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The Seventh Sunday after Epiphany is February 20, 2022.

Readings for Year C can be found here.

This day in 2022 is Sexagesima Sunday, meaning 60 days before Easter. Last Sunday was Septuagesima Sunday, signifying 70 days before Easter. Next Sunday will be Quinquagesima Sunday: 50 days before Easter.

You can read more about Septuagesima, Sexagesima and Quinquagesima Sundays in the following post:

The Sundays before Lent — an explanation

This period is called Shrovetide, which ended on Shrove Tuesday, the day before Ash Wednesday. ‘Shrove’ is the past participle of ‘shrive’, which meant to present oneself for confession, penance and absolution. You can find out more in the post below:

Shrovetide — a history

Even in modern times, the Lectionary readings turn from the themes of rejoicing and thanks that our Saviour came to Earth to redeem us. The themes of sin and repentance predominate.

The Gospel reading is as follows (emphases mine):

Luke 6:27-38

6:27 “But I say to you that listen, Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you,

6:28 bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you.

6:29 If anyone strikes you on the cheek, offer the other also; and from anyone who takes away your coat do not withhold even your shirt.

6:30 Give to everyone who begs from you; and if anyone takes away your goods, do not ask for them again.

6:31 Do to others as you would have them do to you.

6:32 “If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners love those who love them.

6:33 If you do good to those who do good to you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners do the same.

6:34 If you lend to those from whom you hope to receive, what credit is that to you? Even sinners lend to sinners, to receive as much again.

6:35 But love your enemies, do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return. Your reward will be great, and you will be children of the Most High; for he is kind to the ungrateful and the wicked.

6:36 Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful.

6:37 “Do not judge, and you will not be judged; do not condemn, and you will not be condemned. Forgive, and you will be forgiven;

6:38 give, and it will be given to you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together, running over, will be put into your lap; for the measure you give will be the measure you get back.”

Commentary comes from Matthew Henry and John MacArthur.

We pick up from where we left off last week with Luke’s version of the Sermon on the Mount, or the Beatitudes.

Matthew’s version is considerably longer.

John MacArthur says that Jesus probably preached for hours and that the Gospel authors distilled what He said into the basic premise of His sermon:

Luke’s record of what Jesus said that day near the Sea of Galilee is recorded in chapter 6 verses 20 to 49 It is the same sermon about which Matthew wrote in Matthew 5, 6, and 7 Matthew has a much longer treatment of the sermon.  Matthew recorded much more of what the Lord said, but the Lord said what Matthew recorded The Lord also said what Luke recorded And the sermon would be the combination of both and probably a lot more, since you could read through both passages in a very few minutes, and it’s likely that the Lord preached for a long time.

We conclude, therefore, what Matthew gave us is a true record of a portion of that sermon.  What Luke gave us is also a true record of a portion of that sermon.  Combined they would come short of the full teaching of what Jesus said, which we would have to leave to the discretion of God He gave us what He felt we needed to hear

This is likely to be as long a post as last time. Churchgoers and students of the Bible know much of this by heart but how well do we actually live by these verses? Personally, I find some of them very difficult. Yet, Jesus is calling us to love others in the way that He loves us — and loved His enemies during his time on earth.

He says to those that listen: love your enemies and do good to those that hate you (verse 27).

Note that He says ‘I say to you that listen’. He is distinguishing the blessed from the cursed. Those who are listening are being transformed by God. However, not all His disciples were in that happy state. Recall that in John 6, when He spoke of Himself as the Bread of Life, many of those disciples left Him for good. They found His statement too difficult to comprehend.

MacArthur explains:

… here is the second test for a true disciple First one is how he views himself The second one is how he views others And it’s clear to whom Jesus is referring because verse 27 begins with these words, “But I say to you who – ” What? – “who hear.”  That’s a very important statement There’s a contrast being made here.  There’s a contrast being made between people who have the ability to hear the voice of God and respond and people who don’t

We remember 1 Corinthians 2:14 says, “The natural man understands not the things of God, to him they are foolishness.”  And there is a clear distinction between sinners who are referred to in verses 32, 33 and 34, and sons of the Most High, referred to in verse 35 There is a dramatic difference.  And part of that difference, of course, is that the one who is not a true disciple, the one outside the Kingdom, the one who has never been regenerated, the one who has never been saved has no capacity to hear That is to say to understand, to believe and to act on divine truth

So the Lord narrows His audience here and says, “I’m talking to you who can get it.  I’m talking to you who have spiritual understanding, the true believer, poor, hungry, sad, unpopular.  I’m talking to you who are rejected I’m talking to you who are persecuted, and I’m telling you, you are not only known by your hated of sin…mostly in yourself…but you’re known by your love of your enemies This is your character.” 

Of the sermon itself, MacArthur says:

It is an important sermon because it’s a sermon about salvation It’s a sermon that draws some very clear lines.  It is a very simple and very straightforward sermon.  It always amazes me of how complicated…as to how complicated certain commentators can get in trying to understand what is very, very simple and straightforward.  This sermon draws a simple contrast It is a contrast between those people who are blessed and those people who are cursed And, frankly, that includes everybody.  Everybody everywhere who’s ever lived either falls into the category of being blessed or being cursed

And all men relate to the true and living God one way or another They are blessed by Him or they are cursed by Him.  They are in His Kingdom, or out of His Kingdom They are His children or the children of Satan They are in the kingdom of light or they’re in the kingdom of darkness.  They are citizens of heaven or of hell.  And that’s how it is.  Everybody in the human race fits into one of the two categories.

And that’s how Jesus begins His sermon by pointing clearly to the blessed and the cursed.  The word “blessed” is in verse 20, 21, and 22 and the cursed are referred to with “woes,” woe meaning curse, in verses 24, 25 and 26.  And Jesus, like any good evangelist, creates a contrast

Jesus preached this sermon to His disciples, including the Apostles.

MacArthur points out the difference between the two:

Verse 20 tells us that He was talking to disciples That’s a broad generic word for learner, student.  There were lots of people following Him, not just the twelve apostles. 

Don’t confuse the disciples here with the apostles.  The apostles were disciples but they are set apart from the disciples as apostles.  Disciple means student, learner; apostle means messenger, sent oneAnd they had been identified, as we know, back in verse 12 to 14 as apostles So the apostles are the twelve apostles.  The rest of those following Jesus and learning Jesus’ teaching to one degree or another, being students of Jesus are in the broad category of disciples Jesus then speaks to this broad category of people and says you’re either blessed or cursed; you’re either in one category or the other.  You’re either in the Kingdom of God or outside the Kingdom of God.

Those who are in the kingdom of God bless those who curse them and pray for their abusers (verse 28).

This was a radical departure for the works-based salvation system that the Jews had at that time. The Jew obeyed as many of the laws of Moses as he could. That was where his religion began and ended. However, Jesus was calling — and does call — for something greater, an imitation of divine love.

MacArthur says that loving one’s enemy was not part of the Jewish mindset at that time:

Roots in the Old Testament, the true religion that developed a [hybrid] of Judaism that was part Old Testament, part human tradition and invention, and the end result was an apostate form of Judaism But it was a very complex kind of religion and very highly codified and defined And in their system…listen to this…it was a sin to love your enemy It was a sin to love your enemy.  So when Jesus stepped in front of the crowd in the Sermon on the Mount…and He’s got Pharisees there and scribes there; they followed Him everywhere.  He’s got priests and rabbis and local synagogue rulers and the popul[ace]…and He says, “Love your enemies,” that, to the Jews, is a statement that is immoral It is ungodly to say that.  It’s not right.  That’s offensive to them because they tied their spiritual virtue to their hatred

They hated the Romans because the Romans were idolatrous gentile pagans When they came in with their poles on which they had the image of Caesar, that was a violation of the commandment to make no graven images because they worshiped Caesar as a God.  And so here they had blatant idolatry in the land.  Every time a Roman coin passed through a Jew’s hand, it was something to spit on because it had the image of Caesar engraved upon the coin and that was an idol There was a group of Jews connected with the Zealots called the Sicari, who were the terrorists, the Jewish terrorists who went around stabbing Romans They were obviously clandestine.  They were murderous.  The Jews hated them And they thought they hated them with holy hatred; they thought they hated them with a righteous hatred.

They also had developed a hatred of people who violated the law and traditions And they thought that that was a righteous thing to do … 

Here’s what the Essenes say, and I quote some of their literature.  “Love all that God has chosen and hate all He has rejected.”  They also wrote, “Love all the sons of light and hate all the sons of darkness.”  That was prescribed in their ethical, moral, religious code.  Hate sons of darkness, unbelievers.  In fact, they went to far as to curse all non-Essenes, which means hate the Pharisees, hate the Sadducees, hate the Zealots, hate everybody who is a non-Essene, hate them all.

And the Pharisees weren’t much better than that I’m quoting from one of the Maxims of the Pharisees.  “If a Jew sees a gentile fallen into the sea, let him by no means lift him out of there, for it is written, ‘Thou shalt not rise up against the blood of thy neighbor but this man is not thy neighbor.’ Why?  Because he’s a gentile, let him drown.  It’s a sin to lift him out of the water.  Don’t rescue a gentile Now this had become a point of their virtue In fact, the Romans…you can find in Roman writings…the Romans actually accused the Jews of hating the human race Nice reputation.  We would like to think that Christians are known by their love In the ancient world Jews were known by their hate It is not unlike contemporary Middle Eastern and other places in the world…Islam.  Strange parallel.

Then we get to the troublesome verse about showing the person striking you your other cheek and the exhortation from Jesus to give your shirt to someone who has stolen your coat (verse 29).

Matthew Henry has a simple explanation:

Let him have that too, rather than fight for it.

The first part of the verse is about being struck on the cheek in the synagogue, which was part of the ritual of being expelled from it.

MacArthur has more:

What is it about?  Jesus said in John 16, … “The time is going to come when they throw you out of the synagogue.  He was telling His followers that They’re going to throw you out of the synagogue … That was not a small deal because Jewish society circled around the synagogue.  That was both the circumference and core of life.  The greatest single humiliation, the greatest shame was to be excommunicated from the synagogue You were then constituted as a reprobate, very serious.  And they took it very seriously.

When someone was unsynagogued, which they were for their faith in Jesus Christ, frequently they were whipped before whoever wanted to watch Clothes were taken of their backs and they received 39 lashes, leather thongs probably imbedded with bits of stone that lacerated their back 39 times The apostle Paul in 2 Corinthians 11:24 says, “They did it to me five times.”  Five times the Jews did it to me.  Acts 5:40 talks about those in the early church who preached the gospel being flogged That was the physical punishment connected to the shame of being unsynagogued for the sake of Jesus Christ.

But there was something else that they did The way you dishonored someone, one of the ways you dishonored someone, was to slap them across the face And while there was a real flogging, actual physical pain, there was also a symbolic humiliation in front of the synagogue congregation One of the officials would slap the person across the face as a symbolic indignity and humiliation.  That’s what is in view here.  When they bring you in front to humiliate you and they slap you across the face, offer the other cheek, accept your humiliation.  Now don’t get too literal with this Turn to John 18 for a moment.  Let me show you something

John 18 verse 19This is Jesus before the High Priest He had been arrested.  The High Priest questioned Jesus, verse 19, about His disciples, about His teaching And Jesus was going to be legal about this, even if they weren’t.  We still have a law in this day in time about no man incriminating himself Jesus knew that if there was to be any accusation, it had to be confirmed in the mouth of two or three witnesses So the high priest is really in violation of the law when he says, “Tell us about Your teaching.” 

“Jesus answered him,” calling him back to what was right according to law, “I have spoken openly to the world I always taught in synagogues and in the temple where all the Jews come together.  I spoke nothing in secret.  Why do you question Me?  Question those who have heard what I spoke to them, behold, these know what I said.  Bring in the witnesses, they’ll tell you exactly what I said, I never said anything in private.”  He was rebuking this man for putting Him in an illegal position of incriminating Himself rather than calling the witnesses which was the just thing to do.  The reaction, verse 22, “When He had said this, they read it for what it was, a rebuke of the High Priest.  One of the officers standing by gave Jesus a blow.  It’s exactly the same thing.  He smashed Him across the face.  “Is that the way You answer the High Priest?” 

This is not so much punishment, this is not so much the flogging, lashing, which later the Lord received at the hands of the Romans, as the indignity and the humiliation and the shame of the slap across the face And you’ll notice that Jesus did not say, “Here, hit the other side.”  He didn’t interpret even His own words in that literal fashion.  He answered and said, “If I’ve spoken wrongly, bear witness of the wrong.  If rightly, why do you strike Me?”  Why are you hitting Me, why don’t you just bring the witnesses in?

So what then does it mean, “to turn the other cheek?”  It simply means this, when you have been treated with humiliation, when you’ve been treated with shame, when you’ve been treated with sort of the anger and hostility, when you have been despised and scorned and rejected, just keep on loving and get ready to be hit again.  Don’t retaliate.  The love that has been called for here doesn’t retaliate.  It doesn’t defend itself against this kind of humiliation and rejection, hostilityIt doesn’t get angryIt doesn’t hate when it is hit

The second half of the verse, about the cloak and shirt, also relates to the persecution of Christians that would come:

And the second reaction in verse 29 is another abuse that happened to Christians and still does in some form “Whoever takes away your coat, do not withhold your shirt from him either.  Whoever takes away your outer garment, don’t withhold your inner garment.  This is very similar to Matthew 5:40, to Matthew’s account of the Sermon on the Mount.  And this goes back to an issue.  Many of the people, of course, living in Palestine were not wealthy It was common that people had one outer cloak They didn’t have wardrobes like we do today.  And they needed that outer cloak to protect them, to keep them warm and even to use as a blanket at night Exodus 22:26 and 27 says, “If you ever take your neighbor’s coat as a pledge, you are to return it to him before the sun sets for that is his cloak for his body.  What else shall he sleep in?”  You don’t want him lying at night in the cold.

One of the ways that they persecuted the believers, the early believers, was to take their cloak so that they were left naked Believe me, the land of Israel can be very cold in the winter.  It snows in Jerusalem.  This was a severe abuse of these believers.  And He says, “If they take your cloak, keep loving them even if they take your shirt.”  Don’t retaliateDon’t seek vengeance They never really are the enemy; they are always the mission field.

We are to give to those who beg from us and, should anyone take our goods, we are not to ask for their return (verse 30).

Henry says that we are not to fight for our possessions:

And (Luke 6:30; Luke 6:30) of him that taketh thy goods” (so Dr. Hammond thinks it should be read), “that borrows them, or that takes them up from thee upon trust, of such do not exact them; if Providence have made such insolvent, do not take the advantage of the law against them, but rather lose it than take them by the throat,Matthew 18:28. If a man run away in thy debt, and take away thy goods with him, do not perplex thyself, nor be incensed against him.”

MacArthur says that this, too, was — and still is — a form of persecution:

One of the things that also happened to these early believers was people robbed them.  They humiliated them, slapped them, mistreating them, abusing them in that fashion.  Took away their clothes.  They came trading on their goodness, borrowing money they never intended to pay back And they robbed them.  And they still do.  Even up until modern times, Christians being persecuted in some parts of the world have their possessions taken That’s happened all through historyChristians persecuted, their personal belongings taken, their homes looted.  But when they do that, don’t demand it back.

We then come to the verse that some refer to as the Golden Rule: do unto others as you would be done by (verse 31).

MacArthur explains that the verse refers to the sort of love those who hate us are incapable of:

Frankly, that sums up the whole idea of loving your enemies Don’t treat them the way they’re treating you.  The world does that.  The world of sinners treats people the way they treat them You treat people the way you would like them to treat you We assume they’re not treating you that way.  They are hating you.  They are cursing you.  They are mistreating you.  They are hitting you on the cheek.  They are taking things from you, stealing them, borrowing them.  They’re already your enemies.  They’re manifesting that in the way they treat you.  This is all abuse, mistreatment.

So what do you do?  Well, if you’re a normal person, you give them back what they gave you:  vengeance, retaliation, hostility, vindictiveness And Jesus says that’s not the way you do it Treat them the way you would like them to treat you, even though they’re not treating you that way That’s the point.  Treat them the way you would like them to treat you.

Now this golden rule is singularly Christian I know you hear that this is a sort of a universal law of religion, but let me sort of sort that out a little bit for you.  Every time you find something like the golden rule that appears in some religion or some philosophical system, it appears in a negative form What I mean by that is it’s don’t treat people the way you don’t want to be treated It’s a negative.  It’s reversed or lowered …

In every case, the emphasis is negative Don’t do to someone what you don’t want them to do to you because there’s a universal principle in life.  Whatever you do to people, they will do back You got that?  That’s how the world works.  That’s human life.  Whatever you do to them, they’re going to do back to you.  So don’t do what you don’t want back.

In the next three verses, Jesus talks about going beyond normal human behaviour in our approach to loving one another.

There is nothing distinctive in reciprocating love to someone who loves us; even sinners do that (verse 32).

Performing good deeds to someone who has shown us a good deed is normal; sinners do that, too (verse 33).

Similarly, lending to someone who is likely to lend to us is easy; sinners do the same thing (verse 34).

Henry explains that Jesus wants us to go well beyond social norms and imitate heavenly norms instead:

To love those that love us has nothing uncommon in it, nothing peculiar to Christ’s disciples, for sinners will love those that love them. There is nothing self-denying in that; it is but following nature, even in its corrupt state, and puts no force at all upon it (Luke 6:32; Luke 6:32): it is no thanks to us to love those that say and do just as we would have them. “And (Luke 6:33; Luke 6:33) if you do good to them that do good to you, and return their kindnesses, it is from a common principle of custom, honour, and gratitude; and therefore what thanks have you? What credit are you to the name of Christ, or what reputation do you bring to it? for sinners also, that know nothing of Christ and his doctrine, do even the same. But it becomes you to do something more excellent and eminent, herein to out-do your neighbours, to do that which sinners will not do, and which no principle of theirs can pretend to reach to: you must render good for evil;” not that any thanks are due to us, but then we are to our God for a name and a praise and he will have the thanks.

Jesus makes the point that when we go above and beyond — by loving our enemies, doing good to all and lending freely — our reward with God will be great and we will be children of the Most High, He who is kind to the ungrateful and to the wicked (verse 35).

Similarly, we are to show each other mercy in the same way that God the Father shows us mercy (verse 36).

Henry says:

What is given, or laid out, or lent and lost on earth, from a true principle of charity, will be made up to us in the other world, unspeakably to our advantage. “You shall not only be repaid, but rewarded, greatly rewarded; it will be said to you, Come, ye blessed, inherit the kingdom.

MacArthur expands on the heavenly reward and the example we show the rest of mankind:

The reward we’re going to receive in heaven for suffering persecution – there will be a heavenly reward.  But this is in the world of men.  You’re loving sinners the way sinners are not used to being loved You’re loving those who don’t love you.  You’re loving those who don’t do good to you.  You’re loving those who don’t lend to you, and you’re asking no love, no goodness, and no loan back.  This is unconditional, free, transcendent love You’re just loving them the way they ought to love you, even though they don’t.  You’re showing them a love that they can’t experience, doesn’t belong to their world, and your reward will be great.

What will be your reward?  Follow along in verse 35.  “And you will be sons of the Most High.”  What do you mean?  Well, the people are going to conclude you’re a son of God.  You will manifestly be in their eyes.  He’s not talking about what God is going to give you He’s talking about what men are going to think They’re going to say, “He’s very much like God.”  Why?  “For he himself is kind to ungrateful and evil men.” 

The kindness of God, the grace of God, the forgiveness of God, the mercy, tenderness, compassion of God is all through the Old Testament You live like this, the Jews who know the Old Testament, they’re going to know you’re manifesting the kind of love that was true of God.  God is kind, kind even to ungrateful and evil men As I said earlier, that’s the only kind of people there are We’re all in the category of ungrateful, Romans 1:24We’re all in the category of evil, Romans 3:10 and following.  We’re all wicked.  We’re all thankless.  We’re the only people there are to love, and God loves us and is kind It’s the kindness, again, of compassion.  It’s the kindness of warning.  It’s the kindness of invitation.  It’s the kindness of goodness.  And when you do that, people are going to make the connection, like Ephesians 5:1, “Walk in love even as your Father loves, and as Jesus loved and gave His life.”

Further, in verse 36 Jesus added, “Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful.”  What you’re trying to do, in the words of Paul, is to adorn the doctrine of God What you’re trying to do is manifest your sonship, to demonstrate that the life of God is in your soul, that the divine nature is there in you, that the Spirit of God dwells with you, that you are supernatural in your ability to love.  And people will say, “He’s a son of the Most High.”

“Most High,” by the way, we’ve already discussed that title for God It’s a New Testament equivalent to the Hebrew El Elyon, God Most High, used many, many times.  First of all, in Genesis 14, it’s used four times and then El Elyon goes all through the Old Testament referring to God as the sovereign.  “Most High” means “You’re the sovereign ruler.  You’re the ultimate one.”  Here in the Greek hupsistos is “sovereign, the ultimate, supreme ruler.”  It can refer none other than God Himself And by the way, Christ is called the “Son of the Most High” in Luke 1:32 and 1:76

Jesus says that if we avoid judging and condemning others, then we will not be judged or condemned; if we forgive, we, too, will be forgiven (verse 37).

We often wonder why good things happen to bad people.

MacArthur says that this is because God is good to both evildoers and the faithful in this world:

The reason good things keep happening to bad people is because God is positively kind and merciful He gives and He withholds.  He gives kindness and blessing, and withholds judgment out of His own compassionate heart And you see that, even the Old Testament, Exodus 34, God is merciful, showing mercy to thousands.  He’s compassionate.  He’s kind.  The prophet Joel talks about that.  The prophet Jonah saw the kindness and mercy of God toward Nineveh and it irritated him.  God has pity over sinners.  He grieves over them.  He’s kind, merciful to them.

So when you are kind, positive good toward your enemies, and merciful, withholding judgment, you are like God Therefore you are manifestly sons of the Most High.  You manifestly are giving evidence that God is your Father So until the final day when God’s judgment does fall on everybody, God Himself is kind and God Himself is merciful That’s His nature.  And if you bear His nature and His name, that is how you need to be, as well.

As for judging and condemning, we would do well to leave that to God and show a good example to others instead, which can have positive benefits in this world:

What it forbids is some kind of harsh, hard, critical, compassionless hostility to enemies.

We’ve already had a pretty good hint at this when back in verse 28 it says, “Bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you.”  That’s the idea.  That’s the idea.  Don’t become their judge Don’t pronounce judgment on them.  Speak blessing into their lives Don’t pass sentence on them.  Love them mercifully.  Love them kindly.

And the reward for that?  You will not be judged by them, because sinners will give you back what you give them, and if you’re not judgmental, and harsh, and cold, and condemning, they’ll see that and they’ll treat you that way because that’s how sinners do They love who they love because they love them They’re good to those who do good to them They lend to those who lend to them.  That’s how it works in the world. 

So if you, in the midst of being persecuted, and mistreated, and hated, and cursed, will not be their judges, but will love them with kindness, and mercy, and compassion, and goodness, and invitation the way God loves sinners, then what will happen is they will not judge you They’ll ease up on you You don’t want to do something that’s going to shut the door of evangelism.

Finally, if we give freely, we will receive abundantly. To illustrate our reward to come, Jesus uses an analogy of measuring corn (verse 38), which had to be pressed down into a basket in order to fill every bit of space.

MacArthur explains the verse and the process for measuring corn:

… in verse 38 He says, “Give,” and you know what will happen?  As you give, and give, and give, and give, it will be given to you It will be given to you.  Because that’s how people are As you give in common grace, as you give in mercy, as you give in kindness to sinners, sure God will bless you, that’s not the point Look at this, good measure.  “It will be given to you good measure-pressed down, shaken together, running over, they will pour into your lap.” 

And that “they” is the interpretive principle for the whole section, “they.”  It’s the people you do this to They’re going to return it back You don’t judge them, they won’t judge you.  You don’t condemn them, they won’t condemn you And if you forgive them, they will tend to forgive you And if you give to them, they will tend to give to you That’s how the world works.  That’s the common human way to love.  But for us, it has to start with loving those who hate us before they can be transformed into this.

If you are merciful, and kind, and non-critical, and non-condemning, and non-judgmental, if you are generous, and giving to sinners, holding no grudge, then they’ll treat you that way because that’s how they work.  And the hard thing for them to understand will be, “How can he or she treat me that way when I treated him or her the way I did?”  They’re going to see your good works and glorify – whom? – your Father who is in heaven, Matthew 5:16.

And it’s going to be generous.  Look at verse 38.  “They’re going to give to you good measure-pressed down, shaken together and running over.”  That’s a very vivid picture.  Jeremias writing on the history of Jerusalem has a little paragraph that explains this.  “The measuring of corn is a process which is carried out according to an established pattern in Israel The seller crouches on the ground, puts his legs around a huge basket. 

“First of all, he fills the measure three-quarters full, and then gives the basket a rotating shake to make the grain settle, and settle, and settle, and settle.”  You know how important that is.  That’s like when you bring the cookies home that filled the box and by the time they get home they’re all in the bottom and the rest is air.  That’s to prevent this.

“Once the rotary motion is done with the three-quarter filled basket, it all settles and settles, and all the little grain find all the space and fill it up, fill it up, and it’s solid packed, then he fills the rest to the very top.  And once it’s filled to the very top flat, it’s given another shake, and another shake Then he presses the corn together strongly with both hands, pushing, and pushing, and pushing it down Finally, he piles it into a cone with a point in the middle,” writes Jeremias, “tapping it carefully to press the grains together.  From time to time bores a hole in the cone and pours more in, and pours more in, and pours more in, and pours more in, until the cone gets to the very place where it doesn’t run down anymore That’s a full measure.”

And Jesus said, “If you love people like this, they’ll love you back like that.” 

MacArthur concludes that if we treat each other the way Jesus taught His disciples, we then have an opportunity to be true disciples and teach them the Gospel:

You can actually be loved by sinners.  Christians need a good dose of this, don’t they?  We live in a time when Christians are making enemies out of the mission field.  Wouldn’t you like sinners to do that?  You love them.  Love your persecutors.  Love sinners and they will love you back the way you love them That’s how sinners love.  They love those who love them.  They do good to those who do good to them.  They lend to those who lend to them.  That’s the way they work.  The problem is, that’s all they can do.  But you can love your enemies and benefit.

And what is the goal?  The goal, then, would be to have sinners not judge you, not condemn you, forgive you for the offense against them, and be generous with you.  If that’s the case, that would indicate that they have accepted you, and you now have an opportunity to proclaim to them – what? – the gospel

So take advantage of sinners’ limitations.  They can’t love their enemies, but you can.  They do love those who love them, they do give to those who give to them, and they do good to those who do good to them.  You do that when they are enemies, and you will lay down a testimony that you are not like them, but you are like God, who loves His enemies compassionately, kindly, mercifully, invitingly, and that becomes the basis of your witness This is what marks a true disciple.

I have never heard that message in church. It gives me more hope in being able to take the Beatitudes to heart.

May all of my readers have a very blessed Sunday.

The Sixth Sunday after Epiphany is February 13, 2022.

Readings for Year C can be found here.

This Sunday in 2022 is also Septuagesima Sunday, meaning 70 days until Easter. However, it occurs only 63 days before Easter. Early Christians began observing Lent the day after Septuagesima Sunday. This is because Thursdays, Saturdays and Sundays were not days of fasting in the early Church. So, if the faithful wished to fast for 40 days before Easter, following the example of Jesus, they would have had to start the Monday after Septuagesima Sunday.

You can read more about Septuagesima, Sexagesima and Quinquagesima Sundays in the following post:

The Sundays before Lent — an explanation

This period of time was known as Shrovetide, which ended on Shrove Tuesday, the day before Ash Wednesday. ‘Shrove’ is the past participle of ‘shrive’, which meant to present oneself for confession, penance and absolution. You can find out more in the post below:

Shrovetide — a history

Even in modern times, the Lectionary readings turn from the themes of rejoicing and thanks that our Saviour came to Earth to redeem us. The themes of sin and repentance predominate.

The Gospel reading is as follows (emphases mine):

Luke 6:17-26

6:17 He came down with them and stood on a level place, with a great crowd of his disciples and a great multitude of people from all Judea, Jerusalem, and the coast of Tyre and Sidon.

6:18 They had come to hear him and to be healed of their diseases; and those who were troubled with unclean spirits were cured.

6:19 And all in the crowd were trying to touch him, for power came out from him and healed all of them.

6:20 Then he looked up at his disciples and said: “Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God.

6:21 “Blessed are you who are hungry now, for you will be filled. “Blessed are you who weep now, for you will laugh.

6:22 “Blessed are you when people hate you, and when they exclude you, revile you, and defame you on account of the Son of Man.

6:23 Rejoice in that day and leap for joy, for surely your reward is great in heaven; for that is what their ancestors did to the prophets.

6:24 “But woe to you who are rich, for you have received your consolation.

6:25 “Woe to you who are full now, for you will be hungry. “Woe to you who are laughing now, for you will mourn and weep.

6:26 “Woe to you when all speak well of you, for that is what their ancestors did to the false prophets.”

Commentary comes from Matthew Henry and John MacArthur.

The preceding verses in Luke 6 tell us that Jesus went to a mountainside to pray before choosing His Apostles:

The Twelve Apostles

12 One of those days Jesus went out to a mountainside to pray, and spent the night praying to God. 13 When morning came, he called his disciples to him and chose twelve of them, whom he also designated apostles: 14 Simon (whom he named Peter), his brother Andrew, James, John, Philip, Bartholomew, 15 Matthew, Thomas, James son of Alphaeus, Simon who was called the Zealot, 16 Judas son of James, and Judas Iscariot, who became a traitor.

He then came down from the mountainside with them, stood on a level place surrounded by a great crowd of disciples and people from all Judea, Jerusalem, and the coast of Tyre and Sidon (verse 17).

Some in the crowd came out of curiosity to hear the greatest Preacher. Others came to be healed of physical ailments or demons (verse 18). Yet others, who were of sound mind and body, wanted to be in His presence and hear what He had to say.

Everyone wanted to personally touch Him, for He emanated power and healed all of them, even those with no ailments (verse 19).

Matthew Henry’s commentary says:

Some were troubled in body, and some in mind; some had diseases, some had devils; but both the one and the other, upon their application to Christ, were healed, for he has power over diseases and devils (Luke 6:17; Luke 6:18), over the effects and over the causes. Nay, it should seem, those who had no particular diseases to complain of yet found it a great confirmation and renovation to their bodily health and vigour to partake of the virtue that went out of him; for (Luke 6:19; Luke 6:19) the whole multitude sought to touch him, those that were in health as well as those that were sick, and they were all, one way or other, the better for him: he healed them all; and who is there that doth not need, upon some account or other, to be healed? There is a fulness of grace in Christ, and healing virtue in him, and ready to go out from him, that is enough for all, enough for each.

John MacArthur tells us that the New Testament reveals more about God through His Son Jesus Christ:

God becomes clear, manifest, revealed in Christ in a way that is even more intimate, more clear, more profound, more comprehensible, more understandable than any Old Testament vision of God The record of that appearance of God in human flesh is contained in Matthew, Mark, Luke and JohnThere we see God in all His glory, all His perfection manifest in Jesus Christ Every page, every paragraph, every line of the gospels is dominated by the incomparable Jesus Christ. 

Luke’s purpose in writing was to prove that Jesus is the Son of God and the long-awaited Messiah:

Now remember, Luke’s gospel was written to reveal and prove that Jesus is the Messiah, God, the Lord, the Savior.  Luke wrote his gospel to prove that Jesus as God came into the world to preach the forgiveness of sins to all who would repent and believe He came to establish His eternal rule over the souls of men and women who would put their trust in Him and He would eventually extend that rule beyond the souls of men to the whole earth, destroying the power of…of SatanAnd then in the end He would create a new heaven and a new earth where there is no sin forever Carefully, systematically, Luke is analyzing the life of Jesus to give us irrefutable proof that He is God, that He is Lord, that He is Savior. 

MacArthur says that it is important for Luke to stop at certain points in his Gospel story to show us the power of Christ on those who journeyed from miles around to see and hear Him:

Luke stops with the incidents, stops with the events to gather up the big picture here.  And the first thing he wants us to see is how popular Jesus had become I mean, nobody had ever been this popular in Israel. No would-be, self-styled Messiah had ever commanded this kind of attention.  The popularity of Jesus is indicated in verse 17, “He descended with them and stood on a level place and there was a great multitude of His disciples and a great throng of people from all Judea, Jerusalem and the coastal region of Tyre and Sidon” …

The appeal of Jesus didn’t have any limits, from the common man to the religiously literate to the pagans, He drew them all

Jesus did the miracles to affirm that He was speaking the truth He came to explain the truth of God and no one ever heard such a teacher, no one ever heard such a teacher. He had the most profound and perfect mind, He knew everything there was to know He knew the truth of God, He was the truth of God incarnate, perfect control of every thought, perfect knowledge of every reality, perfect use of language, perfect use of emotion, perfect use of logic and reason so as to be nothing but clear, concise, convicting, penetrating, captivating and profound all at the same time His teaching was unlike any other teaching ever.  His mental agility, His mental clarity, His mental force, His mental depth drew the masses and true salvation came to those who heard and believed and embraced the truth.  And He preached the kingdom and forgiveness and how people could be forgiven and enter the kingdom if they would believe in Him and cry out to God for forgiveness and salvation

this is a preview of what heaven is going to be and it proves to us that He is the Lord of heaven, that He is the God of very God, that He is the Savior and Redeemer who can and will give us a perfect mind, a perfect body and a perfect soul Right?  Isn’t that what heaven is?  And we long for that don’t we?  We long for the day when we have a clear, perfect, pure mind and we know the truth of God and is uncluttered with confusion and ignorance and sin.  We long for the day when all of the infirmities of the body are gone.  We long for the day when all the torturous problems of the soul and all the threats and temptations of Satan are forever banished.  Jesus said, “Look, I can do that.  I can bring the truth to your mind and give you a perfect mind.  I can bring wholeness to your body and give you a glorified body with no infirmity, no sorrow, no sadness, no sickness, no dying.  And I can take your soul and I can make it pure and free from any evil influence.  This is what He does This is what salvation is And that full cleansing doesn’t happen till we go to glory. But we’re already in the process, aren’t we?

The ensuing verses are Luke’s version of the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5:1-7, continuing through Matthew 7), or the Beatitudes.

Secularists use the Sermon on the Mount as a statement of ethics, but MacArthur tells us that it is about salvation:

There are people who treat this sermon as a statement of ethics, but it isn’tIt’s a sermon about salvation.  In fact, it’s the most definitive sermon that Jesus preached, identifying who is saved and who is not.  In the end, it’s about who is going to heaven and who is going to hell It’s not about who is religious; it’s about who is savedIt’s not about who is living an ethical life; it’s about who knows GodAnd so it is a critical sermon from the lips of Christ HimselfThere are variations between Matthew’s account and Luke’s account.  And there are reasons for that.  Jesus actually preached it in AramaicBut both Matthew and Luke wrote it in Greek, and so they might translate an Aramaic word a different way using synonyms

Furthermore, MacArthur surmises that Jesus preached this sermon often, in other places:

Jesus certainly did preach these truths everywhere He went.  No doubt the content of this He repeated again and again and again and again, place after place after place because it’s so basic. 

MacArthur says that Jesus was preaching against the received wisdom of religiosity, so prevalent among the Jews of His day. However, it also goes against the human — carnal — way of thinking, even today:

what made it so hard for people to hear and understand, and still does today, is the fact that what Jesus taught was absolutely opposite human thinking, even the thinking of religious people.  In fact, the religious Jews, the leaders of the religious Jews, the most theological astute of all found the teaching of Jesus repugnant.  They found it offensive.  They found it threateningThey even determined that it was so wrong that He was speaking from Satan.  Now why would they ever conclude such a thing?  Because everything He taught was so utterly opposite everything they thought.  In fact, they determined that they had to silence Him by killing Him before He upset the entire religious Judaistic system

You see, the teaching of Jesus doesn’t add a little to conventional religious wisdom.  It doesn’t just subtract a little.  It replaces it.  The teaching of Jesus then and the teaching of Jesus now…because it’s the same…it’s here in Scripture recorded for all time and eternity.  The teaching of Jesus then and now shatters all man’s basic foundational thinking.  It destroys his motives whether they are secular or religious.  It turns man’s world upside-down.  It turns his thinking on its head.  The teaching of Jesus then and now is not PC; it’s not political correct.  It’s not CW; it’s not conventional wisdom.  In fact, the teaching of Jesus is alien to everything we consider to be true in the natural mind.  It runs counter to everything.  It is the antithesis of human ideasIt is the antithesis of human motivation.

So when Jesus spoke about spiritual issues, when He spoke about His Kingdom, when He gave the laws and principles of His Kingdom, when He talked about how to know God and how to inherit eternal life, what He taught literally toppled the very carefully constructed ideological fortresses that men had established, and then it blasted their foundations to rubble.  It’s just not what we normally think.  And this passage makes it evident as He begins this great sermon.  The first few verses are paradoxical, and they show how Jesus overturned conventional religious thinking, and even conventional secular thinking.

Jesus began by turning to His disciples — this sermon is for them, as their first lesson — saying that the poor are blessed, because the kingdom of God is theirs (verse 20).

Henry explains what this means, preferring the world to come over the temporal world:

You are poor, you have left all to follow me, are content to live upon alms with me, are never to expect any worldly preferment in my service. You must work hard, and fare hard, as poor people do; but you are blessed in your poverty, it shall be no prejudice at all to your happiness; nay, you are blessed for it, all your losses shall be abundantly made up to you, for yours is the kingdom of God, all the comforts and graces of his kingdom here and all the glories and joys of his kingdom hereafter; yours it shall be, nay, yours it is.” Christ’s poor are rich in faith,James 2:5.

MacArthur says:

Now to the average person that sounds crazy.  Since when are poverty, hunger, sorrow and rejection a blessing?  And since when are riches, satisfaction, happiness and popularity a curse?The world and all its thinking is exactly opposite the truth.  That’s why the apostle Paul said, in 1 Corinthians chapter 1, that the wisdom of God is foolishness with men and the wisdom of men is foolishness with God.  Romans 1, Paul said man professes himself to be wise, but in fact he is a moron.  That’s the Greek.  It isn’t again that Christianity adds something to man’s brilliance; it replaces it.

Jesus went on to say that those who are hungry will be filled and that those who weep now will be filled with laughter (verse 21).

Henry says that this indicates the supreme and sublime comfort of the afterlife:

… you hunger now in this world, but in the other world you shall be filled, shall hunger no more, nor thirst any more

They that now sorrow after a godly sort are treasuring up comforts for themselves, or, rather, God is treasuring up comforts for them; and the day is coming when their mouth shall be filled with laughing and their lips with rejoicing, Job 8:21.

Jesus then addressed persecution, saying that blessed are they who experience hate, exclusion, revilement and defamation because they believe in Him (verse 22).

He said to rejoice in that day and leap for joy because the rewards in heaven will be great, reminding them that the Lord’s prophets were similarly persecuted (verse 23).

Henry warns us that our persecutors can make their claims very convincing, indeed, as if they came from the Almighty Himself:

They will pronounce anathemas against you, as scandalous and incorrigible offenders. They will do this with all possible gravity and solemnity, and pomp and pageantry of appeals to Heaven, to make the world believe, and almost you yourselves too, that it is ratified in heaven. Thus will they endeavour to make you odious to others and a terror to yourselves.” This is supposed to be the proper notion of aphorisosin hymasthey shall cast you out of their synagogues. “And they that have not this power will not fail to show their malice, to the utmost of their power; for they will reproach you, will charge you with the blackest crimes, which you are perfectly innocent of, will fasten upon you the blackest characters, which you do not deserve; they will cast out your name as evil, your name as Christians, as apostles; they will do all they can to render these names odious.” This is the application of the eighth beatitude, Matthew 5:10-12.

Jesus pronounces woe — a severe judgement — on the rich, for they already have their consolation, or reward, i.e. here on earth (verse 24).

Henry explains that the rich focus on creature comforts — carnality — rather than on God. This holds true today and always will:

(1.) It is the folly of carnal worldlings that they make the things of this world their consolation, which were intended only for their convenience. They please themselves with them, pride themselves in them, and make them their heaven upon earth; and to them the consolations of God are small, and of no account. (2.) It is their misery that they are put off with them as their consolation. Let them know it, to their terror, when they are parted from these things, there is an end of all their comfort, a final end of it, and nothing remains to them but everlasting misery and torment.

Jesus had a message for those who enjoy life’s comforts too much; those who indulge too much will go away hungry, and those who are laughing from constant enjoyment will mourn and weep (verse 25).

Henry offers this analysis:

They are full of themselves, without God and Christ. Woe to such, for they shall hunger, they shall shortly be stripped and emptied of all the things they are so proud of; and, when they shall have left behind them in the world all those things which are their fulness, they shall carry away with them such appetites and desires as the world they remove to will afford them no gratifications of; for all the delights of sense, which they are now so full of, will in hell be denied, and in heaven superseded.

Here is a woe to them that laugh now, that have always a disposition to be merry, and always something to make merry with; that know no other joy than that which is carnal and sensual, and know no other use of this world’s good than purely to indulge that carnal sensual joy that banishes sorrow, even godly sorrow, from their minds, and are always entertaining themselves with the laughter of the fool. Woe unto such, for it is but now, for a little time, that they laugh; they shall mourn and weep shortly, shall mourn and weep eternally, in a world where there is nothing but weeping and wailing, endless, easeless, and remediless sorrow.

Jesus also pronounced judgement on those who find favour among their fellow men, which is exactly how the unrepentant favoured the false prophets in Scripture (verse 26).

Henry says that we should seek favour of the wise and the good, not fools:

We should desire to have the approbation of those that are wise and good, and not be indifferent to what people say of us; but, as we should despise the reproaches, so we should also despise the praises, of the fools in Israel.

MacArthur tells us more about the word ‘blessed’:

It’s the Greek makarioiIt means “most favored, most favored.”  It speaks of somebody who is in the most beneficial condition, somebody who’s in the most beneficial condition.  Then the other one, “woe,” ouai, almost a transliteration in the Greek, it means “most unfavored.”  It means the person who is in the worst condition.  The blessed are enjoying the most beneficial condition and the cursed are enduring the pain of the worst condition.  Those are the only two places people live.  You live in one or the other.  You’re either among the blessed or the cursed; there is no middle ground.

MacArthur emphasises that, while some these verses can be applied literally to the faithful, Jesus intended them to pertain more to spiritual health, the state of our souls:

Poverty in itself is not necessarily a blessing.  What’s the point?  Well, He’s not talking about material povertyHe’s not talking about economics.  What kind of poverty is He talking about?  Well Matthew gives us another statement that Jesus made in that same sermon, “Blessed are the poor in spirit.”  That’s what He’s talking about.  God doesn’t bless people just because they’re poor.  These are statements of fact.  The poor are not blessed.  And not all the poor people, by just being poor, are going to receive the Kingdom of GodYou don’t get converted by poverty.  It’s not talking about that. 

God doesn’t give salvation to people because they’re deprived economically and materially He’s talking about spiritually poor.  The people that are blessed are people who understand their spiritual povertyThey understand the bankrupt condition of their soul They understand that they have absolutely no resources with which to buy God’s favorThey understand that salvation is not by works, good deeds, righteous acts, ceremonies, ritual, religious thoughts, feelings, etc.  They understand that when all is said and done no matter how much human goodness they may manifest, no matter how much religion they may involve themselves in, no matter how many ceremonies they engage in, they are bankrupt.  None of that has any purchase power with regard to salvationThis was the very issue.

MacArthur says it is about realising we cannot save ourselves. We need God’s help through a belief in Jesus Christ:

Blessed are those who understand their spiritual bankruptcy Blessed are those who know they have no resources to buy their salvation.  They know they can do nothing to please God They have no ability to gain what is necessary to please God.  Blessed are those who know they are spiritually destitute, bankrupt.  They are the ones who receive the Kingdom of God.  The Kingdom of God is for the sinners who know they can’t save themselves.

And then, secondly, came the blessing of hunger “Blessed are you who hunger now for you shall be satisfied.”  It’s not talking about people who don’t have any food.  He’s talking about people who hunger for righteousness Blessed are those who feel the emptiness.  Blessed are those who know they aren’t righteous They feel it.  They are starved for it They understand their spiritual bankruptcy and they cry out to be fed righteousness from God, even though they are unworthy of it.

And then also we saw the blessing of sorrow.  Verse 21, “Blessed are you who weep now for you shall laugh.”  Those whose spiritual condition produces an overwhelming grief, this is brokenness and contriteness of heart which Isaiah spoke Blessed are those who because they’re so spiritually bankrupt, because they have such a profound hunger for righteousness which they know they don’t have and can’t earn are, therefore, in grief, those people will receive the riches of the Kingdom.  Those people will be eternally satisfied and those people will have eternal joy.

What about persecution? Can we avoid it?

MacArthur says that it can be possible for most, provided we live quiet lives and mind our own business:

we don’t want to set this up so that you expect that your life will be nothing but an act of persecution and you develop some kind of martyr complex Look, the early church, according to Acts 2:47, had favor with all the people Later on, in Acts chapter 5 verse 13, it says the people in Jerusalem had great esteem for the Christians And 1 Timothy chapter 2 says that we’re to conduct ourselves in a godly fashion, living a quiet, peaceable, tranquil life so that there will be respect Peter says you ought to live your lives so that evil people have nothing of which to accuse you. Titus chapter 3 says you’re to live your life in a very quiet way, in a gracious way so that you have a testimony as to the transforming power of Christ in your life to reach those who are without Him.

Unfortunately, some in this world do persecute, maim and murder believers who live godly lives. Paul was constantly persecuted, often with physical brutality that left permanent bodily damage. However, he never gave up his faith — and standing firm is a difficult thing to do. That is because he focused on his heavenly reward, wanting so intensely to be with His Saviour forever.

Speaking generally on this issue, MacArthur says:

“Leap for joy for behold your reward is great – ” Where? – “In heaven.”  You have to have an other worldly perspective to deal with this If all you want is comfort here, you’re going to miss it If you understand that your eternal reward is proportionate to your willingness to confront and suffer for the gospel, then you realize that the little suffering here is not worthy, as Paul said, to be compared with the glory there That’s the eternal perspective What do I care what hostility comes to me in this life for the truth of the gospel?  What do I care what people do to me in this life for preaching the truth, when I understand that there is a reward for me in the glory that I will receive and be able to cast at the feet of my Christ for the little suffering here? 

My apologies for the length of this post, but the Beatitudes are not altogether the statement of Christian militancy in the sense of oppression on earth that some clergy would have us believe.

They are primarily about our spiritual state. And when we realise we are helpless children without God’s help, He will send His Son with His grace to help us to repent and to strengthen our faith.

For at least ten years the Christians living in the Holy Land have been persecuted.

Over Christmas 2021, articles and interviews surfaced about their plight. Sadly, this is not new, but it does show how impossible a resolution to this situation seems.

In July 2011, The Sunday Times reported that the then-Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams was launching an appeal for Christians suffering in the Holy Land (emphases mine below):

The Archbishop of Canterbury Dr Rowan Williams yesterday launched an appeal for “suffering” Christians in the Holy Land, calling for Anglicans to do more to help with community projects and job creation.

Dr Rowan Williams told the General Synod in York: “I returned from a visit to the Holy Land last year with a very, very strong sense that we had to do more to express our solidarity with the Christian communities there …

He said he hoped that Anglicans and others would give generously to help build a fund for projects that would contribute to the sustainability of the most vulnerable Christian communities, especially on the West Bank

He launched the appeal prior to a joint conference on Christians in the Holy Land with England’s Catholic Archbishop — now Cardinal — Vincent Nichols :

Dr Williams’ appeal came ahead of a conference on Christians in the Holy Land which he and the Archbishop of Westminster Vincent Nichols are jointly hosting at Lambeth Palace in London next week.

In a video presentation to explain his appeal Dr Williams warns that the rate of Christian emigration from the Holy Land had reached the point of “haemorrhage”

Archbishop Vincent Nichols says: “People are leaving, Christians are leaving, and we want to say the Christian presence in the Holy Land is important to its balance, to its — not just its historical reality but to its presence and future viability.”

In January 2018, Patriarch Theophilos III, the Orthodox Patriarch of Jerusalem, wrote an article for The Guardian, ‘Christians are at risk of being driven out of the Holy Land’.

The Patriarch is from the Holy Land and says that socio-political tension has been part of the problem:

Much attention has been paid recently to political decisions recognising Jerusalem in one light or another. The media attention highlights the seemingly intractable political struggle here. But as well as the threat to the political status quo, there is a threat also to the religious status quo, a threat instigated by radical settlers in and around Jerusalem, the heart of Christianity. And one group that has always been a pillar of society in the Holy Land – Christians – seems to have been rendered invisible in this standoff

Now various sides want to claim the Holy Land, including Jerusalem, as the exclusive possession of only one people. This treats with contempt the mechanism that has maintained peace and our multi-religious landscape for generations.

A delegation of Christians had travelled to the UK only a short time before to discuss the seriousness of their plight:

Recently Christian communities from the Holy Land came to the UK to seek support for our plight in the face of legal and land threats to the Christian church in the Holy Land. We were moved that church leaders from across the UK came to our support. In meetings with Prince Charles and government ministers, as well as with church leaders, we highlighted a proposed “church lands” bill signed by 40 members of Israel’s Knesset that would restrict the rights of churches to deal independently with their own land. We also discussed threats to church land around the Jaffa gate of the Old City of Jerusalem.

Cardinal Nichols was also there:

The UK’s Catholic Cardinal Vincent Nichols summed up the view of many when he told us that the proposed bill represented “an intolerable infringement of the status quo and the legitimate rights of the churches, and should be recognised for what it is: an attack on the property rights of the Christian community”.

‘Radical settlers’ added to the tension:

In addition to the church lands bill, one of the foremost threats to Christians in the Holy Land is the unacceptable activities of radical settler groups, which are attempting to establish control over properties around the Jaffa gate. The properties in question are in the heart of Jerusalem’s Christian quarter, the seat of all the patriarchates and headquarters of the churches, and less than 500m from the Church of the Holy Sepulchre

If the settler groups were to gain control of the properties, they would be able to pursue their aggressive campaign of removing non-Jews from the City and from these strategic centres at the heart of the Christian quarter, threatening the very presence of Christians in the Holy Land.

The Patriarch explains that the holy places are sacred because holiness is a divine characteristic, not a human one:

The Christian understanding of holy places is that all people have claims to the sanctity of their holy places, because holiness is a divine characteristic, not a human one. No party should ever be able to make an exclusive claim over a holy place – in this case, over the holy city of Jerusalem.

We shall continue the fight for this cause because it is right and because it is our basic pastoral duty.

Incidentally, in neighbouring Syria, in 2019, the Jerusalem Post featured a contrasting news story and a podcast: ‘Muslims convert to Christianity in Syrian town once besieged by ISIS’.

This took place in the town of Kobani:

A community of Syrians who converted to Christianity from Islam is growing in Kobani, a town besieged by Islamic State for months, and where the tide turned against the militants four years ago.

The converts say the experience of war and the onslaught of a group claiming to fight for Islam pushed them towards their new faith. After a number of families converted, the Syrian-Turkish border town’s first evangelical church opened last year.

Islamic State militants were beaten back by U.S. air strikes and Kurdish fighters at Kobani in early 2015, in a reversal of fortune after taking over swaths of Iraq and Syria. After years of fighting, U.S.-backed forces fully ended the group’s control over populated territory last month …

Christianity is one of the region’s minority faiths that was persecuted by Islamic State.

Critics view the new converts with suspicion, accusing them of seeking personal gain such as financial help from Christian organizations working in the region, jobs and enhanced prospects of emigration to European countries.

The newly-converted Christians of Kobani deny those accusations. They say their conversion was a matter of faith.

“After the war with Islamic State people were looking for the right path, and distancing themselves from Islam,” said Omar Firas, the founder of Kobani’s evangelical church. “People were scared and felt lost.”

Firas works for a Christian aid group at a nearby camp for displaced people that helped set up the church …

The church’s current pastor, Zani Bakr, 34, arrived last year from Afrin, a town in northern Syria. He converted in 2007.

That is a most positive step for the Good News.

Returning to Jerusalem, on Sunday, December 19, 2021, the current Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, and Hosam Naoum, the Anglican Archbishop in Jerusalem, co-authored an article for The Sunday Times: ‘Let us pray for the Christians being driven from the Holy Land’.

The two men say that the radical settlers have increased their persecution of Christians in the Holy Land:

Last week church leaders in Jerusalem raised an unprecedented and urgent alarm call. In a joint statement they said Christians throughout the Holy Land had become the target of frequent and sustained attacks by fringe radical groups.

They described “countless incidents” of physical and verbal assaults against priests and other clergy, and attacks on Christian churches. They spoke of holy sites being regularly vandalised and desecrated, and the ongoing intimidation of local Christians as they go about their worship and daily lives.

The Romanian Orthodox monastery in Jerusalem was vandalised during Lent in March this year, the fourth attack in a month. During Advent last December, someone lit a fire in the Church of All Nations in the Garden of Gethsemane, the place where Jesus prayed the night before he was crucified. It is usually a place of pilgrimage for Christians from around the world, and the vandals are thought to have taken advantage of the lack of visitors due to the pandemic.

These tactics are being used by such radical groups “in a systematic attempt to drive the Christian community out of Jerusalem and other parts of the Holy Land”, the Jerusalem church leaders said in their statement.

That is why, when you speak to Palestinian Christians in Jerusalem today, you will often hear this cry: “In 15 years’ time, there’ll be none of us left!”

This crisis takes place against a century-long decline in the Christian population in the Holy Land. In 1922, at the end of the Ottoman era, the number of Christians in the Holy Land was estimated at 73,000; about 10 per cent of the population. In 2019, Christians constituted less than 2 per cent of the population of the Holy Land: a massive drop in less than 100 years.

Elsewhere, in Jaffa, for example, there is good news, but not in Jerusalem:

In Israel, the overall number of Christians has risen. The imminent reopening of St Peter’s Anglican Church in Jaffa, which has been closed for more than 70 years, is encouraging. But in east Jerusalem, the central place for pilgrimage and the site of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre — where Christ is believed to have been crucified — there is a steady decline. Church leaders believe that there are now fewer than 2,000 Christians left in the Old City of Jerusalem

Christians in Israel enjoy democratic and religious freedoms that are a beacon in the region. But the escalation of physical and verbal abuse of Christian clergy, and the vandalism of holy sites by fringe radical groups, are a concerted attempt to intimidate and drive them away. Meanwhile, the growth of settler communities and travel restrictions brought about by the West Bank separation wall have deepened the isolation of Christian villages and curtailed economic and social possibilities.

All of these factors have contributed to a steady stream of Palestinian Christians leaving the Holy Land to seek lives and livelihoods elsewhere — a historic tragedy unfolding in real time.

What can be done?

This trend can be reversed — but action must be taken fast. We encourage governments and authorities in the region to listen to church leaders in their midst: to engage in the practical conversations that will lead to vital Christian culture and heritage being guarded and sustained. The time for action is now.

On Christmas Eve, Tom Harwood of GB News interviewed His Grace Bishop Dr Munib Younan from the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Palestine and Jordan:

He pleaded for the radicals to ‘be brought to justice’ and asked what Jerusalem would be like without its Christian community. He says that the city belongs to three faiths: Judaism, Christianity and Islam.

He said that love is at the heart of the Christian message and that those who are persecuted should pray for their attackers. He added that Christ died on the Cross to give us life and life abundantly.

He ended by saying that everyone has to work together to resolve this ongoing and desperate situation.

On Wednesday, 29 December, Janine di Giovanni, a journalist and Senior Fellow at Yale University’s Jackson Institute for Global Affairs, wrote about this subject in a broader sense for The Telegraph: ‘We need to talk about the persecution of Christians in the Middle East’.

She has reported from the Middle East for three decades and says:

I can tell you first hand, as a human rights reporter who spent three decades working in the Middle East, the situation there is urgent and it threatens to disrupt the entire demographic of the area. I made it my mission to work with embattled Christians, aiding them in their plight and trying to get the message out to the wider world: they are in peril. And so, I began in-depth field work on the most vulnerable Christian communities. I focused on four areas where I felt the risk was most prominent: Iraq, Syria, Egypt, and the minute group of Christians in the Gaza Strip. Their numbers are dwindling rapidly.

Social scientists estimate that some of them – such as the Iraqi Christians whose populations have plummeted from close to 1.5 million to an estimated 100,000 in 40 years – are in danger of extinction. It is unthinkable to me that Christianity in its birthplace, the land of the prophets where St. Thomas or Jonah had wandered, might disappear. Everywhere I went as a war reporter in my long career – Africa, Asia, the Balkans, Afghanistan – I always found a church. No matter where I was, these visits drew me back into a safe place where I found solace and freedom from gripping fear.

Even Kabul had a tiny Catholic chapel, Our Lady of Divine Providence, at the Italian Embassy, opened in 2002 after the fall of the Taliban. But unlike the Christians in the Middle East – whose ancestry can stretch back to the prophets two millenn[ia] ago – the tiny population of Afghan Christians were nearly all converts. Nonetheless, this month, Father Giovanni Scalese, the leader of that community, who has since fled, issued a plea that Christians need no “obstacles to religious freedom.” Their situation is bad in Afghanistan, but even worse in the Middle East.

During lockdown, she began writing a book — The Vanishing: The Twilight of Christianity in the Middle East — based on journals of interviews that she has kept since the 1990s. Her article recounts some of what Christians are experiencing in that part of the world. It’s a harrowing read.

However, one place stood out for her:

it was the 800 Christian inhabitants of Gaza who perhaps touched me the most. Gaza was mostly Christian until the fourth Century. Today, the mainly Greek Orthodox Christians – but also Catholics, Lutherans Baptists – are sandwiched between Hamas, which is at war with the Palestinian Authority in Ramallah, and also with the Israelis.

The lives of these Christians (as all civilians in Gaza) are perhaps the most hellish on a day-to-day basis: the lack of electricity, fresh water and health services, the fear of more bombing and their inability to visit family in Bethlehem and Jerusalem during the holidays. They are isolated and abandoned. Last summer, I returned, my first trip since Covid – and the situation was the worst I had seen in 30 years.

Nonetheless, faith and love characterise the persecuted:

But faith somehow continues, even in these embattled communities. Throughout the hundreds of interviews I did for The Vanishing, there was one theme that was consistent: love. Whether it was Father Mario da Silva, an inspirational Portuguese priest who had left a comfortable posting in The Vatican to work in Gaza, or a family celebrating its existence after encountering Isil on a mountaintop near Mosul. These people continued to pray, to believe, to gain inner strength from something they could not see or even at times understand: their profound belief in God.

Their faith, in many ways, was more powerful than any of the forces that tried to destroy them.

Christians know that persecution is to be expected, but we can pray that God relieves believers in the Middle East of this daily scourge, a seemingly intractable — and tragic — situation.

Bible ourhomewithgodcomThe 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.

2 Corinthians 11:30-33

30 If I must boast, I will boast of the things that show my weakness. 31 The God and Father of the Lord Jesus, he who is blessed forever, knows that I am not lying. 32 At Damascus, the governor under King Aretas was guarding the city of Damascus in order to seize me, 33 but I was let down in a basket through a window in the wall and escaped his hands.


My last post discussed Paul’s description of his brutal persecution in his ministry for Christ. He concluded by saying that he was also consumed with anxiety for the well being of the churches he had planted and the congregants.

Paul is boasting, something he finds distasteful. However, he has to do it in order to contrast his godliness and authenticity with the venal, devilish false teachers who had inveigled themselves with the Corinthian congregation.

He says that, if he has to boast, he will do so by talking of his weaknesses (verse 30).

He says that God the Father knows that he is not lying (verse 31), something the false teachers said he had done.

Paul describes God more fully.

John MacArthur explains why (emphases mine):

… what he is saying is, “I’m going to call on God, the true and living God who is identified repeatedly in the New Testament as the God who is the Father of our Lord Jesus.”

In other words, worshipping God is not enough. You are not worshipping the true God. You don’t know the true God unless you have identified Him as the God who is the Father of our Lord Jesus.

Of this verse, Matthew Henry says:

It is a great comfort to a good man that the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who is an omniscient God, knows the truth of all he says, and knows all he does and all he suffers for his sake.

Paul mentions another episode of persecution, one that took place early in his ministry in Damascus.

He says that the governor under King Aretas was guarding the city in order to seize him (verse 32), but someone lowered him in a basket through a window in the wall, enabling his escape (verse 33).

The story is in Acts 9. Paul — still Saul at that point — had only regained his eyesight and his strength after his conversion when he began preaching. This episode in Damascus did not occur straightaway but some time after his conversion:

Saul Proclaims Jesus in Synagogues

For some days he was with the disciples at Damascus. 20 And immediately he proclaimed Jesus in the synagogues, saying, “He is the Son of God.” 21 And all who heard him were amazed and said, “Is not this the man who made havoc in Jerusalem of those who called upon this name? And has he not come here for this purpose, to bring them bound before the chief priests?” 22 But Saul increased all the more in strength, and confounded the Jews who lived in Damascus by proving that Jesus was the Christ.

Saul Escapes from Damascus

23 When many days had passed, the Jews[a] plotted to kill him, 24 but their plot became known to Saul. They were watching the gates day and night in order to kill him, 25 but his disciples took him by night and let him down through an opening in the wall,[b] lowering him in a basket.

The man who had been responsible for persecuting Christians in Jerusalem — including the death of St Stephen, the first martyr — experienced his own persecution shortly after his conversion. Persecution would be part of Paul’s life up to his own martyrdom in Rome.

MacArthur has more on this Damascene episode, which Paul recounts in more detail in Galatians 1:

The Lord, after he converted him, took him and sent him into Arabia – Nabatean, Arabia it used to be called. He sent him into Nabatean, Arabia, south of Damascus, somewhere between the Red Sea and the Euphrates River – in the modern era world, that area. He sent him into Nabatean, Arabia for three years. He didn’t have an seminary education, didn’t have any formal training, didn’t have anybody with him. God sent him down there, and the Lord Himself gave him his message. You remember he says that to the Galatians, “I didn’t get my gospel from any man. No man gave me this gospel. The Lord set me apart, took me down, and for three years he’s down in Arabia, and he’s preaching the gospel all over Arabia.

After three years, he comes back to Damascus. And when he gets back to Damascus, according to the ninth chapter of Acts, he starts to preach Christ. And the Jews, who have a synagogue in Damascus, are furious, because he’s preaching Christ as the Messiah, as the Savior, as the King of Israel. And so, they’re plotting his death.

Now, in Damascus there’s a colony of Arabs, who’ve migrated up from Nabatean, Arabia, and they live in Damascus. Damascus would be the main city in that part of the world. And I’ve been in Damascus; it’s an incredible place with an incredible history. It was the further eastern most extension of the Roman Empire as well, and it was a very formidable place.

So, Nabatean Arabians had migrated up. In fact, there were so many of them there that the colony was large enough to have a governor. And it says in verse 32, “In Damascus the ethnarch” – that’s the governor, and he would have been the guy assigned to govern this Arab colony in Damascus, he was under Aretas the king. Aretas is … a title rather than a name; Aretas is like Pharaoh or Caesar. It’s the title of the king of Nabatean, Arabia.

So, the king of Nabatean, Arabia, a man called Aretas, appointed some governor to kind of lead the colony of Arabs up there and rule over them. Well, what happened was Paul’s ministry down in Arabia had irritated the Arabians and the normal hostility and persecution that arises against the gospel arose there, and it migrated up into Damascus. And so, the Arabians somehow joined with the Jews. On the one hand, in Acts 9, you got the Jews plotting to kill him, and now you’ve got the Arabians involved.

Aretas had assigned this ethnarch, and is job – the Jews had given him the job – “to guard the city of the Damascenes in order to seize me.”

The word was out, “Paul’s in town; we’re going to get him.” The Jews wanted him dead, and the Arabs wanted to cooperate in the process. The Arabs were given the responsibility to guard the gates so that if he tried to get out of the city, they would seize him, and he would be executed.

Now, he had just gotten launched into the ministry, and already he’s got the Jewish and Gentile world after him. This was just the beginning of how it would be throughout his life, until one day he laid his head on the block in Rome, and a Roman executioner chopped it off, and he entered the presence of the Lord. From the beginning of his ministry to the end, this is all he ever knew.

This is how Paul was able to escape:

The wall of Damascus was very wide – wide enough to drive a chariot on. And homes were built up on the top of the wall, and some of them hung over the edge and had some windows, which would just be an opening, where some wooden doors could be opened or closed. And they figured out a scheme. They would get Paul up into one of those homes on the wall, and they would put him in a basket.

The word for basket here – sarganē – is a rope basket, not just a reed basket or straw basket, but a rope basket. You’d take rope and just wrap it into a basket form and somehow tie it all together. They’d have to be pretty strong to hold a full-size man.

Today, Paul would have been considered too confrontational:

And anybody in their right mind today, who sat him down, in our contemporary Christian environment, would have said, “You know, Paul, you really need to change your method; you’re just infuriating the whole world. I mean there’s got to be a soft sell here that you could develop. There’s got to be some subtleties, Paul. Everything can’t be blatant.” I mean he wouldn’t have known even what you were talking about

Pastors used to be much more Pauline, although that was so last century. I only ever heard one fire and brimstone sermon in my life. I was 12 or 13 at the time. An elderly Irish priest gave it. He was a retired pastor, stepping in for ours one weekend. He wore the traditional pre-Vatican II alb which had about six inches of lace at the bottom and at the ends of the sleeves. I will remember him for the rest of my life.

Perhaps we need more Pauline preaching today. My dad really enjoyed the Irish priest’s sermon and said he could have listened to him for hours. It reminded him of his childhood.

Build it and they will come. We’d stop calling new churchgoers ‘seekers’, because so many would come to church that a full house, so to speak, would become the norm once again. We would no longer have to think of those people as being in a special category.

We can but pray for such a happy eventuality.

Next time — 2 Corinthians 12:1, 11-13

Bible and crossThe 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.

2 Corinthians 11:22-29

22 Are they Hebrews? So am I. Are they Israelites? So am I. Are they offspring of Abraham? So am I. 23 Are they servants of Christ? I am a better one—I am talking like a madman—with far greater labors, far more imprisonments, with countless beatings, and often near death. 24 Five times I received at the hands of the Jews the forty lashes less one. 25 Three times I was beaten with rods. Once I was stoned. Three times I was shipwrecked; a night and a day I was adrift at sea; 26 on frequent journeys, in danger from rivers, danger from robbers, danger from my own people, danger from Gentiles, danger in the city, danger in the wilderness, danger at sea, danger from false brothers; 27 in toil and hardship, through many a sleepless night, in hunger and thirst, often without food,[a] in cold and exposure. 28 And, apart from other things, there is the daily pressure on me of my anxiety for all the churches. 29 Who is weak, and I am not weak? Who is made to fall, and I am not indignant?


Last week’s post discussed Paul’s humble boasting, which he needed to do in order to defend his godly character against the accusations of the false teachers in Corinth. Paul also took issue with the fact that the Corinthians fell into a spiritual and psychological enslavement from their teaching.

He now compares and contrasts himself with the false teachers.

Evidently, they were Jews, because he asks if they were Hebrews and Israelites, answering that he was also a Hebrew and an Israelite (verse 22).

John MacArthur explains the distinction between those two terms (emphases mine):

he starts with his equality. Verse 22 then puts him on an equal footing with them in terms of heritage. Look at it: “Are they Hebrews? So am I. Are they Israelites? So am I. Are they descendants of Abraham? So am I.”

It may well have been, by the way, that the false apostles were questioning this. It may well have been that they had spread some lies about Paul not having the right racial credentials. In fact, they may have said that since he was born in Tarsus he really didn’t fit. All the original twelve apostles were Jews, therefore they were all Israelites, they were descendants from Jacob. They were all children of Abraham, because, of course, Jacob came from Abraham. So they were all descendants of Abraham, they were all Israelites. And they were all Hebrews. That is to say they were of the nationality of the Hebrews, and they spoke the language which is called Hebrew.

So they would be classified then as Jews and Palestinian Jews, as opposed to Greek Jews that spoke Greek or something else. They were all true Jews, Palestinian Jews. And with the exception of Judas, by the way, they were all Galileans. They all came from the northern part of Palestine known as Galilee, which was the more rural part, being north of the great metropolis of Jerusalem.

So all the apostles were Jews, all of them were Palestinian Jews; and with the exception of Judas who was certainly disqualified as an apostle, all of them were Galilean Jews. Any one then claiming to be an apostle would have to show that he was a Jew, and that he was a true Jew, a Palestinian Jew. The false apostles may have been accusing Paul of not fitting the qualifications of being an apostle because he was born in Tarsus, which is a Gentile city, and therefore indicating he did not belong. Tarsus, by the way, was in Cilicia, which is along the northern part of the Mediterranean where modern Turkey exists today. It’s outside Palestine, and therefore they may have been accusing him of being an intruder into the apostolic realm since he didn’t have a birthright credential.

Well, Paul wants to answer that. It is right, true apostles are ethnically pure, Aramaic and Hebrew-speaking Jews of Palestine rather than Greek-speaking Jews of the dispersion. But Paul is going to answer that question, and here’s how he does it. “Are they Hebrews? So am I. Are they Israelites? So am I. Are they descendants of Abraham? So am I.” It’s really three ways of saying the same thing, although we could break it up a little bit.

Hebrews sort of refers to the Jewish people ethnically and linguistically. They are the Hebrew people who basically are associated with the Hebrew language. The root of that is probably from Eber. In the genealogy of Genesis 11, verses 15 to 17, as you go through the genealogy of the Jewish people, there is a person there by the name of Eber of whom Abraham is a descendant. Eber probably is the one who contributed Hebrew, which was the name given first to Abraham in Genesis 14:13. So it probably goes back to the fact that he was a descendant from Eber.

Foreigners used it of the Jews; they called them Hebrews, descendants of Eber. And the Jews also used it of themselves; you’ll find that in Genesis 40, and Genesis 43. Both the Jews used it, and others used it of them as well. They accepted it as a moniker which stuck.

Paul, born in Tarsus, however, was still a Hebrew in every sense. In Philippians 3:5 he calls himself “a Hebrew of Hebrews,” which means when it came to nationality and it came to ethnicity and it came to linguistics, he was every bit a Hebrew. He knew Aramaic, he lived his whole [formative] life in Palestine, and he followed all the Hebrew traditions to the very letter, fastidious to the max, even being a Pharisee. This apparently was an issue in his life, because he mentions it in Acts 22 and verse 3, “I am a Jew.” He was addressing them in the Hebrew dialect it says. “I am a Jew, born in Tarsus of Cilicia, but brought up in this city,” – meaning Jerusalem – “educated under Gamaliel,” – who was the premier teacher of the Jewish law of his day – “strictly according to the law of our fathers, being zealous for God just as you are all today.” So he says, “Look,: – he has been teaching in Hebrew – “I am a Jew. I was born outside of Palestine, but I’ve been brought up in this city, educated under Gamaliel, educated strictly as a Pharisee according to the law, zealous for God,” et cetera …

So, obviously, he was born in Cilicia. But very early, very early as a very young child came to Jerusalem

And then he says, “Are they Israelites?” That refers, perhaps, to their descent from Jacob, which speaks of their social life, their religious life; and he followed that as well. He was in every sense an Israelite. He was faithful to the society, to the religion of the Jews.

And then he says, “Are they descendants of Abraham? So am I.” He was here referring to his covenant identification. Socially, religiously, covenantally, linguistically, nationally, ethnically; every way you cut it, he was equal to them. He was within the Jewish culture, following all the Israelite habits of society and religion. He was a part of the theocratic kingdom, he took his identity with God’s chosen people in the promised land that God had pledged to Abraham, and he was enjoying the covenant privileges and the covenant promises and blessings of God promised to Abraham in Genesis chapter 12. So in every area – ethnicity, language, religion, society, theology, covenant promise – he says, “I am equal. I am equal.” That’s his whole point here in that verse where he says, “I the same,” or, “So am I,” in the English.

In the next five verses, Paul explains why he is superior to the false teachers.

He asks whether they are servants of Christ and says he is a better one, having laboured harder and endured brutal forms of physical persecution (verse 23).

MacArthur reminds us that this is what Jesus prophesied to the Twelve:

Jesus made it very clear to the apostles that there was going to be a life of suffering. They were going to be before courts and judges and trials and kings, incarcerations and beatings. They were going to suffer immensely; they were going to be hated, and resisted, and resented. And that is the nature of the issue of ministry, because what you’re doing in ministry is you’re taking the truth into the midst of lies, you’re taking the message of God into the kingdom of darkness run by Satan, and that creates a hostile reaction.

Paul says he speaks as if he were insane.

MacArthur explains:

No false apostle is a true servant of Christ, this is just for the sake of argument. There’s a bit of sarcasm in it. And he can’t just leave it at that, he has to add, “I speak as if insane.” What an insanity to even suggest this for the sake of argument. “But are they servants of Christ? I far more. It’s insane to even think of it.”

By the way, the word “insane” is a stronger word than the word “fool.” The word “fool” used in verse 17 and used again in verse 21, fool or foolishness, aphrōn, aphrosunē comes from phroneō which means “to think.” The word for “insane” is paraphroneō, which literally means “to be beside yourself,” para meaning “to be beside” or “alongside,” “to be beside your mind.” The word phroneō, “to think” or “referring to the mind,” “To be out of your mind,” that’s where it comes from, or “to be beside yourself,” which is another way of saying, “You’re insane.” Paul says, “I’m a madman to even suggest that they’re servants of Christ; but for the sake of argument I have to say it. And I more so.”

He then discusses his persecutions.

He says he was flogged five times by the Jews, with 39 lashes each time (verse 24).

Those floggings took place in synagogues.

MacArthur describes how the master of the synagogue carried it out according to the Mishnah:

The victim would put his two hands wide, and they would be attached to pillars or posts on either side, so they’d be stretched like this. The chest and back would be bared to the waist. Behind the man would be a large stone on the ground, elevating the master of the synagogue who would inflict the blows, so that he had leverage and could reach clear across the shoulders so that he could whip the chest as well, and he would be able to keep his footing on that stone. An instrument of a thick strap of cowhide split into three six-inch strands and then thickened somehow was used in this whipping. One-third of the blows had to be delivered on the chest, and two-thirds of the blows on the back and the shoulders. And it was required by the Mishnah that the master use one hand – and this was his trade, so he was good at it – use one hand and hit every one of the hits with all his might.

And the Mishnah provided that if the victim died, the scourger bore no guilt. Forty was the limit of blows to create these welts and sometimes cuts on the body. But the traditional way of the Jews was to stop at thirty-nine in case they might have muffed up on the count. They didn’t want to break the law in their fastidiousness, so they stopped at thirty-nine. Fastidious about the law, they were busy beating the prophets this way, according to Matthew chapter 23, verse 34, Jesus said, “You beat the prophets like this.”

They beat all the wrong people; and here they are beating the apostle of Jesus Christ, Paul himself. All those permanent welts and scars all over his body that he got from those – what would it be? – a hundred and ninety-five lashes, leaving scars all over his body, were what he was meaning in Galatians 6:17 when he said, “I bear in my body the marks of Jesus Christ.” They would all be trophies of his devotion to Jesus Christ. If anybody asked him if he was sold out to Christ, he’d just take off his tunic; that would be enough.

Paul goes on to describe his other ordeals: beatings with rods, a stoning, three shipwrecks and 24 hours of floating adrift at sea (verse 25).

MacArthur gives us more information:

In verse 25, he says, “I was beaten with rods three times.” This is what the Romans did; they got these flexible sticks, rough sticks, flexible sticks, and they just bound them all together and they used it as a whip – like a whip, but it would inflict a blow for each stick that touched the skin. That’s what happened to him in Acts 16 at the Philippian jail. Verse 22 says he was beaten with rods. That’s what they did to him there. That was one of the three times. And you’re talking about five times he had been lashed, three times he had been beaten with rods, and this is before he wrote 2 Corinthians; and he still has more ministry after that. This is just up to this point.

And he adds also in verse 25, “Once I was stoned.” That was at Lystra – you can read about it in Acts 14:19 – he was stoned. They were so made at him for preaching the gospel; and this wasn’t a Jewish anger, this was a Gentile environment. They took him out of the city and they stoned him. What they would do in stoning a person was drop him off of an edge like this, down below, and then they would just get on top and just smash down large boulders to crush him.

And it says in Acts 14:19, that they supposed he was dead, they surmised he was dead. He probably was not dead, because the verb “supposing” usually in the New Testament means “to surmise something that is not true.” And if he was dead, then he would have had to be raised from the dead, because he got up and went on preaching, as you know. And resurrection wouldn’t be minimized. No resurrection in the book of Acts is presented ambiguously …

So all we can say was, he was stoned, but didn’t die; and he was left for dead. They literally tried to crush his life out. Came within, perhaps, a few breaths of dying under the bloody crushing, but he survived.

Then he says, “Three times I was shipwrecked.” Now the best we can add them up – take my word for it – probably took about twenty voyages, about nine of them before he wrote 2 Corinthians, and nine or ten of them afterwards. We know the ones that he took before 2 Corinthians; they’re recorded in the book of Acts chapter 9, 11, 13; chapter 14, 16, 17, and 18. You see he’s going here and there in these ships. And out of those nine voyages, and maybe some others that he took, he had three shipwrecks. Shipwrecks were very common in those days. And he had those shipwrecks.

By the way, that does not include the shipwreck in Acts 27 which was much later in his life, and a number of other, probably at least nine or ten more journeys by ship that he took after he wrote 2 Corinthians which would add up to the twenty. Just in the first half of that he had had three shipwrecks. So, you know, there’s about a thirty-three-and-a-third percent you get on a ship you’re going to have a shipwreck. I mean, that’s pretty bad odds.

But the man had to go where he had to go, because he was under mandate from God. And one of those shipwrecks, he says, “I spent a night and a day in the deep.” What does he mean? He means that for twenty-four hours he was hanging on to a piece of wreckage in the middle of the sea before he was rescued. Acts doesn’t tell us about that. In fact, it doesn’t tell us about a lot of things; this is just a summation. It’s just a brief summation of what the man went through.

Paul then discusses the continual dangers he had encountered, dangers from people as well as the natural environment (verse 26).

Matthew Henry’s commentary says that, wherever he was, danger was present:

… he was exposed to perils of all sorts. If he journeyed by land, or voyaged by sea, he was in perils of robbers, or enemies of some sort; the Jews, his own countrymen, sought to kill him, or do him a mischief; the heathen, to whom he was sent, were not more kind to him, for among them he was in peril. If he was in the city, or in the wilderness, still he was in peril. He was in peril not only among avowed enemies, but among those also who called themselves brethren, but were false brethren, 2 Corinthians 11:26; 2 Corinthians 11:26.

Paul then writes about his lack of basic necessities: sleep, food, drink and clothing (verse 27).

MacArthur says:

The reason he stayed up all night is because he had to work. All-day ministry, all-day preaching, and then he had to work all night in order to support himself. He had to work all night to earn his living and the living of all who traveled with him. They were sleepless nights because they were nights of labor. In fact, sometimes he even preached all night

He also found it difficult even working all night, preaching, traveling, staying out of danger. He found it difficult to make enough to sustain himself. So he says in verse 27, “In spite of all of his work, in spite of many sleepless nights of labor, he had experienced hunger and thirst, often without food, in cold and exposure. There were times when he didn’t have enough to eat, he didn’t have enough to drink, he didn’t have enough to keep him warm, and he didn’t even have a place to stay. Inadequate food. That even happened when he was at Corinth. He mentions it chapter 11, verse 9, “When I was present with you and in need, I didn’t even tell you about it.”

When he says “often without food,” he’s not talking about spiritual fasting … So, this is not some kind of spiritual fast; this is a man who just doesn’t have enough money or a place to purchase food.

And he’s cold. The end of his life in 2 Timothy 4:13, he tells Timothy to go find Crispus and get his coat and bring it to him. How did Crispus get it? Well, he probably needed it, and so he left it with him. But he needs his coat. It’s not like he has a wardrobe. He’s here, and his coat’s there; and it’s the only coat he has. “Please, could you bring it? I’m cold.” It was eking out a bare existence. Frankly, this is enough to embarrass us today who suffer so little for the ministry and the gospel. We might hide our faces in shame. But note this: when you’re looking at the purest and truest apostle, he’s going to be measured by his power against the kingdom of darkness, and that’s going to be demonstrated by the level of persecution and suffering a man endures.

Then Paul says that, apart from all the other things — hardships that he won’t even go into, probably because there were so many — he was anxious about all the churches he had planted (verse 28).

Henry says that such anxiety consumed him, which was why he mentioned it last:

He mentions this last, as if this lay the heaviest upon him, and as if he could better bear all the persecutions of his enemies than the scandals that were to be found in the churches he had the oversight of.

Continuing on that thought, Paul says that he suffers along with members of his congregations, sharing in their weakness and suffering (verse 29).

Henry says:

There was not a weak Christian with whom he did not sympathize, nor any one scandalized, but he was affected therewith.

Of Paul, Henry concludes:

See what little reason we have to be in love with the pomp and plenty of this world, when this blessed apostle, one of the best of men that ever lived, excepting Jesus Christ, felt so much hardship in it. Nor was he ashamed of all this, but, on the contrary, it was what he accounted his honour; and therefore, much against the grain as it was with him to glory Note, Sufferings for righteousness’ sake will, the most of any thing, redound to our honour.

Of persecution, MacArthur says:

This man got exactly what he should have expected to get from the world around him, just exactly what His Savior got, His Lord got, right? And that was the mark of his true apostleship. You say you’re a servant of Jesus Christ; show me your scars, show me the hostility, show me the rejection, show me the alienation, show me what it’s meant in your family. You took a stand for a spiritual scriptural principle even in the Christian family and your family didn’t like it; that’s a scar. You proclaimed Jesus Christ in an unbelieving environment and you suffered for it. Maybe you didn’t get a promotion. Maybe you got alienated. Maybe you didn’t get the grade you should have gotten in a class because you wrote a paper that advocated what the Bible teaches about a certain issue, not what the professor things. That’s a scar.

These are more civil times, I suppose, in some way; although they’re fast becoming rather uncivilized, it appears. We may all be finding that out in the next quarter of a century, or less. But Paul says, “I’m an apostle, far more than you, and here are my scars to prove it.” You cannot live a life uncompromisingly confronting the kingdom of darkness and not have some scars to show. And those are your badge of authenticity.

There is much to digest in this reading. Persecution is still with us, alive and well.

Next time — 2 Corinthians 11:30-33

Bible GenevaThe 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.

2 Corinthians 1:8-11

For we do not want you to be unaware, brothers,[a] of the affliction we experienced in Asia. For we were so utterly burdened beyond our strength that we despaired of life itself. Indeed, we felt that we had received the sentence of death. But that was to make us rely not on ourselves but on God who raises the dead. 10 He delivered us from such a deadly peril, and he will deliver us. On him we have set our hope that he will deliver us again. 11 You also must help us by prayer, so that many will give thanks on our behalf for the blessing granted us through the prayers of many.


In last week’s reading, the introductory verses to 2 Corinthians, Paul wrote about comfort, which comes only from God.

John MacArthur summarises those verses as follows (emphases mine):

First of all, we saw the promise of comfort in verse 4, how that the God of all comfort comforts us in all our affliction. And then we saw the purpose of comfort, also in verse 4, in order that we might be able to comfort others. And then we saw the parameters of comfort in verse 5. The comfort of God extends as far as we are suffering for Christ’s sake. That’s the boundary. Then we saw the partnership of comfort in verses 6 and 7, how that there is mutual comfort going back and forth between Paul and other believers in Corinth, a wonderful sharing as he uses the word several times in verse 7.

Paul wanted to make the Corinthians aware of how severe the persecution was that he and others experienced in Asia Minor, ordeals so terrible that they despaired of life itself (verse 8).

Matthew Henry looked into history of the time. His commentary posits a few possibilities of what might have happened, probably in Ephesus:

It is not certain what particular troubles in Asia are here referred to; whether the tumult raised by Demetrius at Ephesus, mentioned Acts 19:24-41, or the fight with beasts at Ephesus, mentioned in the former epistle (1 Corinthians 15:32; 1 Corinthians 15:32), or some other trouble; for the apostle was in deaths often. This however is evident, that they were great tribulations. They were pushed out of measure, to a very extraordinary degree, above the common strength of men, or of ordinary Christians, to bear up under them, insomuch that they despaired even of life (2 Corinthians 1:8), and thought they should have been killed, or have fainted away and expired.

MacArthur says that the Corinthians would have heard that Paul had been in great trouble but had not realised the severity of it:

The Corinthians must have known because he doesn’t give them any details. And surely whatever was going on in his life by way of persecution was passed along the “grace vine” to these people.

The Corinthians were not ignorant of the nature of this affliction. They were ignorant of the extremity of it. They were ignorant of how severe it was, the intensity of it. And they were ignorant of what was – what God was doing in it. But they – they must have known about what it was. Maybe it was stoning. Maybe it was a combination of being whipped and maybe it was a combination of being beaten with rods and put in stocks and deprived of food and water, imprisoned, wild beasts. Who knows? Who knows what was threatening his life? It happened after the writing of 1 Corinthians or he would have told them. So it’s rather recent.

It occurs, he says in verse 8, in Asia Minor, prior to his coming to Philippi in Macedonia to meet Titus. So it was in and around the area of Asia Minor where the primary city was Ephesus. In chapter 16 of 1 Corinthians, back one chapter in verse 9, he makes the statement that there is a wide door for effective service in Ephesus where he is and he’s going to stay there, but also there are many adversaries. It is conceivable that one of these adversaries or one or more of these adversaries has come near to taking his life.

In Romans chapter 16 verse 3 it says, “Greet Prisca, or Priscilla and Aquila, my fellow workers in Christ Jesus” – verse 4 – “who for my life risked their own necks.” This would have been written soon after 2 Corinthians. Maybe he is there referring to some involvement that those two people had in this life-threatening event. We just don’t know what it was. He doesn’t tell them the details of it. They were not ignorant that it was happening, they were ignorant of its severity.

The persecution was so severe that Paul and his companions passed a death sentence on themselves with the result that they learned to rely on God, who raises the dead (verse 9).

Henry explains:

God’s raising the dead is a proof of his almighty power. He that can do this can do any thing, can do all things, and is worthy to be trusted in at all times. Abraham’s faith fastened upon this instance of the divine power: He believed God who quickeneth the dead, Romans 4:17. If we should be brought so low as to despair even of life, yet we may then trust in God, who can bring back not only from the gates, but from the jaws, of death.

MacArthur has more, saying that Paul feared he would die before his work for the Lord was done and contrasts this with what he later wrote to Timothy:

He experienced some very dire circumstances that express a similar attitude. Second Timothy 4:6, “I am already being poured out as a drink offering and the time of my departure has come,” but that time it led to his death. But here he is and he’s at the end. Verse 9 he adds this, this is amazing, “Indeed, we had the sentence of death within ourselves.” In other words, what he is saying is in our own minds – and there’s a plural pronoun here which means somebody else was in this with him, perhaps. He could be using the plural in – in just a humble and meek way. But perhaps there was someone else in this. But in his own mind he says he passed the death sentence on himself. He was to be killed for the gospel’s sake. This was it. It was done. It was over.

And that was frightening to him at the time. And it was despairing at the time whereas in 2 Timothy it wasn’t. The reason is because here the work was not done and he knew it. He knew it. In 2 Timothy when he reached the point where he was being poured out like a drink offering and the time of his departure was … at hand and he knew he was facing the axe that would chop his head off, there was no sense of despair because he said, “I have finished the course.” Remember that? I’m done. But here, he knew he wasn’t finished.

MacArthur explains the words in Greek for passing a death sentence on oneself:

By the way, “we had the sentence of death in ourselves,” is a fascinating Greek word, apokrima. It’s used only here. It means – basically, it’s a technical word for passing an official resolution. And he uses a legal term for passing the official death sentence. He says, “I pass the official death sentence on myself.” Confident, absolutely assured that it was over. He got to that point.

As for the second half of that verse, acknowledging the need to rely on God who raises the dead, MacArthur tells us that Paul recognised that He wanted Paul and his companions in a state of brokenness for a purpose:

God was taking us to the place where we had no escape. We had no human resource intellectually, physically, emotionally. We couldn’t call on anything, nothing.

That’s just exactly where God wanted them. Just in the perfect place because, as Paul will tell us later in 2 Corinthians 12, in his weakness God’s power is perfected, right? God had this as the very purpose. And I’m telling you, folks, that’s one of His great purposes in our trials is to take us to the limit and beyond the limit where we have no power to fix it. We can’t do anything. All we can do – and I love this – is trust not in ourselves, verse 9, but in God who what? Raises the dead. I mean it was to that degree. The only way out was going to be in the hands of God because He’s the only one who could raise the dead. It was that far gone.

By the way, that is a title for God, “God who raises the dead” is used in the eighteen synagogue benedictions that we commented on in our study back in verse 3. “God who raises the dead” was a Jewish term, descriptive term for God. They say if you’re ever called upon to rescue someone who is drowning – some of you may have had this experience – that if you’re really thoughtful about it, you won’t try to rescue them until they go down for the last time.

Because if you try to intervene at any point prior to that when they still have the strength to kick and fight, they’re liable to drown you. But when they come to the very end of their strength and there’s no confidence left in their own deliverance, and they are weakened and still, it is then that they can picked up and brought to safety. And that’s exactly where the Lord wants to take us, to the place where we’ve given it our last shot and we’re sinking for the last time and there’s nothing in us that can save us and there’s no human resource.

Paul acknowledged divine deliverance and had every confidence that God would deliver them again (verse 10).

Henry says that such experiences, as dire as they are, build faith:

Note, Past experiences are great encouragements to faith and hope, and they lay great obligations to trust in God for time to come. We reproach our experiences if we distrust God in future straits, who hath delivered as in former troubles.

Paul exhorted the Corinthians to pray for him and his companions so that God will receive many thanks for the many blessings granted as a result of persecution (verse 10).

MacArthur outlines the importance of intercessory prayer:

Intercessory prayer is critical to the expression of God’s great power and God’s sovereign purpose. In prayer, human impotence casts itself at the feet of divine omnipotence. Thus the duty of prayer is not to modify God’s power but to glorify it. We’re not trying to change God’s plan, we’re just trying to get in line with it. Why? So that we can give thanks. That’s what he says. You join in helping us through your prayers so that thanks can be given by many people, that is all those who prayed. And that redounds to the glory of God. When everyone is united in intercessory prayer on behalf of God’s servant, then when God delivers him everybody is going to be united in thanksgiving. And that is going to be to the praise of God.

Many prayers bring many thanks. And God works through those prayers. Paul always has this marvelous balance. He never questions the sovereign purpose of God and he never questions the participation of believers in that sovereign work. And so the partnership or the participation is a participation of prayer as we pray for one another in all our trials. That’s what Paul meant when he talked about bearing one another’s burdens and so fulfilling the law of Christ. We pray for each other faithfully.

MacArthur explains why bad things happen to good people:

that’s exactly where God’s power intervenes. Physical illness, whatever it is, emotional distress, financial disaster, death, being forsaken and left alone, whatever shatters your confidence in your own abilities, your own strength becomes your extremity and that is God’s opportunity. A progressive weakening of your instinctive self-confidence that leads you all the way to self-despair is exactly where God wants you. Because at that point the only thing that’s going to hold you together is a radical confidence in God. And that’s where Paul was. And then, in verse 10 he says it. God came riding to the rescue, “who delivered us from so great a peril of death.”

Afterwards, we can use those experiences to strengthen our faith and help others in their suffering:

Can anything be more wonderful than to realize that God is a God of tender mercy and a God of all comfort who comforts us in all our afflictions? Who comforts us so that we can comfort others? God, who will comfort us to the extremity, whatever it might be, of our sufferings on behalf of Christ? God, who will bring alongside us mutual sufferers who can share the same comfort and the same strength no matter how severe the trial might be. Even if we despair of life, the God who raises the dead can step in and He will until the day He takes us to glory. And then that last great truth. He does it through the prayers of His people.

This is a difficult concept for us to fully grasp, particularly in a Corinthian society such as ours. However, it is yet another reason why Paul was such a great Apostle.

Next time — 2 Corinthians 1:12-14

Boris Johnson issued a brief but rousing address to the nation on New Year’s Eve.

He looks forward to an ‘exhilarating decade’ ahead as we enter the 2020s:

People admire his enthusiasm, gumption and optimism, so lacking in the past few Prime Ministers — and Britain as a whole.

I wish him all the best as he attempts to unite the nation, particularly post-Brexit.

I am also pleased that protecting Christians is on his agenda, dating back to his days as Foreign Secretary under Theresa May. The following tweet is from last July, when the Conservative leadership race was going on:

He also mentioned the subject in his first Christmas address to the nation, which is more than the Archbishop of Canterbury managed in his New Year’s greeting.

May God bless our Prime Minister in 2020!

This year, Boris Johnson spent his Christmas as Prime Minister of the United Kingdom and Northern Ireland.

On Christmas Eve, the Conservative Party released this entertaining video of Boris and his father Stanley making mince pies. Boris explains how mince pies are a perfect metaphor for Brexit. There’s nothing ‘sensitive’ about this video. In fact, ‘Mince pies (with Boris)’ is great fun. Watch:

Boris has a lot of support:

Shortly before Christmas, the Prime Minister spent a day in Estonia and served a festive lunch to British troops stationed there. The Express reported:

The Prime Minister dished out turkey and Yorkshire puddings to servicemen at the Tapa military base near the capital Tallinn on a one-day trip to the Baltic state.

The base is home to 850 British troops from the Queen’s Royal Hussars who lead the Nato battlegroup along with personnel from Estonia, France and Denmark.

He said the troops were the “most vivid and powerful possible symbol and expression” of Britain’s commitment to the security and stability of the whole of Europe.

He said: “It’s an incredible thing for me to come to Estonia because when I was a kid – when I was your age – Estonia was part of the Soviet Union and we’re now here helping to protect Estonia’s security.

On Christmas Eve, Boris issued a Christmas message that only he could deliver in such a natural way, partly humorous and partly serious. This is another must-see, especially as he made a firm point about opposing the persecution of Christians (subtitled version here):

He said (emphases mine):

Today of all days, I want us to remember those Christians around the world who are facing persecution.

For them, Christmas Day will be marked in private, in secret, perhaps even in a prison cell.

As Prime Minister, that’s something I want to change. We stand with Christians everywhere, in solidarity, and will defend your right to practise your faith.

On Christmas Eve, The Express explained:

A source from No 10 said the Prime Minister wishes to “look at how we can lead on the issue around the world”.

They revealed: “It’s something he came across a lot when he was foreign secretary.

“It has been an issue he has taken seriously personally since he left [the Foreign and Commonwealth Office].”

In May, a report from the former foreign secretary Jeremy Hunt found that the persecution of Christians in some parts of the world was a near “genocide” levels.

The review was led by the Bishop of Truro, the Right Reverend Philip Mounstephen.

It is estimated that one in three people suffered from religious persecution, with Christians being the most persecuted group.

According to the review, Christianity faced being “wiped out” from regions of the Middle East.

Figures show that Christians in Palestine represent less than 1.5 percent of the population.

These figures drop even more critically in Iraq where numbers have fallen from 1.5 million in 2003, to less than 120,000.

The Prime Minister thanked NHS staff, police and other first responders for being on the front lines during the Christmas period, sacrificing time with family and friends.

On a lighter note, he began his video with this:

Hi folks, Boris Johnson here, taking a moment to wish you all a merry little Christmas.

He ended with this:

Mr Johnson signed off breezily, urging people to enjoy the next few days, adding: “Try not to have too many arguments with the in-laws – or anyone else.”


The Express reported that Boris and serious girlfriend Carrie Symonds spent Christmas at No. 10 with their Welsh rescue dog Dilyn. The article says that, according to The Times, the couple will be jetting off to Mustique for the New Year as guests of the Von Bismarck family who have a home there.

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