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Daytime readings for Holy Saturday — along with posts on Easter foods and traditions — can be found here.

This is one of the two Gospel choices (emphases in bold mine):

John 19:38-42

19:38 After these things, Joseph of Arimathea, who was a disciple of Jesus, though a secret one because of his fear of the Jews, asked Pilate to let him take away the body of Jesus. Pilate gave him permission; so he came and removed his body.

19:39 Nicodemus, who had at first come to Jesus by night, also came, bringing a mixture of myrrh and aloes, weighing about a hundred pounds.

19:40 They took the body of Jesus and wrapped it with the spices in linen cloths, according to the burial custom of the Jews.

19:41 Now there was a garden in the place where he was crucified, and in the garden there was a new tomb in which no one had ever been laid.

19:42 And so, because it was the Jewish day of Preparation, and the tomb was nearby, they laid Jesus there.

I have chosen this as 2021’s Lenten readings and Holy Week’s have come from John’s Gospel.

Commentary comes from Matthew Henry and John MacArthur.

John MacArthur tells us of burial customs for people who had been crucified:

Now what would happen normally to a crucified individual? The Romans would simply let them be eaten by birds or thrown like roadkill on the side of a road somewhere, as continuing the example of not violating Rome. They might even end up in the dump. They might even end up dead bodies thrown in Gehenna where the fire never ceased and the garbage of Jerusalem was burned. But the Romans did not bury criminals. The Jews did bury them; that was typically a Jewish thing to do. But I don’t know that they had any particular plans to bury Jesus whom they viewed as a blasphemer.

The emergence of Joseph of Arimathea in wishing to bury the body of Jesus (verses 38, 41) was a fulfilment of prophecy. MacArthur says:

Now there is a prophecy back in Isaiah 53, Isaiah 53:9. Speaking of Jesus, Isaiah writes, “His grave was assigned to be with wicked men, but He was with a rich man in His death.” His grave was assigned to be with wicked men. Sure, He was going to be thrown wherever criminals were thrown. But He was with a rich man in His death …

“After these things Joseph of Arimathea,” – that’s the town – “being a disciple of Jesus, but a secret one for fear of the Jews.” So here is a man who is a secret disciple. He was afraid to entertain any public confession of faith about Christ even though he believed. If you go back into chapter 12 you remember it says, “There were many of the rulers who believed in Him, but they didn’t acknowledge it for fear of the Jews. They were more concerned about what men thought than what God thought.” So here is this secret believer.

MacArthur tells us more about him and what compelled him to reveal his belief:

Now we know a lot about him because he’s mentioned in the other gospels. He is rich. Matthew 27:57, he is very rich. He is a good man. He is a member of the Jewish supreme court, the Sanhedrin that sentenced Jesus to death – no doubt he didn’t vote that. He has been a coward, afraid to acknowledge himself when Jesus was ministering and alive. Somehow, in some dramatic way, by divine work on his heart, the coward becomes almost heroic in bravery; and as soon as Jesus has died – which means he must have been around – he sets aside all that fear and all that dread and all that cowardice, and he goes to Pilate and has to reveal that he is a disciple of Jesus, and he asks that he might take away the body of Jesus; and Pilate granted permission after checking to make sure He was dead; and he came and took away His body. So now instead of Jesus, Isaiah 53:9 says, having a grave with the wicked, He’s going to be with a rich man in His death.

It says in Mark 15:43 that Joseph gathered up courage. No doubt power of the Lord came on him. He fulfills prophecy, because Jesus had said in Matthew 12:40 that He would be in the grave three days and rise. He has to be in the grave on Friday. Joseph appears to do that.

Jesus, dead, had moved Joseph in ways that Joseph wouldn’t be moved when Jesus was alive. Jesus, dead physically, brought Joseph to an open confession and moved him into the plan in a critical way; and he was the right guy, because he was a believer; and he was the right guy, because he had a tomb that had never been used, it wasn’t occupied; and he was the right guy, because the tomb that he had was right next to where Jesus was crucified, which meant they could get Him in there Friday.

Nicodemus is similarly moved to help bury Jesus by bringing a very heavy load of myrrh and aloes weighing 100 pounds (verse 39).

Nicodemus first approached the living Jesus at night in John 3. That passage was read a few weeks ago on the Fourth Sunday of Lent — Laetare Sunday (Year B) in March 2021.

Nicodemus was a religious ruler, a Pharisee: very learned in Scripture and Mosaic law. He was a member of the Sanhedrin, the Jewish hierarchy.

He went to see Jesus at night either because he was too busy to meet him during the day, or, more likely, because he did not want to incur the wrath of the Sanhedrin.

So we have two high-ranking men of the religious establishment, both secret and now open believers, burying the body of Jesus according to Jewish custom (verse 40).

Matthew Henry’s commentary says:

Hereby they showed the value they had for his person and doctrine, and that it was not lessened by the reproach of the cross. Those that had been so industrious to profane his crown, and lay his honour in the dust, might already see that they had imagined a vain thing for, as God had done him honour in his sufferings, so did men too, even great men. They showed not only the charitable respect of committing his body to the earth, but the honourable respect shown to great men. This they might do, and yet believe and look for his resurrection nay, this they might do in the belief and expectation of it. Since God designed honour for this body, they would put honour upon it.

MacArthur is less sure that they — or anyone else — anticipated the Resurrection:

Would you please remember that these are not disciples plotting a resurrection or they wouldn’t have used a hundred-pound weight on Him. They weren’t planning to steal His body. Certainly the other disciples weren’t; they aren’t even there.

Although John does not mention it in his account, the other Gospels tell us that women also helped the two men prepare our Lord’s body for burial.

The new tomb was located near the place where Jesus was crucified (verse 41). MacArthur says we can be sure it belonged to Joseph of Arimathea, because:

Matthew 27:60 says that tomb belonged to Joseph of Arimathea.

Henry points out the significance of the gardens in our Lord’s life and death as well as in the Bible:

That in a sepulchre in a garden Christ’s body was laid. In the garden of Eden death and the grave first received their power, and now in a garden they are conquered, disarmed, and triumphed over. In a garden Christ began his passion, and from a garden he would rise, and begin his exaltation. Christ fell to the ground as a corn of wheat (John 12:24), and therefore was sown in a garden among the seeds, for his dew is as the dew of herbs, Isaiah 26:19. He is the fountain of gardens, Song of Song of Solomon 4:15.

Because it was Friday, the Day of Preparation for the Sabbath — and at that particular time for the Passover Sabbath — that tomb was chosen to expedite matters for religious reasons (verse 42).

Henry elaborates:

1. Observe here the deference which the Jews paid to the sabbath, and to the day of preparation. Before the passover-sabbath they had a solemn day of preparation. This day had been ill kept by the chief priests, who called themselves the church, but was well kept by the disciples of Christ, who were branded as dangerous to the church and it is often so. (1.) They would not put off the funeral till the sabbath day, because the sabbath is to be a day of holy rest and joy, with which the business and sorrow of a funeral do not well agree. (2.) They would not drive it too late on the day of preparation for the sabbath. What is to be done the evening before the sabbath should be so contrived that it may neither intrench upon sabbath time, nor indispose us for sabbath work.

2. Observe the convenience they took of an adjoining sepulchre the sepulchre they made use of was nigh at hand. Perhaps, if they had had time, they would have carried him to Bethany, and buried him among his friends there. And I am sure he had more right to have been buried in the chief of the sepulchres of the sons of David than any of the kings of Judah had but it was so ordered that he should be laid in a sepulchre nigh at hand, (1.) Because he was to lie there but awhile, as in an inn, and therefore he took the first that offered itself. (2.) Because this was a new sepulchre. Those that prepared it little thought who should handsel it but the wisdom of God has reaches infinitely beyond ours, and he makes what use he pleases of us and all we have. (3.) We are hereby taught not to be over-curious in the place of our burial. Where the tree falls, why should it not lie? For Christ was buried in the sepulchre that was next at hand …

In closing, some will wonder about the three-day period from death to resurrection. MacArthur clarifies this for us:

Therefore because of the Jewish day of preparation, Friday, since the tomb was nearby they laid Jesus there. So He was in the grave on Friday, that’s Day One. He was in the grave on Saturday, that’s Day Two. He was in the grave on Sunday until the morning, that’s three days.

Any part of a day to a Jew constituted that day. Prophecy was fulfilled. He had power over His dying. He had power over the treatment of His body after He was dead. He had power over His burial to fulfill prophecy. Truly this is the Son of God.

Passiontide and Lent end on the evening of Holy Saturday. Catholic churches hold a lengthy Easter Vigil service at that time with several Bible readings, including the Gospel (Mark 16:1-8) wherein Mary Magdalen, Mary the mother of James, and Salome (not Herod’s step-daughter) are shocked to find the stone rolled back and the tomb empty.

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

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

Readings for the First Sunday in Lent — Year B

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

Mark 1:9-15

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

MacArthur explains:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

MacArthur explains the River Jordan:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

God also spoke (verse 11).

These three phenomena were open to public witness.

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

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

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

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

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

MacArthur continues detailing this holy mystery of the Triune God:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

MacArthur explains Mark’s reasoning:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Matthew Henry says:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

MacArthur explains the message of Jesus:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Shrovetide has ended. Lent begins in 2021 on Wednesday, February 17.

Below are Readings for Year B with a commentary on the Gospel verses:

Readings for Ash Wednesday

Exegesis on the Gospel reading for Ash Wednesday (Matthew 6:1-6, 16-21; Matthew Henry)

For Christians, this is our principal spiritual time of the year. These 40 days often include prayer and fasting as well as almsgiving:

St Athanasius and the Lenten practices of the early Church

Lent in the early Church — not a pagan practice

This is an annual period for adopting a deeper spiritual life. All being well, what we learn between now and Easter will become a permanent part of our Christian journey.

Now is a good opportunity to start reading more of the Bible:

Why not read the Bible this Lent?

Bible study plan suggestions

You, too, can read the Bible with the Grant Horner system

Update on the Grant Horner Bible Reading System

I wish those who observe it a good Lent, one of profound prayer and spiritual reflection.

It is Good Friday 2020 and, incredibly, the doors to most of our churches around the world are locked.

The same holds true for other houses of worship.

It happened easily and quickly.

All it took was a pandemic, media panic and speedy draconian emergency legislation.

—————————————

Now on to Good Friday.

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 below:

Meditations on the Cross

Here are my past posts, which might be helpful in understanding the Crucifixion:

Readings for Good Friday

The greatest reality show ends with a popular vote

Barabbas: an inspiration for liberation theology?

Reflections on the Crucifixion

Good Friday: in whom can we trust? (John 18:12-27)

Martin Luther’s ‘How to Contemplate Christ’s Sufferings’: the false views

Martin Luther’s ‘How to Contemplate Christ’s Sufferings’: the true views

Martin Luther’s ‘How to Contemplate Christ’s Sufferings’: the comfort

Good Friday: the horror of the Crucifixion (John MacArthur)

Easter: the drama and glory of the Resurrection (John MacArthur, explains Jesus’s relatively short time on the cross)

Biblically focussed clergy, such as John MacArthur, often tell us how much God hates sin.

Yet, most of us, myself included, struggle to understand how much God hates sin.

One thing I learned from writing about the Book of Hebrews was that God hates sin so much that, from the beginning, He commanded that blood sacrifices be made for it. Under the Old Covenant, God’s chosen people had to sacrifice animals time and time again. Yet, all of those were insufficient.

Then God sent His Son Jesus Christ to Earth for the one, holy and perfect sacrifice for the sins of the whole world: past, present and future. The Crucifixion brought about the New Covenant, a ‘better’ covenant, as the Book of Hebrews tells us.

In Hebrews 9:16-23, the book’s anonymous author, inspired by the Holy Spirit, says that the sacrifices under the Old Covenant were but ‘copies’ of ‘the heavenly’ sacrifice that Jesus made on the Cross (emphases mine):

16 For where a will is involved, the death of the one who made it must be established. 17 For a will takes effect only at death, since it is not in force as long as the one who made it is alive. 18 Therefore not even the first covenant was inaugurated without blood. 19 For when every commandment of the law had been declared by Moses to all the people, he took the blood of calves and goats, with water and scarlet wool and hyssop, and sprinkled both the book itself and all the people, 20 saying, “This is the blood of the covenant that God commanded for you.” 21 And in the same way he sprinkled with the blood both the tent and all the vessels used in worship. 22 Indeed, under the law almost everything is purified with blood, and without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness of sins.

23 Thus it was necessary for the copies of the heavenly things to be purified with these rites, but the heavenly things themselves with better sacrifices than these.

Hebrews 10 explains the sufficiency of our Lord’s ultimate sacrifice for us, citing Jeremiah 31:33-34:

12 But when Christ[b] had offered for all time a single sacrifice for sins, he sat down at the right hand of God, 13 waiting from that time until his enemies should be made a footstool for his feet. 14 For by a single offering he has perfected for all time those who are being sanctified.

15 And the Holy Spirit also bears witness to us; for after saying,

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

17 then he adds,

“I will remember their sins and their lawless deeds no more.”

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

Therefore, we should be grateful for Christ’s perfect sacrifice for us, which reconciled us with God once and for all.

We can have assurance in our Christian faith, the promise of which is eternal life:

19 Therefore, brothers,[c] since we have confidence to enter the holy places by the blood of Jesus, 20 by the new and living way that he opened for us through the curtain, that is, through his flesh, 21 and since we have a great priest over the house of God, 22 let us draw near 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. 23 Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful. 24 And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, 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 drawing near.

You can read more about Hebrews 10 in my post from 2016:

Epistle for Good Friday Year C — Hebrews 10:16-25

May we remember that our Lord’s ultimate sacrifice for us is the reason that we profess the Christian faith.

He then rose from the dead to bring us to eternal life. We look forward to celebrating the Resurrection on Easter Sunday, even though we will be at home alone, instead of with our friends at church.

This Maundy Thursday afternoon I spent time checking the Twitter accounts of the Anglican and Episcopal priests I have cited here in past posts.

Nearly everyone was concerned about coronavirus and, for the Americans, the state of play for the Democrats now that Bernie Sanders has dropped out of the presidential race.

I, too, have been distracted by coronavirus and British politics now that Boris Johnson is in intensive care.

These past posts of mine may help make spending a Maundy Thursday at home more meaningful:

Readings for Thursday of Holy Week — Maundy Thursday

What is the Triduum?

‘One of you will betray Me’ (John 13)

Passover, the Last Supper and the New Covenant

Why some Jews celebrated Passover on Thursday and others on Friday (here and here)

Maundy Thursday and the Last Supper: Jesus’s words of comfort (John 14, alludes to Holy Trinity)

John MacArthur on Passover as celebrated at the Last Supper

John 17 — the High Priestly Prayer: parts 1, 2 and 3

Jesus foretells Peter’s denial (Mark 14:26-31)

This year, throughout Lent I have been thinking about the unending obedience and service that Jesus practised (John 13:14-17, emphases mine):

13:14 So if I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet.

13:15 For I have set you an example, that you also should do as I have done to you.

13:16 Very truly, I tell you, servants are not greater than their master, nor are messengers greater than the one who sent them.

13:17 If you know these things, you are blessed if you do them.

He exhorted the Apostles — and us — to do the same: honouring God and honouring mankind (John 13:34):

13:34 I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another.

I cannot imagine what it must have been like to be Jesus during His time on Earth. He knew why He was among us. He knew what was in everyone’s heart and mind.

He knew one of the Twelve would betray him (John 13:10-11):

13:10 Jesus said to him, “One who has bathed does not need to wash, except for the feet, but is entirely clean. And you are clean, though not all of you.”

13:11 For he knew who was to betray him; for this reason he said, “Not all of you are clean.”

This particularly struck me when I read the Gospel for Palm Sunday for the Passion Liturgy.

He knew that Peter would deny Him three times before the cockerel crowed in the early hours of what we know as Good Friday (Matthew 26:33-34):

26:33 Peter said to him, “Though all become deserters because of you, I will never desert you.”

26:34 Jesus said to him, “Truly I tell you, this very night, before the cock crows, you will deny me three times.”

He knew they would fall asleep during their final hour with Him before His arrest — a time when He really wanted them to be awake as a comfort before a day of unimaginable agony and death (Matthew 26:39-46):

26:39 And going a little farther, he threw himself on the ground and prayed, “My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from me; yet not what I want but what you want.”

26:40 Then he came to the disciples and found them sleeping; and he said to Peter, “So, could you not stay awake with me one hour?

26:41 Stay awake and pray that you may not come into the time of trial; the spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak.”

26:42 Again he went away for the second time and prayed, “My Father, if this cannot pass unless I drink it, your will be done.”

26:43 Again he came and found them sleeping, for their eyes were heavy.

26:44 So leaving them again, he went away and prayed for the third time, saying the same words.

26:45 Then he came to the disciples and said to them, “Are you still sleeping and taking your rest? See, the hour is at hand, and the Son of Man is betrayed into the hands of sinners.

26:46: Get up, let us be going. See, my betrayer is at hand.”

How our Lord suffered for our sake. He obeyed His Father by making the one sufficient sacrifice of Himself as the oblation for our sins. That sacrifice also showed His unending love for us, even His enemies.

His is the true example to follow. I pray that I can follow it, especially when I do not wish to do so.

On April 15, 2019, Monday of Holy Week, Notre-Dame Cathedral was ablaze until the early hours of Tuesday morning.

This year, because of coronavirus, few Christians are allowed to go to church during Holy Week. Similarly, our Jewish friends are not allowed to attend synagogue for Passover.

Hmm. Two years of disrupted Holy Weeks.

Never mind, because, even during lockdown, abortions are allowed to go ahead and off-licences (liquor stores) are still open.

As Brother Alexis Bugnolo put it at From Rome:

The real reason behind the Corona Stunt is something much more than simple control. It has a purpose. Here in Italy, most every activity is prohibited other than those who work in necessary sectors of the economy …

At the supermarket, no one is afraid that in exchanging coins or bills, that they will catch Coronavirus. But we are told that the Catholic Mass is a possible source of contagion, so distribution of the Eucharist must be suspended?

Mammon is O.K. to handle? But the Eucharist is dangerous and unhealthy?

Something does not add up.

On Palm Sunday, April 5, he posted that Bill Gates recommends that churches remain closed for 18 months (video at link). Emphases in the original:

Ominously, at 17:40 in this Video, Bill Gates implies that the Catholic Religion will remain outlawed until all can be certified to have received a vaccine, if even then!

I know there has always been speculation about Bill Gates’ name having the ASCII value of 666, but his comments above are more ridiculous, they are diabolic!

Melinda Gates is a Roman Catholic, and Bill and Melinda have raised all their children as Catholics. However, I some how think there is something big missing in their lives, if they think like this: God.

This is what St Peter’s Square looked like yesterday:

It’s not only Catholics who cannot go to worship with fellow believers but all Christians and Jews.

Those of us living through Holy Week 2020 will remember it for the rest of our lives. The unthinkable — closing houses of worship — happened across the world in a trice.

In such circumstances, we should persevere in our prayers and meditations this week:

We have many people to pray for — those affected by coronavirus around the world.

I am grateful that President Trump called for prayer yesterday:

On Saturday, I posted the Gospel readings for this year and a brief sermonette on Pontius Pilate, who arrived in Jerusalem the same time that Jesus did.

One of my readers, Scoot, responded with a poem about Palm Sunday, which sums up the two entries into Jerusalem perfectly:

The poem “The Conquerors” by Harry Kemp is apropos, given the processions of Jesus and Pilate.

Begging your pardon in advance, here it is quoted below:

I SAW the Conquerors riding by
— With trampling feet of horse and men:
Empire on empire like the tide
— Flooded the world and ebbed again;

A thousand banners caught the sun,
— And cities smoked along the plain,
And laden down with silk and gold
— And heaped-up pillage groaned the wain.

I saw the Conquerors riding by,
— Splashing through loathsome floods of war —
The Crescent leaning o’er its hosts,
— And the barbaric scimitar, —

And continents of moving spears,
— And storms of arrows in the sky,
And all the instruments sought out
— By cunning men that men may die!

I saw the Conquerors riding by
— With cruel lips and faces wan:
Musing on kingdoms sacked and burned
— There rode the Mongol Ghengis Khan;

And Alexander, like a god,
— Who sought to weld the world in one;
And Caesar with his laurel wreath;
— And like a thing from Hell the Hun;

And, leading like a star the van,
— Heedless of upstretched arm and groan,
Inscrutable Napoleon went
— Dreaming of empire, and alone. . . .

Then all they perished from the earth
— As fleeting shadows from a glass,
And, conquering down the centuries,
— Came Christ, the Swordless, on an ass!

On his website, Scoot also posted a prayer for these dismal days:

Prayer in Times of Pestilence

Grant, we beseech Thee, O Lord, an answer to our hearty supplications; and, Thy wrath being appeased, turn away from us this pestilence, that the hearts of men may know that these scourges proceed from Thine anger, and cease by Thy mercy.

Amen

Prime Minister Boris Johnson is currently in hospital with coronavirus. He has been running a fever for several days. His fiancée, Carrie Symonds, also has coronavirus and with a fever. She is expecting their child. Please include them in your prayers. We need Boris as Prime Minister.

These past posts of mine might be helpful in our private meditations during Holy Week:

Monday of Holy Week

Readings for Monday of Holy Week

The righteous anger of Jesus towards the money changers

Jesus and the money changers

Tuesday of Holy Week

Readings for Tuesday of Holy Week

Contemplating the withered fig tree (2017)

The High Priests plot against Jesus

Epistle for Tuesday of Holy Week — 1 Corinthians 1:18-31 (2016)

Spy Wednesday

Readings for Wednesday of Holy Week — Spy Wednesday

Judas offers his services

More on Spy Wednesday

More on Judas

Holy Week — the story thus far

Gospel reading for Wednesday of Holy Week — John 13:21-32 (2016)

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

None of us knows what long-term effects coronavirus will have on our civil liberties around the world.

What follows is an American perspective from MorningStar Ministries, but let’s not forget that the Magna Carta was signed in England in 1215 (emphases in purple mine):

Our Founders feared the tyranny of the mob as much as they feared the tyranny of a king. The same crowd that welcomed Jesus into Jerusalem declaring “Hosanna, blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord!” were crying “Crucify Him!” just five days later. The Founders were devoted to establishing a government of the people, by the people, and for the people, but also one that could ride out the wild swings of public opinion. These swings can create a social turbulence that tears a nation apart.

Democracies are where the majority rules. Republics are where the people vote for representatives that rule on their behalf. The representatives ideally will not just try to please public opinion, which can so wildly swing from one extreme to the opposite extreme, but rather do what is best for the whole country. This is why our Founders formed a constitutional republic, not a democracy as many wrongly presume

All three branches of government have been prone to infringe on the authority given to the other branches, as well as the authority given to the states and the people. The military calls this “mission creep”—when a commander starts adding to their specific assignment. When this happens, very often the original assignment gets muddled and sometimes forgotten. This has happened in our Federal Government. It has taken on many purposes that are beyond its constitutional authority.

To remedy this, we must recover the fact that The Constitution was written to assign specific authority to the Federal Government and forever limit it to what was specifically given to it in order to preserve the authority of the states and the people. Therefore, the assignment of any purpose to the Federal Government not specifically named in The Constitution is a violation of The Constitution. A main purpose of The Constitution was to limit the authority of the Federal Government in order to keep it from becoming what it has now become

I know no safe depository of the ultimate powers of the society but the people themselves; and if we think them not enlightened enough to exercise their control with a wholesome discretion, the remedy is not to take it from them, but to inform their discretion by education. This is the true corrective of abuses of constitutional power.  Thomas Jefferson

We are in a serious situation at the moment, no matter where we are in the world.

Please pray this week. We have no excuse not to do so.

Below are the Gospel readings for Palm Sunday, April 5, 2020.

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

I am posting only the Gospels, as the other readings are the same regardless of Lectionary year. They are in this post:

Readings for Palm Sunday — Year C

Here are my past posts on Palm Sunday:

The greatest reality story of all time begins on Palm Sunday

Palm Sunday and the Jesus watchers

Palm Sunday: Why palms?

Palm Sunday: Why a donkey?

There are two liturgies on Palm Sunday: one of the Palms and one of Christ’s Passion, as designated below. Emphases mine.

Gospel — Liturgy of the Palms

Matthew 21:1-11

21:1 When they had come near Jerusalem and had reached Bethphage, at the Mount of Olives, Jesus sent two disciples,

21:2 saying to them, “Go into the village ahead of you, and immediately you will find a donkey tied, and a colt with her; untie them and bring them to me.

21:3 If anyone says anything to you, just say this, ‘The Lord needs them.’ And he will send them immediately.”

21:4 This took place to fulfill what had been spoken through the prophet, saying,

21:5 “Tell the daughter of Zion, Look, your king is coming to you, humble, and mounted on a donkey, and on a colt, the foal of a donkey.”

21:6 The disciples went and did as Jesus had directed them;

21:7 they brought the donkey and the colt, and put their cloaks on them, and he sat on them.

21:8 A very large crowd spread their cloaks on the road, and others cut branches from the trees and spread them on the road.

21:9 The crowds that went ahead of him and that followed were shouting, “Hosanna to the Son of David! Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord! Hosanna in the highest heaven!”

21:10 When he entered Jerusalem, the whole city was in turmoil, asking, “Who is this?”

21:11 The crowds were saying, “This is the prophet Jesus from Nazareth in Galilee.”

Gospel — Liturgy of the Passion

There are two options for this particular liturgy: Matthew 26:14-27-66 or Matthew 27:11-54. Note that only one blood sacrifice — Jesus’s death on the Cross — was sufficient to redeem our sins and reconcile us to God. See Hebrews 9:16-23 and Hebrews 10:1-3.

Matthew 26:14-27:66

26:14 Then one of the twelve, who was called Judas Iscariot, went to the chief priests

26:15 and said, “What will you give me if I betray him to you?” They paid him thirty pieces of silver.

26:16 And from that moment he began to look for an opportunity to betray him.

26:17 On the first day of Unleavened Bread the disciples came to Jesus, saying, “Where do you want us to make the preparations for you to eat the Passover?”

26:18 He said, “Go into the city to a certain man, and say to him, ‘The Teacher says, My time is near; I will keep the Passover at your house with my disciples.'”

26:19 So the disciples did as Jesus had directed them, and they prepared the Passover meal.

26:20 When it was evening, he took his place with the twelve;

26:21 and while they were eating, he said, “Truly I tell you, one of you will betray me.”

26:22 And they became greatly distressed and began to say to him one after another, “Surely not I, Lord?”

26:23 He answered, “The one who has dipped his hand into the bowl with me will betray me.

26:24 The Son of Man goes as it is written of him, but woe to that one by whom the Son of Man is betrayed! It would have been better for that one not to have been born.”

26:25 Judas, who betrayed him, said, “Surely not I, Rabbi?” He replied, “You have said so.”

26:26 While they were eating, Jesus took a loaf of bread, and after blessing it he broke it, gave it to the disciples, and said, “Take, eat; this is my body.”

26:27 Then he took a cup, and after giving thanks he gave it to them, saying, “Drink from it, all of you;

26:28 for this is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins.

26:29 I tell you, I will never again drink of this fruit of the vine until that day when I drink it new with you in my Father’s kingdom.”

26:30 When they had sung the hymn, they went out to the Mount of Olives.

26:31 Then Jesus said to them, “You will all become deserters because of me this night; for it is written, ‘I will strike the shepherd, and the sheep of the flock will be scattered.’

26:32 But after I am raised up, I will go ahead of you to Galilee.”

26:33 Peter said to him, “Though all become deserters because of you, I will never desert you.”

26:34 Jesus said to him, “Truly I tell you, this very night, before the cock crows, you will deny me three times.”

26:35 Peter said to him, “Even though I must die with you, I will not deny you.” And so said all the disciples.

26:36 Then Jesus went with them to a place called Gethsemane; and he said to his disciples, “Sit here while I go over there and pray.”

26:37 He took with him Peter and the two sons of Zebedee, and began to be grieved and agitated.

26:38 Then he said to them, “I am deeply grieved, even to death; remain here, and stay awake with me.”

26:39 And going a little farther, he threw himself on the ground and prayed, “My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from me; yet not what I want but what you want.”

26:40 Then he came to the disciples and found them sleeping; and he said to Peter, “So, could you not stay awake with me one hour?

26:41 Stay awake and pray that you may not come into the time of trial; the spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak.”

26:42 Again he went away for the second time and prayed, “My Father, if this cannot pass unless I drink it, your will be done.”

26:43 Again he came and found them sleeping, for their eyes were heavy.

26:44 So leaving them again, he went away and prayed for the third time, saying the same words.

26:45 Then he came to the disciples and said to them, “Are you still sleeping and taking your rest? See, the hour is at hand, and the Son of Man is betrayed into the hands of sinners.

26:46: Get up, let us be going. See, my betrayer is at hand.”

26:47 While he was still speaking, Judas, one of the twelve, arrived; with him was a large crowd with swords and clubs, from the chief priests and the elders of the people.

26:48 Now the betrayer had given them a sign, saying, “The one I will kiss is the man; arrest him.”

26:49 At once he came up to Jesus and said, “Greetings, Rabbi!” and kissed him.

26:50 Jesus said to him, “Friend, do what you are here to do.” Then they came and laid hands on Jesus and arrested him.

26:51 Suddenly, one of those with Jesus put his hand on his sword, drew it, and struck the slave of the high priest, cutting off his ear.

26:52 Then Jesus said to him, “Put your sword back into its place; for all who take the sword will perish by the sword.

26:53 Do you think that I cannot appeal to my Father, and he will at once send me more than twelve legions of angels?

26:54 But how then would the scriptures be fulfilled, which say it must happen in this way?”

26:55 At that hour Jesus said to the crowds, “Have you come out with swords and clubs to arrest me as though I were a bandit? Day after day I sat in the temple teaching, and you did not arrest me.

26:56 But all this has taken place, so that the scriptures of the prophets may be fulfilled.” Then all the disciples deserted him and fled.

26:57 Those who had arrested Jesus took him to Caiaphas the high priest, in whose house the scribes and the elders had gathered.

26:58 But Peter was following him at a distance, as far as the courtyard of the high priest; and going inside, he sat with the guards in order to see how this would end.

26:59 Now the chief priests and the whole council were looking for false testimony against Jesus so that they might put him to death,

26:60 but they found none, though many false witnesses came forward. At last two came forward

26: 61 and said, “This fellow said, ‘I am able to destroy the temple of God and to build it in three days.'”

26:62 The high priest stood up and said, “Have you no answer? What is it that they testify against you?”

26:63 But Jesus was silent. Then the high priest said to him, “I put you under oath before the living God, tell us if you are the Messiah, the Son of God.”

26:64 Jesus said to him, “You have said so. But I tell you, From now on you will see the Son of Man seated at the right hand of Power and coming on the clouds of heaven.”

26:65 Then the high priest tore his clothes and said, “He has blasphemed! Why do we still need witnesses? You have now heard his blasphemy.

26:66 What is your verdict?” They answered, “He deserves death.”

26:67 Then they spat in his face and struck him; and some slapped him,

26:68 saying, “Prophesy to us, you Messiah! Who is it that struck you?”

26:69 Now Peter was sitting outside in the courtyard. A servant-girl came to him and said, “You also were with Jesus the Galilean.”

26:70 But he denied it before all of them, saying, “I do not know what you are talking about.”

26:71 When he went out to the porch, another servant-girl saw him, and she said to the bystanders, “This man was with Jesus of Nazareth.”

26:72 Again he denied it with an oath, “I do not know the man.”

26:73 After a little while the bystanders came up and said to Peter, “Certainly you are also one of them, for your accent betrays you.”

26:74 Then he began to curse, and he swore an oath, “I do not know the man!” At that moment the cock crowed.

26:75 Then Peter remembered what Jesus had said: “Before the cock crows, you will deny me three times.” And he went out and wept bitterly.

27:1 When morning came, all the chief priests and the elders of the people conferred together against Jesus in order to bring about his death.

27:2 They bound him, led him away, and handed him over to Pilate the governor.

27:3 When Judas, his betrayer, saw that Jesus was condemned, he repented and brought back the thirty pieces of silver to the chief priests and the elders.

27:4 He said, “I have sinned by betraying innocent blood.” But they said, “What is that to us? See to it yourself.”

27:5 Throwing down the pieces of silver in the temple, he departed; and he went and hanged himself.

27:6 But the chief priests, taking the pieces of silver, said, “It is not lawful to put them into the treasury, since they are blood money.”

27:7 After conferring together, they used them to buy the potter’s field as a place to bury foreigners.

27:8 For this reason that field has been called the Field of Blood to this day.

27:9 Then was fulfilled what had been spoken through the prophet Jeremiah, “And they took the thirty pieces of silver, the price of the one on whom a price had been set, on whom some of the people of Israel had set a price,

27:10 and they gave them for the potter’s field, as the Lord commanded me.”

27:11 Now Jesus stood before the governor; and the governor asked him, “Are you the King of the Jews?” Jesus said, “You say so.”

27:12 But when he was accused by the chief priests and elders, he did not answer.

27:13 Then Pilate said to him, “Do you not hear how many accusations they make against you?”

27:14 But he gave him no answer, not even to a single charge, so that the governor was greatly amazed.

27:15 Now at the festival the governor was accustomed to release a prisoner for the crowd, anyone whom they wanted.

27:16 At that time they had a notorious prisoner, called Jesus Barabbas.

27:17 So after they had gathered, Pilate said to them, “Whom do you want me to release for you, Jesus Barabbas or Jesus who is called the Messiah?”

27:18 For he realized that it was out of jealousy that they had handed him over.

27:19 While he was sitting on the judgment seat, his wife sent word to him, “Have nothing to do with that innocent man, for today I have suffered a great deal because of a dream about him.”

27:20 Now the chief priests and the elders persuaded the crowds to ask for Barabbas and to have Jesus killed.

27:21 The governor again said to them, “Which of the two do you want me to release for you?” And they said, “Barabbas.”

27:22 Pilate said to them, “Then what should I do with Jesus who is called the Messiah?” All of them said, “Let him be crucified!”

27:23 Then he asked, “Why, what evil has he done?” But they shouted all the more, “Let him be crucified!”

27:24 So when Pilate saw that he could do nothing, but rather that a riot was beginning, he took some water and washed his hands before the crowd, saying, “I am innocent of this man’s blood; see to it yourselves.”

27:25 Then the people as a whole answered, “His blood be on us and on our children!”

27:26 So he released Barabbas for them; and after flogging Jesus, he handed him over to be crucified.

27:27 Then the soldiers of the governor took Jesus into the governor’s headquarters, and they gathered the whole cohort around him.

27:28 They stripped him and put a scarlet robe on him,

27:29 and after twisting some thorns into a crown, they put it on his head. They put a reed in his right hand and knelt before him and mocked him, saying, “Hail, King of the Jews!”

27:30 They spat on him, and took the reed and struck him on the head.

27:31 After mocking him, they stripped him of the robe and put his own clothes on him. Then they led him away to crucify him.

27:32 As they went out, they came upon a man from Cyrene named Simon; they compelled this man to carry his cross.

27:33 And when they came to a place called Golgotha (which means Place of a Skull),

27:34 they offered him wine to drink, mixed with gall; but when he tasted it, he would not drink it.

27:35 And when they had crucified him, they divided his clothes among themselves by casting lots;

27:36 then they sat down there and kept watch over him.

27:37 Over his head they put the charge against him, which read, “This is Jesus, the King of the Jews.”

27:38 Then two bandits were crucified with him, one on his right and one on his left.

27:39 Those who passed by derided him, shaking their heads

27:40 and saying, “You who would destroy the temple and build it in three days, save yourself! If you are the Son of God, come down from the cross.”

27:41 In the same way the chief priests also, along with the scribes and elders, were mocking him, saying,

27:42 “He saved others; he cannot save himself. He is the King of Israel; let him come down from the cross now, and we will believe in him.

27:43 He trusts in God; let God deliver him now, if he wants to; for he said, ‘I am God’s Son.'”

27:44 The bandits who were crucified with him also taunted him in the same way.

27:45 From noon on, darkness came over the whole land until three in the afternoon.

27:46 And about three o’clock Jesus cried with a loud voice, “Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani?” that is, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”

27:47 When some of the bystanders heard it, they said, “This man is calling for Elijah.”

27:48 At once one of them ran and got a sponge, filled it with sour wine, put it on a stick, and gave it to him to drink.

27:49 But the others said, “Wait, let us see whether Elijah will come to save him.”

27:50 Then Jesus cried again with a loud voice and breathed his last.

27:51 At that moment the curtain of the temple was torn in two, from top to bottom. The earth shook, and the rocks were split.

27:52 The tombs also were opened, and many bodies of the saints who had fallen asleep were raised.

27:53 After his resurrection they came out of the tombs and entered the holy city and appeared to many.

27:54 Now when the centurion and those with him, who were keeping watch over Jesus, saw the earthquake and what took place, they were terrified and said, “Truly this man was God’s Son!”

27:55 Many women were also there, looking on from a distance; they had followed Jesus from Galilee and had provided for him.

27:56 Among them were Mary Magdalene, and Mary the mother of James and Joseph, and the mother of the sons of Zebedee.

27:57 When it was evening, there came a rich man from Arimathea, named Joseph, who was also a disciple of Jesus.

27:58 He went to Pilate and asked for the body of Jesus; then Pilate ordered it to be given to him.

27:59 So Joseph took the body and wrapped it in a clean linen cloth

27:60 and laid it in his own new tomb, which he had hewn in the rock. He then rolled a great stone to the door of the tomb and went away.

27:61 Mary Magdalene and the other Mary were there, sitting opposite the tomb.

27:62 The next day, that is, after the day of Preparation, the chief priests and the Pharisees gathered before Pilate

27:63 and said, “Sir, we remember what that impostor said while he was still alive, ‘After three days I will rise again.’

27:64 Therefore command the tomb to be made secure until the third day; otherwise his disciples may go and steal him away, and tell the people, ‘He has been raised from the dead,’ and the last deception would be worse than the first.”

27:65 Pilate said to them, “You have a guard of soldiers; go, make it as secure as you can.”

27:66 So they went with the guard and made the tomb secure by sealing the stone.

——————————————————————–

A few days ago, I learned something new about Palm Sunday.

At the same time as Jesus was entering Jerusalem, Pontius Pilate entered the city from the opposite side.

Dr Chris Perry has an excellent post on Palm Sunday, ‘Two Processions — Thoughts on Palm Sunday’, worth reading in full. I’ve never read anything like it, and it will give a new perspective on this bittersweet day in the earthly life of Jesus. Excerpts follow, emphases mine.

On the entries of Jesus and of Pilate he writes:

Jesus entered the city from the east, riding down from the Mount of Olives out of Bethany (which is exactly how the Messiah was supposed to come, from the east and the Mount of Olives and into the city). But, on the western side of the city Pontius Pilate rode into the city in full procession, riding a horse at the head of Roman imperial cavalry and soldiers. Pilate entered the city proclaiming the power of the Empire. Jesus’ procession proclaimed the Kingdom of God. Pilate’s military procession was a demonstration of both Roman imperial power and imperial theology. It was the standard practice of the Roman governors of Judea to be in Jerusalem during major festivals, not because they cared about their Jewish subjects, but to handle business in case of trouble. Pilate normally lived in Caesarea Maritima (Caesarea on the Sea) but he had brought his soldiers in to reinforce the Fortress Antonia.

Another important point is that the Roman emperor was deemed to be the son of (the) god (Apollo). Jesus is the Son of God. This produced tension and mockery at Jesus’s trial because they both made the same claims:

Other than Imperial power, Pilate was also making a show of Imperial theology. The emperor was not just viewed as the ruler of Rome, but also declared to be the son of god. It began with Augustus who ruled from 31 BC to 14 AD. His father was said to be the god Apollo. Inscriptions refer to him as son of god, lord, savior, and one who had “brought peace on earth.” His successors had continued to take on the divine titles

This procession was one of the primary pieces of evidence used against Jesus later in the week which forced Pilate to crucify Jesus. Without the procession, without the obvious references to kingship Jesus intentionally undertook, Pilate might not have gone through with it. Jesus chose the cross and maneuvered all of the pieces necessary to get him there. Jesus’ procession deliberately countered what was happening on the other side of the city. Pilate’s procession embodied the power, glory, and violence of the empire that ruled the world. Jesus brought an alternate vision of the Kingdom of God.

The people who cheered Jesus as He entered Jerusalem expected that He would be an earthly King of Israel who would save them from Roman rule. Jesus knew the people misunderstood the role of the Messiah:

Jesus knew everyone was completely missing the point. That’s why Luke 19:41-44 records Jesus weeping over Jerusalem. Here they have their Messiah in front of them, but they don’t recognize him for who he truly is.

Hence, the crowds turned on Him only a few days later and demanded that He be crucified.

Are we any better? We are Christians, however …

How often does God appear to us, speak to us, lead us, but we ignore it or turn away from him because it’s not what we want or expect God to do. We’re no better than the people of Jerusalem that day. God calls us to one thing but we want to do another and we get mad when God doesn’t act the way we want.

Finally, a note on the religious and political system in place in Jerusalem during that time. It was antithetical to God’s kingdom. Jesus came to prepare His fellow Jews to return to a sincere love and worship of God, but they refused to see it:

Jesus’ passion was not a protest against the Temple or animal sacrifice. Rather, his protest was against a domination system legitimated in the name of God, a system radically different from what the already present and coming Kingdom of God would be like. The domination system set up by the Temple priests and the Roman governors meant that rule was by a few, economic exploitation was commonplace, and there was religious legitimating of the system, basically saying if you’re against this you’re against God. So, it was not Jesus against Judaism, or vice-versa. It was a Jewish voice about what loyalty to God truly meant. And, as the Messiah, his is the decisive voice.

Most of us will be unable to attend church tomorrow because of coronavirus lockdowns around the world. I hope that Dr Perry’s historical insights help to explain the mystery of why so many people cheered Jesus on Sunday only to violently shout for His death on Friday.

May God bless everyone during Holy Week. As most of us are at home, let’s use the time wisely in contemplating our Lord’s Passion and death for our sins and our redemption.

What follows are the readings for the Fifth Sunday in Lent — Passion Sunday — March 29, 2020.

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

Traditionally, the Fifth Sunday in Lent — Passion Sunday — begins a two-week season called Passiontide, which encompasses Palm Sunday (next week) and Holy Week.

Some traditionalist churches cover crosses and images with dark or black cloth from this Sunday throughout most of Holy Week. Crosses and crucifixes can be uncovered after Good Friday services. Statues remain covered until the Easter Vigil Mass takes place on Holy Saturday.

Emphases below are mine.

First reading

Here we have the dramatic account of the Lord instructing Ezekiel to blow life into bones, which come back to life as His remnant of believers. This is one of the Bible’s best accounts of God’s omnipotence. This theme of resurrection is also seen in today’s Gospel reading, that of Christ’s raising Lazarus from the dead. The 20th century spiritual, Dem Bones, was inspired by this story and uses verse 4 in the refrain.

Ezekiel 37:1-14

37:1 The hand of the LORD came upon me, and he brought me out by the spirit of the LORD and set me down in the middle of a valley; it was full of bones.

37:2 He led me all around them; there were very many lying in the valley, and they were very dry.

37:3 He said to me, “Mortal, can these bones live?” I answered, “O Lord GOD, you know.”

37:4 Then he said to me, “Prophesy to these bones, and say to them: O dry bones, hear the word of the LORD.

37:5 Thus says the Lord GOD to these bones: I will cause breath to enter you, and you shall live.

37:6 I will lay sinews on you, and will cause flesh to come upon you, and cover you with skin, and put breath in you, and you shall live; and you shall know that I am the LORD.”

37:7 So I prophesied as I had been commanded; and as I prophesied, suddenly there was a noise, a rattling, and the bones came together, bone to its bone.

37:8 I looked, and there were sinews on them, and flesh had come upon them, and skin had covered them; but there was no breath in them.

37:9 Then he said to me, “Prophesy to the breath, prophesy, mortal, and say to the breath: Thus says the Lord GOD: Come from the four winds, O breath, and breathe upon these slain, that they may live.”

37:10 I prophesied as he commanded me, and the breath came into them, and they lived, and stood on their feet, a vast multitude.

37:11 Then he said to me, “Mortal, these bones are the whole house of Israel. They say, ‘Our bones are dried up, and our hope is lost; we are cut off completely.’

37:12 Therefore prophesy, and say to them, Thus says the Lord GOD: I am going to open your graves, and bring you up from your graves, O my people; and I will bring you back to the land of Israel.

37:13 And you shall know that I am the LORD, when I open your graves, and bring you up from your graves, O my people.

37:14 I will put my spirit within you, and you shall live, and I will place you on your own soil; then you shall know that I, the LORD, have spoken and will act,” says the LORD.

Psalm

This Psalm ties in well with the reading from Ezekiel. Many readers will recognise the first verse. Matthew Henry’s commentary says that this is a Psalm of the soul, expressing the desires of the penitent towards God: repentance, reconciliation, hope and redemption.

Psalm 130

130:1 Out of the depths I cry to you, O LORD.

130:2 Lord, hear my voice! Let your ears be attentive to the voice of my supplications!

130:3 If you, O LORD, should mark iniquities, Lord, who could stand?

130:4 But there is forgiveness with you, so that you may be revered.

130:5 I wait for the LORD, my soul waits, and in his word I hope;

130:6 my soul waits for the Lord more than those who watch for the morning, more than those who watch for the morning.

130:7 O Israel, hope in the LORD! For with the LORD there is steadfast love, and with him is great power to redeem.

130:8 It is he who will redeem Israel from all its iniquities.

Epistle

Matthew Henry says that these verses offer comfort and refreshment to the faithful, as Paul reminds the Romans — and us — that we received the Holy Spirit to turn us away from sin.

Romans 8:6-11

8:6 To set the mind on the flesh is death, but to set the mind on the Spirit is life and peace.

8:7 For this reason the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God; it does not submit to God’s law– indeed it cannot,

8:8 and those who are in the flesh cannot please God.

8:9 But you are not in the flesh; you are in the Spirit, since the Spirit of God dwells in you. Anyone who does not have the Spirit of Christ does not belong to him.

8:10 But if Christ is in you, though the body is dead because of sin, the Spirit is life because of righteousness.

8:11 If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, he who raised Christ from the dead will give life to your mortal bodies also through his Spirit that dwells in you.

Gospel

This is the marvellous account of Jesus’s raising Lazarus from the dead. This was His last miracle before His triumphal entrance into Jerusalem (Palm Sunday). It foretells His own Resurrection to come in the days afterwards. This ties in well with the aforementioned reading from Ezekiel.

John 11:1-45

11:1 Now a certain man was ill, Lazarus of Bethany, the village of Mary and her sister Martha.

11:2 Mary was the one who anointed the Lord with perfume and wiped his feet with her hair; her brother Lazarus was ill.

11:3 So the sisters sent a message to Jesus, “Lord, he whom you love is ill.”

11:4 But when Jesus heard it, he said, “This illness does not lead to death; rather it is for God’s glory, so that the Son of God may be glorified through it.”

11:5 Accordingly, though Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus,

11:6 after having heard that Lazarus was ill, he stayed two days longer in the place where he was.

11:7 Then after this he said to the disciples, “Let us go to Judea again.”

11:8 The disciples said to him, “Rabbi, the Jews were just now trying to stone you, and are you going there again?”

11:9 Jesus answered, “Are there not twelve hours of daylight? Those who walk during the day do not stumble, because they see the light of this world.

11:10 But those who walk at night stumble, because the light is not in them.”

11:11 After saying this, he told them, “Our friend Lazarus has fallen asleep, but I am going there to awaken him.”

11:12 The disciples said to him, “Lord, if he has fallen asleep, he will be all right.”

11:13 Jesus, however, had been speaking about his death, but they thought that he was referring merely to sleep.

11:14 Then Jesus told them plainly, “Lazarus is dead.

11:15 For your sake I am glad I was not there, so that you may believe. But let us go to him.”

11:16 Thomas, who was called the Twin, said to his fellow disciples, “Let us also go, that we may die with him.”

11:17 When Jesus arrived, he found that Lazarus had already been in the tomb four days.

11:18 Now Bethany was near Jerusalem, some two miles away,

11:19 and many of the Jews had come to Martha and Mary to console them about their brother.

11:20 When Martha heard that Jesus was coming, she went and met him, while Mary stayed at home.

11:21 Martha said to Jesus, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.

11:22 But even now I know that God will give you whatever you ask of him.”

11:23 Jesus said to her, “Your brother will rise again.”

11:24 Martha said to him, “I know that he will rise again in the resurrection on the last day.”

11:25 Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. Those who believe in me, even though they die, will live,

11:26 and everyone who lives and believes in me will never die. Do you believe this?”

11:27 She said to him, “Yes, Lord, I believe that you are the Messiah, the Son of God, the one coming into the world.”

11:28 When she had said this, she went back and called her sister Mary, and told her privately, “The Teacher is here and is calling for you.”

11:29 And when she heard it, she got up quickly and went to him.

11:30 Now Jesus had not yet come to the village, but was still at the place where Martha had met him.

11:31 The Jews who were with her in the house, consoling her, saw Mary get up quickly and go out. They followed her because they thought that she was going to the tomb to weep there.

11:32 When Mary came where Jesus was and saw him, she knelt at his feet and said to him, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.”

11:33 When Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who came with her also weeping, he was greatly disturbed in spirit and deeply moved.

11:34 He said, “Where have you laid him?” They said to him, “Lord, come and see.”

11:35 Jesus began to weep.

11:36 So the Jews said, “See how he loved him!”

11:37 But some of them said, “Could not he who opened the eyes of the blind man have kept this man from dying?”

11:38 Then Jesus, again greatly disturbed, came to the tomb. It was a cave, and a stone was lying against it.

11:39 Jesus said, “Take away the stone.” Martha, the sister of the dead man, said to him, “Lord, already there is a stench because he has been dead four days.”

11:40 Jesus said to her, “Did I not tell you that if you believed, you would see the glory of God?”

11:41 So they took away the stone. And Jesus looked upward and said, “Father, I thank you for having heard me.

11:42 I knew that you always hear me, but I have said this for the sake of the crowd standing here, so that they may believe that you sent me.”

11:43 When he had said this, he cried with a loud voice, “Lazarus, come out!”

11:44 The dead man came out, his hands and feet bound with strips of cloth, and his face wrapped in a cloth. Jesus said to them, “Unbind him, and let him go.”

11:45 Many of the Jews therefore, who had come with Mary and had seen what Jesus did, believed in him.

John’s Gospel is the only one that tells us about Jesus resurrecting Lazarus.

The King James Version has a superb rendering of verse 39. Once you read it, you will never forget it:

39 Jesus said, Take ye away the stone. Martha, the sister of him that was dead, saith unto him, Lord, by this time he stinketh: for he hath been dead four days.

As we are unable to attend church because of international coronavirus shutdowns, below is a brief exposition on today’s Gospel reading.

Last week, we read John’s account of Jesus curing the man who had been blind since birth.

Matthew Henry explains what Jesus meant when He said that the two men presented Him with the opportunity of glorifying God by curing the one and bringing back the other from the dead:

It was for the glory of God, for it was that the Son of God might be glorified thereby, as it gave him occasion to work that glorious miracle, the raising of him from the dead. As, before, the man was born blind that Christ might have the honour of curing him (John 9:3), so Lazarus must be sick and die, that Christ may be glorified as the Lord of life. Let this comfort those whom Christ loves under all their grievances that the design of them all is that the Son of God may be glorified thereby, his wisdom, power, and goodness, glorified in supporting and relieving them; see 2 Corinthians 12:9,10.

Jesus waited two days before visiting Mary and Martha to test their faith and patience, despite His love for them and Lazarus. A deferred visit made the raising of Lazarus to life that much more meaningful, not only to the three concerned but also to the Jews who were at their house.

Henry says:

If he had been there time enough, he would have healed his disease and prevented his death, which would have been much for the comfort of Lazarus’s friends, but then his disciples would have seen no further proof of his power than what they had often seen, and, consequently, their faith had received no improvement; but now that he went and raised him from the dead, as there were many brought to believe on him who before did no (John 11:45), so there was much done towards the perfecting of what was lacking in the faith of those that did, which Christ aimed at: To the intent that you may believe. [3.] He resolves now to go to Bethany, and take his disciples along with him: Let us go unto him. Not, “Let us go to his sisters, to comfort them” (which is the utmost we can do), but, Let us go to him; for Christ can show wonders to the dead. Death, which will separate us from all our other friends, and cut us off from correspondence with them, cannot separate us from the love of Christ, nor put us out of the reach of his calls; as he will maintain his covenant with the dust, so he can make visits to the dust …

Also:

Promised salvations, though they always come surely, yet often come slowly.

He was also returning to Judea, which was dangerous for Him. Nonetheless, He returned out of mercy, compassion and love for the three. Even more importantly, He took that risk to a) glorify God and b) bring others to believe that He is the Messiah.

Henry explains why Jesus used the word ‘sleep’ in referring to Lazarus, because the word refers to refreshing rest:

He calls the death of a believer a sleep: he sleepeth. It is good to call death by such names and titles as will help to make it more familiar and less formidable to us. The death of Lazarus was in a peculiar sense a sleep, as that of Jairus’s daughter, because he was to be raised again speedily; and, since we are sure to rise again at last, why should that make any great difference? And why should not the believing hope of that resurrection to eternal life make it as easy to us to put off the body and die as it is to put off our clothes and go to sleep? A good Christian, when he dies, does but sleep: he rests from the labours of the day past, and is refreshing himself for the next morning. Nay, herein death has the advantage of sleep, that sleep is only the parenthesis, but death is the period, of our cares and toils. The soul does not sleep, but becomes more active; but the body sleeps without any toss, without any terror; not distempered nor disturbed. The grave to the wicked is a prison, and its grave-clothes as the shackles of a criminal reserved for execution; but to the godly it is a bed, and all its bands as the soft and downy fetters of an easy quiet sleep. Though the body corrupt, it will rise in the morning as if it had never seen corruption; it is but putting off our clothes to be mended and trimmed up for the marriage day, the coronation day, to which we must rise. See Isaiah 57:2,1Th+4:14. The Greeks called their burying-places dormitories–koimeteria.

I will leave it there. Everlasting life is ours, my friends. Let us, therefore, prepare ourselves now — in this life — equipped with His infinite grace and the wisdom of the Holy Spirit, for the life to come.

The following are the readings for the Fourth Sunday in Lent — Laetare Sunday — March 22, 2020.

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

This Sunday is Mothering Sunday in the United Kingdom. Centuries ago, people returned to the church they worshipped in as youngsters and visited their mothers afterwards.

There was an ancient tradition of ‘clipping’ the church on this particular day, whereby the congregation would gather outside, hold hands and create a huge circle around the building. It was not only a group hug for Mother Church but also a symbol of protection by the faithful.

This is a joyful Sunday in Lent. The traditional Introit for Laetare Sunday includes the words

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

Traditionally, priests wore rose coloured vestments to denote that joy. Easter is nearing and we look forward to celebrating and worshipping the Risen Christ.

On the subject of roses, for over 1,000 years, the Catholic Church has commissioned expert goldsmiths to fashion a golden rose, which the Pope then gives to a distinguished Catholic of high social standing. I do not know what the present Pope does, but, in the past, some of these golden roses have been very elaborate; one was fashioned in the shape of a Jesse tree, which is appropriate, given today’s first reading.

You can read more about Laetare Sunday below:

Laetare Sunday, Mother’s Day and the Golden Rose

Laetare Sunday is Mothering Sunday

The splendid illustration of Lent in the following tweet must be British, as it includes Mothering Sunday. This comes from an Episcopal priest in the United States:

How sad that our churches are closed for public worship because of the coronavirus pandemic. Mothers will have a quiet day at home, as restaurants are also shut, except for takeaway service.

Emphases below are mine.

First reading

This is the marvellous story of Samuel’s divinely directed visit to Jesse in search of a future king. Jesse was reluctant to produce David, his youngest, who was tending sheep at the time. Matthew Henry’s commentary says: ‘Thus small are the beginnings of that great man’. This is an early ‘type’ of Jesus and the humble Holy Family.

1 Samuel 16:1-13

16:1 The LORD said to Samuel, “How long will you grieve over Saul? I have rejected him from being king over Israel. Fill your horn with oil and set out; I will send you to Jesse the Bethlehemite, for I have provided for myself a king among his sons.”

16:2 Samuel said, “How can I go? If Saul hears of it, he will kill me.” And the LORD said, “Take a heifer with you, and say, ‘I have come to sacrifice to the LORD.’

16:3 Invite Jesse to the sacrifice, and I will show you what you shall do; and you shall anoint for me the one whom I name to you.”

16:4 Samuel did what the LORD commanded, and came to Bethlehem. The elders of the city came to meet him trembling, and said, “Do you come peaceably?”

16:5 He said, “Peaceably; I have come to sacrifice to the LORD; sanctify yourselves and come with me to the sacrifice.” And he sanctified Jesse and his sons and invited them to the sacrifice.

16:6 When they came, he looked on Eliab and thought, “Surely the Lord’s anointed is now before the LORD.”

16:7 But the LORD said to Samuel, “Do not look on his appearance or on the height of his stature, because I have rejected him; for the LORD does not see as mortals see; they look on the outward appearance, but the LORD looks on the heart.

16:8 Then Jesse called Abinadab, and made him pass before Samuel. He said, “Neither has the LORD chosen this one.”

16:9 Then Jesse made Shammah pass by. And he said, “Neither has the LORD chosen this one.”

16:10 Jesse made seven of his sons pass before Samuel, and Samuel said to Jesse, “The LORD has not chosen any of these.”

16:11 Samuel said to Jesse, “Are all your sons here?” And he said, “There remains yet the youngest, but he is keeping the sheep.” And Samuel said to Jesse, “Send and bring him; for we will not sit down until he comes here.”

16:12 He sent and brought him in. Now he was ruddy, and had beautiful eyes, and was handsome. The LORD said, “Rise and anoint him; for this is the one.”

16:13 Then Samuel took the horn of oil, and anointed him in the presence of his brothers; and the spirit of the LORD came mightily upon David from that day forward. Samuel then set out and went to Ramah.

Psalm

This enduringly popular and comforting Psalm needs little introduction. David, a former shepherd, names God as his shepherd.

Psalm 23

23:1 The LORD is my shepherd, I shall not want.

23:2 He makes me lie down in green pastures; he leads me beside still waters;

23:3 he restores my soul. He leads me in right paths for his name’s sake.

23:4 Even though I walk through the darkest valley, I fear no evil; for you are with me; your rod and your staff– they comfort me.

23:5 You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies; you anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows.

23:6 Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life, and I shall dwell in the house of the LORD my whole life long.

Epistle

Paul encourages the Christians of Ephesus to seek the light of righteousness.

Ephesians 5:8-14

5:8 For once you were darkness, but now in the Lord you are light. Live as children of light

5:9 for the fruit of the light is found in all that is good and right and true.

5:10 Try to find out what is pleasing to the Lord.

5:11 Take no part in the unfruitful works of darkness, but instead expose them.

5:12 For it is shameful even to mention what such people do secretly;

5:13 but everything exposed by the light becomes visible,

5:14 for everything that becomes visible is light. Therefore it says, “Sleeper, awake! Rise from the dead, and Christ will shine on you.”

Gospel

This moving account from John’s Gospel tells the story of the blind man, whom Jesus cured. The Pharisees were angry that Jesus had mercy on this man during the Sabbath; some said He was not from God. They had blasphemed Him. Jesus told them that they were spiritually blind. Sadly, they remained that way until the bitter end.

John 9:1-41

9:1 As he walked along, he saw a man blind from birth.

9:2 His disciples asked him, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?”

9:3 Jesus answered, “Neither this man nor his parents sinned; he was born blind so that God’s works might be revealed in him.

9:4 We must work the works of him who sent me while it is day; night is coming when no one can work.

9:5 As long as I am in the world, I am the light of the world.”

9:6 When he had said this, he spat on the ground and made mud with the saliva and spread the mud on the man’s eyes,

9:7 saying to him, “Go, wash in the pool of Siloam” (which means Sent). Then he went and washed and came back able to see.

9:8 The neighbors and those who had seen him before as a beggar began to ask, “Is this not the man who used to sit and beg?”

9:9 Some were saying, “It is he.” Others were saying, “No, but it is someone like him.” He kept saying, “I am the man.”

9:10 But they kept asking him, “Then how were your eyes opened?”

9:11 He answered, “The man called Jesus made mud, spread it on my eyes, and said to me, ‘Go to Siloam and wash.’ Then I went and washed and received my sight.”

9:12 They said to him, “Where is he?” He said, “I do not know.”

9:13 They brought to the Pharisees the man who had formerly been blind.

9:14 Now it was a sabbath day when Jesus made the mud and opened his eyes.

9:15 Then the Pharisees also began to ask him how he had received his sight. He said to them, “He put mud on my eyes. Then I washed, and now I see.”

9:16 Some of the Pharisees said, “This man is not from God, for he does not observe the sabbath.” But others said, “How can a man who is a sinner perform such signs?” And they were divided.

9:17 So they said again to the blind man, “What do you say about him? It was your eyes he opened.” He said, “He is a prophet.”

9:18 The Jews did not believe that he had been blind and had received his sight until they called the parents of the man who had received his sight

9:19 and asked them, “Is this your son, who you say was born blind? How then does he now see?”

9:20 His parents answered, “We know that this is our son, and that he was born blind;

9:21 but we do not know how it is that now he sees, nor do we know who opened his eyes. Ask him; he is of age. He will speak for himself.”

9:22 His parents said this because they were afraid of the Jews; for the Jews had already agreed that anyone who confessed Jesus to be the Messiah would be put out of the synagogue.

9:23 Therefore his parents said, “He is of age; ask him.”

9:24 So for the second time they called the man who had been blind, and they said to him, “Give glory to God! We know that this man is a sinner.”

9:25 He answered, “I do not know whether he is a sinner. One thing I do know, that though I was blind, now I see.”

9:26 They said to him, “What did he do to you? How did he open your eyes?”

9:27 He answered them, “I have told you already, and you would not listen. Why do you want to hear it again? Do you also want to become his disciples?”

9:28 Then they reviled him, saying, “You are his disciple, but we are disciples of Moses.

9:29 We know that God has spoken to Moses, but as for this man, we do not know where he comes from.”

9:30 The man answered, “Here is an astonishing thing! You do not know where he comes from, and yet he opened my eyes.

9:31 We know that God does not listen to sinners, but he does listen to one who worships him and obeys his will.

9:32 Never since the world began has it been heard that anyone opened the eyes of a person born blind.

9:33 If this man were not from God, he could do nothing.”

9:34 They answered him, “You were born entirely in sins, and are you trying to teach us?” And they drove him out.

9:35 Jesus heard that they had driven him out, and when he found him, he said, “Do you believe in the Son of Man?”

9:36 He answered, “And who is he, sir? Tell me, so that I may believe in him.”

9:37 Jesus said to him, “You have seen him, and the one speaking with you is he.”

9:38 He said, “Lord, I believe.” And he worshiped him.

9:39 Jesus said, “I came into this world for judgment so that those who do not see may see, and those who do see may become blind.”

9:40 Some of the Pharisees near him heard this and said to him, “Surely we are not blind, are we?”

9:41 Jesus said to them, “If you were blind, you would not have sin. But now that you say, ‘We see,’ your sin remains.

What a powerful story.

Yet, who will hear a sermon today in this period of martial (France) or quasi-martial law (UK)? If you are among the deprived, Matthew Henry’s commentary on John 9 is excellent.

Below are the readings for the Third Sunday in Lent, March 15, 2020.

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

Faith and God-given water — for temporal as well as eternal life — are this week’s themes.

Emphases below are mine.

First reading

The Israelites were angry at not having any water. God told Moses what to do. This was God-given water for temporal life, yet was a precursor of the water for everlasting life that Jesus Christ brings (see Gospel reading below). In verse 7, Massah means temptation (of God, in this case) and Meribah means strife (quarrelling with Moses).

Exodus 17:1-7

17:1 From the wilderness of Sin the whole congregation of the Israelites journeyed by stages, as the LORD commanded. They camped at Rephidim, but there was no water for the people to drink.

17:2 The people quarreled with Moses, and said, “Give us water to drink.” Moses said to them, “Why do you quarrel with me? Why do you test the LORD?”

17:3 But the people thirsted there for water; and the people complained against Moses and said, “Why did you bring us out of Egypt, to kill us and our children and livestock with thirst?”

17:4 So Moses cried out to the LORD, “What shall I do with this people? They are almost ready to stone me.”

17:5 The LORD said to Moses, “Go on ahead of the people, and take some of the elders of Israel with you; take in your hand the staff with which you struck the Nile, and go.

17:6 I will be standing there in front of you on the rock at Horeb. Strike the rock, and water will come out of it, so that the people may drink.” Moses did so, in the sight of the elders of Israel.

17:7 He called the place Massah and Meribah, because the Israelites quarreled and tested the LORD, saying, “Is the LORD among us or not?”

Psalm

This Psalm encourages us to glorify God and not to test Him as the Israelites did in the wilderness, e.g. over water.

Psalm 95

95:1 O come, let us sing to the LORD; let us make a joyful noise to the rock of our salvation!

95:2 Let us come into his presence with thanksgiving; let us make a joyful noise to him with songs of praise!

95:3 For the LORD is a great God, and a great King above all gods.

95:4 In his hand are the depths of the earth; the heights of the mountains are his also.

95:5 The sea is his, for he made it, and the dry land, which his hands have formed.

95:6 O come, let us worship and bow down, let us kneel before the LORD, our Maker!

95:7 For he is our God, and we are the people of his pasture, and the sheep of his hand. O that today you would listen to his voice!

95:8 Do not harden your hearts, as at Meribah, as on the day at Massah in the wilderness,

95:9 when your ancestors tested me, and put me to the proof, though they had seen my work.

95:10 For forty years I loathed that generation and said, “They are a people whose hearts go astray, and they do not regard my ways.”

95:11 Therefore in my anger I swore, “They shall not enter my rest.”

Epistle

Paul gives us lessons on justification by faith through grace as well as endurance on our Christian journey.

Romans 5:1-11

5:1 Therefore, since we are justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ,

5:2 through whom we have obtained access to this grace in which we stand; and we boast in our hope of sharing the glory of God.

5:3 And not only that, but we also boast in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance,

5:4 and endurance produces character, and character produces hope,

5:5 and hope does not disappoint us, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us.

5:6 For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly.

5:7 Indeed, rarely will anyone die for a righteous person–though perhaps for a good person someone might actually dare to die.

5:8 But God proves his love for us in that while we still were sinners Christ died for us.

5:9 Much more surely then, now that we have been justified by his blood, will we be saved through him from the wrath of God.

5:10 For if while we were enemies, we were reconciled to God through the death of his Son, much more surely, having been reconciled, will we be saved by his life.

5:11 But more than that, we even boast in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation.

Gospel

This is John’s account of Jesus’s two-day stay in Samaria, which lay between Galilee to the north and Judea to the south. Samaria was considered the land of infidels, as over the centuries they had created a syncretic form of Judaism mixed with pagan beliefs, Assyrian customs from the days of captivity. This is the story of the living water that Jesus provides, the fulfilment of the temporal water that God gave the Israelites (see the first reading).

John 4:5-42

4:5 So he came to a Samaritan city called Sychar, near the plot of ground that Jacob had given to his son Joseph.

4:6 Jacob’s well was there, and Jesus, tired out by his journey, was sitting by the well. It was about noon.

4:7 A Samaritan woman came to draw water, and Jesus said to her, “Give me a drink.”

4:8 (His disciples had gone to the city to buy food.)

4:9 The Samaritan woman said to him, “How is it that you, a Jew, ask a drink of me, a woman of Samaria?” (Jews do not share things in common with Samaritans.)

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

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

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

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

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

4:15 The woman said to him, “Sir, give me this water, so that I may never be thirsty or have to keep coming here to draw water.”

4:16 Jesus said to her, “Go, call your husband, and come back.”

4:17 The woman answered him, “I have no husband.” Jesus said to her, “You are right in saying, ‘I have no husband’;

4:18 for you have had five husbands, and the one you have now is not your husband. What you have said is true!”

4:19 The woman said to him, “Sir, I see that you are a prophet.

4:20 Our ancestors worshiped on this mountain, but you say that the place where people must worship is in Jerusalem.”

4:21 Jesus said to her, “Woman, believe me, the hour is coming when you will worship the Father neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem.

4:22 You worship what you do not know; we worship what we know, for salvation is from the Jews.

4:23 But the hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father seeks such as these to worship him.

4:24 God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth.”

4:25 The woman said to him, “I know that Messiah is coming” (who is called Christ). “When he comes, he will proclaim all things to us.”

4:26 Jesus said to her, “I am he, the one who is speaking to you.”

4:27 Just then his disciples came. They were astonished that he was speaking with a woman, but no one said, “What do you want?” or, “Why are you speaking with her?”

4:28 Then the woman left her water jar and went back to the city. She said to the people,

4:29 “Come and see a man who told me everything I have ever done! He cannot be the Messiah, can he?”

4:30 They left the city and were on their way to him.

4:31 Meanwhile the disciples were urging him, “Rabbi, eat something.”

4:32 But he said to them, “I have food to eat that you do not know about.”

4:33 So the disciples said to one another, “Surely no one has brought him something to eat?”

4:34 Jesus said to them, “My food is to do the will of him who sent me and to complete his work.

4:35 Do you not say, ‘Four months more, then comes the harvest’? But I tell you, look around you, and see how the fields are ripe for harvesting.

4:36 The reaper is already receiving wages and is gathering fruit for eternal life, so that sower and reaper may rejoice together.

4:37 For here the saying holds true, ‘One sows and another reaps.’

4:38 I sent you to reap that for which you did not labor. Others have labored, and you have entered into their labor.”

4:39 Many Samaritans from that city believed in him because of the woman’s testimony, “He told me everything I have ever done.”

4:40 So when the Samaritans came to him, they asked him to stay with them; and he stayed there two days.

4:41 And many more believed because of his word.

4:42 They said to the woman, “It is no longer because of what you said that we believe, for we have heard for ourselves, and we know that this is truly the Savior of the world.”

It is instructive that Jesus told His disciples that the time for the harvest of souls was at that very time (verses 35, 36).

From that, we should learn that, when it comes to gathering souls for the Kingdom of God, it is always harvest time, and no one wastes a moment.

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