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The readings for Holy Saturday can be found here.

My exegesis, thanks to Matthew Henry and John MacArthur, for one of the two Gospel readings — John 19:38-42 — is here.

The Epistle is as follows (emphases mine):

1 Peter 4:1-8

4:1 Since therefore Christ suffered in the flesh, arm yourselves also with the same intention (for whoever has suffered in the flesh has finished with sin),

4:2 so as to live for the rest of your earthly life no longer by human desires but by the will of God.

4:3 You have already spent enough time in doing what the Gentiles like to do, living in licentiousness, passions, drunkenness, revels, carousing, and lawless idolatry.

4:4 They are surprised that you no longer join them in the same excesses of dissipation, and so they blaspheme.

4:5 But they will have to give an accounting to him who stands ready to judge the living and the dead.

4:6 For this is the reason the gospel was proclaimed even to the dead, so that, though they had been judged in the flesh as everyone is judged, they might live in the spirit as God does.

4:7 The end of all things is near; therefore be serious and discipline yourselves for the sake of your prayers.

4:8 Above all, maintain constant love for one another, for love covers a multitude of sins.

Commentary comes from Matthew Henry and John MacArthur.

All credit to the Lectionary compilers, this is an excellent Epistle for Holy Saturday.

Peter begins this chapter with the Crucifixion. He tells his Jewish converts how they must live knowing that Christ died for their sins, therefore, they must arm themselves to end their sinfulness (verse 1).

John MacArthur describes the unimaginable pain of sin as Christ experienced it on the Cross:

Christ has suffered in the flesh.  You tell me what did it do to Christ, in one word?  Killed him.  Killed him.  Cost him his life.  Can you enjoy it when you know what it did to Christ?  When you realize that he was made sin.  When you realize that he bore in his body our sins on the cross.  When you realize the body says he was made a curse for us, cursed is everyone who hangs on a tree, in Galatians.  When you realize that he was the spotless, pure and holy second member of the Trinity who never had come into any contact with sin and who then was made sin and bore the sins of the world on his body and they took his life, they killed him.  They separated him from God so that he cried, my God, my God, why have you forsaken me?  When you realize that it put him on a cross and nails were hammered through is limbs and thorns crushed into his brown and spit dripped off his body and a spear was rammed into his side, when you realize all of that and all of that was caused by sin, it ought to help you to hate sin, right? 

Matthew Henry says much the same and counsels us to address the state of our minds if we are to arm ourselves against sin:

The antecedent or supposition is that Christ had suffered for us in the flesh, or in his human nature. The consequent or inference is, “Arm and fortify yourselves likewise with the same mind, courage, and resolution.” The word flesh in the former part of the verse signifies Christ’s human nature, but in the latter part it signifies man’s corrupt nature. So the sense is, “As Christ suffered in his human nature, do you, according to your baptismal vow and profession, make your corrupt nature suffer, by putting to death the body of sin by self-denial and mortification; for, if you do not thus suffer, you will be conformable to Christ in his death and resurrection, and will cease from sin. Learn, 1. Some of the strongest and best arguments against all sorts of sin are taken from the sufferings of Christ. All sympathy and tenderness for Christ as a sufferer are lost of you do not put away sin. He dies to destroy it; and, though he could cheerfully submit to the worst sufferings, yet he could never submit to the least sin. 2. The beginning of all true mortification lies in the mind, not in penances and hardships upon the body. The mind of man is carnal, full of enmity; the understanding is darkened, being alienated from the life of God, Ephesians 4:18. Man is not a sincere creature, but partial, blind, and wicked, till he be renewed and sanctifies by the regenerating grace of God.

Peter says that shunning sin means living our lives not by human desires but by the will of God (verse 2).

Henry says there is a negative and a positive message in that verse:

The apostle explains what he means by being dead to sin, and ceasing from sin, both negatively and positively. Negatively, a Christian ought no longer to live the rest of his time in the flesh, to the sinful lusts and corrupt desires of carnal wicked men; but, positively, he ought to conform himself to the revealed will of the holy God. Learn, 1. The lusts of men are the springs of all their wickedness, James 1:13; James 1:14. Let occasional temptations be what they will, they could not prevail, were it not for men’s own corruptions. 2. All good Christians make the will of God, not their own lusts or desires, the rule of their lives and actions. 3. True conversion makes a marvellous change in the heart and life of every one who partakes of it. It brings a man off from all his old, fashionable, and delightful lusts, and from the common ways and vices of the world, to the will of God. It alters the mind, judgment, affections, way, and conversation of every one who has experienced it.

Peter tells his audience that they have already engaged in enough sin: ‘licentiousness, passions, drunkenness, revels, carousing, and lawless idolatry’ (verse 3).

Our commentators have differing opinions on who Peter’s audience is.

Henry says they were Jews living amongst Gentiles:

those were Jews to whom the apostle wrote, yet the living among the Gentiles they had learned their way.

MacArthur says they were Gentiles:

He knew these people were converted out of a pagan background. They were influenced still by the presence of that paganism. These people had come to Christ because they had enough of that stuff.

MacArthur says that Peter was reminding these converts of their former state of brokenness in sin:

What’s he saying? He’s saying, look, haven’t you had enough of that stuff? Haven’t you had enough of that stuff that pursued Christ, bringing Him nothing but sorrow till it killed Him? Yes it was in the purpose of God but nonetheless it was sin that effected it. Haven’t you had enough of that stuff that rebels against God who seeks only your best? And haven’t you had enough of that stuff that used to be the typical fare of your daily life? I mean, surely it’s true, isn’t it, that when a person is converted, when they’re saved, if they’re not saying anything else they’re at least saying this, I have had enough of this. Aren’t they saying that? I can’t carry the load of my sin anymore. I want forgiveness, I want deliverance, I want transformation. Surely when you came to Christ weren’t you saying, “I can’t bear this anymore”?

When I was in Catholic primary school, the nuns cautioned us against sin. They said if you start with one habitual sin, another will enter in, then another and they will all pile up.

Henry says much the same:

One sin, allowed, draws on another. Here are six named, and they have a connection and dependence one upon another. (1.) Lasciviousness or wantonness, expressed in looks, gesture, or behaviour, Romans 13:13. (2.) Lusts, acts of lewdness, such as whoredom and adultery. (3.) Excess of wine, though short of drunkenness, an immoderate use of it, to the prejudice of health or business, is here condemned. (4.) Revellings, or luxurious feastings, too frequent, too full, or too expensive. (5.) Banquetings, by which is meant gluttony or excess in eating. (6.) Abominable idolatry; the idol-worship of the Gentiles was attended with lewdness, drunkenness, gluttony, and all sorts of brutality and cruelty; and these Jews living long among them were, some of them at least, debauched and corrupted by such practices.

MacArthur explains Peter’s language, including in the original Greek:

… just to remind us what that life was like he said, “You used to pursue that, having pursued a course of sensuality,” aselgeia. It describes unrestrained vice, unbridled sin.  It’s an old word that’s often used to translate it, debauchery, excessive indulgence in sensual pleasure.  You had that and you had the lusts, the evil desires, the feelings, the kind of mindless passions.  And you had the carousals as well as the drunkenness and the drinking parties.  Those all go together kind of, drunkenness speaks for itself, carousals has the idea of a wild drunken party, a sort of a public…a public…it pictures a kind of a group of people sort of going down the street in a public display of drunkenness.  You’ve been in on the drinking parties.  You’ve engaged in the abominable idolatries“Abominable” means they are at variance with the law of God; they are lawless.  You… You were in the whole package, right?  Sexual wickedness, alcoholic excess, ungodly, worshiping the wrong things, the wrong gods, you had the whole package.  You did it all, isn’t that enough?  What is there you want back?  Haven’t you had your fill?  Remember that, will you, that you filled up on that, you overdosed on it and you wanted deliverance once. Now do you want it back?

Furthermore, they malign you.  They don’t even like you, why do you want to act like people that don’t even like you?  The word “malign” is blasphēmeō, blaspheme youIt means to defame, attack you, slander youHere is the cesspool crowd slandering the Christian.  They’re an ugly bunch.  They are an ugly bunch, sexually perverted, drunk, worshiping all their false gods, rushing madly into the cesspool of sin.  You’ve been saved out of thatYou wanted out of that.  You don’t have a thing to do with that anymore.  They don’t even like you anymore Why in the world do you want to do what they’re doing?

Peter reminds his converts that their former friends were surprised at the turnaround in their lives, their refusal to continue to engage in sin; their surprise turned into blasphemy, or assailing their good character (verse 4).

Henry has an excellent analysis about how conversion affects old relationships:

They no longer run on in the same courses, or with the same companions, as they used to do. Hereupon observe the conduct of their wicked acquaintance towards them. 1. They think it strange, they are surprised and wonder at it, as at something new and unusual, that their old friends should be so much altered, and not run with as much violence as they used to do to the same excess of riot, to the same sottish excesses and luxury which before they had greedily and madly followed. 2. They speak evil of them. Their surprise carries them to blasphemy. They speak evil of their persons, of their way, their religion, and their God. Learn, (1.) Those that are once really converted will not return to their former course of life, though ever so much tempted by the frowns or flatteries of others to do so. Neither persuasion nor reproach will prevail with them to be or to do as they were wont to do. (2.) The temper and behaviour of true Christians seem very strange to ungodly men. That they should despise that which every one else is fond of, that they should believe many things which to others seem incredible, that they should delight in what is irksome and tedious, be zealous where they have no visible interest to serve, and depend so much upon hope, is what the ungodly cannot comprehend. (3.) The best actions of religious people cannot escape the censures and slanders of those who are irreligious. Those actions which cost a good man the most pains, hazard, and self-denial, shall be most censured by the uncharitable and ill-natured world; they will speak evil of good people, though they themselves reap the fruits of their charity, piety, and goodness.

Peter reminds his converts that those former friends assailing them now will have to give an account of themselves to Him who judges the living and the dead (verse 5).

MacArthur says:

… they’re going to give an account to Him who is ready to judge the living and the dead. They’re going to pay a price for this. I mean this is damnable lifestyle. You don’t want anything to do that. They have to give an account. They are amassing a debt to God they will be required to pay forever in hell. And whether they live or die in this world, whether they’re around till the Judge comes, or whether they die before He gets here, they’re going to show up at the judgment. They’re going to be condemned.

Peter says that the reason that the Gospel was preached even to the dead, who were judged according to the flesh, is so that they might live according to the Spirit, according to God’s will (verse 6).

Henry says that this is a difficult verse to interpret and gives us two explanations:

Some understand this difficult place thus: For this cause was the gospel preached to all the faithful of old, who are now dead in Christ, that thereby they might be taught and encouraged to bear the unrighteous judgments and persecutions which the rage of men put upon them in the flesh, but might live in the Spirit unto God. Others take the expression, that they might be judged according to men in the flesh, in a spiritual sense, thus: The gospel was preached to them, to judge them, condemn them, and reprove them, for the corruption of their natures, and the viciousness of their lives, while they lived after the manner of the heathen or the mere natural man; and that, having thus mortified their sins, they might live according to God, a new and spiritual life. Take it thus; and thence learn, 1. The mortifying of our sins and living to God are the expected effects of the gospel preached to us. 2. God will certainly reckon with all those who have had the gospel preached to them, but without these good effects produced by it. God is ready to judge all those who have received the gospel in vain. 3. It is no matter how we are judged according to men in the flesh, if we do but live according to God in the Spirit.

MacArthur says that the dead in that verse refers to converts amongst Peter’s audience who have since died, possibly through martyrdom:

This is a simple and profound verse.  “For the gospel has been preached” means the saving message of Jesus Christ.  “Even to those who are dead” simply means those who are now dead.  He has in mind some believers who heard the gospel and are now dead Some of them perhaps had been martyred Maybe some in the association of those to whom this letter was sent had died for their faith in Christ.  And so the whole overarching idea here is that the believer, under persecution, under unjust treatment, under punishment, and even death, even death, should be willing to suffer knowing there is triumph. Because though he may die in the flesh as a man, he will live in the spirit according to the will of God.

What Peter is saying, is that God has promised you that through death you’ll overcome sin. So he reminds his readers that the gospel was preached to those now dead for this purpose That though they are judged in the flesh as men, literally put to death for their faith in Christ, they will live in the spirit according to God And so he takes us back to where we started.  All death can do is bring you into everlasting life into the presence of God You see, it’s a parallel to all that we have been learning at the end of chapter 3 verse 18.  Christ died, but he didn’t stay dead He was made alive in the spirit His body was dead, His spirit was alive.  Same point hereThey may kill your body, but your spirit will be alive And you will enter into the promise of eternal life. So shunning sin in the face of great threats, in the face of persecution, and even death—it’s possible, noble, righteous; it is commanded.  And one way to assist in that overcoming is to remember and to remember what sin did to Christ, what it does to Christians, what it does to God, what it does to the lost. And then remember what God has promised you in the future. 

No matter what they do to us, we can be victorious I guess Jesus said much the same thing when He said, “Fear not those who destroy the body.  But fear the one who destroys both soul and body in hell.” 

Peter says that the end is near, therefore, the converts are to discipline themselves spiritually for the sake of their prayers (verse 7).

Our commentators interpret this verse differently with regard to the first half of the verse, ‘The end of all things is near’.

Because Henry thought that Peter was addressing Jewish converts, he thinks that the Apostle was referring to the destruction of the temple in Jerusalem. Peter wrote this in AD 66. The temple was destroyed four years later.

Henry says:

The miserable destruction of the Jewish church and nation foretold by our Saviour is now very near; consequently, the time of their persecution and your sufferings is but very short. Your own life and that of your enemies will soon come to their utmost period. Nay, the world itself will not continue very long. The conflagration will put an end to it; and all things must be swallowed up in an endless eternity. The inference from this comprises a series of exhortations.

1. To sobriety and watchfulness: “Be you therefore sober, 1 Peter 4:7; 1 Peter 4:7. Let the frame and temper of your minds be grave, stayed, and solid; and observe strict temperance and sobriety in the use of all worldly enjoyments. Do not suffer yourselves to be caught with your former sins and temptations, 1 Peter 4:3; 1 Peter 4:3. And watch unto prayer. Take care that you be continually in a calm sober disposition, fit for prayer; and that you be frequent in prayers, lest this end come upon you unawares,” Luke 21:34; Matthew 26:40; Matthew 26:41

Henry says that the exhortations in the next two verses — 8 and 9 (not included in our reading) — follow on from the warning in verse 7 about the end being near:

2. To charity: And above all things have fervent charity among yourselves,1 Peter 4:8; 1 Peter 4:8. Here is a noble rule in Christianity. Christians ought to love one another, which implies an affection to their persons, a desire of their welfare, and a hearty endeavour to promote it. This mutual affection must not be cold, but fervent, that is, sincere, strong, and lasting

3. To hospitality, 1 Peter 4:9; 1 Peter 4:9. The hospitality here required is a free and kind entertainment of strangers and travellers. The proper objects of Christian hospitality are one another. The nearness of their relation, and the necessity of their condition in those times of persecution and distress, obliged Christians to be hospitable one to another

MacArthur understands verse 7 as a reference to Christ’s Second Coming, not the destruction of the temple:

Verse 7.  “The end of all things is at hand.”  Stop right there.  That’s the incentive: the end of all things is at hand I want you to get a grip, if nothing else, on this statement.  The term “end” is the Greek word telos, a very familiar word to any Bible student.  And when it is translated “end,” it could convey the wrong idea It could convey the idea of cessation It could convey the idea of termination It does not mean either of those things It is never used of a temporal end in all of the New Testament It is never used of some kind of chronological end as if it simply means something stops It always has the idea of a consummation

To put it another way, it has the idea of a goal achieved, or a result attained, or a purpose consummated.  It has the idea of fulfillment realized, of ultimate destiny It’s not just the end of something; it is the culmination, the conclusion, the success, the goal, the realization, the fulfillment, the consummation.  So, he says, the consummation of all things is at hand.

Now, beloved, that has to refer to the return of Christ If he had said the consummation of your trouble is at hand, we could say well maybe he was referring to something temporal.  Or if he said the consummation of your persecution is at hand, we could have assumed that maybe a different kind of government might come into play in their lives and treat them more kindly.  But he doesn’t say that.  He doesn’t say the consummation of your difficulty, your trouble, your situation.  He says the consummation of all things.  And the consummation of all things points directly to the Second Coming of Jesus Christ It must refer to that.  It can’t refer to anything less than that, for that and that alone is when all things are consummated And it takes us back to 1 Peter 1:5 again where he says we are protected by the power of God through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time And then, verse 7 he says that we will be found in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ

It could be read this way, “The end of all things is about to arrive,” or to come near.  It is a perfect tense, and has the idea of a process consummated with a resulting nearness.  And I believe it refers to immanency.  That is, the coming of Christ is imminent; the next event can happen at any time It is near.  Peter is reminding them then that they are to live in anticipation of the nearness of the return of Jesus Christ.  We could say that they are to live with, here’s the word, expectancy.  Do you realize that every generation since then has therefore lived in that same expectancy?  All of us live today, or should live, in the expectancy of the coming of Jesus Christ Not to do that is not to be a faithful church … 

To show you how secretive this whole matter is, I remind you of Matthew 24:36 where Jesus said, “But of that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels of heaven nor the Son but the Father alone.”  God knows, and Jesus in His self-imposed incarnational limitations did not even know.  Peter is saying to his readers, “You must live in constant expectancy as if Jesus was to come at any moment.” 

With regard to the second half of verse 7 concerning prayer, MacArthur says that Peter wants his converts to have disciplined minds in order to make the most of their relationship with God through prayer:

He says, “Be of sound judgment,” and then adds, “and sober spirit.”  And this is a synonym or very close to a synonym.  It means basically to keep a clear head, to take serious things seriously, to be vigilant, to be alertIn Matthew 24:42, it’s translated “Be on the alert.”  Matthew 26:40 and 41, “Be watching.”  You might combine these two terms by putting it this way: good, clear, godly, biblical thinking leads to spiritual alertness, spiritual watchfulness It leads to the ability to view things in the eternal perspective, in the divine perspective, and to establish right responses

This is indispensable, and it is indispensable to one very, very essential element of Christian living that is noted in verse 7.  Please come to the climax of the thought.  Sound judgment and sober spirit are for the purpose of prayer.  Why?  Because holiness flows out of direct communion with a holy God And when that communion is hindered by a cluttered mind, an imbalanced mind, that which is most significant in Christian experience is lost.  A confused mind, a self-centered mind, a mind knocked out of balance by worldly lusts and pursuits, a mind victimized by emotion or passion out of control, a mind that is ignorant of God’s truth, a mind that is indifferent to God’s purposes is a mind that cannot know the fullness of holy communion in prayer with God After all, you bring your mind to that communion, don’t you?  And so, your relationship to God, in a very real sense which is expressed in this matter of prayer, is determined by the attitudes that you bring, which attitudes are the result of your thinking And if you are to pray effectively, and if you are to commune with God deeply and spiritually, then you must think biblically and spiritually as well

So, says Peter, the Christian life summed up is as simple as this: think God’s thoughts What does that mean?  That means every day in the Word of God, every day meditating, thinking, absorbing, drawing out, learning to think God’s thoughts As I often say, it should come to pass that you are so deeply filled with Scripture, that your involuntary responses are godly because you’re so controlled And then, comes the sweetness of communion, then comes effective prayer, then comes powerThat’s the vertical link in Christian living.

Peter exhorts his converts to maintain a constant love for one another, because love covers a multitude of sins (verse 8).

MacArthur points out that Peter is citing Proverbs 10:12:

He borrowed it from Proverbs 10:12 “Hatred stirs up strife but love covers all sins.”  Present tense here, I think, indicates that which is constantly true.  It is axiomatic.  It is a self-evident truth.  Love is always by very nature hiding a multitude of sins.  It forgives, and forgives, and forgives, and forgives, and the great, great model of that is God Why did God show mercy to us?  Why did God forgive our sins?  Ephesians 2:4 and 5 says, “For His great love where with He loved us.”  It’s true of God, it’s true of us.

Henry says this exhortation refers to the Christian community:

Learn, (1.) Christians ought not only to be charitable, but hospitable, one to another. (2.) Whatever a Christian does by way of charity or of hospitality, he ought to do it cheerfully, and without grudging. Freely you have received, freely give.

MacArthur concludes on Christian love with this:

Beloved, this is the heart of the church To be honest with you, if we take care of this, we’ve fulfilled the whole law Is that not true?  The whole law.  You can see again the genius of the Spirit of God, how in an economy of words He says so much.  You want to take care of the whole dimension of living before God?  Get a biblical mind, a spiritual mind, be deep in communion with Christ and you’ll have a powerful life You want to know how to function in the complexity of the church?  Just be so full of overflowing love that you cover sin This does not preclude, by the way, the discipline of an unrepentant member That is dealt with in other texts But even in the church, we are much more eager, I think, to point out sin than we are to cover it Hatred will stir up strife Selfishness will stir up strife.  Self-centeredness will stir up strife.  Love will hide sin.  Love will conceal it Love will pass it by in silence And what a transformation that would bring to the church.  It is that which is at the very base of all our spiritual relationships.  It is a complex world, isn’t it?  But there are not complex solutions, simple ones.  Not simply performed, simply stated, performed only in the power of the Spirit.

What a powerful meditation as we make our preparations for the greatest feast in the Church year, Easter, Christ’s resurrection from the dead which brings us to eternal life.

May everyone reading this have a blessed day ahead.

CranachWeimarAltarCyberbrethren

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

Meditations on the Cross

My Good Friday post from 2017 has several entries about the significance of the Crucifixion, Christ’s ultimate sacrifice for mankind which erased our debt of sin in the New Covenant.

Readings for Good Friday can be found here.

The exegesis for the Gospel reading is here.

The Epistle, the first of two choices from the Book of Hebrews, is as follows (emphases mine):

Hebrews 10:16-25

10:16 “This is the covenant that I will make with them after those days, says the Lord: I will put my laws in their hearts, and I will write them on their minds,”

10:17 he also adds, “I will remember their sins and their lawless deeds no more.”

10:18 Where there is forgiveness of these, there is no longer any offering for sin.

10:19 Therefore, my friends, since we have confidence to enter the sanctuary by the blood of Jesus,

10:20 by the new and living way that he opened for us through the curtain (that is, through his flesh),

10:21 and since we have a great priest over the house of God,

10:22 let us approach with a true heart in full assurance of faith, with our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water.

10:23 Let us hold fast to the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who has promised is faithful.

10:24 And let us consider how to provoke one another to love and good deeds,

10:25 not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day approaching.

Commentary comes from Matthew Henry and John MacArthur.

To better understand this passage it is helpful to read my exegesis, thanks to Matthew Henry and John MacArthur, on the Epistle for Monday of Holy Week: Hebrews 9:11-15, in which Christ is represented as the ultimate and true tabernacle, replacing that of the Old Testament and Old Covenant with the New Testament and the New Covenant.

Christ rent the veil of the Holy of Holies, permitting all of us to approach God, which, heretofore, even the high priests could not do for more than a second once a year.

The author of Hebrews cites Jeremiah 31 in today’s reading:

31 “The days are coming,” declares the Lord,
    “when I will make a new covenant
with the people of Israel
    and with the people of Judah.
32 It will not be like the covenant
    I made with their ancestors
when I took them by the hand
    to lead them out of Egypt,
because they broke my covenant,
    though I was a husband to[d] them,[e]
declares the Lord.
33 “This is the covenant I will make with the people of Israel
    after that time,” declares the Lord.
“I will put my law in their minds
    and write it on their hearts.
I will be their God,
    and they will be my people.
34 No longer will they teach their neighbor,
    or say to one another, ‘Know the Lord,’
because they will all know me,
    from the least of them to the greatest,”
declares the Lord.
“For I will forgive their wickedness
    and will remember their sins no more.”

The audience for the Book of Hebrews were Jews who had become Christians and Jews who were intellectually interested by Jesus. The first group was prone to giving up the faith — apostasy — because Christianity is such a departure from Mosaic law and Jewish tradition. The second were to be encouraged to become Christians.

Hebrews is an apologetic for Christianity for the Jewish mindset. However, I gained a much deeper understanding of the faith by reading and writing about it for my Forbidden Bible Verses series. The first entry for Hebrews 10 is below:

Hebrews 10:1-3 – Christ’s blood sacrifice one and sufficient, Jesus, God, sin, forgiveness

The author cites Jeremiah 33 in verse 26, in which God says that He will make a New Covenant with His people, putting His laws into their hearts and writing them on their minds.

This was a stumbling block for the Jews of Hebrews, so the author reminds them that the New Covenant was always part of God’s plan.

John MacArthur says:

the sacrifice of Christ is effective because it fulfills the promised new covenant. God said, “I’m going to bring a new covenant.” And when Jesus died, He sealed the new covenant. Remember, the covenants in the Old Testament were always sealed in blood, weren’t they? Jesus died and sealed the new covenant

And Jeremiah 31 is a prophecy of the new covenant, you see, and it says to the Jew, “God always intended a new covenant, so what are you so uptight about? Because it’s arrived. What are you accusing us of heresy for? What are you accusing of some new revelation for? This is the same thing Jeremiah told you was coming. Read your own testament.”

God told Jeremiah (Jeremiah 31:34) that He would no longer remember His people’s sins and lawless deeds (verse 17).

Matthew Henry says that this:

will alone show the riches of divine grace, and the sufficiency of Christ’s satisfaction, that it needs not be repeated …

The author of Hebrews explains that, as these sins are and will be forgiven, no further offering for sin needs to be made (verse 18).

MacArthur elaborates on this verse and the dilemma of these Jews on hearing it:

… Jeremiah said it would happen, but Jeremiah didn’t say it on his own. He was inspired by the Holy Spirit. Now, do you see what the writer is doing to these Jewish readers? He’s putting them on the horns of an unbelievable dilemma. He’s saying this – he’s placing these readers in a position where they will accept their beloved prophet Jeremiah, and they will accept what the Holy Spirit said through him, and if they do that, they’ll have to accept Christ and the new covenant. If they reject Christ and the new covenant, they also reject Jeremiah and the Holy Spirit.

Now, that’s a tough spot to be in because they loved Jeremiah and they believed in the Holy Spirit. And what He’s saying to them is, “You don’t need the old because the new is come, and God even promised that it would come.”

In verse 18, he wraps it up. What a terrific statement. “Now where remission of these is, there is no more offering for sin.” It’s done. It’s forgiven. Don’t go back to the temple and make more sacrifices. It’s over. Complete forgiveness. You just need to lean on the one sacrifice of Jesus. You say, “You mean to tell me that I can be saved tonight, without any works, by just leaning on the one perfect sacrifice of Jesus Christ?” That’s exactly what I’m trying to say. Exactly.

The sacrifice of Christ is effective, then, forever because it fulfills God’s will. It replaces the old system. It sanctifies the believer. It removes sin. It destroys the enemy. It has eternal security built into it. And, lastly, it fulfills the promise for a new covenant. It’s so perfect, you can’t add anything to it. All you need to do is believe. You say, “Does God want me to do that?” Yes, He does.

John Donne preached much the same in his sermon ‘Christ’s Legacy’ based on John 14:20, about which I wrote earlier this week. The Holy Spirit will equip us for what we need to do in matters of faith. We need not know how the holy mysteries work, just that they are worthy of our belief. Christ is in us and we are in Him.

Returning to Hebrews and this promise of the New Covenant, this means, therefore, that we can enter the sanctuary with confidence (verse 19) because the blood of Jesus opened a new and living way for us to go beyond the veil of the Holy of Holies (verse 20).

MacArthur indicates the importance of the word ‘therefore’ in that verse:

… you’ll notice that 19 begins, “Having therefore,” and the therefores are always there for a good reason. They always point backwards. “On the basis of what I’ve said for 10 chapters and 18 verses, you must respond.” If you know the gospel of Jesus Christ, you either then take a positive response and boldly, verse 19, “enter into the holiest,” or you take a negative response, verse 26, you sin willfully after you knew the truth, and you fall away, and judgment comes about. Only two responses.

After the Crucifixion, the veil to the Holy of Holies in the temple was rent in two.

Henry describes this historic and theological event for us:

The veil in the tabernacle and temple signified the body of Christ; when he died, the veil of the temple was rent in sunder, and this was at the time of the evening sacrifice, and gave the people a surprising view into the holy of holies, which they never had before. Our way to heaven is by a crucified Saviour; his death is to us the way of life. To those who believe this he will be precious.

The rest of the verses in this reading give us a practical application of what we are to do in our Christian journey.

Henry says the following about the change in tone. He, like many others of his era, believed that Paul wrote Hebrews, although subsequent scholars do not:

And now we have gone through the doctrinal part of the epistle, in which we have met with many things dark and difficult to be understood, which we must impute to the weakness and dulness of our own minds. The apostle now proceeds to apply this great doctrine, so as to influence their affections, and direct their practice, setting before them the dignities and duties of the gospel state.

MacArthur says of this transition and the preceding verses:

it’s an appeal for men to come to Christ is what it is, on the basis of doctrine. You see, no biblical appeal is ever really made apart from a solid foundation in doctrine. That’s true all the way through Scripture. All solid appeals are based on doctrine. And so ten chapters of basic doctrine about the identity of Christ and finally he says, “Now here’s the opportunity for you to respond.” And the first, then, is a positive response, and would to God that this would be the response that all men would have, that you tonight who don’t know Christ would have even tonight.

The positive response is salvation. Now, salvation is made up of three features, and these are common in our understanding throughout the Scripture: faith, hope, and what’s the third? Love. Faith, hope, love. Now, if you’ll notice the text, first of all is faith. “Let us draw near,” verse [22]Verse 23, “Let us hold fast.” And then there’s love, verse 24, “Let us consider one another.”

Three statements beginning with “Let us,” one having to do with faith, one having to do with hope and one having to do with love. And they really kind of separate into three features the experience of salvation. Salvation is drawing near, holding fast and loving each other. That’s the fullness of salvation. Somebody who draws near and falls away, that’s not salvation. Somebody who draws near, sticks around a while but doesn’t love his brother falls under the qualifications of 1 John, in which it says, “If any man say he love God and love not his brother” – he’s what? – “he’s a liar.”

And so salvation could be kind of dissected into faith, hope, and love. Faith in God, holding fast to our hope, and loving each other, that indicates a true believer. And so he’s talking about a real response. “Come on,” he says, “draw near, hold fast and love each other.” And what he’s really saying, pushed into one statement, is: “Take a positive response to the gospel.”

MacArthur describes the Holy of Holies and the significance it has even today for orthodox Jews:

You remember that in the Old Testament, as we’ve been studying, there was a tabernacle or a temple, and inside of the totality of this outer courtyard there was what was called the holy places, the holy place, and inside, separated by a veil, was the Holy of Holies. And in the Holy of Holies, God dwelt. And no man could enter into that place except the high priest once a year to offer atonement for the sins of the nation Israel. But now he is saying, “You all can enter into God’s presence. The veil has been torn down, and you can all enter in, and you can enter in boldly.”

So we have this new entrance, you see, into the holiest by the blood of Jesus. And, of course, this is a fantastic statement to a Jew because to a Jew, entering into the holiest is absolutely forbidden. And if a Jew ever tried to do that under the old economy, he would’ve been instantly consumed in the flames of the fire of almighty wrath. And no Jew would ever conceive of going into the Holy of Holies.

In fact, it’s interesting. If you go to Jerusalem, you’ll find out that there’s a certain area of the temple ground where it is forbidden to Jews to ever walk there because it may be the area where the Holy of Holies once stood, and no Jew would ever put his foot on the Holy of Holies. Therefore, there are big signs outside the gates of the temple that say Orthodox Jews have been forbidden by the rabbi to enter into this place lest they step on the Holy of Holies.

They have a fear, still today, the Orthodox Jews, of ever going into the presence of God. But because of the new covenant, he says we can have boldness. We don’t even go in sheepishly, saying, “God, I’m coming, don’t step on me,” see. We can enter in boldly. It’s a fantastic concept for the Jewish mind to understand. Now, when he uses the term “brethren,” just a point of information, when he uses the term “brethren” here as on other occasions in the book of Hebrews and also in the book of Romans, he’s talking to Jewish brethren, not Christians.

“Having, therefore, brethren, boldness to enter into the holiest by the blood of Jesus,” I think, has primary reference to the Jews, to the brotherhood of Jews as it is so used elsewhere in Hebrews and, as I said, in Romans. On the basis of all that you’ve learned, therefore, on the basis of everything I’ve said in chapter 7, 8, 9, and 10 about the openness, about the fact that Jesus made the perfect sacrifice, that Jesus provided access, that Jesus provided entrance, on the fact of all of that, you have boldness to go on in and meet God person-to-person. The blood of Jesus has opened the way.

You see, in the Old Testament there was a lot of blood being shed, but none of it ever opened up the veil, did it? All of the blood of all of the animals never did it. It couldn’t open the way. It couldn’t do it.

MacArthur says that the Parable of the Prodigal Son has to do with God’s forgiveness and treating us as if we were made new again, just as the prodigal’s father treated him:

… the prodigal who went away came to himself, realizing he’s having – he’d spent all of his means, and he wound up in a pigpen, slopping pigs. “And he said to himself, ‘I will arise and go to my father.’” You say, “Well, that’s real good. Who wouldn’t in your situation?” But that isn’t how God sees it. God takes a man when he comes, whatever his reason.

“And he arose and he went.” And you find him – when he gets back, and you find him in his father’s house. You don’t find him outside the door. You don’t find him peeking through the portholes or the windows or whatever. He’s in the house. Sovereign grace has given him boldness to enter the house. Why not? He confessed his sin. He received the kiss of reconciliation. The father put on him the best robe, gave him a ring for his finger. He was fitted to enter the father’s house, and that’s where you find him, not outside looking in. Boldness.

And so in the passage of the prodigal, we are told the prodigal had been, in a sense, perfected. He had been made fit to enter the father’s house. And so it is in the experience of one who comes to God. Jesus Christ puts the right robe on, the right ring on his finger, and gives him the right things so that he may enter the Father’s house and not be in the wrong place. He can go in boldly. And, of course, those in Judaism were afraid. This whole concept was so revolutionary to them. There was no way they were going to understand it in the first – the first time it was indicated. That’s why it’s been repeated so many times in the book of Hebrews.

Therefore, the perfect sacrifice of Jesus on the Cross is the new way (verse 20) of coming to the Lord God.

MacArthur explains the word ‘new’ in the original Greek manuscript:

The word “new” is a very rare word in the New Testament. It is not the typical word for “new,” neos, kainos, none of those words. It is this word: prospheton. You know what it means? Freshly slaughtered. That’s the literal meaning. What it says is we have boldness to enter into the holiness by the blood of Jesus by a freshly slaughtered and living way. How vivid. How vivid. Who was it that was freshly slaughtered that opened the way? Jesus Christ, a freshly slain road to God. All the old sacrifices didn’t make it.

The old road was a dead road. It wasn’t a new and living way. It was an old, dead one. There wasn’t any life there. The old way was only an index finger pointing to the new road – in Christ. And I love the fact that it’s been at least 30 years since Jesus died when this was written, but it’s still fresh. It’s still a freshly slaughtered way. Isn’t that terrific? You know, under the old economy, you had to sacrifice an animal all the time, every day, every day, every day, every day, and every year through the Yom Kippur ceremony, all the time, over and over and over and over. Jesus Christ was slain once, and His slaying is fresh, and still just as fresh today, 2,000 years later, as it was the day it happened.

His sacrifice is effectual for all of time and thus it is spoken of as fresh. It’s ever fresh because He’s really the Lamb slain from before the foundations of the world. His sacrifice is always fresh. And for the man who comes to Jesus Christ tonight, the sacrifice of Jesus Christ is fresh. Because the Bible says through the Apostle Paul that the moment you’re saved, you die with Christ. “You are crucified with Christ, nevertheless you live.” And so in a very real sense, Christ’s crucifixion is just as fresh as the moment that you experience Him. It’s a fresh way. Not only that, it’s a living way.

Oh, that’s exciting. And that talks about resurrection. How can you have a slain and a living sacrifice? It never worked in the Old Testament. You had a dead one, and that was it. None of those animals bounced back to come alive again. None of those pieces joined back together. But here, it’s a living way. Jesus isn’t even a dead sacrifice. He’s alive. He’s risen. And he’s seated at the right hand of the Father, making intercession for us. And so it’s a living way because the sacrifice is alive.

The author of Hebrews says that, in Christ, we have a great high priest presiding over the house of God, the Church (verse 21).

MacArthur explains the significance of our great high priest, who could do what the priests of the Old Covenant could never accomplish:

… when the high priest in Israel went into the Holy of Holies on that one day, he just brushed the veil aside and went in. When Christ died, He didn’t brush the veil aside. He split it from top to bottom, and left it wide open

The term “high priest” here is really translated “great priest.” And it is used, perhaps, in ancient Hebrew to speak of the high priest but it is accurately the great priest. And He, the great priest, is there in God’s presence mediating for us. You see? And the term “the house of God” has to do with all believers. All believers. Peter uses it thusly in 1 Peter 4:17 and Paul in Ephesians 2:21 and 22. All believers are seen, then, in a sense, as the house of God, the habitation of God. And so Jesus Christ opened the way, a new and living way, but He didn’t only open it, He took us in there with Him

Jesus Christ not only pointed out the access to God, but He took me by the arm and ushered me into His presence, and He sits there with me. In Revelation chapter 3, it says that I sit on the throne with Jesus, who sits on the Father’s throne. It’s a beautiful thought. And so He’s the great priest in the presence of God, living to intercede for me. His life is there, and He is there. And Romans 5:10 says if His death could do so much to save me, oh, what His life must be doing in the presence of God to keep me, as He’s there, securing my place in the presence of God.

I’m anchored there by His presence, because I’m inseparably and eternally connected to Him. Do you see? He that is joined to the Lord is what? One spirit. And the Lord is in there, in the throne of God, seated at the right hand of God, in His presence. And if He’s there, I’m there with Him, because we’re one.

The author of Hebrews then goes into what we must do to remain believers.

We must approach our Lord with a true heart, a full assurance of faith, our hearts cleansed — as if by the sacrificial cleansing room of the tabernacle — sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water (verse 23).

MacArthur elaborates on the meaning of this verse:

… “Let us draw near honestly” – now watch this – “in full assurance of” – what? – “faith.” In full assurance of faith. He must come to God in faith. Not works, not self-righteousness. Faith. And not doubting, but believing God. “He that cometh to God must believe that He is, and that He is a rewarder of them that” – what? – “diligently seek Him.” You must believe to come to God, and that’s really all God asks, is that you believe. Believing is so important …

“Come with full assurance of faith, having our hearts” – and here’s what happens when we come – “our hearts sprinkled from an evil conscience, and our bodies washed with pure water.” When you come to God through Jesus Christ, something begins to happen.

Now, you remember that this is, of course, a picture of the Old Testament ritual. The priest would wash himself. The holy things were cleansed. And everything was sprinkled with the blood of the sacrifice. And all through all of this sprinkling of blood and everything, the priest was constantly bathing and cleansing himself in the laver, which was the basin of clear water. But it was all external, you see. You see, it was the body and everything else sprinkled. And it was the body washed with water. It never got inside. Only Jesus can really cleanse a man’s heart. His is no external purification, but by His Spirit He cleanses the inmost thoughts and desires of a man.

Now, notice the statement “having our hearts sprinkled from an evil conscience.” This is a beautiful picture of deliverance. The same kind of deliverance in chapter 9, verse 14, where it says, “He purges our conscience.” Conscience condemns. Conscience brings guilt. And the guilt can never be removed until the sin is removed. And when Jesus died, His blood removed our sins, and thus our conscience becomes free from guilt.

When Jesus’ blood is shed and we believe, our sins are forgiven. And when the burden of a guilt-ridden conscience is removed, we’ve been cleansed from an evil conscience. The precious blood of Jesus Christ removes the evil conscience, that condemning, guilty feeling, and we don’t condemn ourselves anymore.

Now, that has to do with God’s side. You see, when you’re saved, sin is forgiven. Sin is forgiven. You’re sprinkled, as it were. Like on the Passover, the blood was sprinkled and the angel of death passed by. You’re sprinkled and cleaned. That’s satisfaction toward God, or expiation, if you want a theological word. It’s the cleansing that applies toward God. In other words, sin is removed.

But, secondly, there is something that has to do with you. Our bodies are washed with pure water. And here we have simply the idea that there is a cleansing that goes on within us by the Spirit of God. First of all, blood is sprinkled to satisfy God. Then you and I are cleansed on the inside by water.

Now, some people say that’s baptism, but it can’t be baptism. That’s not the point there. In John chapter 3, verse 5, it talks about being washed by the water and the Spirit, or being born again by the water and the Spirit, and the water there is really the water of the Word that cleanses us.

In Titus chapter 3, verse 5, “Not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to His mercy He saved us by the washing of regeneration.” And there you have a spiritual metaphor, the washing of regeneration. In Ephesians chapter 5, you have a similar statement in verse 26, or at least one that can apply, “that He might sanctify and cleanse it with the washing of water by the Word.” You see, this is talking about a spiritual cleansing. So you have two things when you’re saved. Number one, God is satisfied, and two, you’re changed. You see?

We must hold fast to the hope we confessed without wavering (verse 23). That means refusing apostasy.

Henry explains:

Here observe, (1.) The duty itself–to hold fast the profession of our faith, to embrace all the truths and ways of the gospel, to get fast hold of them, and to keep that hold against all temptation and opposition. Our spiritual enemies will do what they can to wrest our faith, and hope, and holiness, and comfort, out of our hands, but we must hold fast our religion as our best treasure. (2.) The manner in which we must do this–without wavering, without doubting, without disputing, without dallying with temptation to apostasy. Having once settled these great things between God and our souls, we must be stedfast and immovable. Those who begin to waver in matters of Christian faith and practice are in danger of falling away. (3.) The motive or reason enforcing this duty: He is faithful that hath promised. God has made great and precious promises to believers, and he is a faithful God, true to his word; there is no falseness nor fickleness with him, and there should be none with us. His faithfulness should excite and encourage us to be faithful, and we must depend more upon his promises to us than upon our promises to him, and we must plead with him the promise of grace sufficient.

We are asked to provoke each other to love and good deeds (verse 24), i.e. the fruits of faith.

MacArthur explains the word ‘provoke’ in Greek:

You need each other. You need to love each other. You need to kind of irritate” – the word “provoke” literally is “irritate,” it’s a negative word. “Irritate each other into good works.” Paroxusmos. Stimulate good works and stimulate love. These are the things that go together in the Christian experience, love and good works.

We can compare that to the grit that irritates an oyster into producing a magnificent pearl. Out of something irritating comes a thing of true beauty.

Finally, we are to continue in fellowship, not only occasionally, as some do, but encouraging each other to come together in worship, all the more as the Day approaches (verse 25).

For those Jews, it was the coming of the destruction of the temple in Jerusalem. This passage was written in AD 62. The temple was destroyed eight years later.

For us, this means the day we die as well as the Day of Judgement, whenever it comes. We must be prepared at all times, and worship helps us to do that.

Henry says:

There was a day approaching, a terrible day to the Jewish nation, when their city should be destroyed, and the body of the people rejected of God for rejecting Christ. This would be a day of dispersion and temptation to the chosen remnant. Now the apostle puts them upon observing what signs there were of the approach of such a terrible day, and upon being the more constant in meeting together and exhorting one another, that they might be the better prepared for such a day. There is a trying day coming on us all, the day of our death, and we should observe all the signs of its approaching, and improve them to greater watchfulness and diligence in duty.

The ensuing verses have to do with apostasy but end on an encouraging note of faith, endurance and compassion:

Hebrews 10:26-31 – God, Jesus, apostasy the worst sin, eternal judgement

Hebrews 10:32-39 – faith, endurance, compassion

I hope that this exposition helps give deeper meaning to our Lord’s deep and humiliating sacrifice on Good Friday, sufficient for the sins of the whole world, past and present.

Only through it could we be reconciled to God.

May we be forever grateful.

Meditations and readings for Maundy Thursday can be found here.

The Epistle is as follows (emphases mine):

1 Corinthians 11:23-26

11:23 For I received from the Lord what I also handed on to you, that the Lord Jesus on the night when he was betrayed took a loaf of bread,

11:24 and when he had given thanks, he broke it and said, “This is my body that is for you. Do this in remembrance of me.”

11:25 In the same way he took the cup also, after supper, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood. Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me.”

11:26 For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes.

Commentary comes from Matthew Henry and John MacArthur.

Paul gives us the first description of the Last Supper. The Gospels had not yet been written.

As Paul was not one of the original Apostles, the Lord told him what had happened, possibly during the three days of his Damascene conversion.

Paul states that the Lord was the source of his information on the Last Supper at the last true Passover, which he passed on to the Corinthians when he planted their church; on the night Christ was betrayed, He took a loaf of bread (verse 23).

John MacArthur calls to our attention the juxtaposition of Judas’s evil betrayal and our Lord’s generosity of giving us His body and blood for our spiritual nourishment:

And I think it’s interesting, if you look at verse 23, that he throws that in, “That the Lord Jesus the same night in which He was betrayed took bread.” Why does he say that? Well, because he wants to set the history; he wants to put it in its historical context, because that has a great deal of meaning.

You say, “But he could have said on the eve of the Passover, or he could have said on Thursday night before the crucifixion. Why does he say “in the same night in which He was betrayed”?

Because the New Testament does something very interesting, periodically, and that is it sets the most glorious, the most beautiful, the most wonderful against the background of the ugliest so that, by contrast, the beauty is visible.

For example, in John 13 that what I think to be the most beautiful passage on love in the Bible next to the story of the cross: Jesus washing the disciples’ feet. All the way woven through the passage where He washes the feet of the disciple is the interlude of Judas who is about to go out and betray Him. And you have Satan entering his heart. Right in the midst of this whole thing.

And so, the contrast between the hate of Judas and the filth of the devil, against the beauty and the love of Jesus, makes it all the more wonderful. At the cross, where you have God the Son dying for the sins of the world, all around it is hatred and mockery and rejection, because that makes it all the more beautiful.

And here in the most beautiful ordinance that the Lord has ever given for the celebration of His Church, set against it is the terrible hatred, cruelty of a betrayal. But that gives it all the more beauty against that dark background.

When Jesus had given thanks, He broke the bread, telling the Apostles that it was His body, given for them, that they should do this — partake of it — in remembrance of Him (verse 24).

Matthew Henry points out that, throughout, bread is referred to as such:

As to the visible signs; these are bread and the cup, the former of which is called bread many times over in this passageWhat is eaten is called bread, though it be at the same time said to be the body of the Lord

MacArthur says:

It was not His body; His body was still sitting there when He said that. So, we’re not talking about literal things.

Remember, that’s exactly what the Jews thought in John 6, “How are we going to eat his flesh? There’s not enough of Him to go around,” they thought.

So, He says in verse 23, Paul does, “That the Lord Jesus took bread. And when He had given thanks” – and that’s eucharisteō in the Greek, from which you get the Eucharist. He gave thanks; He broke it, and that’s so that all could share from a common loaf, and said, “Take, eat. This represents My body which is for you.” This represents My body. What do you mean by that, Lord?

Well, the body, to the Jewish mind, represented the whole man. The total man. The whole incarnate life of Christ. “This bread represents all that I am as God incarnate.” The mystery of the incarnation is there from the day He was born till the day He died, and even when He rose again. The whole of the incarnation is summed up in the term “body.” God in human flesh. “Remember that I became Man and suffered, and was rejected, and was despised, and ultimately died for you.” But the whole thing, not just His death. In the bread is not just His death but His whole incarnation. “This is My body – represents My body which is for you.”

In the same way, Jesus took the cup and said it is the New Covenant in His blood, meant to be taken often in remembrance of Him (verse 25).

Henry tells us more about both the bread and the cup in the Sacrament:

Bread and the cup are both made use of, because it is a holy feast. Nor is it here, or any where, made necessary, that any particular liquor should be in the cup. In one evangelist, indeed, it is plain that wine was the liquor used by our Saviour, though it was, perhaps, mingled with water, according to the Jewish custom; vide Lightfoot on Matthew 26:27. But this by no means renders it unlawful to have a sacrament where persons cannot come at wine. In every place of scripture in which we have an account of this part of the institution it is always expressed by a figure. The cup is put for what was in it, without once specifying what the liquor was, in the words of the institution. [2.] The things signified by these outward signs; they are Christ’s body and blood, his body broken, his blood shed, together with all the benefits which flow from his death and sacrifice: it is the New Testament in his blood. His blood is the seal and sanction of all the privileges of the new covenant; and worthy receivers take it as such, at this holy ordinance. They have the New Testament, and their own title to all the blessings of the new covenant, confirmed to them by his blood.

MacArthur says that covenants in the ancient world had to be ratified in blood, hence the sacrifices in the Bible, culminating with the Crucifixion:

In the Old Testament, God said to Israel, “I will lead you to the Promised Land. I will pass over your house and not execute your firstborn if you will sign on the dotted line.” And what did they sign with? The blood of a lamb on the doorpost and the lintel. And that was the fluid that ratified the promise, “God, you do your part; we will do our part.”

And throughout all of the Old Testament, God continued to say, “You’ve got to ratify the promise in blood. And they sacrificed animal after animal after animal after animal so that the blood flowed through the land of Israel through all of its history as the people continued to renew the promise over and over and over and over again.

And in fact, when covenants were made in the East, in the ancient East, they weren’t made by signing your name at the bottom. An animal was killed, and the blood was sprinkled on both parties. You were both doused in blood as a sign you were going to keep your promise. A covenant ratified by blood.

And Jesus says, “There’s a new covenant. God is making a new promise. You know what that promise is? It isn’t anymore the old one of law. It isn’t anymore the old one of you have to do this sacrifice and this sacrifice and this one. It’s a brand new promise. Here it is: I will forgive all your sins for all time.” And that was new. They had to make sacrifices continuously. “I will make one sacrifice forever, and that will be Christ. And His one sacrifice and His one ratification by blood will end the sacrificial system for good. That’s a new promise.”

God says, “I’ll give you total forgiveness forever. I’ll give you eternal life forever by the blood of Christ.” And it was as if on the cross Jesus was taking His blood and signing on the dotted line. That’s the new covenant: the blood of Christ. Not the blood of a lamb on a doorpost, where God says, “I’ll take you out of the land and get you to the Promised Land.” That’s temporal and impermanent. But the blood of the new covenant, where God says, “I’ll take you into heaven, and I’ll forgive your sin forever, unconditionally because of Jesus Christ.” That’s the new covenant.

And so, He says, “The cup represents the new covenant. No longer do you need to go back to the blood of the Passover; come back to the blood of the cross …”

Jesus said that as often as we eat this bread and drink this cup, we proclaim His death until He comes to us once more (verse 26).

Both commentators say that we must receive the Sacrament often.

Henry reminds us that, just as we cannot go without nourishment of the body, we must similarly feed our souls:

It is moreover hinted here, concerning this ordinance, [1.] That it should be frequent: As often as you eat this bread, c. Our bodily meals return often we cannot maintain life and health without this. And it is fit that this spiritual diet should be taken often too. The ancient churches celebrated this ordinance every Lord’s day, if not every day when they assembled for worship. [2.] That it must be perpetual. It is to be celebrated till the Lord shall come; till he shall come the second time, without sin, for the salvation of those that believe, and to judge the world. This is our warrant for keeping this feast. It was our Lord’s will that we should thus celebrate the memorials of his death and passion, till he come in his own glory, and the Father’s glory, with his holy angels, and put an end to the present state of things, and his own mediatorial administration, by passing the final sentence. Note, The Lord’s supper is not a temporary, but a standing and perpetual ordinance.

However, in the verses that follow this reading, Paul warns about taking Holy Communion unworthily and says that some of the Corinthians experienced illness and death because of it:

1 Corinthians 11:27-34 – profaning Holy Communion, sickness, death, judgement

This is why most churches have strict rules about receiving the Sacrament. A few let anyone receive Communion, although that should not be the case. At minimum, one should be baptised, as in the Anglican Communion, although personally I would go further. Some denominations stipulate that only their members are allowed at the Lord’s Table, e.g. conservative Lutherans, Reformed churches and the Catholic Church. Some Reformed churches ask that visitors introduce themselves to one of the greeters when entering church for a Communion service for that very purpose.

One should understand the significance of this generous sacrifice the Lord made for our sake and commanded us to remember often in His memory. It is not to be received lightly, but with solemn reverence.

330px-john_donne_by_isaac_oliverLast week, I profiled John Donne, who made an incredible personal journey from a handsome rake to devoted husband and father to the Dean of St Paul’s Cathedral.

Most of us remember his poetry from English Literature class.

Although digital collections of his sermons exist, only one — and a partial one at that — is in an easily accessed format categorised by Scripture. Thank you, BibleHub.

John’s Gospel has the most detailed account of Jesus’s final teaching at the Last Supper, which we remember on Maundy Thursday.

John Donne was inspired to write an entire sermon on John 14:20 alone. Excerpts follow, emphases mine.

First, let’s look at John 14 in its entirety. Jesus spoke these words while He and the Apostles were in the upper room at the Last Supper. Judas Iscariot had already left. The Judas referred to in verse 22 is Jude Thaddeus, who wrote the shortest book in the Bible, Jude:

I Am the Way, and the Truth, and the Life

14 “Let not your hearts be troubled. Believe in God;[a] believe also in me. In my Father’s house are many rooms. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you?[b] And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also. And you know the way to where I am going.”[c] Thomas said to him, “Lord, we do not know where you are going. How can we know the way?” Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. If you had known me, you would have known my Father also.[d] From now on you do know him and have seen him.”

Philip said to him, “Lord, show us the Father, and it is enough for us.” Jesus said to him, “Have I been with you so long, and you still do not know me, Philip? Whoever has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say, ‘Show us the Father’? 10 Do you not believe that I am in the Father and the Father is in me? The words that I say to you I do not speak on my own authority, but the Father who dwells in me does his works. 11 Believe me that I am in the Father and the Father is in me, or else believe on account of the works themselves.

12 “Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever believes in me will also do the works that I do; and greater works than these will he do, because I am going to the Father. 13 Whatever you ask in my name, this I will do, that the Father may be glorified in the Son. 14 If you ask me[e] anything in my name, I will do it.

Jesus Promises the Holy Spirit

15 “If you love me, you will keep my commandments. 16 And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Helper,[f] to be with you forever, 17 even the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him. You know him, for he dwells with you and will be[g] in you.

18 “I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you. 19 Yet a little while and the world will see me no more, but you will see me. Because I live, you also will live. 20 In that day you will know that I am in my Father, and you in me, and I in you. 21 Whoever has my commandments and keeps them, he it is who loves me. And he who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I will love him and manifest myself to him.” 22 Judas (not Iscariot) said to him, “Lord, how is it that you will manifest yourself to us, and not to the world?” 23 Jesus answered him, “If anyone loves me, he will keep my word, and my Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him. 24 Whoever does not love me does not keep my words. And the word that you hear is not mine but the Father’s who sent me.

25 “These things I have spoken to you while I am still with you. 26 But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, he will teach you all things and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you. 27 Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid. 28 You heard me say to you, ‘I am going away, and I will come to you.’ If you loved me, you would have rejoiced, because I am going to the Father, for the Father is greater than I. 29 And now I have told you before it takes place, so that when it does take place you may believe. 30 I will no longer talk much with you, for the ruler of this world is coming. He has no claim on me, 31 but I do as the Father has commanded me, so that the world may know that I love the Father. Rise, let us go from here.

John Donne’s sermon on John 14:20 is called ‘Christ’s Legacy’. Most of it follows below:

I. THE LEGACY ITSELF: Knowledge. “Ye shall know.” God delivered the Jews to some extent from ignorance by the law, which was their schoolmaster. But in the gospel we are graduates, and know as a matter of history and experience what was only previously known in prophecy and type, in the manifestation of Christ, and the presence of the Spirit

II. THE TIME WHEN THIS LEGACY ACCRUES TO US. “At that day.”

1. The word itself affords cheerfulness. When God inflicted the greatest plague on Egypt it was at midnight; and when He would intimate both deaths at once He says, “Thou fool, this night,” etc. Against all supply of knowledge He calls him fool; against all sense of comfort in the day He threatens night.

2. It was a certain day: “That” — and soon. For after Christ had made His will at this supper, and given strength to His will by His death, and proved His will by His resurrection, and left the Church possessed of His estate by His ascension, within ten days after that He poured out this legacy of knowledge.

3. On that day the Holy Ghost came as a wind to note a powerful working; filled them, to note the abundance; and gave them utterance, to infer the communication of their knowledge to others. But He was poured forth for the benefit of all. The prophets, high as their calling was, saw nothing without the Spirit; with the Spirit simple man understands the prophets.

III. OUR PORTION IN THIS LEGACY — the measure of the knowledge of those mysteries which we are to receive. When Felix the Manichaean would prove to that was the Holy Spirit who should teach all truth, because Manes [Mani] taught many things of which men were ignorant concerning the frame and nature of the heavens, Augustine answered, “The Holy Ghost makes us Christians, not mathematicians.” This knowledge is to know the end and the way — heaven and Christ. Now, in all our journeys, a moderate pace brings a man most surely to his journey’s end, and so does a sober knowledge in the mysteries of religion. Therefore, the Holy Ghost did not give the apostles all kind of knowledge, but knowledge enough for their present work, and so with us. The points of knowledge necessary for our salvation are three.

1. The mystery of the Trinity. “I am in My Father.” tells us that the principal use of knowledge is to know the Trinity. For to know that there is one God, natural reason serves our turn. But to know that the Son is in the Father I need the Scriptures, and the light of the Holy Spirit on the Scriptures, for Jews and Arians have the Bible too. But consider that Christ says, “ye shall know,” not “ye shall know how”. It is enough for a happy subject to enjoy the sweetness of a peaceable government, though he knows not the ways by which his prince governs, so it is enough for a Christian to enjoy the working of God’s grace, though he inquire not into God’s unrevealed decrees. When the Church asked how the body of Christ was in the sacrament we see what an inconvenient answer it fell upon. Make much of that knowledge with which the Spirit hath trusted you, and believe the rest. No man knows how his soul came into him, yet no man doubts that he has a soul.

2. The mystery of the Incarnation — “Ye in Me.” For since the devil has taken manhood in one lump in Adam, Christ to deliver us as entirely took all mankind upon Him. So that the same pretence that the devil hath against us, “You are mine, for you sinned in Adam,” we have also for our discharge, we are delivered, for we paid our debt in Christ.

3. The assurance of this grows from the third part of our knowledge the mystery of our redemption, in our sanctification. “I in you.” This last is the best. To know that Christ is in the Father may serve me to convince another who denies the Trinity; to know we are in Christ may show that we are more honoured than angels. But what worth is this if I know not that Christ is in me. How then is this? Here the question is lawful, for it has been revealed. It is by our obedience to His inspiration, and by our reverent use of His sacrament, when the Spirit visits us with effectual grace, and Christ marries Himself to our souls.

What stood out for me were four things:

First, Donne clearly understood Paul’s epistles about the shortcomings of the law in the Old Covenant. It could not — and cannot — save. Note that Donne calls the law the Jews’ ‘schoolmaster’. How true.

Secondly, the Holy Spirit is available to all, not just a select few. Furthermore, St Augustine said that the primary purpose of the Spirit is to help us to live a Christian life. Donne makes it easy to grasp by saying that the Spirit enables simple man to understand the prophets. One does not need a university degree to understand the Bible.

Thirdly, if the devil tempts us by telling us we are doomed, we should keep in mind that Christ paid our debt in full. We are no longer slaves to sin.

Finally, Christians are not required to understand how the holy mysteries work, only to believe, through the workings of the Holy Spirit, that they exist, e.g. the Triune God, one in three Persons. Donne wisely noted the ancient controversy in the Church that took place over what happens during the consecration of bread and wine, still a contentious subject today.

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Readings, exegeses and other observations about Wednesday of Holy Week, or Spy Wednesday, as it is traditionally known, follow:

Readings for Wednesday of Holy Week — Spy Wednesday

Judas offers his services

More on Spy Wednesday

Wednesday of Holy Week — Spy Wednesday (2017, Henry and MacArthur on Judas: bad hombre)

The readings for Monday of Holy Week can be found here.

The exegesis on the Gospel reading is here.

The Epistle is as follows (emphases mine):

Hebrews 9:11-15

9:11 But when Christ came as a high priest of the good things that have come, then through the greater and perfect tent (not made with hands, that is, not of this creation),

9:12 he entered once for all into the Holy Place, not with the blood of goats and calves, but with his own blood, thus obtaining eternal redemption.

9:13 For if the blood of goats and bulls, with the sprinkling of the ashes of a heifer, sanctifies those who have been defiled so that their flesh is purified,

9:14 how much more will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself without blemish to God, purify our conscience from dead works to worship the living God!

9:15 For this reason he is the mediator of a new covenant, so that those who are called may receive the promised eternal inheritance, because a death has occurred that redeems them from the transgressions under the first covenant.

Commentary comes from Matthew Henry and John MacArthur.

The author of Hebrews explains that Christ is the great High Priest, making the ultimate sacrifice of Himself for our sins.

I wrote about the Book of Hebrews in 2019, which included the first two sets of verses in this chapter:

Hebrews 9:1-5 – the original tabernacle, tent, God, Jesus

The author of Hebrews describes the original tent, or tabernacle, that God instructed Moses to build (Exodus 25). Even then, during the Old Covenant, everything in it pointed to Christ and the eventual New Covenant. The author calls that tabernacle ‘the earthly holy place’, as the true holy place is in heaven, where Jesus reigns as King and Great High Priest.

Hebrews 9:6-10 – rituals of the Jewish priests

The author discusses the rituals of the Jewish priests, which were temporary, albeit divinely ordained, until the Crucifixion, the one and sufficient sacrifice for our sins.

The author wants his Jewish audience to grasp that the tabernacle of the Old Testament prefigures Jesus Christ.

John MacArthur explains the significance of the tabernacle in both the Old and the New Covenants:

Now let’s look at it beginning in verse 2. “There was a tabernacle.” Now we’re talking about the old covenant, the ceremonies and rituals of Israel. There was a tabernacle. Now he’s dealing here with the tabernacle rather than the temple, because he wants to pull out the primary things that God placed initially in that tabernacle, and it was the earthiest of the two between the tabernacle and the temple. It was the most transitory and passing thing because of its mobility and the substance of which it was made, so it illustrates his truth. But he starts out by saying there was a tabernacle made. Now that tent is very important, and I dare say we don’t know nearly as much about it as we ought to. Do you know there are only two chapters in the Bible that talk about creation and there are 50 chapters that talk about the tabernacle? That is important. The tabernacle is important and demands attention from us in our study, because the tabernacle is a giant picture of Jesus Christ. It is a gigantic portrait of Christ in every detail. God laid out all the plans, and you look at it and it’s just Christ everywhere you look.

For example, let’s begin. This was a big tent. It was 150 feet long and it was 75 feet wide. And there was only one gate, and it was on the east. And it was 30 feet wide, seven-and-a-half feet high, and many people could go through it. Now that is a perfect picture of Jesus Christ who said, “I am the way,” who also said, “I am the door.” To the tabernacle or the place of God there was only one door. How many doors are there to God now? One door, Jesus Christ. So the fact of one door pictures Jesus Christ. Christianity is very exclusive, men only come to God through Jesus Christ.

MacArthur describes the tabernacle in detail so that we understand its parallels with Christ:

Now let’s assume that we started at the east and we were going into the 150-by-75-foot tent. The outside was a curtain that was not covered, and we would move then, and he just doesn’t even get into this but let me fill in. We would move into the courtyard, the outer court of the tabernacle. And we would see some furniture there which he doesn’t mention because of their obvious familiarity with it. But as we walk from the east going in, we would first of all come to the brazen altar.

Now the brazen altar it was just that, it was made of acacia wood. It was seven-and-a-half feet square, so it was a large altar. It stood four-and-a-half feet off the ground. The top was covered by a brass grate, and the coals were underneath the grate and the sacrifice was placed on the grate. On four corners of the alter were the horns of the altar to which the animal was bound when it was being sacrificed. The brazen altar is a perfect picture of Jesus Christ, the one who was a sacrifice for sin.

Having moved past that continuing west, we would come to the next piece of furniture that is in the court, and that is the laver, or a wash area. This is made of brass. In it the priest washed their hands and used it also to wash their feet as they went about the bloody services of sacrifice. It again is a picture of Jesus Christ who is the cleanser of his people. And it’s a wonderful picture when you put the two together. Once we have come to the brazen altar and received forgiveness for sins, we are not through. We still need to go to the laver for the daily cleansing that brings about restoration and the pure joy of full fellowship. So both of them picture Jesus. And together they picture the work of Christ on earth, as he provided the forgiveness and the cleansing in the cross.

Then we’re still going west and we come to the tabernacle itself. 45 feet long, 15 feet wide, 15 feet high. The holy place took up two-thirds of it, which meant that the holy of holies was a perfect cube, 15 by 15 by 15, the other 15 by 15 by 30. We would go into the holy place, if we were priests, and in there we would find three pieces of furniture, and here the writer only mentions two. As I say, he’s in a hurry; he doesn’t have time for details, and they know them all as well as the back of their hand anyway. And we would move then into the holy place, and first of all on the left side would appear the golden lampstand. The seven-lit golden lampstand that the pure olive oil that was placed there for the fire. This golden lampstand was beaten out of solid gold. Then we would look to the right and we would see the table of showbread. This was made of acacia wood, again overlaid with gold. It was three feet long, one-and-a-half feet wide and about two-and-a-quarter-feet high off the ground. And on it every Sabbath they laid 12 loaves, one for every tribe in Israel, six in two rows. And at the end of the week the priests ate it, and only the priests were allowed to eat it.

Then continuing to the center, we would see the Altar of Incense. It again was made of acacia wood and it was sheathed in gold. It was one-and-a-half feet square, three feet high. And on this were placed the burning coals from the brazen altar way out in the courtyard where sacrifice was made. Then you say, “Well what are these three things supposed to be all about?” Again, they are pictures of Jesus Christ.

Let me show you what I mean. In the outer courtyard, all the things out there are connected with salvation and the cleansing of sin. Now where did Jesus accomplish salvation and the cleansing of sin? On the earth. And that’s the courtyard, outside God’s presence. The very fact that it was the outer court, accessible to all the people pictures Christ in the world openly manifesting himself before men. But when he goes into the holy place, he is shut off from the men of the world. And so whatever it is that’s going on in the holy place it’ll have to do with that which he does when he gets back to heaven. And what are the three things that Jesus does when he gets back to heaven? Number one, he lights our path. Number two, he feeds us. And number three, he intercedes for us. And so the three pieces of furniture in the holy place are pictures of Jesus Christ. The golden lampstand is Christ, the light of life, not the light of the world. He’s not the light of the world when he’s in there. He said listen to it carefully in the Gospel of John, “As long as I am in the world, I am the light of the world.” But when he left the world, the world was left in darkness, and he is only for the believer, the light of life. Don’t confuse that. It’s talking about his work in heaven. He is the light of life. He is the light that directs our paths. He is the one who through the Spirit illumines our mind, who understands spiritual truth. He is the one by the indwelling Spirit that guides us through the world of darkness. He is our light.

And then we look to the right and we see the table of showbread and Jesus is our sustenance. He’s the one who feeds us every day, who sustains us, and he sustains us with the Word. In fact, the Word is not only our food, the Word is our light, and the oil is the Spirit of God who lights the Word for us. You might say the light is our food on the other side and the Spirit is our waiter. And then we come to the altar of incense which pictures the sacrificial coals placed there and the incense smoke rising, and this is Jesus interceding for us. The perfect sacrifice became the intercessory. And so all three picture Jesus’ work in heaven for us. But we don’t stop there.

Look at verse 3. We go through a second veil, and we couldn’t do this, could we? Only if we were high priests and only once a year on one day. But in our minds, let’s go. And we go after the second veil into the tabernacle, which is called the holiest of all, the holy of holies. And we get in there and there’s only one piece of furniture, and what was it? It was the Ark of the Covenant, and it contained Aaron’s rod that budded, and it contained manna, and it contained the tables of law. It was simply made of acacia wood. It too was overlaid with gold about 3’9” long, 2’3” wide, and about 2 feet high, just a box. And the lid on top of it was called what? Look at verse. Which had the golden censer, we’ll get to that later, and the Ark of the Covenant overlaid roundabout with gold in which was the golden pot, manna, Aaron’s rod that budded, the tables of the covenant. Verse 5, “And over it the cherubim of glory showing the mercy seat.” On top of this was the mercy seat, as it’s called. And over the mercy seat on two ends were cherubim, that’s angels, whose wings stretched over and almost touched. The mercy seat was made of gold; the angels were solid gold. And it was between the wings of those angels on the mercy seat that God met men.

In Exodus 25:22, God said, “I’ll commune with you from above the mercy seat from between the cherubim.” And if God and man were to have any meeting place, they only met there. But you see isn’t it tragic that under the Old Testament economy there was only one guy who could go in there and he had to hurry in and hurry out, because there wasn’t ever really any access at all. And the people never got any further than the outer court; they never even got into the holy place. But here was the Ark. You say, “What does that represent?” It represents Jesus Christ who is the true mercy seat. When you meet Jesus Christ as Savior, you are ushered into the presence of God.

God no longer communes with men between the wings of the cherubim. He communes with men no longer on the top of a gold mercy seat. He communes with men because they come to him in the name of whom? Jesus Christ. He is the mercy seat. Only on the basis of the blood of a goat would God have fellowship with Israel, and only on the basis of the blood of Christ will God have fellowship with men. Christ is the mercy seat, the meeting place of God and men. So we see the sanctuary. It had divine services, but it was earthly, and it was so temporary and passing and it never provided true access. So the writer speaks of the sanctuary. Let’s look at the services, and this is going to be interesting especially in reference to the Day of Atonement … in Israel’s calendar.

Verse 6, “Now when these things were thus prepared,” – when the furniture was all set up, watch what happened – “the priest went always into the first tabernacle accomplishing the service of God.” The first one was called the Holy Place. They went in there every day; they had to go in every day to trim the oil on the lampstand. They had to go in there every day to put the incense on the altar of incense, and they had to go in every Sabbath day to change the 12 loaves of bread. So they were in and out of there every day. Every day, every day, every day they went into the holy place. This was a never-ceasing work. It’s again a perfect picture of Jesus Christ who does not cease lighting, who does not cease feeding, who does not cease interceding on our behalf. It is perpetual. It is continual. It is unceasing. Aren’t you glad you have a Christ like that who never stops his priestly work? Every day, every day, every day going about doing it on our behalf.

But verse 7, “Into the second, or the holy of all, went the high priest alone once every year, and not without blood, which he offered for himself and for the errors of the people.” Now this is interesting, and I want us to take a minute to see this. What happens in Israel historically is important to us, because so much of it pictures Christ. But nothing pictures Christ more than this event. The statement in verse 7 refers to the Day of Atonement, or Yom KippurNow the Day of Atonement is again a perfect picture of Christ. He doesn’t spend any detail on it because they knew it well, but I’m going to take a moment to spend some detail. We know that God had a relationship with Israel, but every time Israel sinned, what happened to the relationship? It was broken. So every day they’d come and they’d make sacrifices and it would be kind of reconnected. But all through the year sins would pile up that you forgot about that you didn’t know you committed; that’s why they’re called errors rather than sins. The things you didn’t know and you forgot about and you didn’t confess and you didn’t make a sacrifice for would pile up. So the Day of Atonement was kind of a catch-all. All of the ones for which you had not made direct sacrifice would be gathered together, and they would all be covered in the sacrifice of the Day of Atonement for the whole nation. So it was a great day of liberty of the conscience. I mean you knew all through the year that you’d be racking up and you know you remembered some of them but you hadn’t remembered all of them, and so you longed for the Day of Atonement when the sacrifice was made and at least for a few minutes you could be free.

Sin severed the relationship. Only forgiveness through sacrifice could put it together, and so there needed to be a catch-all to pick up the things the people had forgotten. And so that was the Day of Atonement. Now let’s look at the ritual. Very early in the morning the priest arose, not from the dead but from the bed. And he cleansed himself by washing; he washed himself thoroughly. Then he put on some robes that were reserved for this day; they’re the robes of glory and beauty, fancy robes. There was the robe of the ephod, and on the robe of the ephod the shoulders were two large onyx stones, and each of those onyx stones had six of the tribes’ names engraved on them. On the tunic, which was on the breastplate, was also 12 precious stones, each one of them having on it engraved one name of a tribe. So he bore, remember we saw this a few weeks ago, the names of Israel on his shoulders and on his heart. And there he is a perfect picture of Jesus Christ who takes us not only on his heart, which means he cares for us, but on his shoulders, which means he’s not only willing, he’s what? He’s able. That’s power; that’s strength.

And so the high priest then carried the people to God on his heart and on his shoulders, and I’m sure that he wished he could give them access to the holy place. And I’m sure his heart ached to give them access to God. I’m sure he ached to have it himself. He had it on his heart, but he didn’t really have the strength in his shoulders. That was a picture of Jesus who would come and be willing and also be able. And so the high priest got himself all cleaned up and put on his robes. Then he began to do his daily sacrifices. He had to go through the whole routine of all the sacrifice. One writer says, “Very likely he would’ve already slaughtered 22 different animals by the time he reached the event known as Atonement.” Very busy and a very bloody thing that he did every day.

And so he went all through the sacrifices, and when he was done, he finished all of that. He removed his gorgeous robes. He took of the robes of glory and beauty, went and bathed himself again from top to bottom so that he was completely clean, and then he put on – now mark this one, this is interesting. He then put on pure white linen with no decoration at all, and it was a symbol of holiness and it was a symbol of purity. And it is a perfect symbol of Jesus Christ who in the work of atonement stripped of all of his glory and all of his beauty and became the humblest of humble, dressed in the simplest, if you will say so, linen of human flesh. But notice it’s still white. In all of his humility, he never lost his, what? His holiness.

And so when Jesus came to do the work of sacrifice to make the atonement for sin, he took of the glory but he never took off the purity and he never took off the holiness. And so again a perfect picture of Jesus Christ, and it’s interesting to note also that when the high priest was done with the sacrifice of atonement, he put right back on the robes of glory and beauty. Remember Jesus after he’d come to the cross and he was preparing for the cross and his prayer in John 17 he said, “Father, I finished the work you gave me to do, now glorify me with the glory that I had before the world began. Father, give me back my robes. I’ve done the job of atonement.” That’s exactly what the priest pictured, perfect picture.

And so the priest then put on the robes of linen, simple robes. The procedures then were as follows. In the robe of white linen, or the garments of white linen, the priest took coals off the altar. That’s the brazen altar where sacrifice is going to be made. He put them then in a censer with incense, and he carried it clear into the holy of holies. Now you’ll notice that tells that in verse 4, “Which had the golden censer.” That was not a piece of furniture in there, but the high priest on the day of atonement filled it with coals off the altar of sacrifice and took it and put it in the holy of holies, and it’s a beautiful picture of Christ again. He realizes that it is only because of Jesus Christ that he can even enter into there. So before he does any sacrifice at all, he takes that which represents Christ and puts it in there in the presence of God, for no man can come into the presence of God except Christ make the way. And so the picture of incense is always the picture of prayer and intercession. So he makes sure that the picture of Christ interceding before God opens the way for him to come in.

So he puts the censer in there and smoke fills the place from the censer. No man can approach God except Christ be there first

Then there were the sacrifices of two goats. One was the scapegoat, probably carried off into the wild but left alive. The other goat was sacrificed in death, as God required a blood sacrifice:

The first goat satisfies God. The second goat satisfies us. The two are not two offerings but one. Listen to Leviticus 16:5, “And he shall take two kids of a goat for a sin offering.” They’re just two parts of the same thing. So in that offering there was satisfaction to God. There was satisfaction for men. Propitiation, if you will, and pardon. In both cases, it was substitution. Now those are perfect copies of Jesus, aren’t they? Jesus who was the substitution, propitiation, he died on the altar and shed his blood. Jesus who bore away our sins.

The point of the first ten verses of Hebrews 9 is to show that the Old Covenant was temporary because of its limitations. Christ made the New Covenant perfect.

MacArthur says:

Could people get into the holy place? No. Could they get into the holy of holies? Absolutely not. The whole thing was meant to prove that without a redeemer, without a Messiah, without a Savior there’s no access to God, see? The Holy Spirit was saying that. He was teaching through the old system its very limitations.

Therefore, the author of Hebrews says that Christ came as a high priest of things that have come — or, as some translations say, ‘to come’ — through a greater and perfect tent, not of any existing creation, i.e. man’s labour, things of nature (verse 11).

He entered into the holy place, not with the blood of ritual sacrifice, but His own blood, thereby obtaining redemption for mankind and ending the sacrificial system (verse 12).

Matthew Henry points out that Christ’s sacrifice was perfect, unlike that of the Old Testament Jews who had to conduct the Day of Atonement ceremonies every year:

3. Christ, our high priest, has entered into heaven, not as their high priest entered into the holiest, with the blood of bulls and of goats, but by his own blood, typified by theirs, and infinitely more precious. And this,

4. Not for one year only, which showed the imperfection of that priesthood, that it did but typically obtain a year’s reprieve or pardon. But our high priest entered into heaven once for all, and has obtained not a yearly respite, but eternal redemption, and so needs not to make an annual entrance. In each of the types there was something that showed it was a type, and resembled the antitype, and something that showed it was but a type, and fell short of the antitype, and therefore ought by no means to be set up in competition with the antitype.

If the blood of the animal sacrifices purified, if only temporarily, those who had been defiled (verse 14), how much greater then is the sacrifice of our unblemished Christ on our behalf, which cleanses our conscience and draws us to worship the living God (verse 15).

MacArthur says that Christ, through His sacrifice on the Cross, makes us new creatures on the inside, something a priest from the Old Testament could never do:

… it says, “Because he did this, he will purge your conscience.” That means clean it out and free it from guilt, total forgiveness in Jesus Christ. And it says in 10:22, “Let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance, having our hearts sprinkled from an evil conscience.” Boy, what a blessed thing. No longer bugged by our guilt, but free. And it says this, “Purge your conscience from dead works.” That’s inward defilement. He cleans the inside. You see the old priest could cover up on the outside; Jesus cleans the inside. The old system could cleanse externally; the new one can change a man’s nature. It removes inward defilement. What it does is change his nature. The old one covered up, the outside, this one changes the man on the inside. “If any man because in Christ Jesus,” what? Not just cleaned up old creature but what? New creature. In the old economy, it would’ve have to been this: If any man does the sacrifice, he’s a cleaned-up old creature. In Christ, if any man be in Christ, he is a new creature. Removes inward defilement.

For that reason, Christ is the mediator of the New Covenant; those who are called may receive that promised inheritance for eternity, because His death redeems them from the transgressions of the Old Covenant (verse 15).

Henry offers this analysis:

Here observe, [1.] What it was that gave such efficacy to the blood of Christ. First, It was his offering himself to God, the human nature upon the altar of his divine nature, he being priest, altar, and sacrifice, his divine nature serving for the two former, and his human nature for the last now such a priest, altar, and sacrifice, could not but be propitiatory. Secondly, It was Christ’s offering up himself to God through the eternal Spirit, not only as the divine nature supported the human, but the Holy Ghost, which he had without measure, helping him in all, and in this great act of obedience offering himself. Thirdly, It was Christ’s offering himself to God without spot, without any sinful stain either in his nature or life; this was conformable to the law of sacrifices, which required them to be without blemish. Now further observe, [2.] What the efficacy of Christ’s blood is; it is very great. For, First, It is sufficient to purge the conscience from dead works, it reaches to the very soul and conscience, the defiled soul, defiled with sin, which is a dead work, proceeds from spiritual death, and tends to death eternal. As the touching of a dead body gave a legal uncleanness, so meddling with sin gives a moral and real defilement, fixes it in the very soul; but the blood of Christ has efficacy to purge it out. Secondly, It is sufficient to enable us to serve the living God, not only by purging away that guilt which separates between God and sinners, but by sanctifying and renewing the soul through the gracious influences of the Holy Spirit, purchased by Christ for this purpose, that we might be enabled to serve the living God in a lively manner.

Henry explains the use of ‘testament’ and ‘covenant’:

The gospel is here considered as a testament, the new and last will and testament of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. It is observable that the solemn transactions that pass between God and man are sometimes called a covenant, here a testament. A covenant is an agreement between two or more parties about things that are in their own power, or may be so, and this either with or without a mediator; this agreement takes effect at such time and in such manner as therein declared. A testament is a voluntary act and deed of a single person, duly executed and witnessed, bestowing legacies on such legatees as are described and characterized by the testator, and which can only take effect upon his death. Now observe, Christ is the Mediator of a New Testament (Hebrews 9:15; Hebrews 9:15); and he is so for several ends and purposes here mentioned. 1. To redeem persons from their transgressions committed against the law or first testament, which makes every transgression a forfeiture of liberty, and makes men debtors, and slaves or prisoners, who need to be redeemed. 2. To qualify all those that are effectually called to receive the promise of an eternal inheritance. These are the great legacies that Christ by his last will and testament has bequeathed to the truly characterized legatees.

I hope that helps to clarify the importance of Christ’s sacrifice for our sins, which does not seem to be covered adequately in many of our churches today, even on Good Friday.

Moving on to Tuesday of Holy Week, below are links to the readings as well as to explorations of the Epistle, the Gospel and the withered fig tree:

Readings for Tuesday of Holy Week

Contemplating the withered fig tree (2017)

More to follow in the days ahead.

palm-sunday-donkey-landysadventures_com.jpgPalm Sunday is April 10, 2022.

Readings for Year C can be found here.

The Gospel for the Liturgy of the Palms is as follows (emphases mine):

Luke 19:28-40

19:28 After he had said this, he went on ahead, going up to Jerusalem.

19:29 When he had come near Bethphage and Bethany, at the place called the Mount of Olives, he sent two of the disciples,

19:30 saying, “Go into the village ahead of you, and as you enter it you will find tied there a colt that has never been ridden. Untie it and bring it here.

19:31 If anyone asks you, ‘Why are you untying it?’ just say this, ‘The Lord needs it.’”

19:32 So those who were sent departed and found it as he had told them.

19:33 As they were untying the colt, its owners asked them, “Why are you untying the colt?”

19:34 They said, “The Lord needs it.”

19:35 Then they brought it to Jesus; and after throwing their cloaks on the colt, they set Jesus on it.

19:36 As he rode along, people kept spreading their cloaks on the road.

19:37 As he was now approaching the path down from the Mount of Olives, the whole multitude of the disciples began to praise God joyfully with a loud voice for all the deeds of power that they had seen,

19:38 saying, “Blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord! Peace in heaven, and glory in the highest heaven!”

19:39 Some of the Pharisees in the crowd said to him, “Teacher, order your disciples to stop.”

19:40 He answered, “I tell you, if these were silent, the stones would shout out.”

Commentary comes from Matthew Henry and John MacArthur.

Last week’s reading was about the dinner at which Mary, the sister of Martha and the recently resurrected Lazarus, anointed Jesus with fragrant nard, most often used for embalming in that era.

That dinner took place at the last Sabbath under Mosaic law. The following Friday, Jesus, through His death on the Cross, ratified the New Covenant.

Luke has written in a continuum here. He begins verse 28 by saying that after Jesus had ‘said this’, He went up to Jerusalem.

Earlier in Luke 19, Zacchaeus the tax collector had been converted. Then Jesus told the Parable of the Ten Minas, wherein the master of an estate wanted his servants to make money for him.

One of the servants did not invest his mina. The master was angry:

24 “Then he said to those standing by, ‘Take his mina away from him and give it to the one who has ten minas.’

25 “‘Sir,’ they said, ‘he already has ten!’

26 “He replied, ‘I tell you that to everyone who has, more will be given, but as for the one who has nothing, even what they have will be taken away. 27 But those enemies of mine who did not want me to be king over them—bring them here and kill them in front of me.’”

Now it was time for Jesus to ride triumphantly into Jerusalem. John’s Gospel has repeated instances of our Lord’s evasion of death because it was not the time.

Now that time has come. Matthew Henry explains why Jesus wanted a grand entrance into Jerusalem for the final true Passover:

It was no ways inconsistent either with Christ’s humility or with his present state of humiliation to make a public entry into Jerusalem a little before he died. Thus he made himself to be the more taken notice of, that the ignominy of his death might appear the greater.

At the Mount of Olives, near Bethpage and Bethany, He instructed two of His disciples (verse 29) to go to the next village, get a colt that had not been ridden and bring it to Him (verse 30).

Some might find that an unusual request, but Henry says:

all the beasts of the forest are his, and the tame beasts too.

Jesus said that, if anyone asked why, the disciples were to say, ‘Because the Lord needs it’ (verse 31).

Some might wonder why Jesus was so certain His plan would work. Remember, He is God the Son.

Henry explains:

Christ has all men’s hearts both under his eye and in his hand. He could influence those to whom the ass and the colt belonged to consent to their taking them away, as soon as they were told that the Lord had occasion for them.

The two disciples went on their errand for the Lord and found the unridden colt just as He said they would (verse 32).

The owners asked why the two were untying the colt (verse 33).

The disciples told them that the Lord needed it (verse 34).

They returned to Jesus with the colt, threw their cloaks onto its back and placed Jesus upon it (verse 35).

John MacArthur explains the significance of the timing and of the colt, both of which fulfilled Old Testament prophecy:

Daniel 9 verses 24 to 27 said in the prophecy that there would be sixty-nine times seven years, weeks of years, sixty-nine times seven until Messiah would come and be cut off Sixty-nine times seven is 483 years. They calculated years at 360 days a year; 483 years at 360 days totals 173,880.  So from the beginning until the Messiah comes to be cut off, you have this duration of 483 years of 360 days.  That’s prophesied in Daniel 9:24 to 27.  When does it start?  It started with a decree to rebuild Jerusalem.  When was that?  445 B. C. Declared by Artaxerxes and precisely from then until this week and this day is the 483 years He comes in perfect fulfillment of Daniel’s prophecy Everything is in line.  And so He triggers the event Himself by sending the disciples to get the animal which He will ride into the city.

Though His coronation is humble, He comes riding on the colt, the foal of an ass, the foal of a donkey, as the prophet said, and though there are no crowns for Him, and though there are no dignitaries and there is not the usual regalia that occurs at a coronation, and though the people are fickle and though they are shallow and superficial and though they are hypocritical, and though they only cry “Hosanna” to Him this day and soon after are screaming for His blood, in spite of the shallowness and superficiality of this event, He is nonetheless God’s true King He is God’s true King.  And it manifests itself in this coronation in three ways: preparation, adoration, and condemnation.

Last time we looked at preparation in verses 28 to 35. The very fact that He sent them to get that animal and to bring the animal and He rode in on the animal, as I pointed out to you, is a fulfillment of Zechariah 9:9, very specific prophecy Matthew’s account of the triumphal entry refers to that prophecy, Matthew 21. John’s account refers to that prophecy in John 12 He comes vindicating that He is the Messiah by the fulfillment of Old Testament prophecy Also, He demonstrates His omniscience He knew about the animal, though He couldn’t see the animal.  He knew where it was He knew it was tied there.  He knew what the conversation with the owners would be like He demonstrates again His deity and His messiahship in those elements of the preparation for His entry.

As Jesus rode along into Jerusalem, the people watching Him spread their cloaks upon the road (verse 36). They already knew about the resurrection of Lazarus, the news of which had spread quickly. Furthermore, they had all heard about Him and some would have seen Him teaching and performing His healing miracles.

As He came down from the Mount of Olives on the colt, His disciples, who had been with Him to witness His ministry, began praising God joyfully for all the deeds of the power of Jesus (verse 37).

They said (verse 38), “Blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord! Peace in heaven, and glory in the highest heaven!”

Henry tells us why they chose those proclamations:

Observe, 1. What was the matter or occasion of their joy and praise. They praised God for all the mighty works they had seen, all the miracles Christ had wrought, especially the raising of Lazarus, which is particularly mentioned, John 12:17; John 12:18. That brought others to mind, for fresh miracles and mercies should revive the remembrance of the former. 2. How they expressed their joy and praise (Luke 19:38; Luke 19:38): Blessed be the king that cometh in the name of the Lord. Christ is the king; he comes in the name of the Lord, clothed with a divine authority, commissioned from heaven to give law and treat of peace. Blessed be he. Let us praise him, let God prosper him. He is blessed for ever, and we will speak well of him. Peace in heaven. Let the God of heaven send peace and success to his undertaking, and then there will be glory in the highest. It will redound to the glory of the most high God; and the angels, the glorious inhabitants of the upper world, will give him the glory of it. Compare this song of the saints on earth with that of the angels, Luke 2:14; Luke 2:14. They both agree to give glory to God in the highest. There the praises of both centre; the angels say, On earth peace, rejoicing in the benefit which men on earth have by Christ; the saints say, Peace in heaven, rejoicing in the benefit which the angels have by Christ. Such is the communion we have with the holy angels that, as they rejoice in the peace on earth, so we rejoice in the peace in heaven, the peace God makes in his high places (Job 25:2), and both in Christ, who hath reconciled all things to himself, whether things on earth or things in heaven.

MacArthur adds that the disciples thought that the Messiah’s temporal kingdom was at hand:

They were the ones, according to verse 37, who began to praise God joyfully with a loud voice, thinking: Surely this is the moment when He is going to come as the conquering hero, the conquering Messiah, set up the kingdom, defeat our enemies They start the celebration The crowd catches the fever and they all begin to cry out the same things, pointing to Jesus as the Messiah He receives it.  He takes it because He deserves it So we see that He is who He is by way of preparation, omniscience.  Fulfilling prophecy He is who He is demonstrated by adoration He receives worship willingly because He deserves it.

However, the Pharisees were angry, telling Jesus that He should order His disciples to stop praising Him (verse 39).

Henry says:

There were some Pharisees among the multitude who were so far from joining with them that they were enraged at them, and, Christ being a famous example of humility, they thought that he would not admit such acclamations as these, and therefore expected that he should rebuke his disciples, Luke 19:39; Luke 19:39. But it is the honour of Christ that, as he despises the contempt of the proud, so he accepts the praises of the humble.

Jesus replied that if the people had been silent, the stones would have shouted out their praise to Him (verse 40).

That might seem a difficult verse to understand, but Jesus spoke of a prophecy that came to pass on Good Friday.

Henry tells us:

Whether men praise Christ or no he will, and shall, and must be praised (Luke 19:40; Luke 19:40): If these should hold their peace, and not speak the praises of the Messiah’s kingdom, the stones would immediately cry out, rather than that Christ should not be praised. This was, in effect, literally fulfilled, when, upon men’s reviling Christ upon the cross, instead of praising him, and his own disciples’ sinking into a profound silence, the earth did quake and the rocks rent. Pharisees would silence the praises of Christ, but they cannot gain their point; for as God can out of stones raise up children unto Abraham, so he can out of the mouths of those children perfect praise.

MacArthur has more, tracing the judgement on Jerusalem back to Habakkuk in the Old Testament:

The opposition to Jesus was so strong that even after the resurrection from the dead, the praise of Jesus was never raised in the city of Jerusalem, or in the land of Israel, except among the few thousand who were saved When Jerusalem grew silent, Jesus said, “The stones will cry out.”  Cry out, kraz, scream, future tense, when in the future these people become silent, in the future the stones will scream.  Screaming stones?  What is that?  What is that?  It’s more than just the expression of praise from some inanimate object, as if God is to be praised by His creation, far more than that.  In fact, in the little prophecy of Habakkuk, chapter 2, we have a very good parallel In the prophecy of Habakkuk we have a statement of judgment on the Chaldeans, the Chaldeans, the wicked, pagan Chaldeans And the Chaldeans had basically prospered as a society, but they had prospered at the expense of other nations, they had prospered by extortion, they had prospered by usury, charging exorbitant interest rate, they had prospered by murder and bloodshed.  They had literally built their towns and cities by the sacrifice and the slaughter and the abuse of other people So Habakkuk, the prophet, is given a message from God of judgment against them I just want to pick out one verse; that is in verse 11.  “Surely the stone will cry out from the wall and the rafter will answer it from the framework.” Then verse 12, “Woe to him who builds a city with bloodshed and founds a town with violence.”  The stones in the houses and the buildings that they built were symbols of their wickedness.  The walls of their houses and the timbers of their roofs, plundered from others, gained by bloodshed and usury, scream of their wickedness, scream of their guilt.  And Jesus is saying the same thing here.

There are going to be some stones who will cry out against you as the stones in the past cried out of the guilt of the Chaldeans.  All you had to do was look at their houses and when you saw them, all their prosperity, all their edifices were testimonies to their corruption and bloodshed.  The stones cried out of their guilt and the judgment of God upon them, and some stones are going to do the same in your case That’s explained in the next section, verse 41.  “When He approached He saw the city and wept over it.”

Here are the ensuing verses from Luke 19, in which Jesus pronounced judgement on Jerusalem — the destruction of the temple by the Romans in AD 70 — for having rejected Him and His salvation:

41 As he approached Jerusalem and saw the city, he wept over it 42 and said, “If you, even you, had only known on this day what would bring you peace—but now it is hidden from your eyes. 43 The days will come upon you when your enemies will build an embankment against you and encircle you and hem you in on every side. 44 They will dash you to the ground, you and the children within your walls. They will not leave one stone on another, because you did not recognize the time of God’s coming to you.”

However, God will lift judgement on the Jews, when the Gentiles fall:

Since that time, Jerusalem has been trodden underfoot to one degree or another by the Gentiles, until the times of the Gentiles ends. 

Paul wrote about that in Romans 11:25-28:

25 Lest you be wise in your own sight, I do not want you to be unaware of this mystery, brothers:[a] a partial hardening has come upon Israel, until the fullness of the Gentiles has come in. 26 And in this way all Israel will be saved, as it is written,

“The Deliverer will come from Zion,
    he will banish ungodliness from Jacob”;
27 “and this will be my covenant with them
    when I take away their sins.”

28 As regards the gospel, they are enemies for your sake. But as regards election, they are beloved for the sake of their forefathers.

So, the time will come for God’s Chosen to be redeemed at some point in history.

More readings for Holy Week will follow in the days ahead.

The Fourth Sunday in Lent is March 27, 2022.

Readings for Year C can be found here.

The Fourth Sunday in Lent is also known as Laetare Sunday and, in the United Kingdom, it is also Mothering Sunday, which was originally a feast to celebrate the Church as well as motherhood.

Laetare Sunday was the day that Britons worshipped at their ‘mother’ church. Afterwards, the congregation gathered round the church and held hands to ‘clip’ it, showing their love for and solidarity with it.

Servants were given time to make a Simnel cake ahead of time to give to their mothers that day. Nowadays, Simnel cake is more often served at Easter. Its 12 marzipan balls symbolise Christ and his faithful 11 Apostles.

Celebrants in the Catholic and Anglican traditions often wore a pink vestment on Laetare Sunday, as it is the one joyful day of worship during Lent.

It is so called for the ancient Introit, which includes these words:

“Laetare Jerusalem” (“O be joyful, Jerusalem”)

Catholics have a longstanding tradition dating back to the Middle Ages of the Golden Rose, which the Pope can award at his discretion to worthy dignitaries for an exemplary life. The University of Notre Dame in Indiana awards its Laetare Medal on this day to a deserving recipient. The Golden Rose symbolises our Lord who sprang from the root of Jesse’s tree like a flower (Isaiah 11:1).

Laetare Sunday was known as ‘the Sunday of the Five Loaves’, as the Feeding of the Five Thousand was the original Gospel reading, prior to the incursion of the Lectionary.

You can read more about Laetare Sunday in the posts below:

Laetare Sunday, Mother’s Day and the Golden Rose

Laetare Sunday is Mothering Sunday

The Gospel reading is as follows (emphases mine):

Luke 15:1-3, 11b-32

15:1 Now all the tax collectors and sinners were coming near to listen to him.

15:2 And the Pharisees and the scribes were grumbling and saying, “This fellow welcomes sinners and eats with them.”

15:3 So he told them this parable:

15:11b “There was a man who had two sons.

15:12 The younger of them said to his father, ‘Father, give me the share of the property that will belong to me.’ So he divided his property between them.

15:13 A few days later the younger son gathered all he had and traveled to a distant country, and there he squandered his property in dissolute living.

15:14 When he had spent everything, a severe famine took place throughout that country, and he began to be in need.

15:15 So he went and hired himself out to one of the citizens of that country, who sent him to his fields to feed the pigs.

15:16 He would gladly have filled himself with the pods that the pigs were eating; and no one gave him anything.

15:17 But when he came to himself he said, ‘How many of my father’s hired hands have bread enough and to spare, but here I am dying of hunger!

15:18 I will get up and go to my father, and I will say to him, “Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you;

15:19 I am no longer worthy to be called your son; treat me like one of your hired hands.”‘

15:20 So he set off and went to his father. But while he was still far off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion; he ran and put his arms around him and kissed him.

15:21 Then the son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you; I am no longer worthy to be called your son.’

15:22 But the father said to his slaves, ‘Quickly, bring out a robe–the best one–and put it on him; put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet.

15:23 And get the fatted calf and kill it, and let us eat and celebrate;

15:24 for this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found!’ And they began to celebrate.

15:25 “Now his elder son was in the field; and when he came and approached the house, he heard music and dancing.

15:26 He called one of the slaves and asked what was going on.

15:27 He replied, ‘Your brother has come, and your father has killed the fatted calf, because he has got him back safe and sound.’

15:28 Then he became angry and refused to go in. His father came out and began to plead with him.

15:29 But he answered his father, ‘Listen! For all these years I have been working like a slave for you, and I have never disobeyed your command; yet you have never given me even a young goat so that I might celebrate with my friends.

15:30 But when this son of yours came back, who has devoured your property with prostitutes, you killed the fatted calf for him!’

15:31 Then the father said to him, ‘Son, you are always with me, and all that is mine is yours.

15:32 But we had to celebrate and rejoice, because this brother of yours was dead and has come to life; he was lost and has been found.’”

Commentary comes from Matthew Henry.

I am using only Matthew Henry’s commentary this week because it is a work of theological genius. I have excerpted it below, so be sure to read it in its entirety.

For most of my life, I struggled mightily with the Parable of the Prodigal Son. I empathised with the dutiful son and believed he had been wronged. I never heard a sermon about it that I agreed with. In fact, the sermons troubled me more deeply than the parable itself.

Had I read Henry’s exposition of it when I was growing up, I would have understood it immediately.

It really is all about sin, brokenness, repentance and forgiveness. Furthermore, the dutiful son is self-righteous when perhaps he shouldn’t be.

Jesus had told two parables before this which were also about the happiness of finding things that one had lost: the lost coin and the lost sheep.

Henry introduces this parable as follows:

We have here the parable of the prodigal son, the scope of which is the same with those before, to show how pleasing to God the conversion of sinners is, of great sinners, and how ready he is to receive and entertain such, upon their repentance; but the circumstances of the parable do much more largely and fully set forth the riches of gospel grace than those did, and it has been, and will be while the world stands, of unspeakable use to poor sinners, both to direct and to encourage them in repenting and returning to God.

The first three verses are important in understanding the parable.

The tax collectors and sinners drew near to hear Jesus teach (verse 1).

As students of the New Testament know, the Jews loathed tax collectors — publicans, in that era — because they worked for the Romans. Henry says that the ‘sinners’ might have been Gentiles. The Jews loathed them, too:

Here multitudes of publicans and sinners drew near to him, with a humble modest fear of being rejected by him, and to them he found it requisite to give encouragement, especially because there were some haughty supercilious people that frowned upon them. The publicans, who collected the tribute paid to the Romans, were perhaps some of them bad men, but they were all industriously put into an ill name, because of the prejudices of the Jewish nation against their office. They are sometimes ranked with harlots (Matthew 21:32); here and elsewhere with sinners, such as were openly vicious, that traded with harlots, known rakes. Some think that the sinners here meant were heathen, and that Christ was now on the other side Jordan, or in Galilee of the Gentiles. These drew near, when perhaps the multitude of the Jews that had followed him had (upon his discourse in the close of the foregoing chapter) dropped off; thus afterwards the Gentiles took their turn in hearing the apostles, when the Jews had rejected them. They drew near to him, being afraid of drawing nearer than just to come within hearing. They drew near to him, not, as some did, to solicit for cures, but to hear his excellent doctrine. Note, in all our approaches to Christ we must have this in our eye, to hear him; to hear the instructions he gives us, and his answers to our prayers.

The Pharisees and the scribes objected, grumbling that Jesus welcomed sinners and broke bread with them (verse 2).

Henry explains their anger and includes a practical application of acceptance for us:

1. They were angry that publicans and heathens had the means of grace allowed them, were called to repent, and encouraged to hope for pardon upon repentance; for they looked upon their case as desperate, and thought that none but Jews had the privilege of repenting and being pardoned, though the prophets preached repentance to the nations, and Daniel particularly to Nebuchadnezzar. 2. They thought it a disparagement to Christ, and inconsistent with the dignity of his character, to make himself familiar with such sort of people, to admit them into his company and to eat with them. They could not, for shame, condemn him for preaching to them, though that was the thing they were most enraged at; and therefore they reproached him for eating with them, which was more expressly contrary to the tradition of the elders. Censure will fall, not only upon the most innocent and the most excellent persons, but upon the most innocent and most excellent actions, and we must not think it strange.

Henry tells us why Jesus preached at length to these notionally lost people:

Christ’s justifying himself in it, by showing that the worse these people were, to whom he preached, the more glory would redound to God, and the more joy there would be in heaven, if by his preaching they were brought to repentance. It would be a more pleasing sight in heaven to see Gentiles brought to the worship of the true God than to see Jews go on in it, and to see publicans and sinners live an orderly sort of life than to see scribes and Pharisees go on in living such a life.

Jesus told them a third parable (verse 3), this time about a man with two sons (verse 11b).

Henry explains the analogy of the sons’ identities in the parable:

It represents the children of men as of different characters, though all related to God as their common Father. He had two sons, one of them a solid grave youth, reserved and austere, sober himself, but not at all good-humoured to those about him; such a one would adhere to his education, and not be easily drawn from it; but the other volatile and mercurial, and impatient of restraint, roving, and willing to try his fortune, and, if he fall into ill hands, likely to be a rake, notwithstanding his virtuous education. Now this latter represents the publicans and sinners, whom Christ is endeavouring to bring to repentance, and the Gentiles, to whom the apostles were to be sent forth to preach repentance. The former represents the Jews in general, and particularly the Pharisees, whom he was endeavouring to reconcile to that grace of God which was offered to, and bestowed upon, sinners.

The younger son is the prodigal, whose character and case are here designed to represent that of a sinner, that of every one of us in our natural state, but especially of some.

The younger son asked prematurely for his share of his father’s property, and the father duly divided his goods between his sons (verse 12).

A sinner will ask God for something in the wrong way or for more than he should, just as this younger son did:

He said to his father, proudly and pertly enough, “Father, give me“–he might have put a little more in his mouth, and have said, Pray give me, or, Sir, if you please, give me, but he makes an imperious demand–“give me the portion of goods that falleth to me; not so much as you think fit to allot to me, but that which falls to me as my due.” Note, It is bad, and the beginning of worse, when men look upon God’s gifts as debts. Give me the portion, all my child’s part, that falls to me;” not, “Try me with a little, and see how I can manage that, and accordingly trust me with more;” but, “Give it me all at present in possession, and I will never expect any thing in reversion, any thing hereafter.” Note, The great folly of sinners, and that which ruins them, is being content to have their portion in hand, now in this lifetime to receive their good things. They look only at the things that are seen, that are temporal, and covet only a present gratification, but have no care for a future felicity, when that is spent and gone. And why did he desire to have his portion in his own hands? Was it that he might apply himself to business, and trade with it, and so make it more? No, he had no thought of that.

The sinner, just as the younger son, tires of his Father’s governance and no longer wishes to obey Him but desires a notional independence:

[1.] He was weary of his father’s government, of the good order and discipline of his father’s family, and was fond of liberty falsely so called, but indeed the greatest slavery, for such a liberty to sin is. See the folly of many young men, who are religiously educated, but are impatient of the confinement of their education, and never think themselves their own masters, their own men, till they have broken all God’s bands in sunder, and cast away his cords from them, and, instead of them, bound themselves with the cords of their own lust. Here is the original of the apostasy of sinners from God; they will not be tied up to the rules of God’s government; they will themselves be as gods, knowing no other good and evil than what themselves please. [2.] He was willing to get from under his father’s eye, for that was always a check upon him, and often gave a check to him. A shyness of God, and a willingness to disbelieve his omniscience, are at the bottom of the wickedness of the wicked. [3.] He was distrustful of his father’s management. He would have his portion of goods himself, for he thought that his father would be laying up for hereafter for him, and, in order to that, would limit him in his present expenses, and that he did not like. [4.] He was proud of himself, and had a great conceit of his own sufficiency. He thought that if he had but his portion in his own hands he could manage it better than his father did, and make a better figure with it. There are more young people ruined by pride than by any one lust whatsoever. Our first parents ruined themselves and all theirs by a foolish ambition to be independent, and not to be beholden even to God himself; and this is at the bottom of sinners’ persisting in their sin–they will be for themselves.

The father held the elder son’s inheritance in reserve, as we see in verse 31. It is rather extraordinary that the father so easily acquiested to his younger son’s request, however, God is equally generous to sinners in His mercy:

How kind his father was to him: He divided unto them his living. He computed what he had to dispose of between his sons, and gave the younger son his share, and offered the elder his, which ought to be a double portion; but, it should seem, he desired his father to keep it in his own hands still, and we may see what he got by it (Luke 15:31; Luke 15:31): All that I have is thine. He got all by staying for something in reserve. He gave the younger son what he asked, and the son had no reason to complain that he did him any wrong in the dividend; he had as much as he expected, and perhaps more. [1.] Thus he might now see his father’s kindness, how willing he was to please him and make him easy, and that he was not such an unkind father as he was willing to represent him when he wanted an excuse to be gone. [2.] Thus he would in a little time be made to see his own folly, and that he was not such a wise manager for himself as he would be thought to be. Note, God is a kind Father to all his children, and gives to them all life, and breath, and all things, even to the evil and unthankful, dieilen autois ton bionHe divided to them life. God’s giving us life is putting us in a capacity to serve and glorify him.

A few days later, the younger son left with everything he had and travelled to a distant country where he squandered all he had on dissolute living (verse 13).

Henry looks at the sinner’s departure from God and the danger of leaving divine grace behind:

When the bridle of restraining grace is taken off we are soon gone. That which the younger son determined was to be gone presently, and, in order to that, he gathered all together. Sinners, that go astray from God, venture their all.

Now the condition of the prodigal in this ramble of his represents to us a sinful state, that miserable state into which man is fallen.

[1.] A sinful state is a state of departure and distance from God. First, It is the sinfulness of sin that it is an apostasy from God. He took his journey from his father’s house. Sinners are fled from God; they go a whoring from him; they revolt from their allegiance to him, as a servant that runs from his service, or a wife that treacherously departs from her husband, and they say unto God, Depart. They get as far off him as they can. The world is the far country in which they take up their residence, and are as at home; and in the service and enjoyment of it they spend their all. Secondly. It is the misery of sinners that they are afar off from God, from him who is the Fountain of all good, and are going further and further from him. What is hell itself, but being afar off from God?

We squander our God-given gifts when we depart from Him. We enter into serious sin then hit rock bottom as the prodigal discovered when a famine hit the land where he lived and he was soon in need (verse 14):

[2.] A sinful state is a spending state: There he wasted his substance with riotous living (Luke 15:13; Luke 15:13), devoured it with harlots (Luke 15:30; Luke 15:30), and in a little time he had spent all,Luke 15:14; Luke 15:14. He bought fine clothes, spent a great deal in meat and drink, treated high, associated with those that helped him to make an end of what he had in a little time. As to this world, they that live riotously waste what they have, and will have a great deal to answer for, that they spend that upon their lusts which should be for the necessary substance of themselves and their families. But this is to be applied spiritually. Wilful sinners waste their patrimony; for they misemploy their thoughts and all the powers of their souls, misspend their time and all their opportunities, do not only bury, but embezzle, the talents they are entrusted to trade with for their Master’s honour; and the gifts of Providence, which were intended to enable them to serve God and to do good with, are made the food and fuel of their lusts. The soul that is made a drudge, either to the world or to the flesh, wastes its substance, and lives riotously. One sinner destroys much good, Ecclesiastes 9:18. The good he destroys is valuable, and it is none of his own; they are his Lord’s goods that he wastes, which must be accounted for.

Sin never brings lasting pleasure. In fact, it brings need to the point of brokenness, as the prodigal discovered:

[3.] A sinful state is a wanting state: When he had spent all upon his harlots, they left him, to seek such another prey; and there arose a mighty famine in that land, every thing was scarce and dear, and he began to be in want, Luke 15:14; Luke 15:14. Note, Wilful waste brings woeful want. Riotous living in time, perhaps in a little time, brings men to a morsel of bread, especially when bad times hasten on the consequences of bad husbandry, which good husbandry would have provided for. This represents the misery of sinners, who have thrown away their own mercies, the favour of God, their interest in Christ, the strivings of the Spirit, and admonitions of conscience; these they gave away for the pleasure of sense, and the wealth of the world, and then are ready to perish for want of them. Sinners want necessaries for their souls; they have neither food nor raiment for them, nor any provision for hereafter. A sinful state is like a land where famine reigns, a mighty famine; for the heaven is as brass (the dews of God’s favour and blessing are withheld, and we must needs want good things if God deny them to us), and the earth is as iron (the sinner’s heart, that should bring forth good things, is dry and barren, and has no good in it). Sinners are wretchedly and miserably poor, and, what aggravates it, they brought themselves into that condition, and keep themselves in it by refusing the supplies offered.

He was forced to work for someone who lived in that country and was reduced to feeding pigs (verse 15), which the Jews would have found horrifying.

Henry says that the prodigal’s master is akin to Satan:

The same wicked life that before was represented by riotous living is here represented by servile living; for sinners are perfect slaves. The devil is the citizen of that country; for he is both in city and country. Sinners join themselves to him, hire themselves into his service, to do his work, to be at his beck, and to depend upon him for maintenance and a portion. They that commit sin are the servants of sin, John 8:34. How did this young gentleman debase and disparage himself, when he hired himself into such a service and under such a master as this! He sent him into the fields, not to feed sheep (there had been some credit in that employment; Jacob, and Moses, and David, kept sheep), but to feed swine. The business of the devil’s servants is to make provision for the flesh, to fulfil the lusts thereof, and that is no better than feeding greedy, dirty, noisy swine; and how can rational immortal souls more disgrace themselves?

The prodigal would gladly have eaten what he was feeding the pigs, but no one gave him anything (verse 16).

Henry says that shows the sinner is eventually brought to his lowest state, being no better than a pig:

A fine pass my young master had brought himself to, to be fellow-commoner with the swine! Note, That which sinners, when they depart from God, promise themselves satisfaction in, will certainly disappoint them; they are labouring for that which satisfieth not, Isaiah 55:2. That which is the stumbling-block of their iniquity will never satisfy their souls, nor fill their bowels, Ezekiel 7:19. Husks are food for swine, but not for men. The wealth of the world and the entertainments of sense will serve for bodies; but what are these to precious souls? They neither suit their nature, nor satisfy their desires, nor supply their needs. He that takes up with them feeds on wind (Hosea 12:1), feeds on ashes, Isaiah 44:20.

Then the prodigal came to his senses and thought of his father’s servants who were well fed while he was not only hungry but dying of hunger (verse 17), much like the sinner whose sin has broken him while he yearned for the nourishment of divine grace:

The prodigal in the far country was dead to his father and his family, cut off from them, as a member from the body or a branch from the tree, and therefore dead, and it is his own doing.

[8.] A sinful state is a lost state: This my son was lost–lost to every thing that was good–lost to all virtue and honour–lost to his father’s house; they had no joy of him. Souls that are separated from God are lost souls; lost as a traveller that is out of his way, and, if infinite mercy prevent not, will soon be lost as a ship that is sunk at sea, lost irrecoverably.

[9.] A sinful state is a state of madness and frenzy. This is intimated in that expression (Luke 15:17; Luke 15:17), when he came to himself, which intimates that he had been beside himself. Surely he was so when he left his father’s house, and much more so when he joined himself to the citizen of that country. Madness is said to be in the heart of sinners, Ecclesiastes 9:3. Satan has got possession of the soul; and how raging mad was he that was possessed by Legion! Sinners, like those that are mad, destroy themselves with foolish lusts, and yet at the same time deceive themselves with foolish hopes; and they are, of all diseased persons, most enemies to their own cure.

He decided to return to his father and confess that he had sinned before him and Heaven — God (verse 18).

It is in our broken state that God reaches out to us to help us realise how spiritually infirm we are without Him:

Note, Afflictions, when they are sanctified by divine grace, prove happy means of turning sinners from the error of their ways. By them the ear is opened to discipline and the heart disposed to receive instructions; and they are sensible proofs both of the vanity of the world and of the mischievousness of sin. Apply it spiritually. When we find the insufficiency of creatures to make us happy, and have tried all other ways of relief for our poor souls in vain, then it is time to think of returning to God. When we see what miserable comforters, what physicians of no value, all but Christ are, for a soul that groans under the guilt and power of sin, and no man gives unto us what we need, then surely we shall apply ourselves to Jesus Christ.

Furthermore, the prodigal wanted to tell his father that he was no longer worthy of being his son; he wanted to be treated as one of his father’s hired hands (verse 19).

He does not deny the relation (for that was all he had to trust to), but he owns that his father might justly deny the relation, and shut his doors against him. He had, at his own demand, the portion of goods that belonged to him, and had reason to expect no more. Note, It becomes sinners to acknowledge themselves unworthy to receive any favour from God, and to humble and abase themselves before him.

Note, True penitents have a high value for God’s house, and the privileges of it, and will be glad of any place, so they may but be in it, though it be but as door-keepers, Psalms 84:10. If it be imposed on him as a mortification to sit with the servants, he will not only submit to it, but count it a preferment, in comparison with his present state. Those that return to God, from whom they have revolted, cannot but be desirous some way or other to be employed for him, and put into a capacity of serving and honouring him: Make me as a hired servant, that I may show I love my father’s house as much as ever I slighted it.”

The prodigal made the long journey back to his father’s house; when he arrived, even though he was still at a distance, his father saw him and ran to him, embracing him with a kiss (verse 20).

We can read this literally, with regard to a parent’s forgiveness of an errant child, and we should go further in seeing it as a happy reunion with God after we have sinned:

We have here his reception and entertainment with his father: He came to his father; but was he welcome? Yes, heartily welcome. And, by the way, it is an example to parents whose children have been foolish and disobedient, if they repent, and submit themselves, not to be harsh and severe with them, but to be governed in such a case by the wisdom that is from above, which is gentle and easy to be entreated; herein let them be followers of God, and merciful, as he is. But it is chiefly designed to set forth the grace and mercy of God to poor sinners that repent and return to him, and his readiness to forgive them.

Like the father towards his son, God sees the sorrowful sinner from a distance and embraces him:

He expressed his kindness before the son expressed his repentance; for God prevents us with the blessings of his goodness. Even before we call he answers; for he knows what is in our hearts. I said, I will confess, and thou forgavest. How lively are the images presented here! [1.] Here were eyes of mercy, and those eyes quick-sighted: When he was yet a great way off his father saw him, before any other of the family were aware of him, as if from the top of some high tower he had been looking that way which his son was gone, with such a thought as this, “O that I could see yonder wretched son of mine coming home!” This intimates God’s desire of the conversion of sinners, and his readiness to meet them that are coming towards him. He looketh on men, when they are gone astray from him, to see whether they will return to him, and he is aware of the first inclination towards him. [2.] Here were bowels of mercy, and those bowels turning within him, and yearning at the sight of his son: He had compassion. Misery is the object of pity, even the misery of a sinner; though he has brought it upon himself, yet God compassionates. His soul was grieved for the misery of Israel, Hosea 11:8; Judges 10:16. [3.] Here were feet of mercy, and those feet quick-paced: He ran. This denotes how swift God is to show mercy. The prodigal son came slowly, under a burden of shame and fear; but the tender father ran to meet him with his encouragements. [4.] Here were arms of mercy, and those arms stretched out to embrace him: He fell on his neck. Though guilty and deserving to be beaten, though dirty and newly come from feeding swine, so that any one who had not the strongest and tenderest compassions of a father would have loathed to touch him, yet he thus takes him in his arms, and lays him in his bosom. Thus dear are true penitents to God, thus welcome to the Lord Jesus. [5.] Here were lips of mercy, and those lips dropping as a honey-comb: He kissed him. This kiss not only assured him of his welcome, but sealed his pardon; his former follies shall be all forgiven, and not mentioned against him, nor is one word said by way of upbraiding. This was like David’s kissing Absalom, 2 Samuel 14:33. And this intimates how ready, and free, and forward the Lord Jesus is to receive and entertain poor returning repenting sinners, according to his Father’s will.

The son confessed to his father as he had contemplated before returning home (verse 21).

Henry notes one omission in the son’s confession:

He was going on in his submission, but one word we find in his purpose to say (Luke 15:19; Luke 15:19) which we do not find that he did say (Luke 15:21; Luke 15:21), and that was, Make me as one of thy hired servants. We cannot think that he forgot it, much less that he changed his mind, and was now either less desirous to be in the family or less willing to be a hired servant there than when he made that purpose; but his father interrupted him, prevented his saying it: “Hold, son, talk no more of thy unworthiness, thou art heartily welcome, and, though not worthy to be called a son, shalt be treated as a dear son, as a pleasant child.” He who is thus entertained at first needs not ask to be made as a hired servant. Thus when Ephraim bemoaned himself God comforted him, Jeremiah 31:18-20. It is strange that here is not one word of rebuke: “Why did you not stay with your harlots and your swine? You could never find the way home till beaten hither with your own rod.” No, here is nothing like this; which intimates that, when God forgives the sins of true penitents, he forgets them, he remembers them no more, they shall not be mentioned against them, Ezekiel 18:22.

The father instructed his slaves to bring the best robe and put it on his son, along with a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet (verse 22).

Henry offers this analysis:

[1.] He came home in rags, and his father not only clothed him, but adorned him. He said to the servants, who all attended their master, upon notice that his son was come, Bring forth the best robe, and put it on him. The worst old clothes in the house might have served, and these had been good enough for him; but the father calls not for a coat, but for a robe, the garment of princes and great men, the best robeten stolen ten proten. There is a double emphasis: “that robe, that principal robe, you know which I mean;” the first robe (so it may be read); the robe he wore before he ran his ramble. When backsliders repent and do their first works, they shall be received and dressed in their first robes. “Bring hither that robe, and put it on him; he will be ashamed to wear it, and think that it ill becomes him who comes home in such a dirty pickle, but put it on him, and do not merely offer it to him: and put a ring on his hand, a signet-ring, with the arms of the family, in token of his being owned as a branch of the family.” Rich people wore rings, and his father hereby signified that though he had spent one portion, yet, upon his repentance, he intended him another. He came home barefoot, his feet perhaps sore with travel, and therefore, “Put shoes on his feet, to make him easy.” Thus does the grace of God provide for true penitents. First, The righteousness of Christ is the robe, that principal robe, with which they are clothed; they put on the Lord Jesus Christ, are clothed with that Sun. The robe of righteousness is the garment of salvation, Isaiah 61:10. A new nature is this best robe; true penitents are clothed with this, being sanctified throughout. Secondly, The earnest of the Spirit, by whom we are sealed to the day of redemption, is the ring on the hand. After you believed you were sealed. They that are sanctified are adorned and dignified, are put in power, as Joseph was by Pharaoh’s giving him a ring: “Put a ring on his hand, to be before him a constant memorial of his father’s kindness, that he may never forget it.” Thirdly, The preparation of the gospel of peace is as shoes for our feet (Ephesians 6:15), so that, compared with this here, signifies (saith Grotius) that God, when he receives true penitents into his favour, makes use of them for the convincing and converting of others by their instructions, at least by their examples. David, when pardoned, will teach transgressors God’s ways, and Peter, when converted, will strengthen his brethren. Or it intimates that they shall go on cheerfully, and with resolution, in the way of religion, as a man does when he has shoes on his feet, above what he does when he is barefoot.

The father instructed his slaves to kill the fatted calf in order that everyone could eat and celebrate (verse 23).

Similarly, the repentant sinner will feast on spiritual food that is our blessed Lord:

Note, There is excellent food provided by our heavenly Father for all those that arise and come to him. Christ himself is the Bread of Life; his flesh is meat indeed, and his blood drink indeed; in him there is a feast for souls, a feast for fat things. It was a great change with the prodigal, who just before would fain have filled his belly with husks. How sweet will the supplies of the new covenant be, and the relishes of its comforts, to those who have been labouring in vain for satisfaction in the creature! Now he found his own words made good, In my father’s house there is bread enough and to spare.

The father rejoiced, saying that his son had been dead but is now alive again; he was lost and now is found, therefore, those present began to celebrate (verse 24).

This is how God considers repentant sinners, who should be a cause for celebration to us as well:

The bringing of the fatted calf was designed to be not only a feast for him, but a festival for the family: “Let us all eat, and be merry, for it is a good day; for this my son was dead, when he was in his ramble, but his return is as life from the dead, he is alive again; we thought that he was dead, having heard nothing from him of a long time, but behold he lives; he was lost, we gave him up for lost, we despaired of hearing of him, but he is found. Note, [1.] The conversion of a soul from sin to God is the raising of that soul from death to life, and the finding of that which seemed to be lost: it is a great, and wonderful, and happy change. What was in itself dead is made alive, what was lost to God and his church is found, and what was unprofitable becomes profitable, Philemon 1:11. It is such a change as that upon the face of the earth when the spring returns. [2.] The conversion of sinners is greatly pleasing to the God of heaven, and all that belong to his family ought to rejoice in it; those in heaven do, and those on earth should. Observe, It was the father that began the joy, and set all the rest on rejoicing. Therefore we should be glad of the repentance of sinners, because it accomplishes God’s design; it is the bringing of those to Christ whom the Father had given him, and in whom he will be for ever glorified. We joy for your sakes before our God, with an eye to him (1 Thessalonians 3:9), and ye are our rejoicing in the presence of our Lord Jesus Christ, who is the Master of the family, 1 Thessalonians 2:19. The family complied with the master: They began to be merry. Note, God’s children and servants ought to be affected with things as he is.

The elder son was in the field at the time; as he neared the house he heard music and dancing (verse 25).

He asked one of the slaves what was happening (verse 26).

The slave replied that his brother had returned home and that his father had brought out the fatted calf because the prodigal was safe and sound (verse 27).

The elder brother became angry and refused to enter the house, which caused his father to come out and plead with him to join in the celebration (verse 28).

The elder brother was like the Jewish hierarchy who disapproved of our Lord’s preaching to the publicans and the sinners. However, we may also view the elder brother as an analogy for those who have resisted temptation yet are upset about the rejoicing over sinners who have repented:

We have here the repining and envying of the elder brother, which is described by way of reproof to the scribes and Pharisees, to show them the folly and wickedness of their discontent at the repentance and conversion of the publicans and sinners, and the favour Christ showed them; and he represents it so as not to aggravate the matter, but as allowing them still the privileges of elder brethren: the Jews had those privileges (though the Gentiles were favoured), for the preaching of the gospel must begin at Jerusalem. Christ, when he reproved them for their faults, yet accosted them mildly, to smooth them into a good temper towards the poor publicans. But by the elder brother here we may understand those who are really good, and have been so from their youth up, and never went astray into any vicious course of living, who comparatively need no repentance; and to such these words in the close, Son, thou art ever with me, are applicable without any difficulty, but not to the scribes and Pharisees.

Then the dutiful son went on a rant about his own obedience which was never rewarded, even with a feast with friends over a kid (verse 29) and his disgust in celebrating over ‘this son’ who had spent all that he had on prostitutes (verse 30).

Henry says that the dutiful son was guilty of self-aggrandisement, something that happens all too often:

[1.] In men’s families. Those who have always been a comfort to their parents think they should have the monopoly of their parents’ favours, and are apt to be too sharp upon those who have transgressed, and to grudge their parents’ kindness to them.

[2.] In God’s family. Those who are comparatively innocents seldom know how to be compassionate towards those who are manifestly penitents. The language of such we have here, in what the elder brother said (Luke 15:29; Luke 15:30), and it is written for warning to those who by the grace of God are kept from scandalous sin, and kept in the way of virtue and sobriety, that they sin not after the similitude of this transgression. Let us observe the particulars of it. First, He boasted of himself and his own virtue and obedience. He had not only not run from his father’s house, as his brother did, but had made himself as a servant in it, and had long done so: Lo, these many years do I serve thee, neither transgressed I at any time thy commandment. Note, It is too common for those that are better than their neighbours to boast of it, yea, and to make their boast of it before God himself, as if he were indebted to them for it. I am apt to think that this elder brother said more than was true, when he gloried that he had never transgressed his father’s commands, for them I believe he would not have been so obstinate as now he was to his father’s entreaties. However, we will admit it comparatively; he had not been so disobedient as his brother had been. O what need have good men to take heed of pride, a corruption that arises out of the ashes of other corruptions! Those that have long served God, and been kept from gross sins, have a great deal to be humbly thankful for, but nothing proudly to boast of. Secondly, He complained of his father, as if he had not been so kind as he ought to have been to him, who had been so dutiful: Thou never gavest me a kid, that I might make merry with my friends. He was out of humour now, else he would not have made this complaint; for, no questions, if he had asked such a thing at any time, he might have had it at the first word; and we have reason to think that he did not desire it, but the killing of the fatted calf put him upon making this peevish reflection. When men are in a passion they are apt to reflect in a way they would not if they were in their right mind. He had been fed at his father’s table, and had many a time been merry with him and the family; but his father had never given him so much as a kid, which was but a small token of love compared with the fatted calf. Note, Those that think highly of themselves and their services are apt to think hardly of their master and meanly of his favours. We ought to own ourselves utterly unworthy of those mercies which God has thought fit to give us, much more of those that he has not thought fit to give us, and therefore we must not complain. He would have had a kid, to make merry with his friends abroad, whereas the fatted calf he grudged so much was given to his brother, not to make merry with his friends abroad, but with the family at home: the mirth of God’s children should be with their father and his family, in communion with God and his saints, and not with any other friends. Thirdly, He was very ill-humoured towards his younger brother, and harsh in what he thought and said concerning him. Some good people are apt to be overtaken in this fault, nay, and to indulge themselves too much in it, to look with disdain upon those who have not preserved their reputation so clean as they have done, and to be sour and morose towards them, yea, though they have given very good evidence of their repentance and reformation. This is not the Spirit of Christ, but of the Pharisees. Let us observe the instances of it. 1. He would not go in, except his brother were turned out; one house shall not hold him and his own brother, no, not his father’s house. The language of this was that of the Pharisee (Isaiah 65:5): Stand by thyself, come not near to me, for I am holier than thou; and (Luke 18:11; Luke 18:11) I am not as other men are, nor even as this publican

He aggravated his brother’s faults, and made the worst of them, endeavouring to incense his father against him: He is thy son, who hath devoured thy living with harlots. It is true, he had spent his own portion foolishly enough (whether upon harlots or no we are not told before, perhaps that was only the language of the elder brother’s jealousy and ill will), but that he had devoured all his father’s living was false; the father had still a good estate. Now this shows how apt we are, in censuring our brethren, to make the worst of every thing, and to set it out in the blackest colours, which is not doing as we would be done by, nor as our heavenly Father does by us, who is not extreme to mark iniquities

Note, It is a wrong thing to envy penitents the grace of God, and to have our eye evil because he is good. As we must not envy those that are the worst of sinners the gifts of common providence (Let not thine heart envy sinners), so we must not envy those that have been the worst of sinners the gifts of covenant love upon their repentance; we must not envy them their pardon, and peace, and comfort, no, nor any extraordinary gift which God bestows upon them, which makes them eminently acceptable or useful.

The father attempted to comfort his son by saying that all that he had was his (verse 31). That is analogous to the righteous person’s heavenly inheritance.

The father went on to say that, as the prodigal son had returned, it was time to celebrate and rejoice; he who had been thought dead was, in fact, alive and he who had been lost had been found (verse 32):

Note, First, It is the unspeakable happiness of all the children of God, who keep close to their Father’s house, that they are, and shall be, ever with him. They are so in this world by faith; they shall be so in the other world by fruition; and all that he has is theirs; for, if children, then heirs, Romans 8:17. Secondly, Therefore we ought not to envy others God’s grace to them because we shall have never the less for their sharing in it. If we be true believers, all that God is, all that he has, is ours; and, if others come to be true believers, all that he is, and all that he has, is theirs too, and yet we have not the less, as they that walk in the light and warmth of the sun have all the benefit they can have by it, and yet not the less for others having as much; for Christ in his church is like what is said of the soul in the body: it is tota in totothe whole in the whole, and yet tota in qualibet partethe whole in each part.

Henry says that God honoured Paul more so than the other Apostles because he, with the help of divine grace, made a full transformation of his life:

Paul, before his conversion, had been a prodigal, had devoured his heavenly Father’s living by the havoc he made of the church; yet when after his conversion he had greater measures of grace given him, and more honour put upon him, than the other apostles, they who were the elder brethren, who had been serving Christ when he was persecuting him, and had not transgressed at any time his commandment, did not envy him his visions and revelations, nor his more extensive usefulness, but glorified God in him, which ought to be an example to us, as the reverse of this elder brother.

I hope that this clarifies the Parable of the Prodigal Son.

May all mothers in the UK enjoy a blessed and happy day on Sunday.

The Third Sunday in Lent is March 20, 2022.

The readings for Year C can be found here.

The Gospel reading is as follows (emphases mine):

Luke 13:1-9

13:1 At that very time there were some present who told him about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mingled with their sacrifices.

13:2 He asked them, “Do you think that because these Galileans suffered in this way they were worse sinners than all other Galileans?

13:3 No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all perish as they did.

13:4 Or those eighteen who were killed when the tower of Siloam fell on them–do you think that they were worse offenders than all the others living in Jerusalem?

13:5 No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all perish just as they did.”

13:6 Then he told this parable: A man had a fig tree planted in his vineyard; and he came looking for fruit on it and found none.

13:7 So he said to the gardener, ‘See here! For three years I have come looking for fruit on this fig tree, and still I find none. Cut it down! Why should it be wasting the soil?’

13:8 He replied, ‘Sir, let it alone for one more year, until I dig around it and put manure on it.

13:9 If it bears fruit next year, well and good; but if not, you can cut it down.’”

Commentary comes from Matthew Henry and John MacArthur.

Last week’s Gospel passage came later on in Luke 13. That said, it helps clarify today’s verses. Luke 13:34-35 refers back to the aforementioned parable of the fig tree:

13:34 Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it! How often have I desired to gather your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing!

13:35 See, your house is left to you. And I tell you, you will not see me until the time comes when you say, ‘Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord.’”

John MacArthur adds further context:

the subject here is judgment now. End of chapter 12, Jesus closed out that portion of the message by talking about the fact that a person who is going to go to court, who is guilty of something, better settle with his accuser before he gets to the judge or the judge is going to expose his guilt, turn him over to the constable, or the…or the jailer, and put him in prison until he pays every last cent. And what Jesus was saying is, “Look, you better settle your case with God before you ever get to the judgment. You better settle your case with God before you ever get to the judgment because when you get before God at the judgment, it’s too late. You’re going to be turned over to eternal punishment.” That was the point. So judgment is the theme. And that p[ique]s the interest of these people.

Some in the crowd mentioned the Galileans who died at the hands of Pilate’s Romans; the soldiers murdered them and mixed their blood with that of their sacrifices (verse 1).

MacArthur says this was a tragedy that had occurred not long before this discourse from Jesus, so it was fresh in people’s minds:

Now this was something that had just happened, a fresh event. This… This would have been headlines in the Jerusalem Gazette, if there was one. Everybody would have heard about it. It would have gone through Jerusalem like a wildfire. Everyone would have known this … It was largely Pilate’s treatment of the Jews that precipitated the Jews’ rebellion that led to the Roman invasion and the destruction of the city and of the nation in 70 A.D. Pilate lit the fuse because of how he treated the Jews. And so this is consistent with Pilate’s behavior. And apparently Pilate sends his soldiers to find some Galileans and slaughters them while they are offering sacrifices, Galilean Jews who had come down to offer sacrifices. Only one place in Israel where you could offer sacrifice, that’s the temple. Very likely this is the Passover. This is a Passover. And these Galilean Jews had come down to offer their sacrifices. There were so many tens of thousands, in fact some estimates, a quarter of a million animals were slaughtered in the Passover week. It was so massive a slaughter, the priests couldn’t do it themselves, and so the actual worshiper would participate in it. So we could assume that this would have been very likely at a Passover.

Furthermore, Pilate would have been in Jerusalem at the Passover because that’s when the city was bulging with all the pilgrims and trouble could come. And so he would have left Caesarea to come there to be in Jerusalem. And the Galileans were notoriously rebellious so apparently there were some Galileans who maybe had done something of a rebellious nature against Rome and they were tracked down into Jerusalem and tracked by whoever investigates those kinds of things, found at the temple, found there offering sacrifices. We don’t know any…any of the details. But there they were, offering their sacrifices.

And Pilate comes, not personally, but his soldiers. Finds them there and slices them up so that in a very gruesome way, a gory way, it describes their blood as being mingled with the blood of the sacrifices. Now you have to understand, offering sacrifices at Passover would be like being in a slaughterhouse. That would be the only thing comparable. In fact, to kill a quarter of a million animals in a week, you can imagine what kind of a slaughterhouse the temple was, blood everywhere. And now the blood of these Galileans flows with the blood dripping off that altar. Maybe… Maybe they had known Pilate’s men were after them. Maybe they sought sanctuary at the altar. You remember in the Old Testament there was a man named Adonijah, according to 1 Kings, who…who ran into the altar and grabbed on the horns of the altar as if it was a place of safety. And if they were holding onto the horns of the altar of sacrifice, Pilate didn’t spare them. He slaughtered them there.

Jesus, knowing that they were thinking those Galileans must have been very bad to deserve such a horrifying fate, asks whether they were worse sinners than their countrymen (verse 2).

He tells them that they were not worse sinners than other Galileans, but unless those listening to Him repented, they, too, would perish in the same way (verse 3).

Jesus brings up the catastrophe in Siloam, a district of Jerusalem, where the tower had fallen; He asked whether those killed were worse sinners than other residents of Jerusalem (verse 4).

He answers by saying no, adding that unless the people listening to Him repent, they will perish just as those in Siloam did (verse 5).

MacArthur explains this exchange:

The Jews down in Jerusalem tended to think of the Galileans as inferior. So maybe implied in that question was, you know, sort of the idea that Galileans are bad and maybe those were the worst of them. But now Jesus takes it down to their own city and their own area. And He says, “There was a tower in Siloam as you well know that fell over and killed eighteen people.” I mean, there’s no indication of sin here. There’s no indication of sin on the part of the Galileans. They weren’t doing something wrong; they were doing what was right. These people aren’t doing anything with moral consequences. They’re just there when it falls. These aren’t issues of sin.

He tells us more about Siloam and the tower:

We don’t have any other details on this, by the way, except to say Siloam is a section of Jerusalem, the lower city, where the southern and the eastern wall meet. And there was a spring in the area outside the wall called Gihon and the Gihon spring had an abundance of water and that water was brought into the city of Jerusalem through a tunnel that Hezekiah built, well known Hezekiah’s tunnel to anybody who visits Israel. And the water came through Hezekiah’s tunnel and filled up a pool called the Pool of Siloam which is where Jesus sent the blind man in John 9 to wash. Remember that story. So it was a water supply. The city had to have water supply. The water springs on the outside, the water was then funneled into the city through that tunnel.

Well in order to spread the water, Pilate had built an aqueduct. The Romans were great at building aqueducts. The ruins of one is still available to be seen in amazing repair at this point in the city of Caesarea by the coast there. But the Romans loved to build aqueducts by which they moved the water around. And Pilate had done that, put on a big building program to produce an aqueduct which was connected to Siloam and to the water source. Apparently either in the building a scaffolding fell over, or they had constructed a tower on the aqueduct, which the Romans often did in order to observe the flow of the water, and to protect the flow of the water from enemies cutting it off, whether the tower itself that had been built there for that reason fell or whether some kind of scaffolding tower fell, we don’t know. But either workers or people watching or walking by were crushed and died. It’s nothing about sin there. They were just there. They just, you know, we would say today they were in the wrong place at the wrong time. And so He says, “Do you suppose that those eighteen on whom the tower in Siloam fell and killed them were worse culprits than all the men who live in Jerusalem?” Was that the scum of Jerusalem? Were they the worst people here?

Jesus repeated Himself about repentance in verses 3 and 5 for a reason.

Matthew Henry’s commentary says:

Some lay an emphasis upon the word likewise, and apply it to the destruction that was coming upon the people of the Jews, and particularly upon Jerusalem, who were destroyed by the Romans at the time of their passover, and so, like the Galileans, they had their blood mingled with their sacrifices; and many of them, both in Jerusalem and in other places, were destroyed by the fall of walls and buildings which were battered down about their ears, as those that died by the fall of the tower of Siloam. But certainly it looks further; except we repent, we shall perish eternally, as they perished out of this world. The same Jesus that calls us to repent because the kingdom of heaven is at hand, bids us repent because otherwise we shall perish; so that he has set before us life and death, good and evil, and put us to our choice.

Also:

The perishing of those in their impenitency who have been most harsh and severe in judging others will be in a particular manner aggravated.

MacArthur says that these people are not worried about the true calamity, which is the lack of repentance:

That’s the true calamity. The real calamity is not that you were killed in the temple or that the tower fell on you or that you died by any other means. The real calamity is that if you don’t repent, when death comes you will perish. And He’s talking there about eternal judgment. Just because you’re alive doesn’t mean you’ve escaped judgment. “It’s appointed unto men once to die and after that (what?) the judgment.” True calamity is that you die and experience the judgment of God because you haven’t settled your case before you got to court, back to verse 58 of chapter 12. The true calamity is that you feel the judgment of God eternally because you will not repent. The issue is not how people die or when they die or by what cause they die. The issue is that they die without repenting. That’s what I kept saying in interview after interview. “Look, the lesson is you’re going to die, you don’t know when you’re going to die. You need to repent before that happens.” And certainly our Lord knew that a lot of the people who were in Jerusalem at this very time were going to die in 70 A.D. about thirty-five years from now if they were still alive. Those who still lived would very likely perish when tens of thousands of Jews were massacred by the Romans

… Jesus says, “Look, don’t assume anything. You’re going to likewise perish,” likewise not by the same means but with the same certainty. Everybody’s headed for death. And the point is: You better repent before you get there. You better settle your case before you get to court. Just because Pilate’s soldiers ran by you to get to those Galileans, says nothing about your righteousness. Just because the tower fell and you had just left with your water doesn’t mean you’re more righteous than the ones who were crushed. Just because your plane landed and somebody’s crashed doesn’t mean you’re any better than anybody else. What it does mean is God is showing you more mercy, more patience, giving you more opportunity to repent.

The crowd would not have liked that, because, after all, they were already God’s Chosen.

MacArthur says:

This was such a bitter pill the Jews wouldn’t swallow it. Repent? We’re the righteous. We’re the godly. We’re the spiritual. We’re the chosen. We’re the blessed. What are You talking about, repent? They hated His talk of repentance. They hated it with John the Baptist. They hated it with Jesus. And it was because He called them to repentance that they plotted to murder Him and eventually did. They refused to see themselves as sinners. They refused to see themselves as headed for judgment. It infuriated them to be diagnosed that way; most of all the leaders and then the leaders passed on that infuriated attitude to the people. And our Lord doesn’t try to prove they were sinners. He doesn’t give some long litany trying to prove they were sinners … They had the law of God, well acquainted with it. He just said to them, “You better repent. Are you prepared when a tower falls on you?”

MacArthur discusses repentance at length. This is particularly useful:

repentance is simply agreeing with God’s diagnosis of your wretchedness and understanding that you can do absolutely nothing about it.

And so, when you talk about repentance, you’re talking about having to cast yourself on somebody who can do something for you in your helpless condition, somebody who can rescue you from the guilt that you bear, somebody who can rescue you from the judgment that awaits you, somebody who can take you out of the power of sin because you can’t do it for yourself. And there is only one such person. You need mercy. You need grace. You need forgiveness. You need deliverance. And there’s only one Savior and that’s the Lord Jesus Christ.

That leads to the second element in repentance: to acknowledge Jesus Christ as the only Savior, to acknowledge Jesus Christ as the only Savior. Repentance in the New Testament always includes faith in Jesus Christ as the only Savior. You could talk about repentance in its narrow sense, the sense that it is turning from sin. But…and that would be a way that it could be used. But in its New Testament gospel usage, it always embraces faith in Christ. It is a turning 180 degrees, so it’s turning from sin to something and the something or someone is always Christ.

Then Jesus tells a parable about a fig tree that bears no fruit.

He does this to illustrate God’s mercy, but God’s mercy with sinners is not everlasting. If we do not repent, we are doomed.

Jesus illustrates this by telling us the story of a man who owned a vineyard with a fig tree planted in it and saw that the tree had no fruit (verse 6).

Because vineyards need constant tending, they are a good place to intersperse fruit trees.

MacArthur explains:

… they prepared the ground for the vineyard and because they had the most prepared ground and gave the most attention to the vineyard and it was protected and guarded and watered and fertilized, it was just a perfect place to plant the fruit trees So very commonly and you find it in a number of places in the Bible, they planted their fruit trees in the same soil where the vineyard was.  And that’s what happened here.  You can read Micah 4:4 and you’ll see illustrations of that.  There are others as well.

The owner was vexed to find no fruit on the fig tree and told his gardener to cut it down; it had been growing for three years with no fruit and was a waste of soil (verse 7).

The gardener replied, requesting that he give the tree another year; he would tend to the tree with digging and manure for fertiliser (verse 8).

Henry compares the gardener to Christ:

Christ is the great Intercessor; he ever lives, interceding …

We owe it to Christ, the great Intercessor, that barren trees are not cut down immediately: had it not been for his interposition, the whole world had been cut down, upon the sin of Adam; but he said, Lord, let it alone; and it is he that upholds all things.

The gardener concluded with a condition: if the tree bears fruit the following year, all is well; if not, the owner can then cut it down (verse 9).

The fruit of the fig tree is analogous to the fruit of faith that comes through repentance.

MacArthur says of our Lord’s audience:

You think they got it?  I think they got it What would they be thinking of?  John the Baptist, chapter 3 of Luke, down at the river, talking about the Messiah coming and saying, “You better bring forth fruits fit for repentance because the ax is already laid at the root of the tree.”  Right?  Luke 3:9The decree has already gone out: Cut it downThe ax is laid at the root of the tree ready for the first blow.  Hold that ax for a minute.

MacArthur says that we can understand the parable in a personal way and in a way that relates to the Jews of the day:

First of all, the tree is a solitary tree.  The tree is a solitary tree, and therefore, it has individual application.  It has individual application, first of all, to a nation and then to individuals It is both national and personal.  The fig tree, first of all, certainly has to be viewed as Israel This is the patience, if you will, of the Lord saying, as it were, to the Father, just hold back your judgment and give them a little more time.

Like in Isaiah 5, Israel was planted in a very fertile hill.  They were blessed with everything God could give them Like Romans 9:4 and 5, they had the revelation of God.  They had the prophets.  They had the Scriptures.  They had the covenants.  They had the adoption and from them came the Messiah They had it all.  They were already apostate when Jesus arrived They were apostate when John the Baptist began to preach The ax was already laid at the tree when it started Before Jesus ever began the ministry, John said the ax is laid at the tree because the nation was already apostate They already had departed from the true faith and the true and living God and created a system of works righteousness that was an abomination to God.

And now after the three years nearly being up — there’s a number of months yet until it’s all over — but here they are into the last year of Jesus’ ministry and they’re fixed in their unbelief The ax is still at the foot of the tree And yet, there’s a pleading here for a little more time There were a few months before the crucifixion.  There were some more miracles, incredible miracle of the raising of Lazarus from the dead, which everybody knew about, which prompted the Hosannas on Palm Monday, it actually was a Monday, there were some pretty dramatic things going on: the cleansing of the temple on Tuesday of the Passion Week; more teaching from Jesus; more powerful displays from Jesus.  They still had some time.  The hope was dim, but the heart of God was willing to be patient even when the hope was dim.  Look at verse 34 of Luke 13.  Jesus says, “Oh Jerusalem, Jerusalem.” He’s headed there.  He knows He’s going to die.  “Oh Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets, stones those sent to her, how often I wanted to gather your children together just as a hen gathers her brood under her wings and you wouldn’t have it.  Behold your house is left to you desolate.”

That was fulfilled historically in 70 A.D., as well as looking ahead to the further destruction of that place that comes in the time of tribulation.  Jesus confirmed then that over and over, that judgment was coming, judgment was coming, judgment was coming. 

Matthew and Mark have the story of Jesus cursing the fruitless fig tree in the week of His Passion. It died instantly.

MacArthur says that fig tree also represented Israel:

… both the fig tree, this one a real fig tree, the other one a fig tree story, there’s one fig tree.  It has that solitary significance.  A lone fig tree; this is emblematic of Israel again He came to it, found nothing on it except leaves only, pretense of life.  Religion, false religion gives a pretense of life, but no fruit.

And He said to it, “No longer shall there be any fruit from you.”  And at once the fig tree withered.  Mark says, gives the parallel account, it withered from the roots up And the disciples were just absolutely stunned to see it die in front of their eyes So in reality, they had time, but they didn’t have much time.  They had months as a nation to change their attitude about Christ.  And that would only happen if individuals changed their attitudes about Christ.  And when Jesus came in two days after hosanna to the Son of David, hailing him as Messiah, two days later He cursed the nationAnd it was over.

MacArthur then gives us the application for us to consider for ourselves:

He’s talking about individuals here It’s a solitary tree.  It’s not just a solitary nation It’s a solitary individual.  Every one of us has to do something with Jesus Christ And let me just have you think about this: Those who have no spiritual fruit will be judged If there is no spiritual life in you that comes only through faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, you will be cut down and cast into the fire as John the Baptist put it.  That’s eternal punishment.

Those who bear no spiritual fruit through a relationship to God by means of Jesus Christ will be cut down and that judgment is forever The next thing to keep in mind is that the judgment is near He says “next year” or “until the time.”  And the idea is just one more chance.  The tree has had its whole life and I’ve checked it for three years.  I’m going to give it a little time … Your judgment is near.  The sand is running fast out of the hourglass …

Borrowed time is not permanent.  God’s patience is not permanent.  These points are easy to understand in this little story.  In fact, they’re virtually unmistakable.  The tree is a solitary tree.  It’s a nation, but it’s an individual.  If you have no fruit, you will be cut down … 

You need to come while you have the time, while you have the opportunity.  Psalm 32:6, “Let everyone who is godly pray to You in a time when You may be found.”  There will be a time when He won’t be found …

We all live on borrowed time.  I don’t know how much until Jesus comes, until you die, or until God withdraws.  He relents the calamities because of His mercy, but His mercy is only everlasting to those who worship Him and love Him

What a Lenten thought to contemplate in the week ahead.

May all reading this have a blessed Sunday.

The Second Sunday in Lent is March 13, 2022.

Readings for Year C can be found here.

The Gospel reading is as follows (emphases mine):

Luke 13:31-35

13:31 At that very hour some Pharisees came and said to him, “Get away from here, for Herod wants to kill you.”

13:32 He said to them, “Go and tell that fox for me, ‘Listen, I am casting out demons and performing cures today and tomorrow, and on the third day I finish my work.

13:33 Yet today, tomorrow, and the next day I must be on my way, because it is impossible for a prophet to be killed outside of Jerusalem.’

13:34 Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it! How often have I desired to gather your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing!

13:35 See, your house is left to you. And I tell you, you will not see me until the time comes when you say, ‘Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord.’”

Commentary comes from Matthew Henry and John MacArthur.

Jesus was preaching and healing in Peraea at this time. It would have been the final winter of His ministry. The following Spring, He returned to Jerusalem, where He met His excruciating death on the Cross.

A group of Pharisees told Jesus that He should leave, because Herod wanted to kill Him (verse 31).

A casual reading might give the impression that those Pharisees had our Lord’s interests at heart, but John MacArthur says that they wanted to intimidate Him because they wanted Him to leave Peraea and return to Judea:

I suppose you could say there were a few good Pharisees around, but I don’t think that’s the point here.  I think they warned Him because they wanted to intimidate Him They wanted to silence Him It’s another way of saying if you don’t stop this you’re going to get killed.  They brought the threat to bear on Jesus to silence Him or to perhaps to force Him back into Judea, out of Peraea, where the Sanhedrin had its authority over Him And the Sanhedrin were already plotting His death As I said, Luke is a little vague on geography because His readers were not necessarily familiar with Israel, but this is the time, according to Matthew, Mark, and John that Jesus went into Peraea and He’s in the territory of Herod.

And with impure motives the Pharisees say you better get out of here.  You better go away and depart from here or you’re going to get killed and Herod’s going to do it.  Herod was the big stick So right after Jesus’ very strong words on the Jews being banned from salvation, the Jews being banned from the kingdom because they will not subdue their pride and their self-righteousness because they will not repent because they have no sense of urgency because they have no reasonable fear of eternal punishment, because they believed they’re already fit for the kingdom they do not need to repent After all of those powerful words, they certainly would be even more offended They want to silence Jesus.  And the way they choose is to threaten Him or intimidate Him with the biggest stick that exists in the area He’s in and that that’s Herod.

I have quoted MacArthur on several other occasions on the history of the Herods.

Last week I received a comment about the Herods being Jews.

Here is MacArthur’s history of the Herods, whom the Jews loathed because the Idumeans, of which the Herods were a part, were not God’s chosen people:

This is, by the way, Herod Antipas, the son of Herod the Great Herod the Great, as I said, is dead.  This is his son, but his hatred for the man Jesus was equal to the hatred of his father for the infant Jesus.  He saw Jesus also as a threat, just as his father had.

Everybody, as I said, seems to have wanted to kill Jesus.  And Herod is among them.  And the Pharisees came up and said to Him, “Go away and depart from here for Herod wants to kill you.”  This indicates that Jesus is in Herod’s territory Get out here.  This is where he has jurisdiction and He wants to kill, apoktein, to annihilate, to destroy, to murder.

Now let me tell you the scenario.  Herod the Great died and he died and left a will, and when Herod the Great died, in his will he wanted the kingdom of Israel divided among his sons Archelaus was one son. He ruled Judea, Samaria and Idumea That would be Judea in the middle, Samaria at the north, and Idumea was at the south.  He had that section. He had another son named Philip.  Philip ruled the northeast if you went above Galilee to the north and east The capital city of that area, Caesarea Philippi, and in the modern day will be up on the Lebanese border.  And then there was Herod and Herod is called the Tetrarch of Galilee He was given the Galilee area around the Sea of Galilee and Peraea Peraea was east of the Jordan River, east of Judea, so we had Galilee and east, Judea and east.  He ruled there for a long time.  He ruled there for about forty years until about 39 A.D. after the death of our Lord.

His real name was Herod Antipas, not to be confused with Herod the Great, his fatherThe Jews despised the man They hated all these rulers because they were all Idumeans, non-Jews, who had power over them and over their land They hated the Romans for that They hated the Idumeans for that as well But they hated Herod Antipas for a lot of reasons One of them was he brought idols in everywhere and they hated idols, of course.  But also he built his capital city, Tiberius.  Tiberius, if you ever go to Israel today, is a flourishing city on the west coast of the Sea of Galilee, been there many times.  It’s a beautiful place.  But he built the capital city of Tiberius on a Jewish cemetery and he put idols in the city, etc., etc.  Interesting thing about the ministry of Jesus, Jesus ministered around Galilee for over a year and then during His Judean ministry might have made some little trips into Galilee even from Judea.  Never is there any record in all the four gospels that He ever went near the city of Tiberius.

This was the man the Jews hated.  He was a puppet of Rome, a puppet ruler.  He had murdered John the Baptist … so this is Herod Antipas, murderous man who led John the Baptist into being beheaded because of his own lustful desire.

Now the word comes to Jesus that this man wants Him dead.  Now this indicates that Jesus has slipped into the Peraea area Probably not all the way up to Galilee, but He’s across the Jordan.  And some of the towns and villages mentioned in verse 22 would have been Peraea.  If you compare this with some of the other gospels, Matthew 19:1, Mark 10:1, and John 10:40, Jesus does have a portion of His ministry in PeraeaSo He’s in the area of Peraea and He’s apparently going to be there for some months ministering

It’s also reasonable to know that since [Herod] was Rome’s lackey, since he was beholden to Rome for everything he had, he was only a puppet king, he didn’t want any trouble from the Jews that would cause Rome to get upset at his inability to keep the peace and he knew Jesus had massive crowds following after Him everywhere He went He feared that He might lead a rebellion, that he himself might become a problem for Rome.  He also, like his father, must have feared that this potentially could be a rival to my throne.  For all those reasons he wants Him dead.

Someday, not too long after this, for the first time he saw Jesus In Luke 23 and verse 8, Pilate doesn’t want to make the decision by himself as to the execution of Jesus.  And so he wants somebody else to weigh in on it. So in Luke 23:8, he sends Jesus to Herod, who happens to be in Jerusalem at that time Now Herod was very glad, Luke 23:8, when he saw Jesus for he had wanted to see Him for a long time, because he’d been hearing about Him and hoping to see some sign performed by Him.

See, he knew of the miracle power of Jesus, and he knew that miracle power could be used for vengeance He knew that miracle power could be used for a revolution.  He knew that miracle power could be used to bring a disturbance that would call Rome down on His own head For all those reasons he…he had wanted to kill Jesus

Now Herod and Pilate became friends with one another that very day, for before they had been at enmity with each other Sure, because they were competing authorities.  Pilate actually represented Rome.  Herod was a petty, puppet king.  They hated each other, competing rulers But they could agree on one thing They wanted Jesus dead, because Jesus potentiated a revolution Jesus could be a rival to their power and Jesus had miraculous power as well.

It’s interesting to me that in all the interrogations of Jesus, by Annas, Caiaphas, Pilate, in all the interrogations of Jesus only one person to whom Jesus did not speak and that’s Herod That is a severe judgment on the state of that man He didn’t say one word to him He had nothing to say to him.  The door really in his case was shut Herod was happy to join with Pilate because they both had the same thing at stake, their power, their position.  He was happy to play a role in the murder of Jesus and to join the fun, the mockery, the contempt.

Unusually, Jesus referred to someone as an animal, in this case, calling Herod ‘a fox’; essentially, He said that the Pharisees should tell Herod that He was too busy performing healing miracles, then included a reference to His death and resurrection with ‘on the third day I finish my work’ (verse 32).

Matthew Henry’s commentary says:

In calling him a fox, he gives him his true character; for he was subtle as a fox, noted for his craft, and treachery, and baseness, and preying (as they say of a fox) furthest from his own den. And, though it is a black and ugly character, yet it did not ill become Christ to give it to him, nor was it in him a violation of that law, Thou shalt not speak evil of the ruler of thy people. For Christ was a prophet, and prophets always had a liberty of speech in reproving princes and great men. Nay, Christ was more than a prophet, he was a king, he was King of kings, and the greatest of men were accountable to him, and therefore it became him to call this proud king by his own name; but it is not to be drawn into an example by us. “Go, and tell that fox, yea, and this fox too” (for so it is in the original, te alopeki taute); “that Pharisee, whoever he is, that whispers this in my ear, let him know that I do not fear him, nor regard his menaces … “I know that death will be not only no prejudice to me, but that it will be my preferment; and therefore tell him I do not fear him; when I die, I shall be perfected. I shall then have finished the hardest part of my undertaking; I shall have completed my business;” teleioumaiI shall be consecrated. When Christ dies, he is said to have sanctified himself; he consecrated himself to his priestly office with his own blood.

Then Jesus makes a scriptural reference by saying that it is impossible for a prophet to be killed outside of Jerusalem (verse 33). Being omniscient, Jesus knew that He would die there.

Henry gives us a brief historical insight, borne out by the prophets’ deaths in the Old Testament:

“I know that Herod can do me no harm, not only because my time is not yet come, but because the place appointed for my death is Jerusalem, which is not within his jurisdiction: It cannot be that a prophet perish out of Jerusalem,” that is, “any where but at Jerusalem.” If a true prophet was put to death, he was prosecuted as a false prophet. Now none undertook to try prophets, and to judge concerning them, but the great sanhedrim, which always sat at Jerusalem; it was a cause which the inferior courts did not take cognizance of, and therefore, if a prophet be put to death, it must be at Jerusalem.

MacArthur points out the bitter irony of prophets being put to death in Jerusalem, supposedly, the holy city:

Now Jerusalem was the city of God Jerusalem was the place of the temple.  But it wasn’t…you know, the interesting thing, it wasn’t the enemies of Israel that killed their prophets No, it wasn’t the…the pagan nations around them that murdered their prophets.  It was them, they killed their own prophets It’s like the parable Jesus told in Matthew 21 and Luke 20, God has a vineyard, the vineyard is Israel and God comes to an accounting for Israel with regard to the blessing and opportunity they’ve had.  He wants that accounting.  He sends His servants, they kill the servants That’s the prophetsHe sends His Son, they kill His Son. That’s Christ

They weren’t killed by the enemies, they weren’t killed by the pagans, they were killed by the people themselves.  So often that it became proverbial the prophet should…it cannot be that a prophet should perish outside Jerusalem, almost a…almost a sort of sarcasm, an ironyThe capital of Israel, the center of worship, the city of God was where they killed the spokesmen for God Bitter irony here really you know.

Jesus lamented the spiritual state of Jerusalem, which God had sent Him to save, along with the rest of His Chosen.

Jesus expressed His deep sorrow by recalling the many prophets, God’s messengers, who met their death there; Jesus said that He had wanted so much to gather Jerusalem’s children up under His wing, as a hen would with her little ones, but they were unwilling (verse 34).

Henry has an excellent interpretation of that verse:

Those that enjoy great plenty of the means of grace, if they are not profited by them, are often prejudiced against them. They that would not hearken to the prophets, nor welcome those whom God had sent to them, killed them, and stoned them. If men’s corruptions are not conquered, they are provoked The reason why sinners are not protected and provided for by the Lord Jesus, as the chickens are by the hen, is because they will not: I would, I often would, and ye would not. Christ’s willingness aggravates sinners’ unwillingness, and leaves their blood upon their own heads.

Jesus concluded by saying that their house — the temple — is left to them, meaning that He has no use for it; He says that they will not see Him again until they say, ‘Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord’ (verse 35).

In the first part of that verse, Jesus was speaking about the destruction of the temple in AD 70.

MacArthur describes it:

The Lord understands that He came unto His own and His own received Him not.  And the judgment is rendered in verse 35.  “Behold your house is left to you.”  And the translators add, borrowing from Matthew 23, “desolate.”  The history of the Jewish people since the time of Jesus Christ is a long, excruciating desolation.  And it really all began to unfold about thirty years after Jesus.  In fact, it is a period of time that Jesus Himself called, in Luke 21:22, the days of vengeance.  And they began to unfold really in the year 66 A.D., as I said, about thirty years after the death of Jesus.  It was May of the year 66 when the Jewish revolution against Rome broke out. Having taken about as much as they could tolerate of Roman oppression, Roman injustice, pagan idolatry, the Jews turned against their occupying rulers, largely driven by a particular group of Jews called Zealots, the party of radical nationalism, known for their guerrilla tactics and terrorist strikes. Many Jews took up whatever arms they could find and joined in the rebellion.  Rome struck back with devastating force.

The first strike fell on Jews in northern Galilee when the Romans soldiers came and slaughtered thousands of themEventually Titus himself, Titus Vespasian, the Roman ruler, came down to Jerusalem with an army in excess of 80,000 men, more than twice the size of the population.  After stationing his army in and around the city he demanded the full surrender of the JewsThey replied with mocking laughter according to some historians and the attack was unleashed.  And before it was done, Jews were massacred everywhereThe massacre also went all the way to the destruction of the city of Jerusalem and the demolishing of the templeAnd about the same time the Gentile inhabitants in Damascus, which is north and east of Israel are said to have caught the spirit of the Romans and in their own hatred for the Jews slit the throats of some 10,000 Jews living in and around the area of Damascus.

The persecution of Jews continues around the world two millennia on.

However, in the second part of verse 35, Jesus said that there will be a massive Jewish evangelisation one day.

God made a promise to the Jews and He will fulfil it. St Paul discussed this in Romans 11:25-28. Sadly, those verses are not in the Lectionary! You can read more about them below:

Romans 11:25-28 – God’s purpose, judgement, Israel, mystery of salvation

Paul writes that God will lift His the judgement against Israel’s unbelief. Gentiles should not necessarily feel proud or secure. Churches will fall into apostasy. The Church was intended for the Jews first, not Gentiles, who were grafted in only because of the Jews’ unbelief.

This is also a warning against anti-Semitism.

MacArthur elaborates on what St Paul wrote:

… notice please verse 25 toward the end, a partial hardening has happened to Israel, a partial hardening, until the fullness of the Gentiles has come in Whenever God is finished gathering His Gentile church, verse 26, and “thus all Israel will be saved.”  Just as it is written in Isaiah 59 again, “The Deliverer will come from Zion.  He will remove ungodliness from Jacob and this is My covenant with them when I take away their sins.”  God binds Himself to His personal covenant, My covenant.  Not the covenant, not a covenant, My promise, My promise.

This can’t change, verse 29, “the gifts and the calling of God are irrevocable.”  Yes, individual Jews come to Christ. Yes, there’s always a collective remnant, but more than that, the time will come after the fullness of the Gentiles has come in.  That’s a term to describe the church when Gentiles are all gathered in.  When that is over, then all Israel will be saved.  That is yet to come.  There will come a time then, back to our text of Luke 13:35, “when you see me and you will say, ‘Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord.’”

That finally you will recognize your Messiah And let me just support this and then we’ll conclude.  1 Samuel 12:22, “The Lord will not abandon His people on account of His great name.”  There is the bottom line, dear friends.  The Lord will not abandon His people on account of His great name.  His name is who He is.  And who He is, is faithful. And if He says it, He will do it.  And He cannot break His promise without destroying His name.

MacArthur has more on Jesus’s closing words in verse 35:

Does God speak the truth or does He not? Does He promise and fulfill or does He promise and renege? Does He keep His covenants? Is He faithful or unfaithful? The implications of that obviously are massive

What our Lord says is, “You will not see until the time comes when you say, ‘Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord.’” He didn’t say I’m so sad that you’ll never say it. He said the time will come when you do say it. And it’s emphatic. “I say to you.” That’s emphatic. “Hear me, hear me,” he says. “You shall not see me.” What does He mean? Physically? No. You’ll never really recognize me. You’ll never really know who I am until sometime in the future and then you will say, “Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord.”

He’s not talking about seeing Jesus necessarily in a physical sense, although certainly, the glorified Christ will be revealed to all those who believe in Him in the end. He’s talking here not so much about physical recognition. He’s talking about spiritual recognition.

Part of the reason this has not happened yet is because the Jewish view of the kingdom is a literal interpretation.

MacArthur explains:

The Jews have always understood Old Testament promises to Abraham as literal. They always have understood Old Testament promises to David as literal. David understood them that way. I read you what David’s interpretation was in 2 Samuel 7. You can actually go to 1 Chronicles chapter 6 and read Solomon’s interpretation of the Davidic covenant and you’ll find out he understood it as literal as well. They always understood it that way. They believed in a real restoration, a real kingdom. They even believed it when the Messiah came. And the disciples believed it just before the ascension, when they said to Him “Will you at this time bring the kingdom?”

However, the time will come when they understand the spiritual significance of their promised kingdom.

The First Sunday in Lent is March 6, 2022.

Readings for Year C can be found here.

The Gospel reading is as follows (emphases mine):

Luke 4:1-13

4:1 Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, returned from the Jordan and was led by the Spirit in the wilderness,

4:2 where for forty days he was tempted by the devil. He ate nothing at all during those days, and when they were over, he was famished.

4:3 The devil said to him, “If you are the Son of God, command this stone to become a loaf of bread.”

4:4 Jesus answered him, “It is written, ‘One does not live by bread alone.’”

4:5 Then the devil led him up and showed him in an instant all the kingdoms of the world.

4:6 And the devil said to him, “To you I will give their glory and all this authority; for it has been given over to me, and I give it to anyone I please.

4:7 If you, then, will worship me, it will all be yours.”

4:8 Jesus answered him, “It is written, ‘Worship the Lord your God, and serve only him.’”

4:9 Then the devil took him to Jerusalem, and placed him on the pinnacle of the temple, saying to him, “If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down from here,

4:10 for it is written, ‘He will command his angels concerning you, to protect you,’

4:11 and ‘On their hands they will bear you up, so that you will not dash your foot against a stone.’”

4:12 Jesus answered him, “It is said, ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test.’”

4:13 When the devil had finished every test, he departed from him until an opportune time.

Commentary comes from Matthew Henry and John MacArthur.

Before beginning the exegesis on this passage, I commend thoroughly the commentary from Matthew Henry and the sermons by John MacArthur.

I could write a week’s worth of posts on this passage. Indeed, a seminary candidate could write a thesis on these thirteen verses, there is so much theology to explore.

I will try to make this as brief as I can but would suggest that if you want a cup of tea or a snack, get it now. This will be a long read.

In Luke 3, we read of John the Baptist’s ministry, followed by the baptism of Jesus and ending with Joseph’s geneaology which, for earthly intents and purposes, leads all the way back to Adam and, ultimately, to God.

Let’s look at a few principal verses from that chapter.

We know that the world is sinful and evil:

19 But when John rebuked Herod the tetrarch because of his marriage to Herodias, his brother’s wife, and all the other evil things he had done, 20 Herod added this to them all: He locked John up in prison.

The baptism of Jesus saw Him imbued with the Holy Spirit and lovingly commended by God the Father:

21 When all the people were being baptized, Jesus was baptized too. And as he was praying, heaven was opened 22 and the Holy Spirit descended on him in bodily form like a dove. And a voice came from heaven: “You are my Son, whom I love; with you I am well pleased.”

Jesus is the Son of Adam and the Son of God:

38 the son of Enosh,

the son of Seth, the son of Adam,

the son of God.

Matthew Henry notes that, while Adam succumbed to temptation in a perfect atmosphere of the Garden of Eden, Jesus did not falter in a frightful desert for 40 days and nights:

The last words of the foregoing chapter, that Jesus was the Son of Adam, bespeak him to be the seed of the woman; being so, we have here, according to the promise, breaking the serpent’s head, baffling and foiling the devil in all his temptations, who by one temptation had baffled and foiled our first parents. Thus, in the beginning of the war, he made reprisals upon him, and conquered the conqueror.

Luke tells us that Jesus, being full of — or thorougly imbued with — the Holy Spirit left the Jordan, the place of His baptism, and was led by the Spirit into the wilderness (verse 1).

John MacArthur explains why this was necessary:

So Luke for three chapters has been massing all the proof to indicate that Jesus is, in fact, the Messiah, Son of God, Savior of the world But if one is to be the Savior of the world, there is one rather formidable credential that one must possess Since the problem in the world is a sin problem, and since it is sin that has damned all humanity, since it is sin that has produced death, since it is sin that brings about the death that catapults sinners into eternal hell, since sin is under the aegis of the prince of this world, the ruler of this world, namely the devil, if one is to come and break the power of sin and conquer evil and defeat Satan, He must be able to combat the devil and come out the victor And that’s precisely what Luke tells us He is able to do in this chapter.

Messiah’s credentials would be incomplete without this battle.  If Jesus cannot defeat Satan head on, one on one, then He is not adequate to redeem sinners If He Himself is not impervious to sin, if He is not impeccable, if He is not invulnerable to sin, if He does not come out pure and spotless in the midst of the most violent conflict with the devil, then He cannot be the Savior.  If He is to save sinners from their sin, if He is to save them from the devil, if He is to save them from death and hell, then He must conquer sin and Satan himself.  That is what this text intends to prove.

This, as I said, is the capstone on messianic credentials.  This is what ultimately has to be known.  If we are to trust our time in eternity to Christ, if we are to trust Him as our Savior and the forgiver of our sins, if we are to trust Him to overpower sin and overpower death and overpower the devil and overpower hell and set us free and bring us to heaven, then we need to know that He has the ability to conquer Satan in the most intense confrontation.

MacArthur says that the place where Jesus went is terrifying:

Let me talk about the wilderness a little bit.  I’ve been there.  I’ve stood in that place.  And some of you have done it as well.  The last time I went to Israel we took a group of people and we gave them an experience, the likes of which they’re not likely to forget, and that is we took them into this wilderness on the road from Jericho to Jerusalem, not the main road, not the road everybody travels, but the old road that runs along the area called “the devastation.”  This is a frightening and terrifying kind of experience That is where the Holy Spirit leads Jesus

the area between the Dead Sea, the Jordan river, the Dead Sea and Jerusalem It is an area in the Old Testament called Jeshimon, and it’s called… It could be translated “the devastation.”  It’s a really terrifying place To take a ride in a vehicle up that road is frankly very frightening Many people have been frightened by that.  It is a precipitous area, loose rock. It is rock, rock, rock and more rock, jagged, ragged, craggy peaks with severe ravines that go down hundreds of feet It is dry.  It is barren It is inhabited by wild animals, snakes, scorpions and all of that It is barren.  It is the worst part of the Judean desert It is certainly a place where Jesus would be more alone than any other place in Palestine.  And the fact of the matter is, the only reason we even know what happened there is because Jesus allowed it to be recorded because He was the only one there.  It’s about a thirty-five by fifteen mile area, be very hard to move around in that area I have felt the rocks sliding under my feet I remember standing on a little knoll and feeling the rocks sliding under my feet as I was trying to get closer to the edge and seeing the sheer drop down to a bottom I couldn’t even see It’s that kind of an area; very difficult area to traverse, almost unthinkable experience to spend forty days there, six weeks.

The devil tempted Jesus there for 40 days, during which time He ate nothing; when they ended, He was famished (verse 2).

There is much to look at in this verse.

One aspect of theology I find problematic is the reference to Jesus as the Son of Adam, who capitulated to sin in the Garden of Eden, where everything was perfect.

MacArthur explains:

There once was a man who was perfect.  There once was a man who was without sin.  There once was a man who was undefiled.  There once was a man who lived in a perfect environment, a perfect place, a perfect world.  There once was a man who had everything that could possibly be given him by God and that man, the first time he was ever assaulted with temptation, fell, both he and his wife, and catapulted all of humanity into condemnation Is Jesus like Adam?  Is this another Adam, who though perfect at the start, can’t sustain that in the battle with the enemy?  We need to know that.

And Luke knows we need to know that and the Holy Spirit knows we need to know that.  We cannot have a victim for our Savior We can only have a victor We cannot have someone who is as susceptible to sin as we are, as susceptible to death and hell and the devil as we are.  We have to have someone who can conquer sin, conquer death, conquer Satan, conquer hell

He is not like Adam and yet He is like Adam.  He is a son of Adam, but He is far beyond Adam Though He, like Adam, is truly human, He, unlike Adam, cannot sin.  Let me kind of help you a little bit to see deeper into that contrast because I think it really elucidates this account.

All the way back, son of Adam, Son of God, that is to say Jesus is truly human, He is truly and fully human.  He is not like a man.  He doesn’t look like a man or act like a man, He is a man.  He is 100 percent fully human Hebrews 2:17 puts it this way, “He had to be made like His brethren in all things.”  There is no area in Jesus’ existence that is not fully human.  He is fully human.  He is truly a son of Adam.  He was born as a human.  He was a babe in the womb of His mother.  He lived as an infant, as a toddler, as a child, as a young person, as a teen-ager, as a young adult, as a mature adult, and according to chapter 2 verse 40 and verse 52, He grew in wisdom and stature and favor with God and man.

Remember, one of the most important messages I gave you a few weeks ago was on the humanity of Jesus.  He is God, but He voluntarily set aside the independent exercise of His deity He didn’t cease to be God, He is fully God and fully man, but He voluntarily set aside the independent exercise of His deity and submitted Himself to the Father’s will and the Spirit’s power He did what the Father wanted Him to do and He did it by the power of the Holy Spirit So He set aside the use of His divine powers and submitted Himself to true humanness and allowed the Spirit of God to work His work through Him

So, this is a monumental moment.  This is the second Adam being confronted with a massive assault like the first Adam.  The first Adam was also sinless, like the second Adam But the first Adam fell. The second Adam did not, cannot, and will notAdam then puts the whole race into sin and damnation, and Jesus lifts sinners to heaven It all comes down to the issue of defeating sin He was a true Son of Adam then, truly human, and as a man His Father could say of Him, “This is My beloved Son in whom I am well pleased.  Thirty years He’s lived, He’s never thought, said, or done anything that didn’t please Me.  That is His perfection.”  He is then going to be attacked, as it were, by Satan and where the first Adam fell, He triumphs

So here is Jesus Christ, the second Adam, the head of a new humanity who will rise to glory rather than fall to hell like the old humanity led by the first Adam It tells us that He has infinitely greater power in Himself than Adam ever had.  Adam was just a man, this is the God-Man and His humanity is protected from sin by His deity.

Think about the circumstances that make the distinction between Jesus and Adam so obvious Adam was in a garden, the best imaginable place He was in Eden, he was in paradise Jesus was in an anti-Eden, the most desolate, forsaken, and dangerous place in the Judean desert, barren and empty.

Adam lived in a sinless world, a sinless environment Jesus lived in a sinful world Adam never had known any temptation.  Adam fell at the first temptation, which means there was no prior assault to try to break down his resistance Jesus has had thirty years of temptation and then forty days of temptation before the final three come, all that attempting to break down His resistance.

Adam had perfect human strength, perfect human strength.  Adam was delightfully and wonderfully fed by all the lush provisions of the garden Jesus was weakened by forty days with no food.

Adam had all conceivable things to enjoy, never knowing hungerJesus was hungry, well He was starvingAdam needed nothing, he needed nothing.  He had everything.  He ruled everything.  Jesus had nothing, no food, no authority, nothing, no kingdom, no sphere of rule.  He’s all alone.

And Adam certainly had no need to test God to see if God really cared, to see if God really loved him, since he had ample evidence that God loved him and God cared while he was wandering around in the lavishness of Eden.  Jesus deprived of all of that and everything else, with nothing but a desolate desert and Satan trying to push Him to test God to see if God really does love Him

So, Jesus with a right to eat as the Creator has no food Jesus with the right to rule as King has no kingdom Jesus with the right to divine care and divine protection and divine blessing is exposed to the severest dangers And the point should be clear. Jesus didn’t fall, Adam did.  And that tells you what a vast difference there is between Jesus and Adam.  In the best of circumstances, Adam fellIn the worst imaginable circumstances, Jesus did notThis is our Savior This is our Messiah.  And this is the proof of it Adam, innocent, perfect, rich, lacking nothing, fell under the first assault.  Jesus did not. Poor, alone, weary, hungry and He is triumphant.

I can’t tell you other than to say this is absolutely critical to the issue of salvation That’s why it’s here It’s not just an interesting incident. It’s the heart and soul of everything Jesus can’t save us from sin and death and hell if He Himself cannot conquer it.  So where the first man failed, in Adam we all died, the second man succeeds, in Christ we all live.

Another point to explore before going any further is the Jewish belief in the devil. Although they acknowledge that sin exists, most Jews today do not believe in Satan. They find it quaint that Christians do.

MacArthur says that this was not always so:

Now the Jews knew about the devil In the Old Testament he was called Satan, which means adversary, or enemyHe first appears by name, of course, in Job, then again in Zechariah, then again in 1 Chronicles, but he appears, first of all, as a serpent in the third chapter of Genesis The Jews knew about the enemy, the adversary.  They knew about the personification of evil.  They knew Satan as the source of evil They knew that he had brought down the whole human race in Eden And the question was: If Jesus is the Messiah, can He overturn this?  Can He bring back the paradise lost?  Can He conquer the enemy of God and the enemy of our souls?

Obviously Jesus triumphs over Satan That is absolutely critical That is the last capstone on the wall of messianic credentials This is the final exam that Jesus passes to qualify as the Savior of sinners …

Now devil…the devil, as he is called here in verse 2, is the Greek word diabolos and it means “accuser,” and it means “slanderer.”  And that’s what Satan does.  That’s what he is.  He’s the accuser of the brethren He’s the slanderer And, of course, he would love to bring an accusation against God’s elect, and the Lord, of course, defends us from that, according to Romans 8, because we belong to Him and Jesus has already paid the penalty for our sins It is also true that he would want to bring an accusation against Jesus Himself, but he had none that he could bring legitimately He has no claim on Me. He has nothing in Me.  There was no justifiable charge of sin that ever could be leveled at the Son of God.

There is also the question of the deity of Jesus, which even some of today’s clergy doubt, sadly. MacArthur says that Satan and his demons have never questioned that Jesus is the Son of God:

Some people question the deity of Jesus. Lots of people question the deity of Jesus Mormons deny the deity of Jesus.  Jehovah’s Witnesses deny the deity of Jesus.  Liberals deny the deity of Jesus.  But I’ll tell you one group who don’t: Demons Demons do not deny the deity of Jesus and the devil never denies the deity of Jesus. He always assumes it.  Repeatedly he says to Him, “If” or since “You are the Son of God.” verse 3.  It never was a question, never.  They know who they are dealing with and Satan knew exactly who he was dealing with and he knew exactly what he wanted to accomplish and that was somehow to put so much subtle, powerful, clever pressure on Jesus as to overturn His holiness and force Him into sin so that he could literally destroy Jesus’ ability to save sinners and to destroy him, the devil.

The final theological point to look at is how Jesus was tempted and how He managed to resist sin:

He knew He was the Son of God He knew why He had come He grew like any person grows, like any human being grows.  And as He grew as a real man, the Spirit of God gave to Him more and more of the truth of His personhood And as He grew He was exposed to temptation When the writer of Hebrews says He was at all points tempted like as we are, it means in all points in the chronology of His life.  He was tempted as an infant, the way infants are tempted He was tempted as a child the way children are tempted.  He was tempted as a young adult the way young adults were tempted and so forth and so forth.  All through His life He was tempted, with one great distinction, and you must understand this, all the temptations, all the solicitations to evil that ever came to Jesus stayed on the outside This is why it’s impossible for us to grasp that because we don’t understand temptation in that sense Why?  Because for us temptation takes place predominantly on the inside; but for Jesus, there was nothing in Him that could internalize that temptation and work it toward evil

So, He was in all points tempted like as we are, yet without what?  Without sin.  Because He had no capacity to internalize it.  But nonetheless the onslaught came and He heard it and He heard all the cleverness of it and He saw it in the world around Him and in people and the demons that orchestrated it and here Satan himself who orchestrates it He could see the temptation He could understand the temptation, but He could not internalize it, mixing it with some evil intent because it didn’t exist in Him He was true humanity, He was holy, He was unfallen and He was perfect, but different than Adam in that Adam apparently did have the capacity to internalize temptation and turn it into sin. Jesus did not.  That’s why I love the statement Jesus made in John 14:30, He said that, “The ruler of the world,” Satan, “is after Me but he has nothing in Me.” He has nothing in Me, he has nothing on Me, he can lay no claim on Me, he can make no justifiable charge of sin.” 

Now this brings up the question and theologians have always liked to talk about this question, although I’ve always thought it was kind of silly to do that. The question is: Could He have sinned?  This is called the debate about the impeccability of Jesus, and you can read all kinds of material on this.  Could Jesus have sinned?  And there have been theologians through the years who have said yes He could have sinned.

They’re wrong, clearly. I don’t even know why anybody would discuss it. Of course He couldn’t sin. Can God sin?  God can’t sin. “He’s of purer eyes than to behold evil,” “can’t look upon iniquity.”  He has no capacity to sin.  Jesus had no capacity within Him to turn anything into a sin. He couldn’t conceive anything in such a way, mixing it with lust and evil intent as to produce a sin.  It was impossible because there was nothing in His nature to do that, nothing

Well then, some theologians would say, “Well if He couldn’t sin then temptation wasn’t real.”  That’s not true That’s… That’s not true.  You don’t always sin when you’re tempted which means you could be tempted and not sin You can be hit with some strong temptation and you can be victorious and walk away and not sin and thank God and praise God and be triumphant.  As Christians we do that That doesn’t mean it wasn’t a temptation The fact that Jesus couldn’t sin doesn’t mean He couldn’t be tempted.  Look, Satan tempted Him, he tempted Him personally The devil came and tempted Him personally.  Demons came and tempted Him personally Demons working in the wicked leaders of Israel and others came after Jesus. He was exposed to sin all around Him as the system of Satan worked its way through human depravity.  It came at Him on the outside. He saw it all.  He understood it in His mind but He had no internal capacity to turn that into a sin But it doesn’t mean that He didn’t feel or experience the reality of that temptation

Westcott says, “Sympathy with the sinner in his trial does not depend on the experience of sin, but on the experience of the strength of the temptation to sin which only the sinless can know in its full intensity,” end quote.  That’s exactly right.  Only the sinless One knows how intense the temptation can be, every temptation, because he never gives in and finally the temptation having exhausted itself departs.

Returning to our Lord’s hunger, the devil said to Him that ‘if’ — MacArthur prefers ‘since’ — He is the Son of God, He can command a stone to become a loaf of bread (verse 3).

The devil was tempting Jesus in a way that only He could be tempted: to perform a miracle to stave off His hunger.

MacArthur elaborates:

Satan senses in that hunger a new vulnerability. He senses that in the fact that Jesus is feeling hunger that Jesus is beginning to feel His mortality. He moves in for what he thinks might be the kill. What happens is three temptations that Satan devises that are the most brash, the most ruthless and the most clever. He keeps them until he finds in Christ this moment of vulnerability

… the pattern of battle is very, very important. The temptations directed at Jesus Christ are unique to Him, and I want you to understand that …

MacArthur says that, although Satan tempted Jesus in the way only He could be, the common thread of any temptation is the sense that God does not love us. Satan works on that deception carefully. He did with Jesus, albeit unsuccessfully, and he does the same with us:

We can understand that categorically, can’t we?  That’s there.  I can’t turn stones into bread but I can be tempted to distrust God’s love for meAnd the question, why it is that I don’t have the things that I think would be given to me would be measures in some way of God’s love for me.  And that’s precisely the category, but the temptation is specific.  Let’s look at it.

Verse 3: “The devil said to Him.” All the way through the devil speaks, by the way, with a measure of truthDeception only works if it somehow has partial truth in itAnd so when the devil speaks, he starts from a point of truth. That’s the subtlety of his deceptionSo the devil said to Him, “If” or probably better translated, “Since…” This is a first class conditional with a particle, which is ei in the Greek. And a first class conditional does not presume doubt. It does not presume doubt.  So he’s really saying, “Since…since You are the Son of God.”  This is true and this is the measure of truth with which Satan launches the deception

The implication here is to distrust God’s love.  The implication here is based upon the fact that Satan knew that Jesus had restricted His independent use of His own deity to do only the will of the Father through the power of the Spirit, and that He wasn’t to do anything that the Father didn’t will and the Spirit empower.  In fact, Jesus said, John 4:34, “My food is to do the will of Him who sent Me.”  Numerous times in the gospel of John Jesus says that one way or another. “I only do what the Father tells Me to do, I only do what the Father shows Me to do.  I’ve come to do the Father’s will, that’s it.”

Part of the self-emptying — the kenosis as theologians call it — part of Jesus’ humiliation was to set aside the independent use of His own deity and operate only under the Father’s will in perfect submission and by the Spirit’s power in effecting that will. That was part of His full … condescension.

So the implication here is to say, look, if God really loved You, You wouldn’t be hungry.  How much does God really love You?  You’ve waited all this time in Nazareth, You had Your moment in the sun down there at the Jordan river at Your baptism, and now for forty days You’ve been out here in this God-forsaken place and You’ve been in conflict with the devil and You’ve had nothing to eat for forty days and now You’re very hungry and God hasn’t provided anything for You.  So You think You can trust God’s love?   Do You think that’s an evidence that God really loves You?  Maybe God doesn’t love You as much as You think He loves You.

This is exactly the…the formula that Satan used with Eve, isn’t it?  What Satan was saying to Eve in the Garden is, “You mean to tell me there’s a tree that has fruit on it and God doesn’t want you to have it?  Well if God really loved you, why would He restrict you?  God probably isn’t as loving as you think He is. He’s probably not as kind as you think He is.  He’s probably not as good as you think He is or He wouldn’t…He wouldn’t restrict you from eating that true…that tree.  Don’t you think that maybe God isn’t quite as good as you think He is, or as loving as you think He is.  In fact, you know I’ll tell you why He doesn’t want you to eat that, because if you eat that you’ll be like Him and He hates competition at that levelAnd that will tell you He’s really not good at all because the reason He doesn’t want you to eat of that is you’ll be like Him and He doesn’t want that kind of competition.”

And Eve bought into the lie that God wasn’t as good as she thought He was; He wasn’t as kind as she thought He was; He wasn’t as loving as she thought He was.  And so she ateThat’s the same scenario here.  You think God is loving?  You’re the Son of God, how come You’re hungry?  You think God is loving?  Didn’t You just hear God out of heaven down at the Jordan river say, “This is My beloved Son in whom I am well pleased,” so is this how He demonstrates it?  Forty days in the wilderness, forty days in here in conflict with Satan in this precipitous, dangerous, God-forsaken place, forty days with nothing to eat, this is love?  Since You’re the Son of God, let me suggest to You it’s time to use Your own prerogatives.  And what…what Satan wants to do is to set Jesus against the Father and the Spirit, acting independently on His own.  And he can’t appeal to Him in His deity so he appeals to Him as the God-Man through His humanity.  You shouldn’t be hungry, You shouldn’t be suffering this.  You shouldn’t be going through this.  You’re the Son of God …

You see, he’s never denying the deity of Jesus. He’s never denying He’s the Son of God. He just wants to get Him through this clever manipulation to act independently of the Father, therefore express disobedience, which is sin, and that’s the idea. Distrust God

Jesus responded by quoting Scripture — ‘It is written’ — ‘Man does not live by bread alone’ (verse 4).

Henry says that it is important for us to know Holy Scripture, because it is a principal weapon in spiritual warfare:

it is a quotation out of the Old Testament, to show that he came to assert and maintain the authority of the scripture as uncontrollable, even by Satan himself. And though he had the Spirit without measure, and had a doctrine of his own to preach and a religion to found, yet it agreed with Moses and the prophets, whose writings he therefore lays down as a rule to himself, and recommends to us as a reply to Satan and his temptations. The word of God is our sword, and faith in that word is our shield; we should therefore be mighty in the scriptures, and go in that might, go forth, and go on, in our spiritual warfare, know what is written, for it is for our learning, for our use. The text of scripture he makes use of is quoted from Deuteronomy 8:3: “Man shall not live by bread alone. I need not turn the stone into bread, for God can send manna for my nourishment, as he did for Israel; man can live by every word of God, by whatever God will appoint that he shall live by.” How had Christ lived, lived comfortably, these last forty days? Not by bread, but by the word of God, by meditation upon that word, and communion with it, and with God in and by it; and in like manner he could live yet, though now he began to be hungry. God has many ways of providing for his people, without the ordinary means of subsistence; and therefore he is not at any time to be distrusted, but at all times to be depended upon, in the way of duty. If meat be wanting, God can take away the appetite, or give such degrees of patience as will enable a man even to laugh at destruction and famine (Job 5:22), or make pulse and water more nourishing than all the portion of the king’s meat (Daniel 1:12; Daniel 1:13), and enable his people to rejoice in the Lord, when the fig-tree doth not blossom, Habakkuk 3:17.

The devil then showed Jesus all the kingdoms of the world in an instant (verse 5).

MacArthur thinks that such a vision was real, but Henry says it was a mirage, a phantasm, something Satan conjured up:

He gave him a prospect of all the kingdoms of the world in a moment of time, an airy representation of them, such as he thought most likely to strike the fancy, and seem a real prospect. To succeed the better, he took him up for this purpose into a high mountain; and, because we next after the temptation find Christ on the other side Jordan, some think it probable that it was to the top of Pisgah that the devil took him, whence Moses has a sight of Canaan. That it was but a phantasm that the devil here presented our Saviour with, as the prince of the power of the air, is confirmed by that circumstance which Luke here takes notice of, that it was done in a moment of time; whereas, if a man take a prospect of but one country, he must do it successively, must turn himself round, and take a view first of one part and then of another. Thus the devil thought to impose upon our Saviour with a fallacy–a deceptio visus; and, by making him believe that he could show him all the kingdoms of the world, would draw him into an opinion that he could give him all those kingdoms.

The devil said that he would give these kingdoms to Jesus, including authority over them because they were his to give (verse 6), provided that Jesus worship him (verse 7).

MacArthur points out that was Satan’s huge failure. One could say that Satan ‘jumped the shark’ with that one:

Satan makes this serious overstatement in verse 6, “For it has been handed over to me and I give it to whomever I wish.”  Oh really?  Boy, did he have an inflated opinion of himself and his power.  There is some truth in that and Satan always likes to deal in half-truth.  He is called in John 12:31, John 14:30, John 16:11, “the ruler of this world.”  That’s true.  In 1 John 5:19 it says, “The whole world lies in his lap.”  In 2 Corinthians 4:4 he’s called, “the god of this age.”  It does not mean that he literally possesses the nations of the worldWhat it means is that he rules the system of evil that dominates the nations of the world

… He simply rules the system of evil. He does not determine the nations and who rules the nations. In fact, Romans 13 says the hours that be are ordained by God. But Satan is a liar. Not only did he not have the power to give it, it wasn’t his to begin with anyway.

Once again, Jesus responds by quoting Scripture: ‘It is written’. He quotes the Old Testament, whereby we are to worship the Lord our God and serve only Him (verse 8).

Henry says:

Such a temptation as this was not to be reasoned with, but immediately refused; it was presently knocked on the head with one word, It is written, Thou shalt worship the Lord thy God; and not only so, but him only, him and no other. And therefore Christ will not worship Satan, nor, when he has the kingdoms of the world delivered to him by his Father, as he expects shortly to have, will he suffer any remains of the worship of the devil to continue in them. No, it shall be perfectly rooted out and abolished, wherever his gospel comes. He will make no composition with him. Polytheism and idolatry must go down, as Christ’s kingdom gets up. Men must be turned from the power of Satan unto God, from the worship of devils to the worship of the only living and true God.

Satan then launched his final unsuccessful temptation. Wanting to be kingmaker, he took Jesus to Jerusalem, which MacArthur says would have been possible supernaturally, placed him on the pinnacle of the temple and commanded Him to throw Himself off of it, since if He were the Son of God (verse 9), it is written that God would command His angels to protect Jesus (verse 10), as they would not allow Him to dash His foot against a stone (verse 11).

MacArthur describes the setting:

There is a point on the temple mount in Jerusalem that is the dizzying height. You know, if you have any kind of fear of heights, you don’t want to go near this corner. It’s the southeast corner. The temple mount, of course, is a massive, massive patio kind of thing, a massive place where today is the Dome of the Rock and the Mosque of Omar, as it’s called, two great Muslim places. And up at the north end of it is where they believe the original temple was, and it’s surrounded by a wall and it sits up on what is really Mount Moriah, Moriah where Abraham went to sacrifice Isaac. And so it’s been flattened out and you ascend it long stairs from the southern side. Those gates, by the way, and the stairs there are the very ones Jesus went in and out of the temple of in His lifetime. So it’s a remarkable place. I’ve preached on those very steps.

But on the southeast corner there is a corner of the temple ground that sinks down into the valley, the Kedron valley where the Kedron stream goes through and it is a dead straight drop of 450 feet to the ground. Tradition, Eusebius, tells us that the brother of our Lord, James, who was the leader of the Jerusalem Council, was thrown to his death from that corner. They threw his… They threw him alive off that 450-foot edge.

As for Satan’s quoting Scripture, Henry points out the deception therein:

It is true, God has promised the protection of angels, to encourage us to trust him, not to tempt him; as far as the promise of God’s presence with us, so far the promise of the angels’ ministration goes, but no further: “They shall keep thee when thou goest on the ground, where thy way lies, but not if thou wilt presume to fly in the air.”

Once more, Jesus quoted Scripture: ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test’ (verse 12).

Henry explains the verse and the context:

Christ quoted Deuteronomy 6:16, where it is said, Thou shalt not tempt the Lord thy God, by desiring a sign for the proof of divine revelation, when he has already given that which is sufficient; for so Israel did, when they tempted God in the wilderness, saying, He gave us water out of the rock; but can he give flesh also?

Then the devil departed, until an opportune time (verse 13).

The ‘opportune time’ refers to Judas’s betrayal (Luke 22:53). Jesus said to the Jewish hierarchy — led by Judas — at His arrest at the Mount of Olives:

53 When I was with you day after day in the temple, you did not lay hands on me. But this is your hour, and the power of darkness.”

In closing, MacArthur quotes John Milton and says that the theology in Paradise Regained is spot on:

Now in John Milton’s famous Paradise Regained, the author expresses the purpose of Jesus’ temptation in the wilderness and he does so in the following words, as though spoken by God, His Father.  Milton writes as if God is speaking, “But first I mean to exercise Him in the wilderness.  There He shall first lay down the rudiments of His great warfare, ere I send Him forth to conquer sin and death, the two grand foes, by humiliation and strong suffering,” end quote.

Well, the…the wisdom of John Milton is obviously legendary and Milton had it right.  When he penned those words it was God sending forth His Son for His exercise in the wilderness in which He would defeat the devil and then demonstrate there the power for the great warfare in which He would on the cross conquer sin and at the grave conquer death.  If Jesus would triumph in the wilderness, then He would triumph at Calvary and He would triumph in the garden.  He would triumph at the cross and triumph at the tomb.  And if Jesus could conquer Satan, then we can be assured of that triumph and that there will be paradise regained

So you see, what happens here in the temptation is a foretaste of what is to come through all of the great events of the life and ministry of the King, the Messiah, the Son of God, the Savior of the world. We believe that He will conquer in the future because He conquered in the past, and this is where it all began. It’s as if the…the guarantee of His future conquerings was established in the event of His temptation in the wilderness when Satan came and hit him with the full fury of his best assaults. And Jesus withstood them all triumphantly.

May everyone reading this have a blessed Sunday.

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