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Trinity Sunday is June 4, 2023.

Readings for Year A and additional resources for this important feast day can be found here.

The icon on the left was painted by St Andrei Rublev. It is a rare Eastern Orthodox depiction of the Holy Trinity, using three angels to symbolise the Triune God. St Andrei used ‘The Hospitality of Abraham’ as his theme.

The Gospel reading is as follows (emphases mine):

Matthew 28:16-20

28:16 Now the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain to which Jesus had directed them.

28:17 When they saw him, they worshiped him; but some doubted.

28:18 And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me.

28:19 Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit,

28:20 and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”

Commentary comes from Matthew Henry and John MacArthur.

Today’s reading is the Great Commission, recorded most fully in Matthew’s Gospel. These are the closing verses to his book. Some translations end it with the word ‘Amen’. Matthew’s objective was to prove that Jesus is the Messiah, and many Jewish people, having read it, have become Christians as a result.

A number of Christians believe that there should be no missionaries, because missionaries ‘force’ people to adopt Christianity and give up their own cultural norms. Objecting Christians believe that is wrong. Ironically, Africa is where the Church is strongest today: something for the objectors to ponder.

Today’s verses show that bringing fallen men and women to believe in Him is what Christ expects of all of us, no matter where we live.

John MacArthur elaborates on the Christian’s — and the Church’s — purpose:

Beloved, we have no different mission in the world than the incarnate Jesus Christ had: to fulfill the heart of God in winning the lost. That is our mission. To glorify God by bringing salvation to lost men and women.

… if fellowship was our purpose, God would have taken us to heaven. Teaching? If our purpose is that we may know doctrine and know knowledge, the best thing God could do is take us immediately to heaven, where we would know as we are known instantaneously, and all teaching ceases, because everybody knows everything they need to know. No. If the purpose of the church was teaching, we’d be gone. Well, what about praise? If God wanted perfect praise out of His church, He’d take them to heaven, too, because that’s where perfect praise occurs …

The point is this – and I want you to get it: there is only one reason we are here, and one reason alone, and that is that we may seek and save those who are lost. It is as the Father sent the Son that the Son sends us. If the Father wanted fellowship with the Son, He would have kept Him in heaven. If the Father wanted perfect knowledge with the Son, He would have kept Him in heaven. If the Father wanted the perfect praise that was His, He would have kept Him in heaven. He wouldn’t need to send Him to earth.

But if the Father wanted to redeem fallen men, He had to send Him to this earth. That’s the only reason we’re here. There is no other reason. Now, I hope that simplifies it for you. That’s it. So, when you evaluate your Christian commitment, and you evaluate how you’re using your life, ask yourself one question: am I involved in winning lost men and women to Jesus Christ? Is that where my time, and energy, and effort, and talent, and money is going, to do that? That’s the only reason you’re here.

So, unless you’re committed to the fact that we are here for the responsibility of winning a lost world to Jesus Christ, then you better reexamine why you are existing. Fellowship, teaching, praise, are not the mission of the church; they’re part of the preparation and the training for the mission. I mean, a great athlete does a lot of things in training, but the training is not to be confused with the competing and the winning. It is not to be confused with running the race. All the exercise and preparation you go through in your education is not to be confused with succeeding in your profession.

Furthermore, our heart must be in the right place, focussed on Christ — all the time:

The whole heart set on Christ; the whole affection set on Christ; the whole mind set on Christ. All the goals are set on Christ. He is all in all. He fills our thought and our intention, and we spend our days and our nights thinking not how can we make it better for ourselves, but how can we exalt His blessed name. Not how can we be more comfortable as Christians, but how can we win the lost no matter how discomforting it is to us. So, where’s your focus? Are you available? Are you a worshiper?

And by that I don’t mean stained glass windows and organ music and show up on Sunday. What I mean is that you focus your whole intent and purpose in life on Christ. I mean, it’s basic. It means being controlled by the Holy Spirit, who is the only one who can cause you to call Jesus Lord, 1 Corinthians 12:3 says. My life is controlled by the Spirit; all my assets, all my possessions, all my time, all my energy, all my talent, all my gifts. It not only means I’m controlled by the Spirit, but it means I’m centered on the Word, because the Word is where Christ is seen.

The Christ-centered life, the worshiping life, is a life that is yielded to the Spirit of God, and it is centered on the Word of God, and consequently, it is cleansed from sin. “Search me, O God, and know me: try me, and see if there be any wicked way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting,” says Psalm 139:23 and 24.

In this regard, MacArthur gives an example of how a pastor of his acquaintance answers requests for counselling. This was back in 1985, so feel free to substitute ‘credit card statement’ for ‘chequebook’ below:

Sam Erickson suggested to me that maybe the Lord hasn’t given us more money is because we’re such poor stewards of what He’s given us already.

I mean, where – where are we really setting the priorities? Sam was sharing with me that he has a technique that he always uses when people want counseling. He says people will call him and say, “Well, I have a spiritual problem, I have a burden; I want to talk to you” – he’s an elder in his church, chairman of the elders. And he says, “I always tell them the same thing. ‘I’ll be happy to talk with you. Bring your checkbook.’” And people will say, “My checkbook?” “Yes, your checkbook. I want to go over your checkbook with you first, before we talk about anything else.”

Well, the standard answer is, “Why do you want to do that?” And his answer is, “I want to see where your heart is, because Jesus said, ‘Where your treasure is, that’s where your heart is.’” I don’t think he does a lot of counseling. Where’s your heart? You want to know where your heart is? Look at your checkbook, look around your house. People think that they need to store up all their money for the future, they need to lay it all away, you know, build up all their assets, make all their investments, hoard all they possibly can, with the goal in mind of security in the future.

That is Satan’s lie to this generation of Christians. Now, I’m not saying you should be foolish. What I am saying is, there’s a world to be won for Christ, and who cares how comfortable it is for us? Misplaced priorities. Now, after you’re done checking through your checkbook, check through your calendar, and find out where you’re spending your time, and what occupies your mind. Well, we’re great at fellowship; fellowship stimulates us. We’re great at teaching; teaching sort of entertains us, and assists us in growth. And we’re great at praise that gives expression.

But we’re sure not so good at sacrificial living, or sacrificial giving to reach the lost. And, friends, I’m trying to say what Jesus said, and what the Scripture indicates, is that that’s the only reason we’re here; every other purpose could be better accomplished in heaven. Now, we’ve got to come to grips with this. The sad part is most Christians are content with the trivia of this life, to amass the junk of this life, to pad their own case, fill up their lives with all the accessories they can possibly enjoy, while the world is going to hell and we’re not there to reach them

Now, what is necessary for effective evangelism? If we’re going to make disciples of all nations, if we’re going to reach the world, what is necessary? First, what I’ve given you in this introduction must be understood. But now, I want you to look at five explicit or implicit elements

These are in the text of Matthew 28:16 to 20, and they are those things which are essential to effective fulfillment of the purpose for which the church exists: availability, worship, submission, obedience, and power

The eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain where Jesus had directed them (verse 16).

MacArthur continues on his theme:

availability. This is implied in verse 16, in a very, very wonderful way. By the way, someone once said, “The greatest ability is availability.” I like that. It doesn’t matter how talented you are if you’re not available. The greatest ability is availability, and we see that here.

There’s going to be a great commissioning on this day, and there are going to be people sent out into all the world with the promise of the presence and the power of the living Christ. But if you weren’t there, you weren’t going to be a part of that. The ones who were available were the ones who received the privilege.

Matthew Henry’s commentary discusses the journey from Jerusalem, where the Apostles and our Lord’s female disciples had been, to Galilee. It was a lengthy journey to make:

This evangelist passes over several other appearances of Christ, recorded by Luke and John, and hastens to this, which was of all other the most solemn, as being promised and appointed again and again before his death, and after his resurrection. Observe,

I. How the disciples attended his appearance, according to the appointment (v. 16); They went into Galilee, a long journey to go for one sight of Christ, but it was worth while. They had seen him several times at Jerusalem, and yet they went into Galilee, to see him there.

1. Because he appointed them to do so. Though it seemed a needless thing to go into Galilee, to see him whom they might see at Jerusalem, especially when they must so soon come back again to Jerusalem, before his ascension, yet they had learned to obey Christ’s commands and not object against them. Note, Those who would maintain communion with Christ, must attend him there where he has appointed. Those who have met him in one ordinance, must attend him in another; those who have seen him at Jerusalem, must go to Galilee.

2. Because that was to be a public and general meeting. They had seen him themselves, and conversed with him in private, but that should not excuse their attendance in a solemn assembly, where many were to be gathered together to see him. Note, Our communion with God in secret must not supersede our attendance on public worship, as we have opportunity; for God loves the gates of Zion, and so must we. The place was a mountain in Galilee, probably the same mountain on which he was transfigured. There they met, for privacy, and perhaps to signify the exalted state into which he was entered, and his advances toward the upper world.

MacArthur runs through the timeline between the Last Supper and this journey to Galilee:

Back in chapter 26, verse 32, He said, “When I’m raised from the dead, I’ll go before you into Galilee.” After He was raised from the dead – notice verse 7 of chapter 28 – the angel said to the women, “He goes before you into Galilee: there you will see Him.” When Jesus appeared to those same women, later on in verse 10, Jesus said to them, “Go tell My brethren that they go into Galilee, and there shall they see Me.”

In other words, before and after the resurrection, Jesus said He would meet with His disciples in Galilee. He was calling together a great conclave there, for the purpose of commissioning them to reach the world. They were told, then, before His death and after His resurrection, that they were to be there. And no doubt, the word spread beyond the disciples to all the others who believed in Jesus Christ, and they were all gathered, as we shall see, on that mountain on that appointed day.

Now, we have no specific knowledge as to how Jesus communicated to them the time and the place, what day and what mountain. We don’t know. It just says here that they went away into Galilee, into the mountain, the Greek text says, the specific mountain, which Jesus had Himself appointed; the verb form indicating there that it was by His own discretion and His own will that He appointed a certain mountain to meet them. We don’t know how that message was conveyed to them, but it was.

Now, when did this happen? Obviously, it was after His resurrection. Obviously, the day of His resurrection, He met the women, He went on the road to Emmaus, saw a couple of other disciples, saw the disciples that night in the upper room, saw them eight days later again in the upper room, so it would be at least after that eighth day. Then, after that eighth day when the disciples had seen Him, they would need a certain amount of time to journey north into Galilee, maybe a week. When they come into Galilee, in John 21, we see them fishing, and it seems that they’d actually gone back to their old profession.

They were in a boat that may well have been Peter’s own boat, as if he were taking up his old trade, not really knowing what to expect in the future from the Lord, even though he had been told to go to Galilee and wait for the Lord to come. So, the disciples had time to go back, to sort of reestablish their fishing enterprise. They were down there in the boat. You remember Jesus came. They couldn’t catch anything. Jesus showed them that He had control over the fish. Called them to the shore, asked Peter if he loved Him three times, then commissioned them to serve and feed His sheep.

So, the Lord has had all of these several meetings: the first eight days in Jerusalem, maybe a week to go north – that would put it, maybe, at 15 days. Maybe three or four days to sort of settle into the fishing – maybe it’s 20 days later, by the time this happens. Now, we know, in Acts 1:3, it says that Jesus showed Himself alive by many infallible proofs over a period of 40 days, so it’s somewhere between 20 days, maybe, and 40 days that this occurs. It wouldn’t be at the end of the 40, because the last appearance was at the Mount of Olives, where He ascended, and the Mount of Olives is outside Jerusalem.

They would have had to have another few days to get back there. So maybe somewhere between 20 and 35 days after His resurrection, but still with time to return to Galilee and to see Him ascend, Jesus then calls together this group of people for this very special commissioning. Now, you say, “What group of people is this, specifically?” I believe it is the group of people indicated in 1 Corinthians, chapter 15, verses 6 and 7, where it says 500-plus brethren saw Him at one time.

Here is the gathering in Galilee with the 500 plus; that has been the consistent view of biblical teachers throughout the years, and I see that as being very accurate. Now, it only tells us in verse 16 that the eleven disciples were there, because, of course, they were central to the issue. They used to be called the twelve, but with the defection, apostasy, and death of Judas, who went to his own place, as Acts 1:25 says, they were now reduced to eleven, and they become known as the eleven.

But this sighting of Jesus here was not limited to them, because in chapter 28, verse 7, the angel said to the women, “He goes before you into Galilee: there shall you see Him. Lo, I have told you.” So, it was for the eleven, it was for the women, and presumably, it was for all the other believers and disciples in Galilee, who were to be commissioned for this responsibility of reaching the world. The 500 at one time who saw Him, as recorded in 1 Corinthians 15:6 and 7.

There’s no reason for Jesus to go all the way to Galilee to have a meeting with just the eleven disciples. He had met them twice in Jerusalem. If He wanted another meeting with them, He could have done it. The command here given, to go and make disciples of all nations, doesn’t know any hierarchy. That’s a command given to everybody, whether you’re an apostle or not. It fits all of those who love and follow Jesus Christ. And certainly, our Lord would have wanted to give this commission to the largest group possible.

And the largest group possible would be the 500 gathered in Galilee, because there were so many more believers in Galilee than in Jerusalem. You say, “How do you know that?” Because in Acts chapter 1, verse 15, when the believers in Jerusalem met to wait for the Holy Spirit, there were only 120 of them in the upper room. The number of disciples in Jerusalem was much smaller; the hostility was much greater, and the dominance of Christ’s ministry had occurred in Galilee, where the hearts were more open.

He came, in Matthew 4, as a light to the Gentiles, to the Galilean area known as Galilee of the Gentiles. He came to that region first of all to present His message, and so, the bulk of believers were there. Also, Galilee would be a fitting place, not only because of the number of believers, but because of the seclusion of it, away from the hostility of Jerusalem. And because there could be so easily found a place where they could have privacy, on the many hillsides around the sea. So, it provided the largest group of disciples, the greatest seclusion, the greatest safety.

And the right setting – because it was a place where many nations lived surrounding it – the right setting to tell people to go to reach all those nations with the gospel. And so, the eleven are there, and I believe the women were there, and I believe all the rest of the disciples of Jesus who believed in Him in the Galilee region were there, also. And they were in the mountain where Jesus had appointed them. We don’t know what mountain it was. It may have been the Mount of Transfiguration, it may have been that the mount of glory became the mount of resurrection, and the mount of commissioning.

It may have been the mount where He taught the Sermon on the Mount. It may have been the mountain where He fed the crowd, or the mountain that He went to so often to pray. Could have been any mountain. We really don’t know. But it becomes a sacred mountain because of what happens here, as over 500 of them, with all their weaknesses, and confusion, and doubts, and misgivings, and fears, and questions, and bewilderments, are gathered together. They’re not the greatest people in the world, they’re not the most capable, or the most brilliant; they’re not the most experienced; but they are there, and that is to be commended.

They are available. And that’s what I love about this verse. That means ready for service. Everything at this point focuses on the fact that they were there. Jesus said, “Be there,” and they were there. They’re reminiscent of the availability of Isaiah, who after the vision of God, in chapter 6, verses 1 to 7, says, “Here am I, Lord; send me. I may not be the best – I’m a man with a dirty mouth – but I don’t see anybody else volunteering I think Your choices are limited. Here am I, send me.”

When the assembled saw Him, they worshipped Him, but some doubted (verse 17).

Henry explains the doubt on the part of some:

Now was the time that he was seen of above five hundred brethren at once, 1 Cor 15 6. Some think that they saw him, at first, at some distance, above in the air, ephthe epanoHe was seen above, of five hundred brethren (so they read it); which gave occasion to some to doubt, till he came nearer (v. 18), and then they were satisfied.

MacArthur has more on the worship and the doubt:

There’s a second principle that I just want to mention – it doesn’t need to be elucidated at great length – and that is the attitude of worship that we see in verse 17. The first prerequisite or element in fulfilling this commission to make disciples is to be available; the second is to worship. And this is a question of focus; it’s a question of focus. It says in verse 17 – and this is absolutely marvelous, the way this verse appears – “And when they saw Him, they worshiped Him: but some doubted.”

I love that. I think that’s so honest. “And when they saw Him” – He appeared, all of a sudden, in the supernatural way in which He could transfer Himself from one place to another. He appeared, and in an instant, everyone saw Him in that supernatural appearance, and it created an instantly overwhelming effect, and they worshiped Him – proskuneō, to prostrate oneself in adoring worship. The risen Christ commanded their worship. They weren’t worshiping Him as some human dignitary, they weren’t worshiping Him as some earthly king.

They were worshiping Him as God, for it had been affirmed that He was indeed God, the Son of God. Even in His death, did not the centurion say, “Truly, this was the Son of God?” Did not Thomas say, “My Lord and My God,” as recorded in the twentieth chapter of John? This is more than homage to an earthly king. This is honor for God Himself in human flesh. They fall in adoring worship. They had worshiped once earlier; it’s referred to one other time that the disciples actually worshiped Him.

Remember that the people in Galilee had not seen Jesus in His post-resurrection glorified body. Combine that with the distance that some were from Him when He appeared, and you would have doubt:

He is risen from the dead. Not only is He a miracle worker, but He is the One who has conquered death, and they have seen Him, and touched Him. Chapter 28, verse 9, the women held His feet, and the disciples touched His body, and He was with them. He went out of the grave, right through the stone, He came in the room, right through the wall.

And yet He was able to be touched, and they knew they were dealing with a divine, glorious, supernatural person. And so, when He appeared, they worshiped Him. And then, I love this note: “But some doubted.” You say, “Matthew, you shouldn’t put that in there. We’re trying to make a case for the validity of the resurrection; why would you do that?” And that, again, is a reminder to us of the transparent honesty of the biblical writer, who is not trying to contrive a believable story by reporting it in a selective way.

He’s not collecting evidence that’s only going to make his case. The integrity of this is a great proof of the truthfulness of it. If men were trying to falsify and contrive a message about a resurrection, they wouldn’t throw in the very climactic point but some doubted unless it was true. And it was true, so it’s included; and that’s the integrity of Scripture. And we ask ourselves, first of all, “What kind of doubt was this?” Well, some suggest that the doubters were the eleven, because it says, “some doubted,” and the some must go back to verse 16, the eleven disciples who were there.

Well, it possibly could be that some doubted. It doesn’t say that some doubted that Jesus was alive, or that they doubted that He was raised from the dead. The indication is when they saw Him, they worshiped Him; but some doubted that it was Him. It wasn’t so much necessarily a question of the resurrection issue, but the doubt was that this was really Him. That could have happened among the disciples. Some of them may not have been able to clearly see His face.

Some of them, because He was appearing now in resurrection glory, and maybe revealing Himself in a way different than they had seen Him in the upper room, were really unable to be certain, and some of them were a little bit more hesitant to affirm this until they had surer evidence. But on the other hand, if the women were there, and including – included a group of, say, 489 plus the eleven, it could have been any of them. And keep this in mind – apart from the women and the disciples, none of those other people had ever seen Him after His resurrection.

So, this is the first time for them. So, we’re not surprised that now they’re going to have an experience they’ve never had. There’s a group that’s so large, 500 people, that not everybody’s going to be in the front of the group. Christ appears to them. They’re not sure that it’s Him. Maybe some of the disciples are not quite sure yet.

And Jesus came and said to them, ‘All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me’ (verse 18).

The first important word in addressing the doubt is ‘came’ or, in other translations, ‘came nearer’. Everyone could see Him.

MacArthur says:

You say, “Well, how could they not be sure if He was there in their presence?” The answer comes in a very wonderful way at the beginning of verse 18, and it says, “And Jesus” – aorist active participle – “came nearer,” or approaching.

Which indicates to us the probable cause for their doubt, that Jesus in His appearance appeared at a distance. And it wasn’t until He came near them and began to speak that those who doubted would have their doubt erased. So, the doubts possibly could have come from those who were disciples, but as yet could not be sure that this was Jesus, because He was afar off. Or it could have come from those who had never ever seen Him in resurrection glory, and it wasn’t for them either until He was near that they could identify Him as the one they knew to be Jesus Christ.

But it’s so lovely, and so beautiful, that the writer includes this, because it’s so natural, and it’s so true, and it’s so uncontrived, and it’s such a convincing indicator of the validity of the scene itself. So, at first they doubted, but as He came near, all doubt was dispelled. Doubting the Son of God and worshiping the Son of God is mentioned in the same breath on one other incident that I mentioned earlier, in Matthew 14, when Jesus walked on the water, and seen at a distance, they doubted. When He came near, they believed, and they worshiped.

Henry points out our Lord’s understanding of their doubt:

Though there were those that doubted, yet, he did not therefore reject them; for he will not break the bruised reed. He did not stand at a distance, but came near, and gave them such convincing proofs of his resurrection, as turned the wavering scale, and made their faith to triumph over their doubts. He came, and spoke familiarly to them, as one friend speaks to another, that they might be fully satisfied in the commission he was about to give them.

Looking at our Lord’s statement about His authority over everything in heaven and on earth, MacArthur brings in the third element of evangelism:

It is not only an available heart, it is a worshiping heart. And then thirdly – and this is where we come to our lesson today – the third element of fulfilling the great commission we see in the passage is submission; submission. In verse 18, our Lord, when He does come near, speaks, and says, “All authority is given unto me in heaven and in earth.” And He makes a statement, frankly, that staggers my thoughts, and it reaches far beyond my ability to conceive or articulate. He is making a claim to consummate sovereign authority.

He has all authority. Now the word authority is the word exousia. It basically is a word that means privilege or right or power or authority. Essentially, you could define it as the freedom to do whatever you wish. It is freedom without limitation. Jesus Christ, with all authority, is free to do what He wants, when He wants, where He wants, with what He wants, to whomever He wants. It is absolute freedom of choice and action. That’s the essence of sovereign authority.

It is useful to think of this authority when we are asked to do something for our own church. Do we say ‘no’ for whatever reason and risk our Lord asking at His Second Coming why we refused? Or do we accept that lay ministry — whatever it is, even cleaning the church or the church kitchen — without reservation? That’s something to think about.

Henry elaborates on the source and power of Christ’s authority:

… here he tells us, All power is given unto me in heaven and in earth; a very great word, and which none but he could say. Hereby he asserts his universal dominion as Mediator, which is the great foundation of the Christian religion. He has all power. Observe, (1.) Whence he hath this power. He did not assume it, or usurp it, but it was given him, he was legally entitled to it, and invested in it, by a grant from him who is the Fountain of all being, and consequently of all power. God set him King (Ps 2 6), inaugurated and enthroned him, Luke 1 32. As God, equal with the Father, all power was originally and essentially his; but as Mediator, as God-man, all power was given him; partly in recompence of his work (because he humbled himself, therefore God thus exalted him), and partly in pursuance of his design; he had this power given him over all flesh, that he might give eternal life to as many as were given him (John 17 2), for the more effectual carrying on and completing our salvation. This power he was now more signally invested in, upon his resurrection, Acts 13 3. He had power before, power to forgive sins (ch. 9 6); but now all power is given him. He is now going to receive for himself a kingdom (Luke 19 12), to sit down at the right hand, Ps 110 1. Having purchased it, nothing remains but to take possession; it is his own for ever. (2.) Where he has this power; in heaven and earth, comprehending the universe. Christ is the sole universal Monarch, he is Lord of all, Acts 10 36. He has all power in heaven. He has power of dominion over the angels, they are all his humble servants, Eph 1 20, 21. He has power of intercession with his Father, in the virtue of his satisfaction and atonement; he intercedes, not as a suppliant, but as a demandant; Father, I will. He has all power on earth too; having prevailed with God, by the sacrifice of atonement, he prevails with men, and deals with them as one having authority, by the ministry of reconciliation. He is indeed, in all causes and over all persons, supreme Moderator and Governor. By him kings reign. All souls are his, and to him every heart and knee must bow, and every tongue confess him to be the Lord. This our Lord Jesus tells them, not only to satisfy them of the authority he had to commission them, and to bring them out in the execution of their commission, but to take off the offence of the cross; they had no reason to be ashamed of Christ crucified, when they saw him thus glorified.

Then Jesus announced His Great Commission: to go and make disciples of all nations, baptising them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit (verse 19).

The next time someone says there should be no missionaries, remind them of that verse. Christ calls all believers to be missionaries, in whatever way we can. We might not be the ones doing the baptising, but we can lead people to that great sacrament, which brings us into communion with the Holy Trinity, the Triune Godhead we honour this particular Sunday.

Henry explains the manner in which Christ gave that command:

Go ye therefore. This commission is given, (1.) To the apostles primarily, the chief ministers of state in Christ’s kingdom, the architects that laid the foundation of the church. Now those that had followed Christ in the regeneration, were set on thrones (Luke 22 30); Go ye. It is not only a word of command, like that, Son, go work, but a word of encouragement, Go, and fear not, have I not sent you? Go, and make a business of this work. They must not take state, and issue out summons to the nations to attend upon them; but they must go, and bring the gospel to their doors, Go ye. They had doted on Christ’s bodily presence, and hung upon that, and built all their joys and hopes upon that; but now Christ discharges them from further attendance on his person, and sends them abroad about other work. As an eagle stirs up her nest, flutters over her young, to excite them to fly (Deut 32 11), so Christ stirs up his disciples, to disperse themselves over all the world. (2.) It is given to their successors, the ministers of the gospel, whose business it is to transmit the gospel from age to age, to the end of the world in time, as it was theirs to transmit it from nation to nation, to the end of the world in place, and no less necessary.

MacArthur explains how we should receive the Great Commission:

His terms are He is Savior and Lord, and He calls for submission. His word and His commands are absolute. And that’s why in verse 19 it says, “Therefore.” Therefore – what do you mean, therefore? “Since I’m in charge, you are to do this. Make disciples of all nations.” Why? “Because I am in charge, and I say to do that.” There’s got to be a submissive spirit. And when you look for someone that you want to invest your life into, when I look for someone that I want to invest my life in, that I feel has spiritual potential, I look for someone with a submissive spirit.

Someone who is – to put it in another term – teachable. He is the sovereign Lord. This isn’t negotiable. The great commission, the mission of the church, then, is predicated on three attitudes: the attitude of availability, the attitude of worship, and the attitude of submission. Now, listen to me. Those three attitudes indicate a God-centered preoccupation of the heart. They indicate a Godward focus, that my heart is set toward God, that there is a willing, devoted heart. I love in the Old Testament, when it talks about a willing heart.

Exodus 25, Exodus 35, Judges 5, Judges 8, Nehemiah 11, Esther – or Ezra 1, Ezra 3 verse 5, other places. It talks about “the people had a willing heart, the people had a willing heart.” That’s the kind of heart you see here, a willing heart, available; a worshiping heart, a submissive heart, to do what He says. And that’s – that’s the antithesis of being caught up in the inane trivia of our modern world; of spending our lives, and our time, and our talent, and our energy, and our money, and our resources, on ourselves.

So, you look at your own life, and if you’re not desirous of fulfilling the great commission, it isn’t that you need a zap from God, and it isn’t that you need some direct place to go, it is that you need to look to the attitude of your heart, and ask, are you available? Am I really available? Am I really worshiping? Do I have a single focus in my life? Am I submissive, so that when I find a command of God, I eagerly obey it? Now, those are three foundational attitudes. He has all authority, and if He has all authority, that means He has authority that extends to everything …

And here, in verse 19, is where we have the command, “make disciples of all nations,” and it calls for obedience. How are you doing that? How are you doing that? How are you making disciples of the people around you? The people around the world? How are you doing it? Or are you doing it? It may seem to you unnatural or impossible, as it must have to them, but it was commanded.

He tells you how to do it, right here in verse 19, with three participles. The main verb is “making disciples of all nations.” The three participles are going, baptizing, teaching. That’s how you do it. Going, baptizing, teaching; that’s how you make a disciple. It isn’t just that they should believe, it is that they should believe and be taught.

It isn’t just that they are taught, it also encompasses their act of faith, which is symbolized in baptism. And neither of those can take place until you go to those people. The commission of the church is not to wait until the world shows up. The commission of the church is to go to the world, to go to them. Now let’s talk about that first participle, going, poreuthentes. Actually, in the Greek, it could be translated better having gone; having gone. It isn’t a command, go ye; that’s not a command in the Greek.

In the Authorized, they put it in the imperative mode, but in the Greek, it’s an assumption, having gone. I mean, it’s basic that if you’re going to make disciples of all nations, you’ve got to have gone; having gone is assumed.

MacArthur discusses baptism:

The first essential element of making disciples, then, is to go

The second element, the second participle that modifies the main verb, is baptizing – “baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.” Baptizō, a familiar term, means to immerse in water, to dip in water, and our Lord is saying, “When you go, you are to be baptizing.” Now, what import does this have? Why does He stress this? Because baptism was the outward sign of an inward act of faith in Christ. Baptism was synonymous with salvation, though baptism in no way saved.

It was the outward visible symbol of what had been done in the heart. And it was an overt act of obedience, by which a person could demonstrate the reality of the miracle of salvation. There’s no way that you can see someone being saved. I have never seen a salvation, have you? I wouldn’t – I wouldn’t be able to see it; it’s a supernatural spiritual transaction. I have never seen a salvation. All I have ever seen is the fruit of one, true? All I have ever seen is the result of one. And if I don’t see the result, then I have to question whether there was a salvation.

And in the early church, it was essential that salvation be demonstrated by the fruit of obedience, and that initial fruit of obedience was baptism, by which an individual testified to their union in the death, burial, and resurrection of Christ, so beautifully symbolized in immersion. Now, the baptism of John the Baptist was different; it was a baptism of repentance, of a people repenting of their sin, to purify themselves inwardly, and show it. They were – show it by their outward baptism, to ready themselves for Messiah.

Jesus also baptized. John, of course, his baptism described in Matthew 3, Jesus’ baptism described in John 4:1 and 2. Jesus baptized, and it was also an outward symbol of a desire for a purified heart. But here is a new kind of baptism. For the first time, since Jesus died and rose again by now, people can be baptized as a demonstration of their identity with Christ in His death and resurrection

Baptism, then, was commanded as we see here, and that’s why it was done. Jesus said, “Baptize them.” Now, when you get into the book of Acts, and people are converted, and you see them being baptized, you know why. Because they were obedient to a command. Those who put their faith in Christ were to be baptized, but the command here is for those who preach the gospel to baptize, which means that in giving the gospel, beloved, we are to tell people that it is not just something you believe, and that’s it.

It is something you believe, and publicly confess in this act of baptism. And when you find someone who is reluctant to do that, you may have reason to question the genuineness of their faith, for Jesus said, “Him that confesses Me before men, him will I confess before My Father who is in heaven.” This is public confession. No one is saved by baptism itself. Water can’t save you. Any religious rite or act is impotent to save you. But this is an act of obedience. This is a symbol. And that is why the Scripture so repeatedly emphasizes baptism.

When you come to Christ, confess Him as Lord and Savior, believe in your heart that God has raised Him from the dead, and demonstrate that in an act of obedient baptism, you are a disciple

MacArthur then discusses the baptismal formula that Christ gave versus others in the New Testament and says that even the others are valid:

Now, would you notice that He says baptism is in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit?

First of all, I need to say that that is not necessarily a formula for baptism; that’s a common way, and we often use that in our baptisms, “I baptize you in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.” And it’s a beautiful way to do that. There are, however, several occasions in the book of Acts where people are baptized in the name of the Lord, baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus, baptized in the name of Jesus Christ. In fact, there is no baptism in the book of Acts in which this formula is ever used. It only appears here.

Every baptism specifically where any formula is given, or any statement is made as to who the baptism is in or into, is the Lord, the Lord Jesus, Jesus Christ. Now, we conclude from that, then, really, that there’s no binding formula. People want to make a big case out of that, but there’s really no binding formula. To baptize someone in the name of Jesus Christ is simply to baptize them, sort of demonstrating and portraying and picturing their union with Jesus Christ, and that’s wonderful; and that says plenty.

Here, we just have the fullest statement possible. Baptizing them in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, shows not only their union with Christ, but their unity with the whole Godhead. It’s a fuller, and richer, and more comprehensive statement. But, in no way should we construe that it is some kind of absolutely necessary formula, since there are other statements made in the book of Acts. The wonderful thing we do want to note, though, in the book of Acts, is that they were obedient to this, and everywhere the gospel was preached and everywhere people believed, people were being baptized.

Acts 2:41, Acts 8:38, Acts 9:18, the tenth chapter of Acts with Cornelius, verse 48, the sixteenth chapter of Acts, verse 33, the Philippian jailer and his family. You come into Acts 18:8, Acts 19:5, the followers of John the Baptist, over in Acts 22, I think around verse 10, baptisms, baptisms, baptisms, baptisms, always going on, always going on. And so, we’re not looking at some kind of ceremonial rite, in which conversion takes place by water, and there’s some special formula you have to say.

It’s just that our Lord has given us the richest possible statement of the comprehensive union that occurs when a saint comes to faith in Jesus Christ. We are one with the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit; marvelous thought. That’s a great statement, also, because Christ puts Himself on a level with the other two members of the trinity, and those people who want to say that Jesus never claimed to be God have got some problems in that verse. He puts Himself on a level with the other two members of the trinity.

It’s a great verse, also, to prove the trinity. All three persons are there. And would you please notice this: it doesn’t say, “Baptizing them in the name of the Father, and the name of the Son, and the name of the Holy Spirit,” nor does it say, “In the names of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit.” It is one name with three persons, the mystery of the trinity. The name means all that a person is and does, all that is bound up in that name. The name means all that God is as a trinity, all that God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit are.

We are baptized in. And the word eis could mean into, it could mean unto, it could mean in. It’s just the idea that when we are baptized, we come into a union with the trinity through Jesus Christ. And as I said before, it symbolizes His death and resurrection. We have a full union with Jesus Christ. What a wonderful, glorious thought. And not only with Him, but with the Father, and with the Son, as well. Now, the point is this: becoming a disciple happens at salvation, and involves a full union with the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, which is a transforming reality demonstrated by the beautiful ceremony of baptism.

Jesus ended by saying that the people gathered with Him were to teach others to obey everything that He commanded them, adding (verse 20), ‘And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age’.

That applies to us also, as MacArthur explains:

What are we called to do, then? While we’re going, or already having gone, we are to be bringing men to the Savior, baptizing them as an outward testimony of this inward union. And then, would you notice verse 20: “Teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you.” It’s not only a converting ministry that we’re called to, but it’s a teaching ministry. Now, we have to follow up that new convert, who is now desirous of being obedient, and therefore desirous of learning what it is he is or she is to obey, by teaching all things – the whole counsel of God, in terms of Acts 20:27.

Oh, that’s such a marvelous thing. We’re to teach them all things the Lord has commanded, lifelong; lifelong commitment to obedience. I love that. You see, being a disciple is a question of obeying commands. You can’t be a disciple of Christ without an obedient heart. You can’t be a disciple of Christ without a desire to follow Him as your Lord. That’s the whole point of the rich young ruler, when He said to him, you know, “Take all you have, sell it, and give the money to the poor, and follow Me,” and the guy went away, and said, “Forget it. You’re not in charge of my life.” He couldn’t be converted.

Coming to Christ is saying, “You are in charge of my life. I submit. I want to be obedient.” And so, He says to those people gathered there, “You teach them all the things whatsoever I have commanded you.” And He’d commanded them a lot. And some of them would write it down. John 14:26, He told them, “I’ll send you the Holy Spirit. The Spirit will bring all things to your remembrance, whatever I have said.” And the Bible writers wrote it down. The Spirit of God gave it to all of us. We have the commands of Christ. We have the words of Christ. We have the teaching that He gave.

And that is what we are to teach other people. We are to teach them all of it; all of it. I love that. All things. There are not options. There – there’s just a great, grand host of teachings, to which we must submit. There’s no true discipleship apart from personal faith in Christ, and there’s no true discipleship apart from the desire for an obedient heart. That’s why the Bible talks about the obedience of faith. That’s why it says, in Hebrews 5:9, that the only people who really are people who have been redeemed – Hebrews 5:9 – the only ones whom Christ has really transformed – and I think this is so clear – it says, “are all them that obey Him.”

We find the specifics in the books following the Gospels. Some are difficult teachings to obey, especially in today’s world, which gets more bizarre by the day in distancing itself from biblical truth. Believers are called to be Christlike, to reject the world, to become dead to sin rather than dead in it. That comes from knowing Scripture, praying for more faith and grace and submitting to our Lord’s will for our lives.

May all reading this have a blessed Trinity Sunday.


Pentecost2Pentecost Sunday, the Church’s birthday, is May 28, 2023.

Readings for Year A along with other resources for Pentecost can be found here.

There are two Gospel options in Year A. One is an extract — John 20:19-23 — from the Second Sunday of Easter, the Doubting Thomas reading, John 20:19-31.

The other option is from John 7, which follows. Emphases mine below:

John 7:37-39

7:37 On the last day of the festival, the great day, while Jesus was standing there, he cried out, “Let anyone who is thirsty come to me,

7:38 and let the one who believes in me drink. As the scripture has said, ‘Out of the believer’s heart shall flow rivers of living water.’”

7:39 Now he said this about the Spirit, which believers in him were to receive; for as yet there was no Spirit, because Jesus was not yet glorified.

Commentary comes from Matthew Henry and John MacArthur.

This episode in our Lord’s ministry took place less than a year before His crucifixion.

It happened during the week-long Jewish feast of Sukkot, or Booths in the sense of tents or shelters. It is also known as the Feast of Tabernacles.

It commemorates God’s protection of and provision for the Israelites when they spent 40 years in the desert. Because it takes place in the early autumn, it is also a harvest feast and a time of great joy.

On the last day of the festival, the great day, while Jesus was standing there, he cried out that anyone who thirsts should come to Him and let those who believe drink, for Scripture has said, ‘Out of the believer’s heart shall flow rivers of living water’ (verses 37, 38).

As is so often the case, there is much to examine in so few verses.

Matthew Henry’s commentary summarises what happened on the final day of Sukkot, the festival’s culmination:

… it was a custom of the Jews, which they received by tradition, the last day of the feast of tabernacles to have a solemnity, which they called Libatio aquæ—The pouring out of water. They fetched a golden vessel of water from the pool of Siloam, brought it into the temple with sound of trumpet and other ceremonies, and, upon the ascent to the altar, poured it out before the Lord with all possible expressions of joy.

John MacArthur has more:

At this feast, they celebrated the wilderness wanderings for 40 years when they lived in tents and booths and temporary housing that they moved as they migrated around the wilderness for those four decades.  During that period of time, God protected them, preserved them, gave them food and drink.  Finally, that ended with a generation dying and a few entering into the land of promise, the Canaan land, and the birth of the nation of Israel.

To commemorate God’s preservation of that nation during those years of wandering, God instituted in Leviticus 23, a feast, an annual feast of remembrance around the time of the Fall [autumn]

They were in that feast.  It’s a week-long, and now it’s the last day.  That’s very very important.  The last day.  Very significant.  Let me tell you why.  Every day of the feast, there was a ritual that was repeated.  As far as we can tell from history, it was repeated every day.  And this is what happened.  Based on Leviticus 23:40, the instruction is this: that the people, the worshippers who celebrate the feast are to take the fruit of good trees, branches of palm trees, boughs of thick trees, and willows of the brook – several different kinds of trees They are to get the branches.  That’s Leviticus 23.  They are to take the branches, and they are to use those branches to create booths to commemorate the wilderness wandering and the temporary housing remembering the goodness of God.  That had developed into a very very special kind of ritual. 

The Pharisees had instructed the people to all bring their branches, at each particular time of every day during the feast, to the main altar and to surround that altar and put up their boughs and their branches to create a kind of makeshift covering over the altar.  This was in the temple area.  Every day of the festival, thousands upon thousands, tens of thousands of people were there, and they would come, and they would create this covering of palm branches, willow branches, and other kinds of thick trees.  They would form this kind of covering around the altar.  The altar is then in the midst of this covering with all these people surrounding it – those holding the branches and those beyond.  The high priest would then go to the Pool of Siloam by prescription.  And he had a golden pitcher in his hand, and he would dip it in the water of the Pool of Siloam.  And he would come back, and he would pour the water out on the altar as a remembrance of God providing the waters for the people of Israel at Meribah out of the rock. 

And when he poured the water, historians tell us, the people were required – by the way, he came back through the water gate, which was so named because people brought water through it So he would come back through the water gate, and historians tell us the people recite Isaiah 12:3 Isaiah 12:3 says, “With joy, shall we draw water out of the wells of salvation.”  “With joy, shall we draw water out of the wells of salvation.” 

So the whole ceremony remembers the wilderness wandering.  It remembers the water provided there, but it’s all symbolic of God’s salvation, his deliverance of Israel temporarily during those 40 years – is merely a remembrance of God as a saving God who delivers his people and should remind them of soul salvation.  The water, then, comes to the altar in the hand of the priest.  It is poured out.  And when it is poured out, and the people have recited the passage from Isaiah, they were required then to sing the Hallel.  The Levitical choir would start the Hallel is sung 113-118.  Hallel from which we get “Hallelujah,” hymns of praise.  They would sing Psalms 113-118 So that’s the scene it was the most celebratory of all the Jewish feasts.

So the whole dramatic ceremony is a vivid thanksgiving for God’s salvation of his people and protection and preservation and deliverance of his people in the wilderness wandering and how he supplied water for them.  They also added to the celebration a prayer for more water that God would send rain.  Now what makes this especially important on the last day, is that on the last day, before pouring out the water, the people marched around the altar seven times.  Why?  To commemorate the march around what city?  The city of Jericho because that spelled the end of the wilderness wandering. 

Jesus, ever obedient to Jewish law, was present. He issued an open invitation to everyone there. He stood and cried out in issuing it.

Henry explains our Lord’s intent in crying out:

Jesus stood and cried, which denotes, (1.) His great earnestness and importunity. His heart was upon it, to bring poor souls in to himself. The erection of his body and the elevation of his voice were indications of the intenseness of his mind. Love to souls will make preachers lively. (2.) His desire that all might take notice, and take hold of this invitation. He stood, and cried, that he might the better be heard; for this is what every one that hath ears is concerned to hear.

Henry discusses the importance of seizing the opportunity to pass a message onto a crowd:

Now on this day Christ published this gospel-call, because (1.) Much people were gathered together, and, if the invitation were given to many, it might be hoped that some would accept of it, Prov 1 20. Numerous assemblies give opportunity of doing the more good. (2.) The people were now returning to their homes, and he would give them this to carry away with them as his parting word. When a great congregation is to be dismissed, and is about to scatter, as here, it is affecting to think that in all probability they will never come all together again in this world, and therefore, if we can say or do any thing to help them to heaven, that must be the time. It is good to be lively at the close of an ordinance. Christ made this offer on the last day of the feast. [1.] To those who had turned a deaf ear to his preaching on the foregoing days of this sacred week; he will try them once more, and, if they will yet hear his voice, they shall live. [2.] To those who perhaps might never have such another offer made them, and therefore were concerned to accept of this; it would be half a year before there would be another feast, and in that time they would many of them be in their graves. Behold now is the accepted time.

Both commentators call our attention to the openness of His invitation.

Henry says:

The invitation itself is very general: If any man thirst, whoever he be, he is invited to Christ, be he high or low, rich or poor, young or old, bond or free, Jew or Gentile. It is also very gracious: “If any man thirst, let him come to me and drink. If any man desires to be truly and eternally happy, let him apply himself to me, and be ruled by me, and I will undertake to make him so.”

MacArthur says:

There will be another one in chapter 8.  There will be a number of invitations right on down to the very end of his ministry.  In fact, I doubt whether a day went by in his ministry in which he didn’t invite people to salvation, to the Kingdom, to the forgiveness of sin and eternal life.  There was likely not a day that he didn’t invite people to believe in him, to confess him as Lord and Savior, and receive the salvation that comes only through him. 

Earlier on, John’s Gospel gives us another of our Lord’s invitations to living water, which He made to the Samaritan woman at the well, John 4:5-42:

4:10 Jesus answered her, “If you knew the gift of God, and who it is that is saying to you, ‘Give me a drink,’ you would have asked him, and he would have given you living water.”

4:11 The woman said to him, “Sir, you have no bucket, and the well is deep. Where do you get that living water?

4:12 Are you greater than our ancestor Jacob, who gave us the well, and with his sons and his flocks drank from it?”

4:13 Jesus said to her, “Everyone who drinks of this water will be thirsty again,

4:14 but those who drink of the water that I will give them will never be thirsty. The water that I will give will become in them a spring of water gushing up to eternal life.”

MacArthur reminds us:

You will also remember in chapter 6 as he was speaking of himself as the “bread of life.”  He encouraged people to eat this bread and to drink as well.  In a land where water was scarce, a very dry land, water was a great commodity to express the work of salvation, the benefit of salvation to a thirsty soul So this is a striking invitation.  There was a context for the woman at the well.  There was a real well and real water, and he played off of that to talk about the water that will satisfy a soul.  And that soul will never thirst again.  Here again, there is a context for the analogy of water

MacArthur says that Jesus chose a powerful moment to issue His invitation here:

It is on that day, at that moment, when they are all celebrating the deliverance and the salvation of God – with that as a backdrop, and perhaps – can’t be certain – but perhaps, in the quiet moment when the festival reaches its apex and the priest takes the golden pitcher and pours the water, it is perhaps at that moment that Jesus says, “If anyone is thirsty, let him come and drink.  Let him come to me.”  Jesus dramatically captures the moment – turns it to himself.  He must have positioned himself in the right place. 

We read in verse 37 that he “cried out.”  There’s that ekrazen again that strong word for yelling at the top of his voice He wants to be heard.  And in the drama of that moment, no doubt, he picked a moment when everybody was sort of holding their breath at the drama of the celebration.  Jesus says, “‘You are thankful to God for water in the wilderness – water that satisfied the thirst of your forefathers.  Come to me for water that quenches your soul.’”  Your soul.  You understand again, in a land where there’s so little water, how much water symbolized satisfaction – a necessity for life.  So Jesus uses that analogy now for the third time really in the Gospel of John. 

MacArthur discusses the elements of this invitation and their importance:

In the words that he says at that moment, there are three actions: “thirst,” “come,” “drink.”  Three verbs.  They really generally correspond to what the Medieval Latin fathers used to call notitia, fiducia, and assensus, the three elements necessary for saving faith “Thirst,” that is the knowledge of the problem, the knowledge of the alienation, the knowledge of the deprivation, the knowledge of the condition and understanding of its implications, and including a knowledge of the source of water.  Then “come,” that’s fiducia.  That’s trust.  And then “drink,” that’s assent. 

Let’s kind of break those down a little bit.  It’s pretty simple.  The first tells of a recognized need: thirst.  Thirst.  Notice the general open invitation “If anyone is thirsty.”  “If anyone is thirsty.”  “If anyone is thirsty.”  The invitations of Jesus were always unlimited.  They were always universal.  They were always open-ended.  “‘If anyone is thirsty, come unto me all you who labor and are heavy-laden, and I will give you rest.’”  God told of the world that he gave his only begotten son that “whosoever believes shall not perish but have everlasting life.”  Here again is another one of those invitations.  “If you are thirsty.”  Thirst is a craving.  Thirst is a conscious craving.  It’s something we know about.  It’s something we’re fully aware of.  We feel it, and the more thirst increases, the more anxious a person becomes.  In fact, there can actually be a kind of madness that sets in if you cannot get a drink as you become more and more seriously thirsty.

What’s he talking about?  He’s talking about a thirsty soul.  A longing for deliverance, longing for hope, longing for peace, longing for forgiveness, for salvation, for liberation from the power of sin.  If you are thirsting – anyone who is thirsting – anyone whose soul is parched, that’s where it all starts.  It starts with that craving.  Then the consciousness, the acute consciousness of that craving. 

People come to Christ because they’re thirsty.  Do you understand that?  Because their souls are empty That’s why when you do Evangelism, you don’t start with “come to Christ.”  You start with the recognition of the desperate situation the sinner is in and try to help him understand that.  So that’s where it all begins with thirst.  Like the Philippian jailer who said, “What must I do to be saved?”  That’s a thirsty soul crying out.

The second verb – the second action is “come.”  It signifies the approach to him.  “‘If any man will come after me” Luke 9:23.  Seeing him as the only source of soul satisfying, nourishing, living water.  Come.  Come to me.  Come to Christ.  It means, with all your heart and with all your will, you come to him.  If he were here, you would do it with your feet, but he’s not here; you do it with your heart and your mind If he were here, you would come and stand before him in your thirst.  And you would fall on your knees, and you would cry out for him to give you the living water as the only source. 

Spiritually speaking, it is to move toward Jesus Christ as the only source of your need.  Turn your back on the world.  Abandon your sin.  Abandon your self-confidence.  Cast your self at the feet of incarnate grace and truth in Christ.  That’s “come.”  No one else you can come to?  He is the way, the truth, and the life.  You come to him.  You come to him alone.  Let me remind you the only qualification is thirst – not morality, not religiosity, not good works, not being a benevolent person, not being “a basically good person.”  There is no qualification like that.  The only qualification is that you are thirsty.  And very often, benevolent, basically good people, religious people, moral people don’t feel the thirst.  That’s why when Jesus came, all the moral, religious people hated him.  And it was the sinners and tax collectors and outcasts that came.  It’s the thirsty that come.  Nowhere else to go but him?  He is the only one who can satisfy the soul. 

Thirdly, “drink.”  Drink means to appropriate – to appropriate.  A river flowing through the parched valley doesn’t do any good unless you drink.  Drinking means to take him, receive him, make him your own, embrace him.  As he said to the woman at the well in John 4:14, “‘Drink, and you’ll never thirst.’”  As he said in John 6, “‘You must eat and drink of me, my life, and my death.’”  A songwriter wrote, “I heard the voice of Jesus say, ‘Behold, I freely give the living water, thirsty one.  Stoop down, and drink, and live.  I came to Jesus and I drank of that life-giving stream.  My thirst was quenched.  My soul revived, and now I live in him.’”  That’s a sentiment that every Christian can understand.  I came; I drank; I took Christ in.

All of that is simply a way to break out what it means to believe. 

Then there is belief itself, which Jesus mentioned next (verse 38):

this may be the most remarkable part about this invitation Look at verse 38: “‘He who believes in me, as the Scripture said,’” and by the way, he collects from several verses in Isaiah and even makes reference to Ezekiel 37, a kind of composite statement, “‘as the Scripture said, from his innermost being will flow rivers of living water.’”  Let me give you a simple analogy.  This water that flows to you when you come to Christ comes into your life doesn’t stay in you.  You’re not a bucket.  You’re not a reservoir.  It goes through you.  You are a fountain that becomes a river.  Really amazing statement.  Not only do we drink and have our soul thirst forever quenched, but we become the fountain and the river of living water to others as it flows from us

Verse 38 talks about the impact of a believer on the world.  It’s thrilling.  We receive soul-refreshing spiritual water, which is really an analogy for spiritual life, eternal life, with all of its elements and components meaning conversion, redemption, justification, sanctification, adoption, everything.  We receive all that – a constant spring of pure, cleansing water of life in us, sanctifying us, making us more like Christ But at the same time, and the real key here is, we become a fountain that turns into a river for the world The blessed one becomes the blessor.  The recipient of sovereign grace becomes the channel of sovereign grace.  And in not a trickle, but a gushing river. 

This is just an amazing statement about how much your life mattersWhen you think about who matters in society, Christians matter because they are a saver of life unto life.  They’re the fountain and river of living water that flows to the world.  The results and people being redeemed and taken to eternal glory.  That matters. 

Therefore, MacArthur says that these invitations are more than historical episodes from our Lord’s ministry. They raise questions for us as well:

… I want to talk just a little bit about the matter of this invitation to begin with.  Admiring Jesus, being impressed by Jesus, watching Jesus from afar, saying kind things about him is insufficient.  It puts a person, in the end, in the same Hell as the people who hated Jesus, who hate him now, who reject him, who were guilty of his death even in Jerusalem at the Crucifixion.  Admiring Jesus is not sufficient to grant eternal life.  Some kind of superficial commendation of Jesus is not enough.  The question is: what will you do with his invitations?  What will you do with his invitations? 

How were the people at the Sukkot celebration — and how are we — going to become that gushing river of water?

John explains that Jesus was speaking of the Holy Spirit, which believers then were to receive at the first Pentecost, although, when Jesus issued that invitation, the Spirit would not yet be with everyone, because our Lord had not yet been glorified (verse 39) through His death, resurrection and ascension.

Henry gives us this analysis:


(1.) It is promised to all that believe on Christ that they shall receive the Holy Ghost. Some received his miraculous gifts (Mark 16 17, 18); all receive his sanctifying graces. The gift of the Holy Ghost is one of the great blessings promised in the new covenant (Acts 2 39), and, if promised, no doubt performed to all that have an interest in that covenant.

(2.) The Spirit dwelling and working in believers is as a fountain of living running water, out of which plentiful streams flow, cooling and cleansing as water, mollifying and moistening as water, making them fruitful, and others joyful; see ch. 3 5. When the apostles spoke so fluently of the things of God, as the Spirit gave them utterance (Acts 2 4), and afterwards preached and wrote the gospel of Christ with such a flood of divine eloquence, then this was fulfilled, Out of his belly shall flow rivers.

(3.) This plentiful effusion of the Spirit was yet the matter of a promise; for the Holy Ghost was not yet given, because Jesus was not yet glorified. See here [1.] That Jesus was not yet glorified. It was certain that he should be glorified, and he was ever worthy of all honour; but he was as yet in a state of humiliation and contempt. He had never forfeited the glory he had before all worlds, nay, he had merited a further glory, and, besides his hereditary honours, might claim the achievement of a mediatorial crown; and yet all this is in reversion. Jesus is now upheld (Isa 42 1), is now satisfied (Isa 53 11), is now justified (1 Tim 3 16), but he is not yet glorified. And, if Christ must wait for his glory, let not us think it much to wait for ours. [2.] That the Holy Ghost was not yet given. oupo gar hen pneumafor the Holy Ghost was not yet. The Spirit of God was from eternity, for in the beginning he moved upon the face of the waters. He was in the Old-Testament prophets and saints, and Zacharias and Elisabeth were both filled with the Holy Ghost. This therefore must be understood of the eminent, plentiful, and general effusion of the Spirit which was promised, Joel 2 28, and accomplished, Acts 2 1, etc. The Holy Ghost was not yet given in that visible manner that was intended. If we compare the clear knowledge and strong grace of the disciples of Christ themselves, after the day of Pentecost, with their darkness and weakness before, we shall understand in what sense the Holy Ghost was not yet given; the earnests and first-fruits of the Spirit were given, but the full harvest was not yet come. That which is most properly called the dispensation of the Spirit did not yet commence. The Holy Ghost was not yet given in such rivers of living water as should issue forth to water the whole earth, even the Gentile world, not in the gifts of tongues, to which perhaps this promise principally refers. [3.] That the reason why the Holy Ghost was not given was because Jesus was not yet glorified. First, The death of Christ is sometimes called his glorification (ch. 13 31); for in his cross he conquered and triumphed. Now the gift of the Holy Ghost was purchased by the blood of Christ: this was the valuable consideration upon which the grant was grounded, and therefore till this price was paid (though many other gifts were bestowed upon its being secured to be paid) the Holy Ghost was not given. Secondly, There was not so much need of the Spirit, while Christ himself was here upon earth, as there was when he was gone, to supply the want of him. Thirdly, The giving of the Holy Ghost was to be both an answer to Christ’s intercession (ch. 14 16), and an act of his dominion; and therefore till he is glorified, and enters upon both these, the Holy Ghost is not given. Fourthly, The conversion of the Gentiles was the glorifying of Jesus. When certain Greeks began to enquire after Christ, he said, Now is the Son of man glorified, ch. 12 23. Now the time when the gospel should be propagated in the nations was not yet come, and therefore there was as yet no occasion for the gift of tongues, that river of living water. But observe, though the Holy Ghost was not yet given, yet he was promised; it was now the great promise of the Father, Acts 1 4. Though the gifts of Christ’s grace are long deferred, yet they are well secured: and, while we are waiting for the good promise, we have the promise to live upon, which shall speak and shall not lie.

MacArthur says:

verse 39 is a prophecy He spoke of the spirit “whom those who believed in him were to receive” for the Spirit was not yet given because Jesus was not yet glorified.  The Holy Spirit couldn’t come until Jesus was glorified, ascended into Heaven.  Then he sent the Holy Spirit, and … when the Holy Spirit came on the day of Pentecost – launched the church And then the river on the inside began to flow to the world.  And it happened instantaneously because immediately on the day of Pentecost, all those Galileans who didn’t know those multiple languages began to speak the wonderful works of God in all kinds of gentile languages as the river began to flow.

Rivers of blessing begin to pour out of those believers early in Pentecost.  Peter preaches, the river starts, and 3000 people are saved.  They preach again; another 4000 are saved Tens of thousands are being saved.  In Jerusalem, it extends to Samaria, and we’re still living the history today The river is unleashed on the world through the indwelling Holy Spirit.  Only the Holy Spirit can make the river flow.  He’s the power behind all witness – all witness.

MacArthur concludes:

So Jesus says, “‘For those of you who come to me and drink, you will not only be satisfied, but you will become a river of life to the world.’”  That happened seven and a half months later on the day of Pentecost.  That is the work of the Holy Spirit.  What an amazing invitation to say not only will you have your soul totally satisfied forever with a water that’ll cause you to never thirst again – satisfy you forever, but your life will take on eternal significance.  What an amazing invitation.  That’s why I say this is the golden invitation of the Gospel of John Rivers of water, not reserved for super saints or some kind of reservoir but, belonging to all believers all of whom become fountains that turn into rivers.  What an invitation.

May all reading this enjoy a blessed Pentecost Sunday.

Eastertide finished the day before Pentecost. Next Sunday is Trinity Sunday. After that, until the first Sunday of Advent, where vestments are worn, celebrants wear green to mark what some denominations call ‘Ordinary Time’. Others designate those Sundays as being ‘after Pentecost’ or ‘after Trinity’.

The Seventh Sunday of Easter is May 20, 2023.

This particular Sunday, which comes just after Ascension Day, this past Thursday, is also known as Exaudi Sunday, more about which here. Exaudi Sunday is the last Sunday in Eastertide, which ends on the day before Pentecost.

Exaudi Sunday is so called because of the traditional Introit, taken from Psalm 17:1. The two first words in Latin are ‘Exaudi Domine’ — ‘Hear, Lord’.

Exaudi is Latin, from the verb exaudire (modern day equivalents are the French exaucer and the Italian esaudire). It has several meanings, among them: hear, understand and discern, as well as heed, obey and, where the Lord is concerned, grant. The French version of the Catholic Mass uses exaucer a lot, as do hymns: ‘grant us, Lord’.

Readings for Year A can be found here.

The Gospel is as follows (emphases mine):

John 17:1-11

17:1 After Jesus had spoken these words, he looked up to heaven and said, “Father, the hour has come; glorify your Son so that the Son may glorify you,

17:2 since you have given him authority over all people, to give eternal life to all whom you have given him.

17:3 And this is eternal life, that they may know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent.

17:4 I glorified you on earth by finishing the work that you gave me to do.

17:5 So now, Father, glorify me in your own presence with the glory that I had in your presence before the world existed.

17:6 “I have made your name known to those whom you gave me from the world. They were yours, and you gave them to me, and they have kept your word.

17:7 Now they know that everything you have given me is from you;

17:8 for the words that you gave to me I have given to them, and they have received them and know in truth that I came from you; and they have believed that you sent me.

17:9 I am asking on their behalf; I am not asking on behalf of the world, but on behalf of those whom you gave me, because they are yours.

17:10 All mine are yours, and yours are mine; and I have been glorified in them.

17:11 And now I am no longer in the world, but they are in the world, and I am coming to you. Holy Father, protect them in your name that you have given me, so that they may be one, as we are one.

Commentary comes from Matthew Henry and John MacArthur.

John 17 is the only record we have of any of our Lord’s prayers. He prayed often, but this is the one time we have details of what He asked of His Father.

In the first five verses, He prays that He might be glorified. In verses 6-19, He prays for the disciples. In verses 20-26, He prays for all believers then and now.

Theologians and Reformers who have studied this chapter in depth say it is one of the most powerful in the Bible. I have put certain words — those of predestination, or election — in bold to emphasise that God gives His chosen faithful to Christ, who looks after them and their souls.

John MacArthur says:

Here, we see our great High Priest. This is His mediatorial work, as the mediator between God and man. This prayer belongs to us as a gift from heaven so that we now know the content of our great High Priest’s intercession for us

It is a prayer for glory. It is a prayer that the Father would bring Him to glory, and bring the disciples to glory, and bring all of us to glory. It is that interceding prayer that holds us until we stand before Him in heaven. It is this intercession that is the reason why nothing will ever separate us from the love of God, which is ours in Christ Jesus.

After Jesus had spoken these words — referring to John 13-16, at and after the Last Supper — He looked up to heaven and said (verse 1), ‘Father, the hour has come; glorify your Son so that the Son may glorify you’.

In several places in John’s Gospel, we read that our Lord’s hour had not yet come. Now it had come and was upon Him. He was in the Garden of Gethsemane awaiting His arrest, trial, scourging and death on the cross for our redemption.

Matthew Henry’s commentary makes the following observations:

1. The time when he prayed this prayer; when he had spoken these words, had given the foregoing farewell to his disciples, he prayed this prayer in their hearing; so that, (1.) It was a prayer after a sermon; when he had spoken from God to them, he turned to speak to God for them. Note, Those we preach to we must pray for(2.) It was a prayer after sacrament; after Christ and his disciples had eaten the passover and the Lord’s supper together, and he had given them a suitable exhortation, he closed the solemnity with this prayer, that God would preserve the good impressions of the ordinance upon them. (3.) It was a family-prayer. Christ’s disciples were his family, and, to set a good example before the masters of families, he not only, as the son of Abraham, taught his household (Gen 18 19), but, as a son of David, blessed his household (2 Sam 6 20), prayed for them and with them. (4.) It was a parting prayer. When we and our friends are parting, it is good to part with prayer, Acts 20 36. Christ was parting by death, and that parting should be sanctified and sweetened by prayer. Dying Jacob blessed the twelve patriarchs, dying Moses the twelve tribes, and so, here, dying Jesus the twelve apostles. (5.) It was a prayer that was a preface to his sacrifice, which he was now about to offer on earth, specifying the favours and blessings designed to be purchased by the merit of his death for those that were his; like a deed leading the uses of a fine, and directing to what intents and purposes it shall be levied. Christ prayed then as a priest now offering sacrifice, in the virtue of which all prayers were to be made. (6.) It was a prayer that was a specimen of his intercession, which he ever lives to make for us within the veil. Not that in his exalted state he addresses himself to his Father by way of humble petition, as when he was on earth. No, his intercession in heaven is a presenting of his merit to his Father

This is how the Father answered the Son’s prayer for glorification on what we know as Good Friday, at the Resurrection and afterwards:

The Father glorified the Son upon earth, First, Even in his sufferings, by the signs and wonders which attended them. When they that came to take him were thunder-struck with a word,— when Judas confessed him innocent, and sealed that confession with his own guilty blood,—when the judge’s [Pilate’s] wife asleep, and the judge himself awake, pronounced him righteous,—when the sun was darkened, and the veil of the temple rent, then the Father not only justified, but glorified the Son. Nay, Secondly, Even by his sufferings; when he was crucified, he was magnified, he was glorified, ch. 13 31. It was in his cross that he conquered Satan and death; his thorns were a crown, and Pilate in the inscription over his head wrote more than he thought. But, Thirdly, Much more after his sufferings. The Father glorified the Son when he raised him from the dead, showed him openly to chosen witnesses, and poured out the Spirit to support and plead his cause, and to set up his kingdom among men, then he glorified him. This he here prays for, and insists upon.

Henry says that we may also pray that we glorify God in our lives:

It being our chief end to glorify God, other things must be sought and attended to in subordination and subserviency to the Lord. “Do this and the other for thy servant, that thy servant may glorify thee. Give me health, that I may glorify thee with my body; success, that I may glorify thee with my estate,” etc. Hallowed be thy name must be our first petition

Jesus continued, referring to Himself in the third person, saying that the Father has given Him authority over all people and — mentioning election — He has the power to give eternal life to all those the Father has given Him (verse 2).

Henry discusses our Lord’s supreme power over all things and all beings:

Now see here the power of the Mediator.

a. The origin of his power: Thou hast given him power; he has it from God, to whom all power belongs ...

b. The extent of his power: He has power over all flesh. (a.) Over all mankind. He has power in and over the world of spirits, the powers of the upper and unseen world are subject to him (1 Peter 3 22); but, being now mediating between God and man, he here pleads his power over all flesh. They were men whom he was to subdue and save; out of that race he had a remnant given him, and therefore all that rank of beings was put under his feet. (b.) Over mankind considered as corrupt and fallen, for so he is called flesh, Gen 6 3. If he had not in this sense been flesh, he had not needed a Redeemer. Over this sinful race the Lord Jesus has all power; and all judgment, concerning them, is committed to him; power to bind or loose, acquit or condemn; power on earth to forgive sins or not. Christ, as Mediator, has the government of the whole world put into his hand; he is king of nations, has power even over those that know him not, nor obey his gospel; whom he does not rule, he over-rules, Ps 22 28; 72 8; Matt 28 18; ch. 3 35.

c. The grand intention and design of this power: That he should give eternal life to as many as thou hast given him. Here is the mystery of our salvation laid open.

(a.) Here is the Father making over the elect to the Redeemer, and giving them to him as his charge and trust; as the crown and recompence of his undertaking. He has a sovereign power over all the fallen race, but a peculiar interest in the chosen remnant; all things were put under his feet, but they were delivered into his hand.

(b.) Here is the Son undertaking to secure the happiness of those that were given him, that he would give eternal life to them. See how great the authority of the Redeemer is. He has lives and crowns to give, eternal lives that never die, immortal crowns that never fade. Now consider how great the Lord Jesus is, who has such preferments in his gift; and how gracious he is in giving eternal life to those whom he undertakes to save. [a.] He sanctifies them in this world, gives them the spiritual life which is eternal life in the bud and embryo, ch. 4 14. Grace in the soul is heaven in that soul. [b.] He will glorify them in the other world; their happiness shall be completed in the vision and fruition of God. This only is mentioned, because it supposes all the other parts of his undertaking, teaching them, satisfying for them, sanctifying them, and preparing them for that eternal life; and indeed all the other were in order to this; we are called to his kingdom and glory, and begotten to the inheritance. What is last in execution was first in intention, and that is eternal life.

(c.) Here is the subserviency of the Redeemer’s universal dominion to this: He has power over all flesh, on purpose that he might give eternal life to the select number. Note, Christ’s dominion over the children of men is in order to the salvation of the children of God. All things are for their sakes, 2 Cor 4 15. All Christ’s laws, ordinances, and promises, which are given to all, are designed effectually to convey spiritual life, and secure eternal life, to all that were given to Christ; he is head over all things to the church. The administration of the kingdoms of providence and grace are put into the same hand, that all things may be made to concur for good to the called.

Jesus said that eternal life is knowing the only true God and Himself, whom the Father has sent (verse 3).

Henry explains:

The knowledge of God and Christ leads to life eternal; this is the way in which Christ gives eternal life, by the knowledge of him that has called us (2 Peter 1 3), and this is the way in which we come to receive it. The Christian religion shows us the way to heaven, First, By directing us to God, as the author and felicity of our being; for Christ died to bring us to God. To know him as our Creator, and to love him, obey him, submit to him, and trust in him, as our owner ruler, and benefactor,—to devote ourselves to him as our sovereign Lord, depend upon him as our chief good, and direct all to his praise as our highest end,—this is life eternal. God is here called the only true God, to distinguish him from the false gods of the heathen, which were counterfeits and pretenders, not from the person of the Son, of whom it is expressly said that he is the true God and eternal life (1 John 5 20), and who in this text is proposed as the object of the same religious regard with the Father. It is certain there is but one only living and true God and the God we adore is he. He is the true God, and not a mere name or notion; the only true God, and all that ever set up as rivals with him are vanity and a lie; the service of him is the only true religion. Secondly, By directing us to Jesus Christ, as the Mediator between God and man: Jesus Christ, whom thou hast sent … We are therefore concerned to know Christ as our Redeemer, by whom alone we can now have access to God; it is life eternal to believe in Christ; and this he has undertaken to give to as many as were given him. See ch. 6 39, 40. Those that are acquainted with God and Christ are already in the suburbs of life eternal.

Jesus said to His Father that He glorified Him on earth by finishing the work that God gave Him to do (verse 4).

Henry says:

This is here recorded, First, For the honour of Christ, that his life upon earth did in all respects fully answer the end of his coming into the world. Note, 1. Our Lord Jesus had work given him to do by him that sent him; he came not into the world to live at ease, but to go about doing good, and to fulfill all righteousness. His Father gave him his work, his work in the vineyard, both appointed him to it and assisted him in it. 2. The work that was given him to do he finished. Though he had not, as yet, gone through the last part of his undertaking, yet he was so near being made perfect through sufferings that he might say, I have finished it; it was as good as done, he was giving it its finishing stroke eteleiosaI have finished. The word signifies his performing every part of his undertaking in the most complete and perfect manner. 3. Herein he glorified his Father; he pleased him, he praised him Secondly, It is recorded for example to all, that we may follow his example. 1. We must make it our business to do the work God has appointed us to do, according to our capacity and the sphere of our activity; we must each of us do all the good we can in this world. 2. We must aim at the glory of God in all. We must glorify him on the earth, which he has given unto the children of men, demanding only this quit-rent; on the earth, where we are in a state of probation and preparation for eternity. 3. We must persevere herein to the end of our days; we must not sit down till we have finished our work, and accomplished as a hireling our day. Thirdly, It is recorded for encouragement to all those that rest upon him. If he has finished the work that was given him to do, then he is a complete Saviour, and did not do his work by the halves. And he that finished his work for us will finish it in us to the day of Christ.

Jesus ended the prayer for Himself by praying that God would restore Him to glory, the glory He had in His Father’s presence before the world existed (verse 5).

MacArthur tells us:

Somebody might say, “Well, praying for Himself?” Yes, yes … I glorified You on the earth, having accomplished the work which You have given Me to do. Now, Father, glorify Me together with Yourself, with the glory which I had with You before the world was.” That’s the nature of His prayer. It is a prayer, first of all, for His own glory. So that, having been glorified, He can then bring many sons to glory.

Somebody might suggest that there’s a selfishness in this. Jesus praying for Himself seems self-seeking; that’s because we are fallen creatures full of sin, and we understand that we have no right to ask for glory on our own merit. But Christ was not asking for something He didn’t deserve. In fact, He says, “Father, glorify You Son.” And in verse 5 says, “Just glorify Me with the glory I had with You before the world began. Just take me back to the eternal glory, which is always mine by right. It is a prayer for the glory that belongs to Him, the intrinsic glory which is His by virtue of who He is. First He says, “Father, Father.” And He repeats that down in verse 5, and verse 21, and verse 24: “Father, Father.”

Then Jesus began the prayer for His disciples, again mentioning predestination, or election.

He said that He had made the Father’s name known to those He had given Him from the world, emphasising that God gave those people — His own — to Him and that they have kept His word (verse 6).

MacArthur points out the majesty and mystery of salvation, a divine act:

All life comes from Christ – all life, including eternal life. He is the giver of eternal life. All life comes from Him. Biological life comes from Him. Spiritual life comes from Him. Eternal life comes from Him. And He says, “I give that eternal life, that is what I do, to all whom You have given Me. All that You have given Me, I give eternal life.”

I just need to stop there for a minute and say that phrase “all whom You have given Me” appears seven times in this prayer. That is a defining statement regarding believers, you and me, and all believers since the work of Christ was applied. All believers – listen – have been given to Christ from the Father.

We’ve said things about that through the years. It’s a stunning, stunning reality. What is the Father doing? The Father is gathering a bride for His Son. Through all of redemptive history, all of human history, the Father is gathering people who will make up the one bride for His Son. That’s why when you get to the end of the book of Revelation, you go to heaven. It’s a bridal city, and there’s a great bridal festival, and the whole city is adorned for a wedding. When all the saints of all the ages are gathered together in heaven, it is a marriage.

All of redemptive history is the Father gathering a bride for His Son because He loves His Son, and He wants His Son to have a bride who will serve Him forever, love Him forever, honor Him forever, glorify Him forever, and even reflect His character, so that – listen – salvation is not a whimsical thing that is designed by people, or that is even determined by individuals. If you are a believer, it is because God gave you to Christ, and He gave you because He chose you, and He chose you before the foundation of the world, the Bible says, and He wrote your name down. Seven times it refers to believers as those whom the Father gives the Son. It is completely wrong to think that that decision is left to us.

Jesus said that the disciples knew that everything given to Him comes from the Father (verse 7).

Henry rephrases the verse for us:

“They are of thee, their being is of thee as the God of nature, their well-being is of thee as the God of grace; they are all of thee, and therefore, Father, I bring them all to thee, that they may be all for thee.”

Jesus elaborated, saying that the words God gave to Him He passed on to the disciples; the disciples received those words and know in truth that Jesus came from the Father and believed that the Father sent Him to them (verse 8).

Henry says that Jesus affirmed the disciples’ faith, as imperfect as it was. Jesus knew they believed:

See here, First, What it is to believe; it is to know surely, to know that it is so of a truth. The disciples were very weak and defective in knowledge; yet Christ, who knew them better than they knew themselves, passes his word for them that they did believe. Note, We may know surely that which we neither do nor can know fully; may know the certainty of the things which are not seen, though we cannot particularly describe the nature of them. We walk by faith, which knows surely, not yet by sight, which knows clearly. Secondly, What it is we are to believe: that Jesus Christ came out from God, as he is the Son of God, in his person the image of the invisible God and therefore all the doctrines of Christ are to be received as divine truths, all his commands obeyed as divine laws, and all his promises depended upon as divine securities.

Jesus then prayed specifically for His elect, the disciples in this instance, rather than the world at large, because the disciples belonged to the Father (verse 9).

Henry explains:

I. Whom he did not pray for (v. 9): I pray not for the world. Note, There is a world of people that Jesus Christ did not pray for. It is not meant of the world of mankind general (he prays for that here, v. 21, That the world may believe that thou hast sent me); nor is it meant of the Gentiles, in distinction from the Jews; but the world is here opposed to the elect, who are given to Christ out of the world. Take the world for a heap of unwinnowed corn in the floor, and God loves it, Christ prays for it, and dies for it, for a blessing is in it; but, the Lord perfectly knowing those that are his, he eyes particularly those that were given him out of the world, extracts them; and then take the world for the remaining heap of rejected, worthless chaff, and Christ neither prays for it, nor dies for it, but abandons it, and the wind drives it away. These are called the world, because they are governed by the spirit of this world, and have their portion in it; for these Christ does not pray; not but that there are some things which he intercedes with God for on their behalf, as the dresser for the reprieve of the barren tree; but he does not pray for them in this prayer, that have not part nor lot in the blessings here prayed for. He does not say, I pray against the world, as Elias made intercession against Israel; but, I pray not for them, I pass them by, and leave them to themselves; they are not written in the Lamb’s book of life, and therefore not in the breast-plate of the great high-priest. And miserable is the condition of such, as it was of those whom the prophet was forbidden to pray for, and more so, Jer 7 16. We that know not who are chosen, and who are passed by, must pray for all men, 1 Tim 2 1, 4. While there is life, there is hope, and room for prayer. See 1 Sam 12 23.

II. Whom he did pray for; not for angels, but for the children of men. 1. He prays for those that were given him, meaning primarily the disciples that had attended him in this regeneration; but it is doubtless to be extended further, to all who come under the same character, who receive and believe the words of Christ, v. 6, 8. 2. He prays for all that should believe on him (v. 20), and it is not only the petitions that follow, but those also which went before, that must be construed to extend to all believers, in every place and every age; for he has a concern for them all, and calls things that are not as though they were.

Then Jesus spoke of His own deity, saying that all of His souls are God’s and that all of God’s souls are His and that He (Jesus) has been glorified in them (verse 10).

MacArthur says that was something only Jesus could say:

“All things that are Mine are Yours, and Yours are Mine.” Now, that is a staggering statement. That is a staggering statement. I can understand, “They’re Yours; You gave them to Me.” But, “All things that are Mine are Yours, and all things that are Yours are Mine”? That is a very, very significant statement.

What does our Lord mean by that? Well, Martin Luther said that kind of a statement is so serious that it needs consideration.

Luther wrote this: “Everyone may say this: ‘All I have is God’s.’ You can say that. That is much different than saying, ‘All that’s God’s is mine.’” Luther said, “This is much greater to turn it around and say, ‘All that is Thine is mine.’ There is no creature able to say that before God: ‘All that is Yours is mine.’ That leaves nothing out. You’re saying you’re God.” That’s exactly what He was saying, exactly.

“Father, hear this prayer because they are true believers. Hear this prayer because they are Yours. Hear this prayer because they’re Mine, and I have been glorified in them.” What a transformation of sinners, from Satan’s kingdom of darkness: “I have been glorified in them.”

He’s not talking about heaven, He’s saying, “Already My glory is in them. Already My glory is shining through them already. They’re Mine; they’re Yours. They have obeyed. My glory is shining through them by their obedience, by their love. They are Mine.”

Jesus was already anticipating His ascension to heaven, saying that He was no longer in the world and that He was going to His Father; He asked His Father to protect those whom He had been given — the elect — so that they might be one as the Father and Son are one (verse 11).

MacArthur explains the verse and what Jesus was asking for the disciples:

“I am no longer in the world.” He’s anticipating His exodus, His own leaving. About six weeks away at this time, He would ascend into heaven and He would be gone. In just a few hours, He would be under the wrath of God. They need to be guarded while He is suffering for sin, and they need to be guarded after He’s gone, “because – ” as verse 11 says “ – they themselves are in the world.”

“I’m out of the world; they’re in it.” What is the world? It’s the system of sin that dominates this realm. It’s the corruption, the demonic power, the human power of sin that literally controls the world, under the leadership of Satan and his demons. That’s the world …

So our Lord then, beginning in verse 11, starts to ask for some specific things by way of our protection. Number One: Spiritual security. Spiritual security. “They’re in the world – ” He says “ – and I come to You.” And He’s talking, obviously, about His ascension. “I come to You. Holy Father, keep them, keep them, keep them”

He says, “Father, Holy Father, keep them in Your name, keep them in Your name, consistent with who You are, and even beyond that, not because they deserve it, but because they belong to You. They are Yours. They are Your sons and daughters. They are Your children. They carry Your name – sons of God. They belong to You, a name which You have given Me. They’re in My name too: sons of God, Christians. They’re Yours and they’re Mine; keep them”

Just briefly, He secondly prays for our spiritual unity. This is just briefly stated in verse 11, and it’ll come up again at the end of the chapter. We’ll just look at it here. Back in verse 11, the end of the verse, “Keep them in Your name, the name which You have given Me, that they may be one even as We are, that they may be one even as We are.”

It is that we may be one even as the Trinity is one.

Salvation – listen – is not just a ticket to heaven. It is not just forgiveness of sins. It is not just escape from punishment. It is God, listen, pulling us into the eternal life of the Trinity. All of us who are justified literally are pulled into the life of the Trinity. We are in the Father; we are in the Son; we are in the Spirit. The Father is in us; the Son is in us; the Spirit is in us.

We’ve seen that all through this section of John. The indivisible unity of the Trinity engulfs us and we are one with Christ.

God answered our Lord’s prayer for the disciples’ protection immediately:

When in chapter 18, they come to arrest Jesus, they want also to arrest the disciples. The Lord never lets that happen; He protects them from that, because theoretically, it could have destroyed their faith. But He will never let anything that could do that happen …

And then when He comes back to heaven, the Father needs to continue to guard them, which He promises to do through the Holy Spirit, whom He gives to every believer.

Year C’s Exaudi Sunday reading covers the end of John 17, verses 20-26: our Lord’s prayer for believers. My exegesis can be found here.

May all reading this have a blessed Sunday.

Next Sunday is Pentecost, the Church’s birthday, when we celebrate the arrival of the Holy Spirit on the disciples, as Jesus promised.

Ascension Day is Thursday, May 18, 2023.

Readings can be found here.

I also have exegeses on the First Reading and the Gospel.

The painting of the Ascension is by Francisco Camilo (1610-1671).

The Epistle is as follows (emphases mine):

Ephesians 1:15-23

1:15 I have heard of your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love toward all the saints, and for this reason

1:16 I do not cease to give thanks for you as I remember you in my prayers.

1:17 I pray that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you a spirit of wisdom and revelation as you come to know him,

1:18 so that, with the eyes of your heart enlightened, you may know what is the hope to which he has called you, what are the riches of his glorious inheritance among the saints,

1:19 and what is the immeasurable greatness of his power for us who believe, according to the working of his great power.

1:20 God put this power to work in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly places,

1:21 far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and above every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the age to come.

1:22 And he has put all things under his feet and has made him the head over all things for the church,

1:23 which is his body, the fullness of him who fills all in all.

Commentary comes from Matthew Henry and John MacArthur.

The preceding verses in Ephesians 1 are as follows:

Praise for spiritual blessings in Christ

Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in the heavenly realms with every spiritual blessing in Christ. For he chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight. In love he[b] predestined us for adoption to sonship[c] through Jesus Christ, in accordance with his pleasure and will – to the praise of his glorious grace, which he has freely given us in the One he loves. In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, in accordance with the riches of God’s grace that he lavished on us. With all wisdom and understanding, he[d] made known to us the mystery of his will according to his good pleasure, which he purposed in Christ, 10 to be put into effect when the times reach their fulfilment – to bring unity to all things in heaven and on earth under Christ.

11 In him we were also chosen,[e] having been predestined according to the plan of him who works out everything in conformity with the purpose of his will, 12 in order that we, who were the first to put our hope in Christ, might be for the praise of his glory. 13 And you also were included in Christ when you heard the message of truth, the gospel of your salvation. When you believed, you were marked in him with a seal, the promised Holy Spirit, 14 who is a deposit guaranteeing our inheritance until the redemption of those who are God’s possession – to the praise of his glory.

Paul says that he has heard of the Ephesians’ faith in Christ and love for their fellow saints and, for this reason (verse 15), he incessantly gives thanks for them as he remembers them in his prayers (verse 16).

John MacArthur explains ‘for this reason’ in verse 15:

What is the reason? The reason is because of the incomparable blessings of Christ listed from verses 3 through 14. Now if you weren’t here when we went through that, you can download the messages. It’s beyond comprehension how rich the blessings and the promises are in Christ that have been granted to every true believer—on the basis that we have, as verse 3 says, been “blessed . . . with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places.” On the basis that “He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world.” On the basis that He chose us “that we would” one day eternally “be holy and blameless before Him” because “in love He predestined us to adoption as sons”; because, in verse 7, “we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses”; because “in all wisdom and insight He made known to us the mystery of His will, according to His purpose,” verse 10, of “summing up everything in Christ, things in heaven and things on earth.” That is, He’s even given us the end of history—it all resolves in Christ because, verse 11, “we have obtained an inheritance,” to which we were “predestined according to His [divine] purpose,” because “having believed,” verse 13, we “were sealed . . . with the Holy Spirit of promise.” And nothing can ever alter that future fulfillment, because, because—because of all spiritual blessings in the heavenlies.

Matthew Henry’s commentary says that Paul continues to pray for the Ephesians because of those blessings and that inheritance:

Faith in Christ, and love to the saints, will be attended with all other graces. Love to the saints, as such, and because they are such, must include love to God. Those who love saints, as such, love all saints, how weak in grace, how mean in the world, how fretful and peevish soever, some of them may be. Another inducement to pray for them was because they had received the earnest of the inheritance: this we may observe from the words being connected with the preceding ones by the particle wherefore. “Perhaps you will think that, having received the earnest, it should follow, therefore you are happy enough, and need take no further care: you need not pray for yourselves, nor I for you.” No, quite the contrary. Wherefore—I cease not to give thanks for you, making mention of you in my prayers, v. 16.

Paul tells them what he is praying for: that God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ and the Father of glory, may give them a spirit of wisdom and revelation as they come to know him (verse 17).

Henry’s analysis of this verse is superb. In his era, ‘experimental’ and ‘experimentally’ meant ‘experienced’ and ‘experientially’:

Observe, Even the best of Christians need to be prayed for: and, while we hear well of our Christian friends, we should think ourselves obliged to intercede with God for them, that they may abound and increase yet more and more. Now what is it that Paul prays for in behalf of the Ephesians? Not that they might be freed from persecution; nor that they might possess the riches, honours, or pleasures of the world; but the great thing he prays for is the illumination of their understandings, and that their knowledge might increase and abound: he means it of a practical and experimental knowledge. The graces and comforts of the Spirit are communicated to the soul by the enlightening of the understanding. In this way he gains and keeps possession. Satan takes a contrary way: he gets possession by the senses and passions, Christ by the understanding. Observe,

I. Whence this knowledge must come from the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, v. 17. The Lord is a God of knowledge, and there is no sound saving knowledge but what comes from him; and therefore to him we must look for it, who is the God of our Lord Jesus Christ (see v. 3) and the Father of glory. It is a Hebraism. God is infinitely glorious in himself all glory is due to him from his creatures, and he is the author of all that glory with which his saints are or shall be invested. Now he gives knowledge by giving the Spirit of knowledge; for the Spirit of God is the teacher of the saints, the Spirit of wisdom and revelation. We have the revelation of the Spirit in the word: but will that avail us, if we have not the wisdom of the Spirit in the heart? If the same Spirit who indited the sacred scriptures do not take the veil from off our hearts, and enable us to understand and improve them, we shall be never the better.—In the knowledge of him, or for the acknowledgment of him; not only a speculative knowledge of Christ, and of what relates to him, but an acknowledgment of Christ’s authority by an obedient conformity to him, which must be by the help of the Spirit of wisdom and revelation.

That is Paul’s prayer in order that the Ephesians, with the eyes of their hearts enlightened, may know the hope to which our Lord calls them and know the riches of His glorious inheritance among the saints (verse 18).

Henry continues:

This knowledge is first in the understanding. He prays that the eyes of their understanding may be enlightened, v. 18. Observe, Those who have their eyes opened, and have some understanding in the things of God, have need to be more and more enlightened, and to have their knowledge more clear, and distinct, and experimental. Christians should not think it enough to have warm affections, but they should labour to have clear understandings; they should be ambitious of being knowing Christians, and judicious Christians.

II. What it is that he more particularly desire they should grow in the knowledge of. 1. The hope of his calling, v. 18. Christianity is our calling. God has called us to it, and on that account it is said to be his calling. There is a hope in this calling; for those who deal with God deal upon trust. And it is a desirable thing to know what this hope of our calling is, to have such an acquaintance with the immense privileges of God’s people, and the expectations they have from God, and with respect to the heavenly world, as to be quickened thereby to the utmost diligence and patience in the Christian course. We ought to labour after, and pray earnestly for, a clearer insight into, and a fuller acquaintance with, the great objects of a Christian’s hopes. 2. The riches of the glory of his inheritance in the saints. Besides the heavenly inheritance prepared for the saints, there is a present inheritance in the saints; for grace is glory begun, and holiness is happiness in the bud. There is a glory in this inheritance, riches of glory, rendering the Christian more excellent and more truly honourable than all about him: and it is desirable to know this experimentally, to be acquainted with the principles, pleasures, and powers, of the spiritual and divine life. It may be understood of the glorious inheritance in or among the saints in heaven, where God does, as it were, lay forth all his riches, to make them happy and glorious, and where all that the saints are in possession of is transcendently glorious, as the knowledge that can be attained of this upon earth is very desirable, and must be exceedingly entertaining and delightful. Let us endeavour then, by reading, contemplation, and prayer, to know as much of heaven as we can, that we may be desiring and longing to be there.

MacArthur says:

Human wisdom is infantile compared to divine wisdom …

Think like a Christian. Think like Christ. Think biblically. Don’t be kidnapped by lies.

He gave these sermons in 2021 and gives examples of the lies we were hearing at the time:

In the United States 99.9 percent of the population survives COVID; that’s a fact. You can’t mesh that up with the behavior they’re requiring. How about this one: “Get vaccinated.” And you’re saying to yourself, “Well, let’s see, they lied about Russia. The FBI lies. CIA lies. The National Health Organization lies. The World Health Organization lies. The CDC lies. The director of all of this lies, because he says something different every time he opens his mouth. The politicians lie. They lied about an incident in Chicago. They’re just lies and lies and lies and lies and lies.” And then they say to you, “Be vaccinated; it’s good for you.” I know why people aren’t getting vaccinated—because people don’t believe they’re being told the truth. It’s simple. It’s just the old Aesop’s fable about the boy who cried, “Wolf, wolf, wolf, wolf,” there never was a wolf. And when there was a wolf, nobody showed up.

You can’t keep lying and then expect people to believe you. You have to think critically and thoughtfully and carefully. You have to realize, CDC reports death rate from the normal flu last year was 99 percent lower. Oh, really. What happened to the flu? Where did it go? It went into the COVID statistic.

Paul also desires that the Ephesians know the immeasurable power of His greatness for those who believe, according to the working of His great power (verse 19).

Henry explains by way of discussing conversion:

The practical belief of the all-sufficiency of God, and of the omnipotence of divine grace, is absolutely necessary to a close and steady walking with him. It is a desirable thing to know experimentally the mighty power of that grace beginning and carrying on the work of faith in our souls. It is a difficult thing to bring a soul to believe in Christ, and to venture its all upon his righteousness, and upon the hope of eternal life. It is nothing less than an almighty power that will work this in us.

Paul says that God put this power to work in Christ when He raised Him from the dead and seated Him at His right hand in the heavenly places (verse 20). There Paul speaks of the Resurrection and the Ascension.

Henry says:

That indeed was the great proof of the truth of the gospel to the world: but the transcript of that in ourselves (our sanctification, and rising from the death of sin, in conformity to Christ’s resurrection) is the great proof to us. Though this cannot prove the truth of the gospel to another who knows nothing of the matter (there the resurrection of Christ is the proof), yet to be able to speak experimentally, as the Samaritans, “We have heard him ourselves, we have felt a mighty change in our hearts,” will make us able to say, with the fullest satisfaction, Now we believe, and are sure, that this is the Christ, the Son of God. Many understand the apostle here as speaking of that exceeding greatness of power which God will exert for raising the bodies of believers to eternal life, even the same mighty power which he wrought in Christ when he raised him, etc. And how desirable a thing must it be to become at length acquainted with that power, by being raised out of the grave thereby unto eternal life!

MacArthur says:

You not only understand the greatness of His plan, but you understand the “greatness of His power,” power “in accordance with the working of the strength of His might.” There are four words here that describe His power: the word “power,” the word “working,” the word “strength,” and the word “might.” He has the power. He has the energy, energeia, His “working.” He has the strength. He has the might.

This is the good news. He not only has a plan, He has the power to execute that plan. How do we know that? How do we know He can get us out of this world to glory? How do we know that it can come to pass? Answer, verse 20—He put all of His power on display in Christ “when He raised Him from the dead and seated Him at His right hand in the heavenly places.” If He did it for Christ, He can do it for you. The resurrection of Christ and the ascension of Christ demonstrates the power of God to bring you through death out the other side into His presence, even as He did for His own beloved Son. He has a plan, and He has the power to execute that plan.

Paul continues, saying that Christ is far above any earthly power and dominion, and above every name, not only now but in the age to come (verse 21).

MacArthur explains:

You say, “Well maybe somebody might come along and thwart that plan. What about the devil? Can the devil come along and stop the plan?” And that leads us to the third point: The greatness of His plan, the greatness of His power, the greatness of His person. This is critical. Nobody is going to thwart that plan. Why? Verse 21, because Christ is “far above all.” Notice that—“Far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the one to come.” For now and as long as time exists, even on into the millennial kingdom to come, He far exceeds all rule, all authority, all power, all dominion, possessed by any persons. That’s what it means, those people who are named—these are persons.

There is no person who has the power, and there’s no person, secondly, who has the authority. No one can usurp His authority. All persons are subject to Him now and into the future.

With unsurpassed excellence and authority, Christ has put all things under His feet and has made Himself the head over all things for the Church (verse 22).

MacArthur reiterates the message:

Verse 22, all things are subject to Him, “He put all things in subjection under His feet.” There is no person, there is no thing. Sounds like Romans 8, doesn’t it? What’s going to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus?—and Paul lays out a litany of things. No—no persons, no things.

He has a plan, He has the power to execute that plan, and He is the person who is the absolute Sovereign—and that is summed up in verse 22: He has “put all things . . . under His feet, and gave Him as head over all things.” This is amazing. Another way to say that is, “He gave them a name above every name, and the name is Lord.”

Paul ends the chapter by saying that the Church is His body, the fullness of him who fills all in all (verse 23).

MacArthur says that there is no intermediary between the Church and Christ. He is the head and He gives us everything of Himself:

… isn’t it amazing that the One who is head over all things, God gave to the church as the head. He didn’t give us angels, He didn’t give us a committee of godly men; He gave us the head of the universe as head of the church. And we are His body; and as “His body, the fullness of Him who fills all in all.” This is just overwhelming.

He lives in us. The one who has the universal, eternal, redemptive plan has the power to execute that plan, and is the person superior to all other persons and all other things; the One who is head over all things, ruler over everything, is ruler in His church. And not only does He rule His church, but He lives in His church. We are His body, and He fills us with His fullness. There’s so much doctrine and so much theology in this. This is the message we need to preach: It’s about Jesus Christ, who is absolutely everything, and the only hope of salvation and the only deliverance from judgment.

MacArthur is convinced we are under divine judgement in the West. That means there is nothing we can do except to become better Christians:

The folly of all follies in a situation like this is to think there’s anything you can do in the human realm to stop the divine judgment of God. That’s not possible. This is God judging, and He laid it out in detail. We are under judgment at a severe level, the most severe level revealed in Scripture, short of final, global judgment yet to come in the end of the age, and eternal judgment in hell. What is wrong in this country is not fixable; this is God bringing judgment. The good news is that He protects His people in the judgment, that His cover is over us. We are in the shelter of His protection. We are saved from the wrath to come, and we are protected in the current judgment.

But I just want you to understand that the church has one great responsibility in the midst of this judgment. It’s not to try to fix what’s wrong in society. That same chapter, Romans 1, gives us our mandate. Paul says, “I am not ashamed of the gospel [of Christ], for it is the power of God unto salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew and the Gentile.” Our responsibility is to preach the gospel—not to be ashamed of the gospel but to preach the gospel, which is the only answer. The only hope is Christ, and the only appropriate response to Christ is to embrace Him as Lord and Savior, and to embrace His glorious gospel.

I guess what I’m saying to you is don’t expect it to get better. But it raises the stakes for what we as believers in the world are called to do. And while so many churches, so many churches, ranging from the liberal churches to the even evangelical churches, are caught up in trying to fix what’s wrong in the world—everything is a result of judgment, even the racial hostility, the insanity of teaching people to hate and living on vengeance and revenge. All of these kinds of things are part and parcel of what happens to a culture when God lets them go. They go to an insanity where nothing makes sense. That’s where we are.

For us, we know the truth because we have the mind of Christ in the Word of God. And our responsibility is not somehow to figure out how to fix the world, but how to proclaim the gospel that can deliver people from the world, from the kingdom of darkness into the kingdom of God’s dear Son. The church needs to focus on the person of Christ; and sadly it’s all over the place on social issues, which cannot be fixed, first of all, because people are sinful. And what’s wrong in the world, in society, is a reflection of sin. And secondly, because that sin is compounded when God removes normal, divine restraint, and it becomes a judgment. So the judgment is that sinners get what they want, and it gets worse and worse and worse.

The church has one calling in the midst of this, and that is to be the church. It should dawn on people about now, if it hasn’t already, that for the church to reach the world it can’t keep trying to be like the world. It amazes me that you have the world cultivating hate and trying to put it in elementary schools and all of that. And then you have evangelical churches feeling like they need to adapt to the issues of the world and filling churches with the same kind of deceptive ideologies. And all it does is rip and shred and tear. You have to see those things for what they are. They’re not fixable; they’re a reflection of fallen sinfulness, a reflection of a nation that has abandoned God, and a reflection of divine judgment itself.

So what do we do in a time like this? Well we have very clear calling, as I said, to preach the gospel of Jesus Christ. The church needs to become Christ-centered. For the church to reach the world, it has to stop trying to be like the world, because why would you want to identify with a society under judgment? Understand that what’s going wrong in our society is divine judgment. We have to be the church. We have to be the haven; we have to be the eye of the hurricane; we have to be the safe place. We have to be the place where Christ is exalted and the Word of God is proclaimed, truth is known and believed and lived and taught. We have the mind of Christ, and it’s in the pages of Scripture.

Pentecost Sunday, the Church’s birthday, will be with us in ten days’ time. Paul’s words give us much to contemplate between now and then.

The Sixth Sunday of Easter is May 14, 2023.

Readings for Year A can be found here.

The Gospel is as follows (emphases mine):

John 14:15-21

14:15 “If you love me, you will keep my commandments.

14:16 And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate, to be with you forever.

14:17 This is the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him. You know him, because he abides with you, and he will be in you.

14:18 “I will not leave you orphaned; I am coming to you.

14:19 In a little while the world will no longer see me, but you will see me; because I live, you also will live.

14:20 On that day you will know that I am in my Father, and you in me, and I in you.

14:21 They who have my commandments and keep them are those who love me; and those who love me will be loved by my Father, and I will love them and reveal myself to them.”

Commentary comes from Matthew Henry and John MacArthur.

This reading continues where we left off last week, the Fifth Sunday of Easter (Year A): John 14:1-14.

This is part of our Lord’s Upper Room Discourse which took place after Jesus banished Judas for betrayal and after the Last Supper.

John MacArthur describes the panic and desolation that the remaining eleven Apostles were experiencing:

He has been very clear, “I am leaving.  I am leaving.”

This sets panic into their hearts.  Remember, they have forsaken all to follow Him.  They’ve dropped their nets, if you will.  They’ve left their enterprises.  They’ve followed Jesus around for a three-year period, from town-to-town and village-to-village.  He has been the source of everything for them.  He has been everything, and now He is leaving.

“Where is the messianic kingdom?  Where are the fulfillments of all the promises given to the prophets?  It hasn’t happened; none of it has happened.  And now You’re leaving?  What’s going on?  Not only are You leaving, but You haven’t accomplished what we all assumed You would accomplish, establishing the kingdom with all the promises to Abraham and David, and through the prophets fulfilled.  Where is the kingdom?  How can You be the Messiah?”

This is so overwhelming that they are distraught.  In fact, chapter 14, verse 1, literally says, “Stop letting your heart be troubled.”  This is trouble like they hadn’t known before.  This is a kind of panic that has set in that Jesus is leaving.

Matthew Henry’s commentary says:

It was not expedient that Christ should be with them for ever, for they who were designed for public service, must not always live a college-life; they must disperse …

Jesus tells the remaining Apostles that if they love Him, they will keep His commandments (verse 15).

Jesus Himself set the pattern for obedience. During His earthly ministry, He did what the Father asked, including being scourged mercilessly then being crucified for our sins.

In my early years of blogging, an older Christian commented that he had problems with obedience, therefore, that went out the window in his faith journey.

However, obeying our Lord is not like obeying a teacher or a boss, although we are obliged to obey them, too, unless they ask us to do something sinful. Obeying our Lord is obeying the One who is in heaven, our Saviour and our Hope.

MacArthur reminds us that Jesus put a lot of emphasis on obedience:

“If you love Me, you’ll keep my commandments.”

“Why is that here?”  It’s here because it defines for whom these promises are given To whom does He make such promises – promises that, “You’ll do greater works than these because I go to the Father,” promises that, “Whatever you ask in My name, that will I do,” that He’s made in the previous passage, promises that the Trinity is going to come and take up residence?  To whom does He make such promises?  Answer:  “Those who love Me and keep my commandments.”

That is the prevailing Johannine definition of a Christian.  You will see this in John’s writings everywhere.  For example, if you just drop down to verse 21:  “He who has My commandments and keeps them, obeys them, is the one who loves Me.”  Or you could look at verse 23:  “If anyone loves Me, he will keep My word.”  And then verse 24:  “He who does not love Me, does not keep My words.”

All right, let’s just make it simple.  How can you tell a true Christian?  A true Christian loves and obeys.  Sum it up: a true Christian loves and obeys.  It’s not about a profession.  “Many will say unto Me, ‘Lord, Lord, I did this; I did that; I did the other thing.’  I will say to them, ‘Depart from Me, I never knew you.’”

How do you know a true Christian?  A true Christian loves the Lord, and consequently obeys.  Love is the motive and obedience is the action.  This is the consistent, prevailing truth.

Go to chapter 15.  John makes another statement that essentially says the same thing.  John 15:10, “If you keep my commandments, you will abide in My love, just as I have kept My Father’s commandments and abide in His love.”  How do you know that Jesus loved the Father?  How do you know Jesus loved the Father?  Because He what?  He obeyed the Father.  That’s the model; that’s the pattern.  That’s the model

Look at 1 John for a moment and I’ll show you just a couple of parallels there; again, the same apostle John writing.  This is an emphasis that the Holy Spirit had him make.  Verse 3, 1 John 2:3, “By this we know that we have come to know Him.”  How do you know that you know Him?  How do you know that you know the Father, Jesus Christ, the righteous?  If we keep His commandments.

“The one who says, ‘I have come to know Him,’ and doesn’t keep His commandments, is a liar, and the truth is not in him; but whoever keeps His word, in him the love of God has truly been perfected.  By this we know we are in Him.”  Again, it’s love and obedience.  It’s always love and obedience.  John makes this point again, and again, and again.

Chapter 4 is no different.  John speaks to the same issue in chapter 4, verse 19:  “We love, because He first loved us.  If someone says, ‘I love God,’ and hates his brother, he’s a liar.”  So if you say you love God and you don’t obey His commandments, you’re a liar.  If you say you love God and you hate your brother, you’re a liar, because hating your brother is a violation of the second commandment:  “You love your neighbor as yourself.”

It’s always the emphasis that John makes.  Everyone who loves God, obeys; and obedience starts with obeying the first commandment:  “Love the Lord your God, and then the second, your neighbor as yourself.”

Jesus then gave His promise: He would ask the Father to give them another Advocate to be with them forever (verse 16), the Holy Spirit.

Henry tells us that this is the great promise of the New Testament for all time:

1. It is promised that they shall have another comforter. This is the great New-Testament promise (Acts 1 4), as that of the Messiah was of the Old Testament; a promise adapted to the present distress of the disciples, who were in sorrow, and needed a comforter. Observe here,

(1.) The blessing promised: allon parakleton. The word is used only here in these discourses of Christ’s, and 1 John 2 1, where we translate it an advocate ... the Greek word Paraclete; we read, Acts 9 31, of the paraklesis tou hagiou pneumatos, the comfort of the Holy Ghost, including his whole office as a paraclete. [1.] You shall have another advocate. The office of the Spirit was to be Christ’s advocate with them and others, to plead his cause, and take care of his concerns, on earth; to be vicarius Christi—Christ’s Vicar, as one of the ancients call him; and to be their advocate with their opposers. When Christ was with them he spoke for them as there was occasion; but now that he is leaving them they shall not be run down, the Spirit of the Father shall speak in them, Matt 10 19, 20. And the cause cannot miscarry that is pleaded by such an advocate. [2.] You shall have another master or teacher, another exhorter. While they had Christ with them he excited and exhorted them to their duty; but now that he is going he leaves one with them that shall do this as effectually, though silently. Jansenius thinks the most proper word to render it by is a patron, one that shall both instruct and protect you. [3.] Another comforter. Christ was expected as the consolation of Israel. One of the names of the Messiah among the Jews was Menahem—the Comforter. The Targum calls the days of the Messiah the years of consolation. Christ comforted his disciples when he was with them, and now that he was leaving them in their greatest need he promises them another.

(2.) The giver of this blessing: The Father shall give him, my Father and your Father; it includes both. The same that gave the Son to be our Saviour will give his Spirit to be our comforter, pursuant to the same design. The Son is said to send the Comforter (ch. 15 26), but the Father is the prime agent.

(3.) How this blessing is procured—by the intercession of the Lord Jesus: I will pray the Father. He said (v. 14) I will do it; here he saith, I will pray for it, to show not only that he is both God and man, but that he is both king and priest. As priest he is ordained for men to make intercession, as king he is authorized by the Father to execute judgment. When Christ saith, I will pray the Father, it does not suppose that the Father is unwilling, or must be importuned to it, but only that the gift of the Spirit is a fruit of Christ’s mediation, purchased by his merit, and taken out by his intercession.

(4.) The continuance of this blessing: That he may abide with you for ever. That is, [1.] “With you, as long as you live. You shall never know the want of a comforter, nor lament his departure, as you are now lamenting mine.” Note, It should support us under the loss of those comforts which were designed us for a time that there are everlasting consolations provided for us … [2.] “With your successors, when you are gone, to the end of time; your successors in Christianity, in the ministry.” [3.] If we take for ever in its utmost extent, the promise will be accomplished in those consolations of God which will be the eternal joy of all the saints, pleasures for ever.

Jesus said that this Advocate is the Spirit of truth whom the world — unbelievers — cannot receive because it neither sees Him nor knows Him, but the Apostles knew Him because He was living in them and He would continue to live in them (verse 17).

MacArthur explains more about the Holy Spirit:

So what our Lord says is, “Not that I’m going to give you more instructions, it’s not that I’m going to give you more duties, it’s not that I’m going to give you more responsibilities.  I’m going to ask the Father and He’s going to give you the Helper so that you have the internal resident power of God to do what has been commanded.”  It’s personal:  “I will give you,” personal, individual, relational.  “I will give you the Helper.  I will ask the Father.”

… the word Paraclete That’s the transliteration in English.  Greek it’s Parakltos.  Kltos is a verb form of a verb kale which means to call, pará  means alongside like parallel – to call somebody alongside.  That’s what the word means, somebody called alongside.  Very, very general.

Now notice this:  “I will ask the Father and He’ll give you another.”  In the Greek language, there are two words for another.  In English, there’s just one.  If I say, “Another something,” that doesn’t tell you anything about it.  It’s just other than the one that you have in mind.  No, it’s another person; or, no, it’s another event, or whatever.  You don’t have anything in the word “another” that tells you anything.

That’s not true in Greek.  In Greek, there’s a word heteros Heteros means another, but it means another of a different kind from which we get heterodox or heterogeneous.  It means it’s different; another of a different kind.

For example, another Jesus is heteros Isous In Galatians 1, “If anybody preaches another Jesus, let him be damned.”  So that word means another of a different kind.

Then they have the word állosÁllos is used here.  It means another of the exact same kind; and Jesus uses that:  “I will give you állos Parakltos I will give you another exactly like I am, which is to say that I’m going to send you a Helper exactly like the Helper that I have been,” and that defines for you the ministry of the Holy Spirit …

And then verse 17:  “He is the Spirit of truth.”  Of course, He is, because God is truth.  And Jesus said earlier in the chapter, “I am the way, the truth, and the life.  He will be what I was to you; and I am the truth, and He is the truth; and everything He tells you will be the truth.  By the way, whom the world cannot receive because it doesn’t see Him or know Him.  But you know Him because He abides with you and will be in you.”  So much to say about that.

Let me have you focus on this:  “He abides, but you will know Him.  You already know Him.  The world doesn’t know Him.  The world doesn’t know Him, but you know Him because He abides with you.”

What is that about?  How did the Holy Spirit abide with them?  Listen, in the person of Christ, in the person of Christ.  That is the primary point of that statement.  “He abides with you.”

Who was it that gave life in the womb of Mary?  It was the Holy Spirit, right, who conceived in her womb.  It was the Holy Spirit who moved in the fetus in the womb.  It was the Holy Spirit who was at the baptism of Jesus, and descended from heaven, and rested upon Him.  And the Holy Spirit led Him into ministry, and the Holy Spirit led Him into the wilderness to be tempted, and the Holy Spirit empowered Him and enabled Him; and Jesus committed all the credit for His ministry to the Holy Spirit.

You remember how Matthew 12, the Pharisees and the Jewish leaders said He does what He does by the power of whom?  Beelzebub, the Devil, hell.  That’s proof that the world cannot receive the Holy Spirit because it doesn’t see Him or know Him.  The Holy Spirit was there three years, working through Christ, and they couldn’t recognize the Holy Spirit at all, and they attributed His work to the Devil.

That’s how blind the world is.  “But you know Him because He abides with you.  The Holy Spirit’s been here, doing His work in Me.”  That’s why Jesus said to those who said He did what He did by the power of Satan, “You have blasphemed, not Me; you’ve blasphemed the Holy Spirit.”

“The Spirit of truth has been with you in Me.  It is better for Me to go so that He can move from being with you in Me to being in you.”  What an incredible promise.  What an astonishing reality that is: stunning.

Now why is He called the Spirit of truth?  Because He’s going to have an initial task.  He’s called the Spirit of truth.  Why?  Just quickly in the last few minutes, verse 26:  “The Paraclete, the Holy Spirit whom the Father will send in My name,” here’s why He’s called the Spirit of truth, “He will teach you all things, and bring to your remembrance all that I said to you.”  He’s called the Spirit of truth because He is going to bring the truth to them.

MacArthur discusses the Bible, which is inspired by the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of truth:

All Scripture is God-breathed through the Spirit, not from any human mind.  So if you attack the inerrancy of Scripture, you have made an assault on the Trinity, you have assaulted the Trinity.  The God of truth revealed His truth perfectly in His Son.  His Son then sent the Spirit to reveal His truth perfectly in the Scripture.

Jesus told the Apostles that He would not leave them orphaned; He was coming to them (verse 18).

Henry explains the multiple meanings here:

I will come to you, erchomaiI do come; that is, (1.) “I will come speedily to you at my resurrection, I will not be long away, but will be with you again in a little time.” He had often said, The third day I will rise again. (2.) “I will be coming daily to you in my Spirit;” in the tokens of his love, and visits of his grace, he is still coming. (3.) “I will come certainly at the end of time; surely I will come quickly to introduce you into the joy of your Lord.” Note, The consideration of Christ’s coming to us saves us from being comfortless in his removals from us; for, if he depart for a season, it is that we may receive him for ever. Let this moderate our grief, The Lord is at hand.

Jesus said that, in a short while, meaning after His death and resurrection, the world — unbelievers — would no longer see Him, but the Apostles and disciples would see Him; because He lives, they (and we) will live (verse 19).

Henry says:

After his death, the world saw him no more, for, though he rose to life, he never showed himself to all the people, Acts 10 41. The malignant world thought they had seen enough of him, and cried, Away with him; crucify him; and so shall their doom be; they shall see him no more. Those only that see Christ with an eye of faith shall see him for ever. The world sees him no more till his second coming; but his disciples have communion with him in his absence

Note, The life of Christians is bound up in the life of Christ; as sure and as long as he lives, those that by faith are united to him shall live also; they shall live spiritually, a divine life in communion with God. This life is hid with Christ; if the head and root live, the members and branches live also. They shall live eternally; their bodies shall rise in the virtue of Christ’s resurrection; it will be well with them in the world to come. It cannot but be well with all that are his, Isa 26 19.

Jesus said that ‘on that day’ we will know that He is in His Father, we are in the Lord and He is in us (verse 20).

Henry tells us:

Note, First, Union with Christ is the life of believers; and their relation to him, and to God through him, is their felicity. Secondly, The knowledge of this union is their unspeakable joy and satisfaction; they were now in Christ, and he in them, but he speaks of it as a further act of grace that they should know it, and have the comfort of it. An interest in Christ and the knowledge of it are sometimes separated.

Jesus returned to the importance of obedience, saying that those who have received His commandments and keep them are those who love Him; and those who love Him will be loved by the Father, and our Lord will love them and reveal Himself to them (verse 21).

Henry says:

By this Christ shows that the kind things he here said to his disciples were intended not for those only that were now his followers, but for all that should believe in him through their word.

In closing, MacArthur says this about heaven and our relationship with the Holy Trinity:

… heaven is a place, and heaven is a place where there will be activity But if that’s all you think about heaven, then you miss the main event, you miss the main point.  Heaven is primarily a fulfilled relationship.  When you think about heaven, I want you to think about it that way.  It is the full presence of the triune God; the full, glorious presence of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  We will be in the full, complete, transcendent relationship with the Trinity.  That will define our existence.

So primarily – listen – heaven is a relationship.  It is a relationship.  It is communion.  It is fellowship at its purest and highest level.  That’s what heaven is.

All of our praise is response to the relationship.  All of our service is in view of the relationship.  We praise because of that relationship.  We serve because of that relationship.

The dominant reality is the relationship.  We will have a relationship with God that is absolutely perfect and complete, as full and complete as is possible in an eternally perfected human being.  This is what heaven is.  It is a relationship brought to its absolute perfect fulfillment.  It is defined as peace and joy because that is drawn out of that relationship.  That’s what your inheritance is.  To put it simply, heaven is the presence of the triune God.  Your inheritance is God; your inheritance is the Son; your inheritance is the Holy Spirit.  The triune God is your inheritance.

Now, why am I pressing this?  Because in the text before us in John 14, our Lord promises to grant to us a preview of this full presence, a preview of this full presence.  We now, as believers, possess a down payment on the full presence of the Trinity that we will experience in heaven.  Now, again, I can’t go beyond saying that because we can’t comprehend what that would be like But we do know this: we in the current form that we are in, in this current form, we are not fitted for that kind of full relationship.  We need a different body because this one can’t function in eternity.  This is a dying body.  From the day that you were born, you began to die.  It’s only a question of when you do.

Life is really death.  It’s just a constant, inexorable movement toward leaving this world.  These are bodies that die; and along the way, they are troubled, and sick, and injured, and wounded, and inept, and inadequate, and disabled, and et cetera, et cetera.  We struggle not only with the physical part of our bodies, but the mental part as well.  We have limits to our understanding, our capacity.

We struggle emotionally.  We struggle in terms of sin and temptation.  So we not only need a different outside, we need a different inside.  If we’re going to be in the full Trinitarian presence of God forever, in perfect righteousness, joy, and peace, we’ve got to swap this for another one.  That is the promise of Scripture, that when a believer dies, there is a complete transformation; that believer’s spirit enters heaven And one day, there will be a resurrection of a new and glorified body like the resurrection body of Christ, to join that spirit and to become that eternal being to enjoy the full presence of the triune God So when you think about heaven, think about a relationship: perfect, fulfilling relationship with the Father; perfect, fulfilling relationship with the Son; perfect, fulfilling relationship with the Holy Spirit.

Now all of that to say this: in the text in front of you, our Lord promises to give His disciples, including us, a preview of this full presence – a down payment, if you will – on the eternal heavenly celestial communion with God, and give it to us here and now, here and now, so that as a believer right now, you are in complete communion – to the degree that it’s possible in the form we’re in – you’re in complete, personal communion with the Trinity.

I don’t know if you think of your Christian life that way, but that is reality, and we don’t feel that He’s far off from us, but that He’s nearWe are called upon to call on Him.

May all reading this have a blessed Sunday.

The Fifth Sunday of Easter is May 7, 2023.

Readings for Year A can be found here.

The Gospel is as follows (emphases mine):

John 14:1-14

14:1 “Do not let your hearts be troubled. Believe in God, believe also in me.

14:2 In my Father’s house there are many dwelling places. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you?

14:3 And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, so that where I am, there you may be also.

14:4 And you know the way to the place where I am going.”

14:5 Thomas said to him, “Lord, we do not know where you are going. How can we know the way?”

14:6 Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.

14:7 If you know me, you will know my Father also. From now on you do know him and have seen him.”

14:8 Philip said to him, “Lord, show us the Father, and we will be satisfied.”

14:9 Jesus said to him, “Have I been with you all this time, Philip, and you still do not know me? Whoever has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say, ‘Show us the Father’?

14:10 Do you not believe that I am in the Father and the Father is in me? The words that I say to you I do not speak on my own; but the Father who dwells in me does his works.

14:11 Believe me that I am in the Father and the Father is in me; but if you do not, then believe me because of the works themselves.

14:12 Very truly, I tell you, the one who believes in me will also do the works that I do and, in fact, will do greater works than these, because I am going to the Father.

14:13 I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Father may be glorified in the Son.

14:14 If in my name you ask me for anything, I will do it.

Commentary comes from Matthew Henry and John MacArthur.

Jesus and the eleven remaining Apostles had finished their final Passover meal together. John 13 through John 16 comprise the Upper Room Discourse. John 17 has our Lord’s prayers before His arrest.

Matthew Henry’s commentary states:

When he had convicted and discarded Judas, he set himself to comfort the rest, who were full of sorrow upon what he had said of leaving them, and a great many good words and comfortable words he here speaks to them. The discourse in interlocutory; as Peter in the foregoing chapter, so Thomas, and Philip, and Jude, in this interposed their thoughts upon what he said, according to the liberty he was pleased to allow them. Free conferences are as instructive as solemn speeches, and more so.

Jesus told the Eleven to not let their hearts be troubled; they were to believe in God and also in Him (verse 1).

Henry has a lengthy and moving analysis of the first part of the verse about troubled hearts. Excerpts follow:

They now began to be troubled, were entering into this temptation

1. How Christ took notice of it. Perhaps it was apparent in their looks; it was said (ch. 13 22), They looked one upon another with anxiety and concern, and Christ looked upon them all, and observed it; at least, it was intelligible to the Lord Jesus, who is acquainted with all our secret undiscovered sorrows, with the wound that bleeds inwardly; he knows not only how we are afflicted, but how we stand affected under our afflictions, and how near they lie to our hearts; he takes cognizance of all the trouble which his people are at any time in danger of being overwhelmed with; he knows our souls in adversity. Many things concurred to trouble the disciples now.

(1.) Christ had just told them of the unkindness he should receive from some of them, and this troubled them all. Peter, no doubt, looked very sorrowful upon what Christ said to him, and all the rest were sorry for him and for themselves too, not knowing whose turn it should be to be told next of some ill thing or other they should do … 

(2.) He had just told them of his own departure from them, that he should not only go away, but go away in a cloud of sufferings. They must shortly hear him loaded with reproaches, and these will be as a sword in their bones; they must see him barbarously abused and put to death, and this also will be a sword piercing through their own souls, for they had loved him, and chosen him, and left all to follow him. When we now look upon Christ pierced, we cannot but mourn and be in bitterness, though we see the glorious issue and fruit of it; much more grievous must the sight be to them, who could then look no further … Now, in reference to all these, Let not your heart be troubled. Here are three words, upon any of which the emphasis may significantly be laid. First, Upon the word troubled, me tarassestho. Be not so troubled as to be put into a hurry and confusion, like the troubled sea when it cannot rest. He does not say, “Let not your hearts be sensible of the griefs, or sad because of them” but, “Be not ruffled and discomposed, be not cast down and disquieted,” Ps 42 5. Secondly, Upon the word heart: “Though the nation and city be troubled, though your little family and flock be troubled, yet let not your heart be troubled. Keep possession of your own souls when you can keep possession of nothing else.The heart is the main fort; whatever you do, keep trouble from this, keep this with all diligence. The spirit must sustain the infirmity, therefore, see that this be not wounded. Thirdly, Upon the word your: “You that are my disciples and followers, my redeemed, chosen, sanctified ones, however others are overwhelmed with the sorrows of this present time, be not you so, for you know better; let the sinners in Zion tremble, but let the sons of Zion be joyful in their king.” Herein Christ’s disciples should do more than others, should keep their minds quiet, when every thing else is unquiet.

Both our commentators reword the second half of the verse, concerning belief, to make the meaning clearer.

Henry says:

2. The remedy he prescribes against this trouble of mind, which he saw ready to prevail over them; in general, believepisteuete. (1.) Some read it in both parts imperatively, “Believe in God, and his perfections and providence, believe also in me, and my mediation. Build with confidence upon the great acknowledged principles of natural religion: that there is a God, that he is most holy, wise, powerful, and good; that he is the governor of the world, and has the sovereign disposal of all events; and comfort yourselves likewise with the peculiar doctrines of that holy religion which I have taught you.” But, (2.) We read the former as an acknowledgment that they did believe in God, for which he commends them: “But, if you would effectually provide against a stormy day, believe also in me. Through Christ we are brought into covenant with God, and become interested in his favour and promise, which otherwise as sinners we must despair of, and the remembrance of God would have been our trouble; but, by believing in Christ as the Mediator between God and man, our belief in God becomes comfortable; and this is the will of God, that all men should honour the Son as they honour the Father, by believing in the Son as they believe in the Father. Those that rightly believe in God will believe in Jesus Christ, whom he has made known to them; and believing in God through Jesus Christ is an excellent means of keeping trouble from the heart. The joy of faith is the best remedy against the griefs of sense; it is a remedy with a promise annexed to it; the just shall live by faith; a remedy with a probatum est annexed to it. I had fainted unless I had believed.

John MacArthur says:

Maybe a better way to read it would be, “Do not let your heart be troubled.  You believe in God, believe also in Me.”  Or even a better way, “Stop letting your heart be troubled.  You believe in God, believe also in Me.”  He’s not saying don’t begin to be troubled, He’s saying, “Stop; stop.  No more; no longer”

This is the plea:  “You believe in God,” I take it as an indicative.  “You believe in God,” then an imperative, “believe also in Me.”  So you start with this idea of comfort with God, right, who is called the God, in the Bible, of all comfort.  You start there with God all-knowing, all-wise, all-powerful, all-ruling, all-caring, all-sufficient, having all resources, all provision.  “You trust God, you believe in God; you don’t have any trouble with that, so believe also in Me.”

Again, this certainly is a claim to deity isn’t that?  “You believe in God, so believe in Me.”  John all the way through his gospel makes the case that Jesus is God, but they are one in nature.  That’s the whole point of this entire gospel that you might believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, John 20:31 We’ve gone through that chapter after chapter after chapter, presentations of His deity.  But the book begins by saying, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” 

So you believe in God, what’s the point of this?  Well, the point is simply this:  “You believe in God whom you cannot see.”  You believe in God whom you cannot see.  God is invisible.  No one can see God.  God is a spirit; He is an invisible spirit. 

None of them had ever seen God, but they believed in God.  He’s declaring, “You believe in God.”  In a sense, He’s stating that they are true believers.  In a sense, they are sort of old covenant believers, they believe in God.  They believe in God and they believe in the revelation of God in the Son of God, and that’s why they said, “You’re the Christ, the Son of the living God.”  And that’s why they said, “We know that You’re the Holy One and You have the words of life” …

The apostles again had already by divine regeneration and illumination recognized that Jesus is the one who has come from God.  He is the Holy One of God, the Holy One from heaven.  But then they have seem Him, and heard Him, and watched Him do His miracles and His works.  They have seen and believed.  They did believe in the invisible God, and now they believe also in the visible Christ.  But they need to believe in Him when He’s gone the same way they believe in the invisible God Their faith at this point is a kind of Thomas faith.

You remember, Thomas wasn’t in the room when the Lord showed up the first time after the resurrection and the disciples said, “We’ve seen the Lord.”  And he said, “I will not believe unless I,” what?  “Unless I see.”  It’s a Thomas kind of faith.

But He was about to be removed from them.  So He was saying, “You must believe completely in Me when I’m invisible the way you believe in God who is invisible.” 

Jesus said that in His Father’s house there are many dwelling places — ‘mansions’ in older translations — and, if that were not so, would He have told them that He was going to prepare a place for them (verse 2).

Henry explains:

See under what notion the happiness of heaven is here represented: as mansions, many mansions in Christ’s Father’s house. [1.] Heaven is a house, not a tent or tabernacle; it is a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens. [2.] It is a Father’s house: my Father’s house; and his Father is our Father, to whom he was now ascending; so that in right of their elder brother all true believers shall be welcome to that happiness as to their home. It is his house who is King of kings and Lord of lords, dwells in light, and inhabits eternity. [3.] There are mansions there; that is, First, Distinct dwellings, an apartment for each. Perhaps there is an allusion to the priests’ chambers that were about the temple. In heaven there are accommodations for particular saints; though all shall be swallowed up in God, yet our individuality shall not be lost there; every Israelite had his lot in Canaan, and every elder a seat, Rev 4 4. Secondly, Durable dwellings. Monai, from mneio, maneo, abiding places. The house itself is lasting; our estate in it is not for a term of years, but a perpetuity … [4.] There are many mansions, for there are many sons to be brought to glory, and Christ exactly knows their number, nor will be straitened for room by the coming of more company than he expects …

Note, Christ’s good-will to us is a great encouragement to our hope in him. He loves us too well, and means us too well, to disappoint the expectations of his own raising, or to leave those to be of all men most miserable who have been of him most observant.

MacArthur surmises that Jesus was saying that, as grand as the temple in Jerusalem was, it was but a copy of heaven:

It was the Father’s house in the sense that it was a copy of the Father’s house which is heaven Christ came and I guess you could say cleansed the Father’s house that had been turned, as Luke says, into a den of robbers.  He cleansed the Father’s house on earth and then He destroyed the copy so that He might gather His people and take them into a place prepared for them that was reality in heaven.

The temple at Jerusalem is called the Father’s house, but it’s just a copy.  God had designed it so it was His.  He had laid out the prescription as to its architecture and design, and the Holy Place, and the Holy of Holies, and the sacrifices and everything, and it was to symbolize His presence among His people.  And there He was to be honored and adored, and there He was to be worshipped by His people. 

But that worship had become apostate; it was perverted, it was corrupted.  The temple was a criminal enterprise, it was a den of robbers, and He sent His Son at the beginning of His ministry to attack it.  And then He sent His Son at the end of His ministry to attack it again.  And then He sent the Romans in 70 AD to smash it to bits.  And there is now, even today, no longer any earthly copy.  So when our Lord Jesus says, “In My Father’s house,” He’s not talking about the copy, He’s talking about heaven, heaven.

Jesus then spoke of His coming again in glory by saying that if He goes to prepare a place for them — and us — He will come again and take them (and us) to Himself, so that where He is we may be also (verse 3).

Henry tells us to be reassured by those words:

Now these are comfortable words indeed. (1.) That Jesus Christ will come again; erchomaiI do come, intimating the certainty of it, that he will come and that he is daily coming. We say, We are coming, when we are busy in preparing for our coming, and so he is; all he does has a reference and tendency to his second coming. Note, The belief of Christ’s second coming, of which he has given us the assurance, is an excellent preservative against trouble of heart, Phil 4 5; James 5 8. (2.) That he will come again to receive all his faithful followers to himself. He sends for them privately at death, and gathers them one by one; but they are to make their public entry in solemn state all together at the last day, and then Christ himself will come to receive them, to conduct them in the abundance of his grace, and to welcome them in the abundance of his love. He will hereby testify the utmost respect and endearment imaginable. The coming of Christ is in order to our gathering together unto him, 2 Thess 2 1. (3.) That where he is there they shall be also. This intimates, what many other scriptures declare, that the quintessence of heaven’s happiness is being with Christ there, ch. 17 24; Phil 1 23; 1 Thess 4 17.

Jesus told the Apostles that they knew the way to the place where He was going (verse 4).

Henry explains:

Christ, having set the happiness of heaven before them as the end, here shows them himself as the way to it, and tells them that they were better acquainted both with the end they were to aim at and with the way they were to walk in than they thought they were: You know, that is, 1. “You may know; it is none of the secret things which belong not to you, but one of the things revealed; you need not ascend into heaven, nor go down into the deep, for the word is nigh you (Rom 10 6-8), level to you.” 2. “You do know; you know that which is the home and which is the way, though perhaps not as the home and as the way. You have been told it, and cannot but know, if you would recollect and consider it.” Note, Jesus Christ is willing to make the best of his people’s knowledge, though they are weak and defective in it. He knows the good that is in them better than they do themselves, and is certain that they have that knowledge, and faith, and love, of which they themselves are not sensible, or not certain.

However, Thomas said that they did not know where He was going and asked how they could know the way (verse 5).

Henry says that the Apostles expected Him to be going to an earthly destination, hence their incapacity to understand He meant His heavenly home:

They knew not whither Christ went, because they dreamed of a temporal kingdom in external pomp and power, and doted upon this, notwithstanding what he had said again and again to the contrary. Hence it was that, when Christ spoke of going away and their following him, their fancy ran upon his going to some remarkable city or other, Bethlehem, or Nazareth, or Capernaum, or some of the cities of the Gentiles, as David to Hebron, there to be anointed king, and to restore the kingdom to Israel; and which way this place lay, where these castles in the air were to be built, east, west, north, or south, they could not tell, and therefore knew not the way. Thus still we think ourselves more in the dark than we need be concerning the future state of the church, because we expect its worldly prosperity, whereas it is spiritual advancement that the promise points at. Had Thomas understood, as he might have done, that Christ was going to the invisible world, the world of spirits, to which spiritual things only have a reference, he would not have said, Lord, we do not know the way.

Jesus responded, ‘I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me’ (verse 6).

MacArthur provides this analysis:

this is the sixth “I am” in John’s gospel.  The seventh one is in the fifteenth chapter

He is saying, “I am the only way to God.”  I told you that in chapter 10 when I told you I was the door “I am the truth about God.”  John says in chapter 1, verse 14, He was full of grace and truth.  “I am the life of God.  In Him was life,” John writes, chapter 1, verse 4.

He is life itself, chapter 11.  This is the positive statement:  “I am the way, and the truth, and the life.”  That’s the positive statement.  It’s followed by a negative, very important negative:  “No one comes to the Father but through Me.” 

Jesus alone revealed God.  Jesus alone was God’s chosen sacrifice.  Jesus alone is God’s Savior.  Faith in Jesus is the only way of salvation.  Jesus said you’ll die in your sins earlier in John, and “Where I go, you’ll never come because you believe not on Me.” 

Did you get that?  That’s why there’s a Great Commission, folks.  There has to be a Great Commission to take the Word to every creature in the world because there’s no other way to saved.  That’s why the gospels end with those Great Commissions.

Christianity actually became known as “the way” because of its exclusivity.  Christianity became known as “the way.”  Six times in the book of Acts it’s called “the way, the way, the way.” 

It would be good to get that back, wouldn’t it, to be known as “the way, the only way, no other way”?  And that’s what’s behind the necessity of going into all the world and preaching the gospel to every creature.  This is always the Great Commission mandate.  Jesus is the way to God, the truth about God, and the life of God; and no one can come to the Father, to the Father’s house, except through Him.

We might have forgotten about that verse. Theologians have certainly twisted its meaning:

The modern church has created a new wave of heresy related to this foundational truth that people somehow can be saved and welcomed into heaven when they die, or even taken up to heaven when Christ comes who never had a Bible, never heard about the true God, never heard about Jesus Christ.  They’ve even come up with some names for it.  They call it “later light” or they call it “natural theology.”  “Man can reach God by natural reason which can lead him to live a good life.  And if he lives a good life, he’ll be acceptable to God”

Peter Kreeft in the book Ecumenical Jihad has all kinds of different religions sending people to heaven into the Father’s house.  Some would say if you’re monotheistic you’re really okay because you’ve hooked onto the idea of one god

Larry King said to me one time off television, “I’m going to be okay.  A very well-known evangelist told me because I’m Jewish I’m going to be okay.”  Really?  An evangelist told you that?

There’s even a view called “transdispensational salvation” which means that people who never heard about Christ will be treated by God as if they lived in another dispensation before Christ ever came.  So we can call all the missionaries home, leave them to their natural reason, or leave them to some wider mercy, or leave them to some other dispensation.  But the Bible says, “Go preach the gospel to every creature because no one can get to heaven without believing in Christ, no one.”

Man’s reason is so depraved he suppresses the truth in righteousness.  Man’s religion is so depraved that he worships demons that are named gods.  Man is so depraved in his reason that by wisdom he cannot know God.  The natural man can’t even understand the things of God.  He is so depraved that there’s only salvation through Christ and Christ alone, and that by a divine miracle.

So to wrap it up with the powerful words of the apostle Paul, listen to this:  “When Christ does come from heaven with His mighty angels and flaming fire,” 2 Thessalonians 1, “He will deal out retribution,” to who?  “Those who do not know God and to those who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus.  These will pay the penalty of eternal destruction.”

It’s great to know this; it’s more important to understand that that means we’ve got to get busy with the gospel. 

Jesus said that if they knew Him, they would also know His Father, adding that, from now on, they did know him and had seen Him (verse 7).

It’s actually better in the King James Version because of the verb tenses:

If ye had known me, ye should have known my Father also: and from henceforth ye know him, and have seen him.

Henry reminds us that Jesus said the words in the first part of the verse to the Jews in John 8:

Here is, [1.] A tacit rebuke to them for their dulness and carelessness in not acquainting themselves with Jesus Christ, though they had been his constant followers and associates: If you had known me—. They knew him, and yet did not know him so well as they might and should have known him. They knew him to be the Christ, but did not follow on to know God in him. Christ had said to the Jews (ch. 8 19): If you had known me, you would have known my Father also; and here the same to his disciples; for it is hard to say which is more strange, the wilful ignorance of those that are enemies to the light, or the defects and mistakes of the children of light, that have had such opportunities of knowledge. If they had known Christ aright, they would have known that his kingdom is spiritual, and not of this world; that he came down from heaven, and therefore must return to heaven; and then they would have known his Father also, would have known whither he designed to go, when he said, I go to the Father, to a glory in the other world, not in this.

The second half of the verse shows that our Lord excused their ignorance:

A favourable intimation that he was well satisfied concerning their sincerity, notwithstanding the weakness of their understanding:And henceforth, from my giving you this hint, which will serve as a key to all the instructions I have given you hitherto, let me tell you, you know him, and have seen him, inasmuch as you know me, and have seen me;” for in the face of Christ we see the glory of God, as we see a father in his son that resembles him. Christ tells his disciples that they were not so ignorant as they seemed to be; for, though little children, yet they had known the Father, 1 John 2 13.

Then Philip asked Jesus to show them the Father and they would be satisfied (verse 8).

Recall what Philip said early on three years previously (John 1:43-45):

43 The next day Jesus decided to leave for Galilee. Finding Philip, he said to him, ‘Follow me.’

44 Philip, like Andrew and Peter, was from the town of Bethsaida. 45 Philip found Nathanael and told him, ‘We have found the one Moses wrote about in the Law, and about whom the prophets also wrote – Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph.’

MacArthur says:

This is disappointing; this is very disappointing.  Shallow, faithless question.

By the way, it’s we.  Don’t lay all this blame on Philip.  He’s talking for the rest of these guys who are having the same problem “Show us the Father.  Show us the Father.”  Sounds like a sort of pre-charismatic charismatic:  “I need a vision.”

I think he’s just saying, “Look, I don’t think we can do this thing by faith.  I really don’t think we can do this by faith.  God’s going to have to show up.  God is going to have to show up.  You’re handing us off here and we’re used to having You in our grip.”

Disappointing as it must have been for Jesus to hear Philip dictate terms to him, Henry reminds us of the desire of all faithful people — the sight of God:

In the knowledge of God the understanding rests, and is at the summit of its ambition; in the knowledge of God as our Father the soul is satisfied; a sight of the Father is a heaven upon earth, fills us with joy unspeakable.

I also think there was an aspect of none of them, apart from Judas, who had left earlier, being able to think straight. Finding out that Judas had betrayed Christ must have stunned them to the core, in addition to knowing that He was leaving them.

Jesus asked how Philip could not know Him after spending all that time with Him and still asking to see the Father, stating that whoever had seen Him had seen the Father (verse 9).

Henry discusses the reproof, which we might have occasion to apply to ourselves:

He reproves him for two things: First, For not improving his acquaintance with Christ, as he might have done, to a clear and distinct knowledge of him: “Hast thou not known me, Philip, whom thou hast followed so long, and conversed with so much?” Philip, the first day he came to him, declared that he knew him to be the Messiah (ch. 1 45), and yet to this day did not know the Father in him. Many that have good knowledge in the scripture and divine things fall short of the attainments justly expected from them, for want of compounding the ideas they have, and going on to perfection. Many know Christ, who yet do not know what they might know of him, nor see what they should see in him. That which aggravated Philip’s dulness was that he had so long an opportunity of improvement: I have been so long time with thee. Note, The longer we enjoy the means of knowledge and grace, the more inexcusable we are if we be found defective in grace and knowledge. Christ expects that our proficiency should be in some measure according to our standing, that we should not be always babes. Let us thus reason with ourselves: “Have I been so long a hearer of sermons, a student in the scripture, a scholar in the school of Christ, and yet so weak in the knowledge of Christ, and so unskilful in the word of righteousness?Secondly, He reproves him for his infirmity in the prayer made, Show us the Father. Note, Herein appears much of the weakness of Christ’s disciples that they know not what to pray for as they ought (Rom 8 26), but often ask amiss (Jam 4 3), for that which either is not promised or is already bestowed in the sense of the promise, as here.

In the next three verses, Jesus made a point of using the verb ‘believe’.

He asked whether Philip did not believe that He is in the Father and the Father in Him; furthermore, He said that His words were not His own but the Father’s, the Father who dwells in Him and does His works (verse 10).

Jesus told Philip — and the other Apostles — to believe that He is in the Father and the Father is in Him; however, if they could not do that, they should believe because of the works themselves (verse 11).

Henry explains:

[1.] See here what it is which we are to believe: That I am in the Father, and the Father in me; that is, as he had said (ch. 10 30), I and my Father are one. He speaks of the Father and himself as two persons, and yet so one as never any two were or can be. In knowing Christ as God of God, light of light, very God of very God, begotten, not made, and as being of one substance with the Father, by whom all things were made, we know the Father; and in seeing him thus we see the Father. In Christ we behold more of the glory of God than Moses did at Mount Horeb.

[2.] See here what inducements we have to believe this; and they are two:—We must believe it, First, For his word’s sake: The words that I speak to you, I speak not of myself. See ch. 7 16, My doctrine is not mine. What he said seemed to them careless as the word of man, speaking his own thought at his own pleasure; but really it was the wisdom of God that indited it and the will of God that enforced it. He spoke not of himself only, but the mind of God according to the eternal counsels. Secondly, For his works’ sake: The Father that dwelleth in me, he doeth them; and therefore believe me for their sake. Observe, 1. The Father is said to dwell in him ho en emoi menonhe abideth in me, by the inseparable union of the divine and human nature: never had God such a temple to dwell in on earth as the body of the Lord Jesus, ch. 2 21. Here was the true Shechinah, of which that in the tabernacle was but a type. The fulness of the Godhead dwelt in him bodily, Col 2 9. The Father so dwells in Christ that in him he may be found, as a man where he dwells. Seek ye the Lord, seek him in Christ, and he will be found, for in him he dwells. 2. He doeth the works. Many words of power, and works of mercy, Christ did, and the Father did them in him; and the work of redemption in general was God’s own work. 3. We are bound to believe this, for the very works’ sake. As we are to believe the being and perfections of God for the sake of the works of creation, which declare his glory; so we are to believe the revelation of God to man in Jesus Christ for the sake of the works of the Redeemer, those mighty works which, by showing forth themselves (Matt 14 2), Show forth him, and God in him. Note, Christ’s miracles are proofs of his divine mission, not only for the conviction of infidels, but for the confirmation of the faith of his own disciples, ch. 2 11; 5 36; 10 37.

MacArthur says:

So this is the revelation of His person meant to comfort them to know that He is one with the Father, and it will have an unfolding kind of reality that will eventually grip their hearts and anchor them down.

By beginning His next sentence with ‘Very truly’, Jesus impressed upon them the importance of the Apostles’ belief in Him, which would enable them to do the same works as He — even greater works — as He was going to the Father (verse 12).

Henry says:

This does not weaken the argument Christ had taken from his works, to prove himself one with the Father (that others should do as great works), but rather strengthens it; for the miracles which the apostles wrought were wrought in his name, and by faith in him; and this magnifies his power more than any thing, that he not only wrought miracles himself, but gave power to others to do so too.

MacArthur tells us:

there’s a second revelation, the revelation of His power; not just His person, but His power.  Look at verse 12:  “Truly, truly I say to you, he who believes in Me – again, it’s about believing “ – the works that I do, he will do also; and greater than these he will do because I go to the Father.”

What is that?  What is that?  First of all, the primary interpretation to the apostles, 11 apostles, “You who believe in Me, you’re going to do what I have done.  You’re going to do also what I have done.”

What does that mean? “You’re going to do miracles.”  Read the book of Acts.  Read the opening of the book of Acts.  The apostles, the associates of the apostles had that miraculous power.  They used their miracle power to do the very same miracles that Jesus did miracles over disease, miracles over demons, miracles over death That power was extended beyond Jesus, so in a sense, it’s greater in extent.

It was Jesus; and you remember, He delegated those powers to the apostles, but we don’t see illustrations of the apostles doing miracles.  In fact, sometimes they come back and report, “We tried, but we couldn’t pull it off.”  And now all of a sudden that’s going to change, and not greater in kind because you couldn’t do greater in kind or nature of miracles, you couldn’t do greater miracles in terms of what they actually were, but greater in extent.

“This is going to spread through all 11 of you and those associated with you,” even someone like Philip.  So He says, “Greater things are going to happen.  As this is multiplied, miracle power is multiplied through you starting on the Day of Pentecost.”

In Acts 2, you read how it flows through the Apostolic Age.  This is the power given to the apostles.  It’s defined for us clearly in 2 Corinthians 12:12, the signs and wonders, and miracles of an apostle.  And it’s in Hebrews 2:4 where it says that the message the apostles preached was confirmed by signs and wonders and mighty deeds done by the apostles.

Before the Scripture was written, the way God validated those preachers was by miracles.  They’re not going to do greater in kind.  What’s greater than a healing, a resurrection, casting out demons?  Nothing.  But greater in extent, greater in extent.  This is primarily to the apostles.  But when that Apostolic Era ended, by the way, there’s still a sense in which greater works are being done.

Jesus left them with an important message for the Apostles and for us. He said He will do whatever we ask in His name, so that the Father may be glorified in the Son (verse 13).

Now, it should be a request worthy of His name.

Henry says:

It is to aim at his glory and to seek this as our highest end in all our prayers.

If we ask our Lord for anything, He will do it (verse 14).

Henry concludes:

By faith in his name we may have what we will for the asking …

For what reason their prayers should speed so well: That the Father may be glorified in the Son

This they ought to aim at, and have their eye upon, in asking. In this all our desires and prayers should meet as in their centre; to this they must all be directed, that God in Christ may be honoured by our services, and in our salvation. Hallowed be thy name is an answered prayer, and is put first, because, if the heart be sincere in this, it does in a manner consecrate all the other petitions.

MacArthur concludes:

But what does His name mean?  Consistent with His identity, consistent with His person.  That is it’s as if you’re standing in His place.  It’s as if when He says, “I’m sending the Spirit in the Father’s name, I’m sending the Spirit because that’s the Father’s will.”  If He says, “The Father sends the Spirit in My name, it means that the Father is sending the Spirit because that’s My will.  So if you say, ‘If you ask anything in My name,’ it means in consistency with My will.

First John 5:14, we have this confidence that we ask anything according to His will, we know that He hears it, and we have the petition we ask of Him consistent with His person, will, His purposes, what He’s attempting to do in the world when we pray for what is consistent with His nature, consistent with His purpose, consistent with His perfections, consistent with His glory.

We’ve been taught to pray:  “Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed be Thy name.  Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done as it is in heaven.”  We ask God for anything that is consistent with His person, His purpose, and His perfection, “And I’ll do it.  I will do it; personal promise.  I will do it.”

He doesn’t say it’ll happen like in some passive form.  “I will do it.  I’m going to be working for you through the Holy Spirit.  The Father’s working for you through the Holy Spirit.  The whole of the Trinity is on your side providing everything you could ever need.” 

May all reading this have a blessed Sunday.

The Fourth Sunday of Easter is April 30, 2023.

Readings for Year A can be found here.

The Gospel is as follows (emphases mine):

John 10:1-10

10:1 Very truly, I tell you, anyone who does not enter the sheepfold by the gate but climbs in by another way is a thief and a bandit.

10:2 The one who enters by the gate is the shepherd of the sheep.

10:3 The gatekeeper opens the gate for him, and the sheep hear his voice. He calls his own sheep by name and leads them out.

10:4 When he has brought out all his own, he goes ahead of them, and the sheep follow him because they know his voice.

10:5 They will not follow a stranger, but they will run from him because they do not know the voice of strangers.”

10:6 Jesus used this figure of speech with them, but they did not understand what he was saying to them.

10:7 So again Jesus said to them, “Very truly, I tell you, I am the gate for the sheep.

10:8 All who came before me are thieves and bandits; but the sheep did not listen to them.

10:9 I am the gate. Whoever enters by me will be saved, and will come in and go out and find pasture.

10:10 The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly.”

Commentary comes from Matthew Henry and John MacArthur.

John 10 continues the events of John 9, wherein Jesus healed the blind man and the Pharisees took issue with Him:

Fourth Sunday in Lent, Laetare Sunday — Year A — exegesis on the Gospel, John 9:1-41 — part 1

Fourth Sunday in Lent, Laetare Sunday — Year A — exegesis on the Gospel, John 9:1-41 — part 2

John 9 ends with these verses:

39 Jesus said,[a] ‘For judgment I have come into this world, so that the blind will see and those who see will become blind.’

40 Some Pharisees who were with him heard him say this and asked, ‘What? Are we blind too?’

41 Jesus said, ‘If you were blind, you would not be guilty of sin; but now that you claim you can see, your guilt remains.

That might sound harsh, especially in our non-judgemental era, but Jesus came to save the Jews from the Pharisaical system.

In order to illustrate His point to the Pharisees, he used a figure of speech.

John MacArthur says that Jesus was speaking of salvation:

Just summing it up, the Messiah comes, the Savior comes, He comes to the fold of Judaism and the fold of the Gentile world His sheep are already known to Him because the Father has identified them and given them a name and written it down before the foundation of the world.  He knows who they are.  He enters the door because He has full authority and right to do so.  And out of the world and out of Judaism, He selects His own, calls them by name.  This is irresistible grace.  This is the effectual call.  This is a call unto life.  This is regeneration.  They follow.

They follow because this is a supernatural work of God that draws them out of sin and death and darkness and blindness They follow.  They know His voice.  They follow Him.  They go through Him, He alone being the door.  They come out and then they roam the world and enjoy all the rich provision and protection that their shepherd provides for them.  This is salvationUnfortunately, false shepherds and false teachers destroy people.

Jesus began by emphasising His figure of speech with ‘Very truly’, meaning that the Pharisees should give His words their full attention. He said that anyone who does not enter the sheepfold by the gate but climbs in through another way is a thief and a bandit (verse 1).

That part of the world had many shepherds and even those who lived in Jerusalem understood how tending sheep worked. A village would have any number of shepherds, each of whom tended his own flock.

At the end of a day of grazing, the shepherds brought the sheep back to a walled pen — the sheepfold — for the night.

MacArthur explains how this worked:

Each village would have in the village or right adjacent to the village a sheepfold, simply a pen.  In each village, that pen would be a place where the sheep were brought at night to be safe.  They would be out on the fields, out grazing during the day, and then at night the shepherd would lead them – sheep follow – the shepherd would lead them, and he would lead them into the fold.  And there’s a lot of history about this.  The shepherd would bring them, each shepherd in the village would bring his sheep and all the village shepherds would put their sheep in one fold That was the place of protection.  So there were sheep in the fold that belonged to different shepherds.

But they would enter one at a time and the shepherd would stop each sheep with his rod and check each one out for wounds, perhaps, or some other thing that might be of disturbance or concern to him He would check them over from front to back, and particularly the back because they have so much lanolin in their wool that they’re easily plugged up and they can die.  It was a messy and sometimes very dirty job, but that was the shepherd’s role.  And he would let them through one by one.  He would drop his rod over the next one, and then when he had examined, let him in.  That’s why Ezekiel 20 tells us someday God will cause His people to pass under His rod, Ezekiel 20:37-38.  He’ll let them in one by one.

So the simple enclosure was surrounded by a wall, and when night came, all the sheep would come into that enclosure, and they would be let in one at a time so each shepherd could examine his sheep.  Villages had many shepherds, and shepherds had some sheep.  They weren’t wealthy, generally speaking.  They didn’t have massive amounts of sheep.  They knew their sheep.  They knew their sheep.  They would then hire a porter.  The shepherds would go to rest and sleep after a day in the fields, and a hired hand – you’ll notice down in verse 12, it refers to “a hired hand, and not a shepherd” – that’s the same as the doorkeeper in verse 3, and his job was to close the door at night when all the sheep were in and the shepherds went to their place of rest And he was the guard for the night.  He had the night shift to guard the sheep.  That was his job.

Jesus said that the one who enters by the gate is the shepherd of the sheep (verse 2).

MacArthur says:

In the morning, as the sun came up, the shepherds would reappear and they would call their sheep.  They would call their sheep out of the fold and lead them back out to pasture.  Only the shepherds were allowed to get by the porter, by the gatekeeper.  Thieves and robbers, if they came in the night, had to climb over the wall, and that’s what you have here.  You have the robbers who “climb up some other way” in verse 1.

Jesus said that the gatekeeper opens the gate to the shepherd, and the sheep hear his voice; he calls his own sheep by name and leads them out (verse 3).

MacArthur explains our Lord’s deeper meaning here:

You say, “What is the sheepfold?”  In this case, it is Israel.  It is Israel.  It is Judaism.  The sheepfold is Judaism.  The sheep are the Jewish people.  The great Shepherd, the good Shepherd, the true Shepherd comes to the fold of Israel as the true Messiah and calls his own sheep out of Judaism.

And not only that, go down to verse 16.  And this is consistent with what we read in Ezekiel.  “I have other sheep, which are not of this fold.”  Who is that?  Another fold?  “I must bring them also, and they will hear My voice; and they will become one flock with one shepherd.”  There’s the one Shepherd.  What’s the other fold?  Gentiles, nations, countries of the world, Jew and Gentile, just as Ezekiel promised that God would gather his flock from all of the nations and all the countries.  The fold, then, is whatever holds temporarily the sheep that belong to God: Judaism or the world.

What is the door?  The shepherd enters, verse 2 says, “by the door.”  The shepherd of the sheep is allowed to come in the door.  What is that?  That’s privilege, right, authority, ownership.  The guard is not going to let anybody but the shepherd in.  And this is to indicate to us that Christ is the rightful Shepherd of His sheep He has the privilege to come in and call His sheep and take them out.  He has fulfilled all Messianic prophecy.  He has demonstrated by words and works that He is the Messiah, the Son of God.

When the shepherd has brought out his own sheep from the pen, he goes ahead of them, and the sheep follow, because they know his voice (verse 4).

Matthew Henry’s commentary says:

The care he takes and the provision he makes for his sheep. The sheep hear his voice, when he speaks familiarly to them, when they come into the fold, as men now do to their dogs and horses; and, which is more, he calls his own sheep by name, so exact is the notice he takes of them, the account he keeps of them; and he leads them our from the fold to the green pastures; and (v. 4, 5) when he turns them out to graze he does not drive them, but (such was the custom in those times) he goes before them, to prevent any mischief or danger that might meet them, and they, being used to it, follow him, and are safe.

The sheep will not follow a stranger but will run from him because they do not recognise his voice (verse 5).

Henry cites Ezekiel in explaining this verse:

(5.) The strange attendance of the sheep upon the shepherd: They know his voice, so as to discern his mind by it, and to distinguish it from that of a stranger (for the ox knows his owner, Isa 1 3), and a stranger will they not follow, but, as suspecting some ill design, will flee from him, not knowing his voice, but that it is not the voice of their own shepherd. This is the parable; we have the key to it, Ezek 34 31: You my flock are men, and I am your God.

John tells us that the Pharisees did not understand our Lord’s figure of speech (verse 6).

It is no wonder they could not understand it. They were spiritually blind and hardened in that blindness.

Henry tells us:

The Pharisees had a great conceit of their own knowledge, and could not bear that it should be questioned, and yet they had not sense enough to understand the things that Jesus spoke of; they were above their capacity. Frequently the greatest pretenders to knowledge are most ignorant in the things of God.

Because they did not understand, Jesus repeated His message, emphasising it (verse 7): ‘Very truly, I tell you, I am the gate for the sheep’.

MacArthur explains:

… like that shepherd in Israel, the great shepherd knows His sheep, too.  He knows their name because their names have been written in the Lamb’s Book of Life from before the foundation of the world.  He knows who they are.  The picture here is really stunning.  The true Shepherd has come to call Jewish people out of Judaism, to call Gentile people out of the folds of false religion and judgment across the world.  He knows who they are.  He calls them by name.  They know His voice, and He leads them out …

This is one of the “I Am’s” of the gospel of John.

Jesus told the Pharisees that all who came before Him were thieves and bandits, but the sheep did not listen to them (verse 8).

MacArthur tells us:

“Truly, truly, I say to you, I am the door of the sheep.  All who came before Me are thieves and robbers, but the sheep did not hear them.  I am the door; if anyone enters through Me, he will be saved, and will go in and out and find pasture.”  I want you to see the picture here.  Here’s a second metaphor.  He’s not only the Shepherd that comes in to take His sheep.  He’s the door.  He’s the only way out.  It’s not about going in, it’s about going out.  And the idea of going in and out means moving with freedom when He leads you out of that fold.  And it’s only through Him.  He alone is the door. 

Jesus said the He is the gate; whoever enters by Him will be saved and will come in and go out and find pasture (verse 9).

MacArthur says:

He repeated again down in verse 9.  He leads you out and there is a freedom from bondage.

If anyone goes literally through me, passes through me, he will be saved.  Mark that word, underline it, draw a circle around it.  That’s the first time you move from the word picture, from the metaphor to reality, to the theological statement of fact.  This is about what?  This is about being saved.  This is about salvation.  This is the saving shepherd.  “He’ll be saved, and – ” then he’s free to “ – go in and out and find pasture.”

Jesus said that the thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; by contrast, He came so that His flock may have life and have it abundantly (verse 10).

MacArthur explains:

The contrast ends in verse 10 and it’s stark.  False shepherds come to “steal and kill and destroy.”  I think all of us, and certainly me, have been vilified by people for exposing false doctrine.  But I could not be a faithful shepherd before my own Shepherd if I didn’t do my part to protect the sheep.  If I say something against anything, it usually shows up in some headline in such an outrageous form that it incites anger and hostility.  But it’s really not about me being angry.  It’s about me trying to discharge a compassionate responsibility to those who are being victimized by false shepherds who want nothing but to strip them of everything they have and then eat them.

The thief comes to kill the sheep.  There’s some interesting stories.  If a thief came at night and climbed the wall, he would have a difficulty getting the sheep out willingly because the sheep don’t know his voice.  And so very often, they would slit the throat of the sheep in the fold and throw it over the wall.  They knew that.  They knew the kind of work that robbers did.  They would take the wool and then eat the sheep.  The thief comes to kill, comes to destroy after he has stolen.  On the other hand, “I come that they may have life, and have it perissos, over the top.”

Henry has more:

“The scribes, and Pharisees, and chief priests, all, even as many as have come before me, that have endeavoured to forestal my interest, and to prevent my gaining any room in the minds of people, by prepossessing them with prejudices against me, they are thieves and robbers, and steal those hearts which they have no title to, defrauding the right owner of his property.” They condemned our Saviour as a thief and a robber, because he did not come in by them as the door, nor take out a license from them; but he shows that they ought to have received their commission from him, to have been admitted by him, and to have come after him, and because they did not, but stepped before him, they were thieves and robbers. They would not come in as his disciples, and therefore were condemned as usurpers, and their pretended commissions vacated and superseded. Note, Rivals with Christ are robbers of his church, however they pretend to be shepherds, nay, shepherds of shepherds. Secondly, The care taken to preserve the sheep from them: But the sheep did not hear them. Those that had a true savour of piety, that were spiritual and heavenly, and sincerely devoted to God and godliness, could by no means approve of the traditions of the elders, nor relish their formalities. Christ’s disciples, without any particular instructions from their Master, made no conscience of eating with unwashen hands, or plucking the ears of corn on the sabbath day; for nothing is more opposite to true Christianity than Pharisaism is, nor any thing more disrelishing to a soul truly devout than their hypocritical devotions.

Henry closes with this message for us:

Here are, First, Plain directions how to come into the fold: we must come in by Jesus Christ as the door. By faith in him, as the great Mediator between God and man, we come into covenant and communion with God. There is no entering into God’s church but by coming into Christ’s church; nor are any looked upon as members of the kingdom of God among men but those that are willing to submit to the grace and government of the Redeemer. We must now enter by the door of faith (Acts 14 27), since the door of innocency is shut against us, and that pass become unpassable, Gen 3 24. Secondly, Precious promises to those who observe this direction. 1. They shall be saved hereafter; this is the privilege of their home. These sheep shall be saved from being distrained and impounded by divine justice for trespass done, satisfaction being made for the damage by their great Shepherd, saved from being a prey to the roaring lion; they shall be for ever happy. 2. In the mean time they shall go in and out and find pasture; this is the privilege of their way. They shall have their conversation in the world by the grace of Christ, shall be in his fold as a man at his own house, where he has free ingress, egress, and regress. True believers are at home in Christ; when they go out, they are not shut out as strangers, but have liberty to come in again; when they come in, they are not shut in as trespassers, but have liberty to go out. They go out to the field in the morning, they come into the fold at night; and in both the Shepherd leads and keeps them, and they find pasture in both: grass in the field, fodder in the fold. In public, in private, they have the word of God to converse with, by which their spiritual life is supported and nourished, and out of which their gracious desires are satisfied; they are replenished with the goodness of God’s house.

The readings for Years B and C continue with John 10:

Fourth Sunday of Easter — Year B — exegesis on the Gospel: John 10:11-18 (2021, the Good Shepherd)

Fourth Sunday of Easter — Year C — exegesis on the Gospel, John 10:22-30

May all reading this have a blessed Sunday.

The Third Sunday of Easter is April 23, 2023.

Readings for Year A can be found here.

The Gospel is as follows (emphases mine):

Luke 24:13-35

24:13 Now on that same day two of them were going to a village called Emmaus, about seven miles from Jerusalem,

24:14 and talking with each other about all these things that had happened.

24:15 While they were talking and discussing, Jesus himself came near and went with them,

24:16 but their eyes were kept from recognizing him.

24:17 And he said to them, “What are you discussing with each other while you walk along?” They stood still, looking sad.

24:18 Then one of them, whose name was Cleopas, answered him, “Are you the only stranger in Jerusalem who does not know the things that have taken place there in these days?”

24:19 He asked them, “What things?” They replied, “The things about Jesus of Nazareth, who was a prophet mighty in deed and word before God and all the people,

24:20 and how our chief priests and leaders handed him over to be condemned to death and crucified him.

24:21 But we had hoped that he was the one to redeem Israel. Yes, and besides all this, it is now the third day since these things took place.

24:22 Moreover, some women of our group astounded us. They were at the tomb early this morning,

24:23 and when they did not find his body there, they came back and told us that they had indeed seen a vision of angels who said that he was alive.

24:24 Some of those who were with us went to the tomb and found it just as the women had said; but they did not see him.”

24:25 Then he said to them, “Oh, how foolish you are, and how slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have declared!

24:26 Was it not necessary that the Messiah should suffer these things and then enter into his glory?”

24:27 Then beginning with Moses and all the prophets, he interpreted to them the things about himself in all the scriptures.

24:28 As they came near the village to which they were going, he walked ahead as if he were going on.

24:29 But they urged him strongly, saying, “Stay with us, because it is almost evening and the day is now nearly over.” So he went in to stay with them.

24:30 When he was at the table with them, he took bread, blessed and broke it, and gave it to them.

24:31 Then their eyes were opened, and they recognized him; and he vanished from their sight.

24:32 They said to each other, “Were not our hearts burning within us while he was talking to us on the road, while he was opening the scriptures to us?”

24:33 That same hour they got up and returned to Jerusalem; and they found the eleven and their companions gathered together.

24:34 They were saying, “The Lord has risen indeed, and he has appeared to Simon!”

24:35 Then they told what had happened on the road, and how he had been made known to them in the breaking of the bread.

Commentary comes from Matthew Henry and John MacArthur.

I wrote an exegesis about the first 12 verses of Luke 24 in 2022, which readers might find of interest. In that account, two angels appear to the women who had brought spices to our Lord’s tomb:

24:5 The women were terrified and bowed their faces to the ground, but the men said to them, “Why do you look for the living among the dead? He is not here, but has risen.

24:10 Now it was Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary the mother of James, and the other women with them who told this to the apostles.

24:11 But these words seemed to them an idle tale, and they did not believe them.

24:12 But Peter got up and ran to the tomb; stooping and looking in, he saw the linen cloths by themselves; then he went home, amazed at what had happened.

Luke continues the Resurrection story with two male disciples.

On that same day — the third day, when Jesus rose from the dead — two of them were going to a village called Emmaus, seven miles from Jerusalem (verse 13).

Passover had finished, so people were returning home from Jerusalem.

Matthew Henry tells us that, for these two disciples, hope of Jesus as Messiah had vanished at this point:

I suspect that they were going homewards to Galilee, with an intention not to enquire more after this Jesus; that they were meditating a retreat, and stole away from their company without asking leave or taking leave; for the accounts brought them that morning of their Master’s resurrection seemed to them as idle tales; and, if so, no wonder that they began to think of making the best of their way home.

The two men spoke of all that had happened (verse 14), likely in Jerusalem during that last week of Christ’s ministry.

It was a dangerous time for our Lord’s followers to be talking about Him openly, especially in Jerusalem.

Henry says:

They had not courage to confer of these things, and consult what was to be done in the present juncture at Jerusalem, for fear of the Jews; but, when they were got out of the hearing of the Jews, they could talk it over with more freedom. They talked over these things, reasoning with themselves concerning the probabilities of Christ’s resurrection; for, according as these appeared, they would either go forward or return back to Jerusalem.

While they were talking about these things, Jesus Himself came near and went — walked — with them (verse 15).

It was usual for people to travel on foot in that era and to offer hospitality through conversation to others going in the same direction.

Henry imagines the conversation:

They communed together, and reasoned, and perhaps were warm at the argument, one hoping that their Master was risen, and would set up his kingdom, the other despairing. Jesus himself drew near, as a stranger who, seeing them travel the same way that he went, told them that he should be glad of their company. We may observe it, for our encouragement to keep up Christian conference and edifying discourse among us, that where but two together are well employed in work of that kind Christ will come to them, and make a third … They in their communings and reasonings together were searching for Christ, comparing notes concerning him, that they might come to more knowledge of him; and now Christ comes to them. Note, They who seek Christ shall find him: he will manifest himself to those that enquire after him, and give knowledge to those who use the helps for knowledge which they have. 

Their eyes were kept from recognising him (verse 16). At His resurrection, Christ would have had a glorified body, even though He still had his wounds from the Crucifixion.

Henry explains the possibilities and purpose of divine intervention here:

Their eyes were held, that they should not know him. It should seem, there were both an alteration of the object (for it is said in Mark that now he appeared in another form) and a restraint upon the organ (for here it is said that their eyes were held by a divine power); or, as some think, there was a confusion in the medium; the air was so disposed that they could not discern who it was. No matter how it was, but so it was they did not know him, Christ so ordering it that they might the more freely discourse with him and he with them, and that it might appear that his word, and the influence of it, did not depend upon his bodily presence, which the disciples had too much doted upon, and must be weaned from; but he could teach them, and warm their hearts, by others, who should have his spiritual presence with them, and should have his grace going along with them unseen.

John MacArthur explains the Greek used in this verse:

So He is in form and face glorified, and yet He is not alien; He’s human. They’re not shocked. They’re not surprised by His form, by His appearance. This is a wonderful insight, dear friends, as to how it will be when we receive a body like unto the body of His glory when we go to heaven, we will be fully human without our fallenness, without our sinfulness.

But there’s really more than that here. The verb ekratounto has been called by some a divine passive. It’s a passive verb in verse 16, “Their eyes were prevented from recognizing Him.” It wasn’t that this was their own inability, it was that they were prevented from recognizing Him by Him.

Jesus asked them what they were talking about as they were walking along; they stood still, looking sad (verse 17).

One of the disciples, Cleopas, answered in amazement (verse 18), ‘Are you the only stranger in Jerusalem who does not know the things that have taken place there in these days?’

MacArthur discusses the disciple’s name and why Luke has mentioned it:

Probably the reason you have a name here in verse 18, Cleopas, which is the male form of Cleopatra, a kind of a shortened version of Cleopatras. The reason you have a name here is very possibly because he’s the source of this account to Luke. And while the writer was inspired by the Holy Spirit to write without error, they had human sources to tell them the story; and Cleopas was probably well known to the church by this time. Luke is writing in 60 or 61, which is nearly thirty years after these events had happened.

And Luke may well have heard the story from Cleopas, because I’m pretty confident that Cleopas and his unnamed companion on the road probably told this story every single day of their life to somebody. The greatest joy in their life would be to find somebody who hadn’t heard it and tell them: “One day we were walking to Emmaus and you will never know what happened.” So Cleopas – not to be confused with Clopas, which is a Hebrew Aramaic word, this one a Greek word, another person all together – probably told Luke his story, and that’s why his name is here, and he was known to the church when Luke wrote.

Jesus asked them to elaborate; they said that Jesus of Nazareth was a prophet mighty in deed and word before God and the people (verse 19).

The chief priests and scribes handed Him over to be condemned to death and crucified (verse 20).

But, the men said, ‘we had hoped that he was the one to redeem Israel’, pointing out that this was the third day since His death (verse 21), inferring that He should have risen from the dead.

MacArthur says that we cannot be certain about their length of time with Jesus before His death:

We don’t know whether it was weeks or months, we have no idea. We don’t know how much they had heard, but they had heard a lot, seen a lot, enough to be convinced. And what happened in the end made no sense.

The men told Jesus about the women who had visited His tomb early that morning (verse 22); they returned talking of their vision of angels who said He was alive (verse 23).

The men said that some of their group went to the tomb and found it as the women had said, but they did not see Him (verse 24).

MacArthur reminds us of the hopes of our Lord’s disciples for a temporal Messiah, a powerful king who would overthrow the Romans:

The things about Jesus they describe as, “He being a prophet,” – verse 19 – “mighty in deed and word in the sight of God and all the people, and the chief priests and the rulers delivered Him to the sentence of death, and crucified Him. And we are so disappointed. We were hoping that He was going to be the Redeemer of Israel. And He did say something about rising on the third day, but it’s late in the third day. The third day actually began last night after sundown at six o’clock, and here we are in the late afternoon; nobody has seen Him. Oh, yes, some women came and said that the tomb was empty, and they said an angel told them He was alive. And they also said they met Him and saw Him personally, but we’re not buying it, we’re not buying it.”

They can’t put Jesus in the messianic box, because the Romans killed Him and the Jews, the leadership of the Jews rejected Him. That doesn’t fit their messianic theology. Triumph, glory, kingdom, power, overthrowing enemies, conquering the world, setting up His throne, that’s their messianic theology. It’s a limited theology, a partial theology. They had no place for suffering and death as a sacrifice for sin, even though that dominates the Old Testament. They had conveniently ignored all of that, because they wished for the triumph and the glory, so that’s what they focused on. 

Henry wonders at their limited vision of the Messiah, which is exactly what Jesus homes in on:

see how they made that the ground of their despair which if they had understood it aright was the surest ground of their hope, and that was the dying of the Lord Jesus: We trusted (say they) that it had been he that should have redeemed Israel. And is it not he that doth redeem Israel? Nay, is he not by his death paying the price of their redemption? Was it not necessary, in order to his saving Israel from their sins, that he should suffer? … since that most difficult part of his undertaking was got over, they had more reason than ever to trust that this was he that should deliver Israel; yet now they are ready to give up the cause.

Jesus turned to the men and said (verses 25, 26), ‘Oh, how foolish you are, and how slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have declared! Was it not necessary that the Messiah should suffer these things and then enter into his glory?’

Beginning with Moses and the prophets, Jesus interpreted to them all the things about Himself in the Scriptures (verse 27).

MacArthur explains why Jesus began by asking questions before teaching them:

So in Luke’s gospel, there are about a dozen times when Jesus starts to teach by asking questions, because the learner then has to come to grips with what it is that he knows, what it is that he believes, and where the confusion lies, or where the ignorance is located. And so Jesus begins this encounter of instruction, explaining the Scriptures, by asking questions that elicit from these two their understanding and their confusion.

As we look at the story, we’re going to see it from three perspectives. One, the need for understanding; two, the source of understanding; and three, the result of understanding. The need for understanding, the source for understanding, the result of understanding. Let’s begin with the need for understanding. This is elicited by Jesus in simple questions

God’s design for these two was to hold back that recognition until the time He wanted them to see Him.

This is really important, remarkable. If He had said, “I’m Jesus,” and then explained to them the Scriptures, they would have bought it, they would have lit up, they would have been ecstatic and thrilled to hear from Him. But He didn’t do that, because I think He wanted to explain to them the Scriptures while they still thought He was just a stranger, so that they and all of us would understand that the power is in the explanation, not the person.

And then He revealed the person. And this is why in this story you not only have this amazing account of the post-resurrection appearance of Jesus, but you have this incredible implication coming out of this story of the power of an explanation of the Scripture; and Christ is the model for that. That’s why I say, the most important thing is divine truth. The most important service anybody could ever render then is the meaning of Scripture. That’s what He does to them. Then He reveals who He is.

Henry echoes that sentiment:

Were we but more conversant with the scripture, and the divine counsels as far as they are made known in the scripture, we should not be subject to such perplexities as we often entangle ourselves in.

As they approached the village to which they were going — Emmaus — Jesus walked ahead, as if he were going further (verse 28).

But the men urged Him strongly to stay with them as it was almost evening, so He went in to stay with them (verse 29).

MacArthur says that the men wanted to hear more from Him:

This isn’t about hospitality, this is about more teaching. They’ve had enough to know, they want a lot more. “Stay with us.” They don’t even put a timing element in there: For the night? For the evening? For an hour? “Stay. And He went in to stay with them.”

When He was at table with them, He took bread, blessed it and gave it to them (verse 30).

MacArthur points out the incongruity of this gesture, considering Jesus was a guest and not the host, as he was at the Last Supper:

Now that’s very odd. This is not a communion service, there’s no wine here. Breaking bread was just a way to describe a meal; and the way meals were prepared in those days, you had some kind of gravy-type in a bowl, some kind of soup or pasty kind of mixed fruit and vegetables or whatever, and you dipped bread in it, and you ate it, and that was a common ordinary meal.

But the breaking of the bread and the distributing of the food was the responsibility of the host. If you went to somebody’s house for dinner, a total stranger, you walked in, you wouldn’t say, “Now sit down while I go in the kitchen and serve you.” It would be ridiculous. In fact, it would be inappropriate. In fact, it might be a bit rude.

Why does He do this? Well, we aren’t told; but the only assumption I can make is because they didn’t have any interest in eating; and Jesus was just being kind to them. They didn’t want to stop long enough to do anything: get the bread, break the bread, pass the bread, or put the bread in their mouths. I don’t know if you’ve had that experience; it’s a rather common experience to those of us who dive down deeply into the Word of God to have little or no interest in eating. It’s not some kind of a spiritual experience in itself, it’s just that the Word becomes so rich and so wonderful that there’s nothing that can draw you away. And I think He did what needed to be done for their sake in an act of kindness. And also, to let them know that they weren’t intruding on Him if they ate. They don’t know who He is yet.

Then their eyes were opened, and they recognised Him; He vanished from their sight (verse 31).

MacArthur refers us back to the divine intervention in verse 16:

Verse 31 says this: “And their eyes were opened and they recognized Him.” Passive verb again. Their eyes were opened in the same way that their – verse 16 – eyes were prevented. This is something that happens to them. Again, nobody that saw Jesus after the resurrection really recognized Him unless God opened their eyes. But there are some elements that aid them in the process.

Why would they have recognized Him in the breaking of the bread? Well, the simple answer is because God let them recognize Him. But I think added to that simple answer is, in the familiar confines of this little house, seated at a table, as Jesus broke the bread and prayed, can’t you imagine that they began to see and hear some things that sounded familiar? That there was familiarity in the way He did it? And we would have to wonder what the prayer was like. And I can tell you how it started: “O” – what’s the next word? – “Father,” – because all His prayers did.

Did they recognize Him in the familiarity of the table and the customary way in which He did that? Did they recognize Him in the prayer and the blessing? I think maybe more than that in the flickering candlelight. Did they, because He had a robe that was loose, did they see some fresh wounds in His hands or His wrists? I think they probably did, and they knew He was alive.

Again, from the depths of despair to the transcendent heights of joy, they recognized Him. And He vanished out of their sight …

They had hoped He would be their Redeemer, and turns out He was; and all the Scripture now made sense.

They said to each other (verse 32), ‘Were not our hearts burning within us while he was talking to us on the road, while he was opening the scriptures to us?’

MacArthur describes what they were feeling at that point and the amazing truth of it:

By the way, these are the two most brilliant biblical scholars on the planet, at least in the afternoon on Sunday, because nobody else knows what they know. Nobody in Judaism knows it: no priest, no rabbi, no scribe, nobody. You talk about your moment in the sun; this was it, this was it …

That same hour, they got up and returned to Jerusalem, where they found the eleven — Apostles — and their companions gathered together (verse 33).

MacArthur explains their palpable excitement:

What lit their hearts on fire was an understanding of Scripture. That’s why I say the most important thing in the world is the Scripture; and therefore the greatest service that could ever be rendered to anybody is to explain to them the Scripture, the meaning of the Scripture. This is the only thing you could call Christian ministry, gospel ministry: explaining the Scripture. And it produces a burning heart.

What is that burning? It’s the burning of joy; and the joy is so overwhelming and overpowering that they jumped up from the table when Jesus disappeared, turned right around in the pitch black, and headed back to Jerusalem to declare that He was alive and that it all made sense, it all made sense. Jesus is alive and the Scripture is alive. Their fired hearts came from Him explaining, opening up the Scriptures. And it turned into a zeal to preach the message, proclaim the message.

What we’re talking about here is joy and testimony. Two things that flow out of this: when your heart’s on fire because you understand the Scripture, you have an internal joy, because you know it’s the truth; and your salvation is secure, and you can’t contain it, so you run to spread the fire.

They — those gathered together in Jerusalem — were saying (verse 34) to the men, ‘The Lord has risen indeed, and he has appeared to Simon!’ Simon means Peter.

MacArthur elaborates:

Now the two from Emmaus think they have a scoop. Okay? They think they’ve got the news these people have really been waiting to hear, and that they have more credibility than the women, because in the culture women didn’t give testimony in a court of law. So they’re men. But they’re surprised. It says, “They returned to Jerusalem, found gathered together the eleven and those who were with them.”

Now just to give you a little scene here, they go to wherever this is. The door is locked and bolted, John tells us in John 20, because they’re afraid, they’re hiding from the Jews, afraid they’re going to get them. So they’re banging on the door. “It’s Cleopas and” – whoever else – “it’s us; we’re here, we’re here. We have something to tell you; we have something to tell you. Let us in; let us in.”

So they open the door and they let them in. And then notice this, the end of verse 33: “Those who were with them,” – the eleven and those who were with them – “saying,” – very important. It’s the eleven and those who were with them who now speak. The use of the Greek verb form is accusative rather than nominative. If it was nominative it would mean the two were speaking. Because it’s accusative, it means the object is speaking. So it is them who are speaking, it’s in the accusative case. So they go in ready to blurt out their incredible news, and everybody on the inside says, “The Lord has really risen and appeared to Simon.”

This is one up on them. They’re just Cleopas and the no-name. I mean the most convincing appearance would be to be to Simon, Simon Peter the leader. So before they can shout their joy, before they can dispense the thrill, tell their story, in their face comes this testimony, “The Lord has really arisen.” Truly, indeed, it’s an emphatic word: “been risen.” Again, it’s a divine passive, “been raised and appeared to Simon.” This is the only time in the four Gospels you hear about that appearance to Simon. The actual appearance isn’t narrated.

Wouldn’t you love to know what Jesus said to Peter?

So would MacArthur, but then he assumes that Jesus probably rebuked Peter and, for the sake of graciousness, the Holy Spirit excluded it from Scripture:

I would love to have heard what the Lord said to him, because Peter had not done well that week. Right? He had done about as badly as anybody could possibly do: triple denier, scattered, doesn’t even go to the cross, hiding. He’s part of the reason that none of the others believed the testimony of the women, because he didn’t believe it. And leaders are leaders, and followers are followers, and he was the leader. And the Lord had said to him, “Satan desires to have you” – Luke 22 – “to sift you like wheat; and I’ve given him permission to do that.”

This is confrontation, folks. And maybe it’s not recorded because God is just being gracious to Peter. I don’t know what the rebuke was, but I’m sure it was pretty stern. Silence, to me, is gracious to the denying coward. And it also tells us that all of that is in the past and it’s all forgiven. It really doesn’t matter; that’s over, that’s gone. Peter was restored, and he got it, boy, did he get it. His first letter, 1 Peter 1:3, “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who according to His great mercy has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead.” He got it.

Then Cleopas and the other man told the group of their experience on the way to Emmaus and how Jesus had manifested Himself to them in the breaking of the bread (verse 35).

MacArthur describes the scene:

You know, it’s just a simple sentence in how He was recognized by them in the breaking of the bread. How long would that take? I mean if you were telling that story, I know what it would be. Like, “You know, we left,” – and you want to build it up, right? – “and we walk, and we had walked about a mile-and-a-half, two miles, and we were talking about this.”

“Man, what happened? Well, how did you know He was there? Well, where did He come from? How did He show up?” I mean this would not be just – you know, people didn’t talk like the Bible narrative. They were real people having real conversations in a room full of people, and this was the most important information they had ever had in their lives. So it must have been a wondrous thing for them to talk about all the experiences along the road, and pointing to some of the Old Testament passages that He clarified in regard to the Messiah having to suffer and die, and how they sat down at the table and He broke the bread, and it was revealed who He was, and then He vanished out of their sight.

And what I want you to see in this opening section is everybody’s got the same testimony: “We saw Him; we saw Him. It was Him; it was Him. He’s alive; He’s alive; He’s alive.” Very consistent, consistent appearances and consistent professions of having seen Him.

That takes us to a second point, we’ll call this confounding presence, just for a little alliteration. Somewhere in the telling, these two people have already been upstaged once by Simon; they’re about to get upstaged again big time.

This is because while they were talking, Jesus appeared in their midst (Luke 24:36-49):

36 While they were still talking about this, Jesus himself stood among them and said to them, ‘Peace be with you.’

37 They were startled and frightened, thinking they saw a ghost. 38 He said to them, ‘Why are you troubled, and why do doubts rise in your minds? 39 Look at my hands and my feet. It is I myself! Touch me and see; a ghost does not have flesh and bones, as you see I have.’

40 When he had said this, he showed them his hands and feet. 41 And while they still did not believe it because of joy and amazement, he asked them, ‘Do you have anything here to eat?’ 42 They gave him a piece of broiled fish, 43 and he took it and ate it in their presence.

44 He said to them, ‘This is what I told you while I was still with you: everything must be fulfilled that is written about me in the Law of Moses, the Prophets and the Psalms.’

45 Then he opened their minds so they could understand the Scriptures. 46 He told them, ‘This is what is written: the Messiah will suffer and rise from the dead on the third day, 47 and repentance for the forgiveness of sins will be preached in his name to all nations, beginning at Jerusalem. 48 You are witnesses of these things. 49 I am going to send you what my Father has promised; but stay in the city until you have been clothed with power from on high.’

MacArthur says that John 20 records the same scene:

John chapter 20, verse 19, who’s describing the same scene: “So when it was evening on the first day of the week, when the doors were shut” – bolted – “where the disciples were for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood in their midst.” And by the way, He did the same thing a week later for Thomas’ sake, according to John 20, and verse 26

You say, “So why does it say in verse 37 they were startled and frightened and thought they were seeing a spirit?” Because, not because of what He looked like, but because of, “How did He get there?” He just “whoosh” is there in a locked room; that’s the shock.

It wasn’t the thing that happened to the soldiers at the tomb who were knocked into a coma by a blazing angel. It was just that He was there, and a second ago He wasn’t there. And they were startled, ptoeō is the Greek verb. It means “to be suddenly startled.” And then emphobos from which we get phobias, fears. It means “to be in a continued state of fear.”

They were stunned and startled and shocked into a condition of terror. That is a natural reaction.

What a marvellous record — and reminder for us — of the joy of Easter. Note Luke 24:45, in particular: ‘He opened their minds so they could understand the Scriptures’.

May we, too, come to understand them so as to avoid, as Henry says, being ‘subject to such perplexities as we often entangle ourselves in’.

The Second Sunday of Easter, traditionally known as Quasimodo Sunday, is March 16, 2023.

The name Quasimodo Sunday comes from the Introit in Latin: ‘Quasi modo geniti infantes, rationabile, sine dolo lac concupiscite’. This translates to: ‘As newborn babes, desire the rational milk without guile’ and is intended for those baptised the week before. For those baptised earlier, it is a reminder of these Christian duties and responsibilities.

This particular day is also known as Low Sunday, so called because of the contrast between the great feast remembering Christ’s Resurrection and the lesser, more low-key return to Sunday observance.  In the Catholic Church it is now referred to as Divine Mercy Sunday.

You can find out more here.

Readings for Year A can be found here.

The Gospel is the same for all three liturgical years, that of Doubting Thomas: Second Sunday of Easter — exegesis on the Gospel, John 20:19-31.

The Epistle ties in well with the Gospel.

Emphases mine below:

1 Peter 1:3-9

1:3 Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! By his great mercy he has given us a new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead,

1:4 and into an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you,

1:5 who are being protected by the power of God through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time.

1:6 In this you rejoice, even if now for a little while you have had to suffer various trials,

1:7 so that the genuineness of your faith–being more precious than gold that, though perishable, is tested by fire–may be found to result in praise and glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed.

1:8 Although you have not seen him, you love him; and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and rejoice with an indescribable and glorious joy,

1:9 for you are receiving the outcome of your faith, the salvation of your souls.

Commentary comes from Matthew Henry and John MacArthur (as indicated below).

To understand Peter’s audience, it is useful to look at the first two verses of this chapter:

Peter, an apostle of Jesus Christ,

To God’s elect, exiles, scattered throughout the provinces of Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia and Bithynia, who have been chosen according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, through the sanctifying work of the Spirit, to be obedient to Jesus Christ and sprinkled with his blood:

Grace and peace be yours in abundance.

Matthew Henry’s commentary tells us about their external and spritual conditions:

1. By their external conditionStrangers dispersed throughout Pontus, Galatia, etc. They were chiefly Jews, descended (as Dr. Prideaux thinks) from those Jews who were translated from Babylon, by order of Antiochus king of Syria, about two hundred years before the coming of Christ, and placed in the cities of Asia Minor. It is very likely that our apostle had been among them, and converted them … At present, their circumstances were poor and afflicted. (1.) The best of God’s servants may, through the hardships of times and providences, be dispersed about, and forced to leave their native countries. Those of whom the world was not worthy have been forced to wander in mountains, in dens and caves of the earth. (2.) We ought to have a special regard to the dispersed persecuted servants of God. These were the objects of this apostle’s particular care and compassion. We should proportion our regard to the excellency and to the necessity of the saints. (3.) The value of good people ought not to be estimated by their present external condition. Here was a set of excellent people, beloved of God, and yet strangers, dispersed and poor in the world; the eye of God was upon them in all their dispersions, and the apostle was tenderly careful to write to them for their direction and consolation.

2. They are described by their spiritual condition: Elect according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, etc. These poor strangers, who were oppressed and despised in the world, were nevertheless in high esteem with the great God, and in the most honourable state that any person can be in during this life …

These people were persecuted by their fellow Jews for having left the faith. They were also persecuted by pagans who suspected them of being against Rome. As such, employment would have been difficult, perhaps impossible, for them. Even daily social interaction would have been a trial. One can only imagine what they suffered in terms of housing and perhaps even buying goods they needed to survive.

Instead of saying, à la Bill Clinton, ‘I feel your pain’, our bold Apostle launches into a doxology, a praise of God.

Peter says that blessed be God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ — adding an exclamation point — and reminding these converts of the great mercy He has given them through a new birth into a new hope through the resurrection of His Son from the dead (verse 3).

John MacArthur says:

Clearly this life was not the best life for them. That’s the way it’s been throughout history. There are no promises in the Bible that this is our best life now. Our best life always is to come. And so Peter calls for a doxology, a celebration, exalted praise to God for the life to come … It is a call to worship the Lord God who has promised us eternal joy and blessing in the future, in an inheritance, a salvation to be revealed, a living hope. We are to learn, the sooner the better, that our best life is not here and now. This doxology centers on our inheritance

It is a call to praise, “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.” Among the Jews, the most common way to start a prayer of praise was to say, “Blessed art Thou, O God.” That’s the way they started their praise. Worthy of adoration, that’s what blessed means. Psalm 34, “I will bless the Lord at all times. His praise shall continually be in my mouth.” Or later in the Psalms, “Bless the Lord, O my soul.” This was a very typical form of praise, and Peter borrows from his own experience as a Jew and talks the way a Jew would talk, “Blessed be the God” – but he adds something here that’s important for us to understand“the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.” And with that, Peter introduces us to the source of our inheritance – the source of our inheritance. Where does this inheritance come from? It comes from the one who is to be blessed. That’s why he blesses God. That’s why he adores God, praises God, exalts God because God, the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, has enabled us to attain this inheritance. He is the source. It is a gift from God, a very basic and simple truth.

I just call your attention to the identification of God as the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. That’s a title. That’s not a descriptive phrase. That’s a title. As God is called God the Creator or God the Redeemer or the God of Israel or the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, He is the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. That is how He is to be known. He is the God who is one with the Lord Jesus Christ. This is a Trinitarian statement that speaks of common life, common essence. To know the true and living God, you must know Him as someone more than God the Creator, the Redeemer God, the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, or the God of Israel. You must know Him as the God who is the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the true and living God who is in His Son incarnate. Jesus said, “I and the Father are one.” I love the fact that it says, “The God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.” And because of the incarnation, the transcendent God has become near and personal. We bless our God, our God and the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. This is the One who has given us this inheritance. It could never be ours if it were not for the Lord Jesus Christ.

So we have not earned our inheritance. We have not merited our inheritance. It is a gift to us. It is the gift of the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the God who is one with Christ. It is their gift to us.

Henry tells us:

Here we have,

1. The duty performed, which is blessing God. A man blesses God by a just acknowledgment of his excellency and blessedness.

2. The object of this blessing described by his relation to Jesus Christ: The God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. Here are three names of one person, denoting his threefold office. (1.) He is Lord, a universal king or sovereign. (2.) Jesus, a priest or Saviour. (3.) Christ, a prophet, anointed with the Spirit and furnished with all gifts necessary for the instruction, guidance, and salvation of his church. This God, so blessed, is the God of Christ according to his human nature, and his Father according to his divine nature.

3. The reasons that oblige us to this duty of blessing God, which are comprised in his abundant mercy. All our blessings are owing to God’s mercy, not to man’s merit, particularly regeneration. He hath begotten us again, and this deserves our thanksgiving to God, especially if we consider the fruit it produces in us, which is that excellent grace of hope, and that not such a vain, dead, perishing hope as that of worldlings and hypocrites, but a lively hope, a living, strong, quickening, and durable hope, as that hope must needs be that has such a solid foundation as the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead. Learn, (1.) A good Christian’s condition is never so bad but he has great reason still to bless God. As a sinner has always reason to mourn, notwithstanding his present prosperity, so good people, in the midst of their manifold difficulties, have reason still to rejoice and bless God. (2.) In our prayers and praises we should address God as the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ; it is only through him that we and our services are accepted. (3.) The best of men owe their best blessings to the abundant mercy of God. All the evil in the world is from man’s sin, but all the good in it is from God’s mercy. Regeneration is expressly ascribed to the abundant mercy of God, and so are all the rest; we subsist entirely upon divine mercy. Of the nature of regeneration, see on John 3 3. (4.) Regeneration produces a lively hope of eternal life. Every unconverted person is a hopeless creature; whatever he pretends to of that kind is all confidence and presumption. The right Christian hope is what a man is begotten again unto by the Spirit of God; it is not from nature, but free grace. Those who are begotten to a new and spiritual life are begotten to a new and spiritual hope. (5.) The hope of a Christian has this excellency, it is a living hope. The hope of eternal life in a true Christian is a hope that keeps him alive, quickens him, supports him, and conducts him to heaven. Hope invigorates and spirits up the soul to action, to patience, to fortitude, and perseverance to the end. The delusive hopes of the unregenerate are vain and perishing; the hypocrite and his hope expire and die both together, Job 27 8. (6.) The resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead is the ground or foundation of a Christian’s hope. The resurrection of Christ is the act of the Father as a Judge, of the Son as a conqueror. His resurrection demonstrates that the Father accepts his death in full discharge for our ransom, that he is victorious over death, the grave, and all our spiritual enemies; and it is also an assurance of our own resurrection. There being an inseparable union between Christ and his flock, they rise by virtue of his resurrection as a head, rather than by virtue of his power as a Judge. We have risen with Christ, Col 3 1. From all this taken together, Christians have two firm and solid foundations whereon to build their hope of eternal life.

Peter goes further, saying that their — and our — inheritance is imperishable, undefiled and unfading; it is kept in heaven for them (verse 4), and us.

Both of our commentators call our attention to the word ‘inheritance’, which was a specific earthly one of Canaan for the Jews. However, these Jews had been in exile for centuries. They had not experienced seeing or living in Canaan.

Henry explains that Peter wanted them to appreciate their new, spiritual inheritance through Christ’s resurrection, far superior to their earthly one as Jews:

… the apostle goes on to describe that life under the notion of an inheritance, a most proper way of speaking to these people; for they were poor and persecuted, perhaps turned out of their inheritances to which they were born; to allay this grievance, he tells them they were new-born to a new inheritance, infinitely better than what they had lost. Besides, they were most of them Jews, and so had a great affection to the land of Canaan, as the land of their inheritance, settled upon them by God himself; and to be driven out from abiding in the inheritance of the Lord was looked upon as a sore judgment, 1 Sam 26 19. To comfort them under this they are put in mind of a noble inheritance reserved in heaven for them, such a one that the land of Canaan was but a mere shadow in comparison with it.

MacArthur says:

This inheritance of the earthly Israel, this land of Canaan, the promised land, had begun with Abraham, the father of the nation Israel. But it wasn’t realized for a long, long time. There were hundreds of years between the promise of the inheritance and the realization of the inheritance. There were hundreds of years of bondage in Egypt, trouble in Egypt. There were decades of wilderness wandering in which a whole generation of Jews died. They led a very troubled life until they entered into their inheritance finally. You might say that all the years waiting for their inheritance were years of very, very hard times.

And in a very similar fashion, Peter is saying, “You’re like the children of Israel in bondage in Egypt. You’re like the children of Israel wandering in the wilderness of the desert. You haven’t yet received your inheritance, but it is reserved for you.” He’s calling on these troubled believers who are getting hammered from every side, with all the difficulties that life can possibly bring to bear upon them to, forget trying to live the best life now and patiently wait with hearts full of praise for the best life which is to come in the future.

I love the words Peter uses to describe this inheritance: ‘imperishable’, ‘undefiled’ and ‘unfading’. He also personalises it: ‘kept in heaven for you’. It reminds me of gift cards that say, ‘Just for you’. God knows whom Christ redeems. He knew that before we were born. Our names are written in His Book of Life.

Henry tells us:

The incomparable excellencies of this inheritance, which are four:(1.) It is incorruptible, in which respect it is like its Maker, who is called the incorruptible God, Rom 1 23. All corruption is a change from better to worse, but heaven is without change and without end; the house is eternal in the heavens, and the possessors must subsist for ever, for their corruptible must put on incorruption, 1 Cor 15 53. (2.) This inheritance is undefiled, like the great high priest that is now in possession of it, who is holy, harmless, and undefiled, Heb 7 26. Sin and misery, the two grand defilements that spoil this world, and mar its beauty, have no place there. (3.) It fadeth not away, but always retains its vigour and beauty, and remains immarcescible, ever entertaining and pleasing the saints who possess it, without the least weariness or distaste. (4.) ” Reserved in heaven for you,” which expression teaches us, [1.] That it is a glorious inheritance, for it is in heaven, and all that is there is glorious, Eph 1 18. [2.] It is certain, a reversion in another world, safely kept and preserved till we come to the possession of it. [3.] The persons for whom it is reserved are described, not by their names, but by their character: for you, or us, or every one that is begotten again to a lively hope. This inheritance is preserved for them, and none but them; all the rest will be shut out for ever.

Peter tells his converts that they are being protected by the power of God through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time (verse 5), or at the Second Coming of Christ.

The sermons from MacArthur cited in this post were written and delivered over a 30-year period. He preached this one, cited above, in 2008 when Joel Osteen’s Your Best Life Now first appeared on the shelves.

Imagine if Osteen had converted these people, promising them their ‘best life now’. How could they reconcile that with the persecution they were enduring? They would have felt doubly judged, having been excluded from Canaan and having to endure their present difficulties.

MacArthur says:

We make too much of life’s difficulties. We can’t be telling people that Jesus wants them to live their best life now or Jesus will disappoint them, because this isn’t going to be your best life now. Don’t invest too much expectation in it. It’s full of trouble. And if you expect too much out of this life, this life will steal your joy. If you expect little and are grateful for every small benefit, but you live in the light of the life to come, then this life can steal nothing of your joy. You attach your joy, you attach your sense of God’s loving you to what you have in this life, and God in your mind will disappoint. That’s why the apostle Paul said this in Ephesians 1:18, “I pray that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened so that you will know what is the hope of His calling” – listen to this – “and what are the riches of the glory of His inheritance.” I pray for you that you will get a grip on your heavenly inheritance. Because if you live in the light of the fact that your next life is your best life, then you can take what comes, because this life is a vapor that appears for a little time and vanishes away. Paul calls on us as Peter calls on us to transcend this life and live in adoring wonder and praise and worship to God for the life to come.

I think the best favour any parent or guardian can do for their children is to tell them that life is going to be difficult. MacArthur is right in saying that we make too much of life’s difficulties. Take difficulties as a given and give thanks to God when ordeals turn out to be less onerous than we had anticipated. I wish I had known that at a much younger age. It only really dawned on me in my 60s. Good grief.

We have a mental health crisis going on in the West. It is a shame that we live in such a secular society. Even our clergy think like secularists. If our clergy acted like clergy, they could easily communicate the truth of Peter’s words to us. I do hope that this Epistle has an impact on some believers who are suffering psychologically. This temporal existence was never meant to be our best life now. We are sojourners, just passing through.

Returning to verse 5, MacArthur homes in on salvation:

What is this inheritance we will receive? He calls it at the end of verse 5, “A salvation” – or salvation ready, pregnant, imminent“to be revealed in the last time.” It is the final aspect of our salvation. There’s a past aspect. When you believed in Christ, you were saved from the penalty of sin because you were justified, declared righteous, your sins placed on Christ, His righteousness placed on you. You were saved from the penalty of sin. Presently you are being saved from the power of sin. It no longer has dominion over you. The final phrase of your salvation, you will be saved from the presence of sin. It will not exist in the world to come. You will then be delivered fully, finally, completely from all decay, all sickness, trouble, conflict, pain, suffering, grief, guilt, sorrow, anxiety, tears, discipline, hatred, disappointment, misunderstanding, weakness, failure, ignorance, confusion, imperfection and on and on.

For us, the only way we can understand perfection is from the standpoint of all of that which is our experience so we have to use negatives to speak of perfection. We will enter in to eternal experiences of pure joy, pure peace, and pure holiness. It is this salvation in its final form, ready to be revealed, pregnant language, in the last time, the last epoch, the last day, that is the time when we leave and meet Jesus face to face or the time when He comes to take us to be with Him, when death is swallowed up in the eternal victory, and we enter in to our everlasting inheritance. Look, it really is of little consequence how much you have in this life or how much you don’t have, how well you are or how sick you are, how fulfilled you are or how humanly speaking unfulfilled you are, how many successes you’ve had or how many failures you’ve had, how many fulfillments you’ve had or how many disappointments you have had. It really matters very little. You came into this world with nothing and you will go into the next world with nothing.

We are not, as a church of Jesus Christ, offering people their best life now. That sets up an impossible illusion because that allows them to define what their best life is and then forces Jesus to deliver on that. And when He doesn’t, they move on. We need to learn to live in the light of our best life which is coming after this life is over. No matter how difficult this life is, we live in hope.

MacArthur discusses the time of salvation:

… in Hebrews chapter 9 it is mentioned as a future inheritance.  Verse 28, it says, “Christ having been offered once to bear the sins of many; shall appear a second time for salvation, without reference to sin, to those who eagerly await Him.”  So there is a future aspect to our salvation still to come, still to come.  It is ready to be revealed.  That means it hasn’t yet been revealed, but it is ready for its revelation And when will that come?  Notice again in verse 5, “In the last season.”  Or, in the last epoch, or in the last period of redemptive history.  That is to say the return of Christ, the return of Christ.

So Peter is saying to these believers, “Look to the future.  Look to the time when Christ returns, the last time, the time, if you will, when you are in His presence.”  Focus on the fullness of your final salvation that will not be revealed until the last redemptive epoch, which is the return of Christ.  Peter says, “Bless God.  Bless God for that eternal inheritance.”  The world may not accept you.  The world may not appreciate you.  The world may be hostile and persecute you.  The world may not count you as its own.  The world may not grant you its rights and privileges.  But you have an eternal inheritance to be revealed in the last epoch which God has promised to you, an inheritance which is heavenly, not earthly; which is glorious, not mundane; which is pure, not impure; which is holy, not sinful.  That’s the promise.

It goes all the way back, doesn’t it, to the teaching of Christ in Matthew, for example, 25:34.  “The King will say to those on His right, Come, you who are blessed of My Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world.”

Peter says they (should) rejoice in their inheritance, even if they have had to suffer various trials in the present life (verse 6).

MacArthur traces this reality of our heavenly inheritance back to the Old Testament:

Jeremiah grasped that thought in Lamentations 3:24.  “The Lord is my portion, says my soul; therefore I have hope in Him.”  What a tremendous thought.  Beloved, when we go to be with the Lord to inherit our eternal salvation, at the same time we inherit God God comes to pitch His tent with us.  God takes up residence with us.  We inherit Him just as much as He is inheriting us.  We live in His house, is one way to put it.  He lives in our house is another way to put it.

We also inherit Christ.  We also inherit Christ.  First John says that when we see Him we’ll be like Him for we shall see Him as He is.  It says we are joint heirs with Christ.  Christ becomes our portion.  We enter into an eternal oneness with Him.  We literally possess Him as He possesses us.  We are like Him in sum and substance of existence.  He becomes us and we become Him in a very real sense, without either of us losing our identity.

Thirdly, it should be noted that as we read in Ephesians 1:14 the Holy Spirit is the resident guarantee of our inheritance, the arrabōn, which means “engagement ring,” down payment.  And the Holy Spirit is that engagement ring, down payment, that first installment.  And His living in us is the guarantee of our eternal down payment.  So we have already inherited the Spirit.  We will inherit likeness to the Son and we will inherit God Himself in our eternal inheritance.  It seems to me that no matter what we may have or not have of this world’s good, it’s a small thing …

So, we have a gift, an inheritance given to us as a free gift, because we have been made children of God.  How so?  The end of verse 1, “We were chosen according to the predetermined love relationship of God the Father through the sanctifying saving work of the Spirit.”  God chose us to be children, and when He chose us to be children, He therefore chose to give us an eternal inheritance.  He’s the source.

MacArthur reminds us of Peter’s own journey as an Apostle:

Peter is the one to whom we turn for the strong testimony of persevering in spite of faith that is weak and being protected by God with a faith that cannot fail.  Peter’s faith had its weak moments.  There were those temporary denials.  I might just fill in a little blank for you.  Peter had that terrible temporary lapse, you will remember, before Pentecost, before the Holy Spirit came to dwell in him.  “And after the Holy Spirit is come upon you, you shall have power,” Jesus said. 

After the coming of the Holy Spirit on the day of Pentecost, you never hear anything about a denial on the part of Peter again.  He stands up before the whole population of Jerusalem and preaches Christ.  But Peter understood persevering faith.  He understood lapses, but he also understood persevering faith.  His lapse was never final and it was never complete.  He surely understood then the Lord’s faithful love.  He understood restoration.  You remember how the Lord brought him and restored him.  He understood grace.  He understood the strength of the faith that the Lord had given him.  If you’re the real thing, your faith will not fail completely or finally.  You will, to the very end, trust in Christ because you are kept.

Addressing the converts’ trials here, MacArthur says that they, too, are a type of divine protection:

Thirdly, and this is very important for us, we are protected by hope, we are protected by power, we are protected by trials. We are protected by trails. This may seem to be sort of counter-intuitive, against the grain of what seems reasonable at first, but I want to show you how important this is. If you don’t get anything but his, you will get the heart and soul of this wonderful truth here. Look at verse 6. “In this you greatly rejoice” …

“You greatly rejoice, even though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been distressed by various trials.”  And the trials are different for everybody because the spiritual necessities are different for everybody.  We all are at different points along the sort of the path of spiritual development, and the Lord needs to do different things in our lives, so we get tests according to necessity that God determines we have for them and we rejoice in those tests

Instead of these people looking at the possibility of being arrested, put in prison, tortured or martyred and fearing their faith would fail, he says, “You ought to greatly rejoice in these distressing trials.”

Peter explains that God uses the trials to test — to try, to purify, as with precious metals — the genuineness of our faith so that it is found to result in praise, honour and glory when Jesus Christ is revealed (verse 7).

MacArthur continues:

This is the proving of your faith.  We are protected by trials.  God sustains our faith.  Here’s a way to understand it.  God sustains our faith not by keeping it away from trials, not by making sure it’s never tested.  God doesn’t protect us, hold on to us, keep us enduring continually, holding fast by making life easy.  He does the opposite.  God sustains our true faith by putting it through hard times.  He sustains our faith by means of trials. 

You have a trial and you come through the trial trusting the Lord.  And you say, “This faith is the real thing.”  The phrase, “you greatly rejoice,” might catch you by surprise.  You know, we get it backwards and, of course, we’re not helped at all by these ridiculous prosperity preachers that are all over the place giving people false hope and telling them lies, preaching prosperity instead of preaching suffering, trials. 

And so the phrase, “you greatly rejoice in trials,” may catch you a little bit by surprise.  But remember, these people are facing life-threatening persecutions.  Fear is a human response.  And Peter says, “Yet you greatly rejoice.”  Why?  You rejoice because these tests prove the character of your faith …

Trials strengthen faith and they reveal true faith.  Look at James chapter 1, James 1:2 says essentially the same thing.  “Consider it all joy, my brethren, when you encounter various trials.”  You know, I guess there’s something wonderful about getting to the age I’m at.  People ask me, “Do you question your salvation?”  Sometimes young people ask me that.  Somebody even asked me that this morning.  “I’m struggling with whether I’m really a Christian or not.  Do you struggle with that?”  And my answer honestly is no. 

When I was very young, you know, the devil would hammer me with doubts.  But the truth of the matter is I don’t question the true character of my saving faith because it’s withstood so many trials.  Every time you go through a trial, you see the nature of your faith.  The trials don’t help God find out what kind of faith you have.  He gave it to you.  It’s not that he needs information about your faith.  But they become a joy to you “when you encounter various trials – ” verse 3, “ – knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance and endurance has a perfecting result.”

I mean, what is more wonderful?  What is a greater gift than to have the assurance of salvation?  Anything better than that?  If you ever live with doubts and fears and all of that, it’s wonderful to know you’ve got the real thing.  It’s wonderful to see its capability to survive disaster.  In fact, I have found in my life that the more severe the trial, the stronger my faith is, the more my confidence in God rises

Trials do – back to our text – produce distress for a little while. They come like fire to burn off the dross. And that’s the point. Not only do they reveal your faith, but they purify it. And what emerges, 1 Peter 1, is a faith that is more precious than gold, which is perishable, even though tested by fire. When you get your faith tested, it comes out purer, more precious.

Henry also discusses gold and how inferior it is to tested faith:

A tried faith is much more precious than tried gold. Here is a double comparison of faith and gold, and the trial of the one with the trial of the other. Gold is the most valuable, pure, useful, and durable, of all the metals; so is faith among the Christian virtues; it lasts till it brings the soul to heaven, and then it issues in the glorious fruition of God for ever. The trial of faith is much more precious than the trial of gold; in both there is a purification, a separation of the dross, and a discovery of the soundness and goodness of the things. Gold does not increase and multiply by trial in the fire, it rather grows less; but faith is established, improved, and multiplied, by the oppositions and afflictions that it meets with. Gold must perish at last—gold that perisheth; but faith never will. I have prayed for thee, that thy faith fail not, Luke 22 32. The trial of faith will be found to praise, and honour, and glory. Honour is properly that esteem and value which one has with another, and so God and man will honour the saints. Praise is the expression or declaration of that esteem; so Christ will commend his people in the great day, Come, you blessed of my Father, etc. Glory is that lustre wherewith a person, so honoured and praised, shines in heaven.

Then we come to the verse that ties in so well with this Sunday’s Gospel about the Apostle Thomas.

Peter says that even though the converts have not seen Jesus, they still love Him, and even though they do not see Him at present they believe in Him and rejoice with an indescribable and glorious joy (verse 8).

MacArthur says:

So we are protected by a living hope, divine power, trials, and the promise of eternal glory.  Can I just give you one more, number five?  We’re protected by undying love.  We are protected by undying love.  Verse 8.  “Though you have not seen him, you love him.”  Though you have not seen him, you love him.  That’s the bottom line.  We have a love for Jesus Christ.  “If anybody doesn’t love the Lord Jesus Christ – ” 1 Corinthians 16:22 “ – let him be accursed.”  This is a profound statement about the nature of true salvation.  It is characterized not only by faith in Christ, believing in him, but loving him … 

If you were to define Christianity in its purest sense, you would have to use that word “love.”  You could talk about believing in Christ, but you really wouldn’t get there because so many people say they believe in Jesus Christ.  In fact, I read a foolish article today in which a man said there are three billion Christians in the world.  Well, there are probably three billion people who believe in Jesus, but I’m quite sure there aren’t that many who love him, who love him sacrificially, who love him totally, who love him obediently, who love him worshipfully, who love him righteously.  “And because we love him, though we do not see him now – ” verse 8 says, “ – but believe in him, you greatly rejoice with joy inexpressible and full of glory.”

You can tell a Christian because they love Christ so much it comes out in joy.  It comes out in joy.  Do you know the only religion in the world that sings is Christianity?  Do you know that?  A few others chant in a minor key, sort of non-biblical rap.  And you know what?  True Christianity sings in a major key.  We sing.  Why do we sing?  We sing because we’re filled with joy.  About whom do we sing?  We sing about Christ

You have been given a faith that never perishes.  You have been given a faith that is protected by the power of God, a faith that has a hope that never dies, a faith sustained by a divine power that can’t be overthrown, a faith that is proven, tested, strengthened through trials, a faith that is designed for the fulfillment of eternal glory, which was promised before the world began, a faith that contains within it an undying love for Christ.  And the outcome of that faith will be the obtaining of the final salvation of your souls. 

Simply, folks, there is no escape from this reality.  No escape.  The result of this saving faith is your final salvation.  The present salvation which you now experience is a result of this faith.  The initial salvation was a result of this faith.  And the final salvation will be yours because this faith will persevere and endure to the very end.  That is the nature of this faith.  It is nothing less than a permanent gift from God.

To even consider the possibility that you could lose your salvation is a misrepresentation of God’s grace.  It’s a misrepresentation of the nature of faith, the gift of his love, the work of his Spirit.  It’s a misrepresentation of his power and his purpose.  It’s a misrepresentation of his eternal decree in the lives of his elect.

Peter says that, through the converts’ love of Jesus, they are receiving the outcome of their faith — the salvation of their souls (verse 9).

MacArthur explains:

In other words, even though you’re having trial, it doesn’t touch your joy … 

We will receive praise from God because of salvation

When we face Jesus Christ at the revelation, at His appearing, at the apokalypsis, the unveiling, the manifestation of Christ, we will receive praise from God.  I believe that has to do with verbal praise.  I believe that’s when God will commend us verbally.  “Well done, good faithful servant.”  We will find praise from God to us …

God is not just going to give us verbal commendation.  He is going to give us His glory.  He is going to endow us with His glory.  Jesus Christ, you remember, it says in Scripture, John 1:14, was God incarnate, and it says, “we beheld His glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth.”  Jesus was God’s glory incarnate and the Bible says that when we see Him we’ll be what?  We’ll be like Him.  So we’ll possess the glory of God, so we will receive verbal commendation and perfection, eternal glorious perfection of person, in Christ’s likeness …

We will see the Lord in close and intimate communion.  That’s the supreme vision of heaven.  We will be loved and adored, and that is the supreme honor of heaven.  We will reign and share His glory, the supreme privilege of heaven.  And we will serve and that’s the supreme duty of heaven.  What an honor …

Why is your great joy inexpressible and full of glory?  Because you love Him, and because you trust Him, that’s the two things he says.  You love Him, and you believe in Him, and you’ve never seen HimPeter exalts love and trust

Present active indicative, agapa, you are loving Him, constantly the love of choice.  That word expresses the love of the will.  You’ve chosen to be faithful in loving Him.  And that, to me, is the essence of joy.  It’s that intimate love relationship you have with Christ.

Now let me just take this a little bit deeper.  I believe that what Peter is saying here is categorically the description of the essence of what it means to be a Christian.  If you ask me what is a Christian?  I will tell you it is someone who loves Jesus Christ with the love of the will, who loves Him.  I don’t believe there’s any better way to describe the essential expression of the new nature than to say it loves Christ continually

And what makes us rejoice?  A protected inheritance, a proven faith, a promised honor, and a personal fellowship.  And it gives us – notice at the end of verse 8 – “rejoicing that is joy inexpressible.”  What does that mean?  Aneklalt, it’s above language, it is above speech, “higher than speech is what that literally says.”  It’s so divine that exceeds the power of speech and thought, you can’t communicate it

It’s hard enough to communicate loving other people.  I mean, we try in the human realm.  Songs about love are ad infinitum, ad nauseum, aren’t they?  I mean, we just keep piling them up, trying to express all the feelings of love from a human to a human.  But the love that we have for Him, inexpressible, higher than speech.  By the way, that’s the only place that word is ever used. 

MacArthur explains ‘receiving the outcome of your faith’:

I don’t think he’s looking at the future here.  He doesn’t say, “you will obtain.”  It’s present tense, “obtaining,” here and now, present.  You could literally translate this, “presently receiving for yourselves.”  It’s the middle voice.  The word, by the way, komiz means “to receive what is deserved, to win something that is due to you.”  And joy inexpressible and full of glory links not only to verse 8, but also to verse 9.  Flowing out of that personal fellowship we have with Christ through love and trust is the outcome of our faith, which we have here and now obtained, namely the salvation of your souls

So you now possess the outcome of your faith, or the result, the end, the result of your faith, the logical end of it, the logical result of it, even the salvation of your souls.  What salvation?  That ongoing present tense deliverance.  What does “soul” mean?  The whole person, the whole person, you.  You could read it this way.  “You rejoice because you presently have obtained and continue to hold the logical result of your proven faith, even the constant deliverance of yourself.” 

From what?  Oh, what do we need to be continually delivered from?  Sin, guilt, condemnation, wrath, ignorance, distress, confusion, hopelessness, everything that’s fallen and defiling.  It’s not a future thing he’s talking about.  We’re delivered – we’re delivered from the power of sin We’re delivered from its delights, from its passions and pleasures.  And in exchange for that He gives us new life and unspeakable joy.

We have a constant present tense salvation That’s what he’s talking about here.  The present result of your proven faith is the ongoing deliverance that you enjoy.  Our salvation right here and now rescues us from sordid damning, scarring delights, and causes us to long for Christ … 

… And so, there’s even joy in our trials because the Lord delivers us from them all.  There’s no trial that ever comes our way that the Lord won’t make a way of escape. 

MacArthur concludes:

A great reward calls for great rejoicing.

And again, just to ask the question: Does that describe you? Or do you find yourself falling into the milieu and the malaise of a very angry, unfulfilled, hostile, dissatisfied culture? You ought to be continually filled with the joy of heaven because of your salvation …

So the highest bliss this side of heaven is the ability to enjoy all the blessings of salvation, which is only possible to people who believe they’re saved. If you live with doubt and fear, you literally shut the door to the treasure house of blessing, and you find it very difficult to have an inexpressible joy that is full of heavenly gloryWithout assurance you’ll still get to heaven, but you won’t have heaven on earth

I’m afraid so many Christians, real Christians, have so much doubt that they can’t unlock the treasure house to joy because they can’t even rejoice in the reality of their salvation. That’s where all joy starts. That’s what opens the door to your joy in response to all blessing

How do you know your soul is saved? How do you know your faith is real? Because of what you believe and whom you love. “Obtaining”—present middle, komizō, presently receiving here and now, for yourself, “the salvation of your souls.”

This is heaven on earth, folks. This is heaven on earth: to know you are saved. If you don’t know that, you can’t find your way to enjoy the richness of salvation, because you can’t get through the door of assurance to even know you’re saved. If you know you’re saved by what you believe and who you love, then your joy should be inexpressible, and it should be full of heavenly glory. Your life should be so filled with joy that you leap for joy no matter what’s going on in the world around you. The psalmist said that God had put gladness in his heart, Psalm 4. Isaiah said that “the ransomed of the Lord will . . . come with joyful shouting . . . with everlasting joy,” Isaiah 35:10. Isaiah also said that the Christ was appointed to give the oil of gladness.

Coming with salvation is gladness and joy. Isaiah 61:10, Isaiah writes, “I will rejoice greatly in the Lord . . . for He has clothed me with the garments of salvation.” If you’re clothed with the garments of salvation and you know it, you need to rejoice greatly.

Now there’s an Eastertide message for the ages.

Rejoice! Rejoice forever — in this life and the next!

jesus-christ-the-king-blogsigncomHappy Easter, everyone!

He is risen, as He said!

Readings for Easter Day can be found here along with various commentaries on our Lord’s resurrection.

The Lectionary also offers us further readings, which follow, emphases mine.

First reading

Jeremiah gives the captive Jews comfort, relaying the Lord’s message that He would deliver them and restore them.

Jeremiah 31:1-6

31:1 At that time, says the LORD, I will be the God of all the families of Israel, and they shall be my people.

31:2 Thus says the LORD: The people who survived the sword found grace in the wilderness; when Israel sought for rest,

31:3 the LORD appeared to him from far away. I have loved you with an everlasting love; therefore I have continued my faithfulness to you.

31:4 Again I will build you, and you shall be built, O virgin Israel! Again you shall take your tambourines, and go forth in the dance of the merrymakers.

31:5 Again you shall plant vineyards on the mountains of Samaria; the planters shall plant, and shall enjoy the fruit.

31:6 For there shall be a day when sentinels will call in the hill country of Ephraim: “Come, let us go up to Zion, to the LORD our God.”


Paul exhorts us to set our sights on heavenly things, for we belong to God through Christ Jesus.

Colossians 3:1-4

3:1 So if you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God.

3:2 Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth,

3:3 for you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God.

3:4 When Christ who is your life is revealed, then you also will be revealed with him in glory.


Matthew 28:1-10

28:1 After the sabbath, as the first day of the week was dawning, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary went to see the tomb.

28:2 And suddenly there was a great earthquake; for an angel of the Lord, descending from heaven, came and rolled back the stone and sat on it.

28:3 His appearance was like lightning, and his clothing white as snow.

28:4 For fear of him the guards shook and became like dead men.

28:5 But the angel said to the women, “Do not be afraid; I know that you are looking for Jesus who was crucified.

28:6 He is not here; for he has been raised, as he said. Come, see the place where he lay.

28:7 Then go quickly and tell his disciples, ‘He has been raised from the dead, and indeed he is going ahead of you to Galilee; there you will see him.’ This is my message for you.”

28:8 So they left the tomb quickly with fear and great joy, and ran to tell his disciples.

28:9 Suddenly Jesus met them and said, “Greetings!” And they came to him, took hold of his feet, and worshiped him.

28:10 Then Jesus said to them, “Do not be afraid; go and tell my brothers to go to Galilee; there they will see me.”

Commentary comes from Matthew Henry and John MacArthur.

John MacArthur introduces the importance of the Resurrection:

… the greatest event in the history of the world, the resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ from the dead. This is the great cornerstone of the Christian faith. Everything that we are and have and ever hope to be, all that we believe in is predicated on the reality of the resurrection. There would be no Christianity if there were no resurrection. Conversely because there is a resurrection, all elements of our faith are affirmed as true in every sense. The resurrection then is the cornerstone of our faith.

Recall that Matthew intended for his gospel to prove that Jesus Christ is the Messiah. Chapter 28 is Matthew’s final chapter, a short one, which gives us the story of the resurrection, the unbelief of the chief priests and the Great Commission:

16 Then the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain where Jesus had told them to go. 17 When they saw him, they worshipped him; but some doubted. 18 Then Jesus came to them and said, ‘All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19 Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptising them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.’

After the sabbath, as the first day of the week — Sunday — dawned, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary went to see the tomb (verse 1).

Matthew Henry’s commentary tells us about the day itself:

(1.) He arose the third day after his death; that was the time which he had often prefixed, and he kept within it. He was buried in the evening of the sixth day of the week, and arose in the morning of the first day of the following week, so that he lay in the grave about thirty-six or thirty-eight hours. He lay so long, to show that he was really and truly dead; and no longer, that he might not see corruption. He arose the third day, to answer the type of the prophet Jonas (ch. 12 40), and to accomplish that prediction (Hos 6 2), The third day he will raise us up, and we shall live in his sight.

(2.) He arose after the Jewish sabbath, and it was the passover-sabbath; all that day he lay in the grave, to signify the abolishing of the Jewish feasts and the other parts of the ceremonial law, and that his people must be dead to such observances, and take no more notice of them than he did when he lay in the grave. Christ on the sixth day finished his work; he said, It is finished; on the seventh day he rested, and then on the first day of the next week did as it were begin a new world, and enter upon new work. Let no man therefore judge us now in respect of the new moons, or of the Jewish sabbaths, which were indeed a shadow of good things to come, but the substance if of Christ. We may further observe, that the time of the saints’ lying in the grave, is a sabbath to them (such as the Jewish sabbath was, which consisted chiefly in bodily rest), for there they rest from their labours (Job 3 17); and it is owing to Christ.

(3.) He arose upon the first day of the week; on the first day of the first week God commanded the light to shine out of darkness; on this day therefore did he who was to be the Light of the world, shine out of the darkness of the grave; and the seventh-day sabbath being buried with Christ, it arose again in the first-day sabbath, called the Lord’s day (Rev 1 10), and no other day of the week is from henceforward mentioned in all the New Testament than this, and this often, as the day which Christians religiously observed in solemn assemblies, to the honour of Christ, John 20 19, 26; Acts 20 7; 1 Cor 16 2. If the deliverance of Israel out of the land of the north superseded the remembrance of that out of Egypt (Jer 23 7, 8), much more doth our redemption by Christ eclipse the glory of God’s former works. The sabbath was instituted in remembrance of the perfecting of the work of creation, Gen 2 1. Man by his revolt made a breach upon that perfect work, which was never perfectly repaired till Christ arose from the dead, and the heavens and the earth were again finished, and the disordered hosts of them modelled anew, and the day on which this was done was justly blessed and sanctified, and the seventh day from that. He who on that day arose from the dead, is the same by whom, and for whom, all things were at first created, and now anew created.

(4.) He arose as it began to dawn toward that day; as soon as it could be said that the third day was come, the time prefixed for his resurrection, he arose; after his withdrawings from his people, he returns with all convenient speed, and cuts the work as short in righteousness as may be. He had said to his disciples, that though within a little while they should not see him, yet again a little while, and they should see him, and accordingly he made it as little a while as possible, Isa 54 7, 8. Christ arose when the day began to dawn, because then the day-spring from on high did again visit us, Luke 1 78. His passion began in the night; when he hung on the cross the sun was darkened; he was laid in the grave in the dusk of the evening; but he arose from the grave when the sun was near rising, for he is the bright and morning Star (Rev 22 16), the true Light. Those who address themselves early in the morning to the religious services of the Christian sabbath, that they may take the day before them, therein follow this example of Christ, and that of David, Early will I seek thee.

Henry tells us why the women went to visit the tomb:

2. Who they were, that came to the sepulchre; Mary Magdalene and the other Mary, the same that attended the funeral, and sat over against the sepulchre, as before they sat over against the cross; still they studied to express their love to Christ; still they were inquiring after him. Then shall we know, if we thus follow on to know. No mention is made of the Virgin Mary being with them; it is probable that the beloved disciple [John], who had taken her to his own home, hindered her from going to the grave to weep there. Their attendance on Christ not only to the grave, but in the grave, represents his like care for those that are his, when they have made their bed in the darkness. As Christ in the grave was beloved of the saints, so the saints in the grave are beloved of Christ; for death and the grave cannot slacken that bond of love which is between them.

3. What they came to do: the other evangelists say that they came to anoint the body; Matthew saith that they came to see the sepulchre, whether it was as they left it; hearing perhaps, but not being sure, that the chief priests had set a guard upon it. They went, to show their good-will in another visit to the dear remains of their beloved Master, and perhaps not without some thoughts of his resurrection, for they could not have quite forgotten all he had said of it. Note, Visits to the grave are of great use to Christians, and will help to make it familiar to them, and to take off the terror of it, especially visits to the grave of our Lord Jesus, where we may see sin buried out of sight, the pattern of our sanctification, and the great proof of redeeming love shining illustriously even in that land of darkness.

Students of the New Testament know that each Gospel writer has a slightly different take on who was at the tomb and the events that took place.

MacArthur’s sermons will take us through the differences and how they actually tie together. I won’t include all of them, so it is useful to read his sermons in their entirety.

This is what he says of the first day of the week, the Christian sabbath:

The Authorized version says, “In the end of the Sabbath, at the dawning toward the first day of the week” – and we’ll stop there. This is a very important note of time – most important. The little phrase “in the end of the Sabbath” is a unique construction in the Greek – Opse sabbatōn – basically the best way to translate it would be, “After the Sabbath.” In fact, it would not be unfair but very consistent to translate it, “Long after the Sabbath.” That little phrase then intends to say ‘long after the Sabbath’ to express the idea that a certain interval of time has occurred since the Sabbath. Now the Sabbath ended Saturday at sundown. So this is a long time after the end of the Sabbath. How long? The next phrase tells us, “At the dawning toward the first day of the week,” and again the Greek phrase used there is very interesting. In fact it again uses the word sabbatōn, again uses the word Sabbath, and what it literally says in the Greek is “at day one with reference to the Sabbath.” – at day one with reference to the Sabbath. Now the reason that is done is because the Jews did not name the days. They did not say Sunday, Monday, Tuesday, or anything like that. They simply named the days numerically with reference with the Sabbath. It was day one after the Sabbath. It was day two after the Sabbath. It was day three after the Sabbath, and so on through the week.

So, “Long after the end of the Sabbath, as it began to dawn on day one after the Sabbath,” sets the time for us. It is Sunday morning. Sabbath ended Saturday night. And now maybe ten hours have passed. It’s nearing dawning early on Sunday morning. This is the third day the Lord has been in the grave. He was there a part of Friday, all of the Sabbath and so many hours already on the Sunday until it began to dawn on the morning of that first day with reference to Sabbath

We could even use that phrase “after the Sabbath,” I think, in a figurative way. For the Sabbath had been the special day of rest for centuries, literally since the creation. But the Sabbath that Jesus was in the grave was the last authorized Sabbath. So it was not only the end of the Sabbath chronologically, it was the end of the Sabbath covenantally. The Sabbath was not only over as a day, it was over as an entity. And it was the dawning not only of a new day but of a new covenant and a new celebration of that new covenant which would no longer be … at the end of a week of work but at the beginning of a new era. And that’s why we meet on Sunday, not on the Sabbath, Saturday. So it is the dawning of the third day, the day of resurrection.

All the Gospel writers agree on that, even if they do not express it in the same way.

MacArthur discusses the women, which is where the accounts differ:

These women love the Lord Jesus Christ more than they love anyone. And women, as you know, have a tremendous capacity to love. And I can only imagine how it would be when women could love as fully as women are able to love and love one who was without imperfection. These women loved uniquely.

They had ministered with Jesus in Galilee. They had attended to His needs. They had provided food and hospitality and even money and resources for Him and His traveling disciples as they carried on the Galilean ministry. They had descended the journey to Jerusalem for Passover with Jesus and His group. They had been there at the cross. They were there when He was buried. We saw them in chapter 27 verse 56 gathered at the cross. We saw them in verse 61 sitting opposite the tomb. And now they’re back again the morning of the third day. They are loyal. They are devoted. They are loving and they are sympathetic.

Let’s look what it says in verse 1, “Came Mary Magdalene and the other Mary.” That’s Mary the mother of James and Joses. Mary who was the wife of Cleophas or Alphaeus, this other Mary mentioned in the prior two verses of chapter 27. The two of them come to the grave. Now they’re not alone. Matthew just focuses on those two. Mark adds “Salome, the mother of James and John and the wife of Zebedee,” she was there, too. That, by the way, is in Mark 16:1. Luke in chapter 24 verse 10 adds Joanna, and Joanna was the wife of Chuza who was a steward of Herod. John only mentions Mary Magdalene but uses the plural pronoun ‘we’ in chapter 20 verse 2, so we assume that he, too, sort of saw all that group of women. So if you compare the gospels you get the whole group.

So here comes a group of women early … You say, did they come to see the resurrection? No, they didn’t come to see the resurrection. As many times as Jesus had talked about the resurrection, as many times as He had promised the resurrection, their faith could not handle that. They couldn’t accept it. They couldn’t understand it. They didn’t believe it. You say, well why are they there?” It says in verse 1 they came to see the grave, not to see the risen Lord. They came to see the grave.

You say, well what’s the point of coming to see a grave? Well Mark tells us, chapter 16, “And when the Sabbath was passed, Mary Magdalene and Mary the mother of James, and Salome” – or Salome, however you want to say it – “had bought sweet spices.” No doubt the night before when Sabbath ended at 6:00, the shops might then open and they were able to buy some spices. Here they came in the morning, “to anoint Him. And very early in the morning of the first day of the week, they came to the grave at the rising of the sun.” Their purpose was not to see a resurrection. Their purpose was to anoint a corpse. You say, what was the point? Hadn’t He already been anointed? Indeed He had. In excess of 70 pounds of anointing substance had been put on His body, and He had had that wrapped in the linen with which Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus along with these women had so carefully anointed Him. They didn’t embalm and the body decayed very fast. In fact, the Jews had a tradition which comes into play in John 11, and that tradition was that at the fourth day the spirit left the body permanently because the body was so decayed and corrupted that the spirit could no longer recognize it. And that tradition comes into play because you remember the sister of Lazarus said to the Lord, “He’s already four days dead, by this time he stinketh.”

In other words, it’s too late to do anything, the spirit is gone, the body is corrupt. And it may be that these dear women came on the third day realizing that had they come a day later there would be no way to minister to His already decayed and corrupted body. And so before it came to that, one last time they wanted to reach out in devoted love and sympathy to the one they adored. Even though He was dead, they wanted to show Him their love and respect and preserve His body if only for a few more hours. And more than that, demonstrate their deep love. So it was an act of compassion. It was an act of sympathy. The thing that was in their hearts toward the crucified Christ was loving sympathy and compassion.

Suddenly, there was a great earthquake as an angel of the Lord, descending from heaven, came and rolled back the stone and sat on it (verse 2).

There had been a previous earthquake at the moment Jesus died on the cross. The curtain in the temple was also rent in two at that point (Matthew 27:51).

Henry says this further demonstrated God’s power and Christ’s victory:

This earthquake did as it were loose the bond of death, and shake off the fetters of the grave, and introduce the Desire of all nations, Hag 2 6, 7. It was the signal of Christ’s victory; notice was hereby given of it, that, when the heavens rejoiced, the earth also might be glad. It was a specimen of the shake that will be given to the earth at the general resurrection, when mountains and islands shall be removed, that the earth may no longer cover her slain. There was a noise and a shaking in the valley, when the bones were to come together, bone to his bone, Ezek 37 7. The kingdom of Christ, which was now to be set up, made the earth to quake, and terribly shook it …

… The angels frequently attended our Lord Jesus, at his birth, in his temptation, in his agony; but upon the cross we find no angel attending him: when his Father forsook him, the angels withdrew from him; but now that he is resuming the glory he had before the foundation of the world, now, behold, the angels of God worship him.

Our Lord Jesus could have rolled back the stone himself by his own power, but he chose to have it done by an angel, to signify that having undertaken to make satisfaction for our sin, imputed to him, and being under arrest pursuant to that imputation, he did not break prison, but had a fair and legal discharge, obtained from heaven; he did not break prison, but an officer was sent on purpose to roll away the stone, and so to open the prison door, which would never have been done, if he had not made a full satisfaction. But being delivered for our offences, to complete the deliverance, he was raised again for our justification; he died to pay our debt, and rose again to take out our acquittance. The stone of our sins was rolled to the door of the grave of our Lord Jesus (and we find the rolling of a great stone to signify the contracting of guilt, 1 Sam 14 33); but to demonstrate that divine justice was satisfied, an angel was commissioned to roll back the stone; not that the angel raised him from the dead, any more than those that took away the stone from Lazarus’s grave raised him, but thus he intimated the consent of Heaven to his release, and the joy of Heaven in it. The enemies of Christ had sealed the stone, resolving, like Babylon, not to open the house of his prisoners; shall the prey be taken from the mighty? For this was their hour; but all the powers of death and darkness are under the control of the God of light and life. An angel from heaven has power to break the seal, though it were the great seal of Israel, and is able to roll away the stone, though ever so great. Thus the captives of the mighty are taken away. The angel’s sitting upon the stone, when he had rolled it away, is very observable, and bespeaks a secure triumph over all the obstructions of Christ’s resurrection. There he sat, defying all the powers of hell to roll the stone to the grave again. Christ erects his seat of rest and seat of judgment upon the opposition of his enemies; the Lord sitteth upon the floods.

The angel’s appearance was like lightning, and his clothing as white as snow (verse 3).

Henry says:

The whiteness of his raiment was an emblem not only of purity, but of joy and triumph. When Christ died, the court of heaven went into keep mourning, signified by the darkening of the sun; but when he arose, they again put on the garments of praise. The glory of this angel represented the glory of Christ, to which he was now risen, for it is the same description that was given of him in his transfiguration (ch. 17 2); but when he conversed with his disciples after his resurrection, he drew a veil over it, and it bespoke the glory of the saints in their resurrection, when they shall be as the angels of God in heaven.

MacArthur tells us:

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, of holiness, of virtue.

MacArthur looks at John’s Gospel at this point:

So there is the angel. He descends from heaven. He came, verse 2 says, rolled back the stone from the door, sat on it. So these women who have walked through an earthquake arrive at the garden. They come into the garden and they see – they see the tomb is open. The stone is rolled back. Now at this point we have to digress to John’s gospel to insert what happens, because 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 hole 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 they 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.

The guards feared the angel so much that they shook and became like dead men (verse 4), implying that they fainted.

Henry says:

The angel sat as a guard to the grave, having frightened away the enemies’ black guard; he sat, expecting the women, and ready to give them an account of his resurrection …

… for fear of him the keepers did shake, and became as dead men, v. 4. They were soldiers, that thought themselves hardened against fear, yet the very sight of an angel struck them with terror. Thus when the Son of God arose to judgment, the stout-hearted were spoiled, Ps 76 5, 9. Note, The resurrection of Christ, as it is the joy of his friends, so it is the terror and confusion of his enemies. They did shake; the word eseisthesan is the same with that which was used for the earthquake, v. 2, seismos … They were posted here, to keep a dead man in his grave—as easy a piece of service surely as was ever assigned them, and yet it proves too hard for them. They were told that they must expect to be assaulted by a company of feeble faint-hearted disciples, who for fear of them would soon shake and become as dead men, but are amazed when they find themselves attacked by a mighty angel, whom they dare not look in the face. Thus doth God frustrate his enemies by frightening them, Ps 9 20.

But the angel said to the women, ‘Do not be afraid; I know that you are looking for Jesus who was crucified’ (verse 5) and ‘He is not here; for he has been raised, as he said. Come, see the place where he lay’ (verse 6).

MacArthur explains:

You say, were the women afraid? Yes, the women were afraid but they were sustained by the angel himself. He gave no ministry to the unbelieving guard. He reached out as the agent of God to minister to these women … Where is Christ and what are you doing here? And so he explained to the women and this is what he said, “Stop being terrorized.” Stop being afraid. There’s no reason to be afraid. Now remember, Mary Magdalene is gone but the rest are there. She’s right now on her way running, trying to find Peter and John. Meanwhile the angel calms the fears of these ladies.

The soldiers had reason to fear when Christ arose. But those who loved Him had no reason to fear. So he says, “Stop being afraid.” And then this, “For I know that you seek Jesus who was crucified.” I know why you’re here. Wasn’t that a comforting word? Oh, he knows us. He knows what we’re coming here to do. That’s a comforting thing. “Yes, I know why you’re here, you seek Jesus” …

The Greek text says, “He was raised.” He is not here. He was raised. And the word is a word to indicate resurrection from the dead. There’s no question that He was dead. That’s why the soldiers who were experts at death didn’t break His legs. He was already dead. They thrust a spear into His side penetrating the sac around the heart and out came the blood from His heart and the water from the pericardium. He was dead. And lying in that tomb for this the third day – no question He was dead …

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. And then the angels says, verse 6, “Come, see the place where He lay.” Then Luke 24:4 says that first angel was joined by a second angel, one at the head of where the body lay and one at the feet of where the body lay. Beautiful picture. Do you remember the Ark of the Covenant in the Old Testament on the top had the Mercy Seat where atonement was made for sin? And on both sides it had angels? And here with an angel on one side and an angel on the other side and Christ in the middle is the true Mercy Seat, where Christ is offered, the satisfaction for the sins of the world. And then John tells us in his gospel about these two angels being positioned there, chapter 20, I think it’s verse 12. And I see in that that emblem of the Mercy Seat.

Now, we need a clear explanation of the divine power behind the Resurrection.

MacArthur provides it:

He was raised. It’s an aorist passive. And the Bible emphasizes 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.

The angel told the women to go quickly and tell the disciples that Jesus has been raised from the dead, He was indeed going ahead to Galilee, where they would see Him; that was the angel’s message to them (verse 7).

Henry has a marvellous analysis about the women, considered as weak creatures in that era, being given the mandate to give the men the angel’s message:

The women are sent to tell it to them, and so are made, as it were, the apostles of the apostles. This was an honour put upon them, and a recompence for their constant affectionate adherence to him, at the cross, and in the grave, and a rebuke to the disciples who forsook him. Still God chooses the weak things of the world, to confound the mighty, and puts the treasure, not only into earthen vessels, but here into the weaker vessels; as the woman, being deceived by the suggestions of an evil angel, was first in the transgression (1 Tim 2 14), so these women, being duly informed by the instructions of a good angel, were first in the belief of the redemption from transgression by Christ’s resurrection, that that reproach of their sex might be rolled away, by putting this in the balance against it, which is their perpetual praise.

Absolutely beautiful. MacArthur has nothing like that in his sermons, although he does say:

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

The women, with fear and great joy, left the tomb quickly in order to tell the disciples (verse 8).

MacArthur explains why Galilee was so important to Jesus:

Jesus said it in chapter 26 verse 32, “After I am raised up, again I will go before you into Galilee.” I’ll meet you all in Galilee. Galilee of the Gentiles, Galilee of the nations, where the Lord first ministered and first did His miracles and first redeemed souls and was first hated and rejected. Galilee, a microcosm of the world.

The fact that He would meet them and commission them to preach the gospel in Galilee was in a sense to say, “I want this to be a representation that you must go to the whole world.” It was a positive statement. Even as when Jesus came in Matthew 4:15, it says He came to Galilee as a light to the darkness, as light to the shadow of death. Galilee represented the world and the message of resurrection was to go to the world so the commissioning was to be in Galilee. And indeed it was as Matthew points out in verses 16 to 20, that great statement, “Go ye and make disciples, baptizing” – and so forth and so on. That was said to them, verse 16 says, in a mountain in Galilee. And Matthew’s gospel ends with that great commission, all those people gathered in Galilee and sent out with the message of the risen Christ.

Now that doesn’t mean that He didn’t appear to anybody in Jerusalem first, because He did. It simply means that the great commissioning would take place in Galilee. The Lord will lead you there and He will meet you there and there you will be sent to the world with the message. There were some appearances of Christ in Jerusalem before the meeting in Galilee. There’s no question about that. In fact I can give it to you very briefly. This is Sunday morning. In just a matter of moments He will appear to Mary Magdalene who will arrive at the grave. The women who have been there since she left are now on their way to the disciples. They’re going to be leaving. And as they’re leaving, Mary Magdalene and Peter and John are coming and He’ll appear to Mary. And later on He will appear personally to Simon Peter as Luke 24 tells us, and 1 Corinthians 15:5 also tells us He appeared first to Peter. So there will be a personal appearance to Mary because of her deep devotion and because she stayed by the grave. A personal appearance to Peter because he of all the disciples had seemingly defected the farthest and needed grace for restoration. And after that there would be an appearance to two disciples. Two disciples are on their way to Emmaus. And as they walk on the road to Emmaus, the Lord joins them, walks along with them, opens the Scripture, teaches them about Himself. Then reveals Himself to them in the breaking of bread.

So He appears to Mary in the area of Jerusalem. He appears to Peter in the area of Jerusalem. He appears to the two on the road to Emmaus outside Jerusalem. And then on this very Sunday night, all the disciples were gathered in the upper room and the Lord appeared to them. It says in Luke 24:36, “And as they spoke, Jesus Himself stood in the midst of them and said to them, ‘Peace be unto you.’” And they were terrified and frightened and thought they’d seen a spirit. So He appeared to Mary. He appeared to Peter. He appeared to two unnamed disciples on the road to Emmaus in the afternoon. And by evening He appears to the eleven disciples gathered together. In fact there were only ten at that time, who was missing? Thomas. And eight days later the Scriptures tell us, John chapter 20 verses 26 to 29, He appeared again in the upper room, this time Thomas was there, and Thomas when he saw Him said, “My Lord and My God.” So there were several appearings to the disciples in Jerusalem.

But the great appearing in which there was a great commissioning occurred in Galilee. And even after that, He appeared to Apostles prior to His ascension. And every time He appeared to them, it says in Acts 1, He spoke of things pertaining to the kingdom of God. For 40 days, from resurrection to ascension, at varying intervals to varying groups of the disciples, He appeared. But the high point of all those appearances was the appearance on the mountain in Galilee where He commissioned them to preach the gospel to the whole world. And every meeting in Jerusalem prior to that was just a preparation for the great commissioning that would occur in Galilee. So the angel then says to the ladies, “He will go before you into Galilee, you’ll see Him there. I’ve told you.” And sent them off as if to say you have your orders. Mark 16:7 says, “The angel said, ‘Go tell the apostles and Peter.’” Peter most needed restoration. He most needed grace and forgiveness.

And so the women had come to the tomb with an emotion of sympathy. That had been turned into an emotion of terror and now the emotion of terror began to give way to a third emotion and that’s noted in verse 8 and that is the emotion of joy.

MacArthur continues with what was happening in the other Gospel accounts:

when they got to the apostles and delivered their message, according to Mark 16:13, the apostles did not believe them. That’s important. And again it reaffirms the fact that they didn’t steal the body, because they didn’t even believe in the resurrection so why would they falsify it. Luke 24 also indicates the same thing, verses 10 and 11, verses 22 to 25. They weren’t even believing in the resurrection. So off the women go to find the disciples. When they find them they can’t even convince them that it’s true.

Now meanwhile, Mary Magdalene who has been finding Peter and John in another place is on her way with them to the grave. And they pass each other, apparently without seeing each other. The soldiers are still unconscious. The tomb is open. The angel is there. Peter and John and Mary Magdalene are returning to find out what is going on. Now turn in your Bible to John 20 and let’s see what happens when they arrive. Verse 4 says Peter and John ran together. “And the other disciple” – John never uses his own name. Always calls himself the other disciples or the disciple whom Jesus loved or the disciple who leaned on Jesus’ chest, something like that – “He ran faster than Peter. And he came first to the grave.”

Now John was somewhat timid. He was faster than Peter but he was also a little more timid. And he just stooped down and looked in. He didn’t go in. He just kind of stooped and looked. And he saw the linen clothes lying there, but he didn’t go in. See, he hasn’t got any information except that Mary says somebody took the body. And he looks in and all he sees are the grave clothes and he can’t figure out immediately what’s happening. And he’s a little bit tense about just bursting into a grave. And I can understand that. And then comes Simon Peter. And Peter doesn’t know any of that kind of sensitivity. He just blasts into the grave – right by John, may have almost knocked him down. And he saw the linen clothes lying there and the cloth that was about His head, not lying with the linen clothes but wrapped together in a place by itself. In other words, indicating that there had been no struggle at all but that Christ had just left in perfect peace and quiet.

Then after Peter went in and sort of broke the barrier a little, “Then went in the other disciple who came first to the sepulcher and he saw and” – what? – “and believed.” He had such a heart of faith. Didn’t he? Peter’s probably got a million questions and John goes from curiosity to faith that fast. He believed. For as yet, up to this point, they hadn’t even known deep in their hearts the Scripture that He must rise again from the dead. They didn’t even understand that. Oh, they heard him say it. It didn’t compute; it didn’t register. You see, they were unwilling to allow Jesus to even say He was going to die, therefore they blocked out of their minds that He might rise again.

But John believed; and Peter questioned. And verse 10 says, “They went away again to their own home.” They went back to try to figure it out. They didn’t seem to want to do any investigation. They didn’t seem to want to chase around and find out what foul play might have occurred, they just left. But typically verse 11 says Mary didn’t leave. Ever and always the devoted follower, always seeming to linger past everyone else, at the cross, at the burial, and here. And so she was weeping and she stooped down, and it mentions stooping down all the time because the entrance would be very low. And it would be necessary if you were to go to that place now where they believe the grave of the Lord has been discovered, you would find you have to stoop to get into that little entrance. She finally stooped down and looked into the sepulcher and she sees two angels in white, the one at the head, the other at the feet where the body of Jesus has lain. These two angels are still there.

“And they said to her, ‘Woman, why are you weeping?’ She said to them, ‘Because they have taken away my Lord and I know not where they have laid Him.’” Now we don’t know who ‘they’ is and she didn’t know who ‘they’ was. She just said somebody has taken Him. “And when she had thus said she turned herself back” – now I don’t know what was going on in her mind other than that she was so sorrowful, she didn’t realize she was talking to two angels. That ought to sort of wake you up to something. She looks in and here are two angels, and they talk to her and she acts like this is normal. “Well somebody took Him away and I don’t know where they put Him.” Her spiritual perception and her ability to understand what’s going on is overpowered by her sorrow. And now we might understand why the original time when she came to the grave a few moments before this and there was an open grave and an angel there, she didn’t compute that either. She just took off. And here she’s having a conversation with these two angels about where this body might be. Maybe assuming they were men, for angels do take the appearance of men.

And then she had spoken and, “turned herself around,” verse 14 says, “and saw Jesus standing and didn’t know it was Jesus.” And somebody says, well she was crying and she couldn’t see too well. Well that’s probably right, and she was so upset and emotional that she just couldn’t make sense out of much, that’s right. But the reason she didn’t know it was Jesus was because Jesus, after His resurrection, was not known by anyone who saw Him unless He opened their eyes that they might know who He was. For in His resurrection glory, He was changed so that He had to reveal Himself. How else could the two disciples on the road to Emmaus this afternoon walk with Him and talk with Him and not know who He was until He disclosed it to them by some personal means?

And so, “Jesus said to her, ‘Woman, why are you weeping? Who you looking for?’ And she supposed Him to be the gardener” – the person who takes care of the garden – “and she said, ‘Sir, if you have taken Him from here, tell me where you laid Him and I’ll take Him away.’” In other words, if this grave was only for rent and not for sale, or if this could only be used a few days because someone else has to be placed here and you’ve put Him somewhere else, please tell me where He is. I’ll take Him and find a proper place to put Him. “And Jesus said to her” – in Aramaic, her own language – “Miriam.” Very personal touch, said her name, and instantly she knew. “She turned herself and said to Him, Rabboni” – which is the most dignified you could ever use in Aramaic. Rabbi is a step below Rabboni, which is only for a highly exalted teacher – “and it means Master.” And Jesus in that moment revealed Himself to her and she was the first, it says in Mark chapter 16, to see the resurrected Christ.

And then in verse 17, “Jesus says unto her, ‘Don’t cling to Me.’” Don’t cling to Me. She grabbed Him. I mean, she had lost Him once, and she wasn’t going to let go again. The pain of His dying and going away was more than she could stand, and she’s holding on and He says no, “Because I’m not yet ascended to My Father.” I can’t stay. “Go to My brethren and say to them, ‘I ascend unto My Father and to your Father, to My God and your God.’” One of the great statements of all of Scripture. He says, first of all, from now on they are My brethren, not friends like He had called them so beautifully in John 15:15, but now brethren.

Why? Because of His death and resurrection, they have been brought fully into the family of God, and as Paul put it, they are heirs and joint heirs with Jesus Christ who is – Hebrews 2:11 and 12 says – not ashamed to call them brother. Go tell My brothers, though they are cowardly, though they have forsaken Me, though they have denied Me, though they have fled from Me, though they have demonstrated that they do not stand by, they are My brothers. They have been redeemed into the family of God and go tell them that I have to go to My Father and your Father, My God and your God. And in those two identifications, He draws them into Himself. We share the same Father, we share the same God. Tell them. And so she lets go and now she also takes off to tell the disciples. Verse 18 it says that when she came and told the disciples that she had seen the Lord and that He had spoken these things – it says, “She came and told the disciples she had seen the Lord and that He had spoken these things unto her.”

So, you understand the scene? The women have gone. Mary Magdalene, Peter, and John have come. Peter and John took off, went back home. Mary lingered, saw Christ. Now she leaves to tell the disciples. The other women are also on their way. She’s a little behind them. After having revealed Himself to Mary, the Lord then supernaturally transports Himself out in front of the other women and comes along the road to meet them. And we pick that scene up again in Matthew chapter 28. And it is a marvelous scene – absolutely marvelous.

Suddenly, Jesus met them and said, ‘Greetings!’, and they came to Him, took hold of His feet and worshipped Him (verse 9).

Henry tells us that this should encourage us when we are at a low ebb. Christ is always nearer than we would expect:

The angel directed those that would see him, to go to Galilee, but before that time came, even here also, they looked after him that lives, and sees them. Note, Jesus Christ is often better than his word, but never worse; often anticipates, but never frustrates, the believing expectations of his people …

Note, God’s gracious visits usually meet us in the way of duty, and to those who use what they have for others’ benefit, more shall be given. This interview with Christ was unexpected, or ever they were aware, Cant 6 12. Note, Christ is nearer to his people than they imagine.

Henry says that we can learn from the women’s example:

The transport of joy they were in, now that they had this further assurance of his resurrection; they welcomed it with both arms. Thus we must embrace Jesus Christ offered us in the gospel, with reverence cast ourselves at his feet, by faith take hold of him, and with love and joy lay him near our hearts.

Jesus said to the women (verse 10), ‘Do not be afraid; go and tell my brothers to go to Galilee; there they will see me’, which was the same message that the angel had for them.

Henry points out how forgiving Jesus was to the Apostles, who, apart from John, were nowhere to be seen at His crucifixion:

Christ did not now converse so constantly and familiarly with his disciples as he had done before his death; but, lest they should think him grown strange to them, he gives them this endearing title, Go to my brethren, that the scripture might be fulfilled, which, speaking of his entrance upon his exalted state, saith, I will declare thy name unto my brethren. They had shamefully deserted him in his sufferings; but, to show that he could forgive and forget, and to teach us to do so, he not only continues his purpose to meet them, but calls them brethren. Being all his brethren, they were brethren one to another, and must love as brethren. His owning them for his brethren put a great honour upon them, but withal gave them an example of humility in the midst of that honour.

MacArthur has a splendid quote from the famous English preacher of the 19th century, Charles Haddon Spurgeon, who said:

We gather together on the first rather than the seventh day of the week, because redemption is even a greater work than creation and more worthy of commemoration, and because the rest which followed creation is far outdone by the rest which ensues upon the completion of redemption. Like the Apostles, we meet on the first day of the week and hope that Jesus may stand in our midst and say, ‘Peace be unto you.’ Our Lord has lifted the Sabbath from the old and rusty hinges where on the law had placed it long before and set it on the new golden hinges which His love has fashioned. He has placed our rest day not at the end of a week of toil but at the beginning of the rest which remaineth for the people of God. Every first day of the week we should meditate upon the rising of our Lord and seek to enter into the fellowship with Him in His risen life.


May all reading this have a blessed and happy Easter!

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