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The Third Sunday after Trinity is June 20, 2021.

Readings for Year B can be found here.

The Gospel is as follows (emphases mine):

Mark 4:35-41

4:35 On that day, when evening had come, he said to them, “Let us go across to the other side.”

4:36 And leaving the crowd behind, they took him with them in the boat, just as he was. Other boats were with him.

4:37 A great windstorm arose, and the waves beat into the boat, so that the boat was already being swamped.

4:38 But he was in the stern, asleep on the cushion; and they woke him up and said to him, “Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?”

4:39 He woke up and rebuked the wind, and said to the sea, “Peace! Be still!” Then the wind ceased, and there was a dead calm.

4:40 He said to them, “Why are you afraid? Have you still no faith?”

4:41 And they were filled with great awe and said to one another, “Who then is this, that even the wind and the sea obey him?”

Commentary comes from Matthew Henry and John MacArthur.

This reading continues from last week’s.

John MacArthur puts this storm and the Sea of Galilee into context for us:

the Sea of Galilee – which isn’t really a sea, it’s a fresh water lake, and today it’s known as Lake Kinneret, in Israel – but it’s, to us, called the Sea of Galilee. It is the lowest fresh water lake on the planet; it is 682 feet below sea level. It isn’t as low as the Dead Sea, but the Dead Sea is not fresh water; it is highly mineralized content, and the salt in the Dead Sea is so thick that you can float on the top of it rather easily. But this is the lowest fresh water lake in the world, and as a result of that, it has been much studied for its unique properties. It has a stratification of water. There are literally three stratifications of the water, that go down a hundred and fifty feet, and those stratifications have a lot to do with the surface of the lake at various times of the year. They have a lot to do with the content of algae, which has a lot to do with the content of fish. In 1896, one fishing boat alone brought in 92 hundred pounds of fish. It is a prolific lake for the production of fish, and having that kind of water and that kind of resource in Galilee was a great blessing to the people who live there.

It is surrounded by mountains. Essentially, on the west and the northwest, the mountains rise to 1,500 feet. On the northeast and the east, they rise to 3,000 feet, to the Golan Heights, which runs 42 miles in length, and the lake is only 13 miles, so it goes far past the lake; the lake is 13 by 8. So, it sits in a bowl, and the water that comes into the lake that comes – comes partly from some hot springs, but primarily from the Jordan River, which flows out of Mount Hermon. Mount Hermon is up in the north, on the Lebanon border, at 9,200 feet, so the water flows about 10,000 feet down, to fill up this lake in this bowl. It is such pristine, fresh water that it provides, even today, about fifty percent of the water for the nation Israel, so it was a tremendous resource to them, for water as well as for fish.

Now, that’s why so many of the disciples were fishermen; up to seven of them. We know James and John, Peter and Andrew, and there may have been three more who were also fishermen on that lake. Because of its unique location, because it’s only 30 miles from the Mediterranean, and it sinks so low, it has very special properties, because it is surrounded by these mountains. That adds to the uniqueness of the lake, and as a result, scientists have done research on this lake through the years to study it. It is different than all other bodies of water in the world, and what particularly makes it unique is the fact that it is subject to very, very severe winds. And both in the summer and the warm part of the year, and in the winter in the cold part of the year, it experiences these kinds of winds. The winds that come in the summer are the Sirocco winds, from the east; they’d be like our Santa Ana winds, only they typically come every day from noon to six o’clock. They’re pretty predictable. The wind comes down hard off the Golan Heights and a little north of that, and it comes down, and it turns the lake into a boiling cauldron, and it’s pretty much the routine every day during the summer. These make it a very treacherous place to be in a boat at the wrong time.

The winter is even worse, because the winter winds are cold winds, that come from the north and the northwest, and when the cold air comes down, and it hits the warm air that naturally sits in the bowl, it creates a turmoil; the cold air goes through the warm air, and causes tremendous turmoil on the lake.

So, whether you’re in the summer or the winter, it is subject to this. I have been there on a number of occasions, and I have seen these kinds of winds come out of nowhere. I remember one time we got in this metal boat, and we were going to go across the Sea of Galilee. And we were up in the bow, standing on the bow and enjoying the ride, and, all of a sudden, out of nowhere, the lake began to foam, and the waves began to rise. And pretty soon we had to run to the stern, to avoid the water splashing over the bow, only to be drenched by the water that went over the wheelhouse, and hit us all the way in the stern.

So, it can be a very troublesome place if you’re there at the wrong time; between, I guess, November and April, that is the most dangerous, treacherous time. And in very unexpected ways, those winds can come, those cold winds, and the waves can get anywhere from five to ten feet. And that just doesn’t happen on a lake, but it happens there, and it can be a very terrifying experience. In fact, one historian gives the record of the fact that on one occasion, they were in Tiberias, on the western shore of the lake, and the waters, the waves were coming so high that they were coming two hundred yards into the city of Tiberias, off this little lake. All of this is the basic product of the wind.

So, that’s the place where this happens, and so it couldn’t have been a better place for the Lord to demonstrate His power over nature, and that’s exactly what He does here.

Jesus had finished a day of teaching and probably healing, although Mark’s text does not say, and wanted to cross the Sea of Galilee (verse 35).

Matthew Henry and John MacArthur say that He had been teaching from the boat. He was using parables.

The disciples left the crowd on the shoreline. They went into the boat, including Jesus, who had no cloak. There were other boats accompanying the one Jesus was in (verse 36).

MacArthur tells us about the boats and a discovery of one of them in 2009, when he preached this sermon:

The word boat, by the way, ploion, doesn’t tell you anything about the size of the boat; it’s a very generic word. It doesn’t say whether it was a large boat or a small boat, but we know it was a relatively small boat, because the kind of boats that were used for fishing on the Sea of Galilee were relatively small boats. In the last month – you may have seen it – they have discovered one of them, which they were able to dig up from the bottom of the lake. And they have – sort of the rib cage of that boat still remains, and from what I could tell in looking at it, it would probably hold, comfortably, 15 to 20 people.

Well, that wasn’t going to transport all the apostles, and Jesus, and all the disciples who were following Him across, so there were other boats. Everybody else who had a boat and was a follower of Jesus joined, and you had this little flotilla going across the north end of the Sea of Galilee, headed to the other side – “other boats were with Him.”

Mark adds the detail about Jesus being ‘just as he was’. Henry explains:

They took him even as he was, that is, in the same dress that he was in when he preached, without any cloak to throw over him, which he ought to have had, to keep him warm, when he went to sea at night, especially after preaching.

MacArthur says that ‘just as he was’ also implies food:

He didn’t go to change, didn’t go to eat; they just took Him the way He was, and headed off in the water …

A great windstorm arose which caused the waves to crash against the boat, filling it with water (verse 37).

Meanwhile, Jesus was asleep, resting His head on the cushion, while the disciples were panicking. They asked Him if he did not care that they were ‘perishing’ (verse 38).

MacArthur describes the scene:

Mark 4:38 says, “He was asleep on the cushion” – literally, the pillow. It contains the word – that word for cushion contains the word kephalē, which is the word for head; something to put your head on. So that’s the kind of cushion it was, it was a pillow for His head, some kind of pillow that sailors used when they needed to lie down and get a bit of a rest.

So, He lay down in the boat, and immediately fell asleep. This is a beautiful picture of the truly human Jesus, who is exhausted, who is weary. He is the very one who created the water. He is the very one who created the sky. He created the wood the boat was made of. He even created sleep. And now, He employs these things for His own benefit, and He goes to sleep in the boat. Trailing along behind that boat are all those who were followers of His.

MacArthur points out that the disciples in the other boats would leave Jesus in John 6:

It turns out they’re not all true followers; some of them are rocky soil, some of them are weedy soil, as we saw in the parable earlier in the chapter, because John 6:66, which comes later, says that many of His disciples “walked no more with Him.” So, they’re not all going to be the real deal, but they were, at least for now, following Him

Henry says that the disciples felt comfortable enough in His presence to seemingly chide Him:

Their address to Christ is here expressed very emphatically; Master, carest thou not that we perish? I confess this sounds somewhat harsh, rather like chiding him for sleeping than begging him to awake. I know no excuse for it, but the great familiarity which he was pleased to admit them into, and the freedom he allowed them; and the present distress they were in, which put them into such a fright, that they knew not what they said. They do Christ a deal of wrong, who suspect him to be careless of his people in distress.

Jesus awakened to rebuke the wind and the sea, which resulted in complete calm (verse 39).

Henry points out:

It is spoken of as God’s prerogative to command the seas, Jeremiah 31:35. By this therefore Christ proves himself to be God. He that made the seas, can make them quiet.

Then Jesus reproved the disciples, asking them why they were afraid and if they had no faith (verse 40).

Henry compares Mark’s account of this episode with Matthew’s:

The reproof Christ gave them for their fears, is here carried further than in Matthew. There it is, Why are ye fearful? Here, Why are ye so fearful? Though there may be cause for some fear, yet not for fear to such a degree as this. There it is, O ye of little faith. Here it is, How is it that ye have no faith? Not that the disciples were without faith. No, they believed that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God; but at this time their fears prevailed so that they seemed to have no faith at all. It was out of the way, when they had occasion for it, and so it was as if they had not had it. “How is it, that in this matter ye have no faith, that ye think I would not come in with seasonable and effectual relief?” Those may suspect their faith, who can entertain such a thought as that Christ careth not though his people perish, and Christ justly takes it ill.

Instead of being relieved, however, the disciples ‘were filled with great awe’ — terrified — that Jesus had such control over nature (verse 41).

MacArthur says this is because they realised that He could see into their souls:

They were afraid during the storm; now, they’re very much afraid. Why? Well, what’s worse than having a storm outside your boat, is having God in your boat; that’s enough to panic you.

They knew what they were dealing with. The living God was in their boat, the Creator, the controller of His creation. Terror set in. Panic set in. You remember, on another occasion on the sea, when Peter couldn’t catch any fish? Luke 5, and Jesus said, “Try this side of the boat.” Peter threw his net over there, and they had so many fish they couldn’t bring them in, and what was Peter’s response? “Lord, depart from me for I am a sinful man.”

Well, what kind of reaction is that? That’s the reaction of somebody who knows that the Creator controls all of the living animals, all the fish in the sea, and they go where He tells them to go. That’s frightening, because if you see God, then God sees you. You see His glory, He sees your sin. That’s a very normal response through Scripture.

In closing, some people think that although God created nature, He cannot always control it. John MacArthur explains why that belief is wrong:

only God has such power over wind and waves. We shouldn’t be surprised about that, since we hear the testimony of John, in John 1:1: “In the beginning was the Word” – meaning Christ – “and the Word was with God, the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came into being through Him, and apart from Him nothing came into being that has come into being.” That is to say that Christ, the Word, is the Creator of everything that exists. If He has the power to create it, He has the power to control it.

In Hebrews, chapter 1, it speaks of God’s Son, who is appointed heir of all things, verse 2, “through whom also He made the world.” And then in verse 3, He “upholds all things by the word of His power.” Here, we are told that God made the world through the agency of Christ, and Christ sustains it by His power.

MacArthur says this about climate change believers:

I just wish the people in our world who think they can control the future of the planet understood what the Bible says. They’re not in charge of the planet; none of them are, and they aren’t collectively, and they’re not going to make this planet last one split second longer than the Creator has designed for it to last. They have nothing to do with it. All of that is nonsense, absolute nonsense.

I wish I could convince the Church of England of that.

The Second Sunday after Trinity is June 13, 2021.

These are the readings for Year B.

The Gospel is as follows (emphases mine):

Mark 4:26-34

4:26 He also said, “The kingdom of God is as if someone would scatter seed on the ground,

4:27 and would sleep and rise night and day, and the seed would sprout and grow, he does not know how.

4:28 The earth produces of itself, first the stalk, then the head, then the full grain in the head.

4:29 But when the grain is ripe, at once he goes in with his sickle, because the harvest has come.”

4:30 He also said, “With what can we compare the kingdom of God, or what parable will we use for it?

4:31 It is like a mustard seed, which, when sown upon the ground, is the smallest of all the seeds on earth;

4:32 yet when it is sown it grows up and becomes the greatest of all shrubs, and puts forth large branches, so that the birds of the air can make nests in its shade.”

4:33 With many such parables he spoke the word to them, as they were able to hear it;

4:34 he did not speak to them except in parables, but he explained everything in private to his disciples.

Commentary comes from Matthew Henry and John MacArthur.

I am starting with the last verse first today, because John MacArthur explains why Jesus did not explain the parables to others outside of His circle:

So, there was a time when Jesus was proclaiming the truth, and they had heard and believed the truth. But there’s been a very interesting turn in the tide of things … In fact, if you go back to verse 11, Jesus says to the disciples and the apostles, “It has been given to you to know the mysteries of the kingdom of God, but those who are outside get everything in parables, so that while seeing, they may see and not perceive; while hearing, they may hear and not understand, otherwise they might return and be forgiven.” They’re past grace; they’re past forgiveness; they’re past believing.

What has happened is in all these months of ministry in Galilee day after day after day after day, the final verdict of many of the people and the leaders in Galilee is they reject Jesus Christ. Not only do they reject Him, but according to chapter 3, verse 22, they say, “He’s possessed by Beelzebul and cast out demons by the ruler of the demons.” And that’s when it says He began speaking to them in parables.

They made their final verdict, and they rejected Jesus. And now in an act of divine judgment, he cuts them off from any further truth. And so, in regard to the disciples, he speaks to them explaining the parables.

When the crowd gathers, He speaks to the crowd in parables without explanation. From now on, in His ministry in Galilee, He doesn’t explain anything because they have made their final decision. Our Lord’s judgment then is to withhold the light from that generation of Jews in Galilee who had finally rejected Him and were beyond hope

So, the point is this, the plan is the light will shine, the seed will be sown. For the moment, a judgment has been rendered on those people in Galilee who made their final decision. But just a few chapters later, there are other folks in other places, even in Galilee, as well as later on in Judea to whom they are to go.

But the assumption, when He sends them out in chapter 6, verses 7 to 13, is that they’re going to be rejected. He tells them if they – “If they reject you, just shake the dust off your feet and get out of there.” But that was a kind of a training mission for what would finally be their full commission.

Now, this is in accord with the divine intention. If you go to verse 22, you see that in the next little parable. Nothing is hidden except to be revealed, nor has anything been secret that it – but that it would come to light. This is a simple, simple, little concept. People hide things because there’s a certain time that they need to be revealed.

Mark 4 begins with the Parable of the Sower. The Lamp under a Basket follows. The Parable of the Seed Growing and that of the Mustard Seed, today’s reading, follows that.

Jesus discusses the divine plan for the Church, comparing it to someone planting seed (verse 26).

Matthew Henry’s commentary says:

The good seed of the gospel sown in the world, and sown in the heart, doth by degrees produce wonderful effects, but without noise (Mark 4:26; Mark 4:26, c.) So is the kingdom of God; so is the gospel, when it is sown, and received, as seed in good ground.

As the sower’s days and nights pass, and he knows not how, the seed sprouts and grows (verse 27), first into a stalk, then the head, then the full grain in the head (verse 28).

Henry makes the following comparisons to the word of Christ and the power of the Holy Spirit:

1. It will come up; though it seem lost and buried under the clods, it will find or make its way through them. The seed cast into the ground will spring. Let but the word of Christ have the place it ought to have in a soul, and it will show itself, as the wisdom from above doth in a good conversation …

2. The husbandman cannot describe how it comes up; it is one of the mysteries of nature; It springs and grows up, he knows not how,Mark 4:27; Mark 4:27. He sees it has grown, but he cannot tell in what manner it grew, or what was the cause and method of its growth. Thus we know not how the Spirit by the word makes a change in the heart, any more than we can account for the blowing of the wind, which we hear the sound of, but cannot tell whence it comes, or whither it goes. Without controversy, great is the mystery of godliness; how God manifested in the flesh came to be believed on in the world, 1 Timothy 3:16.

3. The husbandman, when he hath sown the seed, doth nothing toward the springing of it up; He sleeps, and rises, night and day; goes to sleep at night, gets up in the morning, and perhaps never so much as thinks of the corn he hath sown, or ever looks upon it, but follows his pleasures or other business, and yet the earth brings forth fruit of itself, according to the ordinary course of nature, and by the concurring power of the God of nature. Thus the word of grace, when it is received in faith, is in the heart a work of grace, and the preachers contribute nothing to it. The Spirit of God is carrying it on when they sleep, and can do no business (Job 33:15; Job 33:16), or when they rise to go about other business …

MacArthur points out the Greek used in verse 28:

I love this, verse 28, “The soil produces crops by itself.” It’s the Greek word automatē, from which we get the English word “automatically.” It’s divinely automatic. How encouraging is that? Regeneration, transformation, spiritual transition, conversion, new birth can’t be produced by anyone or any human means. The whole process is divinely automatic. You can’t start it, and you can’t stop it. And once it starts, it goes to the full.

When the grain matures, the farmer knows it it time to harvest it (verse 29).

MacArthur says that, for believers, the enjoyment of the harvest will be ours forever, not just as part of a church community:

one way we enjoy the harvest is fellowship, don’t we? This is fellowship. Another way, in eternity in the future, friends for eternity, that we don’t even know now that we’ll meet then. So, forever and ever, we will enjoy the harvest. We’ll taste the harvest.

Jesus then segues into the Parable of the Mustard Seed by asking what can be compared to the Kingdom of God (verse 30). He answers by saying that the mustard seed is the smallest of all the seeds (verse 31), yet grows into the greatest of shrubs, able to accommodate nesting birds (verse 32).

MacArthur says that the mustard seed was the smallest known to them:

Now, a mustard seed was the smallest seed that they used in their farming. It wasn’t the actual smallest seed on the planet, but it was proverbial for something small to them because it was the one they were familiar with. Matthew 17:20, “Jesus said, ‘If you have the faith of a grain of mustard seed’” – and so forth. So, that was their proverbial expression for something very small, and it was the size of a grain of sand.

But proportionately, there was nothing that they planted that started that small and became so large. A mustard bush would be up to 15 feet high and 6 feet in diameter. A massive thing to come out of a seed the size of a grain of sand. And what our Lord is saying to them is obvious. There’s no explanation here. The small beginnings, guys, do not give you any indication of where this is going.

Therefore, from small beginnings a great Church will grow and expand, as we saw in the reading from Acts 2 on Pentecost Sunday.

Mark tells us that Jesus spoke to the disciples in parables to the extent that they could understand them (verse 33).

Henry says:

The glory of the Lord was covered with a cloud, and God speaks to us in the language of the sons of men, that, though not at first, yet by degrees, we may understand his meaning; the disciples themselves understood those sayings of Christ afterward, which at first they did not rightly take the sense of. But these parables he expounded to them, when they were alone. We cannot but wish we had had that exposition, as we had of the parable of the sower; but it was not so needful; because, when the church should be enlarged, that would expound these parables to us, without any more ado.

MacArthur offers us a practical application of these two parables:

The promise is the Lord will bless the seed you sow. The Lord will return to you blessing. It doesn’t mean that all the seed you sow will bring about salvation, but what it does mean is that as you are faithful to sow the seed God will be faithful to give you in return. And not just equally. Because at the end of verse 24, “And more will be given to you besides.” And at the beginning of verse 25, “For whoever has, to him more shall be given.” If you’re one of those who has, that is you have eternal life, you have the truth, you have the seed, you will receive not only in measure what you’ve done but far more.

This is Luke 6:38, Jesus said, “Give, and it shall be given unto you, pressed down, shaken together, and running over.” And it will come from men in this life, and from God and spiritual blessing, and in the future eternal blessing.

So, I say we listen obediently and appreciatively because of the promise of reward the Lord has given to us as faithful listeners who let what we hear be known to others

So, we throw the seed, and we shine the light obediently because of the innate obligation, and appreciatively because of the individual opportunity. Each one of us will receive personally the blessing of God on our faithfulness and much, much, much more than we deserve.

What an encouraging thought to lead us into the week ahead.

May all reading this enjoy a blessed Sunday.

The First Sunday after Trinity is June 6, 2020.

This day is also known as Corpus Christi Sunday.

Readings for Year B can be found here.

The Gospel reading is as follows (emphases mine):

Mark 2:23-3:6

2:23 One sabbath he was going through the grainfields; and as they made their way his disciples began to pluck heads of grain.

2:24 The Pharisees said to him, “Look, why are they doing what is not lawful on the sabbath?”

2:25 And he said to them, “Have you never read what David did when he and his companions were hungry and in need of food?

2:26 He entered the house of God, when Abiathar was high priest, and ate the bread of the Presence, which it is not lawful for any but the priests to eat, and he gave some to his companions.”

2:27 Then he said to them, “The sabbath was made for humankind, and not humankind for the sabbath;

2:28 so the Son of Man is lord even of the sabbath.”

3:1 Again he entered the synagogue, and a man was there who had a withered hand.

3:2 They watched him to see whether he would cure him on the sabbath, so that they might accuse him.

3:3 And he said to the man who had the withered hand, “Come forward.”

3:4 Then he said to them, “Is it lawful to do good or to do harm on the sabbath, to save life or to kill?” But they were silent.

3:5 He looked around at them with anger; he was grieved at their hardness of heart and said to the man, “Stretch out your hand.” He stretched it out, and his hand was restored.

3:6 The Pharisees went out and immediately conspired with the Herodians against him, how to destroy him.

Commentary comes from Matthew Henry and John MacArthur.

To put this into context, John MacArthur explains the Jewish Sabbath:

The word “Sabbath” comes from sabbaton. Its root is the verb “to cease.” The double beta like the double “B” in Sabbath is an intensified form, so it’s a complete cessation. It was God who defined Sabbath in Genesis 2:3. He ceased completely from the work of creation. And so, Sabbath came to refer to that day when people ceased working. That’s all the Old Testament says. It simply says you’re not to work. It doesn’t give any particular detailed minute prescriptions. You’re not to work, you’re to rest. It’s to be a day of joy. It’s made for man, a day of rest, recuperation, restoration, worship.

But the hypocritical Pharisees and scribes had developed all kinds of things to make Sabbath worse than every other day because of its unbelievable restraints. Edersheim, in his classic work, The Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah, has done some marvelous work in researching this and going back and digging it out of the Talmud. The Talmud comes after Christ some time but picks up and codifies all the laws that have long existed in Judaism.

Matthew Henry’s commentary says that fasting was common among some Jews:

Why do the Pharisees and the disciples of John fast? They used to fast, the Pharisees fasted twice in the week (Luke 18:12), and probably the disciples of John did so too; and, it should seem, this very day, when Christ and his disciples were feasting in Levi’s house, was their fast-day, for the word is nesteuousi–they do fast, or are fasting, which aggravated the offence. Thus apt are strict professors to make their own practice a standard, and to censure and condemn all that do not fully come up to it.

The disciples began picking grain to eat because they placed more importance on listening to Jesus than having a meal, but then they became hungry (Mark 2:23).

Henry says:

They were so intent upon spiritual dainties, that they forgot even their necessary food; and the word of Christ was to them instead of that …

MacArthur provides more context about fields of grain:

They were going through sown fields. Literally, sown fields is what Luke calls them, maybe wheat or barley. The grain is ripe, which makes it presumably spring or summer. In the Jordan Valley, grain ripens in the Valley from April to August. Harvest may have been very near. The fields are laid out in strips with paths crisscrossing the strips. The roads are not distinguishable from the paths through the field. There aren’t thoroughfares, highways, big roads. Everybody goes through the land walking through the fields and that’s the way it’s always been.

And so, in Deuteronomy 23:25, God makes a wonderful – wonderful provision for travelers. When you enter your neighbor’s standing grain, then you may pluck the heads with your hand, but you shall not put a sickle in your neighbor’s standing grain. Obviously, you can’t just harvest the grain and haul it off, but when you’re traveling through his fields, have at it. Take what’s there. This would be true of – of any kind of food in a reasonable, sensible way. To stave off your hunger, you’re welcome to what is there. So the Old Testament provides for that and it doesn’t restrict it to six days a week, it simply says you can do it.

The Old Testament never restricts how far a person can walk, how far they can go, how heavy the burden they can carry. It simply calls them to stop working and rest and spend the day worshiping God with no other narrowing restrictions. So His disciples are doing exactly what the Old Testament allowed them to do. His disciples making their way along while picking the heads of grain. Luke adds they were then rubbing them in their hands. They pick off the heads of grain, rub the heads of grain so they could get the inside fruit out from the husk and the shell. Matthew adds they did it because they were hungry.

This, of course, was perfectly within the purposes of God and the revelation of God in the Old Testament, but in direct violation of the religious rules manmade which dominated that legalistic culture. So you have then the Sabbath incident. It leads to the scornful indictment in verse 24 …

They’re scrutinizing Jesus. They’re wanting to indict Him because of His violation of their ridiculous manmade rules. Now this is what the Talmud said. If you roll wheat in your hands to remove the husks, it is sifting and that is forbidden. If you rub the heads of wheat, it is threshing and it is forbidden. If you clean off the shell, it is sifting and that is forbidden. If you throw the chaff into the air, that is winnowing. It is forbidden. So just in picking and rolling and rubbing and discarding, they had been reaping, threshing, sifting, grinding, winnowing and preparing food.

The Pharisees followed Jesus a lot. Therefore, upon seeing the disciples eating grain, they asked Him why His disciples were breaking Sabbath law (Mark 2:24), which was man-made law.

Jesus reminded the Pharisees of the time when David and his companions became hungry and ate the bread of the Presence, which was reserved for the priests (Mark 2:25-26).

MacArthur recounts the event, which took place at a time when David was in great danger:

The story is in 1 Samuel 21David was fleeing south from Gibeah because Saul was after him. Saul wanted to kill him. He came, according to 1 Samuel 21:1 to Nob … That’s about a mile north of Jerusalem. That’s where the tabernacle was located. And he had no food and he was hungry.

There he met the priest named Ahimelech and he asks the priest for food. Fleeing for his life – those who were with him, they were all hungry and he asks him for food. He asked him for at least five loaves of bread but was told by the priest that none was available. Verse 4 of 1 Samuel 21 says, “And the priest answered David and said, “There’s no common bread on hand.” Don’t – I don’t have any bread. “But he said, interestingly, this priest, Ahimelech, “There is holy bread,” – Holy bread? What is holy bread? And then he said – “if only the young men have kept themselves from women.”

In other words, I’m willing to let you have the holy bread if your men have been holy. David confirmed, in verse 5, they were holy. In that sense they were clean. Verse 6, “The priest gave him consecrated bread for there was no bread there but the bread of presence. It’s called the bread of the presence, presence meaning God, the ever-present One, which was removed from before the Lord in order to put hot bread in its place.” Let me tell you how that worked. Every Sabbath – every Sabbath, hot bread was brought inside the tabernacle to a golden table. Twelve loaves of hot bread were placed on a golden table inside the tabernacle in the presence of God, symbolizing the need for the twelve tribes to have fellowship with God.

The following Sabbath, the bread that had sat there for a week would be removed and more hot bread would be brought in to keep that symbol fresh. According to Leviticus 24, verses 5 to 9, this is called the bread of the presence. There were two rows, two piles of these twelve loaves. The old bread on the Sabbath when it was removed, was to be eaten by priests only. Now that was the provision that God had made. Verse 26 tells us what happened from Mark’s record of what Jesus said. David and his companions show up, as 1 Samuel 21 says. They “entered the house of God” – the tabernacle – “in the time of Abiathar the high priest.”

The actual priest at the time was Ahimelech, but he was soon replaced and Abiathar had a lengthy priesthood during the time of David. And so he is the one whose priesthood dominates that era. And they ate the consecrated bread, which it is not lawful for anyone to eat except the priests, and he also gave it to those who were with him. The priest was very, very wise. He understood that no ceremony should survive while some person dies. Ceremony is ceremony, ritual is symbolic. You don’t save a ceremony and lose a person. It has its place, but mercy triumphs over ritual and ceremony.

This priest understood what anybody would understand. That’s common sense. Nothing is as valuable as a life. It, perhaps, was actually a Sabbath when the old bread was coming out, and that’s why he could say, “I could give this to you.” So here on a Sabbath, not only were they eating bread but they were eating the bread that was symbolic of the twelve tribes before God and it was to be eaten only by priests. But all symbols are done away with when it comes to human need. Necessity always overrules ritual.

Jesus then said that the Sabbath was made for humankind, not humankind for the Sabbath (Mark 2:27).

Henry explains:

First, God never designed it to be an imposition upon us, and therefore we must not make it so to ourselves. Man was not made for the sabbath, for he was made a day before the sabbath was instituted. Man was made for God, and for his honour and service … but he was not made for the sabbath, so as to be tied up by the law of it, from that which is necessary to the support of his life. Secondly, God did design it to be an advantage to us, and so we must make it, and improve it.

Jesus added that He is Lord, even of the Sabbath (Mark 2:28). It was a rebuke to the Pharisees.

Henry interprets the verse as follows:

The Son of man is Lord also of the sabbath; and therefore he will not see the kind intentions of the institution of it frustrated by your impositions.” Note, The sabbath days are days of the Son of man; he is the Lord of the day, and to his honour it must be observed; by him God made the worlds, and so it was by him that the sabbath was first instituted …

Mark tells us of another incident, about a man with a withered hand in a synagogue (Mark 3:1).

The Pharisees watched Jesus to see if He would cure the man on the Sabbath (Mark 3:2).

Jesus asked the man to come forward (Mark 3:3), then asked the assembly in the synagogue whether it was better to save life or kill it on the Sabbath, but the people were silent (Mark 3:4).

Henry makes an excellent observation:

What fairer question could be put? And yet, because they saw it would turn against them, they held their peace. Note, Those are obstinate indeed in their infidelity, who, when they can say nothing against a truth, will say nothing to it; and, when they cannot resist, yet will not yield.

Jesus looked at everyone in righteous anger, grieved by their hardness of heart; He asked the man to extend his hand and healed it (Mark 3:5).

The Pharisees left and conspired with the government — the Herodians — to kill Him (Mark 3:6).

MacArthur explains the Jewish hierarchy’s hate for Jesus:

The shocking truth that the religious leaders of Israel desired to destroy Jesus Christ seems very hard to grasp. What had He done? Brought healing so that people debilitated and distressed by diseases could find relief and comfort and restoration and usefulness; brought deliverance from demons so that people possessed, indwelt, demonized, could be freed from that hellish domination. Brought comfort therefore to the sorrowing, even brought food to the hungry; and then the message of eternal salvation, the message of the forgiveness of sin and the promise of eternal life in the Kingdom of God in heaven for all who repent and believe.

Wasn’t this more than the Jewish people could have ever hoped for? Not only a message of salvation, but a messenger who demonstrated His power to give salvation by showing that He had power over the material world, power over the demonic world, and even power over sin. What else could they want? Why did they hate Him? Well, they didn’t hate Him because He healed people. They didn’t hate Him because He fed them. They didn’t hate Him because He cast out demons. They didn’t hate Him because He brought funerals to an abrupt end by raising the dead.

It was what He said that made them hate Him, not what He did. And what He said was that He was God, God the Son. He had come down from heaven, that He was the Messiah, the Savior. But more than that, He, in fact, was God. The truth is, He supported that claim by His power over disease, by His power over demons, by His power over death and by His authority over sin. Wasn’t that convincing enough? Why would the claim so infuriate the leaders of Israel? Why would it drive them to want Him dead? And wasn’t the good news good news?

Wasn’t it good news that the spiritually blind could receive spiritual sight, the spiritually dead could receive spiritual life, the spiritually oppressed could receive spiritual liberation? Wasn’t it good news that the Kingdom of God was open to all who would repent and believe? It should have been good news. But there was a tremendous barrier to that because the message of Jesus was that this salvation which He offered was not available by human works. You couldn’t earn it. You couldn’t merit it. You couldn’t deserve it. You couldn’t achieve it.

No matter how many morally good things you did, and morally bad things you avoided, how many rituals you performed, or how many ceremonies you observed, this salvation was apart from works, apart from merit, apart from worthiness, apart from human achievement by grace through faith. And in their religion, spiritual pride reigned. You earned your spiritual status.

Jesus said, “That won’t do it. You need to humble yourself, confess your unworthiness and repent of your sin.” In essence, His message was in complete, direct opposition to the apostate Judaism that dominated the nation and was pervade by the religious leaders, namely the Pharisees and scribes. It was for this they hated Him. They hated His theology. They hated the fact that He attacked them at the point of their spiritual pride.

It’s an age-old story, folks, but the more religious people are and the more proud they are of their religion, the more proud they are of their spiritual achievement, the more proud they are of their accomplishment religiously, the more resistant they are to the gospel of grace. That’s why the people the responded to Jesus were the tax collectors, prostitutes, criminals; lowlifes, who had no spiritual pride, who were not allowed to go to the synagogue, who were not allowed to go to the temple, who were the outcasts, the unsynagogued, they had no pride to hold on to. They came to Jesus

But highly religious people say no to those things on the outside. They’re willing to live under binding moral constraints. They’re willing to live under very tight rules and regulations that make it look like they’re very holy. You say, “Well how can sinners do that?” Because pride, spiritual pride, is such a self-satisfying sin that it makes up for all that you have to forfeit. Listen. Spiritual pride is like an aphrodisiac, it’s like a drug. Spiritual pride is a high, walking around in overtly spiritual pretense in the way you dress and the way you conduct yourself, and making outward pretenses and outward prayers and outward acts of manifest fasting, making an issue out of your giving for all to see. That’s what they did.

They found so much personal satisfaction in spiritual pride that they were willing to let other behaviors go. Spiritual pride is a very, very powerful, powerful sin. It’s also a damning sin. Now, of course, in secret, oh, that’s another story. In secret, they couldn’t restrain the flesh so in secret they committed every sin in their hearts

Why did they hate Jesus? Because He attacked them at the point of their pride. He said, “I reject your assessment of your condition before God.” He said in the Sermon on the Mount, “If your righteousness doesn’t exceed that as the – exceed that of the scribes and Pharisees, you have no part in the Kingdom.” He denounced them. Their hostility toward Jesus was the result of His rejection of their entire works/righteousness system that elevated human pride. That was sort of all they had left and He attacked it. The zenith of this system of manifest spiritual pride was Sabbath. On Sabbath they all came out into public view at the synagogue. On that great day, all the focus of their self-righteous proud system reached its clarity. This was their time to shine.

Spiritual pride is why the Jewish hierarchy hated Jesus. Interestingly, the Deplorables of the day flocked to Jesus, because they had no spiritual pride.

holy_trinity by st andrei rublevTrinity Sunday is May 30, 2021.

The readings for Year B in the three-year Lectionary can be found here.

The Epistle follows (emphases mine):

Romans 8:12-17

8:12 So then, brothers and sisters, we are debtors, not to the flesh, to live according to the flesh–

8:13 for if you live according to the flesh, you will die; but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live.

8:14 For all who are led by the Spirit of God are children of God.

8:15 For you did not receive a spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received a spirit of adoption. When we cry, “Abba! Father!”

8:16 it is that very Spirit bearing witness with our spirit that we are children of God,

8:17 and if children, then heirs, heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ–if, in fact, we suffer with him so that we may also be glorified with him.

Commentary comes from Matthew Henry and John MacArthur.

This passage discusses the believer’s privileges, which are many.

Paul exhorts the Romans not to be debtors to the flesh (verse 12). We have a higher calling. We are debtors to Christ and to the Holy Spirit; if we live in a carnal way we will surely die, but if we conquer sin during our lives, we will live forever (verse 13).

Matthew Henry’s commentary elaborates further:

Let not our life be after the wills and motions of the flesh. Two motives he mentions here:– [1.] We are not debtors to the flesh, neither by relation, gratitude, nor any other bond or obligation. We owe no suit nor service to our carnal desires; we are indeed bound to clothe, and feed, and take care of the body, as a servant to the soul in the service of God, but no further. We are not debtors to it; the flesh never did us so much kindness as to oblige us to serve it. It is implied that we are debtors to Christ and to the Spirit: there we owe our all, all we have and all we can do, by a thousand bonds and obligations. Being delivered from so great a death by so great a ransom, we are deeply indebted to our deliverer. See 1 Corinthians 6:19; 1 Corinthians 6:20. [2.] Consider the consequences, what will be at the end of the way. Here are life and death, blessing and cursing, set before us. If you live after the flesh, you shall die; that is, die eternally. It is the pleasing, and serving, and gratifying, of the flesh, that are the ruin of souls; that is, the second death. Dying indeed is the soul’s dying: the death of the saints is but a sleep. But, on the other hand, You shall live, live and be happy to eternity; that is the true life: If you through the Spirit mortify the deeds of the body, subdue and keep under all fleshly lusts and affections, deny yourselves in the pleasing and humouring of the body, and this through the Spirit; we cannot do it without the Spirit working it in us, and the Spirit will not do it without our doing our endeavour. So that in a word we are put upon this dilemma, either to displease the body or destroy the soul.

John MacArthur says that, with the Spirit’s help, we can vanquish sin in our lives:

When you became a Christian, the Spirit of God took up residence in your life. And with the Spirit of God came the power of God, mighty enough to pull down strongholds, to tear down every high thing that exalts itself against God and to bring you into captivity to the obedience of Christ. Right? In other words, there’s a resource there that can enable you to have victory over Satan and victory over demons and victory over the flesh and bring everything in your life into captivity to the obedience of Christ. Listen, I’m going to say something that might shock you. You have the potential to be perfect. You have the potential to be perfect. If you do not have victory in each individual case, it is not because the power for victory isn’t there, it is because the appropriation isn’t there. And I confess, I agree that it is somewhat debilitated by the power of the flesh but nonetheless, the potential is there.

You say, “You mean I’ve got power to deal with the sin in my life?” That’s right. You say, “I’m not doing too well.” I understand that. And there’s something else you might need to know that will help you. Look at Ephesians chapter 5, verse 18, a familiar verse. And I want to remind you of something you perhaps have studied before. By the way, the word “power” in the Bible is dunamis, from which we get our word “dynamite.” And as a believer, you ought to be explosive; the power of God ought to be blasting its way through you.

But there is a key to that and I think it’s given in Ephesians 5:18 where it says, “Be not drunk with wine in which is (astia, dissipation) excess, but be being kept filled with the Spirit.” You see, the key is in appropriation. And the way you appropriate the available power is to be filled with the Spirit. To be filled with the Spirit, basically, simply means to have habitual permeation of your life by the Holy Spirit. You think His thoughts, you feel His feelings. You obey His will. It’s to be controlled by the Spirit of God. Frankly, you’re controlled by whatever fills your mind, isn’t that right? You’re controlled by whatever fills your mind. And that’s the old computer thing: G.I.G.O. — garbage in, garbage out. Whatever you pump into your computer is going to come out in your behavior. Whatever controls your mind is going to control your behavior. And if the Spirit of God can control your mind, then you’ll have a mind renewed in the Spirit, as the Bible talks about. You’re going to find that that fleshes itself out in your good and godly and holy behavior. And so all it means here when it says, “Be being kept filled with the Spirit,” doesn’t mean fall backwards in some trance. It doesn’t mean you flip out into some sort of ecstatic experience. It simply means you get under the control of the Holy Spirit so that He fills your life.

Paul makes a simple, yet powerful, statement: all who are led by the Spirit of God are the children of God (verse 14).

This is the greatest privilege anyone can have.

Henry explains:

Observe, (1.) Their property: They are led by the Spirit of God, as a scholar in his learning is led by his tutor, as a traveller in his journey is led by his guide, as a soldier in his engagements is led by his captain; not driven as beasts, but led as rational creatures, drawn with the cords of a man and the bands of love. It is the undoubted character of all true believers that they are led by the Spirit of God. Having submitted themselves in believing to his guidance, they do in their obedience follow that guidance, and are sweetly led into all truth and all duty. (2.) Their privilege: They are the sons of God, received into the number of God’s children by adoption, owned and loved by him as his children.

Paul says that when we received the Holy Spirit, we were no longer to be afraid of judgement having received a spirit of adoption (verse 15), which we recognise when we cry ‘Abba! Father!’

Henry tells us:

it is God’s prerogative, when he adopts, to give a spirit of adoption–the nature of children. The Spirit of adoption works in the children of God a filial love to God as a Father, a delight in him, and a dependence upon him, as a Father. A sanctified soul bears the image of God, as the child bears the image of the father. Whereby we cry, Abba, Father. Praying is here called crying, which is not only an earnest, but a natural expression of desire; children that cannot speak vent their desires by crying. Now, the Spirit teaches us in prayer to come to God as a Father, with a holy humble confidence, emboldening the soul in that duty. Abba, Father. Abba is a Syriac word signifying father or my father; pater, a Greek work; and why both, Abba, Father? Because Christ said so in prayer (Mark 14:36), Abba, Father: and we have received the Spirit of the Son. It denotes an affectionate endearing importunity, and a believing stress laid upon the relation. Little children, begging of their parents, can say little but Father, Father, and that is rhetoric enough. It also denotes that the adoption is common both to Jews and Gentiles: the Jews call him Abba in their language, the Greeks may call him pater in their language; for in Christ Jesus there is neither Greek nor Jew.

MacArthur explains how adoption by God is similar to adoption in Roman times. As such, it was encouraging for the Roman converts — as it should be for us, too:

Now let me just talk for a minute about adoption as such because when you say the word “adoption” some people think that’s sort of a second-class status. You’re not a real son, you’re an adopted son. You’re sort of a Johnny-come-lately or a Janie-come-lately. You got added on to the end of the deal because nobody wanted you and sort of second-class idea. But that is not true. It may be that some people in our day think of it that way but in the first century, it was quite the very opposite.

For example, in the Roman culture, if a father looked over his children, particularly his sons, and he didn’t see among the born sons that he had brought into the world a son that he deemed to be worthy to inherit his name, his title, his offices, his estates, he would go outside and he would find such a worthy son and he would adopt him into the family based upon his virtue, based upon his character, based upon his talent, and that adopted son would then take precedence over all of his natural sons who didn’t qualify at the level of qualification that the father had established. So an adopted son is not, in the Roman culture, a waif picked up off the street just so he’s gotten cared for. No, no. An adopted son in the Roman system is a son who is chosen by the father for the purpose of inheriting the estate and of bearing the name and the title of that father.

And so, when it says in the Bible that we have become the adopted sons of God, it is not to say that God scoops us off the street somewhere just so we can get cared for, it is to say that God out of all the world has chosen us to bear His name and His title and inherit His estate. And it is not just that He takes us because we happen to come along through natural process, it is that He sovereignly chooses us out of all the world. That’s a little different, isn’t it? And that’s the essence of this thought. We are the preferred of God. We are the choice of God by His free involuntary election and in no sense in the world are we inferior, in no sense. We have been chosen to bear His name. We have been chosen to inherit His kingdom.

Our Spirit bearing witness distinguishes us as children of God (verse 16).

Henry says that this should be a great source of comfort to us:

those that are sanctified have God’s Spirit witnessing with their spirits, which is to be understood not of any immediate extraordinary revelation, but an ordinary work of the Spirit, in and by the means of comfort, speaking peace to the soul. This testimony is always agreeable to the written word, and is therefore always grounded upon sanctification; for the Spirit in the heart cannot contradict the Spirit in the word. The Spirit witnesses to none the privileges of children who have not the nature and disposition of children.

Paul ends by saying that if we are children of God, then we are also joint heirs with His Son, Christ Jesus, meaning that if we suffer with Him, we will also be glorified with Him (verse 17).

What a happy thought. Our suffering in this world for our faith will be eclipsed when we are glorified with Him in Heaven.

Henry tells us:

It surpasses all that we have yet seen and known: present vouchsafements are sweet and precious, very precious, very sweet; but there is something to come, something behind the curtain, that will outshine all. Shall be revealed in us; not only revealed to us, to be seen, but revealed in us, to be enjoyed. The kingdom of God is within you, and will be so to eternity.

What an encouraging message for us!

May all of my readers have a happy and blessed Trinity Sunday.

Pentecost2Pentecost Sunday is May 23, 2021.

Readings for Year B in the three-year Lectionary can be found here.

The feast of Pentecost is considered to be the birthday of the Church, as the baptism of the Holy Spirit came down upon the disciples, including the Apostles, enabling them to spread the Good News, the Gospel story.

Acts 2:1-21 can be read either as the First Reading or as the Epistle. As I have been writing about Acts 1 for Ascension Day and Exaudi Sunday, it seemed apposite to continue with Acts 2.

Emphases below are mine.

Acts 2:1-21

2:1 When the day of Pentecost had come, they were all together in one place.

2:2 And suddenly from heaven there came a sound like the rush of a violent wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting.

2:3 Divided tongues, as of fire, appeared among them, and a tongue rested on each of them.

2:4 All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages, as the Spirit gave them ability.

2:5 Now there were devout Jews from every nation under heaven living in Jerusalem.

2:6 And at this sound the crowd gathered and was bewildered, because each one heard them speaking in the native language of each.

2:7 Amazed and astonished, they asked, “Are not all these who are speaking Galileans?

2:8 And how is it that we hear, each of us, in our own native language?

2:9 Parthians, Medes, Elamites, and residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia,

2:10 Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya belonging to Cyrene, and visitors from Rome, both Jews and proselytes,

2:11 Cretans and Arabs–in our own languages we hear them speaking about God’s deeds of power.”

2:12 All were amazed and perplexed, saying to one another, “What does this mean?”

2:13 But others sneered and said, “They are filled with new wine.”

2:14 But Peter, standing with the eleven, raised his voice and addressed them, “Men of Judea and all who live in Jerusalem, let this be known to you, and listen to what I say.

2:15 Indeed, these are not drunk, as you suppose, for it is only nine o’clock in the morning.

2:16 No, this is what was spoken through the prophet Joel:

2:17 ‘In the last days it will be, God declares, that I will pour out my Spirit upon all flesh, and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, and your young men shall see visions, and your old men shall dream dreams.

2:18 Even upon my slaves, both men and women, in those days I will pour out my Spirit; and they shall prophesy.

2:19 And I will show portents in the heaven above and signs on the earth below, blood, and fire, and smoky mist.

2:20 The sun shall be turned to darkness and the moon to blood, before the coming of the Lord’s great and glorious day.

2:21 Then everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved.’

Commentary comes from Matthew Henry and John MacArthur.

This is how the true gift of tongues — enabled for the Apostolic Era — worked. Those Galileans with this special gift spoke in existing foreign languages fluently and eloquently, easily understood by outsiders who spoke those languages.

Jews from many foreign countries went up to Jerusalem for the Festival of Weeks, or Shavuot. It takes place 50 days after Passover. Pentecost is 50 days after Easter; the word itself means ‘fiftieth’. In 2021, Shavuot was commemorated from May 16 to May 18. Hebcal describes its significance:

Shavuot commemorates the anniversary of the day G-d gave the Torah to the entire Israelite nation assembled at Mount Sinai, although the association between the giving of the Torah (Matan Torah) and Shavuot is not explicit in the Biblical text. The holiday is one of the Shalosh Regalim, the three Biblical pilgrimage festivals. It marks the conclusion of the Counting of the Omer.

Jesus rose from the dead on the day of the offering of the First Fruits. Fifty days later, on Shavuot, the Holy Spirit descends upon His disciples.

The disciples were gathered in one place (verse 1), possibly in the upper room where they drew lots for Matthias’s accession to apostleship. In any event, they would have been in Jerusalem, along with Jewish pilgrims for Shavuot.

Suddenly, they heard the sound of a violent wind, which filled the entire house (verse 2).

Matthew Henry’s commentary describes it as follows:

Probably it alarmed the whole city, but, to show that it was supernatural, presently fixed upon that particular houseThis would direct the people who observed it whither to go to enquire the meaning of it. This wind filling the house would strike an awe upon the disciples, and help to put them into a very serious, reverent, and composed frame, for the receiving of the Holy Ghost. Thus the convictions of the Spirit make way for his comforts; and the rough blasts of that blessed wind prepare the soul for its soft and gentle gales.

Tongues of fire appeared, one tongue over each of them (verse 3).

Of these flames, Henry says:

The flame of a candle is somewhat like a tongue; and there is a meteor which naturalists call ignis lambens–a gentle flame, not a devouring fire; such was this.

Henry explains how God used outward signs to designate prophets and fire in the Old Testament :

(1.) There was an outward sensible sign, for the confirming of the faith of the disciples themselves, and for the convincing of others. Thus the prophets of old had frequently their first mission confirmed by signs, that all Israel might know them to be established prophets.

(2.) The sign given was fire, that John Baptist’s saying concerning Christ might be fulfilled, He shall baptize you with the Holy Ghost and with fire; with the Holy Ghost as with fire. They were now, in the feast of pentecost, celebrating the memorial of the giving of the law upon mount Sinai; and as that was given in fire, and therefore is called a fiery law, so is the gospel. Ezekiel’s mission was confirmed by a vision of burning coals of fire (Acts 1:13; Acts 1:13), and Isaiah’s by a coal of fire touching his lips, Acts 6:7; Acts 6:7. The Spirit, like fire, melts the heart, separates and burns up the dross, and kindles pious and devout affections in the soul, in which, as in the fire upon the altar, the spiritual sacrifices are offered up. This is that fire which Christ came to send upon the earth. Luke 12:49.

Shavuot traditionally involved an offering of wheat. John MacArthur says that the Jews made loaves of bread, signifying their unity as God’s people.

He applies this to the first Pentecost, the baptism of the Holy Spirit and the creation of the Church:

Now, I want you to know that, so that you’ll be able to understand your identity in Christ. You’re one with Him. You’re one with every other Christian. That’s what occurred in verse 2 when it says, “There came a sound from heaven like a rushing mighty wind,” – we know that to be the breath of God, the Holy Spirit – “filled the house where they were sitting.” And if He filled that house, He filled them who were in it. And I believe at that point the baptism of the Spirit took place.

Kind of an interesting play on words, if you take the idea that it filled all the house, and carry it to Ephesians 2:22. There’s a new house there where all the believers are called the house or the habitation of the Spirit. So He filled the physical house in Acts 2:2; but in the same moment, He filled the spiritual house, and all believers became His new house.

Now, let me add another thought here, because I want you to understand this. The baptism of the Spirit is also extremely important understood this way, because if it isn’t, then Jesus’ prayer in John 17 goes unanswered, and then you’ve got some real problems. You see, Jesus prayed this four times: verse 11, 21, 22, 23. He said, “Father, I pray that they be” – what? – “one. One, one, one.”

Now, my friends, this happened right here. This is the answer to Jesus’ prayer. When the Spirit of God came, He made us one positionally. Now, we aren’t always one practically, are we? There’s divisions and strife among us when we’re carnal. But, positionally, are we one blended together? Are we that common loaf? Sure we are. We’re not just a loosely-gathered sheaf tied together with string, we are one in Christ, inner-dependent and mutually-dependent on life from each other in the ministry of our gifts and fellowship. And so we must assume the baptism of the Spirit to be that baptizing all believers into oneness, or the prayer of Jesus Christ goes unanswered.

Now, notice another phenomenon that happened in verse 3 accompanying the first; and this is all proof that the Spirit came. Verse 3: “And there appeared unto them,” – that is to those believers who had been baptized, immersed at that moment into the body of Christ by the Spirit – “appeared unto them cloven” – or parted – “tongues as of fire,” – they weren’t fire, they were as like fire – “and it sat upon each of them.” Now, here’s another interesting phenomenon. These parted tongues that appeared over everyone of them was testimony that with no exception, each of them had received the Holy Spirit.

As the disciples were filled with the Holy Spirit at that point, they began speaking in other languages — tongues — ‘as the Spirit gave them ability’ (verse 4). This was in order to spread the Good News to those from other nations who were celebrating Shavuot in Jerusalem (verse 5).

As Henry surmises above, the roar of the wind must have drawn a large crowd to the house where the disciples were gathered, because the foreigners were ‘bewildered’ to find that the people inside were speaking their own languages (verse 6).

They were amazed to hear, each in his own language, humble Galileans proclaim the mighty works of God (verses 6-11).

Henry contrasts this with the Tower of Babel from Genesis:

The tongues were divided, and yet they still continued all of one accord; for there may be a sincere unity of affections where yet there is a diversity of expression. Dr. Lightfoot observes that the dividing of tongues at Babel was the casting off of the heathen; for when they had lost the language in which alone God was spoken of and preached, they utterly lost the knowledge of God and religion, and fell into idolatry. But now, after above two thousand years, God, by another dividing of tongues, restores the knowledge of himself to the nations ...

And we may suppose that they understood not only themselves but one another too, which the builders of Babel did not, Genesis 11:7. They did not speak here and there a word of another tongue, or stammer out some broken sentences, but spoke it as readily, properly, and elegantly, as if it had been their mother-tongue; for whatever was produced by miracle was the best of the kind. They spoke not from any previous thought or meditation, but as the Spirit gave them utterance; he furnished them with the matter as well as the language.

MacArthur says:

Now, the miracle of languages here was important because of the strategy of the spread of the gospelin Jerusalem at this time there were people from all over the Jewish world and there could have been as many as one million. You could fit 200,000 of them into the temple courtyard alone. They were jammed into this place. And this specific miracle was … not to become the pattern or the norm for all Christians ...

In other words, if the gift still exists, then God for some strange reason has put unnecessary, crippling strings on the gospel because He makes people go through years of studying languages before they can ever begin to witness. And if people have this so-called gift to speak in foreign languages, it would seem rather unnecessary. And if God had designed such a language miracle for today, it would seem as though it could be put to great use. And if there is a gift of languages, my friends, let me ask this: Why is it only for certain special people in certain special movements who get together in special prayer meetings and speak it to each other who already speak the same language and who already know the truth? And if unbelievers are present, Paul says they will say you’re mad because it will only confuse them.

You see, if such still exists, why doesn’t it exist for missionaries? Or better yet, why are there some missionaries who claim to have the gift but still go to language school? So, you see, this experience in Acts is by no means the norm. We cannot make it the norm for all Christians. You cannot say that every Christian is supposed to be speaking foreign languages.

Those in the crowd asked what such a phenomenon could mean (verse 12). However, others were sceptical, accusing the disciples of being drunk on ‘new wine’, which was rather weak in alcohol content (verse 13).

MacArthur says:

They did not understand and they tried to explain it away by mocking them and saying, “Look at these babies, can’t handle grape juice.”

That accusation galvanised Peter, ever the boldest of the Twelve, into standing up to address the Judeans and those from Jerusalem (verse 14). The other Eleven were around him.

Once the Holy Spirit entered into Peter, he now understood Christ’s ministry and could competently preach about it, as his sermon shows. He addressed it to the local Jews and not the foreigners, so he spoke in his own language.

MacArthur sets the scene for us:

So Peter stands up. Now, the moment is fantastic. The Holy Spirit has set the stage. The people are confused. Their minds are all messed up. They can’t understand what’s been going on. From their standpoint everything is ready. From Peter’s standpoint everything is ready. He’s been filled with the Spirit of God. He’s about to open his mouth and God is going to speak and so he stands up. And then I like this, it says he lifted up his voice. Oh, preachers love that verse because that’s a wonderful text that grants New Testament precedent for yelling. And Peter lifted up his voice.

Peter refuted the idea of drunkenness, especially as it was nine o’clock in the morning (verse 15). Nine o’clock was the time for private prayers. The Jews did not eat or drink anything until afterwards.

He then launched into a prophecy from Joel (verse 16), citing Joel 2:28-32 (verse 17), wherein the prophet said that in the last days — and we are still in those ‘last days’, even now — God declared that He would pour out his Spirit upon humankind at which point men and women would preach (the original meaning of the word ‘prophesy’):

and your young men shall see visions, and your old men shall dream dreams.

Joel’s prophecy included slaves who would prophesy (verse 18).

Joel spoke of the coming day of judgement, with visible, terrible signs in the skies as well as on the earth (verse 19). The sun will become dark and the moon become like blood just before the Lord comes to us again (verse 20).

Everyone at that time who calls upon the name of the Lord will be saved (verse 21).

Henry says that Peter was using Joel’s prophecy to alert the Jews that the temple would be destroyed, which it was in AD 70. There were a number of phenomena that occurred in Jerusalem around that time:

Those that would not submit to the power of God’s grace, in this wonderful effusion of his Spirit, should fall and lie under the pourings out of the vials of his wrath. Those shall break that will not bend. First, The destruction of Jerusalem, which was about forty years after Christ’s death, is here called that great and notable day of the Lord, because it put a final period to the Mosaic economy; the Levitical priesthood and the ceremonial law were thereby for ever abolished and done away. The desolation itself was such as was never brought upon any place or nation, either before or since. It was the day of the Lord, for it was the day of his vengeance upon that people for crucifying Christ, and persecuting his ministers; it was the year of recompences for that controversy; yea, and for all the blood of the saints and martyrs, from the blood of righteous Abel,Matthew 23:35. It was a little day of judgment; it was a notable day: in Joel it is called a terrible day, for so it was to men on earth; but here epiphane (after the Septuagint), a glorious, illustrious day, for so it was to Christ in heaven; it was the epiphany, his appearing, so he himself spoke of it, Matthew 24:30. …

Secondly, The terrible presages of that destruction are here foretold: There shall be wonders in heaven above, the sun turned into darkness and the moon into blood; and signs too in the earth beneath, blood and fire. Josephus, in his preface to his history of the wars of the Jews, speaks of the signs and prodigies that preceded them, terrible thunders, lightnings, and earthquakes; there was a fiery comet that hung over the city for a year, and a flaming sword was seen pointing down upon it; a light shone upon the temple and the altar at midnight, as if it had been noon-day

The blood points at the wars of the Jews with the neighbouring nations, with the Samaritans, Syrians, and Greeks, in which abundance of blood was shed, as there was also in their civil wars, and the struggles of the seditious (as they called them), which were very bloody; there was no peace to him that went out nor to him that came in. The fire and vapour of smoke, here foretold, literally came to pass in the burning of their cities, and towns, and synagogues, and temple at last. And this turning of the sun into darkness, and the moon into blood, bespeaks the dissolution of their government, civil and sacred, and the extinguishing of all their lights.

Yet, when the temple was destroyed, those who believed in Christ were not harmed:

Thirdly, The signal preservation of the Lord’s people is here promised (Acts 2:21; Acts 2:21): Whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord Jesus (which is the description of a true Christian, 1 Corinthians 1:2) shall be saved, shall escape that judgment which shall be a type and earnest of everlasting salvation. In the destruction of Jerusalem by the Chaldeans, there was a remnant sealed to be hid in the day of the Lord’s anger; and in the destruction by the Romans not one Christian perished. Those that distinguish themselves by singular piety shall be distinguished by special preservation. And observe, the saved remnant are described by this, that they are a praying people: they call on the name of the Lord, which intimates that they are not saved by any merit or righteousness of their own, but purely by the favour of God, which must be sued out by prayer. It is the name of the Lord which they call upon that is their strong tower.

There was much more to Peter’s first sermon, the first fire and brimstone sermon in the history of the Church.

The result was this (Acts 2:41):

So those who received his word were baptized, and there were added that day about three thousand souls.

From there, the Church in Jerusalem grew dramatically day by day:

42 And they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers. 43 And awe[d] came upon every soul, and many wonders and signs were being done through the apostles. 44 And all who believed were together and had all things in common. 45 And they were selling their possessions and belongings and distributing the proceeds to all, as any had need. 46 And day by day, attending the temple together and breaking bread in their homes, they received their food with glad and generous hearts, 47 praising God and having favor with all the people. And the Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved.

What an awe-inspiring experience that period after the first Pentecost must have been.

Pentecost Sunday concludes Eastertide. Next Sunday is Trinity Sunday.

The Seventh Sunday of Easter, or Exaudi Sunday, is May 16, 2021.

The readings for Year B are here.

Traditionally, this particular Sunday, the one between Ascension Day and Pentecost, is known as Exaudi Sunday, so called because of the old Latin Introit, taken from Psalm 17:1. The two first words in Latin are ‘Exaudi Domine’ — ‘Hear, Lord’.

Some theologians say it is the saddest Sunday in the Church year because the faithful recall the forlorn disciples, among them the Apostles, who saw Christ for the last time as He ascended into Heaven. They then awaited the arrival of the Holy Spirit, not knowing what to expect. You can read more about Exaudi Sunday here.

The First Reading for Year B in the three-year Lectionary picks up from the First Reading for Ascension Day and is as follows (emphases mine below):

Acts 1:15-17, 21-26

1:15 In those days Peter stood up among the believers (together the crowd numbered about one hundred twenty persons) and said,

1:16 “Friends, the scripture had to be fulfilled, which the Holy Spirit through David foretold concerning Judas, who became a guide for those who arrested Jesus —

1:17 for he was numbered among us and was allotted his share in this ministry.”

1:21 So one of the men who have accompanied us during all the time that the Lord Jesus went in and out among us,

1:22 beginning from the baptism of John until the day when he was taken up from us–one of these must become a witness with us to his resurrection.”

1:23 So they proposed two, Joseph called Barsabbas, who was also known as Justus, and Matthias.

1:24 Then they prayed and said, “Lord, you know everyone’s heart. Show us which one of these two you have chosen

1:25 to take the place in this ministry and apostleship from which Judas turned aside to go to his own place.”

1:26 And they cast lots for them, and the lot fell on Matthias; and he was added to the eleven apostles.

Commentary comes from Matthew Henry and John MacArthur.

To put the reading into context, the disciples returned to Jerusalem from watching Jesus ascend to heaven on the Mount of Olives (Mount Olivet):

12 Then they returned to Jerusalem from the mount called Olivet, which is near Jerusalem, a Sabbath day’s journey away. 13 And when they had entered, they went up to the upper room, where they were staying, Peter and John and James and Andrew, Philip and Thomas, Bartholomew and Matthew, James the son of Alphaeus and Simon the Zealot and Judas the son of James. 14 All these with one accord were devoting themselves to prayer, together with the women and Mary the mother of Jesus, and his brothers.[c]

Peter stood up before this group of 120 people in an upper room and began to speak (verse 15).

John MacArthur describes the location. A ‘Sabbath day’s journey’ was 2,000 cubits, not very far:

they would have just barely gotten inside the eastern gate of Jerusalem, and likely they would have been right where they were when they gathered together for the upper room occasion for that last Passover; and, perhaps, they were in the very same upper room where Jesus had appeared to them in resurrection. But it couldn’t have been very far inside the eastern wall; and as best we can tell, that’s the same area where the upper room was in proximity to the temple and all of the rest of the thing. And so they took the journey of about two-thousand cubits. That would be three-thousand feet for you that are still trying to figure that out, or a little over a half a mile. And in verse 13, it says, “And when they were come in, they went up into an upper room.” They came into the city of Jerusalem into a house and into an upper room.

Now, the houses were very commonly possessing upper rooms – or upper chambers, used four times in the New Testament, that particular designation. They were used for many purposes. Evidently, it was kind of like a living room. You know, it was kind of where you keep the kids out kind of thing for meditation, devotions, prayer. And when somebody died they usually got stuck in the upper room. So it had a multi-purpose both for the living and the dead. The reason I say the dead got put there was because in Acts 11 that’s where they put Dorcas when she died.

And so houses would have it. It was elevated from the regular pattern of the house, which was below. And so it must have been a big upper room. Must have been a pretty wealthy guy who had an upper room that size, because they got a lot of people in that upper room. They all went into that upper room.

They did not stay there round the clock. They would have also been praying at the temple, but this was their assembly room:

And so they were in and out of this upper room. But they came there to meet together, and then would go out from time to time.

Matthew Henry’s commentary has more:

Here was the beginning of the Christian church: this hundred and twenty was the grain of mustard-seed that grew into a tree, the leaven that leavened the whole lump. 2. The speaker was Peter, who had been, and still was, the most forward man; and therefore notice is taken of his forwardness and zeal, to show that he had perfectly recovered the ground he lost by his denying his Master, and, Peter being designed to be the apostle of the circumcision, while the sacred story stays among the Jews, he is still brought in, as afterwards, when it comes to speak of the Gentiles, it keeps to the story of Paul.

Peter wanted to replace the twelfth apostle Judas (verse 17), who died on the day of the Crucifixion. Judas’s betrayal of Christ was a fulfilment of Scripture (verse 16).

Henry explains why Peter wanted the apostolic replacement:

They were ordained twelve, with an eye to the twelve tribes of Israel, descended from the twelve patriarchs; they were the twelve stars that make up the church’s crown (Revelation 12:1), and for them twelve thrones were designated, Matthew 19:28. Now being twelve when they were learners, if they were but eleven when they were to be teachers, it would occasion every one to enquire what had become of the twelfth, and so revive the remembrance of the scandal of their society; and therefore care was taken, before the descent of the Spirit, to fill up the vacancy, of the doing of which we now have an account, our Lord Jesus, probably, having given directions about it, among other things which he spoke pertaining to the kingdom of God.

Unfortunately, the Lectionary omits the verses about the prophecy which Judas fulfilled. The following verses should not have been omitted:

18 (Now this man acquired a field with the reward of his wickedness, and falling headlong[d] he burst open in the middle and all his bowels gushed out. 19 And it became known to all the inhabitants of Jerusalem, so that the field was called in their own language Akeldama, that is, Field of Blood.) 20 For it is written in the Book of Psalms,

“‘May his camp become desolate,
    and let there be no one to dwell in it’;

and

“‘Let another take his office.’

The first verse cited, about the desolate camp, comes from Psalm 69:25 and the second from Psalm 109:8.

MacArthur, who wrote his seminary thesis on Judas, explains the Field of Blood and the betrayer’s death:

It’s called the Field of Blood because it was purchased with blood money. You’ve heard of blood money, haven’t you? This is where it all comes from: blood money, Judas money

Evidently Judas tried to hang himself on one of the rocky parapets that surround that field which is somewhere between the flux of the valley of Hinnom and the valley of Kidron. And in that particular field, elevated, there are very rocky areas. And, evidently, he had tried to suspend himself – maybe with a branch over the edge or something – and hang himself. But somehow the rope had snapped, and he had fallen on the rocks below, and burst asunder. What a tragedy. What an unbelievable tragedy …

Henry, who died in the early 18th century, says that bowels in this death were particularly important:

If, when the devil was cast out of a child, he tore him, threw him down, and rent him, and almost killed him (as we find Mark 9:26; Luke 9:42), no wonder if, when he had full possession of Judas, he threw him headlong, and burst him. The suffocation of him, which Matthew relates, would make him swell till he burst, which Peter relates. He burst asunder with a great noise (so Dr. Edwards), which was heard by the neighbours, and so, as it follows, it came to be known (Acts 1:19; Acts 1:19): His bowels gushed out; Luke writes like a physician, understanding all the entrails of the middle and lower ventricle. Bowelling is part of the punishment of traitors. Justly do those bowels gush out that were shut up against the Lord Jesus. And perhaps Christ had an eye to the fate of Judas, when he said of the wicked servant that he would cut him in sunder, Matthew 24:51.

MacArthur gives his verdict on Judas:

I think the attitude toward Judas is a tremendous sense of sorrow, a tremendous sense of awareness that any man who lives in the light of the gospel of Jesus Christ and walks away from that light brings upon himself damnation upon damnation. To know the truth and walk away from it, to sin willfully means there’s no sacrifice for sin. And of how much sorer punishment shall he be thought worthy who hath trodden under foot the Son of God, and counted the blood of the covenant an unholy thing. Judas: tragedy upon tragedy.

The Scripture, verse 20, Judas fulfilled it. It’s no accident that Judas dropped out, “For it is written in the book of Psalms, ‘Let his habitation be desolate, and let no man dwell therein.’” In other words, Peter is saying, “It is prophesied by David” – that’s Psalms 69:25 – “that the habitation of Judas would be desolate, that he would be removed, that Judas would be wiped out.” And then in a purer sense, he would really never be replaced.

And then it says, “His bishopric” – or his oversight, his overseeing, his episkopē, which means overseer – “let another take.” And that’s Psalm 109:8. Quotes two Psalms. And this simply means that he would be replaced. Judas’ place removed, somebody else placed in: not to take the place of Judas – nobody could ever do that, that was a place completely just taken away – but a twelfth brought in.

Peter gave his criterion for the replacement. The man had to have been a disciple throughout our Lord’s ministry (verse 21) all the way back to His baptism by John the Baptist through to the Resurrection then the Ascension (verse 22).

They decided on two candidates: Joseph called Barsabbas, who was also known as Justus, and Matthias (verse 23).

Wisely, they prayed for guidance, relying on the Lord’s knowledge of everyone’s heart (verse 24).

They also mentioned Judas, saying that he turned aside ministry and apostleship ‘to go to his own place’ (verse 25).

I read verse 25 closely for first time today and thought, ‘Wow!’

MacArthur would agree:

Verse 25 – ‘that he may take part of this ministry and apostleship from which Judas by transgression fell,’ – and then this shocking statement – ‘that he might go to his own place.’” Boy, that’s shocking statement.

Hell is the place where people belong who go there. Did you know that? They go there because it’s their own place. Did you know that death doesn’t change anything, it only crystallizes into permanency what you are in life; and by your own choice death becomes the securing of your own place? When Judas went to Hell it wasn’t out of the ordinary, that’s where he belonged; for that’s where he chose to go. He went to his own place – a fearful statement. Every man has a place in eternity that is his own by what he does with Jesus Christ.

They cast lots and the majority voted for Matthias (verse 26).

Oddly, this is the only time that Matthias and Justus are mentioned in the New Testament.

MacArthur says:

You know, it’s not always the shining lights, it’s not always the stars on the horizon that the Lord chooses to do the things He wants done, is it? Sometimes it’s the people you don’t even know that are really moving and doing the job for God. And here are two guys that nobody knows from anybody else. We have no idea who they are. They don’t appear before or after this.

There is much to contemplate here, especially with the missing verses about Judas added.

We do not know much about St Matthias. Some historians say he preached in Ethiopia and died there. Others say he died of old age in Jerusalem. Another group of scholars believe he was martyred in Jerusalem: stoned then beheaded.

Whatever the case, Matthias remains a popular name in France and Germany.

St Matthias is venerated in Catholic, Orthodox, Anglican and Lutheran churches, each of which has a different feast day for him.

File:Himmelfahrt Christi.jpgThe feast day of the Ascension of the Lord is Thursday, May 13, 2021.

The painting at left is German, Himmelfahrt Christi (The Ascension of Christ), by Mattheis Störbel. It was painted between 1515 and 1519 and is in the Deutsche Museum Nürnberg. This is likely to be the only depiction of the Ascension showing our Lord’s feet alone. (Image credit: Wikipedia)

Relevant posts follow, including the readings:

Readings for Ascension Day (same regardless of Lectionary year)

Ascension Day 2016 (John MacArthur on Acts 1-11)

A Reformed view of the Ascension (Christ as prophet, priest and king)

Acts 1:9-11 on the Ascension (addresses errors of preterism)

The Gospel reading is as follows (emphases mine):

Acts 1:1-11

1:1 In the first book, Theophilus, I wrote about all that Jesus did and taught from the beginning

1:2 until the day when he was taken up to heaven, after giving instructions through the Holy Spirit to the apostles whom he had chosen.

1:3 After his suffering he presented himself alive to them by many convincing proofs, appearing to them during forty days and speaking about the kingdom of God.

1:4 While staying with them, he ordered them not to leave Jerusalem, but to wait there for the promise of the Father. “This,” he said, “is what you have heard from me;

1:5 for John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit not many days from now.”

1:6 So when they had come together, they asked him, “Lord, is this the time when you will restore the kingdom to Israel?”

1:7 He replied, “It is not for you to know the times or periods that the Father has set by his own authority.

1:8 But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”

1:9 When he had said this, as they were watching, he was lifted up, and a cloud took him out of their sight.

1:10 While he was going and they were gazing up toward heaven, suddenly two men in white robes stood by them.

1:11 They said, “Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking up toward heaven? This Jesus, who has been taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way as you saw him go into heaven.”

Commentary is from John MacArthur.

The first verse should be no mystery, although I hope that celebrants everywhere explain to their congregations that Luke is the author of the Book of Acts, or Acts of the Apostles.

John MacArthur gives us the details:

Luke is the author of Acts. And Luke was closely associated with the apostles from about the time of Jesus’ death, around 30 A.D. to about 60 or 63 A.D. when evidently he penned this book; and in those intervening 30‑plus years, as Luke travelled in the companionship of the apostles, he penned what was going on …

Now, there are many reasons that Luke wanted to write this, and we could, perhaps, pull out as many reasons as there are truths in the book. It’s important, because it gives us the pattern of the church. It’s important, because it shows us the pattern of world evangelism. It’s important, because there are principles of discipleship. It’s important for a multiplicity of reasons. But in Luke’s own mind, as he is writing, he is directing this book to a particular Roman high official whose name we shall see in a moment; and in writing to this man, he is evidently – as one of his purposes – attempting to commend Christianity to the Roman world.

MacArthur tells us about Theophilus:

Now, if you go back to the beginning of Luke and look at chapter 1, verse 3, Luke addresses this gospel to Theophilus. He says, “To write unto thee in order, most excellent Theophilus, that thou mightest know the certainty of those things wherein thou hast been instructed.” Luke wrote Luke, the gospel of Luke, to Theophilus, and we know that. Now, here in chapter 1 of Acts, verse 1, he says, “The former treatise have I made, O Theophilus,” so we know it’s the same writer

Now, picking just a moment, some thoughts from the name Theophilus, which is a combination of two words meaning beloved of God, or friend of God, or lover of God. Theophilus we know little or nothing about except historically. In the second century, his name appears, and is some indication in the second century sources that he was an influential wealthy official in Antioch. There’s also some indication that Luke was originally from Antioch, and therefore Luke had a knowledge of this man; and perhaps because he was a well‑known physician had some connection with Theophilus.

Undoubtedly, Theophilus had become a believer; and consequently Luke had addressed these particular volumes to Theophilus to give him information, as he states in Luke, concerning Jesus Christ that he might well understand the things in which he had been instructed. So evidently he had come to Christ, and now he needed detail; and perhaps Theophilus was a man who demanded detail. Also the fact that he commends Christianity to the Romans would be in back of his mind as he writes to a Roman like Theophilus.

Now, we may also assume from Luke chapter 1, where he calls him “excellent Theophilus,” that he was a high-ranking Roman official, for the term “excellent” also appears in connection with Festus and Felix who were governors. So it is very likely that this man Theophilus was a very high-ranking Roman official who had come to Christ; and it is this one to whom Luke pens this two-volume set on the work of Jesus Christ, His work on earth and His work through His church, Volume 2. And you’ll notice that this is indicated very simply in verse 1. It says this: “I’m writing to you about all that Jesus” – what’s the next word? – “began, began to do and to teach.” In other words, “I only got it started.” Jesus on earth in the gospel accounts only began to do the work.

Luke writes that his first book — the Gospel — was about the ministry of Jesus up to His ascension to heaven, having given Spirit-inspired instructions to the Apostles, whom He had chosen (verse 2).

Readers of the New Testament know that the Apostles, especially Peter, did not understand the purpose of His ministry very well. Jesus knew that He needed to send them the gifts of the Holy Spirit, otherwise they would not be able to expand the Church.

MacArthur explains Luke’s use of ‘taken up to heaven’, repeated in verses 9 and 11:

Verse 9 emphasized it. It say He was taken up, verse 11 says He was taken up, and verse 22 says He was taken up. And the Holy Spirit is trying to tell us something: He was taken up. Physically in His glorified body, Jesus went up into heaven.

… the same Jesus Christ in the same glorified body that was touched by those disciples is sitting at the right hand of the Father, no different than He was when He left …

When He comes back He’ll be the very same that He was when He left. That’s why we can have confidence in what the writer of Hebrews says that we have not a high priest that cannot be touched with the feelings of our infirmities. He knows how we feel, because He’s there even now in a glorified body.

After His resurrection, Jesus continued appearing to the Apostles — eleven in number — teaching them about the kingdom of God (verse 3).

Jesus no longer appeared to everyone, as He had done before He was crucified. He appeared only to His disciples.

Luke says that Jesus told His disciples not to leave Jerusalem but to wait until God fulfilled His promise (verse 4): a baptism not of water, as in John the Baptist’s time, but of the Holy Spirit (verse 5).

That baptism of the Spirit would be a first. MacArthur explains how the Holy Spirit operated through prophets previously:

in the old economy, the Spirit would come and go according to the need. If you’re going to do a special work, the Spirit would come in, and then when the work was done He would depart.

The Old Testament says the Spirit of God descended upon Elijah then the Spirit of God departed. This is how the Spirit of God worked, never indwelling, but just moving in-and-out for a specific purpose. But the promise now is that the Spirit will come and be in you. That’s John 14:17, one of the really key verses in all the Word of God.

Note that when they gathered around Jesus before His return to the Father, the Apostles asked if He was going to restore Israel’s kingdom (verse 6). They were still thinking temporally, not spiritually.

Jesus deflects that by saying that only God the Father knows when He will accomplish His purpose according to His timeline (verse 7).

He then returns to discussing the imminent arrival, ten days hence, of the Holy Spirit which will enable the Apostles to be Christ’s witnesses, not only in the lands nearest to Jerusalem but also ‘to the ends of the earth’ (verse 8).

MacArthur paraphrases that verse:

“Don’t concentrate on when I’m coming; you concentrate on doing the job until I get there.”

He discusses the word ‘witness’ in Greek, from which we get the word ‘martyr’, and applies it to Westerners’ practice of Christianity today:

It’s interesting; the word “witness” here is martures. “Witnesses unto me” is mou martures, “My martyrs, My martyrs.” For some of you maybe it’ll be that. So many Christians died that the word “witness” finally came to mean martyr. So many of them died. Are you willing?

It’s sad; not only are we not willing to die for Jesus, most of us aren’t even willing to live for Him. We haven’t even learned not only what it is to be a dead sacrifice, but we haven’t learned what it is to be a living sacrifice.

Do you know what it is to be a living sacrifice? I think maybe Hosea knew a little bit about it when he said, “I’ll offer God the calves of my lips,” – in other words – “the real me.” I think Abraham knew what it was about when he went to sacrifice Isaac. Isaac would have been a dead sacrifice; Abraham would have been a living one. He was sacrificing all of his dreams, and promises, and everything God had ever given him when he slew that son. But he was willing to do it for God’s sake.

And that’s what a living witness is all about; that’s what a martyr is all about. God doesn’t necessarily want you to die for Him, but He wants you to live for Him as if you couldn’t care less about anything, sacrificing everything you have for His glory: a living witness, a living martyr, a living sacrifice.

As soon as Jesus had spoken about the Apostles’ upcoming mission, He was ‘lifted up’ and a cloud took Him out of their sight (verse 9).

As He ascended — returning home — the Apostles looked upward, when, suddenly, two men in white robes appeared beside them (verse 10).

The two men ask why the Apostles were looking heavenward, then say that Jesus will return to us in the same way that He left (verse 11). What a glorious day that will be.

The rapid growth of the Church was the result of the Holy Spirit entering into the Apostles, then those to whom they preached, not just for a time, but throughout their lives, just as we do:

The early church did it right. They did it from the day of Pentecost for thirty years. And you can follow the church by the blaze of their witness: super-charged with divine power. Witnessing fearlessly to the world, they turned the currents of civilization, they changed the face of the ages for God; and they had no more equipment than you have – none at all.

Admittedly, the Apostles did have particular Spirit-led gifts, such as healing. These were only for the Apostolic Era in order to spread the growth of the Church.

MacArthur’s sermon ends with this:

My grandfather had a poem written in his Bible, and I memorized it; and it goes like this: “When I stand at the judgment seat of Christ and He shows me His plan for me, the plan of my life as it might have been, and I see how I blocked Him here and checked Him there and would not yield my will; will there be grief in my Savior’s eyes, grief though He loves me still? He would have me rich, but I stand there poor, stripped of all but His grace, while memory runs like a haunted thing down a path I can’t retrace. Then my desolate heart will well nigh break with tears I cannot shed. I’ll cover my face with my empty hands, I’ll bow my uncrowned head.” Then this prayer: “O Lord, of the years that are left to me, I give them to Thy hand. Take me, break me, mold me to the pattern that Thou hast planned.”

I don’t know how much time we have, but I know whatever you do for Christ needs to be done today, because Jesus is coming. Christian, do you see it? Chapter 1, verse 1 to 11. You’ve got it all, you’ve got it all. It’s only a question of your will.

There is much for us to contemplate between Ascension Day and Pentecost Sunday — the Church’s birthday — in ten days’ time.

Below are the readings for the Sixth Sunday of Easter, May 9, 2021.

These are for Year B in the three-year Lectionary used in public worship.

Emphases mine below.

First reading

This is part of the story of the conversion of Cornelius the centurion, who was the first Italian saint. Acts 10 is one of my favourite chapters in the New Testament. Peter has a divine vision. Cornelius has a divine vision. The two men meet, and Cornelius, along with his household, are the first Gentiles to be baptised. You can read all about the visions and encounter here and see Rembrandt’s inspired depiction of Cornelius.

Acts 10:44-48

10:44 While Peter was still speaking, the Holy Spirit fell upon all who heard the word.

10:45 The circumcised believers who had come with Peter were astounded that the gift of the Holy Spirit had been poured out even on the Gentiles,

10:46 for they heard them speaking in tongues and extolling God. Then Peter said,

10:47 “Can anyone withhold the water for baptizing these people who have received the Holy Spirit just as we have?”

10:48 So he ordered them to be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ. Then they invited him to stay for several days.

Psalm

This short, joyful and prophetic Psalm ties in well with the reading above, as verse 9 refers to Gentiles being brought into the Messiah’s kingdom.

Psalm 98

98:1 O sing to the LORD a new song, for he has done marvelous things. His right hand and his holy arm have gotten him victory.

98:2 The LORD has made known his victory; he has revealed his vindication in the sight of the nations.

98:3 He has remembered his steadfast love and faithfulness to the house of Israel. All the ends of the earth have seen the victory of our God.

98:4 Make a joyful noise to the LORD, all the earth; break forth into joyous song and sing praises.

98:5 Sing praises to the LORD with the lyre, with the lyre and the sound of melody.

98:6 With trumpets and the sound of the horn make a joyful noise before the King, the LORD.

98:7 Let the sea roar, and all that fills it; the world and those who live in it.

98:8 Let the floods clap their hands; let the hills sing together for joy

98:9 at the presence of the LORD, for he is coming to judge the earth. He will judge the world with righteousness, and the peoples with equity.

Epistle

Readings from 1 John continue. There is much to contemplate in these six verses: the light burden of God’s commandments, faith conquering the world (of sin) and the sacrifice of Jesus Christ for our sins.

1 John 5:1-6

5:1 Everyone who believes that Jesus is the Christ has been born of God, and everyone who loves the parent loves the child.

5:2 By this we know that we love the children of God, when we love God and obey his commandments.

5:3 For the love of God is this, that we obey his commandments. And his commandments are not burdensome,

5:4 for whatever is born of God conquers the world. And this is the victory that conquers the world, our faith.

5:5 Who is it that conquers the world but the one who believes that Jesus is the Son of God?

5:6 This is the one who came by water and blood, Jesus Christ, not with the water only but with the water and the blood. And the Spirit is the one that testifies, for the Spirit is the truth.

Gospel

Readings from John’s Gospel continue. This reading picks up from last week’s. Jesus spoke these words at the conclusion of the Last Supper, after He sent Judas away. He wanted to make sure that the Apostles stayed together in faith and love.

John 15:9-17

15:9 As the Father has loved me, so I have loved you; abide in my love.

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.

15:11 I have said these things to you so that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be complete.

15:12 “This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you.

15:13 No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.

15:14 You are my friends if you do what I command you.

15:15 I do not call you servants any longer, because the servant does not know what the master is doing; but I have called you friends, because I have made known to you everything that I have heard from my Father.

15:16 You did not choose me but I chose you. And I appointed you to go and bear fruit, fruit that will last, so that the Father will give you whatever you ask him in my name.

15:17 I am giving you these commands so that you may love one another.

The Gospel reading is apposite, as Ascension Day is on this coming Thursday. Next Sunday, the one that precedes Pentecost, is traditionally known as Exaudi Sunday, one of sadness and bewilderment for the disciples after Christ ascends to Heaven. They had no idea how powerful the coming of the Holy Spirit would be: how that first Pentecost would change their lives and bring about the birth of the Church.

Below are the readings for the Fifth Sunday of Easter, May 2, 2021.

These are for Year B in the three-year Lectionary used in public worship.

Emphases below are mine.

First reading

The eunuch from Ethiopia asks Philip the Apostle to teach him about Jesus. This would have been some time after the first Pentecost. There were different types of eunuchs in the ancient world; not all were castrated but all held important positions in the courts where they served. Matthew Henry’s commentary says this man was a eunuch ‘not in body, but in office-lord chamberlain or steward of the household’ and would have commanded respect. This event fulfilled the prophecy of Psalm 68:31: ‘Ethiopia shall soon stretch out her hands unto God’. The eunuch had been reading Isaiah, and Isaiah 53:7-8 are cited below in Acts 8:32-33.

Acts 8:26-40

8:26 Then an angel of the Lord said to Philip, “Get up and go toward the south to the road that goes down from Jerusalem to Gaza.” (This is a wilderness road.)

8:27 So he got up and went. Now there was an Ethiopian eunuch, a court official of the Candace, queen of the Ethiopians, in charge of her entire treasury. He had come to Jerusalem to worship

8:28 and was returning home; seated in his chariot, he was reading the prophet Isaiah.

8:29 Then the Spirit said to Philip, “Go over to this chariot and join it.”

8:30 So Philip ran up to it and heard him reading the prophet Isaiah. He asked, “Do you understand what you are reading?”

8:31 He replied, “How can I, unless someone guides me?” And he invited Philip to get in and sit beside him.

8:32 Now the passage of the scripture that he was reading was this: “Like a sheep he was led to the slaughter, and like a lamb silent before its shearer, so he does not open his mouth.

8:33 In his humiliation justice was denied him. Who can describe his generation? For his life is taken away from the earth.”

8:34 The eunuch asked Philip, “About whom, may I ask you, does the prophet say this, about himself or about someone else?”

8:35 Then Philip began to speak, and starting with this scripture, he proclaimed to him the good news about Jesus.

8:36 As they were going along the road, they came to some water; and the eunuch said, “Look, here is water! What is to prevent me from being baptized?”

8:38 He commanded the chariot to stop, and both of them, Philip and the eunuch, went down into the water, and Philip baptized him.

8:39 When they came up out of the water, the Spirit of the Lord snatched Philip away; the eunuch saw him no more, and went on his way rejoicing.

8:40 But Philip found himself at Azotus, and as he was passing through the region, he proclaimed the good news to all the towns until he came to Caesarea.

Psalm

David prophesies the Messiah in this beautiful Psalm. These are the concluding verses.

Psalm 22:25-31

22:25 From you comes my praise in the great congregation; my vows I will pay before those who fear him.

22:26 The poor shall eat and be satisfied; those who seek him shall praise the LORD. May your hearts live forever!

22:27 All the ends of the earth shall remember and turn to the LORD; and all the families of the nations shall worship before him.

22:28 For dominion belongs to the LORD, and he rules over the nations.

22:29 To him, indeed, shall all who sleep in the earth bow down; before him shall bow all who go down to the dust, and I shall live for him.

22:30 Posterity will serve him; future generations will be told about the Lord,

22:31 and proclaim his deliverance to a people yet unborn, saying that he has done it.

Epistle

Readings from 1 John continue. Here John writes of love of each other and of God.

1 John 4:7-21

4:7 Beloved, let us love one another, because love is from God; everyone who loves is born of God and knows God.

4:8 Whoever does not love does not know God, for God is love.

4:9 God’s love was revealed among us in this way: God sent his only Son into the world so that we might live through him.

4:10 In this is love, not that we loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the atoning sacrifice for our sins.

4:11 Beloved, since God loved us so much, we also ought to love one another.

4:12 No one has ever seen God; if we love one another, God lives in us, and his love is perfected in us.

4:13 By this we know that we abide in him and he in us, because he has given us of his Spirit.

4:14 And we have seen and do testify that the Father has sent his Son as the Savior of the world.

4:15 God abides in those who confess that Jesus is the Son of God, and they abide in God.

4:16 So we have known and believe the love that God has for us. God is love, and those who abide in love abide in God, and God abides in them.

4:17 Love has been perfected among us in this: that we may have boldness on the day of judgment, because as he is, so are we in this world.

4:18 There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear; for fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not reached perfection in love.

4:19 We love because he first loved us.

4:20 Those who say, “I love God,” and hate their brothers or sisters, are liars; for those who do not love a brother or sister whom they have seen, cannot love God whom they have not seen.

4:21 The commandment we have from him is this: those who love God must love their brothers and sisters also.

Gospel

Readings from John’s Gospel continue. Jesus spoke these words to the remaining eleven Apostles at the Last Supper. He had already sent Judas away.

John 15:1-8

15:1 “I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinegrower.

15:2 He removes every branch in me that bears no fruit. Every branch that bears fruit he prunes to make it bear more fruit.

15:3 You have already been cleansed by the word that I have spoken to you.

15:4 Abide in me as I abide in you. Just as the branch cannot bear fruit by itself unless it abides in the vine, neither can you unless you abide in me.

15:5 I am the vine, you are the branches. Those who abide in me and I in them bear much fruit, because apart from me you can do nothing.

15:6 Whoever does not abide in me is thrown away like a branch and withers; such branches are gathered, thrown into the fire, and burned.

15:7 If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask for whatever you wish, and it will be done for you.

15:8 My Father is glorified by this, that you bear much fruit and become my disciples.

This is a particularly excellent set of Lectionary readings. The themes of joy, hope and love here should lift our thoughts in the days ahead.

In 2021, the Fourth Sunday of Easter is April 25.

The readings for Year B can be found here.

The Gospel reading of the Good Shepherd follows (emphases mine):

John 10:11-18

10:11 “I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.

10:12 The hired hand, who is not the shepherd and does not own the sheep, sees the wolf coming and leaves the sheep and runs away–and the wolf snatches them and scatters them.

10:13 The hired hand runs away because a hired hand does not care for the sheep.

10:14 I am the good shepherd. I know my own and my own know me,

10:15 just as the Father knows me and I know the Father. And I lay down my life for the sheep.

10:16 I have other sheep that do not belong to this fold. I must bring them also, and they will listen to my voice. So there will be one flock, one shepherd.

10:17 For this reason the Father loves me, because I lay down my life in order to take it up again.

10:18 No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have power to lay it down, and I have power to take it up again. I have received this command from my Father.”

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

It is useful to put this passage in context.

Matthew Henry’s commentary tells us:

It is not certain whether this discourse was at the feast of dedication in the winter (spoken of John 10:22), which may be taken as the date, not only of what follows, but of what goes before (that which countenances this is, that Christ, in his discourse there, carries on the metaphor of the sheep, John 10:26,27, whence it seems that that discourse and this were at the same time) or whether this was a continuation of his parley with the Pharisees, in the close of the foregoing chapter. The Pharisees supported themselves in their opposition to Christ with this principle, that they were the pastors of the church, and that Jesus, having no commission from them, was an intruder and an impostor, and therefore the people were bound in duty to stick to then, against him. In opposition to this, Christ here describes who were the false shepherds, and who the true, leaving them to infer what they were.

John MacArthur is certain that John 10 is a continuation of the events in John 8 and 9:

Chapter 9, then, features an extension of chapter 8 in the hostility of the religious leaders of Judaism toward Jesus. The healing of the blind man, in a sense, in the big drama of things, is somewhat incidental. Not incidental to the blind man, but the big picture here is that when Jesus does a monumental miracle that has no other explanation, because this is a man congenitally blind, and everybody knows it because he’s a familiar figure there who has been begging a long time, it has no effect on how they feel about Jesus. They make no move in the direction of affirming something other than that He’s satanic. Their hostility has passed the point of any return. They are, in fact, demonstrating themselves to be false leaders who, instead of acknowledging their Messiah, reject their Messiah, and want to execute their Messiah. They are, in a word, the false shepherds of Israel

So, in chapter 9, after the healing of this man, they surface again with the same hatred and the same hostilityThe chapter closes, chapter 9 does, with Jesus pronouncing a judgment on them because of their blindness, because they are willfully blind to the truth. The conversation, specifically with them, ends with these words: “Your sin remains.”  You are anything but righteous.  You are in your sin. 

Now, He said that back earlier when He said to them, “You will die in your sin, and where I go, you will never come.”  Here He says, a couple of chapters later, “You remain in your sin.”  Your sin remains.  So, here are the blind leaders of Israel, the blind leaders of the blind; here are the false shepherds of Israel.

As we come into chapter 10, He is still talking to them, still talking to them.  They’re still there.  The blind man is still thereThe disciples are thereThe crowd of Jews is there by the location where the healing took placeAnd the Pharisees, scribes, are still thereJesus then launches into a description of how a good shepherd conducts his life … It is, according to verse 6, a figure of speech, an analogy, a metaphor … A shepherd has his own sheep.  He has his own sheep.  He knows his own sheep He not only has the right to lead and feed his own sheep, but he has the responsibility to lead and feed his own sheep.

Jesus continues His discourse and says that He alone is the Good Shepherd, because He lays down His own life for the sheep (verse 11).

In the Old Testament, the Messiah is portrayed as a shepherd. Henry says:

He was prophesied of under the Old Testament as a shepherd, Ezek. xxxiv. 23 xxxvii. 24 Zech. xiii. 7.

By contrast, a hired hand — hireling — has more interest in his own welfare rather than those of the sheep; as such, he runs away in times of trouble (verse 12). That could mean a marauding wolf or violent thieves. In the case of the latter, the hired hand might hope to receive some money from the thieves for allowing them to steal the sheep.

As for a menacing wolf, Henry says:

See here, (a.) How basely the hireling deserts his post when he sees the wolf coming, though then there is most need of him, he leaves the sheep and flees. Note, Those who mind their safety more than their duty are an easy prey to Satan’s temptations. (b.) How fatal the consequences are! the hireling fancies the sheep may look to themselves, but it does not prove so: the wolf catches them, and scatters the sheep, and woeful havoc is made of the flock, which will all be charged upon the treacherous shepherd. The blood of perishing souls is required at the hand of the careless watchmen.

The hireling will desert the flock because he does not care at all about the sheep (verse 13).

The Jewish hierarchy did not care about the humble believers in their midst, most of whom they despised for their lowly status in life. They cared about their positions and their posturing. They were not interested in teaching the faithful. If they really cared to reread Scripture, they would see the Messiah in their midst and would tell the Jews to follow Him. But they were woefully, wilfully blind. Instead, they wanted to kill Him.

Jesus repeats that He is the Good Shepherd; He knows His sheep and they know Him (verse 14).

MacArthur explains the repetition:

Let’s look at that a little bit.  “I am the good shepherd.”  Then He repeats it immediately, “the good shepherd,” again.  Now, this is an important construction for us to understand.  The emphasis here is this: “I am the shepherd, the good one.”  Very important order there.  “I am the shepherd, the good one.”  As if to say, “in contrast to all the bad ones.”  I am the shepherd, the good one.  But there’s two words in Greek for “good.”  One is agathos, from which you get the word, “agatha,” or the name “Agatha.”  Agathos, old name.  Agathos means sort of morally good.  Good, and sort of confined to moral goodness.  It’s a wonderful word, a magnificent word, familiar in the New Testament.

But the other word is kalos, the opposite of kakos, which is “to be bad.”  Kalos is to be good not only in the sense of moral quality, but it’s a more encompassing wordIt means to be beautiful, to be magnificent, to be winsome, to be attractive, to be lovely, to be excellent on all levels, not just in that which is unseen in terms of character, but in all aspectsI am the shepherd, the excellent one.  I am the shepherd, be it the lovely one, the beautiful one, as contrasted to the ugly ones, the dangerous ones

He is not just another shepherd.  He is the shepherd, the good one, the one who is preeminently excellentHe’s above all shepherds.  The good one. 

Christ knows His faithful just as well as He and His Father know each other; therefore, He lays down His life for His own (verse 15).

Henry explains:

Christ speaks here as if he gloried in being known by his sheep, and thought their respect an honour to him. Upon this occasion Christ mentions (John 10:15) the mutual acquaintance between his Father and himself: As the Father knoweth me, even so know I the Father. Now this may be considered, either, First, As the ground of that intimate acquaintance and relation which subsist between Christ and believers. The covenant of grace, which is the bond of this relation, is founded in the covenant of redemption between the Father and the Son, which, we may be sure, stands firm for the Father and the Son understood one another perfectly well in that matter, and there could be no mistake, which might leave the matter at any uncertainty, or bring it into any hazard. The Lord Jesus knows whom he hath chosen, and is sure of them (John 13:18), and they also know whom they have trusted, and are sure of him (2 Timothy 1:12), and the ground of both is the perfect knowledge which the Father and the Son had of one another’s mind, when the counsel of peace was between them both. Or, Secondly, As an apt similitude, illustrating the intimacy that is between Christ and believers. It may be connected with the foregoing words, thus: I know my sheep, and am known of mine, even as the Father knows me, and I know the Father compare John 17:21. 1. As the Father knew the Son, and loved him, and owned him in his sufferings, when he was led as a sheep to the slaughter, so Christ knows his sheep, and has a watchful tender eye upon them, will be with them when they are left alone, as his Father was with him. 2. As the Son knew the Father, loved and obeyed him, and always did those things that pleased him, confiding in him as his God even when he seemed to forsake him, so believers know Christ with an obediential fiducial regard.

MacArthur discusses a shepherd’s death for his own flock:

Shepherds were absolutely responsible for sheep.  It was serious business.  It was a man’s man’s job, and it was really kind of a lowly and humble job as well, because it was unskilled and it was high risk, and it was messy and dirty.  But a shepherd was absolutely responsible for the sheep.  If anything happened to the shepherd, he had to produce proof that it was not his fault due to dereliction of duty or rustling the sheep away for his own keeping, or letting a friend take one, or whatever.

Amos the prophet speaks about the shepherd rescuing two legs, or a piece of an ear out of the lion’s mouth (Amos 3:12).  They were in battle with beasts.  There were wolves, there were mountain lions, there were even bears.  David tells Saul how when he was keeping his father’s sheep, back in 1 Samuel 17, David fought off a lion, and he fought off a bear.  By the way, that’s what made David such a heroic shepherd.

In Isaiah 31, Isaiah speaks of the crowd of shepherds being called outWhen a lion attacked, they called the shepherds to go fight the lion.  The law laid it down, Exodus 22:13, “If the sheep be torn in pieces, then let him bring a piece for a witness.”  If you don’t have a sheep, if you lost a sheep, you have to account for that sheep to the ultimate owner.  You have to bring a piece to prove that it was an animal. 

To the shepherd, it was the most natural thing then to risk his life.  It’s what shepherds did.  It’s what they did.  You could just take them to the grass and leave them there, I suppose, but why did the shepherd stay?  Why those long, long, long hours of staying there?  Because he had to be a protector

There’s an old book called the The Land of the Book, and the author of that historical look at Israel said, “I have listened with intense interest to their graphic descriptions of downright and desperate fights with savage beasts.  And when the thief and the robber come, the faithful shepherd has often to put his life in his hand to defend his flock.  I have known more than one case where he had literally to lay it down in the contest.”  Well, I mean, if you’re fighting a wild beast, you could lose.  So, there was risk and you couldn’t just all of a sudden stop the riskIt could come to death.

Then Jesus mentions Gentiles indirectly: ‘other sheep that do not belong to this fold’; He needs to gather them in so that there will be one flock with one shepherd (verse 16). Jesus wants Jews and Gentiles alike to become His one flock with Himself as the head of the Church.

Henry expresses this as follows:

First, “They shall hear my voice. Not only my voice shall be heard among them (whereas they have not heard, and therefore could not believe, now the sound of the gospel shall go to the ends of the earth), but it shall be heard by them I will speak, and give to them to hear.” Faith comes by hearing, and our diligent observance of the voice of Christ is both a means and an evidence of our being brought to Christ, and to God by him. Secondly, There shall be one fold and one shepherd. As there is one shepherd, so there shall be one fold. Both Jews and Gentiles, upon their turning to the faith of Christ, shall be incorporated in one church, be joint and equal sharers in the privileges of it, without distinction. Being united to Christ, they shall unite in him two sticks shall become one in the hand of the Lord. Note, One shepherd makes one fold one Christ makes one church. As the church is one in its constitution, subject to one head, animated by one Spirit, and guided by one rule, so the members of it ought to be one in love and affection, Ephesians 4:3-6.

Henry says that verse was also intended in another way, to refute the allegations of the Jewish hierarchy that He had few followers:

Christ speaks of those other sheep, First, To take off the contempt that was put upon him, as having few followers, as having but a little flock, and therefore, if a good shepherd, yet a poor shepherd: “But,” saith he, “I have more sheep than you see.” Secondly, To take down the pride and vain-glory of the Jews, who thought the Messiah must gather all his sheep from among them. “No,” saith Christ, “I have others whom I will set with the lambs of my flock, though you disdain to set them with the dogs of your flock.”

Jesus tells the crowd what will happen to Him — death and resurrection — both of which please His Father (verse 17).

Jesus says that He does both through His own power, as commanded by God (verse 18).

MacArthur points out that Jesus was speaking of His soul:

Go down to verse 18.  “No one has taken it away from Me, but I lay it down on My own initiative.  I have authority to lay it down, and to take it again.” 

Freely, voluntarily, Jesus gave up His life for the sheep.  Some would say, “Well, that’s no big thing.  He’s God, so He had a body, and He gave up the body and, you know, big deal.”  It’s more than that.  It’s strange that the commentators would even say something like that.  There was a lot more than that, and it’s bound up in the word “life.”  He lays down His life.  It’s not the word bios or zoe.  Those are the two words for “life” in Greek.  Bios, biological life; zoe, that gets transliterated “zoology,” the study of life. 

It was neither of those sort of scientific words.  It’s the word psuche, which is the word for “soul,” which speaks of the whole person.  Not the outside, but the inside.  The psuche is the inside.  He gave up His soul, His whole person.  He didn’t just feel the pain of the nails in His body, and the pain of the thorns in His body, and the pain of the scourging in His bodyHis whole soul was tortured with sin-bearing anguish, suffering.

In Matthew 20:28, Jesus said, “The Son of man gives His soul a ransom for many.”  It translates “life,” but it’s psuche againHe gives His soul, His whole person, and He felt it in every part of His being

Why did He do that?  Why did He voluntarily lay down His soul?  He says, “for the sheep,” huper, “on behalf of, for the benefit of.”  That’s exactly what it says in 2 Corinthians 5:21 where Paul explains: “He who knew no sin became sin for us” – “for us,” “for us,” “for us.”  Huper appears in a lot of passages that speak about the substitutionary atonement of Christ, that He took our place, that He died for usAn actual atonement, folks.  He laid down His soul for the sheep.  That’s pretty narrow.  For the sheep.  It was an actual atonement, a complete atonement for the sheep whom He knew, and who, when called, would know Him.

He did it for the benefit of the sheep.  From a natural standpoint, if this happened to the shepherd, that’s the end of the sheep.  If something’s coming after the sheep and kills the shepherd, the sheep are going to be vulnerable.  They’re liable to be killed, they’re liable to be scattered. Whether it’s an animal or a robber or a thief, the death of the shepherd could really spell the end of the sheep. 

But this shepherd?  No.  Because He laid down His life, verse 18 says He had the power to do what?  “Take it up again.”  And on the third day, He came out of the grave and re-gathered His scattered sheep.  Were they scattered?  Yeah, they were.  Smite the shepherd and what?  The sheep are scattered.  Zechariah promised, and they were.  But He came back from the grave and re-gathered them, and He said this: “All that the Father gives to me will come to Me, and I have lost none of them.” 

MacArthur explains what this means for today’s clergy, referring to a missionaries conference:

Jesus said in Matthew 7, “There is inside danger, the false teachers, who instead of protecting the flock, flee when the danger comes.”  But the True Shepherd, He gives His life for the sheep, and then He takes it back again and gathers them as they have been scattered.

So, the church’s first essential really in leadership is Christ-like shepherding, where you even put your life on the line, even risk your life for the sheep.  You risk your life to be the one through whom God in Christ can call them out, protect them.  When the danger comes, you don’t run.  When the danger comes, you stand up

I was talking to one of the missionaries at the conference yesterday, and he was saying, “Where are the people who will stand up and speak the truth to protect the people of God?  Where are they?”  So hard to find any.  We’re all under-shepherds, 1 Peter 5, under the Great Shepherd, the Good Shepherd.  We all have to be willing to risk our lives for the sheep

MacArthur goes on to say that ‘know’ in these verses includes the notion of ‘love’ in Greek:

It’s all know, four times, the verb ginosko, “to know.”  Well, let me show you something, just a little bit of a hint.  “My Father knows Me,” verse 15.  “My Father knows Me.” Verse 17, “the Father loves Me.”  That’s the interpretive key.  The word “know” here has the idea of a loving relationship

It’s not about information. It’s about love, and four times, that word “know” here, it implies this intimate relationship, this intimate, sweet, loving fellowship

He loves His sheep.  He knows them more than knowing their name, more than knowing who they are.  He has an intimate relationship with them.  He knows them intimately.  In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus said, “Depart from Me, I never” – What? – “I never knew you, but I know who you are.”  It’s not about information.  I know who you are.  I don’t have any intimate relationship with you, any love relationship.  He wanted to give His life for His sheep because He knew them, He loved them

John 3:16“God so loved the world that He” – What? – “gave His only begotten Son.”  That’s why the Father gave the Son; that’s why the Son gave His life.  He loves His sheep.  He loves His sheep.  This too is in stark contrast to the false shepherds who have no love for the sheep, no affection for the sheep that they claim to shepherd He loves His own

I hope this adds depth to the title of our Lord as the Good Shepherd.

May all reading this have a very blessed Sunday.

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