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John MacArthur has given sermons about the protests and riots we have been seeing over the past several weeks.

A big thank you goes to my reader John in Cheshire for telling me about them recently.

The first one is a short video wherein MacArthur says that every life matters and that, if black lives matter, then why is it that Planned Parenthood aborts a thousand little black lives every day:

The next two are much longer but well worth watching. In fact, time will go by very quickly as MacArthur goes through many verses in the Bible to explain why violent protests are not the answer.

Here is the first one, discussing who is to blame for the riots. The video clip above comes from this sermon:

Here is the transcript. Excerpts follow, emphases mine:

We are obviously living in very bizarre times that have produced massive fear and confusion. On top of that, our society is drowning in a sea of lies, lies about virtually everything, and lies on top of fear and confusion create an almost fatal insecurity and a devastating chaos. We have little confidence in believing what politicians say or what health officials say or what social activists say or what university professors say or what media says or, frankly, what religious leaders say. We have been lied to so constantly. And there is One to whom we can turn and always hear the truth: that is to the living God who has revealed Himself on the pages of Scripture, the one true living God. And Scripture says, “Let God be true and every man a liar.” God is the God of truth. The Son of God is the way, the truth, and the life. “Satan, the prince of this world,” – said Jesus in John 8:44 – “is a murderer and a liar.” And the whole world lies in the lap of the Evil One, and is therefore bent on killing and lying.

So we’re in a time of chaos and lies. We have only one place to turn that we can trust, one who is faithful, and that is God in His word. Jesus said in John 17 to the Father, “Your word is truth. Your word is truth.” So let’s look at the truth and find out what the truth is about who’s to blame for the riots. We can start in … the book of Isaiah, way back in the first chapter.

Seven hundred years before the Lord Jesus Christ, God was confronting another nation, the nation of Israel, steeped in sin and transgression, having rejected their God and on the brink of judgment. And in chapter 1, the Lord speaks to Israel in verse 2: “Listen, O heavens, and hear, O earth; for the Lord speaks, ‘Sons I have reared and brought up, but they have revolted against Me. An ox knows its owner, and a donkey its master’s manger, but Israel does not know, My people do not understand.’ Alas, sinful nation, people weighed down with iniquity, offspring of evildoers, sons who act corruptly! They have abandoned the Lord, they have despised the Holy One of Israel, they have turned away from Him.

“Where will you be stricken again as you continue in your rebellion? The whole head is sick, the whole heart is faint. From the sole of the foot even to the head there is nothing sound in it, only bruises, welts and raw wounds, not pressed out or bandaged, not softened with oil. Your land is desolate, your cities are burned with fire.” This is the desolation of a people that turn against God.

In the fifth chapter of Isaiah’s prophecy there is a specific indictment among all of the sins that were part of Israel’s rebellion against God. Here is one that substantially defines their true condition. Verse 20 of Isaiah 5: “Woe to those who call evil good, and good evil; who substitute darkness for light and light for darkness; who substitute bitter for sweet and sweet for bitter!” Essentially that’s the sin that signals the coming of judgment. Turning truth and righteousness and virtue upside-down.

Israel was headed for a devastating divine judgment. They had turned against God, they had flipped truth and morality on its head, and in Isaiah 28:17, Isaiah says they found refuge in lies, they found refuge in lies. Isaiah 59, Isaiah says to them in verses 3 and 4, “For your hands are defiled with blood and your fingers with iniquity; your lips have spoken lies, your tongue mutters wickedness. No one sues righteously and no one pleads honestly. They trust in confusion and speak lies; they conceive mischief and bring forth iniquity.”

This is where humanity in every generation and in every nation tends to lean toward the reality of the very things that were true of ancient Israel. Humanity leans in the direction of calling evil good and good evil, substituting darkness for light, light for darkness, substituting bitter for sweet and sweet for bitter. This is the nature of all of us, to believe lies, to follow the father of lies, to overturn right and wrong, and the current situation in which we live is just another historic manifestation and picture of the perversion of humanity.

So confusing. It’s essential to keep harmless working people locked down at home, kept away from their jobs and businesses so they don’t get the flu. But it’s also essential, in fact, more essential to let people bent on doing harm run free in the cities destroying the very places people earn their living. Lock up the weak and the fearful and let the strong and violent run loose to create havoc. Call on all forces, grind the world to a halt to stop a virus, then remove all restraint when a far more deadly virus sets out to destroy a whole nation. Demand justice when a man’s life is taken, and then applaud lawless mobs of criminals attacking the police. Put the police in a position where they can’t act to protect property, but rebel mobs are allowed to destroy it.

You can’t shop in a store, but you can loot it. You can’t work, but you’re free to steal. You can’t attend church, but you can burn it down. You can’t eat in a restaurant, but you can demolish it. Now we’re seeing charges being brought in these riots, not against the rioters, but against the police. We see leaders who totally control the weak with fear of the flu, but can’t control the strong because they’re afraid. And by the way, if you worship the god of anger, the god of hate, or the god of vengeance, you can have church anywhere, anytime, indoors or outdoors, without any rules. You’re completely free to worship the god of mayhem, and the perverted solution to this is to abolish the police, those who are the protectors of the good and the punishers of those who do evil.

What is wrong? What is wrong is exactly what is stated in Isaiah 5:20, “Woe” – that’s a divine curse – “on those who call evil good, and good evil; who substitute darkness for light and light for darkness; who substitute bitter for sweet and sweet for bitter!”

We need the truth, and the truth is in the Word of God. It’s not my task nor my interest to give you any human opinion, mine or anybody else’s, but you do need to hear from God. I want to help you to understand who’s to blame. We’ll start in Romans chapter 3, Romans chapter 3 and verse 10. Here we have a summation of human nature. This summation, running down through verse 18, is basically drawn from the Old Testament. These are all statements made in the Old Testament – all of them except one from the Psalms and one from Isaiah.

So God hasn’t changed His moral standards, nor His definition of humanity. There has been no improvement in the seven hundred years between Isaiah and the hundreds of years between the Psalms and the present situation that Paul addresses in Rome in the time of our Lord and after. There’s no change. What was true of man in the ancient times was true of man in New Testament times. And here you have the foundational understanding that is essential to know what’s wrong in the world. And summing it up, this is what the Scripture says.

“As it is written,” – and that means in the Old Testament drawn from the Psalms and the book of Isaiah, here is a definition and description of the pathology of humanity. Four times the word “none” is used, and three times “all” is used. “There is none righteous, not even one; there is none who understands, there is none who seeks for God; all have turned aside, together they have become useless; there is none who does good, there is not even one. Their throat is an open grave, with their tongues they keep deceiving, the poison of asps is under their lips; whose mouth is full of cursing and bitterness; their feet are swift to shed blood, destruction and misery are in their paths, and the path of peace they have not known. There is no fear of God before their eyes.” That’s a pathology that would make a sensible psychologist go get a job at a gas station. That’s what you’re dealing with; lots of luck

I hear people saying Black lives matter; and they do. God knows they do; they matter just as much as any other life. But if they matter so much, how is it that Planned Parenthood can support Black Lives Matter when there are a thousand little Black lives being aborted every day

Proverbs 16:6 says, “By the fear of the Lord men depart from evil.” Mark it down. “By the fear of the Lord men depart from evil.” And that’s why Proverbs 23:17 says, “Be in the fear of the Lord at all times.” Where there is no fear of God, where there is no sense of transcendent and eternal culpability, guilt, and punishment, you free humanity to be what they are

Now beyond the absence of the fear of God is the rejection of God. It’s not just that they don’t fear God, that’s a negative. They do more than that. They actually reject God. Go back to Romans 1. This is a very familiar passage. Paul is describing what is also true of man, personally and collectively. “The wrath of God” – verse 18 – “is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who suppress the truth in unrighteousness.” That’s what they do. They suppress the truth in unrighteousness. What truth? “That which is known about God is evident within them; for God made it evident to them.” …

Verse 21 says this is characteristic of humanity. “They knew God,” – that is they knew God existed, that’s reason – “they didn’t honor Him as God or give thanks. They became empty in their speculations, their foolish heart was darkened. Professing to be wise, they became fools. They exchanged the glory of the incorruptible God for an image in the form of corruptible man, birds, four-footed animals, crawling creatures.”

That’s what I was saying earlier. They reject the true God. Reason would lead them to the true God. Reason would define the true God in terms of His creation, what they know about His creation, and what they know about His law written in their hearts. They reject all of that. They run from the true God, and they run to false gods as a way to escape the true God.

So what does God do in response? This is one of the most profound passages in the Bible. “God gave them over,” verse 24. That is a legal term: handed them over to punishment, handed them over to execution, handed them over to sentence. “God gave them over.” Verse 26, “God gave them over.” Verse 28, “God gave them over.”

Three times God says, “You’re guilty of rejecting Me, rebelling against Me. I turn you over.” To what? “He gave them over” – verse 24, first of all – “to lust of the hearts to impurity, so their bodies would be dishonored among them.” When God gives a people over there’s a sexual revolution. Immorality becomes acceptable, and you will find a culture swimming in a septic tank of pornography.

And when God gives them over, secondly, verse 26, “He gives them over to degrading passions, and women exchanged the natural function for that which is unnatural, and the same way also men abandoned the natural function of the woman and burned in their desire toward one another, men with men committing indecent acts and receiving in their persons the due penalty of their error.” When God turns a society over because it has rejected Him, there will be, first of all, a sexual revolution, followed by a homosexual revolution.

And finally, the third phase in this judgment, “God gave them over” – verse 28 – “to a depraved mind,” a mind that doesn’t function. They can’t think straight. That’s when you have a political party that builds its party platform on killing infants in the womb, destroying the family, elevating homosexuality, transgender perversion, and they’re proud about it. “That’s when you become filled” – verse 29 – “with all unrighteousness, wickedness, greed, evil; full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, malice, gossips, slander, haters of God, insolent, arrogant, boastful, inventors of evil, disobedient to parents, without understanding, untrustworthy, unloving, unmerciful; and though they know the ordinance of God, that those who practice such things are worthy of death, they do not only do the same, but they give hearty approval to those who practice them.” They elect them to office.

On top of the natural sinfulness is the added reality of divine judgment on those people who have rejected God and those nations who have rejected God. So the corruption is systemic. It is not social, it is systemic and it is personal, and nobody escapes. It’s not related to a lack of opportunity. It’s not related to a lack of money. It’s not related to a lack of privilege, a lack of education. Man naturally is a sinful beast who rejects God, rejects His law, rebels, does not fear God. We were all born with that internal wretchedness that corrupts and defiles. It scars beauty, it darkens wisdom, it defiles love, it robs purity, and it steals peace

So how does a person shut down conscience? Two ways: misinform it. Conscience is not a law, conscience is a mechanism. You can shut down pain, right? You can shut down pain; just take drugs. Mask pain. If you mask pain, you mask the reality that you’re doing some damage. You can mask conscience by misinforming it. How do you do that? You take the true law of God, which is written in Scripture and written in the human heart, and you basically eliminate it, denounce it, diminish it, remove it, and replace it with another law; and if you do this generationally you’ll eventually raise generations of people whose conscience is now informed by lies.

This is what propaganda is. Propaganda is lies. And you see people and you say, “Well, how could they be so zealous? How can Islamic terrorists be so zealous? Don’t they have a conscience?” Their conscience is informed by whatever law they have come to believe. And if you believe all the lies that are thrown around about our society and all the issues, if you believe those, if you got the university and they pound those into your mind with all of their ideological instruction, if you buy into all those lies, your conscience will cease to function because it will be misinformed. If you have a society that says, “Let’s get rid of the Bible,” that’s the first step in having an entire generation of people misinformed about what’s right and what’s wrong. And now, where are we? We’re in Isaiah 5:20, everything is upside-down: right is wrong and wrong is right.

The other thing you can do to shut down the conscience is just think you shouldn’t feel guilty. Let psychology take you off-the-hook: “You shouldn’t feel bad about yourself. You’re wonderful. You’re the best. You can be anything you want to be. You’re heroic. You’re a good person. You ought to be able to do whatever you want. You live any way you want. Don’t let anybody make you feel guilty for anything.” Just keep driving all efforts against the normal work of the conscience and misinform the conscience and you’ve turned the beast loose. This society in which we live today has been doing that damage for decades, for decades.

Where’s the conscience of these people? Where is the conscience of these who do damage, these who overturn everything? Oh, ha, it’s been informed. It’s been informed with lies, and it’s now controlled by lies. And it’s been told again and again and again that it ought to feel good about itself, that every person is his own master, master of his own fate. Every person is his own god. There is no god, you’re god. You shouldn’t feel guilty, everybody should bow to you. And if that’s not working, get drunk, take drugs.

The second restraint God has put into human society is the family, the family. Deuteronomy 6, God says, “Teach His law to your children.” Ephesians chapter 6, “Raise your children in the nurture and admonition of the Lord.” What is a family? Father and a mother in a union. Family is a divinely created institution for – listen to this – family is the divinely created institution for the formation of restrained sinners

There’s a third provision that God has made and it’s government. So we talked about personal authority in the conscience, parental authority in the family. Government is the social authority. The prime role of government is not material welfare. That is not the prime role of government. The prime role of government, according to Paul in Romans 13 as he speaks on behalf of the Lord Himself who designed government, Romans 13, very, very important portion of Scripture, verse 1: “Every person is to be in subjection to the governing authorities. For there’s no authority except from God, and those which exist are established by God.” No authority may be perfect, but every authority is ordained by God. No family is necessarily perfect, no father or mother, but they’re ordained by God. No one’s knowledge of the law of God or conscience is necessarily perfect, but they are designed by God even with a measure of imperfection to restrain this beast.

So, verse 2, “Therefore whoever resists authority has opposed the ordinance of God.” What you’re seeing in the streets is people opposing God. I don’t care what their ideological issues are. I don’t care what it is that they think is unfair or unjust. They are flying around opposing the authority that God has ordained, and they are opposing God. And by the way, they who have opposed will receive condemnation upon themselves. God keeps accounts; you don’t get away with it

There’s one more restraint: that’s the church. And just saying that, I feel a pain in my heart, because a lot of these people that are rioting in the streets are rioting right in front of churches. A lot of churches in the communities of all these major cities, what have they been saying? It’s more likely that some of the people in those churches would be joining them than trying to stop them. But the church, critical: the last stand

And this is why I say this is a sad thing for me because church after church, after church, after church is not salting the culture with godliness. False teachers abound: charlatans with religious Ponzi schemes taking money from poor people on the promise of miracles and wealth; pastors whose lives are unholy and immoral; entertainment centers trying to make sinners feel good about themselves, denying, in many cases, whole denominations, denying the veracity of Scripture, denying the deity of Christ, denying the gospel; popular megachurches just entertaining sinners. Little concern for holiness, godliness, virtue, righteousness; it’s not their message. They don’t confront sin. They don’t call for holy living. That would empty the place. So we have to say that Satan’s done some serious damage to the conscience, to the family, to the government, and to the church

Who’s to blame for the riots? Who’s to blame? Sinners, all of them, everybody, all of us; families who failed to raise virtuous, disciplined children in loving marriages; weak government leaders who fail to protect the good, punish those who do evil; and false churches not full of godly people, transformed hearts, living righteous lives.

So what’s the answer? How do we fix this? Well, restore the law of God so the conscience can be informed. Restore the family so restrained children can be the next generation. Restore the government to its role of true justice. And restore the church …

Sad times. And yet if we take the steps of restoration, sometimes in the past God has allowed such revivals, such times of restoration. If we go back to the Word of God, back to ordered families, back to just government, back to sound faithful godly churches, it can change. Apart from that, it grows worse, until we are taken, the final restraint, and judgment falls. And Christ will then come, bring that judgment to its end and establish His glorious kingdom. By the way, we’ll come back with Him – amen? – in that kingdom …

The following week, he gave another sermon on the protests, this one being the Christian response to them:

Fortunately, he has a transcript of this sermon, too. Excerpts follow:

Laws basically are made to protect us from each other. You get that? Laws are made to protect me from you and you from me. But I don’t need those laws if I love you. What is missing in the human heart is this kind of love. There’s no love for God, there’s no love for others that satisfies God. So in light of this reality, we are to love. We are to love God so that we obey His word; and His word says, “We are to love others as ourselves. We are to do no injustice, take no vengeance, do no harm to anyone ever.”

So as a Christian, I’m looking at the world today and I’m watching all kinds of things going on with regard to injustices and suffering. There’s no question about it, there’s lots of injustice in the world. It’s everywhere. Nobody has a corner on it and no group of people have a corner on it. So what are my options in the current situation? Let me be specific and give you some that have been suggested.

First of all, one option would be to join Black Lives Matter, join their cause, because, after all, Black lives do matter; of course, they do – created in the image of God. And those who have suffered deserve our support, and they do; and they have suffered injustice, and they have. So should we just join Black Lives Matter to affirm these things? “Can we join out of sympathy? Can we join out of compassion?” That’s not really the question. The question is, “Can we join, and in joining express love to God?” because whatever we do for our neighbor is subsumed under loving God with all our heart, soul, and mind. “Can I join Black Lives Matter? Can I be a part, if not a member; can I be a part of their function?” They are disruptive. They are rebellious. They are radical. They are anti-authority. They are Marxists. They are atheistic.

What are their guiding principles? Let me read them to you. In their own document we read this: “Black Lives Matter is transgender-affirming. We make space for transgender siblings. We do the work required to dismantle cisgender”which means biological sex – “and uplift transgender Black folk, especially transgender Black women who continue to be disproportionately impacted by trans antagonistic violence.” They are transgender-affirming. According to Deuteronomy 22:5, transgender behavior is an abomination to God.

Also, this is their declaration: “We are womanists rather than feminists.” Quote: “We build a space that affirms Black women and is free from sexism, misogyny, and environments where men are centered.” End quote. Transgender-affirming and wanting to pull down the leadership of men. According to the Word of God, man is the head of the woman, as God is the head of Christ. The man has the responsibility of leadership. That’s an anti-God idea. Another paragraph – and there are many more: “We are queer-affirming. We gather to free ourselves from the tight grip of the belief that all are heterosexual.” They gather to put an end to the notion that everybody needs to be heterosexual.

In he same book of Leviticus, where the Lord says, “I am the Lord; be holy,” chapter 18, verse 22 say, “You shall not lie with a male as one lies with a female; it is an abomination. In the next verse it says it’s the same as having intercourse with an animal. Chapter 20 of Leviticus, verse 13, exactly the same thing. Romans chapter 1.

Here’s a quote from Black Lives Matter: “We are intentionally amplifying that the particular experience of violence that Black queer transgender, gender nonconforming women and intersex people face, there can be no liberation for the Black people if we do not fight for these people.” This is an organization designed by Satan to use the suffering of some people as the means to destroy their lives, to destroy morality, conscience, the family, and even the church, and replace it with behavior that is immoral, perverse, abominable, soul-destroying, family-destroying, marriage-killing, and culturally disastrous. Bottom line: those documents are anti-God, anti-Scripture, anti-Christ. This is an organization that is the enemy of God. Do you really believe that going down that path is going to do anything to lift up a culture? It has nothing to do with the color of anybody’s skin. Go down that path and it’s the path of absolute total destruction. Wipe out the law of God in the heart, give people immorality as a standard, destroy the family, take the message of the gospel out of the church, and the only possible restraint left is the police to try to stop the flood.

I can’t be a part of that because 2 Corinthians is very, very straightforward. Listen to what the Lord says, 2 Corinthians 6:14, “Do not be bound together with unbelievers; for what partnership have righteousness and lawlessness, what fellowship has light with darkness? Or what harmony has Christ with Belial, or what has a believer in common with an unbeliever? Or what agreement has the temple of God with idols? For we are the temple of the living God; just as God said, ‘I will dwell in them and walk in them; and I will be their God, and they shall be My people. Therefore, come out from their midst and be separate,’ says the Lord. ‘And do not touch what is unclean; and I will welcome you, and I’ll be a father to you, and you shall be sons and daughters to Me,’ says the Lord Almighty.”

So that leads to chapter 7, verse 1: “Therefore, having these promises,” – of being sons and daughters to God – “beloved, let us cleanse ourselves from all defilement of flesh and spirit, perfecting holiness in the fear of God.” We’re back to Leviticus again. You can’t be a part of something that is designed by Satan to destroy the only institutions that can uphold sanity in a society. Are we surprised that since that philosophy, that worldview, has assaulted the law of God, assaulted the family, has corrupted the church that now they want to get rid of the only remaining restraint which is the police?

So you say, “Well, okay, you can’t be a part of that. But can you join the protests? Is that an option? Can I mingle in a crowd of the lawful and the lawless, lovers of people and haters of people?” Look at Ecclesiastes chapter 8, this is very instructive, Ecclesiastes chapter 8. And I’m just looking for answers in Scripture. Chapter 8, verse 1: “Who is like the wise man and who knows the interpretation of a matter? A man’s wisdom illumines him and causes his face to beam.” You want to be wise? You want to have a happy life? Verse 2: “I say, ‘Keep the command of the king because of the oath before God. Do not be in a hurry to leave him. Do not join in an evil matter, for he will do whatever he pleases.” You put yourself in jeopardy if you rebel against the authorities.

“Since the word of the king is authoritative,” – in verse 4 – “who will say to him, ‘What are you doing?’ He who keeps a royal command experiences no trouble, for a wise heart knows the proper time and procedure. There is a proper time and procedure for every delight, though a man’s trouble is heavy upon him. If no one knows what will happen, who can tell him when it will happen?” So you start a rebellion, you get involved in a rebellion, and you don’t know what’s going to happen; but it may turn out very badly

What value is there in being part of rebellion against authority? Paul also speaks in regard to that in Romans 13; let me remind you of it – and we’re going to get back to Ecclesiastes in a minute. Romans 13, verse 1: “Every person is to be in subjection to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those which exist are established by God. Therefore whoever resists authority has opposed the ordinance of God; and they who have opposed will receive condemnation upon themselves.” So you not only have the issue of Ecclesiastes where you’re acting in some kind of a protest against the authority, you don’t know how it’s going to end up; but you could lose your life because you can’t control the wind or the day of your death.

Not only that, not only do you have to deal with that reality, but you oppose authority, you oppose the ordinance of God, and you fall under His condemnation. “For rulers are not a cause for fear of good behavior, but for evil. Do you want to have no fear of authority? Do what is good and you will have praise from the same; for it is a minister of God to you for good. But if you do what is evil, be afraid; for it doesn’t bear the sword for nothing.” – and that’s a terminal weapon – “It is a minister of God, an avenger who brings wrath on the one who practices evil.” It’s necessary then to be in subjection …

But things happen in a society that aren’t fair. Listen to the words of Peter, 1 Peter 2:13, “Submit yourselves for the Lord’s sake; I am the Lord. Submit yourselves” – be holy – “to every human institution, whether to a king as the one in authority, or to governors that’s sent by him for the punishment of evildoers and the praise of those who do right. For such is the will of God that by doing right you may silence the ignorance of foolish men.” Do right. Do right. And part of doing right is to submit.

Verse 17: “Honor all people, love the brotherhood, fear God, honor the king. Even servants, be submissive to your masters with all respect, not only to those who are good and gentle, but also who are unreasonable.” You have an unreasonable boss; submit. “For this finds grace, if for the sake of conscience toward God a person bears up under sorrows when suffering unjustly.” So you suffer unjustly? Guess what: welcome to the world. Welcome to life in a fallen world.

“This finds grace.” You put yourself in a position of divine grace when you suffer unjustly. “For what credit is there” – verse 20 – “if, when you sin and are harshly treated, you endure it with patience? But if when you do what is right and suffer for it you patiently endure, this finds grace with God.” So you suffered, you suffered unjustly. As a child of God, you have been given grace in that occasion.

Here’s the great example, verse 21: “You’ve been called for this purpose.” What? Yes. “You’ve been called to suffer unjustly, since Christ also suffered for you, not only in a redemptive way, but as an example for you to follow in His steps.” Suffering unjustly, He committed no sin, nor was any deceit found in His mouth; and while being unjustly reviled, He did not revile in return; while suffering, He uttered no threats, but kept entrusting Himself to Him who judges righteously.” That’s our example. So you suffer, you suffer unjustly. What do you do? You do what a believer is called to do: you commit no sin, no deception; you don’t strike back; you utter no threats; you just entrust yourself to the one who judges righteously.

“And He Himself bore our sins in His body on the cross so that we might die to sin and live to righteousness; for by His wounds you were healed.” When Christ suffered unjustly, He accomplished the greatest work ever in history. By suffering unjustly, He provided redemption for the human race.

God has His purposes in our suffering. Peter says in 1 Peter 5:10, “After you’ve suffered a while, the Lord makes you perfect.” Paul says, “There was a thorn in the flesh, and I prayed three times for the Lord to remove it, and the Lord kept saying to me, ‘My strength is perfected in your weakness.’”

And here’s my problem with the protests. We are people of the truth. First of all, I have to embrace the suffering the Lord brings into my life because through it He is perfecting me, and He is extending to me grace.

Secondly, in everything, I have to be a person of the truth. The protests? Sure. They have some grievances; obvious, we get it. But they have covered the truth with lies. They have gone way beyond an injustice or several injustices to conclude that there is systemic racism, White hatred, widespread police brutality. Those are lies, those are not true. I can’t, I can’t join the protest without being part of the lies. Proverbs 19:22 says, “It’s better to be a poor man than a liar.” And, “Satan” – John 8:44 – “is the father of lies.” So if you have a satanic system, you expect lies – all goes together.

You say, “Well, okay, I can’t join the Black Lives Matter Association. I can’t really join the protest because I have to embrace whatever I might suffer. And I can’t be a part of lies and deception that is attempting to bring down the last restraint, the authority of the police, government. Thirdly, then, “Could I work to change laws? Could I work to change policies? Is that an option?” Better laws: great. Better policies: we would all appreciate that. But here’s the problem: no matter how many laws you make, you can’t change the sinner, the law-breaker.

Titus 3 is a really often overlooked description of the natural man. Verse 3: “For we also once were foolish ourselves, disobedient, deceived, enslaved to various lusts and pleasures, spending our life in malice and envy, hateful, hating one another.” Now what do you think laws are going to do to that person? They don’t deal with the disobedience, the deception, the enslavement, the malice, the envy, the hate.

Jeremiah 17:9, “The heart of man is deceitful above all things and desperately wicked.” The problem is, you can make a lot of laws, and you can change a lot of policies, but there’s a principle that Paul lays out in Romans 8; and you are familiar with it. Let me read it to you: “For what the Law could not do,” – and this is the law of God, which is reflected in human law, – “what the Law could not do, weak as it was through the flesh.” That’s the problem: the law has no power. “What the Law could not do, weak as it was through the flesh.”

Verse 5: “Those who are according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh.” Verse 6: The mind set on the flesh is death.” Verse 7: “The mind set on the flesh is hostile toward God; it doesn’t subject itself to the law of God, it is not even able to do so, and those who are in the flesh cannot please God.” God laid out a lot of commandments in Scripture; sinners cannot submit to those laws. They are, by nature, haters injurious. Sinners can’t keep the law. So we can keep adding laws, changing policies, and never get to the issue.

Well, maybe there’s a fourth option. “Should I seek to change the people in power?” Black Lives Matter’s opening statement in their documents says, “We want power.”

“Okay. Is that an option? Do we just swap new sinners for the old ones? Do we just flip this? Let’s put out of power the people who are in power and replace them with lawless people who are trying to overthrow them and assume that’ll be better. We’ll swap sinners.”

Well, the problem with that, we saw also last time, “There’s none righteous, not even one; there’s none who understands; there’s none who seeks for God; they’ve all turned aside, together they have become useless; none who does good, not even one. Their throat is an open grave, their tongues keep deceiving, the poison of asps is under their lips; their mouths are full of cursing and bitterness; their feet are swift to shed blood, destruction and misery are in their paths, the path of peace they haven’t known. There’s no fear of God before their eyes.” Hmm. None righteous, no, not one. So swapping the current sinners for some other sinners doesn’t make a lot of sense.

As I told you last time, God has put restraints in the world: the law of God written in the heart in the conscience. This culture has completely destroyed that. The second restraint is the family and the authority of parents and the discipline that parents bring to restrain sin in children; and this culture has destroyed that. And the church has fallen on very hard times with its pragmatism and its desire to entertain sinners and make them feel comfortable, so it no longer comes with any force against sin. And we’re not at all surprised that the next restraint and the final one standing is the police; and they’re under assault

It was back of the turn of the nineteenth century into the twentieth, in the early 1900s before World War I, there was a lot of social issues in America: child labor, poverty, the things that come along with poverty. There was a Baptist pastor by the name of Rauschenbusch who decided that the church ended to shift away from the Bible and the gospel and work on social issues. At the turn of the century they had began to do that. The church started to preach what was called the social gospel. Before they were done, every major denomination in this country had abandoned the Bible, abandoned the gospel, abandoned the cardinal truths of Scripture. All their schools were corrupt, all their universities were corrupt, all their seminaries were corrupt, and now you have vestiges of those denominations that are nothing but rockpiles on corners in old cities. It wiped out every denomination. It’s back again, back again about hundred years later, and it’s beginning again to wipe out churches. When you get caught up in the stupidity and foolishness of trying to fix the world, you’re striking a blow against God’s will and God’s purpose, and you’re violating His commands.

We submit to Him, to His providence. We love Him and we love our neighbors as ourselves. This is reconciliation. Sinners must be reconciled to God, and only then can they be reconciled to each other. Once you become reconciled to God through Christ, you become reconciled to every other Christian because we’re all one in Him.

So what do we do? We do what we always do. We live godly lives in the world. We live quiet, peaceful lives in the world. We proclaim the law of God, which is to love Him with all your heart, soul, and mind, and love your neighbor as yourself. We proclaim the family: fathers, mothers, raising children in the nurture and admonition of the Lord. We declare the support of those who are in authority over us because God has ordained government. We honor them, we respect them. We do nothing to diminish their authority because that is God’s institution. And then, we let the church be the church and not turn into some social agency caught up in trying to do what is designed by Satan to be folly instead of wisdom. And as we go living these lives, we live quiet, peaceable, God-honoring, Christ-exalting lives; and we are ambassadors, proclaiming Jesus Christ is Lord, proclaiming the gospel in His holy name. We are ambassadors, begging people to be reconciled to God, 2 Corinthians 5 says. We are ambassadors for God

In an era when so many churches are closing or empty, John MacArthur’s church is full every Sunday.

These sermons explain why.

Preach the Gospel, not the social gospel.

John F MacArthurThose who have followed my Forbidden Bible Verses series on the Book of Acts will know that I have been citing one of John MacArthur’s sermons in my posts on Acts 23.

John MacArthur wrote ‘Providential Protection’ in 1974, and it is about Acts 23:12-35.

Throughout, the Lord divinely intervened on Paul’s behalf — via unbelievers — to bring the Apostle where He wanted him to be: first class in the governor Felix’s palace, formerly Herod’s. Although Paul was a prisoner and recovering from a heavy physical beating from the people of Jerusalem, he was able to rest for a few days and share the Good News with the upper strata of Roman society in well deserved comfort.

I cited MacArthur’s sermon most recently in my post on Acts 23:31-35 and would now like to share the ending with you. This pertains to all of us and it might surprise some readers in that God does not want us to be miserable. He provides as and when we need it. Emphases mine below:

People always think God wants everybody to be poor, destitute, and barely scrape by. No. God knows when you need first class. I remember coming home from a meeting one time, to give you a really silly illustration. I was so tired; I had never been as sick as I was. I got sick during the entire meeting. In fact, the church wouldn’t let me come home and come back to preach. I was flying from Chicago to Portland, and I was at the end of my tether. I had stayed all week in Chicago in a place that was un- air conditioned. It was 100 every day and about 95% humidity, and I had the flu, and I had to speak two or three times a day in an auditorium without air conditioning. And by the time the week was over, I was wiped out.

And I’ll never forget; I just didn’t think I could hack it. I knew I was going to get on that airplane and get squished in that preachers’ economy section, next to a guy with a black cigar, you know? I mean, I had it all figured out. I got on there and the girl says to me, “I’m sorry, sir, there are no more seats left. We’ll have to put you in first class.” And I said, “Lord, You know. You know,” and I went in there and they started feeding me, and they fed me from Chicago to Portland.

The Lord knows those things. It is His delight. “Fear not, little flock.” First Samuel 30, verse 6, “And David was greatly distressed, but David encouraged his heart in the Lord his God.” Amen. Let’s pray.

We thank You, Father, for what You have accomplished in the life of Paul through Your providence, as well as through miracles. We thank You for what we see in our own lives as the providence that You design guides us to the accomplishment of Your will.

Thank You for the time we’ve shared together today. Teach us to trust You, to remember that You care. For remember the words of Peter, “Casting all your care on Him, for He cares for you,” and to fear not, to be anxious for nothing; to know that it’s Your delight to give us all that the Kingdom involves. We thank You in Jesus’ name, Amen.

Excellent points.

Of course, the Lord also gives us trials — another subject — but everything He does is for a greater purpose in accomplishing His will.

Returning to ‘first class’, the Lord knows what we need and when we need it. He is all-loving and all-merciful. May we always remember that.

John F MacArthurThe John MacArthur sermon I cited for my post on Acts 20:7-12 has some interesting information about rituals in the early years of the Church.

Excerpts follow, emphases mine.

Worshipping on the Lord’s Day

MacArthur explains that the Lord’s Day — Sunday — became the day of Christian public worship to commemorate Christ’s Resurrection:

First of all, when did they come together? The first day of the week. Now that became the meeting time for the Church. You say, “Didn’t they meet every day?” Sure they did. They met, from Acts 2, “Daily, from house to house.” And listen. Christianity is not a one day a week thing, is it? It’s an everyday thing. And that little church, wherever it was, in whatever little town, those Christians were together usually during the week. There were Bible studies in home. They were breaking bread in homes. They were sharing the Lord’s table, perhaps, in home. So it was not uncommon for the Church to meet on a daily basis in its early years.

But together, the church came on the first day of the week. And you say, “Why did they do that?” Well, you go back to John 20, just to refresh your memory. Verse 19. This was immediately after the Resurrection, “The same day, at evening, being the first day of the week.” Do you know when the first day of the week started in the Jewish calendar? Saturday night, right? After the sun went down, the Sabbath ended. The days were counted from sunset to sunset. And so it was on Saturday night, literally, but it was the first day of the week. So then it was Sunday.

We don’t prefer to call it Sunday. It’s all right if you want to call it Sunday, but that represents the sun god. But that’s okay, because there is no sun god anyway, so you can call it Sunday without feeling bad. But I prefer to call it the Lord’s Day. That’s Revelation 1:10. John says, “I was in the Spirit on the Lord’s Day.” That’s why in your bulletin you’ll find that we call it the Lord’s Day.

Now they met together here in John 20:19 on the first day of the week, and who appeared to them? Jesus did. Eight days later, verse 26 says, “The next time the first day of the week came, they were meeting together, and the Lord appeared.” Well, you see what happened? They were together on the first day. That was Resurrection, commemoration day. The Lord appeared both times, so He had risen on the first day, appeared on the first day, appeared again on the first day, and they just took the first day and ran with it. That became Resurrection Day, the Lord’s Day.

And so the early Church celebrated its fellowship and its worship and its teaching together on Sunday. And let me hasten to add that I think such meeting together of the Church is strictly important. In Hebrews 10:25 it says, “Forsake not the assembling of yourselves together as the manner of some is, and much the more as you see the day approaching.” That means you ought to come together with the believers and not forsake that.

Now notice that it is not the Sabbath Day anymore. Sunday is not the Sabbath. You hear people talk about going to church on the Sabbath. This is not the Sabbath. The Sabbath was yesterday. And the Sabbath is a dead issue, friends.

You know, I was on the radio in Honolulu. They have a talk station, like KABC. It’s the number two rated station in Hawaii. And they give three hours Sunday afternoon to a Christian kind of dialogue. And so I was the three-hour answer man on Honolulu radio station, KORL. And it was really interesting just to sit there, you know, and be on the grill with all these people. You know how talk radio goes. You do have that little button, however, you know, that you can just say, “I’m sorry, ma’am.” Boing, you know, and it’s all over.

But anyway, people called in, and one fellow asked me a question at the very beginning. He said, “What day is the church supposed to meet?” And you know, I didn’t realize I was being baited, but I was, apparently, because I went into this long, lengthy answer about the meaning of the Lord’s Day and the whole thing and everything. Got all done, and the lines went bananas. And I realized there’s a tremendous contingent of Seventh Day Adventists in Honolulu. And all of a sudden, I had opened up Pandora’s box, and they couldn’t handle the calls, and everything was going, and it was amazing, all the calls that were going on.

Through all of this, I simply maintained, in answering these various questions, that the only way you can allow for the – to worship on Saturday is, one, to ignore the history of the Church; two, to assume that the old covenant is still in vogue; three, to reject the teaching of the Apostle Paul. Well, they didn’t take too kindly to all of those junctions, but I supported them by Scripture. In Colossians 2:16, it says, “Let no man therefore condemn you in food -” That is, if you don’t eat like Jewish people used to eat. “In drink, or in respect of a Feast Day,” if you don’t keep the Passover or the Sabbath, “or of the new moon, or of a Sabbath, which are a shadow of things to come.” And once the thing comes, you don’t need the shadow anymore. So don’t let anybody [try to influence] you in those things.

So we went on and on about that. It’s clear to me that the Lord’s Day historically and biblically became the time when the Church met together. In fact, in 1 Corinthians 16:2, Paul just assumes it. He says, “When you come together on the first day of the week, that’s the time to bring your offerings.” Right? The Church should meet on the first day. If you want to meet on the Sabbath and you want to buy the Sabbath, then you’re going to have to buy the whole old covenant and you’re going to be saved by works, and that’s what we got into on the radio.

And I finally just turned the tables and I asked the question, I said, “Well, let me ask you about your doctrine. You’ve asked me about mine.” So I said to some guy who was giving me this long argument, I said, “Why is it that you say that the only covenant people are the ones who worship on the Sabbath, and that the mark of the beast is on everybody who worships on Sunday? That’s in your theology.” And there was a long silence. And then he admitted that that was true, that the mark of the beast is on those who worship on Sunday. And ultimately, what they were saying was you’re saved by works, keeping the whole covenant. Obeying the law. And we got into all kinds of legalism, and it became a tremendous thing because I’m so fresh in Galatians that, you know –

You know, the Lord has a way of just arranging things. Somebody must have thought, “Man, he’s got all that stuff down, you know?” That’s why it’s good to study the Word of God. You know, I’ve found that in my life. You study a certain passage, and the Lord will give you opportunity to use it.

The Church met then on the Lord’s Day, and at the beginning, they met on a daily basis, and pretty soon it became a kind of thing where they would continue to meet in small groups, in homes. But on the time that the Lord’s Day came around, the first day of the week, they would congregate together [e]n mass[e]. I don’t believe for a minute that the Church is just to be little groups scattered all over town. I think the Church is to come together.

Worshipping as a congregation

The earliest Christians eventually had to leave the synagogue environment and worship in people’s houses. Then, congregations grew to the point where churches were built. It is important that believers come together to worship publicly:

I don’t believe for a minute that the Church is just to be little groups scattered all over town. I think the Church is to come together.

Now where did the Early Church meet? Well, look here. It says in verse 8 they met in an upper chamber. They met everywhere. First, they met in the temple, didn’t they? And you imagine how popular that was. Boy, that must have been interesting. And then after that, they started meeting in synagogues. You know, Paul would go to a town. A bunch of people would get saved in the synagogue, and they’d keep coming to the synagogue and having their meetings there.

But eventually, it just didn’t work in the temple and it just didn’t work in the synagogue, and so they began to pull out and establish their own Christian assemblies. And the natural place to go, first of all, was to homes. Right? So the Church began in homes. And they must have been some very substantial homes. Some very large homes, to accommodate the many Christians that existed in those early years.

By the – oh, I’d say between the middle and the end of the second century, they began to build their own buildings to accommodate all of the Christians. But here, they were still meeting in an upper room, in a home. And when Paul wrote Colossians 4:15, he referred to the Church in the home. When he wrote Romans 16:5 and 1 Corinthians 16:19, he referred to the Church in the home, Aquila and Priscilla and Philemon too, refers to the Church that met in the home. And so there was a very common occurrence in the Early Church, and that was to meet in homes. And then later on, buildings were built.

Just all of that to say this. It’s important for the Church to come together someplace. We cannot exist in isolation, can we? We need the fellowship, the unity of the body. And so this little pattern here that we see gives us an example of how the Early Church met. On the first day of the week, verse 7, “When the disciples came together to break bread, Paul preached unto them, ready to depart the next day, and continued to speak until midnight, and there were many lights in the upper chamber, where they were gathered together.”

The love feast

MacArthur explains, scripturally, how the love feast came into being and how it disappeared. Centuries later, with the Reformation, Pietist communities in various countries revived it, and certain Christian sects still hold a love feast of some sort today, even if it involves only a non-alcoholic beverage and a piece of cake.

MacArthur doesn’t go into the revival of the love feast, however, he tells us that Paul told the Corinthians not to hold any more, because they were being selfish about the dishes they brought to the love feast:

You say, “What was the love feast?” Well, the love feast was like a potluck meal, and it was for the purpose of sharing. You had – one of the very basic things of the Christian Church is fellowship, isn’t it? And love. And so the poor people would come, and they couldn’t bring anything, and the people who could would bring enough for the poor people, and they would all share as an expression of love. It was a beautiful sharing. The common meal. And it was followed immediately by the breaking of bread and the celebration of the Lord’s Day. This was the breaking of bread for the Early Church. The agape love feast and communion.

You know, it’s a sad thing to think about, but the agape love feast kind of faded from the scene. You know why? Paul wrote 1 Corinthians. Do you know what he said to them in chapter 11? He said, “You really messed up the love feast.” 1 Corinthians 11. Let me just read you a couple of verses. And this is what happened to the love feast. It just deteriorated. He says in verse 20, 1 Corinthians 11, “When you come together therefore into one place, this is not the Lord’s Supper which you eat.” In other words, “You think you’re coming together for the Lord’s Supper, but you’re not. You polluted it. It isn’t His supper.” “For in eating, everyone takes before the other his own supper.”

Can you imagine going to a potluck and have everybody sit in their own corner and eat their own potluck? It’s what was happening. And some of the hungry people who had nothing were coming, and they were going away hungry. And so he says, “One is hungry and another is drunk.” In other words, the people who come and have nothing get nothing. The people who come and have a lot overindulge.

He says, and I think this is important. He says, “Don’t you have houses to eat and drink in?” If that’s all you’re going to do, go home. “Or despise you the Church of God and shame them that have not? What shall I say to you? Shall I praise you in this? I praise you not. You have literally despised the unity of the Church.” And so that’s what happened, and the whole beautiful commonness of the love feast just faded historically.

Communion

MacArthur takes issue with the way Holy Communion has evolved over the centuries:

… communion also got hit in history. The Catholic Church moved in, and when the Catholic Church dominated the world, before the Reformation, communion stopped being a natural, informal, warm sharing together in the memory of Christ, and it became a mystical priestly ceremony that’s now continuing to go on, known as the mass. And somehow, Protestantism sprang out of that, and we got a little closer to the truth, but I’m not sure we’re there yet. We still think of communion as something that’s performed by a whole lot of ministers, and it has to be done with little silver trays and little – and walking up and down aisles, and organs playing. And I think that’s wrong, too. I think that’s one way to do it, but I think communion is something we all ought to do much more frequently than we do.

Often people will say, “You know, John, I’d like to participate in communion, but I can’t come on Wednesday nights.” That’s no excuse. That’s no excuse.

Communion at home

I’m still digesting MacArthur’s suggestion for home Communion, which follows on from people saying they’re unable to attend his church’s Communion service, but then I come from a theological background wherein a Real Presence is part of consecrated bread and wine.

For MacArthur, Communion seems to be a symbol of the Last Supper, therefore, he says to hold one’s own Communion ceremonies at home:

You can have communion any time you want. The best place I think to teach your children communion is in your home. Teach them the meaning of breaking of bread. You know, some people just go crazy when you talk like this, because they say, “Only ordained ministers can do that.” You can’t find that in the Bible. You can share around the Lord’s Table any time you want, and you should. Jesus said, “Do this until I come, and do it with you in the kingdom.” It’s your responsibility.

There are plenty of occasions. You know, can you imagine when you get together – have you ever gotten together with other Christians and gone home after evening and said, “What a wasted evening. We could have talked about the Lord, and all we did was fool around and talk about Aunt Mary and Mrs. So and So, and how we don’t like this guy and this girl.” Have you ever done that? Sure. And you had a whole _____ thing. How about if you came together three or four couples, and just started out by breaking bread. I think that might change the pattern of your evening. It might even change where you go after you got done, or what you talk about, for sure.

And so I think we need to remember that this is part of the Early Church. It was a common and easy and a natural and a flowing thing, right out of the life that they had and their love for the Lord Jesus Christ. It’s just what they did when they came together. And that’s the way it should be with us. But unfortunately, I think we’ve been victimized by those who have told us that all of these things are to be performed in some kind of a formal, ritualistic manner as well.

Then he says that, along with this, comes edifying, instructive conversation. That I can get on board with:

But the disciples came together to break bread, and here’s the second thing that I want you to notice about the time they met together. Paul preached unto them. They came together for teaching. Whenever the Early Church came together, this was primarily the purpose. Sometimes it was to break bread, and there is no command here as to how frequently. It’s just to be done often. And this time when they came together, they did that. But Paul preached unto them. This became the priority when they met, was preaching and teaching. And the word preaching here is not to preach the Gospel. You don’t need to preach the Gospel at a service of breaking of bread, because everybody’s already a Christian.

Paul taught them, and the word preaching here has to do with dialogue. He answered questions, and there was feedback, and he shared with them. Teaching. That was the priority. The Apostles had earlier said, “We will give ourselves continually to prayer and the ministry of the Word,” Acts 6:4. And Acts 6:7 says, “And the Word multiplied and the Church multiplied.” It says the same thing in Acts 12:24 and Acts 19:20. “The Word of God grew and prevailed.” This is the priority.

Interesting, to say the least.

Agree or disagree, it’s food for thought, especially for those who consider themselves Christians but who no longer attend church because they find many of today’s churches lacking in solemnity and teaching.

That said, an effort should be made to find a good congregation or a good service that you feel comfortable with. Attend now and again to make it a regular habit.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

He also complained about the poor preaching.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

However, MacArthur says:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

That includes churchgoers.

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

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

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

That time cannot come too soon.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ultimately:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

… in 1 Peter 2:13–18, he would write,

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

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

MacArthur reminds us:

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

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

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

End of series

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Peter was inquisitive:

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

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

Peter showed initiative:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Peter got involved:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Therefore, during His time on Earth:

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

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

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

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

… when Peter wrote his first epistle, he said:

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

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

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

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

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

In the Gospels:

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

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

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

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

This shows in his epistles:

In 1 Peter 5:8–10, he wrote,

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

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

Christ told him,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

(Image credit: Art Hermitage)

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

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

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

MacArthur concludes:

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

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

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

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

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

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

Commentary comes from Matthew Henry and John MacArthur.

I’ve used the English Standard Version below:

Acts 9:1-9

The Conversion of Saul

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

MacArthur continues:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Also:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What a moment that must have been.

Henry offers this analysis:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I have many past posts on Easter:

Easter: the greatest feast in the Church year

Easter Sunday: Thoughts on this greatest of days

Happy Easter — He is risen!

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

Psalm 118, Christ’s Passion and Eastertide

Easter poems from an inspired Anglican, the Revd George Herbert

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

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

Holy Week and Easter — the two-part story

The road to Emmaus — a great Easter story

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

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

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

Easter documentaries — when knowing the Bible helps — part 1

Easter documentaries — when knowing the Bible helps — part 2

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

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

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

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

Subheads and emphases mine below.

Summary

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

Why Jesus died within a few hours

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

MacArthur explains:

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

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

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

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

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

MacArthur says:

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

John 19:34:37 says:

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

Why did the soldiers pierce the crucified?

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

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

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

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

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

There were other prophecies fulfilled that day:

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

The importance of Jesus’s burial

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

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

Joseph of Arimathea — prophecies fulfilled

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

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

MacArthur tells us:

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

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

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

Therefore:

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

MacArthur says:

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

The three days

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

MacArthur explains:

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

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

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

The two Marys

Matthew 27:61 says:

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

MacArthur tells us:

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

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

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

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

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

The earthquake — the third day

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

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

MacArthur breaks this down for us:

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

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

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

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

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

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

Faith on display

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

MacArthur says:

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

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

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

What they saw

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

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

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

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

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

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

In Matthew 28:

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

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

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

In John 20:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

MacArthur describes the angel in Matthew 28:

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

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

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

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

MacArthur explains:

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

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

‘He has risen’

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

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

Luke 24:6-7:

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

Mark 16:6:

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

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

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

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

What a day of drama and glory!

Truly, Jesus Christ is the Son of God.

Being there for the Lord

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

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

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

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

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

Amen.

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

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