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The Tenth Sunday after Trinity is on August 21, 2002.

Readings for Year C can be found here.

The Gospel reading is as follows (emphases mine):

Luke 13:10-17

13:10 Now he was teaching in one of the synagogues on the sabbath.

13:11 And just then there appeared a woman with a spirit that had crippled her for eighteen years. She was bent over and was quite unable to stand up straight.

13:12 When Jesus saw her, he called her over and said, “Woman, you are set free from your ailment.”

13:13 When he laid his hands on her, immediately she stood up straight and began praising God.

13:14 But the leader of the synagogue, indignant because Jesus had cured on the sabbath, kept saying to the crowd, “There are six days on which work ought to be done; come on those days and be cured, and not on the sabbath day.”

13:15 But the Lord answered him and said, “You hypocrites! Does not each of you on the sabbath untie his ox or his donkey from the manger, and lead it away to give it water?

13:16 And ought not this woman, a daughter of Abraham whom Satan bound for eighteen long years, be set free from this bondage on the sabbath day?”

13:17 When he said this, all his opponents were put to shame; and the entire crowd was rejoicing at all the wonderful things that he was doing.

Commentary comes from Matthew Henry and John MacArthur.

Here we have an account about a bent over woman being made straight and bent theology that Jesus wanted to make straight.

Although neither of our commentators says so about this story, there was nearly always a spiritual element to our Lord’s miracles. For that reason, I think that Jesus healed her not only physically but spiritually, too, especially in light of the fact that a demon had caused her condition.

We are in the middle of Luke’s accounts of our Lord’s teaching the Apostles and disciples in the last six months of His ministry. These are in Luke 9 through much of Luke 19.

The Gospel writer does not tell us where this miracle took place other than in a synagogue where Jesus was teaching on the sabbath (verse 10).

Matthew Henry reminds us that Jesus often taught in a synagogue on the sabbath, therefore, we should not neglect public worship on Sundays:

We should make conscience of doing so, as we have opportunity, and not think we can spend the sabbath as well at home reading a good book; for religious assemblies are a divine institution

In our Lord’s era, synagogues were places of worship but, unlike today, they were not led by rabbis.

John MacArthur gives us the background:

A synagogue is not the temple.  It’s simply the word sunagōgēs in Greek.  It means “a meeting place,” a gathering place.  And there were many of them.  Some historians tell us that in the Galilee, which was less populated than the southern part of Israel, Judea, in the Galilee there were as many 240 or 250 different synagoguesAnd in Jesus’ ministry over a year in Galilee, He went all through Galilee preaching and teaching in the synagogue.  It was the perfect place to go to teach.  A synagogue, by the way, was called a house of instruction.  It wasn’t the temple.  That’s where you went for the national ceremonies.  That’s where you went to offer sacrifices.  Synagogues had no sacrifices.  They…They didn’t celebrate the Passover and the other feasts at the synagogue.  It was just a gathering place.

They had no pastor, no preacher, no reigning priest.  They had a lay board of elders and one of them was the ruler or the chairman of that board.  He was responsible to oversee it, but he was the layman.  It was a local gathering place for teaching the word of God, the Old Testament.  They came into existence out of the Babylonian captivity, you remember?  When the Jews were taken captive into Babylon, the time they were in Babylon, of course, they were separated from their house of worship, which was the temple. Before that, there was no such thing as a synagogue.

But while they were in captivity, they first, remember, were gathered together to hear Ezekiel.  Ezekiel came in one of the early deportations.  He gathered the people around and He talked about what was going on.  What God was doing in this time in Israel’s life and Ezekiel spoke to the captives, those who’d been deported and that sort of began the…the gathering of God’s people to hear the meaning of God’s wordAnd synagogues began to develop among the Jews in exileAnd when they went back under Nehemiah to rebuild the city and the temple, they took back the idea of the synagogue and they flourished.  In Jerusalem alone there were about 500 synagogues in just that one city.

And so this was a perfect scenario for the ministry of Jesus, one of God’s timing issues.  And when Jesus came, He could always find the Jewish people, the ones He wanted to reach with the truth of the kingdom gospel gathered on a Sabbath in a synagogue somewhere.  And that’s where He went, but synagogues were getting less and less receptive to Him, even though He was still, as verse 17 indicates, popular with the crowd, who were just kind of stunned by the power that He displayed in His miracles.  The synagogues were getting to be unwelcome and this is the last recorded experience of Jesus in a synagogueWe’re only months before His death.  This is the last recorded opportunity that He has to speak in a synagogue.

Suddenly, a woman appeared, bent over by an evil spirit and unable to stand upright (verse 11).

Matthew Henry describes how undignified and painful this must have been for her. Yet, it did not deter her from going to worship God:

She had an infirmity, which an evil spirit, by divine permission, had brought upon her, which was such that she was bowed together by strong convulsions, and could in no wise lift up herself; and, having been so long thus, the disease was incurable; she could not stand erect, which is reckoned man’s honour above the beasts. Observe, Though she was under this infirmity, by which she was much deformed, and made to look mean, and not only so, but, as is supposed, motion was very painful to her, yet she went to the synagogue on the sabbath day. Note, Even bodily infirmities, unless they be very grievous indeed, should not keep us from public worship on the sabbath days; for God can help us, beyond our expectation.

MacArthur says that she would have been an outcast, because the Jews believed that a physical malady was a divine judgement:

Believe me, this woman was an outcast. The Jews had the…the theological viewpoint that if this was the condition you were in, you were a bad person.

Remember the blind man in John 9, and who sinned, this man or his parents? Remember Job? All his friends said well, Job, you’ve done something wrong. There’s some sin in your life. You’re not coming clean, buddy. That’s why you got all the suffering. The basic view of theology was if you suffer, you’re being punished by God. So here was a woman, who for eighteen years, had been looked at and scorned. Here was a woman doubled over in a terrible position physically, perhaps a more a terrible position socially. And to boot, she’s a woman. And women belonged out of sight and in the back of the synagogue.

Henry says that she had her crippling condition ‘by divine permission’. MacArthur agrees that Jesus was meant to heal her in front of the people at that synagogue to point out the hypocrisy of the Jewish religion of that era:

Jesus was the master of the moment, the sovereign Lord of every event and He’s going to use this woman to intensify the conflict and to bring it out in bold relief

I don’t know how it was that she exposed herself to this demon or why this demon picked on her or why Satan did this to her at the front. I don’t know what the motive of hell was, but I do know that God allowed that to happen for this day.

From the very beginning in the synagogues, Jesus told the people and their local leaders who He was and that, in turn, enraged many:

And that’s why after they killed Him, the population of Jerusalem then went after the apostles, to stop this message. And what was it they hated about the message? Well, what they hated about the message was the indictment in it because it overturned their whole view. There are only two ways that you can believe you can come to God; either on the merits of Christ or on your own merits. It’s either by grace and grace alone or it’s by works or some mixture of grace and works. It’s only two things. There’s only two kinds of religion in the world. The religion of divine accomplishment, the religion of human achievement, Christianity, the true gospel is the religion of divine accomplishment: God does it all, you simply believe. Every other religious system in the world is a religion of human achievement. They were in human achievement. They had satisfied themselves with their own self-righteousness. They had self-esteem. They had all this pride about their religion, etc., etc., etc., and Jesus literally struck at the very heart of the system

And Jesus went everywhere preaching salvation and that’s synonymous with coming into the kingdom. Come into God’s kingdom. “I am the way, the truth, the life.” But you have to recognize that you’re not there now, that you’re in the devil’s kingdom. Well, that was just more than they could bear. They hated Him for that. And so He was teaching in the synagogue and you know what He was teaching. He was teaching about the kingdom. And it wasn’t a brutal kind of teaching. It was gracious. It was compassionate. It was loving. It was merciful. It offered them salvation, but at the same time, it confronted the phoniness of their system, and the false hopes of their self-righteous, legalistic hearts.

And so this obviously set up conflict. And wherever the truth is taught, it produces conflict if it’s taught in a place where error prevails.

When Jesus saw the lady, He called her over and told her she was ‘set free’ from her ailment (verse 12).

He laid His hands on her and, immediately, she stood up straight and began to praise God (verse 13).

Note the word ‘immediately’. When Jesus healed, it was instantaneous and all-encompassing. It was not gradual. For many years and for whatever reason, I was never sure if the healing was immediate or gradual. And I was going to church all that time.

MacArthur makes it very clear:

He always healed immediately. There’s no such thing as a lingering healing, a multiple phase healing. There’s no such thing as: I was healed and slowly, I’m getting better. He healed everything, everyone He wanted to heal, completely, instantaneously, and permanently. And it says immediately laying His hands upon her and saying what He said, she was made erect again.

Now, we’ll tell you this is more than just the casting out of a demon. Something had to happen to a spine to go up straight after 18 years in a bent position. You say whoa boy, after she was healed, she would need some serious therapy. Nobody healed by Jesus needs therapy, nobody. It’s contained in the deal. You bypass the therapy to the wholeness in the instant of the healing. All His miracles were like that.

MacArthur says of the woman and our Lord’s purpose:

Now all of a sudden she becomes the centerpiece of the whole day. And Jesus puts her front and center and makes her the focal point of everything. And I love this about Him. He… He reveals His utter indifference to their system of rank and status. He reveals His utter indifference to their perception of privilege. He reveals His complete indifference to their sense…sense of achievement. He had no affection for their honor system. He honors the outcast woman and He humiliates the ruler. He has no affection for their perverted Sabbath. And He supersedes their authority with His own. He has no interest in their self-righteousness, seeking to be elevated. And He elevates one they would seek to sweep away.

However, the leader of the synagogue was indignant because Jesus had cured someone on the sabbath, calling His merciful miracle ‘work’, telling the congregation that such things should be done on the other six days in the week (verse 14).

It sounds so cruel and so awful.

Henry points out that the leader did not dare to speak directly to Christ, so he addressed the congregation instead:

He had not indeed the impudence to quarrel with Christ; but he said to the people, reflecting upon Christ in what he said, There are six days in which men ought to work, in them therefore come and be healed, and not on the sabbath day. See here how light he made of the miracles Christ wrought, as if they were things of course, and no more than what quacks and mountebanks did every day: “You may come and be healed any day of the week.” Christ’s cures were become, in his eyes, cheap and common things. See also how he stretches the law beyond its intention, or any just construction that could be put upon it, in making either healing or being healed with a touch of the hand, or a word’s speaking, to be that work which is forbidden on the sabbath day. This was evidently the work of God; and, when God tied us out from working that day, did he tie himself out? The same word in Hebrew signifies both godly and merciful (chesed), to intimate that works of mercy and charity are in a manner works of piety (1 Tim 5 4) and therefore very proper on sabbath days.

MacArthur says:

the synagogue official, he was an establishment man and he was going to wield the club and he was going to make it as tough as he couldLegalists do that, you knowThey have little or no compassion for the suffering, and legalistic religion is harsh and brutal and merciless and loveless.  This is sort of the archetypal legalist.  He’s just seen a woman, a woman who needed mercy and compassion and tenderness and kindness, released.  You would have thought he would have joined in on the chorus and said let’s all stand and sing glory to God.  But Luke describes him with one word: synagogue official, indignant, aganakteō in the Greek text, intense displeasure.

They’ve broken the system.  That by the way is exactly how the system felt about Martin Luther and everybody else who violated the system: anger, displeasure. Jesus had already unmasked and confronted error that day.  He’d already unmasked and confronted the demon that day and now He was going to unmask false religion and boy He did. That’s the reaction of a man who has no heart, a man whose heart God has never changed. That’s not a godly reaction, because God is a God of compassion, is He not?  Do you ever ask why did Jesus come and heal?  Jesus could have done a lot of miracles to prove He was God.  He could have done anything, right?  He could have created a house.  He could have created a temple.  He could have created a mountain, could have caused the sea to disappear.  Could have spun up in the air and spun around like a helicopter and flown around and landed.

Could have done a lot of things to prove He was God.  What did He do?  He healed people and He healed and basically banished illness from Israel.  Why?  Because He was not only showing divine power, but He was showing the heart of God as a heart of what?  Compassion.  But this is compassionless legalism.  They make people suffer. 

Jesus rebuked the leader and the congregation, calling them hypocrites and asking them whether they untie their ox or donkey on the sabbath in order for the beasts to get their water (verse 15).

MacArthur says:

Well, He got them, because they did that.

In fact, in the Mishnah, the codification of Jewish rabbinic law, it prescribes that you can do that. You can take your animal if you put no burden on his back and lead him to water or to eat. It even gives you a maximum of 200 cubits that you can go. And they even have some prescription about how wide the well is so you can see how they encumbered these things. But it was perfectly fine to do that. You phonies!

And by the way, this isn’t the first time He said this or the last. Calling them hypocrites was pretty routine because that’s what they are and all advocates of false religion are hypocrites. They don’t know God. They don’t know the truth. They are really the tools of Satan. It’s a terrible thing to say, but it’s the truth. You’re a phony, He said.

Jesus then asked why the woman, one of their own — ‘a daughter of Abraham’ — should be prevented from being set free from her bondage on the sabbath (verse 16).

MacArthur says that Jesus used a Jewish reasoning method:

Verse 16, “And this woman, a daughter of Abraham, as she is,” a Jewess, He says the same thing in Luke 19 about Zaccheus, a son of Abraham. It means a Jew or Jewess. “She’s one of your own people.” This is not a Gentile. “This woman, a daughter of Abraham, as she is, whom Satan has bound for eighteen long years,” Jesus says, emphasizing the terrible duration of this suffering, “should she not have been released from this bond on the Sabbath day?”

He takes the opposite view. This is the perfect day to do this, set her free. This is the best day to do that. And by what category was this work? What was the work? Jesus saying, “Woman you are freed from this weakness”? Or was the work her standing up? What was the work? It’s a very common way for the Jews to reason all through the New Testament from the lesser to the greater, from the animal to the woman, from bound for eighteen years to being released from being tied up to being freed. This was a great moment in the life of that woman.

When Jesus spoke those words, the leader and those who agreed with him were put to shame and the entire crowd rejoiced at all the marvellous things that Jesus was doing (verse 17).

MacArthur analyses the two responses — shame from one quarter and rejoicing from the other:

Verse 17 sums up the result.  “And as He said this, all His opponents were being humiliated.”  Boy they hated that.  What could they say?  They were dead in their tracks.  The people knew what could be done on the Sabbath.  Believe me they knew it well and they knew that they…they watered and fed their animals on the Sabbath.  They knew that.  And I’m sure they were trying to figure out where was the work here.  They had been unmasked.  They had been stripped.  Their pretense had been uncovered.  They looked like fools.  They were… They were put to shame.  That’s a compound verb, kataischunō, they were fully shamed, publicly; both that ruler and all who agreed with him, called the opponents of Jesus.  They were all shamed.  They were all humiliated. Now they weren’t humbled in the righteous sense.  They didn’t become penitent and say wow, I am a hypocrite.  I need to deal with this.  I…maybe this is Son of God.  Not that.  All this did was make them more angry and more bent on getting Jesus out of the picture.

But there was another response.  Look at the rest of verse 17, the entire multitude, those left “was rejoicing over all the glorious things being done by Him.”  They were just absolutely blown away by what was happening.  And I’m sure some of them who were there were already the followers of Jesus.  Some may have been believers in Him.  But this is their typical response.  Back in Chapter 9, verse 43, they were all amazed at the greatness of God.  Everyone was marveling at all that He was doing. I mean, that was pretty much the typical response.  They were just stunned and floored by it.  It doesn’t necessarily mean that they put their full trust in Christ.  We could wish that that were true.  Some did.  Chapter 16, verse 16, some were pressing into the kingdom.  And it is true in verse 31 of chapter 13, look at that, verse 31 of chapter 13, some of the Pharisees actually came to Jesus and told Him to go away and depart for Herod wants to kill you.  There may have been some among the Pharisees who were beginning to see the light.

MacArthur reminds us that Jesus preached only about the kingdom of God, not social or political issues:

He always preached the kingdom. Thirty-one times in the book of Luke the kingdom of God is mentioned. And even after His resurrection, before His ascension and the forty days it says He spoke to them things pertaining to the kingdom of God. It was always about God’s kingdom, how to become a part of His kingdom, by confessing Jesus as Lord, Messiah, Savior.

He also raised — and will continue to raise — the lowly, like this woman:

The Lord passes by the religious and self-righteous, passes by those that say and think they’re good, passes by the religious leaders, and the Lord chooses the lowest of the low. One who would have been deemed to have been a sinner of some massive proportions to have suffered such a fate. He ignores the proud and He chooses the humble. The Lord sovereignly chooses. The Lord sovereignly delivers. The Lord sovereignly straightens up the one who is bent over. The Lord sovereignly produces praise.

This woman then is a picture of the sovereign work of the Lord in salvation, a picture of the enslaved, oppressed sinner under the burden and bondage of Satan, hiding in the shadows, aware every moment of suffering the weight and the burden of sin hopeless, robbed of dignity, bent over like an animal, the image of God defaced. So is the picture of the sinner shuffling one day into the presence of God to hear the word of God. She is met by the Lord and He out of His sovereign love delivers her, straightens her up. This is the picture of the work of God in salvation. God offers salvation to the outcast, the humbled, those bent over by the weight of sin, who will come and hear Him and He will turn them into true worshipers and He bypasses the curious and the self-righteous.

May all reading this have a blessed Sunday.

The First Sunday after Trinity is June 19, 2022.

Readings for Year C can be found here.

The Gospel reading is as follows (emphases mine):

Luke 8:26-39

8:26 Then they arrived at the country of the Gerasenes, which is opposite Galilee.

8:27 As he stepped out on land, a man of the city who had demons met him. For a long time he had worn no clothes, and he did not live in a house but in the tombs.

8:28 When he saw Jesus, he fell down before him and shouted at the top of his voice, “What have you to do with me, Jesus, Son of the Most High God? I beg you, do not torment me”

8:29 for Jesus had commanded the unclean spirit to come out of the man. (For many times it had seized him; he was kept under guard and bound with chains and shackles, but he would break the bonds and be driven by the demon into the wilds.)

8:30 Jesus then asked him, “What is your name?” He said, “Legion”; for many demons had entered him.

8:31 They begged him not to order them to go back into the abyss.

8:32 Now there on the hillside a large herd of swine was feeding; and the demons begged Jesus to let them enter these. So he gave them permission.

8:33 Then the demons came out of the man and entered the swine, and the herd rushed down the steep bank into the lake and was drowned.

8:34 When the swineherds saw what had happened, they ran off and told it in the city and in the country.

8:35 Then people came out to see what had happened, and when they came to Jesus, they found the man from whom the demons had gone sitting at the feet of Jesus, clothed and in his right mind. And they were afraid.

8:36 Those who had seen it told them how the one who had been possessed by demons had been healed.

8:37 Then all the people of the surrounding country of the Gerasenes asked Jesus to leave them; for they were seized with great fear. So he got into the boat and returned.

8:38 The man from whom the demons had gone begged that he might be with him; but Jesus sent him away, saying,

8:39 “Return to your home, and declare how much God has done for you.” So he went away, proclaiming throughout the city how much Jesus had done for him.

Commentary comes from Matthew Henry and John MacArthur.

This is the famous story of the Gadarene Swine, covered in the three Synoptic Gospels, Matthew, Mark and Luke.

I wrote about Matthew’s version in Forbidden Bible Verses and also in my Apologetics Corner series, here and here.

In Luke 8, just before this tremendous episode, Jesus had calmed a sea storm. The disciples had been terrified by its power. Jesus rebuked them for having such little faith.

Matthew Henry’s commentary states:

5. Christ’s business is to lay storms, as it is Satan’s business to raise them. He can do it; he has done it; he delights to do it: for he came to proclaim peace on earth. He rebuked the wind and the raging of the water, and immediately they ceased (v. 24); not, as at other times, by degrees, but all of a sudden, there was a great calm. Thus Christ showed that, though the devil pretends to be the prince of the power of the air, yet even there he has him in a chain.

6. When our dangers are over, it becomes us to take to ourselves the shame of our own fears and to give to Christ the glory of his power. When Christ had turned the storm into a calm, then were they glad because they were quiet, Ps 107 30. And then, (1.) Christ gives them a rebuke for their inordinate fear: Where is your faith? v. 25. Note, Many that have true faith have it to seek when they have occasion to use it. They tremble, and are discouraged, if second causes frown upon them. A little thing disheartens them; and where is their faith then? (2.) They give him the glory of his power: They, being afraid, wondered. Those that had feared the storm, now that the danger was over with good reason feared him that had stilled it, and said one to another, What manner of man is this! They might as well have said, Who is a God like unto thee? For it is God’s prerogative to still the noise of the seas, the noise of their waves, Ps 65 7.

Henry introduces our Gospel reading:

II. His power over the devil, the prince of the power of the air. In the next passage of story he comes into a closer grapple with him than he did when he commanded the winds. Presently after the winds were stilled they were brought to their desired haven, and arrived at the country of the Gadarenes, and there went ashore (v. 26, 27); and he soon met with that which was his business over, and which he thought it worth his while to go through a storm to accomplish.

Luke tells us that the country of the Gerasenes is opposite Galilee (verse 26).

John MacArthur describes the scene for us:

Starting in verse 26, they sailed, remember now, the storm was stilled by Jesus, they finished their little trip across the north section of the lake, the Sea of Galilee, really seeking some rest from the huge crowds that just literally never left Jesus alone. Jesus had gotten in a boat with the apostles and disciples. There were a lot of other boats. There was a little flotilla of followers of Jesus going away for some rest and perhaps some private instruction. Jesus, remember now, from this point on in His ministry in Galilee spoke only in parables and only to His own disciples did He explain their meaning so there was always a public meeting and then a private meeting when the explanation was given. So off they went following Jesus on a clear night only to find that a storm came up. Jesus stilled the storm. It had blown them off course so they have to sort of regroup, head the direction they need to go and they arrive there probably just at daybreak, sailing to the country of the Gerasenes which is opposite Galilee. It’s opposite the Galilee which had to do primarily with the western part, the western shore of the Sea of Galilee. So they’re across on the eastern shore to the country of the Gerasenes.

I just need to comment on that. Luke and Mark use Gerasenes. Matthew calls them Gadarenes. Some Greek texts use Gergesenes. I don’t want to get into a big convoluted explanation of all of that. I think it’s relatively simple. There was a town there about six miles due east called Gerasa, or Gergesa, hence the Gerasenes, or the Gergesenes. The modern name is Kersa. There was another town called Gadara which explains why some of the writers refer to it as Gadara. Gadara was further south down the lake and further inland. It wasn’t on the edge of the lake and so it doesn’t provide the right topography to be the place where the pigs ran down the hill into the lake. Gadara, however, was a larger town and gave the name to the region, so that Gerasa or Gergesa was a town in the country of the Gadarenes. So, all of these terms essentially describe the same area. The focus is on the town of Gergesa or Gerasa because it suits the incident so perfectly. There are around Kersa, modern Kersa, in the hillsides many tombs still to this day to be seen and there is a slope that descends to the lake where the pigs could run…tombs being the place where this man was dwelling.

MacArthur says that the demons Jesus encountered during His ministry were unusual in both the Old and New Testaments:

It is a curiosity to me that if you go through the Old Testament you’re not going to find demon-possessed people with the exception of the very unique situation in the 6th chapter of Genesis where the sons of God and cohabitated with the daughters of men, that unique situation where apparently some fallen angels came upon some women. Apart from that… And those demons, you remember, according to what Peter said and Jude said were put into everlasting chains for doing that. But apart from that you don’t have any demon-possessed people in the Old TestamentYou have a lying spirit, you have the appearance of a medium in connection with the demon, but you don’t have people manifesting that they’re full of demons.  Interestingly enough that after the four gospels you only have two occasions, Acts 16 and Acts 19, where you have a demon-possessed situationAnd it’s never even referred to in the epistles of the New Testament, never referred toIt wasn’t an issue in the churches to which the apostle Paul wrote, or John wrote, or Jude wrote, or Peter wrote or James wroteBut in the life of Christ and in the three years of His ministry there is a manifestation of demon possessions that is unlike anything in all of human history, to be exceeded only by the manifestation of demonic power in the time yet to come called the Great Tribulation, just prior to Christ’s Second ComingAnd God Himself will aide that manifestation by opening up the pit of hell and the place of bound demons called the pit, the bottomless pit, the abussos, the abyss and letting it belch out some demons who have been bound there so that there is a greater force of demons in the time of the tribulation than ever before and they are allowed to run rampant over the earth in ways prior to which they have been restrained.

At His Second Coming, Jesus will subdue Satan and his angels.

Returning to our text, when Jesus reached land, a demon-possessed man from the city went to meet Him. It had been a long time since the man wore clothes; he lived not in his house but in the tombs (verse 27).

Students of the Gospels will ask whether there was one man or two.

MacArthur says:

In Matthew 8:28 Matthew says there were two men. There were two men.  He had a compatriot, perhaps equally demon possessed and equally bizarre, and equally deadly and dangerous. But in all the accounts, the one man becomes the focus, so we really don’t know what happened to the second man.  Two of them appeared. The focus of the story is on one man.  Perhaps he was included in the deliverance, perhaps he was not.

MacArthur says the man was naked because he was possessed by these many demons and was far removed from his right mind:

I like to think of this man, I guess the best word I can think of to use is maniac. The definition of maniac is a person exhibiting extreme symptoms of wild behavior. And that’s exactly what you have here. This man is so out of control as not to even be defined in human terms. It’s just so bizarre, so far beyond … Here we’re going to see the greatest exhibition of power over the forces of hell to this point in Scripture. Jesus vanquishes this mass of demons in this horrific individual

Anybody without Christ then is under the rule of Satan and under the influence of his demons and therefore anybody who is a sinner who is not protected by salvation through Jesus Christ is therefore vulnerable. What the entry points are, I’m not sure I can be explicit about in every case. I can say this, that as you study the Scripture, idolatry seems to be a way to throw the door open. Tampering in the occult seems to be a way to throw the door open. But that is not so say the most tormented people were necessarily the worst sinners. This is a Gentile man outside of Israel, so he was involved, if in any religion at all, in some pagan religion. It may have been, as most of them were occultic, and that may have thrown the door open to him, but he’s not any worse. In fact, as the story ends, the people who are the worst people in the story are the townspeople who were sane enough to bind this man up but not willing to believe in the man who delivered him, the God-Man Jesus Christ. So who is really the maniac?

I don’t know that there’s any way to say except that God allows Satan to do his work and demons have their agenda. And within God’s allowance, they pick and choose who they will. It isn’t that these people are worse sinners because what happens to them is not just an expression of their evil heart; it is for them a demonic torment. This man wasn’t happy about his condition, he was tormented by it

Now the person is not necessarily more evil and that gives entrance to the demon, but once the demons come in then evil becomes accelerated. Evil becomes manifest in some cases beyond what can even be discussed or described or understood humanly. They can become so infested by demons, so literally dominated by forces of unclean spirits as to conduct themselves in ways as we’ve been pointing out, that are absolutely beyond description humanly. And that’s this man. Let’s look at some of the characteristics of his conduct.

First of all, it says he hadn’t put on any clothing for a long time. You say, “Well that’s really strange. What’s that about?” Well it’s about perversion. It’s about shamelessness. You remember in the 19th chapter of Acts, I think it’s about verse 16, the evil spirit there pounces on these people and strips off their clothes? From the time that Adam and Eve sinned there has been a shame associated with human nakedness because from the time of their sin on they had lustful and perverted thoughts. And they knew that. And immediately the first thing they did was make coverings. But theirs was only temporarily made out of leaves. God came, killed an animal which is a picture of His Son who had become the final covering, and He covered them with a more permanent garment. And from then on uncovering someone’s nakedness was tantamount to sexual evil. That little phrase “uncovering someone’s nakedness,” you find it in the Pentateuch. It’s tantamount to sexual perversion and evil. The Bible is very clear about clothing and about modesty and about covering. Nakedness is a sign of shamelessness. It is a sign of sexual perversion. I’m talking all the way from the naturalists at the nudist colony to the pornographers at the other end and everything in between. It’s aberrant. But not only was it aberrant, it was also a torment for the man. It gets cold and it gets hot and there are extremes of weather in that part of the world. This was a kind of torment for him as the demons had dominated him and turned him into a shameless, perverted, evil person …

Now it says he was not living in a house but he was living in tombs. Obviously you couldn’t have somebody like this in a house. What would we do with him today? What would we do with somebody like him? We’d put him in prison, right? We’d put him in prison and then you have to isolate him so they can’t get near anybody, or put him in a padded cell. I remember some years back when people who behaved like this were put in straight-jackets. Remember that? I’ve seen people in those things in mental institutions. Now today what is done with people who have this kind of potentiality is they put them on drugs and when they slaughter a bunch of people, such as the Andrea Yates thing, we say the problem was, “She didn’t take her medication.” Demons can’t be medicated but since the human body can be medicated, it becomes less useful to them when it’s medicated. But in those days they couldn’t control them with medication. They didn’t have a mental institution to put them in. They didn’t have a padded cell to put them in.

Furthermore, he was suicidal.  He was a danger to himself.  Mark 5:5 says, “Night and day he was gashing and hacking at his naked body with sharp stones.”  He was mutilating himself because Satan is a murderer, is he not?  He is a killer.  He is an abaddon, he is a destroyer.  And his demons are the same.  Here is a man literally taking sharp rocks and gashing his body.  Mark 5:3 and 4 says nobody could control him. The demon power was too great.  He was violent and he was not only harmful to himself but he frankly was absolutely deadly to other people because he had murderous intentIn the account in Matthew it says he along with his friend, the two of them, were so exceedingly violent that no one could pass by the road.  You couldn’t even walk along the road below where they were because they were so violent they would come screaming down the hill.  It says they would scream, they would shriek, run down the hill nakedness with the intention of doing harm, taking life.  They are really the most manifest bearers of the mark of satanic personality.  They would then stay up in their tombs, as we’ll see, and when people came on the road, screaming and shrieking in nakedness they would run down the hill with the intent to attack, to maim and to kill.  This is what Satan wants to do.

When the man saw Jesus, his demons spoke through him, saying to our Lord, ‘What business do you have with me, Jesus, Son of the Most High God? I beg You, do not torment me’ (verse 28).

Note that even demons recognise that Jesus is Lord. Put that to your atheist and agnostic friends sometime. See how they react.

Demons know that they are living on borrowed time. One day, Jesus, through the power of God, will defeat them permanently.

Henry explains:

4. They are much enraged against our Lord Jesus, and have a great dread and horror of him: When the man whom they had possession of, and who spoke as they would have him, saw Jesus, he roared out as one in an agony, and fell down before him, to deprecate his wrath, and owned him to be the Son of God most high, that was infinitely above him and too hard for him; but protested against having any league or confederacy with him (which might sufficiently have silenced the blasphemous cavils of the scribes and Pharisees): What have I to do with thee? The devils have neither inclination to do service to Christ nor expectation to receive benefit by him: What have we to do with thee? But they dreaded his power and wrath: I beseech thee, torment me not. They do not say, I beseech thee, save me, but only, Torment me not. See whose language they speak that have only a dread of hell as a place of torment, but no desire of heaven as a place of holiness and love.

5. They are perfectly at the command, and under the power, of our Lord Jesus; and they knew it, for they besought him that he would not command them to go eis ton abyssoninto the deep, the place of their torment, which they acknowledge he could easily and justly do. O what a comfort is this to the Lord’s people, that all the powers of darkness are under the check and control of the Lord Jesus! He has them all in a chain. He can send them to their own place, when he pleaseth.

MacArthur tells us:

“What do I have to do with You, Jesus, Son of the Most High God?”  I’m telling you, the demons’ theology is orthodox. They know who Jesus is.  There were disciples there who weren’t sure.  The demons know.  It is a strange and bizarre testimony to the reality of who Jesus Christ is.  “What do I have to do with You, Jesus, Son of the Most High God?”  It’s very much like that other demon in the 4th chapter who said essentially the same thing.  In chapter 4 the demon said, “What do we have to do with You, Jesus of Nazareth. I know who You are, the Holy One of God.”  And here in an amazing way God gives testimony to the identity of His Son through demons, amazing.

By the way, they are timeless, they are ageless.  They were created at one time. They do not reproduce. They are as old as creation.  They have vast knowledge. They were originally holy angelsThey have vast knowledge of the personality of God and the Godhead, and they knew exactly who Jesus was.

“What do I have to do with You, Jesus?  What’s this all about?”  As if to say, “Why are You here?  What’s this about?  I beg You, do not torment me.”  He calls Him, “Son of the Most High God.”  We’ve discussed that term because it was used in chapter 1. When the angel came to announce the birth of the Messiah, he said He would be the Son of the Most High God and God would give to Him His kingdom.  It’s a New Testament term taken from the Old Testament. The Most High God is El Elyon. It means “God, the sovereign one, God the sovereign Lord.” And so what they’re saying is, “Son of the sovereign Lord.”  Often in the Old Testament “the Most High God” is followed by the statement, “possessor of heaven and earth.”  They know this is the Lord of heaven and earth. This is the Creator God in human form.  This is God the Son, the One who is Most High.  The demons knew Him well.  Even Satan knew Him well.  Remember back in chapter 4 when Satan confronted Him, he said, “Since You are the Son of God,” do this, do this.  Since You are the Son of God do this, do this.  The devils know exactly who He is.

The demons had said that to Jesus because He commanded them to leave the man; the unclean spirit they made up within him caused him to break his shackles, which the townspeople had put him in, and go out into the wilderness, or the desert, in some translations (verse 29).

Jesus asked the man for his name, and the demons replied through him, ‘Legion’, for they were many (verse 30).

The demons numbered themselves as soldiers in the Roman Empire. The size of a Roman legion varied throughout the centuries, but, much of the time, there were more than 3,000 men in a single legion.

How this poor man must have suffered through the years, day after day. It’s horrible.

Because they knew the power of Jesus, they begged Him not to send them to the abyss, where they are eventually doomed in defeat (verse 31).

Their destiny is ultimately under our Lord’s control at all times. Note that they had to ask His permission not to go into the abyss.

On the hillside, a herd of swine were feeding, so the demons begged — yes, begged — His permission to enter them; Jesus granted them permission (verse 32).

MacArthur says:

they didn’t want Him to send them, verse 31, to the abyss, to the abussos, the bottomless pit. It’s called the bottomless pit in the book of Revelation, you read about it in chapter 9, chapter 11, chapter 17. “Don’t send us into the abyss.” That is the present place of demon incarceration. As many demons as there are in the world, thankfully by the goodness of God, His providential common grace, not all the demons that exist are running loose in the world. In fact, 2 Peter 2:4 and Jude 6 and 7, both those places tell us that the demons that possess the people described in Genesis 6 were at that time put in everlasting chains and sent to that bottomless pit from which they will never be released. So there are eternally, or permanently bound demons, ultimately in the end they will all go to the final incarceration in the lake of fire. But there are today bound demons who are bound permanently. Also in this abussos, this bottomless pit there are some demons bound temporarily because in the ninth chapter of Revelation we find in the time of the Great Tribulation to come, God’s going to open up that bit and belching out of that pit are going to come forth some demons to add to the demon force that runs amuck on the earth during the time of the Great Tribulation when Satan has his final heyday under Antichrist. But there is a place where many of the demons are currently incarcerated so that their power is in some way limited in the world. These demons say, “We don’t want to go there before the time. Don’t send us there yet, we want our freedom. Please don’t send us there.”

Henry’s commentary raises an interesting point about the herd owners’ loss of an occupation:

When the devil at first brought man into a miserable state he brought a curse likewise upon the whole creation, and that became subject to enmity. And here, as an instance of that extensive enmity of his, when he could not destroy the man, he would destroy the swine. If he could not hurt them in their bodies, he would hurt them in their goods, which sometimes prove a great temptation to men to draw them from Christ, as here. Christ suffered them to enter into the swine, to convince the country what mischief the devil could do in it, if he should suffer him.

Therefore, this was a demonstration that the demons affected not only the poor man, but others in that town, who probably were a bit sanctimonious about themselves with regard to his plight.

The demons left the man and entered the swine, then the whole herd rushed down the steep bank into the lake, where they all drowned (verse 33).

Henry says:

No sooner had the devils leave than they entered into the swine; and no sooner had they entered into them than the herd ran violently down a steep place into the lake, and were drowned. For it is a miracle of mercy if those whom Satan possesses are not brought to destruction and perdition.

When the swineherds saw what had happened, they ran into the city and adjoining countryside to tell everyone (verse 34).

It was an extraordinary event, as MacArthur explains:

Two thousand pigs careening down a hill, drowning? By the way, from what I’ve read, pigs can swim. But the point was, the demons slaughtered them all. Why? Well, first of all, to show that the man had been delivered, visual, physical proof. Secondly, to reveal the deadly intent of demons to kill. Also, as I said, to reveal the power of Jesus over the kingdom of darkness. That was a tremendous and dramatic illustration that this man had been delivered because the pigs acted in the kind of frenzy and self-destruction that characterized the man. They became maniac pigs. The testimony is convincing. This man definitely had demons. They’re gone because the pigs are behaving like the man did.

And that’s what people concluded. Verse 34, “When the herdsmen saw what had happened, they ran away and reported in the city and out in the country.” They were eyewitnesses. Whoever was working for the owner of the pigs, these men who were taking care of 2,000 pigs, they saw what happened, they reported it in the city and out in the country. The bottom line is it’s another way to say they couldn’t stop talking about it. Everywhere they went they...I mean, they had never seen anything like this in their entire lives, they were probably experienced with pigs and pigs don’t just uniformly all at once dive off a cliff and kill themselves. The most powerful, startling, amazing event of their lives by far and they spread it everywhere. They can’t stop talking about it, everywhere they went they said, “It…it’s inexplicable.” They heard the conversation between Jesus and the man, at least they saw the conversation going on because it says the pigs were nearby. They knew about this man, if they herded pigs in that area they knew about that man, they knew about the maniacal character of that man. And all of a sudden this thing takes place and it’s just the most amazing thing ever. And so they become heralds, as it were, telling everybody about it.

Naturally, people began coming to the site where this had happened, and they saw Jesus, with the now fully restored man, also fully clothed, sitting at His feet; they were afraid (verse 35).

MacArthur brings us back to the terror that people felt when Jesus performed other miracles and calmed storms. They instinctively knew that they were in the presence of the Most High God, and they were ashamed of their own weaknesses, especially their sins:

Well the reaction at the end of verse 35, “They became frightened,” from the word phobeo from which we get phobia. They were terrified is basically what it was. Here again we see the same thing. We see it all the way through the gospel of Luke, people who realize they’re in the presence of the power of God are scared, frightened, traumatized, terrified. And it is so throughout particularly this chapter, back in verse 25 when Jesus stilled the storm, stopped the wind and the waves. It says they were fearful, they were frightened there, they were panicked there. We see it throughout the rest of the chapter as we will note later that people are literally terrified every time Jesus does a miracle, whether it’s a healing or the raising of a dead person, it creates a certain amount of terror in people because they know they’re in the presence of the power of God and that is a holy presence and they are sinful people.

That leads us then to the third power demonstrated here, the damning power of sin…the damning power of sin. The demons exert a power, the Lord Jesus brings His great delivering power, but we also see the terrible damning power of sin. It is the nature of sin to blind. It is the nature of sin to hate the truth. It is the nature of sin to reject proof. It is the nature of sin to resist righteousness. It is the nature of sin to cling tightly to the love of iniquity. Here you have irrefutable evidence that Jesus is the power of God. Here you have a miracle that is so massive that demonstrates not His power over the physical realm, but His power over the supernatural realm, His power over the spiritual world, His power over the forces of evil, to deliver men from evil. You see this without any argument, without any debate. They don’t discuss it. They don’t debate it. They know what has happened. It terrifies them.

Those who had seen the miracle told these people how Jesus had healed the man (verse 36).

Interestingly, instead of thanking Jesus for restoring local peace at long last and inviting Him to stay, they all told Him to leave; they were that frightened. So, He went into the boat and left (verse 37).

Henry makes this observation:

Those lose their Saviour, and their hopes in him, that love their swine better.

They displayed the same spiritual blindness as did the Jewish hierarchy.

MacArthur expands on their extraordinarily negative response:

instead of saying “thank you,” and “how do we get delivered?” you notice verse 36, “Those who had seen it reported to them how the man who was demon possessed had been made well.” This is an interesting verse. They want to know what happened…what happened…give us the details…how did this happen? They’re terrified of Jesus, what’s going on here? And so those who had seen it told them the full story of how the man who was demon possessed had been made well, esothe(?), from sozo, had been saved…sozo-to be saved. How the man had been delivered. And they gave them the full story, details of which aren’t given to us. I’m sure they said, “Well, you won’t believe how it happened. The guy came down the hill and…” And they, they must have been, as I said earlier, close enough to see the engagement and the encounter and to even hear what went on. The man had been delivered, not just from Satan, but I believe he’d been delivered from sin, or at least he was, when those people heard the discussion, beginning to awaken to the forgiveness and the salvation that Jesus had offered which I believe became completed, and I’ll show you why in a moment.

You know, you think sinners would really be convinced if you just had a powerful enough miracle. No, no, you don’t understand the power of sin. You know, if you could just figure a clever enough way to pronounce the gospel, if you could just figure an attractive enough way to present Jesus Christ, if you could just get a powerful enough exhibit of the life of Jesus Christ and His miracle might, boy, people would really be convinced. No…no, the damning power of sin just obliterates reality. The idea that sinners will be convinced by a powerful miracle…a powerful miracle isn’t true.

Well what did the Jews do? They saw miracle after miracle after miracle after miracle after miracle for three years. And at the end of that time what did they do? They wanted Him dead. The Gentiles weren’t any different. I can’t imagine a more powerful, clear example of the saving power of Jesus Christ than this. I can’t imagine a more dramatic event than sending thousands of demons out of a man with a word. And the proof of it in the drowning of this herd of pigs. I…rationally you’ve got to fall down and say, “This is the power of God.” But the truth of the matter is, this is hard soil back from Jesus’ story in the eighth chapter verses 5 and 12, hard soil, the seed of the truth falls just like falling on concrete, it doesn’t penetrate.

What was their reaction? Verse 37, “All the people,” apparently without exception, “All the people of the country of the Gerasenes and the surrounding district, everybody.” Apparently you’ve got a big crowd out there. “All of them asked Him to depart from them. Go away.”

Why? “For they were gripped with phobe, you know, fear megala, great fear, massive fear. What were they terrified of? After all, hadn’t He brought safety where there was danger? Hadn’t He brought peace where there was chaos? What was to be afraid of? What was to be afraid of was they knew they were in the presence of God? They knew they were seeing the great power of God and they knew it was a holy power, a purging, purifying, cleansing power that dispensed with evil and they therefore knew that they were exposed to sinners. And loving their evil so much they wanted to get rid of the intimidation. Even Peter had that reaction when Jesus commanded the fish to come to his boat and he said in Luke 5:8, “Depart from me, O Lord, for I am a…what?…sinful man.” It’s the intimidation of holiness in the presence of sin that causes them to want Jesus to go away. Instead of saying, “Thank You, thank You for delivering us, could You go up and get his friend up there, that other guy and do to him what You’ve done to this man? And could You tell us how we can be delivered from whatever satanic influences exist in our lives? And could You tell us how we can be forgiven of our sin? And could You tell us how this holy power could come upon us?”

They don’t say that. There’s not a word of thanks for the deliverance from the danger of the man. They see Jesus as a greater danger than that man. They would rather have a maniac than the Son of God. They would rather be terrified by Satan than terrified by God. They would rather endure the presence of demonic danger than the presence of divine deliverance. They preferred the unholy to the holy. They preferred a tomb dweller over the Lord of life. Just like Israel. They were not asking Jesus to go away because He messed with their economy, killing their pigs. They weren’t asking Him to go away because they were materialists and not spiritualists and they were mad at Him for what He had done. The whole town and the whole region wanted Him to go away because they were terrified of His holiness. You know, the world is really comfortable with pigs and maniacs, but it’s not comfortable with Jesus Christ, is it? Not the Son of God. David Gooding writes, “What a sad comment on man’s fallen and unregenerate state it is that man should feel more at home with demons than with the Christ who has the power to cast them out. Who would try to help a criminal or a drunkard, or if they should prove incorrigible would want the one imprisoned and the other put into a hospital find it embarrassing and somewhat frightening if that criminal or drunkard is saved by Christ and turned into a wholesome regenerate disciple.” That’s really true…it’s really true. They would rather have a maniac than a Christian. They would rather have the presence of Satan than the presence of Christ. This is the blindness and the damning darkness and ignorance of sin.

And so, sad note, it says verse 37, “He got into a boat and returned.” He never came back, by the way. One time…one day…one occasion…they said, “Get out.” He got into a boat and went back to Capernaum. Was it an insult? Yes. It was more, it was a damning rejection and Jesus never ever came back.

Not surprisingly, the man who had been healed begged Jesus to allow him to be a disciple, but Jesus sent him away, saying (verse 38) that he should return to his home and declare how much God has done for him. Obediently, the man went away, proclaiming to the city just how much Jesus had done for him (verse 39).

Henry says that it is possible that the man’s words might have gained traction once the Gerasenes recovered from what had happened:

Perhaps Christ knew that, when the resentment of the loss of their swine was a little over, they would be better disposed to consider the miracle, and therefore left the man among them to be a standing monument, and a monitor to them of it.

MacArthur says that Jesus told the man to stay because he would be the only witness in that place:

He’s the first Gentile missionary…the maniac who became a missionary. And as I said, if he knew enough to be saved, he knew enough to tell somebody else. And if that man had left with Jesus, there would have been no witness in that place. Here was grace in the face of rejection. Jesus sent him back to his own people and He said to him, “Describe what great things God has done for you, and he went away proclaiming throughout the whole city what great things Jesus had done for him.” How interesting. You tell them what God has done, he told them what Jesus had done because Jesus is God. He became a witness. When I get to heaven I want to ask him how successful he was, how fruitful. He went proclaiming throughout the whole city, kerusso, preaching throughout the whole city. This is personal evangelism, the story of what the Lord had done. Mark 5:20 says, “Everyone was amazed…amazed.”

Well that’s what Jesus does. He turns maniacs into missionaries. It shows us the power of the demons, the power of the delivering Lord, and the damning power of sin. What a story. 

Perhaps we, too, are the only witnesses where we live:

If you have been delivered, you too are a missionary, amen? Tell the story.

I always wonder what sort of sermon I will hear when this Gospel passage is read. Perhaps you do, too.

I hope we will not be disappointed on Sunday morning.

The Third Sunday of Easter is May 1, 2022.

The readings for Year C can be found here.

The Gospel reading is as follows (emphases mine):

John 21:1-19

21:1 After these things Jesus showed himself again to the disciples by the Sea of Tiberias; and he showed himself in this way.

21:2 Gathered there together were Simon Peter, Thomas called the Twin, Nathanael of Cana in Galilee, the sons of Zebedee, and two others of his disciples.

21:3 Simon Peter said to them, “I am going fishing.” They said to him, “We will go with you.” They went out and got into the boat, but that night they caught nothing.

21:4 Just after daybreak, Jesus stood on the beach; but the disciples did not know that it was Jesus.

21:5 Jesus said to them, “Children, you have no fish, have you?” They answered him, “No.”

21:6 He said to them, “Cast the net to the right side of the boat, and you will find some.” So they cast it, and now they were not able to haul it in because there were so many fish.

21:7 That disciple whom Jesus loved said to Peter, “It is the Lord!” When Simon Peter heard that it was the Lord, he put on some clothes, for he was naked, and jumped into the sea.

21:8 But the other disciples came in the boat, dragging the net full of fish, for they were not far from the land, only about a hundred yards off.

21:9 When they had gone ashore, they saw a charcoal fire there, with fish on it, and bread.

21:10 Jesus said to them, “Bring some of the fish that you have just caught.”

21:11 So Simon Peter went aboard and hauled the net ashore, full of large fish, a hundred fifty-three of them; and though there were so many, the net was not torn.

21:12 Jesus said to them, “Come and have breakfast.” Now none of the disciples dared to ask him, “Who are you?” because they knew it was the Lord.

21:13 Jesus came and took the bread and gave it to them, and did the same with the fish.

21:14 This was now the third time that Jesus appeared to the disciples after he was raised from the dead.

21:15 When they had finished breakfast, Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon son of John, do you love me more than these?” He said to him, “Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.” Jesus said to him, “Feed my lambs.”

21:16 A second time he said to him, “Simon son of John, do you love me?” He said to him, “Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.” Jesus said to him, “Tend my sheep.”

21:17 He said to him the third time, “Simon son of John, do you love me?” Peter felt hurt because he said to him the third time, “Do you love me?” And he said to him, “Lord, you know everything; you know that I love you.” Jesus said to him, “Feed my sheep.

21:18 Very truly, I tell you, when you were younger, you used to fasten your own belt and to go wherever you wished. But when you grow old, you will stretch out your hands, and someone else will fasten a belt around you and take you where you do not wish to go.”

21:19 (He said this to indicate the kind of death by which he would glorify God.) After this he said to him, “Follow me.”

Commentary comes from Matthew Henry and John MacArthur.

John MacArthur says that this visit from Jesus took place around the time He gave the Apostles the Great Commission (Matthew 28:16-20):

The Great Commission

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

MacArthur says that the Apostles did not go immediately to the mountain and, according to him, went fishing instead:

The problem is when this narrative opens they aren’t at the mountain, they’re at the lake. So immediately were confronted with their disobedience. They are not in the place He told them to be. They shouldn’t have been where they were.

In any event, John’s account of this fishing expedition and our Lord’s preparation of breakfast for the Twelve shows, in MacArthur’s words that He will be there to provide for them — and for us:

He’s going to be there to provide. He’s going to be there to meet their needs. Even the simplest needs of their hunger, He’s going to care for them; that’s not going to change. Even though it’s after the resurrection, even though He’s in a glorified form, He will have the same compassion and care, and make the same provisions for them that they’ve known Him to make.

This is John’s third recorded account of our Lord appearing to the Apostles (verse 14).

Jesus showed Himself — manifested Himself, in some translations — to the Apostles again at the Sea of Tiberias, which is the Sea of Galilee, later renamed for the Roman emperor (verse 1).

MacArthur tells us what happened after they saw Jesus for the second time in the room where Thomas saw His wounds (last week’s reading):

Sometime between the eighth day when Jesus appeared to the apostles, and the fortieth day when He ascended into heaven, this third appearance occurred – third as it’s designated in verse 14.

We know from Acts 1:3 that He was with them for forty days. It doesn’t mean that He was with them all forty of those days, because there are only three times that He appeared to them up to this incident, and this incident happened in Galilee. They had to go from Judea to Galilee, which could be a journey that might take them some time. Before, they had seen Him in Judea in the upper room; now they’re in Galilee. They’ve been waiting awhile for Him; finally He makes an appearance. So to say that He taught them the things concerning the kingdom throughout a period of forty days is not to say that it was all forty days. Sometime between the eighth and fortieth day Jesus manifested Himself.

He uses that term twice in verse 1: manifested, manifested. You have to understand this: as a supernatural, sudden, startling appearance of Christ as if out of nowhere. In the same way, He appeared to those on the road to Emmaus, the same way He appeared to Mary Magdalene and the others, the same way He appeared to the apostles in the upper room, coming into the room and appearing instantaneously with the door shut and locked. He is now in His glorified resurrection form. He manifests Himself.

And I remind you that even though He could be seen because He was alive physically, He was not known, because His body was different. His glorified body was different. Mary Magdalene thought He was somebody else; she thought He was the gardener. The disciples on the road to Emmaus had no idea who He was, and not a glimpse, but rather a long drawn out conversation with Him in the daylight, and then in the house and around the table, and they still didn’t know who He was.

And here, again, He appears, and they don’t know who He is, because they couldn’t know who He was in the glorified form, because the glorified form is so different. He has to therefore disclose Himself. He has to identify Himself, and He does that on this occasion. His body is so different. It is a body for eternity, not a body for time. It is a body for heaven, not a body for earth.

So this time He manifests Himself in Galilee by the Sea of Tiberias. Can I just comment on that? That is a lake 12 miles long, about 7 miles wide, 650 feet below sea level in the northern part of the land of Israel in Galilee, surrounded pretty much by mountains on the west, north, and east. It is familiar in the Old Testament. It’s called Kinneret or Chinnereth or sometimes Gennesaret Lake. It is also the Sea of Galilee as we know it, because it is in the region of Galilee. The Romans renamed it to honor Tiberius Caesar and they called it the Sea of Tiberias as its Roman name.

Jesus had told the disciples to go to Galilee back in Matthew 28 after He had appeared to them from His resurrection. He said, “You need to leave for Galilee,” Matthew 28:10 – “and there you will see Me. You go to Galilee, you’ll see me there.”

Verse 16: “The eleven disciples proceeded to Galilee, to the mountain which Jesus had designated.” So they not only were told to go to Galilee, they were told to go to Galilee to a mountain, the very mountain Jesus designated. We don’t know what it was, but perhaps it was what we know as the mountain where there was the Sermon on the Mount, and can’t be certain about that. But that’s one very near that slopes up from the sea to the north. The problem is when this narrative opens they aren’t at the mountain, they’re at the lake. So immediately were confronted with their disobedience. They are not in the place He told them to be. They shouldn’t have been where they were.

A familiar list of names shows up in verse 2, ones we have run across before: Simon Peter, Thomas called the Twin (Didymus, in some translations, which means ‘twin’), Nathanael of Cana in Galilee, the sons of Zebedee, and two others of his disciples.

MacArthur says:

this is the group – the six of them minus Thomas – this is the group that Jesus first called as His disciples back in chapter 1. This is the group that discovered they have found the Messiah, so we know them very well ... Interestingly enough, this doubting Thomas and this denying Peter are the first two named. They’re given prominence in the list, and that’s an illustration of grace: Simon Peter the denier and Thomas the doubter. Didymus mean he was a twin, he had a twin.

MacArthur thinks they had all gone to the mountain as Jesus instructed, then decided to leave when Peter announced he was going fishing and they agreed to accompany him, although they caught nothing that night (verse 3):

Well, they’re up in the mountain for awhile; we don’t know how long, we don’t have time indicators here. “Simon Peter said to them, ‘I’m going fishing.’” And in the form of the original language that’s a final statement: “I’m going back to my old career. I’m going fishing.”

I read it differently, but I am not a Bible scholar. Fishermen went about their business at night, when waters were cooler. They also could not preach and teach at night, when people would have been asleep.

Incidentally, Matthew Henry says there was no rebellion among the Apostles and that they did the right thing by going fishing, calling it ‘an instance of their humility’:

Their agreement to go a fishing. They knew not well what to do with themselves. For my part, says Peter, I will go a fishing; We will go with thee then, say they, for we will keep together. Though commonly two of a trade cannot agree, yet they could. Some think they did amiss in returning to their boats and nets, which they had left; but then Christ would not have countenanced them in it with a visit. It was rather commendable in them; for they did it, (1.) To redeem time, and not be idle. They were not yet appointed to preach the resurrection of Christ. Their commission was in the drawing, but not perfected. The hour for entering upon action was to come. It is probable that their Master had directed them to say nothing of his resurrection till after his ascension, nay, not till after the pouring out of the Spirit, and then they were to begin at Jerusalem. Now, in the mean time, rather than do nothing, they would go a fishing; not for recreation, but for business. It is an instance of their humility. Though they were advanced to be sent of Christ, as he was of the Father, yet they did not take state upon them, but remembered the rock out of which they were hewn. It is an instance likewise of their industry, and bespeaks them good husbands of their time. While they were waiting, they would not be idling. Those who would give an account of their time with joy should contrive to fill up the vacancies of it, to gather up the fragments of it. (2.) That they might help to maintain themselves and not be burdensome to any. While their Master was with them those who ministered to him were kind to them; but now that the bridegroom was taken from them they must fast in those days, and therefore their own hands, as Paul’s, must minister to their necessities and for this reason Christ asked them, Have you any meat? This teaches us with quietness to work and eat our own bread.

Henry is generous about this gathering of apostolic fishermen and commends their model to us:

Observe here, 1. It is good for the disciples of Christ to be much together; not only in solemn religious assemblies, but in common conversation, and about common business. Good Christians should by this means both testify and increase their affection to, and delight in, each other, and edify one another both by discourse and example. 2. Christ chose to manifest himself to them when they were together; not only to countenance Christian society, but that they might be joint witnesses of the same matter of fact, and so might corroborate one another’s testimony. Here were seven together to attest this, on which some observe that the Roman law required seven witnesses to a testament. 3. Thomas was one of them, and is named next to Peter, as if he now kept closer to the meetings of the apostles than ever. It is well if losses by our neglects make us more careful afterwards not to let opportunities slip.

As for the Apostles catching nothing, which some may interpret as divine payback, Henry says that these things happen, often out of divine providence — and for good reason:

Even good men may come short of desired success in their honest undertakings. We may be in the way of our duty, and yet not prosper. Providence so ordered it that all that night they should catch nothing, that the miraculous draught of fishes in the morning might be the more wonderful and the more acceptable. In those disappointments which to us are very grievous God has often designs that are very gracious. Man has indeed a dominion over the fish of the sea, but they are not always at his beck; God only knows the paths of the sea, and commands that which passeth through them.

Just after daybreak, Jesus stood on the beach, but the disciples did not recognise Him (verse 4). Again, that refers to His glorified body, which they could not identify.

Henry says this tells us that Jesus is nearby when we need Him most:

Christ’s time of making himself known to his people is when they are most at a loss. When they think they have lost themselves, he will let them know that they have not lost him … It is a comfort to us, when our passage is rough and stormy, that our Master is at shore, and we are hastening to him.

As to why Jesus did not walk on water towards the boat, scholars through the ages say that His work in that respect had now been accomplished with the Resurrection. However, the Apostles’ toil in ministry — and persecution — had only just begun:

Some of the ancients put this significancy upon it, that Christ, having finished his work, was got through a stormy sea, a sea of blood, to a safe and quiet shore, where he stood in triumph; but the disciples, having their work before them, were yet at sea, in toil and peril.

Jesus knew they had no fish but asked them nonetheless, addressing them as ‘children’, or, in British English, ‘lads’; they responded in the negative (verse 5).

Henry discusses His affectionate address and question at length, as well as the Apostles’ terse reply:

He called to them, Children, paidia–“Lads, have you any meat? Have you caught any fish?” Here, (1.) The compellation is very familiar; he speaks unto them as unto his sons, with the care and tenderness of a father: Children. Though he had now entered upon his exalted state, he spoke to his disciples with as much kindness and affection as ever. They were not children in age, but they were his children, the children which God had given him. (2.) The question is very kind: Have you any meat? He asks as a tender father concerning his children whether they be provided with that which is fit for them, that if they be not, he may take care for their supply. Note, The Lord is for the body, 1 Corinthians 6:13. Christ takes cognizance of the temporal wants of his people, and has promised them not only grace sufficient, but food convenient. Verily they shall be fed, Psalms 27:3. Christ looks into the cottages of the poor, and asks, Children, have you any meat? thereby inviting them to open their case before him, and by the prayer of faith to make their requests known to him: and then let them be careful for nothing; for Christ takes care of them, takes care for them. Christ has herein set us an example of compassionate concern for our brethren. There are many poor householders disabled for labour, or disappointed in it, that are reduced to straits, whom the rich should enquire after thus, Have you any meat? For the most necessitous are commonly the least clamorous. To this question the disciples gave a short answer, and, some think, with an air of discontent and peevishness. They said, No; not giving him any such friendly and respectful title as he had given them. So short do the best come in their returns of love to the Lord Jesus. Christ put the question to them, not because he did not know their wants, but because he would know them from them. Those that would have supplies from Christ must own themselves empty and needy.

Jesus told them to cast their net to the right side of the boat and they would find fish; there were so many that they were not able to haul in their catch (verse 6).

MacArthur says that this would have reminded the Apostles of the time three years earlier when He first called them to follow Him:

They were to drop their nets, stop fishing for fish and start fishing for men. Luke 5, listen: “Crowds pressing Jesus, He’s on the edge of the lake. He saw two boats lying at the edge of the lake. The fishermen had gotten out of them, washing their nets. So He got into one of the boats, the boat was Simon’s boat. Got into Peter’s boat and asked him to put out a little way from the land. He had to push off from the shore because the crowd was pressing Him, and He needed a little distance and the water’s a pretty good conductor of voice. So when he had finished speaking from Peter’s boat He said to Simon, ‘Put out in the deep water and let down your nets for a catch.’

“Simon answered Him and said, ‘Master, I need to inform you about fishing. We worked hard all night and caught nothing; this doesn’t make sense. I know you’re not a fisherman, but I’m telling You we’ve been there, done that; this is not a good time to fish. But’ – he says – ‘I will do as you say and let down the nets. I’m going to go prove my point that I know more about fishing that You do.’

“When they had done this, they enclosed a great quantity of fish, and their nets began to break; so they signaled to their partners in the other boat” – probably belonged to some of the other disciples – “for them to come and help them. And they came and filled both of the boats, so that they began to sink. But when Simon Peter saw that, he fell down at Jesus’ feet, saying, ‘Go away from me Lord, for I’m a sinful man!’” He knew who he was dealing with: Lord God, and he saw his own wretched sinfulness. He was so sinful in the attitude that he had conveyed to the Lord.

“Amazement had seized him and all his companions because of the catch of fish which they had taken, and they were James and John and Peter. And then Jesus says to them” – in verse 10 – ‘Don’t be afraid. From now on you will be catching men.’ When they brought their boats to land, they left everything and followed Him.” Now they’re going to go catch men …

Well, they got so many fish that it was shocking; and, of course, this had happened three years earlier, so they knew who He was immediately. So now you know that this is the same Christ, risen from the dead, performing a miracle very much like at the beginning of His relationship with them.

MacArthur says this is the only post-Resurrection creative miracle that Jesus performed, although He did enter the Apostles’ room in Judea twice after rising from the dead by passing through a wall:

… this is the one post-resurrection miracle, apart from walking through walls, which is simply the supernatural body of Christ and its capability.

Henry says this miracle is an illustration of our Lord’s generosity in the age of the New Covenant, although we must be diligent:

As a mystery, and very significant of that work to which Christ was now with an enlarged commission sending them forth. The prophets had been fishing for souls, and caught nothing, or very little; but the apostles, who let down the net at Christ’s word, had wonderful success. Many were the children of the desolate, Galatians 4:27. They themselves, in pursuance of their former mission, when they were first made fishers of men, had had small success in comparison with what they should now have. When, soon after this, three thousand were converted in one day, then the net was cast on the right side of the ship. It is an encouragement to Christ’s ministers to continue their diligence in their work. One happy draught, at length, may be sufficient to repay many years of toil at the gospel net.

The huge haul of fish caused John, the author of this Gospel — ‘that disciple whom Jesus loved’ — to exclaim to Peter that this was the Lord; Peter, having stripped down to bare essentials, put on some clothes and jumped into the sea (verse 7).

Looking at John’s character and recalling that he was the only Apostle to be at the Crucifixion, Henry says:

John had adhered more closely to his Master in his sufferings than any of them: and therefore he has a clearer eye and a more discerning judgment than any of them, in recompence for his constancy. When John was himself aware that it was the Lord, he communicated his knowledge to those with him; for this dispensation of the Spirit is given to every one to profit withal. Those that know Christ themselves should endeavor to bring others acquainted with him; we need not engross him, there is enough in him for us all.

Peter was in a conflicted state of mind at this time. How could he forget that he denied Jesus three times in the early hours of Good Friday? He loved our Lord, yet he had denied Him. He was weak, as we all are, often at the most crucial times. He felt badly and probably wanted His personal forgiveness in words.

Henry says:

John tells Peter particularly his thoughts, that it was the Lord, knowing he would be glad to see him above any of them. Though Peter had denied his Master, yet, having repented, and being taken into the communion of the disciples again, they were as free and familiar with him as ever.

2. That Peter was the most zealous and warm-hearted disciple; for as soon as he heard it was the Lord (for which he took John’s word) the ship could not hold him, nor could he stay till the bringing of it to shore, but into the sea he throws himself presently, that he might come first to Christ. (1.) He showed his respect to Christ by girding his fisher’s coat about him that he might appear before his Master in the best clothes he had, and to rudely rush into his presence, stripped as he was to his waistcoat and drawers, because the work he was about was toilsome, and he was resolved to take pains in it. Perhaps the fisher’s coat was made of leather, or oil-cloth, and would keep out wet; and he girt it to him that he might make the best of his way through the water to Christ, as he used to do after his nets, when he was intent upon his fishing. (2.) He showed the strength of his affection to Christ, and his earnest desire to be with him, by casting himself into the sea; and either wading or swimming to shore, to come to him. When he walked upon the water to Christ (Matthew 14:28), it was said, He came down out of the ship deliberately; but here it is said, He cast himself into the sea with precipitation; sink or swim, he would show his good-will and aim to be with Jesus. “If Christ suffer me,” thinks he, “to drown, and come short of him, it is but what I deserve for denying him.” Peter had had much forgiven, and made it appear he loved much by his willingness to run hazards, and undergo hardships, to come to him. Those that have been with Jesus will be willing to swim through a stormy sea, a sea of blood, to come to him …

The other Apostles stayed in the boat, dragging the net full of fish; they were only about 100 yards from the shore (verse 8).

Henry says that we all have our own personalities and characteristics; God makes use of all of these in the Church:

Now here we may observe, (1.) How variously God dispenses his gifts. Some excel, as Peter and John; are very eminent in gifts and graces, and are thereby distinguished from their brethren; others are but ordinary disciples, that mind their duty, and are faithful to him, but do nothing to make themselves remarkable; and yet both the one and the other, the eminent and the obscure, shall sit down together with Christ in glory; nay, and perhaps the last shall be first. Of those that do excel, some, like John, are eminently contemplative, have great gifts of knowledge, and serve the church with them; others, like Peter, are eminently active and courageous, are strong, and do exploits, and are thus very serviceable to their generation. Some are useful as the church’s eyes, others as the church’s hands, and all for the good of the body. (2.) What a great deal of difference there may be between some good people and others in the way of their honouring Christ, and yet both accepted of him. Some serve Christ more in acts of devotion, and extraordinary expressions of a religious zeal; and they do well, to the Lord they do it. Peter ought not to be censured for casting himself into the sea, but commended for his zeal and the strength of his affection; and so must those be who, in love to Christ, quit the world, with Mary, to sit at his feet. But others serve Christ more in the affairs of the world. They continue in that ship, drag the net, and bring the fish to shore, as the other disciples here; and such ought not to be censured as worldly, for they, in their place, are as truly serving Christ as the other, even in serving tables. If all the disciples had done as Peter did, what had become of their fish and their nets? And yet if Peter had done as they did we had wanted this instance of holy zeal. Christ was well pleased with both, and so must we be. (3.) That there are several ways of bringing Christ’s disciples to shore to him from off the sea of this world. Some are brought to him by a violent death, as the martyrs, who threw themselves into the sea, in their zeal for Christ; others are brought to him by a natural death, dragging the net, which is less terrible; but both meet at length on the safe and quiet shore with Christ.

When the Apostles reached the shore, they found that Jesus had made breakfast for them — bread and fish — with the aid of a charcoal fire (verse 9). How wonderful! It was the best tasting breakfast in history, because He made it.

The resurrected Jesus was still serving His disciples. How many other religions can say that their original leader did the same? Not one.

Of this creative miracle, Henry says:

When they came to land, wet and cold, weary and hungry, they found a good fire there to warm them and dry them, and fish and bread, competent provision for a good meal. (1.) We need not be curious in enquiring whence this fire, and fish, and bread, came, any more than whence the meat came which the ravens brought to Elijah. He that could multiply the loaves and fishes that were could make new ones if he pleased, or turn stones into bread, or send his angels to fetch it, where he knew it was to be had. It is uncertain whether this provision was made ready in the open air, or in some fisher’s cabin or hut upon the shore; but here was nothing stately or delicate. We should be content with mean things, for Christ was. (2.) We may be comforted in this instance of Christ’s care of his disciples; he has wherewith to supply all our wants, and knows what things we have need of. He kindly provided for those fishermen, when they came weary from their work; for verily those shall be fed who trust in the Lord and do good. It is encouraging to Christ’s ministers, whom he hath made fishers of men, that they may depend upon him who employs them to provide for them; and if they should miss of encouragement in this world, should be reduced as Paul was to hunger, and thirst, and fastings often, let them content themselves with what they have here; they have better things in reserve, and shall eat and drink with Christ at his table in his kingdom, Luke 22:30. Awhile ago, the disciples had entertained Christ with a broiled fish (Luke 24:42), and now, as a friend, he returned their kindness, and entertained them with one; nay, in the draught of fishes, he repaid them more than a hundred fold.

Jesus instructed the men to bring some of the fish they had just caught (verse 10).

Henry says this is because He wanted them to enjoy the fruits of their labour:

The command Christ gave them to bring their draught of fish to shore: “Bring of the fish hither, which you have now caught, and let us have some of them;” not as if he needed it; and could not make up a dinner for them without it; but, [1.] He would have them eat the labour of their hands, Psalms 128:2. What is got by God’s blessing on our own industry and honest labour, if withal God give us power to eat of it, and enjoy good in our labour, hath a peculiar sweetness in it. It is said of the slothful man that he roasteth not that which he took in hunting; he cannot find in his heart to dress what he has been at the pains to take, Proverbs 12:27. But Christ would hereby teach us to use what we have. [2.] He would have them taste the gifts of his miraculous bounty, that they might be witnesses both of his power and of his goodness. The benefits Christ bestows upon us are not to be buried and laid up, but to be used and laid out. [3.] He would give a specimen of the spiritual entertainment he has for all believers, which, in this respect, is most free and familiar–that he sups with them, and they with him; their graces are pleasing to him, and his comforts are so to them; what he works in them he accepts from them. [4.] Ministers, who are fishers of men, must bring all they catch to their Master, for on him their success depends.

Peter boarded the boat and hauled the net ashore, full of 153 fish, the weight of which did not tear the net (verse 11), unlike the first time three years before.

These fish are now called St Peter’s fish (John Dory). The dark, round mark each has is said to be St Peter’s thumbprint.

Peter must have been a large and strong man to bring the net in himself.

MacArthur says:

This is where he gets the term “the big fisherman.” Years ago there was even a book and a movie when I was a little kid called The Big Fisherman, and I used to ask, “Why does everybody think Peter is big?” This is it right here, because six guys have been dragging this thing in, the other disciples in verse 8.

But in verse 11 it says, “Simon Peter went up and drew the net to land, full of large fish, large fish.” A large fish in the Sea of Galilee, I’ve eaten those fish; some of you have been there. They’re now called St. Peter’s fish; they weren’t then, but they are now, obvious reason. They can get as big as two pounds plus.

The number is fascinating to me. This is something Scripture does very frequently to let you know the reality of it. This isn’t mystical, this is actually 153 fish, times two pounds, you’re looking at three hundred pounds of fish in wet nets and paraphernalia; and this is where Peter gets the name “big fisherman,” because he pulls it ashore by himself. He’s a formidable guy. So he drags in 153 fish, and even though there were so many, too many for the nets to hold, the net was not torn – which is another part of the miracle.

Jesus invited the Apostles to breakfast; none of them asked who He was because they knew it was He (verse 12).

Jesus then took the bread and gave it to them before doing the same with the fish (verse 13). Note that He continued to serve them throughout. He did not ask them to help themselves.

MacArthur makes an important point:

the risen Christ is not some detached ethereal being. The risen Christ can sit down and have breakfast with His disciples; and more importantly, He’s not all of a sudden disinterested in them, because He’s back in His heavenly mode and they don’t matter anymore. He makes sure they have breakfast and He serves it to them.

John makes it clear that this was the third time Jesus had appeared to them after the Resurrection (verse 14).

After breakfast, our Lord turned His attention to Peter, knowing what remorse was in the Apostle’s heart (verse 15); He addressed him by his birth name, Simon son of John, or Simon bar-Jona(s), as a way of humbling him, which Peter certainly would have understood.

‘Bar’ means ‘son’. ‘Bat’ means ‘daughter’. Hence, Bar Mitzvah and Bat Mitzvah. In Arabic, the equivalents are ‘bin’ and ‘bint’.

Henry explains Peter’s state of mind and Christ’s tenderness towards him, waiting until after breakfast to talk to him:

It was after they had dined: they had all eaten, and were filled, and, it is probable, were entertained with such edifying discourse as our Lord Jesus used to make his table-talk. Christ foresaw that what he had to say to Peter would give him some uneasiness, and therefore would not say it till they had dined, because he would not spoil his dinner. Peter was conscious to himself that he had incurred his Master’s displeasure, and could expect no other than to be upbraided with his treachery and ingratitude. “Was this thy kindness to thy friend? Did not I tell thee what a coward thou wouldest prove?” Nay, he might justly expect to be struck out of the roll of the disciples, and to be expelled the sacred college. Twice, if not thrice, he had seen his Master since his resurrection, and he said not a word to him of it. We may suppose Peter full of doubts upon what terms he stood with his Master; sometimes hoping the best, because he had received favour from him in common with the rest; yet not without some fears, lest the chiding would come at last that would pay for all. But now, at length, his Master put him out of his pain, said what he had to say to him, and confirmed him in his place as an apostle. He did not tell him of his fault hastily, but deferred it for some time; did not tell him of it unseasonably, to disturb the company at dinner, but when they had dined together, in token of reconciliation, then discoursed he with him about it, not as with a criminal, but as with a friend. Peter had reproached himself for it, and therefore Christ did not reproach him for it, nor tell him of it directly, but only by a tacit intimation; and, being satisfied in his sincerity, the offence was not only forgiven, but forgotten; and Christ let him know that he was as dear to him as ever. Herein he has given us an encouraging instance of his tenderness towards penitents, and has taught us, in like manner, to restore such as are fallen with a spirit of meekness.

Jesus asks Peter if he loves Him more than ‘these’ (verse 15).

MacArthur says that Jesus is not speaking of the other ten Apostles gathered but of boats and fishing:

He says, “Do you love Me more than these?” These what, these men? No, because they had all done the same thing. They were all guilty of a loveless disobedience. He means nets, boats, fish. “Do you love Me more than these things that go with your former life? Are you prepared to give this up, to abandon all your successes, your chosen career? Are you willing to give it all up? Do you love Me enough to do that?

Then, there is the word that Jesus used for ‘love’:

the word He uses is agapaó. That’s that high love – the noblest, purest, best; the love of the will. We talk about agape love; that’s a noun form of it. It is love in its fullest sense, love in its deepest sense, love in its greatest sense, love, I guess you could say, in its purest form – divine love.

“Do you really love Me, Peter, at the highest level?” That is the critical question. And that is the key to commitment

“Do you love Me enough to live for Me? Do you love Me enough to walk away from this? Are you constrained by loving Me? Do you have a love for Me” – in the words of Paul in Ephesians 6:24“that is incorruptible love? Do you really love Me in the fullest sense?”

Peter answered in the affirmative (verse 15) but used a milder word for love, because he did not want our Lord to call him out for hypocrisy:

So Peter replies, “He said to Him, ‘Yes, Lord; You know that I love You.’” But he changed the word. Jesus used the word agapaó, Peter used the word phileó, he dropped down a notch. Phileó is a kind of brotherly love, kind of warm affection, a friendship love.

Look, Peter couldn’t say, “Yes, You know that I love You at the highest level of love.” That just wouldn’t fly. I mean he had denied Him, and now He had disobeyed Him, and he had enough sense not to be an absolute hypocrite and say, “Of course, I love You at the highest level.” So he says, “Lord, I have great affection for You.” He dared not claim agapaó, but he did claim phileó. But even with that, he has to lean on omniscience: “Yes, Lord; You know that I love You.”

Our Lord asked Peter if he loves Him a second time, as if this were to make up for Peter’s second denial of Him. Peter again said, ‘Yes, Lord. You know that I love you’, to which Jesus replied, inviting him to tend His sheep (verse 16).

Notice that Jesus refers to ‘My sheep’.

MacArthur makes these observations:

This is amazing. He said to him, “Tend” – or – “feed” – boskó is the verb – “pasture My lambs, pasture My lambs.” Amazing. With a less than perfect love, with a less than ideal love, with a less than noble love, with a less than elevated love, the Lord accepts him and says, “Pasture My lambs. Feed My lambs.”

And I just want to call to your attention that personal pronoun is very important, because whoever we shepherd doesn’t belong to us. This is a calling that Peter reminds all of us about in 1 Peter 5 when he writes and he says, “We are all under-shepherds and Christ is the Chief Shepherd.”

If you’re in ministry, if you’re caring for any other believers in any way, you are shepherding His sheep, not yours. No congregation belongs to a pastor or an elder. No Sunday School class belongs to a teacher. No believers in a family belong, in a spiritual sense, to parents. They’re His. It’s a stewardship that in some ways is really frightening. That’s why in Matthew the Lord tells us to be careful how we treat each other, because not only do they belong to Christ, but Christ is in them. So many people don’t understand pastoral ministry as caring for His sheep.

Jesus asked Peter the same question a third time, which hurt Peter, because he knew our Lord was referring to Peter’s three denials of Him; Peter replied the same way, although acknowledging His omniscience in his answer, and Jesus told him to feed His sheep (verse 17).

Peter is the Apostles’ leader and our Lord has restored him to the fold in order to carry out that mission.

MacArthur says:

Back in chapter 10 He talked about how He loved the sheep, how He gave His life for the sheep, how the sheep knew Him and He knew them. And now He’s handing them over to Peter. “I’m entrusting you with them, and I need to know that you love Me more than you love this, so that you’re going to be faithful to give your life for them.”

Henry makes these observations:

Three times Christ committed the care of his flock to Peter: Feed my lambs; feed my sheep; feed my sheep. [1.] Those whom Christ committed to Peter’s care were his lambs and his sheep. The church of Christ is his flock, which he hath purchased with his own blood (Acts 20:28), and he is the chief shepherd of it. In this flock some are lambs, young and tender and weak, others are sheep, grown to some strength and maturity. The Shepherd here takes care of both, and of the lambs first, for upon all occasions he showed a particular tenderness for them. He gathers the lambs in his arms, and carries them in his bosom. Isaiah 40:11. [2.] The charge he gives him concerning them is to feed them. The word used in John 21:15; John 21:17, is boske, which strictly signifies to give them food; but the word used in John 21:16; John 21:16 is poimaine, which signifies more largely to do all the offices of a shepherd to them: “Feed the lambs with that which is proper for them, and the sheep likewise with food convenient. The lost sheep of the house of Israel, seek and feed them, and the other sheep also which are not of this fold. Note, It is the duty of all Christ’s ministers to feed his lambs and sheep. Feed them, that is, teach them; for the doctrine of the gospel is spiritual food. Feed them, that is, “Lead them to the green pastures, presiding in their religious assemblies, and ministering all the ordinances to them. Feed them by personal application to their respective state and case; not only lay meat before them, but feed those with it that are wilful and will not, or weak and cannot feed themselves.” When Christ ascended on high, he gave pastors, left his flock with those that loved him, and would take care of them for his sake … the particular application to Peter here was designed, First, To restore him to his apostleship, now that he repented of his abjuration of it, and to renew his commission, both for his own satisfaction, and for the satisfaction of his brethren … Secondly, It was designed to quicken him to a diligent discharge of his office as an apostle. Peter was a man of a bold and zealous spirit, always forward to speak and act, and, lest he should be tempted to take upon him the directing of the shepherds, he is charged to feed the sheep, as he himself charges all the presbyters to do, and not to lord it over God’s heritage, 1 Peter 5:2; 1 Peter 5:3. If he will be doing, let him do this, and pretend no further. Thirdly, What Christ said to him he said to all his disciples; he charged them all, not only to be fishers of men (though that was said to Peter, Luke 5:10), by the conversion of sinners, but feeders of the flock, by the edification of saints.

Jesus ended by telling Peter how he would die, beginning with ‘Very truly’, meaning that it would be a certainty. He told the Apostle that when he was younger, he was in charge of his own life, but, as an older man, he would stretch out his hands — meaning crucifixion, which happened in Rome some years later — and someone else would fasten his belt, taking him to a place he did not wish to go (verse 18).

John confirms that verse 18 meant a martyr’s death, one that would glorify God; after that, Jesus told Peter, ‘Follow Me’ (verse 19).

Some might wonder why Jesus told him that.

MacArthur says it was to let Peter know that he would continue to glorify Christ — and, by extension God, throughout his ministry:

… it’s important to tell him that. He needed to know what? He needed to know that the next time he got in a life and death situation he would not deny his Lord. He needed to know that. He needed to know that when they took him and captured him, and tied him up, and stretched out his hands, and nailed him to a cross, he would glorify God.

I think he lived the rest of his life with a newfound confidence that overcame his self-doubt, because he had been such a failure at the trial of Christ. I think this put power into his life. I think this put hope into his heart. I think this added confidence to him and boldness. I think he may have otherwise feared that, “If I ever get into that situation again, what am I going to do?” and that would have sucked all of his confidence out. This is a great gift to this man: “You’re going to be arrested, crucified. You’re going to die, but in it, you’re going to glorify God.” Good news.

This is the ultimate sacrifice, and that’s how believers live. This is the extreme requirement for a committed life. Peter had said, Luke 22, “I’m ready to go with you to prison and death.” Didn’t work out that way first time; it would work out that way the last time. In the end, he will die for his Lord. This is a beautiful life-changing promise. Peter has to be ecstatic, thrilled. His heart has to be soaring. His hopes are flying. His boldness is being elevated as he heads toward a triumphant encounter with those who will kill him for his faithfulness to Christ. That’s what dedication is.

The third thing: a life that is truly dedicated to the Lord is compelled by love for Christ, characterized by sacrifice for Christ, and content with following Christ. The end of verse 19: “When Jesus had spoken the words about Peter’s death, He said this to him, ‘Follow Me! Follow Me!’” So important: “Follow Me!” Simple enough.

I have read and heard this passage many times before, but the expositions from Matthew Henry and John MacArthur really gave it new meaning.

I hope that you benefited similarly, especially those of us, like myself, who have more Petrine than Pauline in our personalities.

The Fifth Sunday after the Epiphany is February 6, 2022.

Readings for Year C can be found here.

The Gospel reading is as follows (emphases mine):

Luke 5:1-11

5:1 Once while Jesus was standing beside the lake of Gennesaret, and the crowd was pressing in on him to hear the word of God,

5:2 he saw two boats there at the shore of the lake; the fishermen had gone out of them and were washing their nets.

5:3 He got into one of the boats, the one belonging to Simon, and asked him to put out a little way from the shore. Then he sat down and taught the crowds from the boat.

5:4 When he had finished speaking, he said to Simon, “Put out into the deep water and let down your nets for a catch.”

5:5 Simon answered, “Master, we have worked all night long but have caught nothing. Yet if you say so, I will let down the nets.”

5:6 When they had done this, they caught so many fish that their nets were beginning to break.

5:7 So they signaled their partners in the other boat to come and help them. And they came and filled both boats, so that they began to sink.

5:8 But when Simon Peter saw it, he fell down at Jesus’ knees, saying, “Go away from me, Lord, for I am a sinful man!”

5:9 For he and all who were with him were amazed at the catch of fish that they had taken;

5:10 and so also were James and John, sons of Zebedee, who are partners with Simon. Then Jesus said to Simon, “Do not be afraid; from now on you will be catching people.”

5:11 When they had brought their boats to shore, they left everything and followed him.

Commentary comes from Matthew Henry and John MacArthur.

Last week’s reading concluded the story in Luke 4 of Jesus at His hometown synagogue in Nazareth, where the congregation wanted to throw Him off a cliff.

He then went to Capernaum.

John MacArthur summarises the rest of Luke 4:

… in chapter 4 He had preached in the synagogue in Capernaum and He had cast a demon out of a man there. That was His first miracle, the first one recorded by Luke. And then, you remember, He went, after the synagogue service home to the house of Simon where his mother-in-law was ill and He healed his mother-in-law of a very great infection that had produced a high fever. And then at the end of the Sabbath day the people in the city were bringing everybody who was sick with every imaginable disease and He was healing them all and He was casting demons out of many. That all occurred on one day in the synagogue in Capernaum and in the home of Peter.

Sometime later — ‘Once’ — Jesus was standing near the Lake of Gennesaret; the people were pressing in on Him to hear the word of God, His preaching (verse 1).

MacArthur says:

We have an indefinite then passing of time. We don’t exactly know what the chronology is, but it came about at some point in time after that. Jesus is still in Galilee. He’s still preaching. He’s still calling disciples. He’s still performing these healings and casting out demons. And on one occasion when surrounded by a multitude, He is near the lake of Gennesaret teaching the Word of God.

MacArthur describes the lake, which is part of the Sea of Galilee:

… in the very heart of the Galilee, as it’s called, which is the northern part of the land of Palestine all the way up to the Lebanese border, bordered on the east by Jordan, on the west by the Mediterranean, that north part of Israel, the major location there is the Sea of Galilee, or the lake of Gennesaret, as it’s called here, sometimes the Sea of Tiberias, the Old Testament name was Chinneroth. But that lake, 13 miles long and about 7 miles wide, dominates the Galilee. To the east is the sort of low ridges and then the flat lands of the wilderness that goes to the east. To the north are the great high mountains of Lebanon from which the water flows that flows in and creates the lake. To the west are the fertile marvelously, magnificent fertile fields of grain and crops and right on to the…to the sea. On that…Mediterranean Sea… On that are the major cities. Tiberias would be a major city in the time of Christ on the western shore, and the north would be the city of Capernaum. And so Jesus spent a lot of His time around the lake. And it was a good place to speak to people because you could be at the shore and the slope would be a place that would create sort of a natural amphitheater and the people could hear

And it says in verse 1 He was standing by the lake of Gennesaret. Gennesaret may be a word that refers to garden and could well be a reference to the…to the fertile land on the northwestern shore of the Sea of Galilee which is very defining. As you get on to the Sea of Galilee you see these beautiful fields stretching all the way around from the north sweeping around to the west. And there are even some on the east. And so it perhaps is a word that reflected the garden environment that surrounded the water of that lake. It is not technically a sea. Luke is right in the technical side in calling it a lake. It is a freshwater lake fed by the snowmelt out of the Lebanese mountains, the high mountains that ultimately runs the south Out of the south of the Sea of Galilee comes the Jordan river which runs all the way down and empties into the very famous Dead Sea.

Jesus saw two boats by the shoreline; the fishermen had got out of them and were washing their nets (verse 2).

Matthew Henry explains:

At first, Christ saw Peter and Andrew fishing at some distance (so Matthew tells us …); but he waited till they came to land, and till the fishermen, that is, the servants, were gone out of them

Jesus needed more space between Himself and the crowd, so He got into Simon’s — Peter’s — boat and asked him to pull away from the shore a bit, at which point He sat down to preach (verse 3).

MacArthur says that Jesus deliberately chose Simon Peter’s boat to get his full commitment to discipleship:

The Lord didn’t do anything just by accident. Everything was intentional, divinely intentional, sovereignly purposeful. It was time to bring Peter to full commitment and to bring those who followed his leadership, in this case James and John, to their full commitment as well.

Let me give you a little bit of background.  Jesus first met Peter back in the first chapter of John.  John records the first time they met.  Jesus met Peter and that was the first meeting and at that time Jesus called them to follow Him.  This was sort of a first step in their following Jesus.  It was later on, recorded in Mark 1:16 to 20, and Matthew 4 about verse 18 to 22, that there was a second calling.  The first time they just sort of follow Jesus.  Later on, as recorded in Mark 1 and Matthew 4, Jesus made a more direct call and I guess they could say, we could say they became part-time followers, only in that case it was Peter and James and John, who were the sons of a man named Zebedee.   And they were all partners in the fishing business.  So they had already had a couple of encounters with Jesus.  Peter, that first calling, that second calling with James and John.

Now Jesus is getting to know Peter because Peter is following HimThat’s why in chapter 4 after the synagogue service, when it was dinner time, Jesus went to Simon’s house.  He knows him now and Simon has become at least a far…a part-time follower, a little bit of fishing and a little bit of following Jesus.  It hasn’t been too difficult to follow Jesus and fish because Jesus has stayed in Galilee and so Peter could connect at certain points between his necessary employment as a fisherman.  And so Jesus knows Peter but it is time to take Peter to another level.  By the way, Jesus did this throughout His whole life, even after the resurrection, trying to get Peter to the level He wanted him atHe was very reluctant and a difficult guy to deal withBut he was also the recognized leader of the apostles.  It was important to have Peter where he needed to be because he was the one who had seemingly the greatest influence on the restAnd so Peter is seemingly the key person for the LordYou have four lists of apostles in the New Testament, Matthew, Mark, Luke and Acts, and in all four, Peter’s name is first.  He is clearly recognized as the spokesman and the leader.  And so Jesus is going to work on Peter a little bit and James and John, as we see, will follow along.  But Peter is the target, so He wants to get in Peter’s boat, and that’s exactly what He does.  He’s here called Simon. He will be called Simon by Luke until we get to chapter 6, verse 14 when he is fully identified as PeterBy this time the Lord had already changed his name but it didn’t get changed in the text of Luke until the 6th chapter, although He does refer to him here in verse 8 as Simon Peter, which sort of helps us make that transition.

When Jesus finished speaking, He asked Simon to go out into the deep water and cast his nets for a catch (verse 4).

Simon replied that they had fished all night long — when the catch would have been optimum — and caught nothing but agreed to do what Jesus asked (verse 5).

Henry has a practical application of the request from Jesus and Simon’s obedience. God wills things in His own time, therefore, patience is a virtue:

… [3.] Even those who are most diligent in their business often meet with disappointments; they who toiled all night yet caught nothing; for the race is not always to the swift. God will have us to be diligent, purely in duty to his command and dependence upon his goodness, rather than with an assurance of worldly success. We must do our duty, and then leave the event to God. [4.] When we are tired with our worldly business, and crossed in our worldly affairs, we are welcome to come to Christ, and spread our case before him, who will take cognizance of it.

Having obeyed Jesus, His men caught so many fish that their nets were beginning to break (verse 6).

They signalled to their partners in the other boat that they needed help; the fish filled both boats to the extent that they began to sink (verse 7).

At that point, it became clear that Jesus holds command over everything. Peter, James, John — and the crowd — were witnesses to that miraculous catch.

Henry says:

Now by this vast draught of fishes, (1.) Christ intended to show his dominion in the seas as well as on the dry land, over its wealth as over its waves. Thus he would show that he was that Son of man under whose feet all things were put, and particularly the fish of the sea and whatsoever passeth through the paths of the sea,Psalms 8:8. (2.) He intended hereby to confirm the doctrine he had just now preached out of Peter’s ship. We may suppose that the people on shore, who heard the sermon, having a notion that the preacher was a prophet sent of God, carefully attended his motions afterward, and staid halting about there, to see what he would do next; and this miracle immediately following would be a confirmation to their faith, of his being at least a teacher come from God.

MacArthur tells us:

The point is that in omniscience God knows everything there is to know, everything that exists He knows.  He doesn’t learn it. He doesn’t conclude it by adding.  He doesn’t know sparrows hop because He watches them.  Everything that exists He knows, whether it’s material or immaterialSo believe me, Jesus as God will know where the fish are.  And this is omniscience.  And this is what flows out of this.  God’s understanding is unsearchable. Isaiah 40:28 says, “Known to God from eternity are all His works.”  Paul said in Acts 15 and Hebrews 4:13, “There’s no creature hidden from His sight.”  God knows where every fish in every lake and every ocean is at all times because God omnisciently knows everything that exists in the material and immaterial world and the condition and state of everything, not only now but in the past and the future.  He knows everything.  Nothing in the universe is beyond His full comprehension.

That also includes the world’s languages, the law of physics and everything else we consider to be knowledge.

Peter realised that Jesus is divine and told Him to go away because he was a sinful man (verse 8). He became acutely aware of his sins and failings. This happened with others in the Bible who saw God. It was terrifying. The contrast between fallen man and the living God is too great for the former to bear. It strikes a profound fear into a person’s heart and mind. This is why it is important to repent now instead of waiting until it is too late. The day will come when every one of us — believer or not — will see Him face to face.

MacArthur gives us more examples of this terror when confronting holiness:

That’s why Abraham in Genesis 18:27 says, “I am speaking to the Lord?  Who am but dust and ashes.”  This can’t be happening.  Dust and ashes were a symbol of penitenceThat’s what Job said.  He said, Job 42, “I now see You with my eye and I repent in dust and ashes.”  Then there’s Isaiah who sees the Lord and says, “Curse me, damn me, woe is me, I’m disintegrating, I’m a man with a dirty mouth,” and all he can see about himself is his wretchedness.  And then there’s Manoah. I love the story of Manoah in the 13th chapter of JudgesManoah has an encounter with the angel of the Lord, a pre-incarnate appearance of Christ, the second member of the Trinity comes and appears to Manoah, and he goes home and he says to his wife, “I’ve seen the Lord, we’ll die. We will die.”  And then there’s Ezekiel who has a vision of God in Ezekiel chapter 1 and falls over in a coma.  And then there’s John in Revelation 1 who has a vision of the glorified Christ and it says he fell over like a dead person he was so traumatized.

One of the most interesting statements of all in regard to this is found in the 20th chapter of Exodus.  God is giving the law and in verse 19 they said to Moses, “Speak to us yourself and we will listen, but let not God speak to us lest we die.”  Moses, please we don’t mind talking to you, don’t bring God down here.  We’re dead.  You see, that’s the sense of sin, the overwhelming sense of sinThat’s the publican in Luke 18 beating his chest.  He won’t even look up.  He won’t lift his eyes.  He’s afraid somehow that God might see who he is and he’s crying, “God, be merciful to me a sinner.”  It’s the disciples in Matthew 17 on the Mount of Transfiguration who see the glory of Christ and fall over in a…in a coma, literally frightened into unconsciousnessThis is what God seeks in Isaiah 66:1 and 5, a person with a broken and a contrite heart.  This is someone who sees their sin and you can’t really see your sin until you see God.  And that’s why the emphasis of ministry always has to be to exalt God, to lift up God, to manifest His glory, His holiness because it’s when we see Him for who He is that we see us for who we are.

So here was Peter, broken, penitent, overwhelmed by his sin, frightened, terrifiedHe’s in the presence of holiness.  This is an affirmation on Peter’s part that he is meeting the divine One.  “Depart from me for I am sinful, oh Lord.”  And he’s affirming in saying that the Lord is sinless.  “You don’t deserve to be in my presence, I don’t deserve to be in Your presence.  We don’t have anything in common.  Holiness is separation and, Lord, it’s unfitting for You to be near me,” that’s what he’s saying.

And why did he feel this way?  Well verse 9 says, “Because of the amazement that had seized him and all his companions because of the catch of fish which they had taken.”  There was just no human explanation.  This is God.  And it was the same with, verse 10 says, with James and John.  They had exactly the same reaction, the sons of Zebedee.  They were partners, koinōnoi, partners in the business with Simon.  And they were all literally shaken to the core.

Now in the terror of this moment Peter wants to send the Lord away, but the Lord wants to pull Peter closer.  What from Peter’s viewpoint is so frightening that he wants to run is so encouraging to the Lord that He wants to embrace Peter.  At the very point at which the sinner feels the most alienation is the point at which the Savior is seeking reconciliation.  And here was Peter and his two buddies, James and John, wanting to run when Jesus wanted to embrace them, wanting alienation when Jesus sought reconciliation.  This is the glorious moment of their repentance.

And that brings us to the final attribute of God that is demonstrated here, divine mercy.  Peter was overwhelmed with his sinWe certainly can assume that James and John were and perhaps othersThey were broken and contrite, just what the Lord was seeking.  You remember it was Isaiah who thought he was so unworthy that he was going to be destroyed, and it turned out that the Lord called him into ministryIt was Job who thought that he was…he was the worst of sinners and needed to repent in dust and ashes that God blessed beyond imaginationIt was John, who because of his sinful life, in the presence of the vision of the glorified Christ in Revelation 1 fell over out of sheer terror in a dead faint.  And the Lord awakened him, told him to get up and take his pen and serve Him by writing the Revelation.

Just at the point where you think you’re on the brink of damnation because of your sin, you’re at the brink of reconciliation because of mercy.  And I love this in verse 10. Jesus said to Simon, “Do not fear,” or perhaps better, “Stop being terrified,” phobeō from which we get phobia.  Stop being terrified.  You don’t need to be terrified.  And that’s the kind of fear he was feeling. It was terror of being in the presence of holy God and being on the brink of divine judgment.  Stop being terrified.

Now let me just say as a footnote.  There is a healthy fear of God.  There is a positive fear of God.  We could go a lot of places in the Bible to demonstrate it, but let me simplify it, if I can.  There is a statement in the 4th verse of Deuteronomy 13 that defines this proper fear.  Just listen to this.  Deuteronomy 13:4 says, “You shall follow the Lord your God and fear Him and you shall keep His commandments, listen to His voice, serve Him, listen to this, and cling to Him.”  There is the fear that seeks to run and there is the fear that seeks to cling …

There is the terror of the sinner who fears the judgment of God.  There is the healthy reverence and wonder and awe and love and adoration of the child who wants to cling to a father who is the Father of mercies, as Paul calls God in 1 Corinthians.  And so we want the fear that clings, the fear that says I can’t make it on my ownThe fear that says You are my Redeemer, my Savior, my Lord, my Master.  You are the object of my love, my affection, my worship, my praise, my adoration, my devotion.  I want to keep Your commandments.  I want to listen to Your voice.  I want to serve You.  I want to follow You.  That’s the… That’s the fear that clings.  And for the sinner there is that fear that terrifies and wants to run.  That’s why I say there are people who come even here and when God is displayed and God is manifest and the glory of God is shown in the face of Jesus Christ, it’s a very intimidating thingThose who love their sin want to run.  Those who are, in a sense, unmasked by it but want to continue the game of hiding, flee.  But for us who desire mercy, we cling, don’t we?  The same God can create terror in the unrepentant sinner and calm in the penitent sinner.

Peter and all who were with him were amazed — one of Luke’s favourite words, also used in last week’s reading (Luke 4:22) — at the miraculous catch of fish at midday, when fish were least likely to be near the surface because of the sun’s heat (verse 9).

MacArthur says:

Everybody sees Peter and all his companions because of the catch of fish which they had taken. The term here for amazement is just that. I mean, it’s a term that simply means shock. They were absolutely shocked by what they saw. It’s a term that’s used a couple of times back in chapter 4. They were amazed at His teaching. They never heard anybody teach the way He taught. And in verse 36 they were amazed at His confrontation of the demon. And now they’re amazed at His power expressed over nature, just amazing expression of His power.

Luke reinforces the amazement by mentioning that of James and John, the sons of Zebedee, who were Simon’s fishing partners; then Jesus told Simon not to be afraid, because he would be catching people (verse 10), meaning making converts by preaching the Good News, something that happened early on in the Book of Acts after the first Pentecost. Once filled with the Holy Spirit, Peter made thousands of converts in Jerusalem and the surrounding area.

Henry says:

When by Peter’s preaching three thousand souls were, in one day, added to the church, then the type of this great draught of fishes was abundantly answered.

When they brought their boats to shore, the three men left everything to follow Jesus (verse 11).

I wanted to find out what happened to the fish, but neither of our commentators has any supposition. Perhaps the people were able to take one or two home.

MacArthur concludes:

This…this may have been the…who knows how much money this was worth, what this could have done in catapulting their career to another level. What more boats they could have bought. What perhaps more equipment they could have bought, men they could have hired to increase the business. But here they are at the very pinnacle, here they are having made the catch of all catches in the history of fishing and it says they brought their boats to land, got out of the boats, left everything, followed Him.

That was history. That was history. All the activities of their life to that point, past. Initially they had followed Him part-time and this was the full-time. This was the life they would live all the way to their death. From this moment on they were permanently engaged in catching people in God’s salvation net, the highest calling in life, the great commission. The word followed is used in Luke as a technical term for discipleship. You see it about five times in chapter 9, a couple of times in chapter 18. They became disciples.

Henry had an interesting insight as to why Jesus wanted to display His omnipotence with the large haul of fish. One of the reasons was to repay Peter for lending him his boat as a preaching platform:

He intended hereby to repay Peter for the loan of his boat; for Christ’s gospel now, as his ark formerly in the house of Obed-edom, will be sure to make amends, rich amends, for its kind entertainment. None shall shut a door or kindle a fire in God’s house for nought,Malachi 1:10. Christ’s recompences for services done to his name are abundant, they are superabundant.

Next week we begin the Sundays before Lent, starting with Septuagesima, meaning 70 days before Easter.

The Second Sunday after Epiphany is January 16, 2022.

Readings for Year C can be found here.

The Gospel reading is as follows (emphases mine):

John 2:1-11

2:1 On the third day there was a wedding in Cana of Galilee, and the mother of Jesus was there.

2:2 Jesus and his disciples had also been invited to the wedding.

2:3 When the wine gave out, the mother of Jesus said to him, “They have no wine.”

2:4 And Jesus said to her, “Woman, what concern is that to you and to me? My hour has not yet come.”

2:5 His mother said to the servants, “Do whatever he tells you.”

2:6 Now standing there were six stone water jars for the Jewish rites of purification, each holding twenty or thirty gallons.

2:7 Jesus said to them, “Fill the jars with water.” And they filled them up to the brim.

2:8 He said to them, “Now draw some out, and take it to the chief steward.” So they took it.

2:9 When the steward tasted the water that had become wine, and did not know where it came from (though the servants who had drawn the water knew), the steward called the bridegroom

2:10 and said to him, “Everyone serves the good wine first, and then the inferior wine after the guests have become drunk. But you have kept the good wine until now.”

2:11 Jesus did this, the first of his signs, in Cana of Galilee, and revealed his glory; and his disciples believed in him.

Commentary comes from Matthew Henry and John MacArthur.

By way of introduction, John MacArthur tells us that John’s Gospel is an apologetic and an evangelic purpose set to prove that Jesus is the Son of God:

John has written his gospel for one purpose, really. These have been written, he says–the words of this gospel–that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God. John writes to give evidence for the fact that Jesus of Nazareth is the Messiah and is the Son of God, that you may believe that, and that believing you may have life, eternal life, in His name. So we’ve been saying he has an apologetic purpose to give evidence that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and he has an evangelistic purpose that you might believe that, and then believing have eternal life in His name. John’s gospel is a collection of evidences, of evidences concerning the Lord Jesus Christ, to prove His deity and His humanity. The whole purpose of this gospel is just to line up supporting proofs for the deity of Jesus Christ.

We already know that from our experience in chapter 1. There is the first eighteen verses, which is the testimony of John the apostle himself. In the opening eighteen verses that some call the prologue, John gives his own testimony that the Word, who is Jesus Christ, is God, with God, created everything, is the Light, is the life, all of those things are part of that. “The Word,” verse 14, “became flesh and dwelt among us and we beheld His glory. The glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth.”

We heard the first 14 verses read on Christmas Day and the remainder of the Prologue on the Second Sunday after Christmas Day.

John writes about eight miracles that Jesus performed:

He turns water into wine in chapter 2. He heals a dying man in chapter 4. He cures a paralyzed man in chapter 5. He creates food for thousands of people in chapter 6. He walks on water at the end of chapter 6. He gives sight to the blind in chapter 9. He raises a man dead for days in chapter 11. He creates a meal in chapter 21, breakfast for His disciples. And then the culminating miracle beyond the eight, He is raised from the dead. So those are the miracle signs that John records.

However, there were many more that John did not include:

I would just remind you that in chapter 20, verse 30, it says this: “Therefore many other signs Jesus also performed in the presence of the disciples which are not written in this book.” So I don’t want you to think that these are the only miracles Jesus did, far from it. There are many others. They were a daily experience of those who followed Jesus.

And then in chapter 21, verse 25, the last verse in the gospel of John, John writes “there were also many other things which Jesus did which if they were written in detail, I suppose that even the world itself would not contain the books that would be written.” Jesus did so many signs and so many miracles that the books of the world wouldn’t be able to contain the details of all of them. Many other things; John is merely giving us samples of these miraculous evidences that Jesus is in fact God because He does what only God can do. In chapter 1, verse 14, the Word, the divine Word, the eternal Word became flesh and manifested His divine glory. That’s John’s point. He shows His glory as God through these signs.

This is how John wrote of our Lord’s ministry, both public and private:

Now as we come to chapter 2, it is also in chapter 2 that we have the beginning of Jesus’ public ministry. His ministry to the crowds, His ministry to the people of Israel, and His public ministry goes from chapter 2, verse 1 to the end of chapter 12. When you come to the end of chapter 12, that’s the end of His public ministry. Chapter 13 through 17 is His private ministry in the Upper Room to the apostles. And that is right before His death and resurrection, which then become the subject of chapters 18 to 21. So the book is divided then into those sections: chapter 1, verbal testimony; chapter 2 to 12, public ministry; 13 to 17, private ministry; 18 to the end, His death, resurrection, and post-resurrection appearances. That helps locate you in the big scheme of things in the gospel of John.

John tells us that, on the third day, a wedding took place in Cana and that the mother of Jesus — Mary — was invited (verse 1).

The ‘third day’ refers to the previous chapter, in which He began calling His apostles:

The third day after the previous meeting with Philip and Nathanael, which was concluded when Philip brought Nathanael, and Nathanael said in verse 49 concerning Jesus, “After we’ve examined You, we see You are the Son of God, You are the King of Israel.” That’s what John the apostle said in the opening, that’s what John the Baptist says, that’s what these men all say, and now it is going to be proven to us in the miracle that happens in the wedding at Cana. It’s the third day after that meeting. What that tells us is that from the time that John the Baptist said “Behold the Lamb of God” and turned his disciples away from him to follow Jesus–those five men to follow Jesus–from that day to this day everything happens in a week. They have gone from being across the Jordan and Judah, all the way back to Galilee to the village of Cana, which is about nine miles, the ruins of it are about nine miles north of Nazareth. All of this happens in a very power-packed week. Jesus being declared, these men being called to follow Him, and they do so and end up in the town of Cana.

Jesus and His disciples had also been invited to the wedding (verse 2).

MacArthur tells us more about Cana and Nazareth, both in Galilee:

we’re talking about Andrew and Peter and Philip and Nathanael and John and just incidentally Nathanael’s hometown, according to John 21:2, was Cana. This is a very small place. Nazareth, for example, the highest number we read about in terms of the population of Nazareth at the time of Jesus would be 500. That would be the max. Small place.

Cana is a village nine miles away, even smaller; maybe a few dozen people, a sort of a gathering place for the agricultural folks in that region; very, very small place. That would make this wedding a huge event. And obviously people from Nazareth would know those people because they lived nearby, they farmed together, the people in the outlying areas would come to Nazareth when they needed things that could only be gained in Nazareth.

It would also be true that if a town of Nazareth has five hundred or less people, they know each other. They’ve been there for generations; they aren’t mobile. They’re not only friends, many are family, and that would be extended into Cana. So we’re not surprised that Nathanael would be there because that’s his village. We’re not surprised that Mary would be there, she had lived in Nazareth for a long time. And we’re not also surprised that the rest of these folks from Galilee, the other men who came with Jesus, would also be there. Surely they would know people in that wedding as well.

Matthew Henry’s commentary mentions the biblical significance of Cana as the place for our Lord’s first miracle:

The place: it was at Cana in Galilee, in the tribe of Asher (Joshua 19:28), of which, before, it was said that he shall yield royal dainties, Genesis 49:20 Christ began to work miracles in an obscure corner of the country, remote from Jerusalem, which was the public scene of action, to show that he sought not honour from men (John 5:41; John 5:41), but would put honour upon the lowly. His doctrine and miracles would not be so much opposed by the plain and honest Galileans as they would be by the proud and prejudiced rabbies, politicians, and grandees, at Jerusalem.

Both commentators point out the significance of this first miracle occurring at a wedding.

Henry says:

The occasion itself was a marriage; probably one or both of the parties were akin to our Lord Jesus. The mother of Jesus is said to be there, and not to be called, as Jesus and his disciples were, which intimates that she was there as one at home. Observe the honour which Christ hereby put upon the ordinance of marriage, that he graced the solemnity of it, not only with his presence, but with his first miracle; because it was instituted and blessed in innocency, because by it he would still seek a godly seed, because it resembles the mystical union between him and his church

MacArthur says that by virtue of the fact that marriage is open to all cultures signifies its importance to humanity through common grace, ordained by God for an orderly society:

The fact that our Lord did His first miracle at a wedding emphasizes the sanctity of that covenant. Weddings matter. Public covenant matters. The ceremony matters; it always has, it always has. People are not married who just live together. People are married who make public covenant before God and before people.

Marriage is a condition of life designed by God, ordained by God, and authenticated in an open, public covenant. It is the highest and noblest and best of all human relationships. No other human relationship is as wonderful as marriage. It is called in the Bible “the grace of life.” It is the most wonderful and most blessed of all common graces. And we talk about common grace. What we mean by that is a grace gift from God to all people without regard to whether they believe in Him. That’s a common grace. And of all the common graces–the beauty of the world, a sunset, sleep, health, a good meal, falling in love–of all the common graces, the epitome of common graces is marriage. It is the best gift that God can give to humanity in general without regard to whether they know Him at all. Any society that honors marriage, any society that elevates marriage–a life-long commitment openly; a covenant made and kept between a man and a woman who rear children in the bond of that love–any society that honors marriage will be blessed temporally. It will prosper. It will be safe. It will be secure. It will know peace. It will have a minimum of crime.

On the other hand, any society that fails to honor marriage as a covenant, open covenant between a man and a woman for life, in which children are reared and cared for; any society that diminishes marriage, that fails to honor marriage, is corrupt, is doomed to chaos, turmoil, evil and judgment. Where marriage for life is not honored, where the covenant vows between a man and a woman are not kept, immorality abounds. Immorality overruns the culture, delinquency overruns the culture. The fabric of society is shredded and even escalates. Our Lord honored marriage by attending and doing His first miracle at a wedding.

When the wine ran out, Mary told Jesus that there was no more (verse 3).

How did she know? She was no doubt sensitive to and interested in everything that was going on.

Henry says that Mary and Jesus were the principal guests:

Christ and his mother and disciples were principal guests at this entertainment. The mother of Jesus (that was her most honourable title) was there; no mention being made of Joseph, we conclude him dead before this.

On the other hand, MacArthur thinks that Mary helped serve rather than be served:

Maybe Mary was there because she, of course, would have been who served, just her character as a godly woman demonstrated in her Magnificat at the time of our Lord’s birth. She would have been a wonderful woman, a loved woman, a beloved woman. She probably had some role to play in the wedding to serve as indicated by the fact that she sees the problem and brings it to Jesus.

MacArthur says that running out of wine was a big deal that would have reflected badly on the groom, who would have been preparing for the feast and married life since betrothal, likely to have been a year before. To run out of wine during a days-long wedding feast was a sign of trouble. Note that the couple did not consummate their marriage until the feast had ended:

this is a major event going on, it lasted for days. Some writers say they usually would start in the middle of the week and go on for many days. Sometimes they would start early in the week and go all week long, as long as seven days. When people came to this celebration, they came because there had been a betrothal, an engagement period. About a year earlier, the couple had been engaged. That’s a legal, binding, covenantal contract that could only be broken by divorce. But the marriage wasn’t consummated; it wasn’t consummated till the end of this party.

What was going on all that year? The husband was preparing a place for his bride. That’s what he did. He built a house for his bride. He may be extended on the father’s house, the family house. The bridegroom had full responsibility for all the cost of the wedding. And his job was to get everything ready, and then when everything was ready and the house was built and the house was furnished and all preparations were made and he had demonstrated that he had what it took to care for this girl and to provide for this girl, the party began. It was a great celebration because he had been working hard for a year

Well, a wedding, as I said, is the greatest occasion. No occasion like it. And the celebration is in full swing. Everybody’s having a wonderful time. That’s the party. And then comes the predicament, verse 3, when the wine ran out, that’s a problem. When the wine ran out, this is a major catastrophe. This is a colossal social embarrassment because if there was anything that the bridegroom had spent a year trying to prove is that he could take care of his bride. He had to build her a house; he had to acquire everything that was necessary. He had to demonstrate his ability to take care of her for the rest of her life. Her father was handing her over to him. This is a problem. Maybe he can’t plan. This is what all of you fathers who marry off your daughters fear. Is this guy going to be able to make a living? Is this guy going to be able to take care of you? Is this guy smoke ’n mirrors here? Is there substance there? This is the same issue. They ran out of wine at the greatest celebration that they would have had. Remember, life was tough, life was hard, labor was extreme. It was a difficult world to just survive and a celebration like this meant so much as a relief and then to run out of wine.

Jesus addresses Mary as ‘woman’ and asks what the lack of wine has to do with them; He then tells her that His hour has not yet come (verse 4).

In other words, with regard to miracles, He takes orders from His Heavenly Father, not a human being.

Henry says:

Now this was intended to be, First, A check to his mother for interposing in a matter which was the act of his Godhead, which had no dependence on her, and which she was not the mother of. Though, as man, he was David’s Son and hers; yet, as God, he was David’s Lord and hers, and he would have her know it. The greatest advancements must not make us forget ourselves and our place, nor the familiarity to which the covenant of grace admits us breed contempt, irreverence, or any kind or degree of presumption. Secondly, It was an instruction to others of his relations (many of whom were present here) that they must never expect him to have any regard to his kindred according to the flesh, in his working miracles, or that therein he should gratify them, who in this matter were no more to him than other people.

As for Jesus saying His hour had not yet come, He meant that God would direct His actions at the proper time.

Henry interprets this in a practical way, saying that Jesus wanted to make sure all the wine had been consumed first:

His mother moved him to help them when the wine began to fail (so it may be read, John 2:3; John 2:3), but his hour was not yet come till it was quite spent, and there was a total want; not only to prevent any suspicion of mixing some of the wine that was left with the water, but to teach us that man’s extremity is God’s opportunity to appear for the help and relief of his people. Then his hour is come when we are reduced to the utmost strait, and know not what to do. This encouraged those that waited for him to believe that though his hour was not yet come it would come. Note, The delays of mercy are not to be construed the denials of prayer.

MacArthur sees it as a mild rebuke:

It’s not harsh to say “Woman.” Some say it’s kind of the southern expression, “ma’am.” It’s not harsh, but it’s not intimate. It’s not mother. It’s courteous. By the way, it’s the same word that He used on the cross in John 19 when He said to her, “Woman, behold your son,” and handed her over to John. He called her “woman” there as well. Why? Because He is telling her we don’t any longer have the relationship we’ve had up till now. It’s over. She is no longer in a position to act as an authority in His life. She is no longer in a position to tell Him what to do, to make suggestions to Him. This would be a big change because I’m pretty confident that everything she ever asked of Him, everything she ever desired of Him, He gave out of His love. But she could no longer demand anything from Him. She played no role in His ministry.

Recall that the Gospel reading a few weeks ago for the First Sunday after Christmas Day was when Jesus stayed behind after Passover at the age of 12 to listen to the teachers at the temple.

MacArthur says:

When He was twelve years old, He gave her a preview of this moment, and He was in the temple talking to the officials, and He said, “I must be about My Father’s business.” And this day His Father’s business started and His mother’s business ended. From here on He was saying, “I don’t do your business; I do My Father’s business. I’m done with My mother’s business, fully engaged in My Father’s business.”

Can I even extend that? He never asked for suggestions from anybody…from anybody. In fact, when people gave Him suggestions, He normally rebuked them such as “Get behind Me, Satan.” Here His rebuke is a little milder. He says, “What does that have to do with us?” “What does that have to do with us?” This is so critically important. The years of compliance, the years of submission, the years of obedience are over. He is finished with His mother’s business and He is now doing His Father’s business. He says from here on, as we’ll see in John, “I only do what the Father tells Me to do. I only do what the Father wills that I do. I only do what I see the Father do. It is the Father who gives Me His Word, and it is what the Father speaks that I do.”

Mary lets the matter drop and tells the servants to obey Jesus in any instruction (verse 5).

Henry observes that Mary wanted the servants to adopt the same obedience that she would now adopt:

She directed them punctually to observe his orders, without disputing, or asking questions. Being conscious to herself of a fault in prescribing to him, she cautions the servants to take heed of the same fault, and to attend both his time and his way for supply: Whatsoever he saith unto you, do it, though you may think it ever so improper. If he saith, Give the guests water, when they call for wine, do it. If he saith, Pour out from the bottoms of the vessels that are spent, do it. He can make a few drops of wine multiply to so many draughts.” Note, Those that expect Christ’s favours must with an implicit obedience observe his orders. The way of duty is the way to mercy; and Christ’s methods must not be objected against.

John tells us that there were six stone water jars for purification purposes; each could hold 20 or 30 gallons of water (verse 6).

Henry explains that the purification rituals under Mosaic law were seen as a means to win favour with God:

Observe, 1. For what use these water-pots were intended: for the legal purifications from ceremonial pollutions enjoined by the law of God, and many more by the tradition of the elders. The Jews eat not, except they wash often (Mark 7:3), and they used much water in their washing, for which reason here were six large water-pots provided. It was a saying among them, Qui multâ utitur aquâ in lavando, multas consequetur in hoc mundo divitias–He who uses much water in washing will gain much wealth in this world.

At that time — and until relatively recently, in historical terms — water was unsafe to drink unless it had been purified. Wine (or beer) could purify it, which was why alcohol was added to water. One could drink it without becoming inebriated because of the small quantity of alcohol used.

Jesus told the servants to fill the vessels to the brim with water (verse 7).

MacArthur explains why He wanted them completely filled:

If they weren’t filled to the brim, somebody would just say He added wine to the water. But if the water goes all the way to the brim, there’s nothing left to…no room left. That was the point. And by the way, you have people who are completely disinterested parties now who are going to give testimony to this miracle. They don’t have any stake in this issue. They’re not trying to prove anything about Jesus. These are servants, whoever they were, the people who were serving there. They might not have been full-time servants. They might just have been friends and folks who were willing to do this. But they don’t have any issue. They are disinterested parties who are going to witness and give testimony to this miracle. So they filled the water pots with water. And they filled them up to the brim.

Jesus then instructed the servants to give some of the wine to the chief steward, which they did (verse 8).

MacArthur points out that the miracle occurred between verses 7 and 8:

it actually happened in the white space between verses 7 and 8. They filled it to the brim and all of a sudden they drew some out, took it to the head waiter, they took it to him and the head waiter tasted water which had become wine. This is so understated. This is like in the backdoor. Where’s the miracle? I mean, this is massive.

The chief steward tasted the wine; he was unaware of its origin, although the servants knew, and he called over the bridegroom (verse 9).

The chief steward told the bridegroom that the best wine was about to be served, rather than before (verse 10). The implication is that the host begins with the best wine first when people can experience it most: with clean tastebuds and the accompaniment of good food.

A good host serves the best of everything first and the lesser quality items later.

John concludes by saying that this was the first of our Lord’s signs, performed in Cana in Galilee, thereby revealing His glory; His disciples believed in him (verse 11).

Henry reminds us that they believed, although their faith at that stage would have been imperfect, as borne out by the Gospels:

Those whom he had called (John 1:35-43.1.51; John 1:35-43.1.51), who had seen no miracle, and yet followed him, now saw this, shared in it, and had their faith strengthened by it. Note, (1.) Even the faith that is true is at first but weak. The strongest men were once babes, so were the strongest Christians. (2.) The manifesting of the glory of Christ is the great confirmation of the faith of Christians.

This wine would have been the most perfect ever created, better than the best Petrus. Those wedding guests experienced a gustatorial blessing that no one since ever has.

In closing, this is what Matthew Henry’s commentary says about drink, putting paid to any abstemious notions — everything in moderation:

Temperance per force is a thankless virtue; but if divine providence gives us abundance of the delights of sense, and divine grace enables us to use them moderately, this is self-denial that is praiseworthy. He also intended that some should be left for the confirmation of the truth of the miracle to the faith of others. And we have reason to think that the guests at this table were so well taught, or at least were now so well awed by the presence of Christ, that none of them abused this wine to excess. These two considerations, drawn from this story, may be sufficient at any time to fortify us against temptations to intemperance: First, That our meat and drink are the gifts of God’s bounty to us, and we owe our liberty to use them, and our comfort in the use of them, to the mediation of Christ; it is therefore ungrateful and impious to abuse them.

This goodness of God’s creation presages the pleasure and perfection of the life to come:

Secondly, That, wherever we are, Christ has his eye upon us; we should eat bread before God (Exodus 18:12), and then we should not feed ourselves without fear. [2.] He has given us a specimen of the method he takes in dealing with those that deal with him, which is, to reserve the best for the last, and therefore they must deal upon trust. The recompence of their services and sufferings is reserved for the other world; it is a glory to be revealed. The pleasures of sin give their colour in the cup, but at the last bite; but the pleasures of religion will be pleasures for evermore.

May all reading this have a blessed Sunday.

The Twenty-first Sunday after Trinity — the Twenty-second Sunday after Pentecost — is October 24, 2021.

Readings for Year B can be found here.

The Gospel reading is as follows (emphases mine):

Mark 10:46-52

10:46 They came to Jericho. As he and his disciples and a large crowd were leaving Jericho, Bartimaeus son of Timaeus, a blind beggar, was sitting by the roadside.

10:47 When he heard that it was Jesus of Nazareth, he began to shout out and say, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!”

10:48 Many sternly ordered him to be quiet, but he cried out even more loudly, “Son of David, have mercy on me!”

10:49 Jesus stood still and said, “Call him here.” And they called the blind man, saying to him, “Take heart; get up, he is calling you.”

10:50 So throwing off his cloak, he sprang up and came to Jesus.

10:51 Then Jesus said to him, “What do you want me to do for you?” The blind man said to him, “My teacher, let me see again.”

10:52 Jesus said to him, “Go; your faith has made you well.” Immediately he regained his sight and followed him on the way.

Commentary comes from Matthew Henry and John MacArthur.

We pick up where we left off last week. Last week’s reading was about James and John requesting they sit next to him in Heaven,  insisting they could drink our Lord’s cup (God’s wrath) and take on His baptism (severe trial). Jesus granted their request of the cup and baptism. They ended up martyred. St James the Great was beheaded and St John suffered a slow death in exile on Patmos.

Today’s reading involves another request, but, in contrast to that of James and John, a very humble one made in faith.

Jesus had finished His ministry in Peraea. He and the disciples were now in Jericho, on their way to Jerusalem for Passover.

John MacArthur sets the scene for us and describes the beauty of Jericho:

Jesus had been ministering in Perea, which is a region east of the Jordan and down in the south. And He would keep moving down in Perea, eventually would cross the Jordan, just north of the Dead Sea. And the first town He would come to of any note would be Jericho. And from Jericho it is a direct ascent right up the hill to Jerusalem. “They came to Jericho.”

A great crowd is with Him; that is indicated to us here in the text. They are following along a large crowd. Matthew tells us the same thing: a large crowd, a great multitude. And it’s a combination of people who are following Jesus because they know about Him; and just the mass of humanity flowing down to the south to ascend to Jerusalem because they want to be there for the Passover. Many of them would cross the Jordan to go to the east, and cross the Jordan back again to avoid Samaria.

Our Lord has concluded a brief preaching, teaching, healing mission in Perea, and now crosses over the Jordan, probably by some kind of a ferry or a raft. The river would have been swollen at this time of the year, Passover is springtime, and the snow would have melted high in the mountains of Lebanon and filled up that lake of Galilee, and it would have overflowed down the Jordan River, and they would have crossed. They came to the city of Jericho known as the city of palms, city of Palms – about a six-hour walk straight up to Jerusalem.

Well-known in New Testament times, well-known, formidable place, a city fed by springs, had a lot of water even though its desert. Plenty of water piped in if there wasn’t enough there in the springs. They piped enough in to irrigate that place and to turn that place into a garden. It had a large population because of the availability of water. It was filled, they tell us – historians do – that it was filled with palm trees, it was filled with fruit trees of every kind. It was home to a bush known as the balsam bush that supplied juice that was used as a medicine and found only there.

The climate was warm, obviously. Josephus says linen clothes were warn even when there was snow in Jerusalem. Mark tells us that it was not yet the season for figs in the eleventh chapter, verse 13, in Jerusalem, but it would have been the season for figs ripening already in Jericho. Almonds flourished there, we are told, and rose plants. It was really a garden, the city given by Marc Antony to Cleopatra, according to Josephus, in the place where Herod built a fort and a palace in which he finally died. So it was a magnificent place.

But it’s not just the Jericho of the New Testament that we know about, the Jericho of the Old Testament is pretty famous, isn’t it? We all know the story recorded for us in Joshua chapter 6 about the destruction of Jericho when the walls came falling down, when the Israelites marched around it for seven days. It had a well-known history to the Jews. It had recovered from those darker days and was a flourishing, flourishing place. So in verse 46 they came to Jericho.

Now, Mark says He was leaving Jericho, Luke says He was approaching Jericho. That’s quite interesting. Matthew says He was going out of Jericho. What’s going on here? Well, the best way to understand that is that those references can be taken to mean He was in the general vicinity of Jericho. He was going in and out of Jericho because He was not intending to stay very long, although He did stay long enough to spend an evening and a night in the house of Zacchaeus the tax collector to whom He brought salvation. Whether He was at this point coming in before the incident with Zacchaeus or going out after the incident with Zacchaeus, one can’t be dogmatic about. But safe to say, in any case, it is in the vicinity of Jericho where this happens. And that place would have been a buzz, filled with all kinds of sites and sounds and smells, even memories for Jesus, because very near Jericho was an area called “the devastation,” the devastation, the very place where our Lord had been taken by the Holy Spirit to be tempted by the devil.

Bartimaeus, son of Timaeus, was a blind beggar sitting by the roadside (verse 46).

This story features in the three synoptic Gospels: Matthew, Mark and Luke. The account in Matthew 20 mentions two blind men. Luke 18 and Mark 10 only feature one.

Mark is the only account to name the man.

Matthew Henry’s commentary says that some scholars believe his father’s name is included because he, too, was blind. As was usual in Christ’s miracles, there was also a spiritual element in the cure:

This one is named here, being a blind beggar that was much talked of; he was called Bartimeus, that is, the son of Timeus; which, some think, signifies the son of a blind man; he was the blind son of a blind father, which made the case worse, and the cure more wonderful, and the more proper to typify the spiritual cures wrought by the grace of Christ, on those that not only are born blind, but are born of those that are blind.

The Jews viewed physical infirmity as a divine curse, so when Bartimaeus called out to Jesus, ‘the Son of David’, to have mercy on him (verse 47), the crowd sternly ordered him to be quiet. Yet, he yelled out all the more loudly (verse 48).

MacArthur says Bartimaeus would have been the lowest of the low:

He’s at the bottom, by the way, socially, obviously below the peasants. Below the unclean and degraded sinners are the cursed. He’s just a hair above a tax collector.

MacArthur explains the Greek words in the original text:

When he heard that it was Jesus the Nazarene, which is what they said, he began to cry out and say, “Jesus, son of David.” He began to scream. Mark uses the verb krazō, “to shout.” It’s a very strong word. It is used in Mark 5 to speak of insane epileptics, demon-possessed people. It’s used also in the Scripture to speak of – Revelation 12 – birth pain and the screaming of a woman; strong. He begins to scream in anguish and desperation, and he doesn’t say, “Jesus of Nazareth,” he says, “Jesus, son of David.” 

Bartimaeus uses the messianic title for Jesus:

Son of David; that is a messianic title, and he knew exactly what it was. The Messiah was to be the heir of David’s throne, according to 2 Samuel chapter 7. The Messiah would receive the kingdom that had been promised to a son of David. David’s greater son would be the King who would bring the fulfillment of all the promises both to David and to Abraham. This was the most common Jewish title for the Messiah: son of David, son of David, son of David.

That is why you have the genealogy in Matthew 1 of Joseph that shows He comes from the family of David. That is why you have the genealogy of Mary in Luke to show that she comes from the line of David. Both His earthly father and His true mother were in the line of David. He is truly a son of David.

Jesus stood still and asked the crowd to call Bartimaeus to Him. Their mood changed as they encouraged him to take heart — ‘take courage’ in the older translations is even better — and approach Jesus (verse 49).

MacArthur points out our Lord’s rebuke to the crowd and their change in mood:

this is such a rebuke, such a rebuke to religion, elite religiosity, that the Lord saves the scum

Verse 49: “And Jesus stopped.” And I just need to say, if you see anything through all the years of studying the Gospels, you see the compassion of God toward people, demonstrated in Jesus Christ, compassionate at every turn. He stopped and He said, “Call him here. Call him here. Don’t silence him; call him here, bring him to Me.”

In fact, Luke 18:40 puts it this way: “He commanded that he be brought to Him.” He commanded it. “And so, they called the blind man,” – in verse 49 – “and they said to him, ‘Take courage, stand up! He’s calling for you.’” Now all of a sudden they change their tune. Jesus’ response to the man changes their attitude for the moment. Their curiosity drives them to let this thing happen and see what could be made of it. Maybe they’ll see another miracle.

Bartimaeus threw off his cloak and ‘sprang’ to Jesus (verse 50).

MacArthur says:

Somebody had to bring him obviously.

Jesus asked what He could do for Bartimaeus. It was the same question he asked James and John. Instead of responding with pride and ambition as they did, Bartimaeus addressed Jesus humbly as ‘my Teacher’ and asked to be able to see once again (verse 51).

MacArthur elaborates on this call for divine mercy, both physically and spiritually:

So here is a man who recognizes Jesus as the true Messiah; and here is a man who knows what he needs, and it is mercy, it is mercy. And while this is a typical cry of afflicted people, certainly it’s a true and pure cry of this man from the heart: “Pity me.” He’s not deserving of anything and he knows it. He would have understood the theology of his people as well and thought himself cursed by God because he was blind. He knows he needs mercy, he knows he is a sinner; his blindness aids him in facing that.

Note that Jesus tells Bartimaeus that his faith has made him well. With that He healed the man, who regained his sight and followed our Lord on His way (verse 52).

MacArthur explains:

This man only wants mercy. Unlike James and John who thought they needed elevation, this man knows he deserves nothing. He’s not laying claim on anything. Mercy means to give what people don’t deserve. And he said, the blind man did, “Rabboni,” which means, “Master,” Master. And according to Luke 18 he also said, “Lord, Master, Lord.” Wow, now this theology is starting to fill out here, “Lord and Master,” and he uses a form of the word kurios. He recognizes him as his Master and his Lord; and yet Jesus is taking the role of a servant and a slave. “What can I do for you?” I mean, compassion and sympathy and lowliness and tenderness and kindness and affection and grace and mercy, the King does what the beggar asks him to do.

“What do you want?” “Rabboni, I want to regain my sight. I want to regain my sight.” According to Matthew’s account, Jesus then reached over and touched his eyes. And according to Luke 18:42, He said, “Receive your sight.” He so often healed with a touch, didn’t He? He touched him and said, “Receive your sight.”

What happened? Verse 52: “Go; your faith has made you well. Immediately he regained his sight and began following Him on the road.” This really is a model of a conversion pre-cross, a model of a conversion pre-cross. Do you think there was any doubt in his mind that this was his Lord? No. His Master? No. His Messiah? No. That he was a sinner? No. That he needed mercy? No. There was no doubt in his mind that here was the dispenser of mercy needed by this desperate man.

This then is more than a healing, my friend, more than a healing. When Jesus said to him, “Go; your faith has made you well,” He uses a verb sōzō, from which we get “saved.” It means “to save.” “Your faith has saved you.”

There is a word strictly referring to healing, iaomai. That’s not the word here. It’s the word sōzō, “Your faith has saved you.” And we know that that encompasses the healing, but also the salvation. The healing is indicated, “and he regained his sight,” and the salvation is indicated in, “he began following Him on the road.”

The evidence of the healing was obvious, “He saw,” 20/20 instantaneously. The evidence of salvation was, “following Him.” He had received mercy; and he gives the sign of a true conversion: “He followed.” By the way, Matthew focuses on the two of them, and it says, “They followed.” And so his friend followed also. So he was there when he got to the top of the hill.

MacArthur speculates on what happened next, saying that Bartimaeus could well have been at the first Pentecost. Perhaps that is why Mark wrote of him by name:

You know, there must have been a – there must have been a literally stunning experience going on in his mind as he comes out of his blindness into sight and out of his sin into salvation, and walks with Jesus to the triumphal entry. And he’s there through the week, and he’s there after the resurrection. And very likely he’s there in the church; and that’s why he’s named, and that’s why his story is told. Who knows? My guess is he was one of the hundred and twenty in the upper room at Pentecost; a lifetime of being an outcast, and now he’s on the inside.

MacArthur reminds us that this was the last of our Lord’s creative — healing — miracles. Conversions are the remaining spiritual events with Zacchaeus, the criminal at the Crucifixion and the centurion who saw Jesus die:

in Jericho two wonderful salvation stories take place. Two stories that stand in stark contrast to national rejection in bleak contrast to the unbelief and hatred of the leaders and the people, two. Two prodigals, you might say, come home; two lost souls are found; two darkened minds are enlightened; two sinners are saved; two outcasts are reconciled. One is the story of the blind, the other is the story of Zacchaeus the tax collector; for he too encountered Jesus in Jericho, and that is recorded for us in Luke 19, verses 1 to 10. Mark doesn’t tell us that story, but it is Zacchaeus and Bartimaeus who are the last two trophies of sovereign, saving grace until the cross; and then there is a thief and a centurion.

It’s an illustration, isn’t it, and a reminder of what our Lord said about the narrow gate; and few there be that find it. And it is also remarkably an indication of the fact that there are not many noble, not many mighty; but it’s the poor and the outcasts and the nobodies and the nothings. All four of them fit into that category: a blind beggar, a tax collector, a thief, and a despised Roman. These are the only shining moments. It’s as if they make an exclamation point on the divine rejection of the Jews. The hypocritical hoopla that will occur when He comes into the city is just that, superficial and hypocritical. We really need to cherish these stories of conversion before the cross, and even the two at the cross.

MacArthur concludes with a practical application for us:

So many lessons here. You see the Lord’s profound compassion. You see that He never ignores the cry of a true heart of repentance; and desperate sinners who know they’re worthy of nothing will always gain a hearing with Him. You learn again what we’ve seen all through His ministry, that He has the power to heal disease. But far more importantly, He has the power to save sinners, turn them into obedient followers who live lives of true worship.

That’s why we’re here tonight, because we have been approached by Jesus somewhere along the road in our lives. In our blindness, in our desperation He passed by, and our hearts were awakened, and we cried out, “Son of David, have mercy on me.” And He heard our cry, didn’t He? And all of this is possible because He went all the way to Jerusalem, all the way to the cross, and out the other side of the open tomb.

May everyone reading this enjoy a blessed Sunday.

The Fourteenth Sunday after Trinity — Fifteenth Sunday after Pentecost — is September 5, 2021.

Readings for Year B can be found here.

The Gospel reading is as follows (emphases mine):

Mark 7:24-37

7:24 From there he set out and went away to the region of Tyre. He entered a house and did not want anyone to know he was there. Yet he could not escape notice,

7:25 but a woman whose little daughter had an unclean spirit immediately heard about him, and she came and bowed down at his feet.

7:26 Now the woman was a Gentile, of Syrophoenician origin. She begged him to cast the demon out of her daughter.

7:27 He said to her, “Let the children be fed first, for it is not fair to take the children’s food and throw it to the dogs.”

7:28 But she answered him, “Sir, even the dogs under the table eat the children’s crumbs.”

7:29 Then he said to her, “For saying that, you may go–the demon has left your daughter.”

7:30 So she went home, found the child lying on the bed, and the demon gone.

7:31 Then he returned from the region of Tyre, and went by way of Sidon towards the Sea of Galilee, in the region of the Decapolis.

7:32 They brought to him a deaf man who had an impediment in his speech; and they begged him to lay his hand on him.

7:33 He took him aside in private, away from the crowd, and put his fingers into his ears, and he spat and touched his tongue.

7:34 Then looking up to heaven, he sighed and said to him, “Ephphatha,” that is, “Be opened.”

7:35 And immediately his ears were opened, his tongue was released, and he spoke plainly.

7:36 Then Jesus ordered them to tell no one; but the more he ordered them, the more zealously they proclaimed it.

7:37 They were astounded beyond measure, saying, “He has done everything well; he even makes the deaf to hear and the mute to speak.”

Commentary comes from Matthew Henry and John MacArthur.

The Lectionary continues with Mark 7, where we left off last week.

John MacArthur provides context for today’s readings. Jesus is now far away from Capernaum and is in Gentile territory. MacArthur also gives us an insight into the audience for Mark’s Gospel:

Now remember that Mark is in Rome when he writes this Gospel. Mark is writing from Rome, and he’s writing an account of the life and death and resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ for Gentile readers, primarily. Obviously it extended to everyone, but his primary goal is to write for the Gentile world. It is then important to Mark that he communicates in his Gospel that salvation extends to the whole world. You wouldn’t get that message if you just talked to the Jews of New Testament times. They viewed Gentiles as outcasts

But that was not the attitude of our Lord and nor was that what the Old Testament promised. For example, in the book of Isaiah it comes very clear to us that there is only one God for the whole world – only one God for the entire world. Isaiah 42 says, “Thus says God the LORD, who created the heavens and stretched them out, who spread out the earth and its offspring, who gives breath to the people on it and spirit to those who walk in it.” This is God, the only God …

In Isaiah 45 verse 5, “I am the LORD; there is no other. Besides Me there is no God.” There is only one God – only one God, no other gods, all the idols of the world are not gods …

Salvation has always intended to be to the world. If you ask the question, “Then why in John 4 did Jesus say, ‘Salvation is of the Jews?’” Why in Matthew 10 verses 5 and 6 did Jesus say, “I have not come but for the lost sheep of the house of Israel?” The answer is that Israel was never intended to be the end of God’s saving purpose but the means to the end. The reason our Lord came to Israel was to bring salvation to Israel so that Israel could be the means to Gentile salvation. And while the nation rejected, there were enough who believed – the Twelve, the 120, the 500 in Galilee – who then took the gospel on the heels of the Great Commission to the ends of the earth. We’re a part of the fruit of that. Aren’t we? We’re the Gentiles who make up the church, along with those Jews who have come to embrace their Messiah. We’re the fruit of that early generation of believers who were the means. And the first evangelists were Jewish. The early church was Jewish, three thousand converted on the Day of Pentecost, thousands more as the weeks rolled on, who began to extend the gospel and fulfill the Great Commission

We get a glimpse of that here in the story in Mark 7 verses 24 to 30. Here Jesus leaves Israel and He goes on a very long foray deep into Gentile territory. He’s into the last year of His ministry. The gospel ministry in Galilee has been going on for over a year. There are not a lot of believers. Most have rejected, the Pharisees and Sadducees hate Him. They’re looking to kill Him. There will be a national rejection and a cry for His death soon to come. But there will be enough Jews in the kingdom to carry the message to the world.

Jesus — and the Twelve — went to the region of Tyre, where He entered a house and wanted to go in without anyone noticing, yet He could not escape being seen (verse 24).

MacArthur tells us about Tyre:

The region of Tyre would be in the country known as Phoenicia. Phoenicia has two famous cities, Tyre and Sidon. This account of Mark is paralleled in Matthew 15 verses 21 to 28, and Matthew says, “Tyre and Sidon.” They’re two coastal cities, twenty miles apart – famous, famous cities, famous in history, famous in the Old Testament, as I told you, quoted in Psalm 87, famous because of the conquering of Alexander the Great. They are the main cities in Gentile country, Phoenicia, north and west of Galilee, pressing against the Mediterranean coast.

This was not a day trip:

He went to Tyre and He was there a while. We don’t know how long. And then He went 20 miles and Tyre was 50 miles away from Capernaum, Galilee – Sea of Galilee area. Then He went 20 miles north and He went through Sidon, the sister city. We don’t know how long He was there. And then He followed the highway east back across the mountains of Lebanon, a very circuitous route, even going further north than Sidon, and going through the mountains and then down to the south, east of the Sea of Galilee and then back toward the Sea of Galilee in the middle of Decapolis which didn’t begin until the southern part of the Sea of Galilee, was a Gentile area called Decapolis, a Greek word for ten cities. This is a very long trip. He would have walked at least – if He just took a direct route – 120 to 150 miles. It took weeks, maybe months.

There are no great teaching events in Tyre. There are no great teaching events in Sidon. In all the weeks that He was trekking through the challenging trails of the mountains of Lebanon, there is no indication that anything happened. He had with Him His Twelve Apostles. The assumption is, the rejection of Galilee is fixed, now it’s time to turn to these men and train them. He’s already reached the point where He only explains the parables to them, not the crowds. Now it’s time to intensify their training.

A woman whose daughter had an unclean spirit — a demon — heard He was there, so she sought Him and bowed down at his feet (verse 25).

She humbled herself before Him, as we all should.

Matthew Henry’s commentary says:

Note, Those that would obtain mercy from Christ, must throw themselves at his feet; must refer themselves to him, humble themselves before him, and give up themselves to be ruled by him. Christ never put any from him, that fell at his feet

She was a Syrophonecian, a Gentile, and begged Him to cast the demon out of her daughter (verse 26).

In using an analogy of feeding children first, then dogs, Jesus replied that He came to save the children of Israel first (verse 27).

Henry said that He replied in such a way in order to test her faith:

Where Christ knows the faith of poor supplicants to be strong, he sometimes delights to try it, and put it to the stretch.

Yet, He knew that He would be going into Gentile areas after His own rejected Him:

Let the children first be filled, intimates that there was mercy in reserve for the Gentiles, and not far off; for the Jews began already to be surfeited with the gospel of Christ, and some of them had desired him to depart out of their coasts. The children begin to play with their meat, and their leavings, their loathings, would be a feast for the Gentiles. The apostles went by this rule, Let the children first be filled, let the Jews have the first offer; and if their full souls loathe this honeycomb, Lo, we turn to the Gentiles!

The woman pointed out that even dogs ate the crumbs that fell from the dining table (verse 28).

She meant that she did not require a full loaf, just one crumb — one healing — from Him would suffice for her.

Henry offers this analysis, positing that she might have heard of the miracle of the Feeding of the Five Thousand, which had happened not long before:

This she speaks, not as undervaluing the mercy, or making light of it in itself, but magnifying the abundance or miraculous cures with which she heard the Jews were feasted, in comparison with which a single cure was but as a crumb. Gentiles do not come in crowds, as the Jews do; I come alone. Perhaps she had heard of Christ’s feeding five thousand lately at once, after which, even when they had gathered up the fragments, there could not but be some crumbs left for the dogs.

MacArthur thinks that the woman might even had seen Jesus in Galilee. This would be feasible, as there was a lot of travel and mixing between Jew and Gentile, although not in a deep sense of friendship and marriage. They knew of each other’s religions and customs:

She’s certainly very familiar with Jesus. She not only knows what He’s capable of doing, she even knows who He is. My guess is that she had been there in Galilee, probably for a long enough time to really be sure about this person Jesus. She had been there, in those crowds.

You remember that it tells us in the New Testament that if the miracles that were done in Capernaum had been done in Tyre and Sidon, they would have repented. Well this is one of the ladies that would have repented because she did repent. Not because of what she saw in Tyre and Sidon, but because of what she must have seen in Capernaum. So Jesus goes into Gentile territory. This is a preview of what is to come when the gospel goes to the ends of the earth. This is a personal affirmation from Jesus that salvation belongs outside Israel.

This woman understood her place — as a dog — in the eyes of the Jews:

Matthew says she was a Canaanite. Bad enough to be a Gentile, worse to be a Canaanite, because the Canaanites were cursed by God and they were supposed to be exterminated. There shouldn’t be any Canaanites left. So she’s vestiges of a cursed race and a Syrophoenician. Humm, what does that mean?

Well Phoenicia was the name of the country, but under a Roman general, Ptolemy, who ruled there for a while, he had annexed Phoenicia to Syria. So Syria and Phoenicia became one, and she was a Syrophoenician. Her influences were all to be rejected by the Jews. First of all, she was a woman, that was bad enough. And then she was a Canaanite, the general category of Gentile, of course. But being a Syrophoenician identified her, of course, with the Romans. She was therefore as a Canaanite corrupted by Baal worship and as somebody in a Romans-influenced culture, corrupted doubly by the gods of the Romans. And in the city of Tyre, of course, that’s where Jezebel lived, and that’s where Baal worship originated. But they also had the Roman gods and there’s some evidence that they worshiped a god named Astarte. Astarte was the goddess of beauty and the moon goddess, and Astarte is a Greek name for Ashtoreth. And you will remember that Baal and Ashtoreth were worshiped by Israel of old. So they made a transition from Baal and Ashtoreth to the Astarte version, so they were just engulfed in idolatry. The Jews had been cleansed of idolatry when they came back from the Babylonian captivity.

Jesus acknowledged the woman’s faith by healing her daughter (verse 29).

The woman returned home to find her little girl lying on the bed, the demon gone (verse 30).

MacArthur says that the girl was probably somewhere between the ages of seven and ten and that the demon caused her to act in immoral ways:

This is a little girl. This is a young girl, an unmarried girl under the age of twelve, thirteen, when people got married. Who knows? Eight, nine, ten, seven – who knows? A demon-possessed child. Horrific experience for a mother. I think much more common in the world today than we understand or that demons want us to understand …

The unclean aspect would probably mean that the demon was manifesting itself in some kind of immoral conduct in a child. Horrible, horrible situation, and her heart is grieved and broken, and she has nowhere to turn. Do you think she had gone through whatever ceremonies her idol gods required? Probably. Do you think she had tried to appeal to whatever deities she had been taught existed? Sure. Whatever she had done in the past, she had lost all confidence in them. She is now doing what 1 Thessalonians 1:9 says the Thessalonians did, “They turned from idols to the living God.” Whenever you talk about idols and the living God, it’s because there’s a contrast between a living God and dead idols. Read Isaiah 44 and watch how foolish it is to make a god out of a piece of wood.

Or today’s trendy crystals, for that matter …

Our Lord’s ministry took Him and the Twelve from the region of Tyre to that of Sidon, the other principal city, which was towards the Sea of Galilee in the region of the Decapolis — ‘ten cities’ (verse 31).

MacArthur describes the journey:

He’s now moving directly north. Sidon is twenty miles north of Tyre, straight up the coast. There is no record that He taught there. There’s no record that He healed anybody there. There’s no record that He had any public presence there. It’s possible, because in John 21:25 it says that if all the things He did were written down, the books of the world couldn’t contain them. We can assume that He had a divine purpose in going from Tyre to Sidon. We just don’t have a record of what that was. But again, John says more is left out of the record even with four Gospels than is included. This again is important for Him because after going to Tyre, it says that He moves from there, according to verse 31, through Sidon to the Sea of Galilee within the region of Decapolis.

Now Decapolis is on the east of the Sea of Galilee and the south end. It’s called Decapolis because it is a region with ten cities, Hellenized, Greek-influenced cities, pagan cities, heathen cities, non-Jewish cities, but it is from the lower part of the eastern side of the Sea of Galilee and south from there. So He’s all the way to the northwest and He ends up all the way in the southeast of Galilee. And He takes that complete circuitous trip going way further north than one would need to go to get to the area of Decapolis for the purpose of extending the time in order that He might teach the Twelve personally. He visits on His journey outlying areas of Galilee, Bethsaida, Caesarea Philippi, way, way up on the north border between Israel and Lebanon, twenty-five miles north of the lake.

There the people brought before Him a man who had a speech impediment and asked Him to heal him by laying a hand on him (verse 32).

MacArthur explains the importance of this request and says that this story appears in Mark’s Gospel alone:

Believe me, they had never seen anything like this from any or all of their deities combined. They recognize that the God of Israel is a God of a completely different nature than theirs. Now it is in that context that we come to Mark 7, because it is in that context that this miracle takes place. This is one of those who was thrown at His feet by friends and family, a deaf mute. And again, this is one of three accounts in Mark’s Gospel that appear nowhere else in the other three Gospels.

In both Gentile and Jewish cultures, life was very difficult for the deaf because they could not make themselves understood. Blind people could at least speak but the deaf were often considered insane because of their indistinct verbal communication:

Even in Israel – and this is a sad reality – but even in Israel, deaf mutes were categorized with the insane because the rabbis said, we have no way of knowing what they understand. They were not granted normal human rights. And in the Gentile world, it was worse. Who knows what life was like for this man or for all the others. The Jews would also heap on the person the fact that if they had that kind of malady they were under the curse of God and the judgment of God, and it would be viewed by the Pharisees and Sadducees as unclean because they were under divine judgment. We don’t know what perspective all the Gentiles had, depending on what deities they worshiped, but these would be people who in any culture were outcasts, treated with disdain. Because it was virtually impossible to communicate with them, it was assumed that they had these limiting capacities mentally.

Jesus took the man away from the crowd and did four things He normally did not do when performing a healing miracle.

He put His fingers into the man’s ears, He spat, He touched his tongue (verse 33) and, looking up to heaven, He sighed on him, saying, ‘Ephphatha’ — ‘Be opened’ (verse 34).

Immediately, the man could hear, his tongue functioned normally and he could speak clearly (verse 35).

Henry gives us a lengthy analysis of these actions, all meant to convey divine healing power:

2. He used more significant actions, in the doing of this cure, than usual. (1.) He put his fingers into his ears, as if he would syringe them, and fetch out that which stopped them up. (2.) He spit upon his own finger, and then touched his tongue, as if he would moisten his mouth, and so loosen that with which his tongue was tied; these were no causes that could in the least contribute to his cure, but only signs of the exerting of that power which Christ had in himself to cure him, for the encouraging of his faith, and theirs that brought him. The application was all from himself, it was his own fingers that he put into his ears, and his own spittle that he put upon his tongue; for he alone heals.

3. He looked up to heaven, to give his Father the praise of what he did; for he sought his praise, and did his will, and, as Mediator, acted in dependence on him, and with an eye to him. Thus he signified that it was by a divine power, a power he had as the Lord from heaven, and brought with him thence, that he did this; for the hearing ear and the seeing eye the Lord has made, and can remake even both of them. He also hereby directed his patient who could see, though he could not hear, to look up to heaven for relief. Moses with his stammering tongue is directed to look that way (Exodus 4:11); Who hath made man’s mouth? Or who maketh the dumb or deaf, or the seeing or the blind? Have not I the Lord?

4. He sighed; not as if he found any difficulty in working this miracle, or obtaining power to do it from his father; but thus he expressed his pity for the miseries of human life, and his sympathy with the afflicted in their afflictions, as one that was himself touched with the feeling of their infirmities. And as to this man, he sighed, not because he was loth to do him this kindness, or did it with reluctancy; but because of the many temptations which he would be exposed to, and the sins he would be in danger of, the tongue-sins, after the restoring of his speech to him, which before he was free from. He had better be tongue-tied still, unless he have grace to keep his mouth as with a bridle,Psalms 39:1.

5. He said, Ephphatha; that is, Be opened. This was nothing that looked like spell or charm, such as they used, who had familiar spirits, who peeped and muttered,Isaiah 8:19. Christ speaks as one having authority, and power went along with the word. Be opened, served both parts of the cure; “Let the ears be opened, let the lips be opened, let him hear and speak freely, and let the restraint be taken off;” and the effect was answerable (Mark 7:35; Mark 7:35); Straightway his ears were opened, and the string of his tongue was loosed, and all was well: and happy he who, as soon as he had his hearing and speech, had the blessed Jesus so near him to converse with.

MacArthur looks at the command ‘Ephphatha’ and the fact that the man could speak when he never before heard any language:

Verse 34, “He said to him, ‘Ephphatha,’ that is ‘be opened.’” That’s probably an Aramaic statement – verb. Some think it might be a Hebrew, but the weight of evidence is on Aramaic, which would have been the language Jesus spoke every day. Ephphatha – be opened.” The response was instant, absolutely instant. With a word out of His mouth, one verb, ephphatha, the power came. Verse 35 says, “His ears were opened and the impediment” – the bond, the desmos, it’s the word for chains that chain a prisoner, the chain of his tongue – “was broken and he began speaking plainly.” In an instant he could hear perfectly and he could speak plainly.

Do you understand the extent of this? To hear is one thing. To be able to know that what you’re hearing is language when you’ve never heard language is another miracle. Right? There’s no speech therapy here. He doesn’t have to go to language class to learn Aramaic or Greek. He has full facility in the language that he’s never heard. To hear it and understand it and speak it plainly. The word plainly in the Greek is orthōs from which we get orthopedics. It means to straighten things out. Correctly would be the right translation, to put something back to the correct alignment. He heard and spoke perfectly. No therapy, no learning curve, nobody had to teach him how to form the letters, form the words, nobody had to teach him what the words were. He received an instant facility in the language to hear it and speak it implanted in his brain. It’s really stunning. No recovery period, but then there never is in Jesus’ miracles. There’s no progression here. He couldn’t hear; now he hears. He couldn’t speak, and now he speaks. And he hears perfectly and he speaks perfectly. This is staggering. The man unable to speak is now enabled to speak.

And then we come to a third point. He is unable not to speak. Now that he can speak, he can’t hold it back.

Jesus told the crowd not to tell anyone of the miracle, but they could not contain themselves, even when He repeatedly ordered them to again (verse 36).

MacArthur says that this is because Jesus did not want to be known solely as a miracle worker but as our Redeemer. His authorship of our redemption — crucifixion and resurrection — had not yet been accomplished but was to come. At this point, His ministry could be at risk of spinning out of control, so He had to rein the crowd in:

Don’t spread the message that I’m a healer and a miracle worker. That’s not the whole story. It would be like you having one part of the gospel story that Jesus was born of a virgin, came into the world, did miracles and healed people, and preached the kingdom of God, and that’s the story. That’s not the story, because it doesn’t include – what? – the cross, and it doesn’t include the resurrection. That’s the full story. So He says this again.

This was not the case earlier in Gerasa, where the Gadarene swine miracle took place. The man whom Jesus rid of demons was the first missionary to Decapolis. Jesus wanted him to tell the people who He was:

… back in chapter 5 when Jesus was in Gadara, Gerasa which is also in Gentile territory over in the same area, and He healed the man who had the legion of demons, He said to him, “Go home to your people and report to them what great things the Lord has done for you and how He had mercy on you. And the man went away and began to proclaim in Decapolis what great things Jesus had done for him and everyone was amazed.” He tells that man to tell everybody. He tells this man to tell nobody. What’s the difference here? How do we explain that?

We explain that because the maniac was the first missionary to Decapolis. There had never been anybody to talk about Jesus there before. And it needed to be established who He was and what He could do and His power. But now it’s reached epic proportions, massive crowds.

The crowd’s astonishment knew no bounds and they marvelled at His perfection in healing the deaf and the mute (verse 37).

Henry explains their sense of astonishment:

… they that told it, and they that heard it, were beyond measure astonished, hyperperissos–more than above measure; they were exceedingly affected with it, and this was said by every body, it was the common verdict, He hath done all things well (Mark 7:37; Mark 7:37); whereas there were those that hated and persecuted him as an evil-doer, they are ready to witness for him, not only that he has done no evil, but that he has done a great deal of good, and has done it well, modestly and humbly, and very devoutly, and all gratis, without money and without price, which added much to the lustre of his good works. He maketh both the deaf to hear, and the dumb to speak; and that is well, it is well for them, it is well for their relations, to whom they had been a burthen; and therefore they are inexcusable who speak ill of him.

MacArthur says that the only time ‘hyperperissos’ is used is in the New Testament:

The word for utterly astonished, one word in Greek, huperperissōs – huperperissōs. It’s used only here in the New Testament. It is a compound word, very, very strong. It means above all measure, over the top, superabundantly amazed and astonished. They had their minds blown in the vernacular. They’re just completely amazed. They can’t contain it. They cannot keep this in. So they spread it everywhere.

I hope there will be good sermons on this reading on Sunday. Henry and MacArthur’s respective commentaries have made me see these two miracles in a new light.

The Eighth Sunday after Trinity — Ninth Sunday after Pentecost — is July 25, 2021.

Readings for Year B can be found here.

The Gospel reading is as follows (emphases mine):

John 6:1-21

6:1 After this Jesus went to the other side of the Sea of Galilee, also called the Sea of Tiberias.

6:2 A large crowd kept following him, because they saw the signs that he was doing for the sick.

6:3 Jesus went up the mountain and sat down there with his disciples.

6:4 Now the Passover, the festival of the Jews, was near.

6:5 When he looked up and saw a large crowd coming toward him, Jesus said to Philip, “Where are we to buy bread for these people to eat?”

6:6 He said this to test him, for he himself knew what he was going to do.

6:7 Philip answered him, “Six months’ wages would not buy enough bread for each of them to get a little.”

6:8 One of his disciples, Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother, said to him,

6:9 “There is a boy here who has five barley loaves and two fish. But what are they among so many people?”

6:10 Jesus said, “Make the people sit down.” Now there was a great deal of grass in the place; so they sat down, about five thousand in all.

6:11 Then Jesus took the loaves, and when he had given thanks, he distributed them to those who were seated; so also the fish, as much as they wanted.

6:12 When they were satisfied, he told his disciples, “Gather up the fragments left over, so that nothing may be lost.”

6:13 So they gathered them up, and from the fragments of the five barley loaves, left by those who had eaten, they filled twelve baskets.

6:14 When the people saw the sign that he had done, they began to say, “This is indeed the prophet who is to come into the world.”

6:15 When Jesus realized that they were about to come and take him by force to make him king, he withdrew again to the mountain by himself.

6:16 When evening came, his disciples went down to the sea,

6:17 got into a boat, and started across the sea to Capernaum. It was now dark, and Jesus had not yet come to them.

6:18 The sea became rough because a strong wind was blowing.

6:19 When they had rowed about three or four miles, they saw Jesus walking on the sea and coming near the boat, and they were terrified.

6:20 But he said to them, “It is I; do not be afraid.”

6:21 Then they wanted to take him into the boat, and immediately the boat reached the land toward which they were going.

Commentary comes from Matthew Henry and John MacArthur.

Although this reading is from John’s Gospel, it fits into last week’s, which was from Mark.

Last week’s reading described what happened before the Feeding of the Five Thousand and told us what happened afterwards in the other places where Jesus went to heal and preach.

Other than the Resurrection, this is the only creative miracle common to all four Gospels. John wrote about other miracles that the synoptic Gospels — those of Matthew, Mark and Luke — do not cover.

It should be noted that Jesus fed more than five thousand people. The five thousand is men alone. There would have been women and children there, too, making it four to five times that number.

John MacArthur explains:

Of all the miracles that Jesus ever did, this is the most massive miracle in sheer number.  When you add up everybody, five thousand men, plus women and children, Matthew adds, you’ve got between twenty and twenty-five thousand people and He creates a meal for them. And they’re not really spectators of the miracle, they’re participants in the miracle because they eat the meal. So this is a very intimate experience. There’s no other miracle that Jesus did that involves so many people.  The closest one would be a subsequent feeding of four thousand which He did a little later in the area of Decapolis on the east side also of the Sea of Galilee.  But the massive nature of this miracle makes it remarkable and that’s why all four gospels included It’s the only miracle other than his own resurrection recorded in Matthew, Mark, Luke and John.

It is also worth noting that this is a truly supernatural miracle. This is not about sharing, contrary to what we hear preached in our time.

MacArthur says:

It really never has been denied until more modern times when critics have decided that it really wasn’t a miracle at all, what really happened was a little boy gave up his lunch and everybody said, “Wow, let’s all share.”  And so everybody reached into their knapsack and pulled out whatever they had. And you had this great spiritual experience of sharing.  We’re going to see that that’s an absolute utter impossibility and would only come up in the minds of unbelievers and skeptics who were trying to discredit the Bible and deny the deity of Jesus Christ

… the Holy Spirit is narrating this to us in a way that just continues to repeat the impossibility of the situation. There’s no human explanation for this…none. It’s not a lesson in sharing cause they couldn’t find anything. Five crackers and two pickled fish, but what are these among so many people?

By the time John wrote his Gospel, the Sea of Galilee was known as the Sea of Tiberias, named after a Roman emperor (verse 1). Jesus went to the other side because He wanted to hear the Apostles’ accounts of their time preaching and healing. Jesus had given them these temporary powers because they could further His work.

Jesus had compassion for the people, as we read last week (Mark 6:34):

6:34 As he went ashore, he saw a great crowd; and he had compassion for them, because they were like sheep without a shepherd; and he began to teach them many things.

Matthew Henry’s commentary says:

He went over the sea of Galilee, called elsewhere the lake of Gennesareth, here the sea of Tiberias, from a city adjoining, which Herod had lately enlarged and beautified, and called so in honour of Tiberius the emperor, and probably had made his metropolis.

A large crowd followed Jesus because they knew about His healing miracles (verse 2).

MacArthur emphasises that most of these people did not want the preaching, only the healing:

They came for temporal miracles, not the eternal words. When He started to speak eternal words by the end of chapter 6, they’re running.  Even those who were His followers, many of His disciples walked no more with Him, verse 66. They just bailed out

This is very important again to remind you, what drew them was not the Kingdom, was not salvation, it was not repentance, it was not sound doctrine, it was not a true understanding of sin, was not a longing for forgiveness, was not the hope of escaping judgment, or escaping hell. What drew them was they saw the healings.  Any faithful preacher and any faithful evangelist has to know that that’s the default position of all sinners, give me what I want now the way that I want it.  Give me the life I now want.

Jesus and the Apostles went up the mountain (verse 3) and, there, no doubt, He heard of the Apostles’ experiences, the debriefing He intended to have.

John tells us that Passover was near (verse 4).

Henry says that the crowd probably wanted to see Jesus before He went to Jerusalem for that feast:

… perhaps, the approach of the passover, when every one knew Christ would go up to Jerusalem, and be absent for some time, made the multitude flock the more after him and attend the more diligently on him.

When Jesus saw the multitude, He asked Philip where they could buy enough bread for the people to eat (verse 5). The question was a test of Philip’s faith, because Jesus already knew what He would do (verse 6).

Henry gives us the answer that Jesus expected from Philip:

The question put Philip to a nonplus, yet Christ proposed it, to try whether he would say, “Lord, if thou wilt exert thy power for them, we need not buy bread.”

Instead, Philip responded by saying that they did not have money enough — six month’s wages — to buy all the necessary bread (verse 7).

MacArthur points out that this was an impossible situation in temporal terms and that Jesus was articulating it as such:

This is the introduction of Jesus articulating an impossible situation He wants to verbalize an impossible situation.  He wants to make it clear for this narrative for all time that this was an impossible situation.  There were no resources This is a desolate place, there’s nowhere to go to buy bread for this many people. That’s absolutely not possible …

Philip’s answer showed that He failed the test They’re some sarcasm in this answer, two hundred denarii, denarii…a denarius was a one-day’s wage for a Roman soldier or a worker, so that’s what?  …  That’s a lot of money…that kind of money, if we had that much worth of bread, it wouldn’t be sufficient for them for everyone to receive a little.  You know, if we had the money and we could take the money and buy the bread, we don’t have the money and there’s nowhere to get the bread, and even if we had the money, and got the bread, everybody would get a small bite That’s not going to do it.  These people have been exercising all day, milling around in a crowd, they’ve got to walk back home, that doesn’t make sense.  So now we know this is an impossible situation. They’re in an impossible place.  They don’t have the money.  They don’t have the available bread. 

Peter’s brother, Andrew, said (verse 8) that there was a little boy with five barley loaves and two fish but asked how that could be sufficient for feeding the crowd (verse 9).

Henry reminds us about the calling of Andrew and Peter into apostleship:

It was Andrew, here said to be Simon Peter’s brother;instrumental to bring Peter to Christ

Henry tells us a bit about the little boy and says that the barley loaves would have been very humble fare indeed for people used to eating wheat bread:

There is a lad here, paidariona little lad, probably one that used to follow this company, as settlers do the camp, with provisions to sell, and the disciples had bespoken what he had for themselves; and it was five barley-loaves, and two small fishes. Here, [1.] The provision was coarse and ordinary; they were barley loaves. Canaan was a land of wheat (Deuteronomy 8:8); its inhabitants were commonly fed with the finest wheat (Psalms 81:16), the kidneys of wheat (Deuteronomy 32:14); yet Christ and his disciples were glad of barley-bread. It does not follow hence that we should tie ourselves to such coarse fare, and place religion in it (when God brings that which is finer to our hands, let us receive it, and be thankful); but it does follow that therefore we must not be desirous of dainties (Psalms 23:3); nor murmur if we be reduced to coarse fare, but be content and thankful, and well reconciled to it; barley-bread is what Christ had, and better than we deserve.

The barley loaves were likely to have been a hard cracker, possibly like hardtack, eaten on land and sea because it lasted a long time, even though it was hard on the teeth.

Henry describes the two small fish, likely to have been pickled in the absence of fire for cooking:

There were but two fishes, and those small ones (dyo opsaria), so small that one of them was but a morsel, pisciculi assati. I take the fish to have been pickled, or soused, for they had not fire to dress them with.

Jesus told the Apostles to make the people sit down on the grass, which was plentiful (verse 10).

Then came the miracle, whereby Jesus took the loaves and the fish, giving thanks to God before distributing them to the multitude, who ate to their fill (verse 11).

MacArthur says that this would have been the finest meal anyone could have ever eaten because Jesus created the bread and the fish, perfectly:

And then with no fanfare, no voice from heaven, no lightning, no thunder, He distributed to those who were seated.  He just kept passing out crackers and fish.  He was creating it These were crackers that never came from grain, that never grew, that never were in the dirt Those were fish that never swam He created them, those are the best crackers anybody ever ate, those were unfallen crackers Those are uncursed crackers.  Look, I like cursed crackers actually, so I don’t know what uncursed crackers would be like.  Maybe this is like manna, right?  Came from heaven And this is fish with no mama fish, this is…what kind of fish would God create if He created a perfect fish, never touched by the fallen world This would tend to cause everyone to overeat, right?  If not to be stuffing things in the folds of their clothes.

Consequently, He distributed to all that were seated and they were able to take as much as they wanted That can’t be a lesson in sharing If some people have and some people don’t, and you share…everybody gets less than what they want He could divide it again, the emphasis here is this…there’s no explanation for this. And you’ve got too many eyewitnesses to tamper with it. They all had all they wanted, and they were filled I love that word “filled,” it’s a word used in animal husbandry, they were foddered up.  They stuffed themselves on these crackers and fish.  That’s not a delicacy, it’s not like a hummingbird’s tongue like Caesar would be nibbling on.  But this is…this is…this is food from heaven, food from the Creator And you can remember back to perhaps a meal that you had sometime, that you couldn’t forget, probably didn’t come close to this one How many of them told the story to their children about the greatest meal they ever ate?  They were filled.  As much as they wanted, foddered up like an animal that’s had enough and turns away from the trough.

Afterwards, Jesus told the disciples to gather up the leftovers, so that nothing went to waste (verse 12). The disciples filled 12 baskets, one for each Apostle, most probably:

And then there was more.  It not only was a complete meal and a full meal, it was a precise meal They gathered up everything that was left, verse 13 says, and it filled twelve baskets with fragments from the crackers left over by those who had eaten.  That would be enough for whom?  For the disciples, for the twelve.  This is a powerful creative miracle, but it’s also a precise creative miracle. That’s exactly what everybody wanted and exactly what the Apostles required as well. The precision of this miracle is stunning, it’s as stunning as the power of this miracle.

The people, having been part of this miracle, were certain that this prophet, Jesus, is the Messiah (verse 14). When Jesus realised they wanted to seize Him and make him a temporal king, He fled to the mountain to withdraw Himself (verse 15).

Henry points out the inconsistency of the crowd’s carnal behaviour and their lack of interest in the spiritual:

Such a wretched incoherence and inconsistency there is between the faculties of the corrupt unsanctified soul, that it is possible for men to acknowledge that Christ is that prophet, and yet to turn a deaf ear to him.

When evening came, the disciples went down to the sea (verse 16) and got in the boat to go to Capernaum in the dark without Jesus, who had not yet come to join them (verse 17).

A storm brewed on the sea (verse 18), making it difficult for the boat to go anywhere except far from the shoreline.

MacArthur gives us Matthew’s account:

… just to give you the familiar things that John doesn’t record, just quickly, Matthew14Matthew 14, verse 24“But the boat was already a long distance from the land.”  It had gotten pushed out into the middle of the lake.  When they would normally have wanted probably to stay pretty close to the shore.  Battered by the waves, the wind was contrary and the fourth watch of the night, that’s 3 to 6 A. M.

Then they saw Jesus walking on the water, approaching the boat, and they were terrified (verse 19).

Henry posits that they thought Jesus was a ghost or even that a demon had started the storm and now they were face to face with it:

They were afraid, more afraid of an apparition (for so they supposed him to be) than of the winds and waves. It is more terrible to wrestle with the rulers of the darkness of this world than with a tempestuous sea. When they thought a demon haunted them, and perhaps was instrumental to raise the storm, they were more terrified than they had been while they saw nothing in it but what was natural.

However, Jesus said, ‘It is I; do not be afraid’ (verse 20).

They welcomed Jesus into the boat and ‘immediately’ reached their destination (verse 21), yet another miracle.

Henry makes a practical application for us when we forget we need the Lord’s help at all times:

The disciples had rowed hard, but could not make their point till they had got Christ in the ship, and then the work was done suddenly. If we have received Christ Jesus the Lord, have received him willingly, though the night be dark and the wind high, yet we may comfort ourselves with this, that we shall be at shore shortly, and are nearer to it than we think we are. Many a doubting soul is fetched to heaven by a pleasing surprise, or ever it is aware.

Afterwards, the crowds continued to follow Jesus.

MacArthur reminds us of John 6:26:

In chapter 6 verse 26 Jesus said, “You seek Me because you ate the loaves and were filled.”  This is all temporal, physical food, it’s personal well-being, personal fulfillment, personal satisfaction, personal ease …

Drawn by His miracles and sent away by His words You know, they were wanting physical wellness, physical fulfillment, physical satisfaction.  You could put it simply this way, they wanted what all unregenerate people want. These weren’t noble aspirations, they wanted what their lusts demanded

Jesus does not acquiesce to whims and fancies He comes to no man on that man’s terms People can’t manipulate Him for their own selfish ends, He doesn’t promise unregenerate people what unregenerate people want.  Jesus will not be a quick fix for felt needs.  He will not be the one who just gives you temporal satisfaction. And if you market Him that way, you’re on your own because He’s not there.  People do not come to Christ for what they want.  They come to Christ for what He demands.  He calls on sinners to mourn for their sin, to be broken, penitent, acknowledge Him as sovereign Lord, be obedient to Him, live for Him, maybe die for Him, serve Him as His slave and suffer for Him and be persecuted for Him.  And when He gave that message in the rest of the chapter, whist…they were gone…they were gone Jesus always drives the superficial crowd away with the hard demands of the gospel

Living a Christlike life is hard work at times. Yet, His yoke is much lighter and easier than living a worldly life as a slave to sin.

May everyone reading this have a blessed Sunday.

The Fourth Sunday after Trinity — Fifth Sunday after Pentecost — is June 27, 2021.

Readings for Year B can be found here.

The Gospel is as follows (emphases mine):

Mark 5:21-43

5:21 When Jesus had crossed again in the boat to the other side, a great crowd gathered around him; and he was by the sea.

5:22 Then one of the leaders of the synagogue named Jairus came and, when he saw him, fell at his feet

5:23 and begged him repeatedly, “My little daughter is at the point of death. Come and lay your hands on her, so that she may be made well, and live.”

5:24 So he went with him. And a large crowd followed him and pressed in on him.

5:25 Now there was a woman who had been suffering from hemorrhages for twelve years.

5:26 She had endured much under many physicians, and had spent all that she had; and she was no better, but rather grew worse.

5:27 She had heard about Jesus, and came up behind him in the crowd and touched his cloak,

5:28 for she said, “If I but touch his clothes, I will be made well.”

5:29 Immediately her hemorrhage stopped; and she felt in her body that she was healed of her disease.

5:30 Immediately aware that power had gone forth from him, Jesus turned about in the crowd and said, “Who touched my clothes?”

5:31 And his disciples said to him, “You see the crowd pressing in on you; how can you say, ‘Who touched me?'”

5:32 He looked all around to see who had done it.

5:33 But the woman, knowing what had happened to her, came in fear and trembling, fell down before him, and told him the whole truth.

5:34 He said to her, “Daughter, your faith has made you well; go in peace, and be healed of your disease.”

5:35 While he was still speaking, some people came from the leader’s house to say, “Your daughter is dead. Why trouble the teacher any further?”

5:36 But overhearing what they said, Jesus said to the leader of the synagogue, “Do not fear, only believe.”

5:37 He allowed no one to follow him except Peter, James, and John, the brother of James.

5:38 When they came to the house of the leader of the synagogue, he saw a commotion, people weeping and wailing loudly.

5:39 When he had entered, he said to them, “Why do you make a commotion and weep? The child is not dead but sleeping.”

5:40 And they laughed at him. Then he put them all outside, and took the child’s father and mother and those who were with him, and went in where the child was.

5:41 He took her by the hand and said to her, “Talitha cum,” which means, “Little girl, get up!”

5:42 And immediately the girl got up and began to walk about (she was twelve years of age). At this they were overcome with amazement.

5:43 He strictly ordered them that no one should know this, and told them to give her something to eat.

Commentary comes from Matthew Henry and John MacArthur.

This is one of my favourite Gospel readings involving the woman suffering from a haemorrhage and Jairus’s daughter.

John MacArthur puts it into context for us:

… in the midst of that selfish, self-righteous, fickle crowd, there were two people who stand out. Their story is a great benediction to us; and it shows us that there were those people who did have true faith in Jesus. I think these two were likely part of the 500 believers gathered after the resurrection who saw the risen Christ in Galilee.

They’re an interesting duo. They have no relationship to each other. There’s no reason they would even know each other. But they’re brought together in the text of Matthew, Mark, and Luke. They’re two, a man and a woman; one rich, one poor; one respected, one rejected; one honored, one ashamed; one leading the synagogue, the other excommunicated from the synagogue; one with a twelve-year-old daughter dying, and one with a twelve-year-old disease suffering. They remind us of what Mary had said in her Magnificat in Luke 1:52 when she said, “God was a Savior who brought down rulers and exalted those who were humble.” Here is a perfect illustration of that.

The man is the ruler, the woman is humble. He is brought low, and she is lifted high: the ruler and the outcast. And so the scene is set, verse 22, for the accessibility of Jesus. “One of the synagogue officials named Jairus came up, and seeing Him, fell at His feet.” Jesus was immediately accessible. There were no intermediaries. Did He have disciples? Yes. Did He have identified apostles? Absolutely. We know that already. But they didn’t screen Him. He was accessible.

Jesus had returned from putting two men’s demons (Mark says one man’s) in the Gadarene Swine, a flock of pigs which ran off a cliff. The Gadarenes, who were Gentiles, were furious and told Him to leave because He caused their livestock to die.

Upon his return to the Capernaum area, a crowd awaited Him by the sea (verse 21).

Jairus, a leader of the synagogue, fell at His feet (verse 22), begging Him to lay His healing hands on his daughter, who was dying (verse 23).

MacArthur explains Jairus’s position in the synagogue at Capernaum:

He is a synagogue official. What does that mean? Well, it means that in each synagogue there was a man or a group of men who acted as the caretakers, or the overseers, or the administrators of synagogue life. They weren’t necessarily the teachers; they, however, were the ones who cared for the scrolls, and cared for the facility, and administrated the facility, and organized the synagogue school. They had oversight responsibility: supervising activities, appointing readers, prayers, teachers, et cetera.

The man who received this honor would be a man who was respected: a religious man, a man of devotion, a man of mature leadership; a non-clerical, local official in the synagogue in Capernaum, selected by all the people to be a part of a group of elders, usually from three to seven, who would give leadership. He was the epitome of the Capernaum religious establishment.

That Jairus would fall at the feet of Jesus was unusual:

That is clearly out of character for a synagogue leader, especially when he’s falling down before someone that the religious establishment wants dead because they believe Him to be a heretic. He fell at His feet. Matthew records it in chapter 9. You’ll read in there “worshiped.” The verb can mean that; it can mean that …

I mention this because I want to emphasize the fact that this man’s faith was in Jesus Christ.

Jesus agreed to go to Jairus’s house, and the crowd followed, pressing in on Him (verse 24).

Matthew Henry’s commentary has this beautiful description:

The case is this, He has a little daughter, about twelve years old, the darling of the family, and she lies a dying; but he believes that if Christ will but come, and lay his hands upon her, she will return even from the gates of the grave. He said, at first, when he came, She lies a dying (so Mark); but afterward, upon fresh information sent him, he saith, She is even now dead (so Matthew); but he still prosecutes his suit; see Luke 8:42-49. Christ readily agreed, and went with him, Mark 5:24; Mark 5:24.

MacArthur explains the significance of Jairus’s daughter’s age:

He had a daughter who was nearly dead. And she was twelve-years-old, as we find out later in verse 42, which means she had reached the wonderful age where she was eligible for marriage, ready to be an adult, ready to begin her life as a wife and a mother. And this was the most anticipated time in a girl’s life, and should have been filled with joy and hope, anticipation. But she is very, very ill. She is, he says, “At the point of death.” Luke says she was dying, she was dying. And later on, the message comes in verse 35, “Your daughter has died.”

As they were walking, a woman suffering from a haemorrhage for 12 years, was among those in the crowd (verse 24).

She had been bleeding all of that time and had spent all of her money on physicians; her condition worsened (verse 25).

Because she was bleeding, she had to sequester herself from her friends and family, according to Mosaic law. She could not associate with anyone. That included attending religious services at her synagogue.

Jairus’s daughter was 12 years old. This lady had been suffering her scourge for 12 years.

MacArthur considers the time period and the woman’s lonely, debilitating plight:

To simplify it, she is a female who has a bleeding problem, and she has had this bleeding problem for as long as Jairus’ daughter has been alive. She’s had this bleeding problem since Jesus was about twenty years old.

Now we don’t know what caused it, Scripture doesn’t tell us this. Lots of possibilities. She was having a constant loss of blood, hemorrhaging. That would involve a loss of strength. A female kind of problem like that would certainly cause embarrassment, the danger of death, severe physical effects.

There was more than that; that alone would have been enough. But on top of that, there was an Old Testament law to consider. According to the twelfth chapter of Leviticus, verses 3 through 8, and the fifteenth chapter of Leviticus, verses 19 to 27, a woman was unclean for seven days after such an experience. Here was a woman who was unclean for twelve years. She could never be clean, never.

What did that mean? An unclean, defiled woman couldn’t go to the synagogue, couldn’t go to the temple. She was an outcast for twelve years. If she touched her husband, he was unclean. If she touched her children, they were unclean. If she touched her friends, they were unclean. If she touched a stranger, he was unclean. What was life like for her? There was no way to become ceremonial[ly] clean.

By the way, that law of seven days of cleansing ritual was designed by God to be an illustration of what sin does. There were lots of symbols in the Old Testament, in the ABCs of God’s disclosed revelation, and one of them was that the laws of clean and unclean were symbolic ways to demonstrate how sin soils, defiles, and corrupts. It was just a constant, constant, constant reminder. This woman never was able to rise beyond that; constantly, ritually defiled, unable to touch anyone without passing on that defilement, according to the Old Testament. Sad, sad lady.

In addition, medical treatments at that time would have been extremely primitive and useless, involving things we would consider to be based on superstition:

The prescription for a woman who had this problem, according to the Talmud, was to carry the ashes of an ostrich egg in a linen bag in the summer, and to carry the ashes of an ostrich egg in a cotton bag in the winter. Or carry a barley corn found in donkey dung, or drink wine with alum and crocuses, or wine with onions. Not very helpful. No wonder she couldn’t get any help. 

The woman had faith that Jesus could heal her, even if she was able to only touch His garment (verse 28), which she duly did (verse 27).

MacArthur describes what Jesus wore:

According to Numbers chapter 15 verses 37 and following, the Jews were to put tassels on the bottom of their cloaks, to mark them as those who belong to God. And you remember the Pharisees, wanting to parade their supposed devotion to God, enlarged their tassels, according to Matthew 23, and verse 5 – a part of their hypocritical ostentation. But Jesus wore the traditional robe with the traditional tassels on the bottom.

As soon as she touched his garment, her body was restored to health ‘immediately’ (verse 29).

As if to emphasise the miracle, verse 30 also begins with ‘immediately’. Having felt power drained out of Him at that point, Jesus turned around and asked who touched Him.

That is one of my favourite verses in the New Testament. As MacArthur says:

It’s an amazing revelation, absolutely amazing. Immediately she was healed, and immediately Jesus felt the power go out of Him. That’s a stunning reality, an amazing revelation.

Listen, His power is personal. I think we can think of God as some kind of massive, cosmic force. We can maybe overextend the notion of His impassability. To say that God is impassable means that He is not affected by what men do or do not do. But that does not mean that He does not feel every expression of power, whether it’s power expressed in grace, or power expressed in wrath, whether it’s sanctifying power, glorifying power, justifying grace, He feels the power. Luke 8:46 says, “I was aware that power had gone out of Me.” The expulsion of divine power that comes from Him into the life of that woman, Jesus actually experienced. He experienced the power flow that created the woman’s body new; it replaced the old with a brand new organ system

The work of the living Lord on behalf of sinners is personal. He felt the power flow out of Him when He healed that woman. He felt the power flow out of Him when He saved you. He feels the flow of power into your life as He sanctifies you. And He’ll feel the power that takes you into glory. This is intimate, personal involvement with every one of us. And He feels the power of His judgment that falls on the ungodly.

His disciples thought it was preposterous to even pose the question in such an immense crowd (verse 31), but Jesus turned around to see who it was (verse 32).

The woman, afraid, approached Him and fell before His feet, telling Him the ‘whole truth’ (verse 33).

Hers was a holy fear, the same that the Apostles experienced in last week’s Gospel reading from Mark when Jesus calmed the tempest on the Sea of Galilee.

MacArthur explains that she knew she was in the presence of the Son of God:

She’s not afraid because of her offense, she is afraid because she’s aware of what has happened to her. And what has happened to her is she has just been healed in a split second, and she knows it, and she therefore knows what Jesus had been saying all along, and what Mark is trying to let us know, that this is Jesus Christ, the Son of God. She is in the presence of divinity or deity. This is not human embarrassment, she got past that. This is holy fear

And that becomes more evident in what she does. “She came and fell down before Him.” Everybody knew what that meant. You didn’t do that unless you were bowing to someone greater than yourself. Jews didn’t bow to anybody. They didn’t bow to anybody. They didn’t have a king. They bowed only to God.

With that holy fear comes an awareness of personal sins.

MacArthur tells us about what her very public ‘whole truth’ in verse 33 might have entailed:

She collapses, fully aware of the terror of being a sinner in the presence of the Lord, a posture that begs for mercy for her sin. And then she has the opportunity to make a public confession. In verse 33, she told Him the whole truth. Told her whole story: the confession of her sickness, the confession of her faith, the confession of her healing, the confession of her need for mercy.

In fact, Luke says, “She declared it in the presence of all the people.” So everybody around heard about her story. This is an open public confession, isn’t it? She’s confessing Him before men, and to be confessed before His Father in heaven.

Jesus recognised the woman’s faith, calling her ‘daughter’, saying that it had made her well and that she could go in peace, being healed of her disease (verse 34).

What a life-changing moment that must have been for her.

MacArthur points out the significance of ‘daughter’ emanating from the lips of Jesus:

… the capstone comes in verse 34 in His response: “And He said to her, ‘Daughter.’” Hmm, daughter? There’s a word to dispel fear, isn’t it? This is the only time in the New Testament that a woman is so addressed by Jesus: “Daughter. Daughter.”

Matthew chapter 9 says He added, “Be of good comfort, relax, rest.” “How can You call her Your daughter? Is she a child of God? A daughter of God?” “Yes, your faith has made you well,” says the text. The Greek verb is sōzō, “to save.” It’s the word used in the Scripture for salvation. “Your faith literally has saved you.”

While Jesus spoke those words, members of Jairus’s household came to tell him that his daughter had died and asked why he wanted to bother Jesus by asking Him to see her (verse 35).

However, Jesus told Jairus not to fear, only believe (verse 36).

At that point, Jesus said that only his closest Apostles — Peter and the two brothers, James and John — could walk with him and Jairus (verse 37).

Henry explains why:

his three bosom-disciples, Peter, and James, and John; a competent number to be witnesses of the miracle, but not such a number as that his taking them with him might look like vainglory.

MacArthur has more:

This is the first time in the ministry of our Lord that He isolates these three; this is the first time. And get used to it, right? The inner circle: Peter, James, and John. They were three of the first four apostles that He called. James and John were brothers, and Peter and Andrew were brothers. Peter becomes the leader. James and John, the other two intimates. And Andrew is a sometime inclusion in the inner circle. This is the first occasion where He separates them out: Peter the leader, John the lover, and James the first martyr.

It isn’t that they were to be given special treatment, is it rather that they were to become the channel of intimate experiences, personal teaching back to the rest. They were not the end, they were not the cul-de-sac, they were not the dead end; they were merely the conduit. Jesus could only give Himself intimately to a few; and this must be the perfect number for Him to work with intimately; and through these three disseminated the experiences and the instruction back to the rest. Important for leaders to understand that, I think.

So Jesus says, “Only you can come.” For the first time they’re looking at each other and saying, “Wow,” because this is their first time as His intimate triumvirate.

When they arrived at Jairus’s house, people were weeping and wailing loudly in mourning, as was the custom (verse 38).

MacArthur explains the Jewish mourning rituals in that era, which were quite noisy:

Jewish funerals had three elements that would be a little bit unique for us. One, you came and you expressed your grief loudly. You shriek and howl; and everybody does that. And it is required that you tear your clothes. Okay. So when you go to a funeral in our environment, we find good clothes. When you went to a funeral then and you knew you were going to have to rip it up, you found something you didn’t mind ripping up.

This became so involved that Jewish tradition came up with thirty-nine regulations on how to tear your clothes. So I suppose you had people talking to each other about the regulations to make sure they didn’t leave anything out. Tearing was to be done, for example, while you’re standing up. If you were related to the dead person, you had to tear your garment directly over the heart. If you weren’t related to the person, you could tear your garment somewhere else near the heart.

And by the way, the tear was to be there, and the garment was to be worn over a thirty-day period so that you continue to show your attitude of mourning. You could sew it up for obvious reasons, but originally it had to be torn big enough to put your fist through. Modest people would tear their undergarments, or wear the torn garment backwards. The tradition developed that you could sew it up loosely, but it had to be evident that it had been torn. So you have people there who are shrieking, and howling, and wailing, and weeping, and ripping their clothes.

Now the second element of a funeral was you brought in the professional wailers who had developed the art of howling and shrieking. They wailed, sort of priming the pump, you might say, to get everybody else wailing. Agony was magnified, not shrouded in silence.

And then the third thing they had was the playing of flutes. That was the most common instrument. And lots of folks could play flutes; and they all showed up with their flutes and played dissonant notes, a cacophony of things that didn’t go together. So if you ever walked into an event like that, you wouldn’t even believe it was a funeral; you would think it was a contemporary musical event. Yeah.

The very poorest of the Israelites had to have at least two flutes and one wailing woman.

A noisy mourning was also true for Gentiles:

In fact, this was part of the Ancient World. Seneca, the Roman statesman, reported there was so much screaming and wailing at the death of Emperor Claudius that he felt Claudius heard it from the grave. And that’s what was going on, just chaos.

Jesus asked the mourners why they mourned, saying that Jairus’s daughter was not dead but only sleeping (verse 39).

But they laughed at Him. He put them outside and taking His three Apostles along with Jairus and his wife, went to see the girl (verse 40).

Henry says that the mourners’ mocking laughter was proof that she had actually died:

it was evident beyond dispute, that the child was really and truly dead. Their laughing Christ to scorn, for saying, She is not dead, but sleepeth, though highly reprehensible, serves for the proof of this.

He took the girl by the hand and told her to get up (verse 41).

MacArthur explains the wording. ‘Talitha’ means ‘youth’ and is also an affectionate use of ‘lamb’ in Aramaic:

So He comes into the room, and again you see this tenderness, taking the child by the hand. Here again this very personal touch, this very tender sensitivity, “And He said to her,” – and by the way, only Mark gives us the original Aramaic. Jesus’ daily language was Aramaic. That was the language they spoke in Israel, the New Testament being written in Greek. The other writers give us the Greek translation. “Little girl, arise.” Mark gives us the very words of Jesus in Aramaic, “Talitha kum!” – which translated means – “Little girl, I say to you, get up!”

Talitha means a youth or a lamb. It’s as if He said, “Little lamb.” We use those kind of endearing terms, don’t we? …

Now this one was still a lamb in the eyes of Jesus, and she was twelve, she was twelve. And she was a lamb to that family. That was a term of endearment. “Kum, get up. Little lamb, I say to you, get up!”

Mark tells us that ‘immediately’ she got up and began to walk around (verse 42). He tells us that she was 12 years old and that those with Jesus — the three Apostles and her parents — were ‘overcome with amazement’.

MacArthur tells us about the Greek word for ‘walk’:

it’s not just walk, it’s peripateō. We say somebody is peripatetic, we mean they never sit down, they just walk around all the time. And that’s exactly what it is, it’s the verb pateō, “to walk,” and peripateō, “walk around everywhere.” She just got up and walked around everywhere. There was no need for rehabilitation.

Jesus told them not to reveal the miracle to anyone but to give the girl something to eat (verse 43).

Henry says that Jesus did not want the miracle to be made public because of His resurrection:

It was sufficiently known to a competent number, but he would not have it as yet proclaimed any further; because his own resurrection was to be the great instance of his power over death, and therefore the divulging of other instances must be reserved till that great proof was given: let one part of the evidence be kept private, till the other part, on which the main stress lies, be made ready.

MacArthur thinks that Jesus did not want the house to be bombarded by visitors but also be bothered by people with Messianic fervour or the increased hate of the Jewish hierarchy:

Number one, He could have said it to avoid a stampeded on the house, to give the family time to feed the girl, and to celebrate and rejoice, and give Him more time to instruct and teach. If they went right out of the house, as you might be prone to do, and spread this everywhere, there would be a kind of a sensational response; and curiosity would drive the crowd to the house and debilitate Jesus from doing what He wanted to do, and rob away that precious time for the family and that reunion. Is that possibly behind the statement that, “You need to get her something to eat; that’s the first thing you need to do is take care of her before you draw a crowd”? Was that in His mind?

It is also possible that Jesus said this because He knew the crowds had these messianic expectations, right? Now the Jews were looking for a Messiah. They wanted the Messiah who would come demonstrate massive, divine power, and use that power to overthrow Rome, and use that power to provide everything they needed and everything that had been promised to them in the Abrahamic and Davidic covenants. Jesus was believed to be that Messiah; and if it ran rampant and it got carried away, the crowds could get very aggressive and try to force Him into a role that was never His intended role. Read John 6:15 where it says, “After He fed them all, they tried to force Him to be a king.” Was He trying to keep the flame of messianic expectation low, and not throw gas on it by a report of a resurrection?

Or, thirdly, was it perhaps that He was motivated not to escalate the fear and the hatred of the scribes and Pharisees who were His enemies? If the crowd got excited, then Jesus becomes a bigger threat. Then they escalate their animosity, and they have to do something to stop that threat; and in premature action against Him, they might come after Him to kill Him. That had already been tried, right? Up in Nazareth in His own hometown they tried to throw Him off a cliff.

He didn’t want wrong messianic expectations escalated, that’s true. He wasn’t going to be killed on their timetable, but on God’s timetable, at God’s time, in God’s place, and in God’s manner. And those, I think, are valid ways to understand that.

MacArthur is certain that Jairus was a man of faith:

Certainly Jairus’ faith was confirmed, wouldn’t you think, vindicated? And, folks, you’ve got to understand too, there was conversation going on in that house with Jairus and Jesus and the family; we just don’t have the record of it. But Jairus had his faith confirmed. I think we’ll meet Jairus in heaven, very likely that little girl too.

I do hope so.

May all reading this have a blessed Sunday.

Bible readingThe three-year Lectionary that many Catholics and Protestants hear in public worship gives us a great variety of Holy Scripture.

Yet, it doesn’t tell the whole story.

My series Forbidden Bible Verses — ones the Lectionary editors and their clergy omit — examines the passages we do not hear in church. These missing verses are also Essential Bible Verses, ones we should study with care and attention. Often, we find that they carry difficult messages and warnings.

Today’s reading is from the English Standard Version with commentary by Matthew Henry and John MacArthur.

Acts 28:7-10

Now in the neighborhood of that place were lands belonging to the chief man of the island, named Publius, who received us and entertained us hospitably for three days. It happened that the father of Publius lay sick with fever and dysentery. And Paul visited him and prayed, and putting his hands on him, healed him. And when this had taken place, the rest of the people on the island who had diseases also came and were cured. 10 They also honored us greatly,[a] and when we were about to sail, they put on board whatever we needed.

———————————————————————————————————-

Last week’s entry discussed the welcome by the Maltese of Paul and the 275 other passengers who providentially survived the shipwreck.

They called Paul a ‘god’ when he shook off a poisonous viper off his hand and was unharmed.

John MacArthur says this, which relates to today’s Lectionary Gospel passage from Luke 10 (emphases mine):

Go back in your Bible to Luke 10. I’ll show you 2 passages. When the Lord first sent out the 70 to talk about the kingdom, they must have had a lot of snakes in those days. But when they sent them out he told them this promise, verse 19. Well, he gave them a lot of things. I like this. We’ll go back to verse 17. “And the 70 returned with joy saying, ‘Lord, even the demons are subject to us through your name.’” Horrific. “And he said unto them, ‘I beheld Satan as lightening fall from Heaven.’” Sure, he’s subject to my name, I remember when he fell.

Listen, “Behold I give unto you power to tread on serpents and scorpions and over all the power of the enemy, and nothing shall, by any means, hurt you.” Now he says don’t rejoice in the spiritual subject to you, rejoice that your names are written in Heaven. That’s a positive there. So he says I give you the power to tread on serpents. He sent them out with the ability to do that.

Now I want you to look at Mark 16:18. Now here he says to his disciples, now you’re going to in the world and many signs are going to accompany your ministry. You’re going to cast out demons. You’re going to speak with new languages. Verse 18, Mark 16. “They shall take up serpents and if they drink any deadly thing it shall not hurt them.” Now you see it’s fulfilled, isn’t it?

Now remember this, folks, that is not for today. You drink a bottle of poison you have no guarantees except that you’ll be dead. And if you play with poisonous snakes you cannot claim Mark 16:18. It’s interesting that the same people who want to claim that the speaking with new language was just for the apostles aren’t anxious to claim the drinking of poison or the playing with poisonous snakes.

This was purely for the apostolic era and an important thing but here’s the fulfillment of it. He just flicks off a poisonous snake. You say, well why this? I mean what a silly thing to happen. You know why God let that happen? Can you imagine the reaction of the people? God used miracles to confirm his apostles and to confirm their divine source and to confirm their word.

Incidentally, I can’t help when he flicked that snake off but think about the fact that ultimately, the ultimate snake is going to be flicked off – Satan himself. Romans 16:20, “I’ll shortly put Satan under your feet.” I like to think about that.

Luke, the author of Acts, does not tell us that Paul disabused them of the notion that he was a god, but we can be pretty sure that he did, because he shared the Good News wherever he went. Also recall that, at other times in Acts, Paul was quick to point out that he was a human being, not a deity:

Remember back in the 14th chapter he was there in the area of Galatia and there was this guy crippled from his birth, in verse 8, and Paul was preaching and he looked out and there was this guy and he says stand on your feet, fellow! The guy leaps up and jumps around. The people saw what he did. They lifted up their voices saying in the speech of Laconia, “The gods are come down to us in the likeness of men. And they called Barnabas Jupiter and Paul Mercury.”

And they brought out a bunch of animals to sacrifice to Jupiter and Mercury, and Paul and Barnabas tore their clothes and ran crying, “Sirs, why are you doing these things? We are men of like passions with you. We preach unto you that you should turn from these vanities unto the living God.” See, he didn’t want to be a part of that proliferation of deities, that polytheism that they were involved in. They wanted to the representatives of the true God, not a god.

The chief of the island, Publius, put all 276 survivors up for three days, showing them much hospitality (verse 7).

Matthew Henry says that the three days allowed Publius to make arrangements for their long term stay, which was three months:

he had a considerable estate in the island, and some think was governor, and he received them and lodged them three days very courteously, that they might have time to furnish themselves in other places at the best hand. It is happy when God gives a large heart to those to whom he has given a large estate. It became him, who was the chief man of the island, to be most hospitable and generous,–who was the richest man, to be rich in good works.

Even though he was materially well off, Publius could not prevent illness in his family. His father had been suffering from dysentery, so Paul visited the man, prayed and laid hands on him. He was duly healed (verse 8).

The King James Version uses the term ‘bloody flux’ for ‘dysentery’, because that is what it was called at the time.

MacArthur explains:

Now 1611 medicine leaves a lot to be desired and the King James was written in 1611 and bloody flux just doesn’t seem to make it. Fever I understand. The word for fever in the Greek is the word puretos and it means a gastric fever. The fact that it is in the plural, fevers, indicates that it was a recurring gastric fever.

Now the bloody flux is the Greek word dusentaria from which we get the word dysentery which is an intestinal disease. Now what he really had here was some sort of recurrent dysentery and a gastric fever accompanying it. Some historians record that this was a common problem in Malta because they have a certain kind of microbe in their goat’s milk. And so here Publius’ father who has this gastric problem, dysentery, to whom Paul entered in, prayed, laid his hands on him and healed him.

After this miraculous healing, others with diseases went to Paul to be healed (verse 9).

MacArthur is certain that Paul preached as he healed:

What Paul was doing by praying and laying hands on was identifying God’s power and the fact that he was God’s agent.

Now there is something that isn’t said here but it needs to be added to the text in this sense. I am totally convinced that what Paul also did here is to preach. And I think the reason it doesn’t say that is because it’s so obvious. The Lord Jesus Christ did not perform miracles without speaking to point out the fact that these miracles were to corroborate the testimony of the gospel. Peter, when he performed miracles, earlier in Acts, preached Christ. Paul, when he did miracles, preached Christ, having established the conformation of divine agency he then proclaimed the divine message.

So if Paul healed, believe it, Paul preached. And tradition tells us that he founded in these days the church at Malta.

I am glad that MacArthur mentioned the tradition about Publius. Of course, we read no more of him in the Bible, but it is believed that he was the first Bishop of Malta:

And tradition also tells us that the first pastor of the Maltese Christians was Publius. And very likely, if he had a house that could handle 276 guests, that’s probably where the church began too. And so we can be, even though it doesn’t say, confidently, the church was founded then and agreeing with tradition that Publius may well have been the first pastor and the church could have possibly even have met in his house. Someday, just to be sure, we’ll check out the Lamb’s Book of Life when we get there and we’ll well see a list of Maltese names and at the top will be Publius, and maybe following it will be names like Julius, a Roman Centurion and a few other people from a certain ship that had a wreck on the Coast of Malta.

Saint Publius is venerated in the Catholic and the Eastern Orthodox churches. Like the Apostle Paul, Publius also died as a martyr, but later, around 125 AD. Hadrian was emperor at the time.

The Maltese are friendly, open people, so it is not surprising to read Luke’s comment that they honoured all the shipwreck survivors greatly and, when it came time to leave, loaded their ship with everything necessary (verse 10).

I’ll have more about Paul’s journey to Rome next week.

Next time — Acts 28:11-16

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