Old Testament prophets, the more prominent one, the more notable one, and tuck in another prophecy by another prophet, since it was all the Word of God.

These prophecies go together so perfectly, and both refer to the same person, so they may have been frequently used together. Malachi is the introductory one; Isaiah is the more important one. But both are general references. If you go back, they’re – and this is something you need to know that New Testament writers do. Sometimes they quote exactly from the Hebrew; sometimes they quote from the Septuagint, the Greek Old Testament; sometimes they make sort of a general reference to a text, and sometimes it’s an interpretive reference. Because remember now, the New Testament writers are inspired by God. And so, when they interpret an Old Testament text, they interpret that in an inspired way.

So, they always give the true interpretation of the text. Sometimes you’d directly quote it; sometimes it’s an interpretive quote. Here you have some interpretive quotation, certainly in the case of Malachi 3:1.

Isaiah 40:3 is part of the First Reading for this particular Sunday:

A voice cries out: “In the wilderness prepare the way of the LORD, make straight in the desert a highway for our God.

MacArthur discusses Malachi 3:1:

Malachi 3:1 records, “Behold, I send My messenger” – and Malachi says – “before Me.” Here you have an interpretation of that, “Behold, I send My messenger ahead of You, who will prepare Your way.” Obviously, You and Your refers to the coming King. But before the King comes, ahead of Him comes the messenger. So, this is a prophecy that there will be one who comes before the King comes, whose job will be to prepare His way.

Like all prophets, this is a messenger. All prophets are proclaimers. He’s a preacher. He will make a strong call for people to prepare for the arrival of the new King. Malachi 3:1 is a direct reference to this messenger, this herald of the coming new King.

MacArthur then looks at Isaiah 40:3. Today’s First Reading is Isaiah 40:1-11:

from Isaiah chapter 40, the opening, and then down in verses 9 and 10, Isaiah prophesied the return of the Jews from the Babylonian captivity. He prophesied they would come back to Israel; they would go through the wilderness, and God would lead them. And when they arrived, God would be with them, and He would ascend to His throne, and again He would rule over them.

And so, in the near intention of that prophecy, He was talking about the return from the Babylonian captivity and the ascendancy of God to His sovereign place over a reconstituted Israel. And that would require making ready the way of the Lord. God would lead them back from captivity, would make the path for them, make the road for them, and they would head back, and God would be with them. In the future sense, one would come who would make the road ready for the new King. Make the road ready for the new King. And this, of course, is here associated with the forerunner of Jesus, namely John the Baptist. There was to come one who would herald the new King’s arrival, call people to prepare for His glorious ascent to His throne and the establishment of his kingdom of salvation, and blessing, and peace.

In verse 4, Mark says that John the Baptist — ‘the Baptiser’ — was ‘in the wilderness’, proclaiming baptism as a form of repentance.

John the Baptist lived in the desert:

… he appears in the wilderness, in the desert. In fact, in John 3:23, it places Him about 25 to 30 miles south of the Sea of Galilee, along the Jordan River. And up and down that river he went for the duration of his ministry, preaching out in the desert, away from all the cities and all the towns and all the people. He was in that wilderness, basically, his whole life. According to Luke 1:80, he spent his life in the wilderness. He was a wilderness guy. He was a desert man.

When God’s people repented in the Old Testament they were in the wilderness. Many of us consider wilderness to mean a forest, but in Scripture, it means desert. The Jews of John’s time would have understood the significance:

William Lane writes – and I think it’s well stated – “The summons to be baptized in the Jordan means that Israel must once more come to the wilderness. As Israel long ago had been separated from Egypt by a pilgrimage through the waters of the Red Sea, the nation is exhorted again to exercise separation. The people are called to a second exodus in preparation for a new covenant with God.

“As the people heed John’s call and go out to him in the desert, far more is involved than contrition and confession. They return to a place of judgment, the wilderness, where the status of Israel as God’s beloved son must be reestablished in the exchange of pride for humility. The willingness to return to the wilderness signifies the acknowledgement of Israel’s history as one of disobedience and rebellion, and a desire to begin once more. Let’s go back to the wilderness, before we ever came into the land, and start all over again.”

With regard to baptism, the only time it featured in Jewish ceremonies was when a Gentile fully converted to that faith:

The Jews had ceremonial washings, no baptisms except for proselyte baptism.

Therefore, for John to call upon the Jews to be baptised was an unusual request, as that ceremony was only for Gentile converts. Gentiles were outside of the Covenant, so they had to be fully cleansed in order to be brought into it. The Jews considered Gentiles to be spiritually unclean. One can imagine the tension this must have caused Jews who listened to John’s message:

So, a Jew would be saying, by doing that kind of one-time symbolic baptism, “I’m no better than a Gentile. I am no better than a Gentile. I am no more ready to meet the new King, I am no more ready for God to ascend to His throne, I am no more ready for God to establish His kingdom and make me a part of it than a Gentile.” That is a huge admission, for the Jews had been trained pretty much to resent and hate the Gentiles and think of them as outside the covenant.

MacArthur discusses the importance of repentance, which involves a genuine turning away from sin:

He’s calling the Jews to declare themselves no better than Gentiles, to turn many of the hearts of the people toward righteousness, away from rebellion, as Luke 1 put it. And to mark that repentance, that deliberate metanoia which means a turning, a genuine turning. They would need to bring forth the fruit of repentance. Do you remember how John the Baptist said that? Matthew 3:8 records it; Luke 3:8 records it. Luke says, “Bring forth fruits fitting for repentance.” Prove it. The first step would be to be willing to undergo a proselyte baptism and view yourself as if you were no better than a Gentile. Radical, radical repentance. And this was the message that came from God to John, Luke 3:2, “The Word of the Lord came to him,” and this is what He said. This is not baptism in Jesus’ name. We know that because John the Baptist’s followers were later baptized by Paul in Jesus’ name, according to Acts 19.

John’s message worked. We might find that surprising, yet, as MacArthur explains, no one wanted to be left out of the Messiah’s kingdom to come, so they followed along (verse 5):

He was a judgment preacher – fierce judgment preacher. That’s what drove the people to want to deal with their sins. The fear that when the Messiah finally came, when the new King ascended to His throne and established His kingdom, they’d be on the outside looking in. And so, he was a judgment preacher. Judgment was coming. But while God was a God of judgment, He was also a God of grace, and He offered forgiveness of sins for those who repented.

Well, everybody practically wanted to be a part of the Messiah’s kingdom. They didn’t want to get left out. They knew their own heart’s sinfulness. So, according to verse 5, all the country of Judea was going out to him, all the people of Jerusalem. They were being baptized by him in the Jordan River, confessing their sins. This looks like a national revival.

Verse 6 describes John’s primitive appearance and way of life. This would have been according to Nazirite vows that some men took. Paul took Nazirite vows, but for him and most Jewish men, those were only temporary. Samson, Samuel and John the Baptist took lifelong Nazirite vows. In John’s case, this was prophesied. Luke 1:5-17 has the story of John’s conception and the angel’s prophecy of how he would live.

This post of mine has more information about Nazirite vows:

Luke 1:5-17 – Zachary, Zechariah, John the Baptist, Nazirites, incense, Aaron’s lineage, priesthood

See what the angel said to Zechariah, John’s father, in Luke 1:13:17. Abstinence was part of the Nazirite vow:

13But the angel said to him, “Do not be afraid, Zechariah, for your prayer has been heard, and your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you shall call his name John. 14And you will have joy and gladness, and many will rejoice at his birth, 15for he will be great before the Lord. And he must not drink wine or strong drink, and he will be filled with the Holy Spirit, even from his mother’s womb. 16And he will turn many of the children of Israel to the Lord their God, 17and he will go before him in the spirit and power of Elijah, to turn the hearts of the fathers to the children, and the disobedient to the wisdom of the just, to make ready for the Lord a people prepared.”

John knew that he was merely the messenger for the Messiah, Jesus Christ. He knew his role was to prepare people for His ministry among them.

He said that Jesus was ‘powerful’ and that he was unworthy of undoing his sandals (verse 7).

He also added that his baptism was of water but that the baptism that Christ would bring was one ‘of the Holy Spirit’ (verse 8).

MacArthur notes that John never pointed to himself, but to the Lord:

he points to Christ; he points to Church; he points to Christ. Never points to himself. John 3:30, “I must decrease, He must increase.” This is a model for any preacher. Don’t identify with the people, identify with the prophets. Don’t look like the people; look like the prophets. Maintain the dignity of that office handed down. And don’t point to yourself; point to Christ.

“After me the One” – literally definite article – “After me the One is coming who is mightier than I.” How mighty is He? He’s the Lord; He’s Yahweh; He’s Kurios; He’s God the Son; He’s the King – King Jesus. How far above me is He? Huh.

Here’s the negative. “He is so much mightier than I, that I’m not fit to stoop down and untie the thong of His sandals.” You know what? That was the lowest possible job that any servant could have. That was it. That was the bottom. If you were the servant who untied your master’s sandals, you were the scum of the scum of the scum. Dirty feet.

Old quotes from Hebrew sources. “A Hebrew slave must not wash the feet of his master, nor put his shoes on him.” That’s beneath the dignity of a Hebrew slave. Another one, “All services which a slave does for his master, a pupil should do for his teacher, with the exception of undoing his shoes.”

John says, “I’m below the people who do that. I’m not even up to the level of those who would untie His shoes. That’s how low I am.”

Well, that’s the picture, but what’s the reality? Verse 8. Why am I so different? Why are we so infinitely separated? “Because I baptize you with water; but He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.”

“All I can do is stick you in the water; He can transform you on the inside.” This refers to the soul-transforming work of salvation, being born of the water and the Spirit. This is not some Pentecostal second baptism; this is the washing of regeneration and the renewing of the Holy Spirit of Titus 3. This is the new covenant: purification, cleansing, transformation, regeneration, new birth.

John says, “I can’t do that. Only God gives the Holy Spirit. So, the new King, He will give you the Holy Spirit.” With the Holy Spirit comes salvation, sanctification, service.

John MacArthur’s sermon adds more meaning to the Advent message of repentance and to John the Baptist’s ministry.

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