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The Fifth Sunday after Epiphany is February 5, 2023.

Readings for Year A can be found here.

The Gospel is as follows (emphases mine):

Matthew 5:13-20

5:13 “You are the salt of the earth; but if salt has lost its taste, how can its saltiness be restored? It is no longer good for anything, but is thrown out and trampled under foot.

5:14 “You are the light of the world. A city built on a hill cannot be hid.

5:15 No one after lighting a lamp puts it under the bushel basket, but on the lampstand, and it gives light to all in the house.

5:16 In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven.

5:17 “Do not think that I have come to abolish the law or the prophets; I have come not to abolish but to fulfill.

5:18 For truly I tell you, until heaven and earth pass away, not one letter, not one stroke of a letter, will pass from the law until all is accomplished.

5:19 Therefore, whoever breaks one of the least of these commandments, and teaches others to do the same, will be called least in the kingdom of heaven; but whoever does them and teaches them will be called great in the kingdom of heaven.

5:20 For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.”

Commentary comes from Matthew Henry and John MacArthur (as specified below).

This post is long, as our Lord’s teaching is so rich in content.

Readings from the Sermon on the Mount continue. Last week’s, Matthew 5:1-12, were about the Beatitudes.

Jesus ended that portion of His sermon, delivered to the twelve original disciples (whom He would later call as Apostles), although within earshot of the crowd, with the Beatitude on persecution:

5:11 “Blessed are you when people revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account.

5:12 Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.

Then He discussed what those obeying the Beatitudes were to do, even when persecuted.

Matthew Henry’s commentary sums up verses 13 to 16 as follows:

Christ had lately called his disciples, and told them that they should be fishers of men; here he tells them further what he designed them to bethe salt of the earth, and lights of the world, that they might be indeed what it was expected they should be.

John MacArthur says:

the final Beatitude in verses 10-12 is transitional.  We see, in verses 10-12, the attitude of the world toward the believer, and in 13-16, the attitude of the believer to the world.  The world is going to hate us, but we still have to be salt and light to influence them.  The important truth is revealed that the people whom the world hates are the very ones they desperately need to be influenced by.  Did you hear that?  Even the quasi-religious, quasi-pious scribes and Pharisees who hated the representatives of Jesus Christ were totally dependent on their influence to know the truth of God.  The world may hate us and the world may persecute us, but the world is absolutely dependent upon us being the influence and the verbal manifestation of the gospel of God.

Jesus told them that they were the salt of the earth, telling them that they must remain like good salt, not the kind that loses its taste and is no good anymore, so must be thrown out and trampled under foot (verse 13).

Salt, particularly in ancient times, was valuable and used for different purposes. Roman soldiers were paid in salt, giving rise to the expression ‘worth his salt’. Salt preserved meat, e.g. beef jerky. Salt was used in covenants and still is today in parts of the Middle East. Newborn babies were cleansed in salt then wrapped in swaddling clothes. Salt, when poured in a wound, stings terribly. MacArthur’s sermon discusses all of these examples.

Henry reminds us that salt was used in Old Testament sacrifices:

An everlasting covenant is called a covenant of salt (Num 18 19); and the gospel is an everlasting gospel. Salt was required in all the sacrifices (Lev 2 13), in Ezekiel’s mystical temple, Ezek 43 24. Now Christ’s disciples having themselves learned the doctrine of the gospel, and being employed to teach it to others, were as salt. Note, Christians, and especially ministers, are the salt of the earth.

He summarises our Lord’s meaning:

The doctrine of the gospel is as salt; it is penetrating, quick, and powerful (Heb 4 12); it reaches the heart Acts 2 37. It is cleansing, it is relishing, and preserves from putrefaction. We read of the savour of the knowledge of Christ (2 Cor 2 14); for all other learning is insipid without that …

1. If they be as they should be they are as good salt, white, and small, and broken into many grains, but very useful and necessary. Pliny says, Sine sale, vita humana non potest degere—Without salt human life cannot be sustained. See in this, (1.) What they are to be in themselves—seasoned with the gospel, with the salt of grace; thoughts and affections, words and actions, all seasoned with grace, Col 4 6. Have salt in yourselves, else you cannot diffuse it among others, Mark 9 50. (2.) What they are to be to others; they must not only be good but do good, must insinuate themselves into the minds of the people, not to serve any secular interest of their own, but that they might transform them into the taste and relish of the gospel. (3.) What great blessings they are to the world. Mankind, lying in ignorance and wickedness, were a vast heap of unsavoury stuff, ready to putrefy; but Christ sent forth his disciples, by their lives and doctrines, to season it with knowledge and grace, and so to render it acceptable to God, to the angels, and to all that relish divine things. (4.) How they must expect to be disposed of. They must not be laid on a heap, must not continue always together at Jerusalem, but must be scattered as salt upon the meat, here a grain and there a grain; as the Levites were dispersed in Israel, that, wherever they live, they may communicate their savour. Some have observed, that whereas it is foolishly called an ill omen to have the salt fall towards us, it is really an ill omen to have the salt fall from us.

2. If they be not, they are as salt that has lost its savour. If you, who should season others, are yourselves unsavoury, void of spiritual life, relish, and vigour; if a Christian be so, especially if a minister be so, his condition is very sad; for, (1.) He is irrecoverable: Wherewith shall it be salted? Salt is a remedy for unsavoury meat, but there is no remedy for unsavoury salt. Christianity will give a man a relish; but if a man can take up and continue the profession of it, and yet remain flat and foolish, and graceless and insipid, no other doctrine, no other means, can be applied, to make him savoury. If Christianity do not do it, nothing will. (2.) He is unprofitable: It is thenceforth good for nothing; what use can it be put to, in which it will not do more hurt than good? As a man without reason, so is a Christian without grace. A wicked man is the worst of creatures; a wicked Christian is the worst of men; and a wicked minister is the worst of Christians. (3.) He is doomed to ruin and rejection; He shall be cast out—expelled the church and the communion of the faithful, to which he is a blot and a burden; and he shall be trodden under foot of men. Let God be glorified in the shame and rejection of those by whom he has been reproached, and who have made themselves fit for nothing but to be trampled upon.

MacArthur has more on the need for salt, in our Lord’s time and the present day.

He delivered his sermon in 1979. His next point is still important in today’s world which increasingly refuses Christianity:

The presupposition here is that we live in a decayed and decaying, dark and darkening world; that is the biblical world view.  Jesus reveals His perspective on the world: It’s decayed and dark.

And it isn’t getting better.  “Evil men,” it says in Timothy’s epistle, “Evil men shall become worse and worse.”  Now you know, it is absolutely a ridiculous, stupid pipe dream to think the world is getting better It can’t get better because it isn’t good to start with.  It’s bad, and it’s getting worse.

One of the professors at a local college was telling his class recently — one of the students told me this last week that the reason marriage was on the decline and the reason marriage was fading out as a human institution was because man was evolving to a higher level and marriage was something that man only needed at the lower level. And he was now evolving to a higher level of living — evolutionary style of living — that was causing marriage, like his prehensile tail, to drop off.

Listen, anybody standing around in the world today, saying, “We’re still evolving up,” is blind as a bat!  Now, I agree that we’re learning a lot We have an incredible amount of science, and technology, and medical knowledge, and philosophy, and history, and sociology, and psychology, and educational technique, and all of this stuff is going on all the time. And you know what?  It has no effect upon the corruption of society, none at all.  We just get worse and worse and worse.  All that information means nothing.

Even the oft-quoted philosopher and unbeliever Bertrand Russell was disappointed at the end of his life:

By the way, it’s really a frustrating thing to be a philosopher.  Bertrand Russell spent his whole life being a philosopher.  At 96 years, he was ready to die.  His final statement was this, “Philosophy has proved a washout to me.”  It didn’t take him anyplace, because nothing that he ever thought of ever had anything to affect the way the world was going.

MacArthur quotes from a 1979 article from Time, which still resonates today with all the criticism of the Boomer generation:

Time Magazine, listen to this: “Today’s young radicals in particular are almost painfully sensitive to these and other wrongs of their society And they denounce them violently.  But at the same time, they are typically American, in that they fail to place evil in its historic and human perspective.”  Time Magazine says this!  “To them, evil is not an irreducible component of man, it is not an inescapable fact of life, but something committed by the older generation, attributable to a particular class or the establishment, and eradicable through love or revolution.” End quote. That’s foolish.  It is an irreducible human component, evil is.

Today’s churches are not helping the situation:

You know what’s so sad about it, people, is that instead of the church influencing the world this [a good, salty] way, the church is influenced by the world ... Remember some months back when I talked to you about the crises of Christianity and how the church has fallen victim to so many trends in human society?  It’s ludicrous what the church permits under the influence of the world …

We are called to be salty:

Literally translating verse 13 would be this: “The only salt of the earth is you.” “The only salt of the earth is you.”  That’s it. That’s it.  Here we are in 1979, in Southern California, in the midst of a decadent and dark society, and the only salt of this place is you.  That’s it, all who possess the character of the kingdom.

And by the way, the “you” is plural. He’s talking about the collective body of believers.  No, you don’t put one grain of salt on anything You don’t say, “Pass the salt,” and then pick out one thing and drop it on there.  It only functions in combination with other pieces of salt, other grains of salt. And the church, to influence the world, must be collective salt, you see.  It’s not enough to be all alone at it. We’ve got to be at it together, collective influence … 

So the saved are the salt.  The verb here, este, stresses being.  The stress is on being; it’s on what we are and what we continue to be.  And we are the salt, and we continue to be the salt, and we are the only salt in the world.  Let me add this, it’s not what we should be, it’s what we are.  Like it or not, you’re the salt of the earth.  The only question is whether you’re salty or whether you’ve lost your salt flavor.  You are the salt. You either have a savor or you don’t.

But the idea isn’t, “Please be salt,” it is, “You are salt.”  The only question is whether you’re salty ... If you are a believer, you’re salt. 

Jesus said that believers are the light of the world, saying that a city on a hill cannot be hidden (verse 14).

As with salt — applied with many grains rather than just one — we are called to come together as spiritual lights in a world of sinful darkness.

Henry reminds us that Jesus called Himself the light of the world:

Christ called himself the Light of the world (John 8 12), and they are workers together with him, and have some of his honour put upon them. Truly the light is sweet, it is welcome; the light of the first day of the world was so, when it shone out of darkness; so is the morning light of every day; so is the gospel, and those that spread it, to all sensible people. The world sat in darkness, Christ raised up his disciples to shine in it; and, that they may do so, from him they borrow and derive their light.

MacArthur says that grains of salt and many lights in a city on a hill communicate the same notion of the faithful working together to spread the Gospel:

“The light” is the light…  He uses the illustration of a city. It’s many lights that light a city, its many grains of salt that affect a substance

Now beloved, we are the light and we are the salt That’s just the way it is.  We’ve been separated from the world totally.  In 1 John chapter 5, a most significant text, verse 4, “Whatever is born of God overcomes the world.  And this is the victory that overcomes the world, even our faith.  And who is he that overcomes the world but he that believeth that Jesus is the son of God?”  When you believed in Christ, you overcame the world, you stepped out of the darkness.  Colossians 1, “You were translated from the kingdom of darkness into the kingdom of His dear Son,” and the kingdom of His Son is light.

And you say, “John, what does ‘light’ mean?”  It means the truth and the life of God revealed.  We are no longer in the darkness; we are in the light, and we are the light of the world.  Reflecting the light of the sun, we are moons, that the world may know the truth of God.  So we are salt to retard the corruption and we’re light to manifest the truth.  One is negative, one is positive, right?  Salt retards corruption and light manifests truth.

MacArthur ties the Beatitudes into verses 13 through 16:

So our Lord connects — watch this great blessedness through verse 12 with great responsibility, verses 13-16.  If God is so gracious, verses 3-12, to put you in the kingdom and to give you everything He gives you: the kingdom of heaven, verse 3, comfort verse 4, inherit the earth, verse 5, fill you up with righteousness, verse 6, give you mercy, verse 7, allow you to see God, verse 8, call you a son, verse 9, and give you a great reward, verse 12.  If you have all of that blessing, believe me, you’ll have responsibility tooAnd the responsibility is to live as salt and light.

And it’s challenging and exciting, not easy, but vastly rewarding We must live above the world.  You sprinkle salt, don’t you, from above on.  You shed light from above on. That’s what Christ is saying.

MacArthur continues:

Character is the issue. The character described in the Beatitudes makes it possible for us to affect the world

The emphatic is here; we are the only salt and we are the only light the world will ever know

Listen, the way to change the world isn’t to change it politically. The way to change the world isn’t to rewrite the laws. It isn’t to march, and it isn’t to try to use all of the technical paraphernalia for altering society. The way to change the world, people, is just to infiltrate it with godliness, and righteousness, and holiness, and affect it from the inside out. Now those other things aren’t wrong, but they are going to be powerless, unless our lives are what they ought to be.

Think about it this way. Never has the church been more involved in social action in our country. Never has the church been more involved in social action in recent history in our country. Never have we been so preoccupied with endeavoring to see Christianity in government. And what is the result? A society that’s more immoral than it’s ever been, because that’s not the way to do it. The way to do it is the influence of a godly life.

Jesus said that no one puts a light under a bushel basket but on the lampstand so that it lights the whole house (verse 15).

Recall that, in Revelation, the seven churches are referred to as lampstands. The idea is that the Church is a bright beacon of light, preaching salvation.

MacArthur has other examples of light, especially from the Old Testament:

If you study the Bible, you’ll find that light is related to the knowledge of God. Light is related to the true knowledge of God. For example, just a couple of Scriptures. In Psalm 36:9, it says this: “For with Thee is the fountain of life; in Thy light shall we see light.” So the first thing we have to realize is that God is light – right? – 1 John, chapter 1. “In Thee is the fountain of life, and in Thy light shall we see light.” God is light; so if we are to be light, then we must manifest God.

In Psalm 119:105 it says, “Thy word is a lamp unto my feet, and a” – what? – “light to my path.” God is light; the Word is light …

Psalm 27:1, “The Lord is my” – what? – “light and my salvation.” So the fact is, if you want to know what light is in the Bible, it’s just a comprehensive term referring to all of God’s revelation: the revelation of Himself, of His Word, and of His Son. That’s light. And so we are to proclaim the message of light in a dark world, as well as to be salt in a decaying one.

In that same way, Jesus said, we believers must let our individual light shine before others that they may see our good works — fruits of faith rather than legalistic actions — and give glory to our Father in heaven (verse 16).

Henry explains:

See here, First, How our light must shine—by doing such good works as men may see, and may approve of; such works as are of good report among them that are without, and as will therefore give them cause to think well of Christianity. We must do good works that may be seen to the edification of others, but not that they may be seen to our own ostentation; we are bid to pray in secret, and what lies between God and our souls, must be kept to ourselves; but that which is of itself open and obvious to the sight of men, we must study to make congruous to our profession, and praiseworthy, Phil 4 8. Those about us must not only hear our good words, but see our good works; that they may be convinced that religion is more than a bare name, and that we do not only make a profession of it, but abide under the power of it.

Secondly, For what end our light must shine—”That those who see your good works may be brought, not to glorify you (which was the things the Pharisees aimed at, and it spoiled all their performances), but to glorify your Father which is in heaven.” Note, The glory of God is the great thing we must aim at in every thing we do in religion, 1 Pet 4 11. In this centre the lines of all our actions must meet. We must not only endeavor to glorify God ourselves, but we must do all we can to bring others to glorify him. The sight of our good works will do this, by furnishing them, 1. With matter for praise. “Let them see your good works, that they may see the power of God’s grace in you, and may thank him for it, and give him the glory of it, who has given such power unto men.” 2. With motives of piety. “Let them see your good works, that they may be convinced of the truth and excellency of the Christian religion, may be provoked by a holy emulation to imitate your good works, and so may glorify God.” Note, The holy, regular, and exemplary conversation of the saints, may do much towards the conversion of sinners; those who are unacquainted with religion, may hereby be brought to know what it is. Examples teach. And those who are prejudiced against it, may hereby by brought in love with it, and thus there is a winning virtue in a godly conversation.

MacArthur gives us two examples of how salt and light manifested themselves through believers. True believers have influence on others:

Andrew Murray evidently lived a holy life before his children.  I was reading about Andrew Murray, a great man of God, and about the effect he had on his children.  And the biographer says, “Eleven of his children grew to adult life.  Five of the six sons became ministers of the gospel of Jesus Christ.  Four of his daughters became ministers’ wives.”  Not bad, nine out of eleven.  Even the second generation made a good showing.  Ten grandsons became ministers of Christ and thirteen became missionaries.  Influence.

President Woodrow Wilson told this story.  He said, “I was in a very common place.  I was sitting in a barber chair when I became aware that a personality had entered the room.  A man had come quietly in upon the same errand as myself, to have his hair cut, and sat in the chair next to me.  Every word the man uttered, though it was not in the least didactic, showed a personal interest in the man who was serving him And before I got through with what was being done for me, I was aware that I had attended an evangelistic service, because Mr. D.L. Moody was in that chair.

“I purposely lingered in the room after he had left and noted the singular effect that his visit had brought upon the barber shop.  They talked in undertones. They didn’t know his name, but they knew that something had elevated their thoughts.  And I felt that I left that place as I should have left the place of worship My admiration and esteem for Mr. Moody became very deep indeed.” Influence. Influence.

What message do you leave the world?  When you pass by, what are you saying? 

MacArthur says that what Jesus called His Twelve to do went against the whole religious system of His time:

He was really calling for something new. He was saying, “You know, you’re a part of a religious system that’s fouled up. And if you live according to kingdom character in the Beatitudes, then you’ve got to be different, and you’ve got to be light so that they can all see it. And that isn’t easy, because they’re not going to like what they see.”

It’s always the fear of persecution that makes us hesitant; we’re always a little afraid. And so after the Beatitude of “Blessed are the persecuted,” He has to reinforce the fact that “Don’t you put your light under a bushel; you put it there where everybody can see it, so that the whole world will know the truth of God.”

Verse 16 personalizes it. “Let your light so shine, so shine before men, that they will see your good works.” Stop right there. Let it shine, people, that’s all He’s saying. It’s a simple message … But kalos used here means good in terms of beauty. It’s the manifest beauty; not just that they’re good in and of themselves, but they have a beauty about them, an attractiveness, they are winsome; and that’s the word he uses. In other words, “Let men see your winsomeness. Let them see your beauty. Let them see your attractiveness, your quality.” It isn’t just the good deed itself, it’s the beauty that it manifests.

Then Jesus shifts to discussing divine law and righteousness.

Because Jesus was a religious revolutionary who wanted people to return to a proper faith rather than pursue that of the Jewish establishment, He said that He came not to abolish the law or the prophets but to fulfil both (verse 17).

MacArthur explains:

Tremendous concept, people, if you can just grasp this. Every single thing in the Old Testament points to Christ. And so Jesus is saying, “Look, I know what you’re thinking. I know you’re thinking I’m going to set this law aside. I’m not. I’m going to lift it up higher than it is today, and I’m going to reveal the hypocrites. You’re thinking that I’m going to put it all away, and we’re not going to have any of this hassle anymore, and we can just be free and easy, and it’ll all be wonderful. I’m telling you, God’s standard hasn’t changed. No part of the sacred Scripture will ever be destroyed or annulled. It will be fulfilled, and I Myself will fulfill it.”

Tremendous statement. What a claim. What a shattering claim, that He alone would fulfill the whole Old Testament. Shocking. Here was the one for whom it was all written. Here is the object of the whole Old Testament. It all points to Jesus Christ. In it’s God-ordained origin, it can’t be annulled; it has to be fulfilled.

MacArthur elaborates on the law and the prophets:

Moses went from the Ten Commandments, and under God’s inspiration, developed the ceremonial, the judicial systems, the whole outworking of the law in the life of the people.

And then the prophets came along. Now what was their job? Their job was to remind the people that the law was still incumbent, the law was still binding. It all goes back to the Ten Commandments. They were then basically God’s law. They were expanded in the statutes and ordinances that Moses gave in the Pentateuch; and then the rest of the Old Testament, the writings of the prophets, was to call upon the people to be obedient to these standards.

Now we can take the law of God and divide it into three parts: the moral law, the judicial law, and the ceremonial law. Now watch this. The moral law was for all men; the judicial law, just for Israel; the ceremonial law, for Israel’s worship of God. So the moral law encompasses all men, narrows it down to Israel in the judicial law, and to the worship of Israel toward God in the ceremonial law.

Now stay with me. The moral law is based in the Ten Commandments, the great moral principles laid down once and forever; the rest of the moral law is built upon that. The judicial law was the legislative law given for the functioning of Israel as a nation – very important. In other words, God said to Israel, “I want to set you apart from the rest of the world. I want you to be different. I want you to be unique, so you’ll have judicial laws. That’ll mean that you’re going to live with each other in a different way, you’re going to live with the nations around you in a different way,” this very unique law of judicial law to govern their behavior. Thirdly, the ceremonial law dealt with the temple ritual and the worship of God.

Now you say, “Which law is the Lord speaking of?” Now watch this one. He is speaking of all three, people. Some people say He’s just talking about the moral law. No, He’s not. He came to fulfill the whole thing, whether it was the moral law, the outgrowth of the moral law in Israel, the judicial law, or the law of worship, the ceremonial law; He came to fulfill every bit of it. It was all authored by God; it is all preeminent – all the principles, all the patterns, all the prophecies, all the types, all the symbols, all the pictures. Everything in the Old Testament is authored by God, and it all is fulfilled in Jesus Christ.

So we see, first of all, that the law is preeminent, because it is authored by God. Secondly, the law is preeminent, because it is affirmed by the prophets. It is affirmed by the prophets. Look at verse 17. “Think not that I am come to destroy the law, or the prophets” …

First of all then, the law of God is binding, because it is authored by God. Secondly, it is affirmed by the prophets. Thirdly, accomplished by Christ. And this is the heart of the matter. It is accomplished by Christ.

For Christians, the Epistles clarify the moral law further, because they tell us how to live a holy life:

And in the Epistles, through His Holy Spirit, He clarified it even more, and enriched it even more.

Jesus fulfilled all three types of law by dying on the cross:

When He died on the cross – now watch this – when He died on the cross, that was the final, full rejection by Israel of her Messiah, right? That was it. And you know what? That was the end of God dealing with that nation as a nation. The judicial law that He gave to Israel passed away when God no longer dealt with them as a nation anymore, and Jesus built His church. Praise God, someday He’s going to go back and redeem that nation again, and deal with them again as a nation.

But for this time, when Jesus died on the cross, the judicial law came to a screeching halt. There was no more national people of God. There would be a new man, cut out of Jews and Gentiles, and it would be called the church, and the judicial law came to an end. That’s why Matthew 21:43 says, “Therefore I say to you, the kingdom of God will be taken from you.”

Now let me add this: keep in mind that the foundations of the judicial law are in the moral law, so that the divine principles behind it still exist. They’re still binding, they’re still there; but the judicial law related to Israel was set aside when Jesus died, because that was the full and final rejection of their Messiah.

What about the moral law, did He fulfill the moral law? Sure He did. In what way? In the way we mentioned earlier. Every rule God ever made, He obeyed, right? Every precept God ever laid down, He fulfilled. He never disobeyed anything that God established. Yes, He filled up the judicial law in the sense that He brought the whole thing to its ultimate climax. He allowed Israel, God did, to go the way they chose, and they ended their identity as His people at that point, until a future time, and summed up the judicial law, and it was over. And Jesus, by the living of a perfect life, fulfilled the moral law.

That leaves only one other: the ceremonial law. Listen, how did He fulfill the ceremonial law? Oh, this is fantastic. Let me tell you: He died on a cross.

Now listen to me; this is the last point, but I want to make it, and I want to make it good. He died on a cross, and when He died on that cross, the whole ceremonial system came to an end. In fact, when He died, it says the veil of the temple was rent in twain from the top to the bottom. The Holy of Holies was unbared, and God was saying, “The whole Levitical, priestly, judicial system is over. It’s all over.” And so He fulfilled totally the judicial law, in a negative way, by being the victim of their final rejection. He fulfilled the moral law in the way He lived, and the ceremonial law in the way He died.

That torn veil meant that, thanks to Christ’s one sufficient sacrifice on the cross, mankind was finally reconciled to God and that we could approach Him directly, no longer through priests, who themselves could not stay in the Holy of Holies longer than a few seconds themselves.

There is one further fulfilment of the law, and that is Christ’s resurrection, which gives believers the promise of eternal life.

Henry has an interesting note on the word ‘fulfil’:

To fill up the defects of it, and so to complete and perfect it. Thus the word plerosai properly signifies. If we consider the law as a vessel that had some water in it before, he did not come to pour out the water, but to fill the vessel up to the brim; or, as a picture that is first rough-drawn, displays some outlines only of the piece intended, which are afterwards filled up; so Christ made an improvement of the law and the prophets by his additions and explications The gospel is the time of reformation (Heb 9 10), not the repeal of the law, but the amendment of it, and, consequently, its establishment.

Jesus said that, not until heaven and earth pass away, shall one jot or tittle of the law remain unfulfilled (verse 17).

This is the King James Version of that verse:

For verily I say unto you, Till heaven and earth pass, one jot or one tittle shall in no wise pass from the law, till all be fulfilled.

MacArthur reminds us that not every prophecy has yet been fulfilled:

He fulfilled some; ah, but some are yet to be fulfilled. Some of the prophecies haven’t been fulfilled yet, have they? Some are still future. But I’ll tell you what He says. Verse 18 he says this: “Not one jot or tittle shall in any way pass from this law, until every single bit of it is fulfilled.”

This means that God’s law is permanent:

The permanence of the law.

The Jews were looking for a more lax system. They couldn’t keep up with the scribes, and they couldn’t keep up with the Pharisees; and, body, they were hoping somebody’d come and drop the standards a little bit so they could make it. And the Lord Jesus Christ lifts the standard even higher, and then He just wipes out the Pharisees and the scribes for their hypocritical approach to God’s law.

You see, what they were doing; they had substituted human tradition for the law of God, and Jesus came in and just wiped the human tradition away, just cleaned it off. The judicial law was fulfilled, for the most part; the ceremonial law was fulfilled, for the most part. Even some of the moral laws; I said the Sabbath was fulfilled. But God’s righteous standards never changed, and so He says, just so they don’t ever forget it, “Nothing is going to pass, nothing, until it’s all fulfilled.”

MacArthur explains jot and tittle:

“Jot” is really a representation of a Hebrew letter. In the Hebrew, there is a letter called “yodh” – Y-O-D-H if you want a transliteration. Yodh is similar to an apostrophe, that’s all, an apostrophe. It’s a letter, however. It’s pronounced as a “y” sound. And a yodh is the smallest letter. In the Greek language, the little, tiny “iota,” obviously coming from the same kind of root: iota – Greek students call a iota subscript, where you take an “i” out of a word, and for certain reasons in the Greek language, they drop it under another letter, and it appears as another little, tiny apostrophe. And what He’s saying is, “Not the tiniest Hebrew letter, not the tiniest Greek letter shall pass from this law, till all fulfilled.”

People say, “Well, we don’t have to believe in an inerrant, infallible Bible, that every word is inspired by God, do we?” Yes. In fact, every yodh and every iota. When God gave His Word in the original manuscripts, every jot was inspired by Him.

And then He talks about a “tittle.” This is interesting. I don’t know how to show you what it is other than saying it’s a keraia, which is a very small item. I guess the best illustration would be, it’s the difference between an “e” and an “f.” An “f” is a line with two lines on it running perpendicular to it, and an “e” has three. And that last, little, tiny thing makes the difference between an “e” and an “f.”

And that’s what Jesus is saying. That little tiny keraia, that little serif that is on the tag-end of a letter that separates, if you will, a bet from a kaf. A bet looks like this, like a “c.” A kaf looks the same way, only it’s got a little, tiny line on the edge of it. And He’s saying, “Not one little, tiny serif that distinguishes a bet from a kaf will be removed from My law until the whole thing is fulfilled. Did I come to set it aside the law of God? Not on your life.”

Is this still God’s authoritative Word? Is it still God’s Holy Word for us? You’d better believe it. Jesus fulfilled part of it, but God’s moral law has never been set aside; and it’ll all be there until it’s fulfilled, and it’ll all be there till heaven and earth pass away. Conversely, folks, heaven and earth isn’t going to pass away till every single element in this Book is fulfilled.

Jesus went on to press His point by saying that whoever breaks one of God’s commandments and teaches others to do the same will be called the least in the kingdom of heaven but whoever obeys them and teaches others to obey will be called great in the kingdom of heaven (verse 19).

MacArthur says this verse points to the pertinence of God’s law:

He reiterates the preeminence of it in verse 17, and then the permanence of it in verse 18, and then the pertinence of it in verse 19, and finally the purpose of it in verse 20. Now they were looking for a king, and He was a King, but they were looking for a political king who would bring an external kingdom; and He was a spiritual King who would bring an internal kingdom. So instead of talking about a new economy, instead of talking about a new politic, He kept talking about new character; that’s what He was talking about in the Beatitudes. Instead of changing the outside, He wanted to change the inside.

And here, He tells them that the key to a change on the inside, the key to qualifying to fulfill the responsibility to be in His kingdom is the Old Testament Word of God. “It still stands,” He says. “Righteousness is still defined on God’s terms. God hasn’t changed His mind.”

MacArthur explains the words Jesus used:

The word “break” is a very interesting word. It’s the word luō. It’s a very, very common word in the Greek. It means “to loose,” “to release,” “to nullify,” or “to destroy.” And the idea here would be that if you loose yourself or release yourself from an obligation to obey God’s least command, you’ll be called the least in the kingdom. But it’s kind of interesting to see the word here because of the word that went earlier with it in verse 17.

For there it said, Jesus said, “Think not that I am come to destroy the law.” And this is another form of that same word luō. Jesus said, “I did not come to loose the law; and if you do it, you’ll be considered the least in the kingdom,” only Jesus used a more intense word. Jesus used the same verb, only with a kata on the front, which intensifies it. And what He is saying is this – now watch it: “I did not come to utterly nullify, I did not come to utterly destroy, I did not come to utterly devastate and abrogate the law. But if you even loose one little part of it, you’ll be called the least in the kingdom.” In other words, Jesus is saying, “I did not come to destroy at all, but the temptation to the believer is going to be to fool around with parts of it, and set them aside when they don’t accommodate what we want to do.”

… And if you go around breaking God’s command, you won’t be necessarily be kicked out of His kingdom. That’s not the idea. But what’ll happen is you’ll become a person He can’t use, a person He can’t bless, a person He can’t reward

And that’s why John said, “Look to yourselves that you lose not the things that you have wrought, but that you receive a full reward.” You can spend the first half of your Christian life gaining it, and the second half giving it back up. And so the Bible says, “Even the least commandment, when violated, makes you the least individual.” You see, the reason is this: If you break any part of God’s law, you’ve broken the whole thing, right?

As far as teaching others to break commandments, this can be done not only in words but also by example:

And if the words aren’t right, and the example isn’t right, and you’re breaking the commandments, you’re just decreasing your place in His kingdom. As Isaiah 9:15 puts it, “The ancient and the honorable, he is the head; and the prophet that teaches lies, he is the tail,” Isaiah 9:15. If you’re going to teach, teach the truth or don’t teach. And if you’re in the kingdom, live it, don’t break it.

So though Christ did not come to literally and totally abolish the law, there are believers who, by their own self-will and sin, set it aside – something Christ Himself wouldn’t even do. And then they teach others to do it. You know, the Pharisees were guilty of that. So are many others.

So are many people today. And in Acts 20, Paul said, “The thing I fear when I leave is that grievous wolves shall come in, not sparing the flock; and of your own selves shall teachers rise, teaching perverse things.” The church has always been attacked by heretics on the outside and heretics on the inside. Oh, how they are condemned in Scripture. “No,” – He says – “you can’t set it aside.”

On the other hand, great is the reward for those who keep God’s commands and teach others to do so.

Henry says:

Those are truly honourable, and of great account in the church of Christ, who lay out themselves by their life and doctrine to promote the purity and strictness of practical religion; who both do and teach that which is good … those who speak from experience, who live up to what they preach, are truly great; they honour God, and God will honour them (1 Sam 2 30), and hereafter they shall shine as the stars in the kingdom of our Father.

Jesus ends this section of the Sermon on the Mount by saying that our righteousness must exceed that of the scribes and the Pharisees in order for us to enter the kingdom of heaven (verse 20).

MacArthur says this verse is about the law’s purpose. The purpose is to show that we cannot fulfil God’s commandments by ourselves, as the scribes and the Pharisees believed.

MacArthur explains:

What is the purpose? Verse 20 gives it to us really by not saying it, but by implying it. “I say unto you, that except your righteousness shall exceed the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees, ye shall in no case enter the kingdom of heaven.”

The purpose of God’s law was to show you that you had to have more righteousness than you could come up with on your own. That’s the point of it. That’s the purpose. Galatians 3:24 articulates it with this statement. “Wherefore” – listen – “the law was our schoolmaster to bring us unto Christ that we might be justified by faith.” The law was the schoolmaster or the disciplinarian to bring us to Christ. The law was the perfect standard which would show us our sin. That was its purpose. The law was to show us that we couldn’t do it on our own, that even the best – the scribes and the Pharisees, with all of their religiosity, with all of their trappings, with all of their ceremony and all of their ritual could not gain the righteousness required to enter the kingdom.

In other words, if you want it simply, folks, the law was given with the purpose of frustrating us, showing us our inadequacy. The law wasn’t to tell us how good we are, the law was to show us how rotten we were. And that’s why the man in the corner in Luke 18, beating on his breast and saying, “God, be merciful to me, a sinner,” went home justified, because he responded to what God’s law intended to show him: that he was a sinner. Whereas, the other man, who was so self-righteous, saw really not at all the meaning of God’s law, for he never responded to it in the way that God had intended.

And so this is really the theme of His whole sermon in Matthew 5, 6 and 7. It’s true righteousness. The Old Testament is the source of true righteousness. The Old Testament gives the absolute standard. And so this great sermon and from the Beatitudes to the final illustration in chapter 7 of the houses built on sand and rock, the whole sermon is a masterful sermon on the righteous truths that govern a man’s relationship with God. Because there was a phony system in existence at the time and Jesus wanted it known from the very beginning that the standard of righteousness that He required, that God required, was not available to them under the present system.

May all reading this enjoy a blessed Sunday.

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John F MacArthurIn the UK, polls have showed that Britons, particularly younger ones, have no intention of working.

The latest Government findings came out on January 22, 2023. The BBC reported (emphases mine):

Most of the 2.7 million “inactive” people under 25 are students, according to the Office for National Statistics (ONS). The majority of them don’t want a job.

This was also true in 2021, as CityAM informed us:

Data from the Office for National Statistics shows of the 13m Brits who are not looking for work, over half said they were doing so because they did not want to work.

In 2015, a student posted the following message on The Student Room forum. Granted, she sees the possibility of owning her own small business but only just:

I’m 22 now and it’s slowly dawned on me that I have no intention of working/having a career. I find most work boring and I am simply not inspired by the rat race. I think I want to be a small business owner and a stay at home mother.

It seems with feminism most women just aren’t looking to go down the ‘small job, husband and babies’ route anymore. Am I the only one who doesn’t want to work…at all ?

Maybe a small online store or something and a husband and kids. Nothing more (?)

Anyone else ?

The benefits balloon stretches back at least to 2013, possibly earlier. On April 24 that year, the Conservative MP Iain Duncan Smith, the then-Secretary of State for Welfare and Pensions said:

Around 1 million people have been stuck on a working-age benefit for at least three out of the past four years, despite being judged capable of preparing or looking for work.

Ten years on, The Spectator reports that real figures show that five million Britons are receiving out-of-work benefits. Their figures have been disputed, but in November 2022, the magazine’s editor Fraser Nelson explained how the data were put together. For now, this is the message:

How can 20 per cent of people in our great cities be on benefits at a time of mass migration and record vacancies? It’s perhaps the most important question in politics right now, but it’s not being given any scrutiny because the real figures lie behind a fog of data

Every month, an official unemployment figure is put out on a press release – and news organisations are primed to cover it. It’s normally about 1.2 million looking for work: the problem, of course, is so few Brits are actually doing so

The true benefits figure is not to be found on a press release, but buried in a password-protected DWP [Department for Work and Pensions] database with a six-month time lag …

The five million figure ‘seems to be incorrect,’ Full Fact said in their email to us. ‘According to the most recent statistics, there are around 1.5 million people claiming out-of-work benefits.’ But the real figure is more than three times higher – but rather than reply to them, I thought I’d write this blog for anyone interested …

DWP data is now on Stat-Xplore, a versatile open data tool. The password bit is deceptive: you can bypass by clicking ‘Guest log in’ to find an Aladdin’s Cave of data. Look at the dataset ‘Benefit Combinations – Data from February 2019‘. Click Table 5, then click ‘Open table’ to get the numbers …

Nelson has posted graphs and a map to illustrate his figure of five million.

He concludes:

To fail to match up 1.2 million vacancies with at least some of those on out-of-work benefits is not just an economic failure but a moral one. But to solve a problem, you need to recognise a problem. Officially counting all five million people on out-of-work benefits would be a good way to start.

Living a life of idleness, however, is nothing new.

St Paul grappled with the same problem two millennia ago when he planted a church in Thessalonika (present day Saloniki).

The following passage, 2 Thessalonians 3:6-12, is one example of his command to work:

Warning Against Idleness

6 Now we command you, brothers, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that you keep away from any brother who is walking in idleness and not in accord with the tradition that you received from us. For you yourselves know how you ought to imitate us, because we were not idle when we were with you, nor did we eat anyone’s bread without paying for it, but with toil and labour we worked night and day, that we might not be a burden to any of you. It was not because we do not have that right, but to give you in ourselves an example to imitate. 10 For even when we were with you, we would give you this command: If anyone is not willing to work, let him not eat. 11 For we hear that some among you walk in idleness, not busy at work, but busybodies. 12 Now such persons we command and encourage in the Lord Jesus Christ to do their work quietly and to earn their own living.[d]

John MacArthur explains why we must work in ‘Work: A Noble Christian Duty, Part 3’, from July 19, 1992.

There were reasons why some in the congregation were not prepared to work:

As we have said in the past … they perhaps have been influenced by some of the Jewish background of the scribes who thought that anything other than studying the law was an unworthy way to spend your life They surely were affected by the general Greek attitude that work was demeaning and sordid and base and low and belonged only to slaves and not to freemen

And they probably had had those predispositions somewhat exaggerated by virtue of the fact that someone had come along and told them that they were already in the day of the Lord and the return of Christ was imminent and there probably wasn’t much use in doing anything other than evangelizing and studying the Word of God.  And so they had given themselves to that happily because of their disdain for work anyway.  Problem was, at least long term, if you can call several months long term for the Thessalonians in that Paul had dealt with it when he was there.  Several months later, when he wrote them the first letter, he dealt with it, and here he is writing a second letter and dealing with it a third time.  They didn’t want to work.  It was beneath them. 

Homer, the famous Greek writer, had said that the gods hated man.  And the way they demonstrated their hatred was to invent work and punish men by making them work This kind of philosophy being existent in that time, it found its way into the lives of those people and thus, when they became converted, it found its way into the church.  Becoming a Christian doesn’t change everything immediately.  We will always have residuals of our past, and we will always to one degree or another be affected by our culture.  And so here in this church in which so many good things had happened, a genuine conversion, a genuine godliness, they were not slack in spiritual service, they had a work of faith and a labor of love, and they did it with patience and endurance because they hoped in the return of Christ.  They worked hard at ministry, but they didn’t want to do the jobs that they had to do in the world, at least some of them

And so Paul was dealing with a church that had its spiritual life on target and was doing well, excelling spiritually, but they had this one problem that dominates the church in terms of its conduct, and that was that there were people there who didn’t work.  They then became a burden on everybody else, and it wasn’t that they couldn’t work, it wasn’t that they had a physical disability, it wasn’t that there wasn’t a job available, they refused to work, seeing it as beneath them or not a priority for those engaged in kingdom enterprises. 

MacArthur cites American statistics on work from 1980 to 1991:

I suppose 25 years ago, a situation like this would have struggled to be relevant in our time then because America was a hard-working country 25 years ago In fact, the American work ethic has always been hailed as sort of the supreme work ethic of the industrialized world.  We have always sort of set the pace for productivity and enterprise – up until more recent years, that is.  Last year, Charles Colson and Jack Eckerd, who heads the Eckerd Company, which operates drug stores in other parts of America, they wrote a book and the title of their book is Why America Doesn’t Work.  Now, that’s really a new thought, a new concept for our culture, for our society.  The subtitle is, “How the decline of the work ethic is hurting your family and future.”  The future of America is changing dramatically.  There are other nations that are putting us to shame in terms of work habits and a work ethic. 

In their book, they point out that we have in America declining rates of productivity, the loss of competitive position in some world markets, and workers who aren’t working And they concluded it is a bleak picture.  And I suppose they ask the right question, the question we would all ask at that point:  What has happened to the industry and productivity that made this country the marvel of the world at one time? …

We have an ethical malaise all the way from the jet set corporate leaders down to the person working at the bench.  The whole concept of work has so dramatically changed, it no longer has a transcendent motive.  There’s no longer something beyond me to make me perform at a certain level.  Thus, the meaning of work has been sapped from everybody from the top to the bottom, to some degreeObviously, some people still work harder than others. 

A 1980 Gallup Poll conducted for the Chamber of Commerce found that people still believed in work-ethic values, 1980, they still believed.  That’s over ten years ago.  Eighty-eight percent said working hard and doing their best on the job was personally important.  But were they doing it?  They said they believed it, it was still sort of in the air in 1980, but were people working hard?  1982 survey came along.  In that survey, it was reported that only 16 percent said they were doing the best job they could at work.  Eighty-four percent admitted they weren’t working hard – 84 percent.  So you can see they were still holding on to a residual ethic that didn’t translate into how they functioned, which meant that it was somebody else’s transcendent value, somebody else’s ethical value imposed on them externally but not truly believed. 

Working hard, they said, was important but they weren’t doing it, so how important was it?  Eighty-four percent also said they would work harder if they could gain something from it.  And now you can see that the ethic is not transcendent, the ethic is utilitarian.  It’s all tied in to what I get out of it, what’s in it for me.  And that’s part of the cynicism of our society.  That’s part of the direct consequence of the 60s’ moral revolution, which is a rejection of transcendent values. 

God is not an issue in anything.  He is not an issue in the way I conduct my sexual life, He is not an issue in my marriage, He is not an issue at my job, He is not an issue in education, He is not an issue anywhere.  God is not an issue; therefore, there is no value beyond myself.  So whatever is enough to get me what I want is enough.  It is a kind of societal economic atheism In fact, psychologist Robert Bellah calls it radical individualism Surveying 200 middle-class Americans, this UCLA professor discovered that people seek personal advancement from work, personal development from marriage, and personal fulfillment from church.  Everything, he says, their perspective on family, church, community, and work is utilitarian.  It is measured by what they can get out of it, and concern for others is only secondary. 

Down to specifics, James Sheehy, an executive with a computer firm in the upper echelons of the work strata, saw first-hand how this kind of utilitarian value was affecting work He wanted a better understanding of the expectations and psyche of younger employees.  Looking at what the future held, what kind of people were going to come up in this generation to work in his company?  What would they be like?  So he decided the best way to find out was to spend his vacation taking a job in a fast-food restaurant He wrote most of his coworkers were from upper income families, they didn’t need to work but they wanted extra spending money.  He watched and listened as his coworkers displayed poor work habits and contempt for customers.  His conclusion was, “We have a new generation of workers whose habits and experiences will plague future employers for years.” 

He writes, “Along with their get-away-with-what-you-can attitude and indifference to the quality of performance, their basic work ethic was dominated by a type of gamesmanship that revolved around taking out of the system or milking the place dry.  Theft, skimming, and baiting management were rampant and skill levels surprisingly low.  The workers saw long hours and hard work as counter-productive.  ‘You only put in time for the big score,’ one said.”  After recounting his experience, Sheehy concluded, “Get ready, America.  There’s more of this to come from the workforce of tomorrow.” 

Doesn’t sound too good if you happen to be an employer, does it?  A recent Harris Poll showed 63 percent of workers believe people don’t work as hard as they used to.  Seventy-eight percent say workers take less pride in their work.  Sixty-nine percent think the workmanship they produce is inferior, and 73 percent believe workers are less motivated and that the whole trend is worsening and the numbers are going up

Imagine. If people felt that way in the 1980s, and it is probable that Britons also did at the time, we are now into a second generation of people who don’t care about work, with a third generation on the way.

MacArthur says:

The more and more people demand recreation and idle time, the more corrupt they will become.  The two go hand-in-hand.  An escalating pornographic, sinful, wicked culture is sped on, the slide is greased, by a shrinking commitment to work.  And we fill up all that time with things that feed the lust of the eyes, the lust of the flesh, and the pride of life. 

He lays out why work is a God-given command:

Now, our society may not have a choice but they have to accept this, but as Christians, we can’t accept this.  The Christian faith does not accept a utilitarian work ethic.  The Christian view of work is transcendent.  That is, it escapes me and my world and directs its attention toward God

First, work is a command from God.  Six days shall you labor.  God commands us to work.  Secondly, work is a model established by God for it was God who worked for six days and then rested on the seventh, and God, of course, is the worker who continually sustains the universe Man, being created in the image of God, then, is created as a worker.  Thirdly, work is a part of the creation mandate.  In other words, what I mean by that is it is the role of man.  Stars shine, suns shine, moons shine, on the earth plants grow, animals do what they’re supposed to do, rocks do what they’re to do, mountains do what they’re to do, water does what it’s to do, clouds do what they’re to do, and we do what we’re to do.  As Psalm 104 says, all of creation moves in a normal course and part of it is man rises, goes to work until the setting of the sun.  It is creation mandate.  It is how we contribute to the processes of life in God’s wondrous creation. 

Work is a command.  Work is established as a model by God.  Work is part of the natural creation.  Fourthly, work is a gift from God.  It is a gift from God.  It is a gift through which we glorify Him and the wonder of His creation as we produce things, putting on display the genius of God who created us, in all of our abilities.  It is a means by which we can glorify our Creator.  Just as the beast of the field gives me honor, as Isaiah said, and just as the heavens declare the glory of God by what they do, and we sit in awe of them, so man declares the glory of God, the wonder of His creative genius by doing what he has been given the ability to do.  Work is a gift from God, not only to glorify Him but to give meaning to life.  Work is a gift from God to give us something to do, which avoids the idleness that leads to sin

Work is a gift from God also to provide for needs.  Work is a gift from God so that we can serve each other.  And lastly, in the Christian work ethic, work is to be done as if the boss was the Lord Himself.  It says in Colossians chapter 3 and Ephesians 6 that we’re to work as unto the Lord and not men. 

So the Christian faith does not sanctify the kind of attitude we’re seeing in our own country toward work.  In fact, as I said, 25 years ago, this message may have seemed a bit obscure when America was working productively.  Now it seems to be rather on target for we are suffering today with some of the things that Paul faced in the Thessalonian church But as Christians, we have to establish the standard

I often watch BBC Parliament, not because I love MPs or the Lords, but in order to gain a better insight in to what they are doing to us, the British people.

The number of Opposition — Labour, Liberal Democrat, SNP — MPs who complain that the Conservative government isn’t giving enough handouts, when clearly it is, as we can see from the aforementioned statistics, is mind-numbing.

Moving to MacArthur’s and his congregation’s personal experience, and still tied in to that, this is what happens when work is suggested:

It is an aberrant unbeliever that doesn’t work.  The tragedy of those people, the real tragedy, is that they are so deep in sin and so deep particularly in the sin of drunkenness and irresponsibility and immorality that they have put themselves in the position they’re in And I again say I’m not talking about people who are genuinely in despair, and I’ve seen those people all around the world.  But there is a mass of people who shouldn’t eat because they will not work. 

We see them here at the church They come by and they want money and they want food and we suggest work and they leave.  I was told today by one of the gentlemen in our church, serves with the police department, that they will hold a sign – they’ve tracked them – they will hold a sign, “I need work, homeless, need work,” and recently in one of the shopping centers just a couple of days ago they were tracking to find out what was going on None of them got jobs but they were averaging $15.00 an hour in donations One policeman told me he went by and offered a lady a sandwich purchased at a fast food place and she said, “What’s this?” and he said, “Well, it says ‘homeless and hungry,’ so I’m just giving you this to eat.”  She put it in a bag and he said to her, “Well, aren’t you hungry?”  She said, “I’ll eat it when I get home.” 

So you need to be careful about that.  Sometimes the car is parked around the block and the stash is growing in the back of the car.  Just have to be careful because there are people who don’t work because they won’t work, not because they can’t work.  And if you don’t work and won’t work, then you don’t eat, that’s what the Bible says.  There needs to be an opportunity for you to earn your own food and you need to take that opportunity, and again I want to say this:  It may be that in some cultures there is not enough work to go around and that a person couldn’t do enough work to really make the whole living, then in generosity and charity and love, we make up the lack, but we don’t feed the indolence

Even our blessed Jesus encountered a crowd of this type. After He had fed the Five Thousand, they returned the next day for another miraculous meal. They became angry when He refused them and said that He was the bread of life, which is infintely more important, then and now. John 6 has the story.

MacArthur interprets the episode:

Jesus, you remember, in John chapter 6, fed the multitude and it was a large crowd.  We talk about feeding the 5,000 but it says 5,000 men, so wherever there are 5,000 men, there have to be 5,000 women, at least, and throw in a few thousand mother-in-laws and grandmas, sisters and aunts, and throw in 15,000 kids, at least, and you’ve got a crowd somewhere between 20 and 50 thousand It could have been a massive crowd and Jesus fed them all.  You remember He had those five little cakes, five loaves, they’re actually little barley cakes, and two pickled fish and He just created food.  And I’ll promise you, it was the best lunch they’d ever had because it bypassed the world …

Now, do you realize when He said no to breakfast, I really believe that their anger was turned on Him because in an agrarian society like that, they had to work with the sweat of their brow to produce their own food They didn’t go down to some market and flip out food stamps or a check or a credit card or whatever it is, they didn’t go to a fast food restaurant.  If they didn’t work that day, they didn’t have the food to eat.  And not only a matter of preparation, but a matter of provision.  And so when Jesus – when they saw Jesus make food, they thought they had just found the Messiah who would bring the ultimate and eternal welfare state.  “We don’t even need food stamps, just show up and He passes it out.  And you don’t even have to get in line to collect it, they serve it.”  And when time for breakfast came, they were there and he left, and I think their anger and hostility turned on Him because they knew then what He could do but He refused to do it He could have done it for us as well, but He knows the value and the benefit and the purpose of work.

Concluding on Paul’s message to the Thessalonians, MacArthur says:

So here were these Thessalonians and they wouldn’t work.  And so he says if they don’t work, don’t let them eat.  That will help them get the message.  That’s survival. 

In our world, able-bodied people, believers or not, should be made to feel guilty for depending on the taxpayer for their daily bread. As The Spectator‘s Fraser Nelson said above, it is a moral issue.

Whether we like it or not, work is the order of the day. We must provide for ourselves to the fullest extent possible.

bible-wornThe 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 Anglicised (ESVUK) with commentary by Matthew Henry and John MacArthur.

2 Thessalonians 3:13-18

13 As for you, brothers, do not grow weary in doing good. 14 If anyone does not obey what we say in this letter, take note of that person, and have nothing to do with him, that he may be ashamed. 15 Do not regard him as an enemy, but warn him as a brother.

Benediction

16 Now may the Lord of peace himself give you peace at all times in every way. The Lord be with you all.

17 I, Paul, write this greeting with my own hand. This is the sign of genuineness in every letter of mine; it is the way I write. 18 The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you all.

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Last week’s post discussed Paul’s prayer request for his ministry, the threat of evil men with no faith, the constancy of the Lord in protecting His faithful from Satan and the Apostle’s statement of confidence in the Thessalonians’ Christian journey.

As he closes his second of two letters to the congregation, he gives general reminders, particularly about the importance of work (emphases mine):

Warning Against Idleness

Now we command you, brothers, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that you keep away from any brother who is walking in idleness and not in accord with the tradition that you received from us. For you yourselves know how you ought to imitate us, because we were not idle when we were with you, nor did we eat anyone’s bread without paying for it, but with toil and labour we worked night and day, that we might not be a burden to any of you. It was not because we do not have that right, but to give you in ourselves an example to imitate. 10 For even when we were with you, we would give you this command: If anyone is not willing to work, let him not eat. 11 For we hear that some among you walk in idleness, not busy at work, but busybodies. 12 Now such persons we command and encourage in the Lord Jesus Christ to do their work quietly and to earn their own living.[d]

Paul has a message for those in Thessalonica who are hard working and supporting the church: do not weary in doing good (verse 13).

John MacArthur says:

When I first read it, I thought, “Well, what does this have to do with anything?” and then as I thought, I saw it.  “But as for you, brethren” – that’s the rest, those of you that are working, those of you that are having to pay for these people, having to pass out your money and give them food – “the rest of you, brethren, do not grow weary of doing good.”  You see, the potential was they would become so tired of these deadbeats, they’d become so fed up with giving this money and this charity to these lazy people, that they would become very weary of the whole process, and then when somebody came with a real need, they would be indifferent to it So he’s saying, “Look, don’t you grow weary of doing what is really good.”  The assumption is they were weary of taking care of these people who should have been taking care of themselves, and he says don’t let your weariness translate over to weariness in doing what you really should do, doing what is good.  Kalos is the term that’s attached to the verb there.  It means what is perceived by others to be noble, so says Milligan in his lexicon.  What is perceived to be noble.  Do what is noble. 

You go back to the Psalms and you’re going to find out over and over again that we’re to take care of the poor and that when you take care of the poor, God will bless you.  Go back to Proverbs, you’re going to find the same thing.  Go back to Isaiah, go to Luke chapter 14 verses 12 to 14, and what does Jesus say?  When you have a dinner, when you have a reception, don’t invite the wealthy people who are going to reciprocate, invite the blind and the lame and the halt and the maimed and the poor who can never pay you back, and God will pay you back in eternity in the resurrection.  Take care of the poor. 

Matthew Henry’s commentary has a more uplifting message about the verse:

He exhorts those that did well not to be weary in well-doing (v. 13); as if he had said, “Go on and prosper. The Lord is with you while you are with him. See that whatever you do, that is good, you persevere therein. Hold on your way, and hold out to the end. You must never give over, nor tire in your work. It will be time enough to rest when you come to heaven, that everlasting rest which remains for the people of God.

Paul has strong words about those who refuse to obey the content of his letter: the congregation should take note of that person and, effectively, shun them so as to shame him into obedience (verse 14).

Paul really wanted everyone in the congregation to earn their own way. There were cultural reasons why people didn’t work. The Greeks considered work a punishment from the gods. Even though the people Paul wrote about were Christians, old habits die hard. There was also another group who thought that the Second Coming was imminent; therefore, they questioned the need to work when Jesus could be returning at any moment.

MacArthur says that:

they perhaps have been influenced by some of the Jewish background of the scribes who thought that anything other than studying the law was an unworthy way to spend your life.  They surely were affected by the general Greek attitude that work was demeaning and sordid and base and low and belonged only to slaves and not to freemen. 

And they probably had had those predispositions somewhat exaggerated by virtue of the fact that someone had come along and told them that they were already in the day of the Lord and the return of Christ was imminent and there probably wasn’t much use in doing anything other than evangelizing and studying the Word of God.  And so they had given themselves to that happily because of their disdain for work anyway Problem was, at least long term, if you can call several months long term for the Thessalonians in that Paul had dealt with it when he was there.  Several months later, when he wrote them the first letter, he dealt with it, and here he is writing a second letter and dealing with it a third time They didn’t want to work.  It was beneath them. 

MacArthur explains Paul’s reasoning:

Not only does disfellowship, example, survival, and harmony constitute a motive for going to work, but shame.  Look at verse 14.  “If anyone doesn’t obey our instruction in this letter, take special note of that man and do not associate with him so that he may be put to shame.”  If anybody doesn’t obey the instruction in this letter, I’m telling you, they are really obstinate.  He said it over and over again when he was there.  He wrote it a couple of times in the first letter.  He’s now saying it again, and if these people don’t obey this instruction, you take special note of that man.  Mark him out.  Give him serious attention.  Keep on noticing that person.  Keep your eye on that person for the purpose of not associating with him.  Watch him so that you can avoid him.  Stay away from him. 

Withdraw your fellowship, a double compound verb meaning do not get mixed up with.  Put the pressure of isolation.  Only this time, you’re pushing him further.  This continues to be that third step of discipline where you’re isolating him but your isolation is keeping him at a distance.  You take note, you watch the pattern, and you avoid the man in order that he may be put to shame.  Now you’ve gone beyond just his isolation, you’re trying to make him feel shame.  That’s a distasteful word.  Literally in the Greek it means to turn on yourself, to feel what you really are.  Let him see what he really is, a wicked, disobedient, recalcitrant sinner.  Shame him because he won’t work. 

Can you imagine someone saying that today, especially on social media? The Conservative MP Lee Anderson ventured partially into that territory on food banks last year and got hammered for it. He also said that those visiting his local food bank in Ashfield, Nottinghamshire, had to sign up for courses on budgeting and cooking in order to continue to use it. He’s been there and done it as a single father, so he knows whereof he speaks, but that didn’t matter. St Paul would have backed him up, that’s for sure.

Henry is gentler, yet no less firm on the censure:

The directions of the apostle are carefully to be observed in our conduct towards disorderly persons. We must be very cautious in church-censures and church-discipline. We must, First, Note that man who is suspected or charged with not obeying the word of God, or walking contrary thereto, that is, we must have sufficient proof of his fault before we proceed further. We must, Secondly, Admonish him in a friendly manner; we must put him in mind of his sin, and of his duty; and this should be done privately (Matt 18 15); then, if he will not hear, we must, Thirdly, Withdraw from him, and not keep company with him, that is, we must avoid familiar converse and society with such, for two reasons, namely, that we may not learn his evil ways; for he who follows vain and idle persons, and keeps company with such, is in danger of becoming like them. Another reason is for the shaming, and so the reforming, of those that offend, that when idle and disorderly persons see how their loose practices are disliked by all wise and good people they may be ashamed of them, and walk more orderly.

Paul says that the shunned person should not be considered an enemy but rather as a brother in need of correction (verse 15).

Henry says there is always hope that such a person can mend his errant ways:

if they be reclaimed and reformed by these censures, they will recover their credit and comfort, and right to church-privileges as brethren.

MacArthur goes further, citing Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians:

No matter what the sin is, it’s the same things that should motivate.  The threat of losing the fellowship with other believers, the fact that you have not followed the holy example of those who have walked before you, even the issue of survival – because you can die from continued sin, some Corinthians did – and certainly the idea of harmony, you’re disrupting and ripping and tearing the unity of the church, and certainly shame, you should feel guilt and shame, and certainly love should call you back as those who are in the body of Christ and are your brothers and sisters woo you.  And so this is how we deal with any believer in any pattern of sin. 

And if they resist this, then you can treat them like an enemy.  Then you can turn them over to Satan.  Then Paul says in 1 Corinthians 5, “I don’t want you to have any fellowship with them, I don’t even want you to eat with them.”  I want you to turn them out totally.  But here, Paul, one more time, for the third time in three steps, is pleading with the church to call them back. 

Paul concludes with his benediction, his prayer of blessing, to the Thessalonians.

He prays that the Lord of peace himself gives the Thessalonians peace at all times, in every way and that the Lord be with them all (verse 16).

MacArthur explains that Paul wants to ensure they know they have to rely on the Triune God, not themselves:

This is the fourth time he has had, what we would call, a prayer wish, a benediction, in which he expresses the desire of his heart.  It’s almost as if he can only go so far and he’s got this uncapped desire to ask God to enable them to do what he says.  And every so often the praying just bursts forth.  He goes a little while in chapter 1 and then prays for God’s enabling, a little while in chapter 2 and prays for God’s enabling, and twice he does it in chapter 3.  You see, he understands that no matter what you know as a Christian, you don’t pull it off on your own You must be aided by the Lord, you must lean on His resources.  And so in this last simple little closing section Paul calls on divine resources.  He calls on personal blessings from the Lord to enable the Thessalonians, and all the rest of us, to respond to what he has taught.  And he really is speaking about four things that we need.  We need the Lord’s peace.  We need the Lord’s strength.  We need the Lord’s truth.  And we need the Lord’s grace.  And all four of them are in those three little verses; the Lord’s peace, strength, truth and grace …

First of all then he prays or wishes for their experience of God’s peace, verse 16, “Now may the Lord of peace Himself continually grant you peace.”  The first two words, “now may” mark a transition.  The word “now” is transitional.  He’s moving from command and exhortation to petition and to prayer.  He is now turning to the Lord.  He is expressing not the prayer itself but the wish in his heart that shows up when he prays.  And his wish is for them to experience peace, peace.  He’s asking for what God has already promised, for God has promised His own peace and strength and truth and grace.  It isn’t that he is asking something that God gives reluctantly or not at all.  In fact, prayer really is asking God for what it is His will to give.  Prayer really is lining up with what God has promised to do.  He recognizes that God has promised His people peace and strength and truth and grace.  And he pleads for God to fulfill His promise.  He lines himself up with what God has expressed as His own intention and purpose.  His first request is for that lovely, that most sought after, that most evasive and that most elusive reality called peace.

We hear and read the word ‘peace’ all the time, so much so that it has lost its meaning.

Here Paul writes of an inner peace that only God can give each one of us. He can only give us that peace when we are reconciled to Him as believers through Jesus Christ.

MacArthur says:

We’re talking about a spiritual peace.  And spiritual peace — the true, deep-down peace — is the attitude of the heart and mind that calmly, confidently believes and thus knows that all is well between the soul and God That’s the peace we’re talking about.  It’s that confidence that everything is right between myself and God and He is lovingly in control of my life in time and eternity.  It is the presence of a calm assurance built on the knowledge that my sins are forgiven, God is concerned with my well-being and heaven is ahead.  It’s a deep-down peace. It has nothing to do with what anybody says to you, it has nothing to do with what anybody does to you, or doesn’t do to you, it has nothing to do with any circumstance in life whatsoever.  It is the peace that God gives to His beloved children.  It is their possession and their privilege by right.

This peace is defined for us in several ways in verse 16.  First of all, it is divine.  “Now may the Lord of peace Himself grant you peace.”  The Lord of peace is the one who gives it.  He is the one who grants it.  “Himself,” by the way, that pronoun is emphatic in the sentence and it’s emphasizing His personal involvement in this.  “Himself, the Lord of peace, may He give you peace.”  May God, the Lord, personally give it to you because it comes personally from Him.  It is the very essence of His nature.

To say it simply, peace is an attribute of God I don’t know if you think of it that way, you think of God being characterized by attributes of grace, and mercy and justice and righteousness and wisdom and truth and omnipotence and immutability and eternality and whatever. But do you ever think of God as being characteristically peace?  He is peace.  Whatever it is that He gives us He has and He is.  God is love, we don’t argue about that.  And God is also peace.  He has no lack of perfect peace in His being.  God is at all times at perfect peace.  There’s no stress.  God is never stressed.  God is never in anxiety. God never worries, God never doubts, and God never fears. God is never at discord with Himself.  He is never at cross purposes, it’s never so that He can’t make up His mind.  He is never troubled.  He is never indecisive.  He is never unclear.  He is never unsure.  He is never threatened.

God lives in perfect calm, God lives in perfect tranquility, God lives in perfect contentment.  Why?  Because He’s in charge of everything and He can operate everything perfectly according to His own will exactly the way He wants it all the time.  There is nothing in the entire universe that goes on that He doesn’t know about and there is nothing in the entire universe that can withstand His purposes.  He knows there are no surprises for His omniscience.  There are no unknowns to His omnipresence.  There are no changes, no doubts, no fears.  Even His wrath is clear, controlled, calm, and confident.  There are no threats to His omnipotence.  There is no possible sin that can stain His holiness. There is no sinner who can appear before Him who is beyond His grace.  There is no threat to His immutable plan.  There is no guilt in His mind. There is no shame in His mind. There is no regret in His mind for He has never done anything, said anything, or thought anything that He would in any way change.

He enjoys perfect and eternal harmony within Himself.  He therefore is peace.  And here He is called “the Lord of peace,” the Lord of the peace, literally, the definite article is there.  The peace, not the kind the world has, but the real peace, the divine kind.  He is peace, He is the source of peace.  And what Paul wants is that the Lord of peace would give His kind of peace.  If you look at the Trinity you find that it’s clear in Scripture that every member of the Trinity is peace and gives peace.  First Thessalonians 5:23 says, “The God of peace,” so does Romans 15:33, Romans 16:20, 2 Corinthians 13:11, Philippians 4:9, and Hebrews 13:20, a common name for God, the God of peace.  He is the author of peace.  First Corinthians 14:33 says, “He is not the author of confusion but of peace.”  He is peace, the originator, the source and the author of it.

The second member of the Trinity, the Son, the Lord Jesus Christ is here called “the Lord of peace.”  Interestingly enough at the end of 1 Thessalonians Paul refers to the God of peace, here to the Lord of peace, both the first and second member of the trinity equally being God, equally being Lord, equally being the source of peace Ephesians 2:14 says, “Christ who is our peace.”  He is called in Scripture “the prince of peace.”  He is peace.  He is the source of peace.  Colossians 1:20, He has made peace.

Also the Holy Spirit is the source of peace. The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace.  Romans 14:17 says the kingdom is peace in the Holy Spirit.

So, God is peace.  It is that divine peace possessed by the Trinity — Father, Son and Holy Spirit — that Paul wants us to have, that well-being that is deep-down settled and confident that all is well with God.

Divine peace is a free gift from God, one that He bestows on the truly faithful:

… we learn that it’s not only divine but it is a gift.  “Now may the Lord of peace Himself grant you peace.”  The word “grant” is the verb to give.  It speaks of a gift.  It is a sovereign gracious gift from the Trinity, bestowed on those who believe in the Lord Jesus Christ.  It is a gift from God.

In Psalm 85, a wonderful verse, verse 8, you might not read this verse and think about it, but in Psalm 85:8 I read it to you because it ought to be kept in mind. “I will hear what God the Lord will say, for He will speak peace to His people, to His godly ones.”  God grants peace to those who belong to Him.

This is so much a part of the New Testament.  Start at Romans some time and read it in the first chapter of each of the letters: Romans, 1 Corinthians, 2 Corinthians, Galatians, Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians, 2 Thessalonians, Titus, Philemon, go into 2 John, and as you read you’ll find in all of those epistles peace, peace, peace given to God’s people.  Sometimes it says grace and peace.  Peace is a gift from the Lord.  It is given to us by the Lord Jesus Christ and an example of that, you remember, in John 20 as he walked in the upper room to meet His disciples He said, “Peace be unto you,” in verse 19.  In verse 21 He said, “Peace be unto you,” and again in verse 26, “Peace be unto you.”  He was the giver of peace.  It’s as if the Father authored peace, the Son purchased peace, and then gives it to us now in this age through His Holy Spirit

There’s a third element in what he says and that is that this peace is not only divine and a gift but it is always available.  “May the Lord of peace Himself continually give you peace.”  By throwing the word “continually” in there, he is affirming that it is constantly available.  This is not presumptuous as if God can only give it intermittently. He knows it’s always available.  And he says, “I want God to give it to you all the time.”

Henry addresses the second half of verse 16, about the Lord’s presence:

That the presence of God might be with them: The Lord be with you all. We need nothing more to make us safe and happy, nor can we desire any thing better for ourselves and our friends, than to have God’s gracious presence with us and them. This will be a guide and guard in every way that we may go, and our comfort in every condition we may be in. It is the presence of God that makes heaven to be heaven, and this will make this earth to be like heaven. No matter where we are if God be with us, nor who is absent if God be with us, nor who is absent if God be present with us.

So that the Thessalonians know the letter is authentic, Paul writes his greeting in his own handwriting (verse 17). He would have dictated the rest of his letter to someone else to write.

MacArthur explains that false teachers sometimes sent not only the Thessalonians but also other of Paul’s congregations counterfeit letters:

Back in chapter 2, look at verse 2 for a moment.  Somebody had come along and told them some lies .. And they lied to them about the Day of the Lord.  This was a false teacher.  But in order to make his lies believable, the middle of verse 2 says, he had “a letter as if from us,” to the effect that the Day of the Lord has come In other words, to be believable, the false teacher said, “I’ve got a letter from Paul,” and he was waving around this thing, “this is my letter from Paul.”  And Paul realized he had to deal with this. And I guess he hadn’t really faced this before.  But when he wrote the first epistle it probably came to his attention that people were, one, not accepting it as from him That became a reality soon and is still a reality today.  You still have people today who want to deny that Paul wrote his letters.  But there were…there are those people who would say, “Nah, nah, that’s not from Paul, we don’t accept that as authoritative.”  If they didn’t like what it said they wouldn’t accept it as authoritative.

Well, Paul hadn’t…hadn’t really faced that until he wrote a letter.  So he wrote 1 Thessalonians and now he becomes very much aware that people are going to deny his authorship. Secondly, they’re going to forge letters that aren’t written by him as if they were and therefore they’re going to take truth away from the church and they’re going to add lies to the church and confuse the church.  Well he’s so burdened that they get the truth that what he says to them at the end of this letter is to seal the fact that this is indeed his own letter, he has written it.  He says, “I, Paul, write this greeting with my own hand.” He’s dictated the letter, as was his custom.  And he comes to the very end and he takes the pen away from his amanuensis or his secretary and with his own hands he says, “I am writing this greeting with my own hand and this is a distinguishing mark in every letter.”  From now on, every single letter that comes from me is going to have something I have personally written with my own hand at the end, and then he adds, “This is the way I write.”  You can tell whether it’s authentic because it’s going to have my writing, which is inimitable.  We still do that.  We authenticate documents today by a signature.

And what is he saying?  He’s saying I am very concerned that you have the truth of God.  There’s a lot more to come.  I mean, you’ve got two letters. You’re going to be exposed before this deal is over to more of them from me, to some from John, to some from Peter, to some from Jude, to one from James.  And you need to know all of that is the truth of God.  I don’t want any doubt about mine and so I’m going to sign off every time like this.  The only time he deviates from that in the future is in the book of Philemon which apparently, according to Philemon 19, he wrote all in his own handwriting and didn’t dictate it in any part.  And perhaps Galatians, according to chapter 6 verse 11, he may have written the whole of the letter to the Galatians as well.  But always his own inimitable handwriting was there because he was so consumed with the fact that God’s people needed to have the revealed truth and not be confused about what was authentic He was the inspired instrument of truth and God wanted His people to have truth.  And Paul could say with John, he had no greater joy than to see his children walk in the truth.  He wanted them to have the truth.  He knew they needed it.  And so he throws in this which also expresses his wish for them to have the truth and to know it is the truth.

He was very concerned about that.  In Romans chapter 9 and verse 1, “I am telling the truth,” he says.  In 1 Timothy chapter 2 and verse 7, “And for this I was appointed a preacher and an apostle, I am telling the truth, I am not lying.”  And why does he say that?  Well, because there were people who were denying him.  In chapter 11 of 2 Corinthians verse 10, “As the truth of Christ is in me,” and he goes on.  He was concerned about people knowing he spoke the truth.  God is a God of truth, He is the only true God, He is the God who cannot lie.  And Christ is His incarnate truth.  And the Holy Spirit is the Spirit of truth.  And the Word is the body of truth. Thy Word is truth, John 17:17.  God wants us to have His truth.  He’s given us the indwelling Spirit of truth who is the anointing, who leads us into all truth so that we need not be taught by any human source.  So Paul says, I wish you truth, and I don’t want you to be confused about it.

Paul ends by praying that the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with them all (verse 18).

MacArthur discusses grace:

What is grace?  God’s goodness, God’s benevolence given to those who don’t deserve it.  God’s goodness, God’s benevolence given to those who don’t deserve it.  It is grace decreed by God given to us through Christ.  Grace and truth, it says, came through Jesus Christ.  The grace of God has appeared, Paul said to Titus.  It has appeared through the work of Christ.  It comes to us as the Spirit of God brings saving grace.  And once we become a Christian then there is enabling grace.  And that’s what he’s praying about, the enabling grace, grace for endurance, grace that is sufficient, as 2 Corinthians 12:9 says, for every serious trial.  Grace for service, the kind Paul talked about in 1 Timothy 1, when he says as explicitly as it could be said, “I thank Christ Jesus our Lord, who has strengthened me because He considered me faithful, putting me into the service, (or into the ministry) even though I was a blasphemer and a persecutor and a violent aggressor and it was the grace of our Lord that did it.”

Grace for service, grace for endurance, grace for growth spiritually, grow in grace, 2 Peter 3:18.  Grace for love and grace for humility and grace for sacrifice and grace for generosity.  All of those things typified by the Macedonians in 2 Corinthians 8 and 9.  In fact, they summed it up.  They summed it up.  They were examples, Paul said, of the surpassing grace of God which is in you.  He wants God’s grace.  There…God’s enabling grace to take them through their trials, to make them effective in ministry, to cause them to grow, to strengthen their love and their humility and their sacrifice and their generosity that they would be overwhelmed with this grace.

It’s available.  There’s no limit to it.  And again, the conditions to receive it are: trusting God, obeying His Word, enduring His refining process, doing good, walking in the Spirit, living your Christianity from the heart, living by the Word of God and praying.  As we are what we ought to be, God infuses us with His peace and His strength and His truth and His grace.

Anyone who wants to know how to live in a godly manner can read the reflections from MacArthur and Henry in my exegesis on the Beatitudes (Matthew 5:1-12), a long read, granted, but one that explains those eight tenets thoroughly. Jesus gave us the blueprint. It is up to us to live by it, with the help of divine grace.

Henry has a beautiful prayer at the end of his commentary on 2 Thessalonians 3:

Let us be thankful that we have the canon of scripture complete, and by the wonderful and special care of divine Providence preserved pure and uncorrupt through so many successive ages, and not dare to add to it, nor diminish from it. Let us believe the divine original of the sacred scriptures, and conform our faith and practice to this our sufficient and only rule, which is able to make us wise unto salvation, through faith which is in Christ Jesus. Amen.

This concludes my study of 2 Thessalonians.

Next week, I will begin a study of 1 Timothy, along with an introduction to its content and purpose.

Next time — 1 Timothy 1:1-2

The Fourth Sunday after Epiphany is January 29, 2023.

Readings for Year A can be found here.

The Gospel is as follows (emphases mine):

Matthew 5:1-12

5:1 When Jesus saw the crowds, he went up the mountain; and after he sat down, his disciples came to him.

5:2 Then he began to speak, and taught them, saying:

5:3 “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

5:4 “Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.

5:5 “Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.

5:6 “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.

5:7 “Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy.

5:8 “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.

5:9 “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.

5:10 “Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

5:11 “Blessed are you when people revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account.

5:12 Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.

Commentary comes from Matthew Henry and John MacArthur (as specified below).

This is another long post. John MacArthur preached ten sermons on these verses in 1979, one verse a week for the most part.

Jesus gave this sermon in Galilee. When He saw the crowds, He went up a mountain, and after He sat down, His disciples came to Him (verse 1).

Then, He began to speak and taught them (verse 2).

Recall that last week’s reading for the Third Sunday after Epiphany, Matthew 4:12-23, ended as follows:

4:23 Jesus went throughout Galilee, teaching in their synagogues and proclaiming the good news of the kingdom and curing every disease and every sickness among the people.

Keep that in mind while reading the rest of this post, which is the beginning of the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7), with the eight Beatitudes.

Matthew Henry’s commentary sets the scene beautifully:

The many miraculous cures wrought by Christ in Galilee, which we read of in the close of the foregoing chapter, were intended to make way for this sermon, and to dispose people to receive instructions from one in whom there appeared so much of a divine power and goodness; and, probably, this sermon was the summary, or rehearsal, of what he had preached up and down in the synagogues of Galilee. His text was, Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand. This is a sermon on the former part of that text, showing what it is to repent; it is to reform, both in judgment and practice; and here he tells us wherein, in answer to that question (Mal 3 7), Wherein shall we return?

Henry elaborates on these verses, using contrasts from the Old Testament to illustrate what a welcome occasion this is. Note that Zebulun was mentioned in last week’s first reading, Isaiah 9:1-4:

II. The place was a mountain in Galilee. As in other things, so in this, our Lord Jesus was but ill accommodated; he had no convenient place to preach in, any more than to lay his head on. While the scribes and Pharisees had Moses’ chair to sit in, with all possible ease, honour, and state, and there corrupted the law; our Lord Jesus, the great Teacher of truth, is driven out to the desert, and finds no better a pulpit than a mountain can afford; and not one of the holy mountains neither, not one of the mountains of Zion, but a common mountain; by which Christ would intimate that there is no such distinguishing holiness of places now, under the gospel, as there was under the law; but that it is the will of God that men should pray and preach every where, any where, provided it be decent and convenient. Christ preached this sermon, which was an exposition of the law, upon a mountain, because upon a mountain the law was given; and this was also a solemn promulgation of the Christian law. But observe the difference: when the law was given, the Lord came down upon the mountain; now the Lord went up: then, he spoke in thunder and lightning; now, in a still small voice: then the people were ordered to keep their distance; now they are invited to draw near: a blessed change! If God’s grace and goodness are (as they certainly are) his glory, then the glory of the gospel is the glory that excels, for grace and truth came by Jesus Christ, 2 Cor 3 7; Heb 12 18, etc. It was foretold of Zebulun and Issachar, two of the tribes of Galilee (Deut 33 19), that they shall call the people to the mountain; to this mountain we are called, to learn to offer the sacrifices of righteousness. Now was this the mountain of the Lord, where he taught us his ways, Isa 2 2, 3; Mic 4 1, 2.

III. The auditors were his disciples, who came unto him; came at his call, as appears by comparing Mark 3 13, Luke 6 13. To them he directed his speech, because they followed him for love and learning, while others attended him only for cures. He taught them, because they were willing to be taught (the meek will he teach his way); because they would understand what he taught, which to others was foolishness; and because they were to teach others; and it was therefore requisite that they should have a clear and distinct knowledge of these things themselves. The duties prescribed in this sermon were to be conscientiously performed by all those that would enter into that kingdom of heaven which they were sent to set up, with hope to have the benefit of it. But though this discourse was directed to the disciples, it was in the hearing of the multitude; for it is said (ch. 7 28), The people were astonished. No bounds were set about this mountain, to keep the people off, as were about mount Sinai (Exod 19 12); for, through Christ, we have access to God, not only to speak to him, but to hear from him. Nay, he had an eye to the multitude, in preaching this sermon. When the fame of his miracles had brought a vast crowd together, he took the opportunity of so great a confluence of people, to instruct them. Note, It is an encouragement to a faithful minister to cast the net of the gospel where there are a great many fishes, in hope that some will be caught. The sight of a multitude puts life into a preacher, which yet must arise from a desire of their profit, not his own praise.

IV. The solemnity of his sermon is intimated in that word, when he was set. Christ preached many times occasionally, and by interlocutory discourses; but this was a set sermon, kathisantos autou, when he had placed himself so as to be best heard. He sat down as a Judge or Lawgiver. It intimates with what sedateness and composure of mind the things of God should be spoken and heard. He sat, that the scriptures might be fulfilled (Mal 3 3), He shall sit as a refiner, to purge away the dross, the corrupt doctrines of the sons of Levi. He sat as in the throne, judging right (Ps 9 4); for the word he spoke shall judge us. That phrase, He opened his mouth, is only a Hebrew periphrasis of speaking, as Job 3 1. Yet some think it intimates the solemnity of this discourse; the congregation being large, he raised his voice, and spoke louder than usual. He had spoken long by his servants the prophets, and opened their mouths (Ezek 3 27; 24 27; 33 22); but now he opened his own, and spoke with freedom, as one having authority. One of the ancients has this remark upon it; Christ taught much without opening his mouth. that is, by his holy and exemplary life; nay, he taught, when, being led as a lamb to the slaughter, he opened not his mouth, but now he opened his mouth, and taught, that the scriptures might be fulfilled, Prov 8 1, 2, 6. Doth not wisdom cry—cry on the top of high places? And the opening of her lips shall be right things. He taught them, according to the promise (Isa 54 13), All thy children shall be taught of the Lord; for this purpose he had the tongue of the learned (Isa 50 4), and the Spirit of the Lord, Isa 61 1. He taught them, what was the evil they should abhor, and what was the good they should abide and abound in; for Christianity is not a matter of speculation, but is designed to regulate the temper of our minds and the tenour of our conversations; gospel-time is a time of reformation (Heb 9 10); and by the gospel we must be reformed, must be made good, must be made better. The truth, as it is in Jesus, is the truth which is according to godliness, Tit 1 1.

We all know the eight Beatitudes, however, as we go through them, we will see that one builds on the other. Jesus did not randomly arrange these. Nor did He intend them to be socio-political platitudes. He never preached about politics or social conditions.

John MacArthur points out:

There’s no politics in the Sermon on the Mount. None. There is not one reference to the social, political aspect of the kingdom made here, not one. The Jews were so concerned about the politics and the social life. Jesus makes no reference to that at all. The stress – I want you to get this – the stress is on being. That’s the word you’re going to have to see. The stress is on being. It’s not on ruling or possessing it is on being

This is a different kind of a kingdom. It even advocates persecution without retaliation and blesses those who live that way. It’s a spiritual kingdom. So the political aspect of this message was devastating. It was absolutely everything was the opposite of what they expected a Messiah to say

What he was saying is this, “My kingdom is inside.” Do you see? It’s inside. That’s the whole point. That’s the whole message of Jesus to the world. That’s the whole basis of the Sermon on the Mount. It’s inside, not outside. Not outside rituals, not outside philosophy, not outside location or monasteries or any of that stuff, not outside activism, it’s inside.

Jesus said that blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven (verse 3).

MacArthur gives us the meaning of ‘blessed’, which runs through the Bible and our prayers:

In Matthew chapter 5 through 7, our Lord is establishing and counter standard of living, counter to everything the world knows and practices, a new approach to living that results in blessedness, makarios.  And we saw that this makarios is deep inner happiness, a deep and genuine sense of blessedness, a bliss that the world cannot offer, not produced by the world, not produced by circumstances, and not subject to change by the world or circumstances.  It is not produced externally.  It cannot be touched externally.

The promise of Christ, then, in the Sermon on the Mount is at the very beginning.  He is saying if you live by these standards you will know blessedness.  And so in verse 3, it’s blessed, in verse 4, it’s blessed.  In verse 5, blessed.  Verse 6, verse 7, verse 8, verse 9, 10, 11, and finally, as a result of all this blessedness, verse 12, rejoice and be exceeding glad.

The whole Sermon on the Mount introduces itself with a promise of blessedness, happiness, deep, inner satisfaction.  Now we said also last time that this blessedness, this well being, this bliss, this happiness, in which believers live and which they enjoy, is really a gift of God.  For makarios or blessedness is characteristic of God

The greatest possible understanding of the term “blessed” comes when you understand that God is blessed.  So happy is the people whose God is the Lord.  Blessed is the people whose God is the Lord, for he, above all, is blessed.  “Blessed be God,” says the Bible.  “Blessed be the Lord Jesus Christ.”  And if they are blessed, if they have this deep inner bliss, this deep sense of contentment and blessedness because of the virtue of divine nature, then only those who partake in that divine nature can know that same blessedness.

MacArthur points out — as does Henry’s commentary — that each beatitude is a spiritual paradox. In other words, how can we be without and yet have so much?

MacArthur says:

Now as you look at the Beatitudes, you’ll see that they’re like sacred paradoxes They’re almost given in absolute contrast to everything the world knows And let me just say a word that I want as a little footnote here.  You see the word “blessing.”  The word “blessing” or “blessed” has an opposite word in the Bible.  The opposite of makarios is ouai and we translate it “woe.”  The opposite of blessing is cursing.  The opposite of blessed, Jesus said in the Sermon on the Mount “blessed” and he turned around to the Pharisees later and said, “Woe unto you.”  Those are opposites. 

And let me hasten to say this.  The word “blessed” and the word “woe,” neither one of them are really a wish.  They are a judgmental pronunciation Jesus is saying, “I” – he’s not saying, “I wish you blessedness.”  He is saying, “Blessed is the man who goes this way, does this, thinks this way.”  And other places, “Woe to the man who does this.”  They are judicial pronunciations.  They are not simply wishes.

MacArthur gives us a sense of progression in the ordering of the Beatitudes:

We see a sequence.  Look with me quickly at verse 3.  First we see the poor in spirit.  “Poor in spirit” is the right attitude towards sin, which leads to mourning, in verse 4, which leads after you’ve seen your sinfulness and you’ve mourned, to a meekness, a sense of humility, then to a seeking and hunger and thirst for righteousness.  You can see the progression. 

It is important to remember that the verse says ‘poor in spirit’, not simply ‘poor’:

When you have two records in the Bible in the Gospels, you compare them.  “Blessed are the poor.”  What poor?  There are all kinds of poverty, right?  You could be poor in terms of money.  You could be poor in terms of your education.  You could be poor in terms of friends.  You could be poor in terms of a lot of things.  So when you read Luke say, “Blessed are the poor,” and you find Matthew, “Blessed are are the poor in spirit,” you make the conclusion simply that Matthew tells us what kind of poverty Luke was referring to.  That’s all.  It’s no big problem.  We just put the two together, comparing scripture with scripture.

‘Poor in spirit’ implies humility, the sort of humility that depends on God’s grace, says MacArthur:

Nobody yet ever entered God’s kingdom on the basis of pride.  Poverty of spirit is the only way in.  The door to the kingdom of the Lord Jesus Christ is very low and the only people who come in crawl. 

Jesus begins by saying, “There’s a mountain you have to scale.  There are heights you have to climb.  There is a standard you must attain, but you are incapable of doing it, and the sooner you realize it the sooner you’ll be on your way to finding it.”  In other words, he’s saying you can’t be filled until you’re empty You can’t be worthwhile until you’re worthless.

You know, it amazes me that in modern Christianity today there is so little of the self emptying concept I see a lot of books on how to be filled with joy and how to be filled and how to be filled with this and how to be filled with the spirit and so forth.  There’s lots of books on how to be filled, but I don’t think I’ve ever seen a book on how to empty yourself of yourself

You know, if you don’t have poverty of spirit, beloved, you might as well expect fruit to grow without a tree as the graces of the Christian life to grow without humility.  They can’t.  As long as we’re not poor in spirit, we can’t receive grace Now even at the beginning, you can’t even become a Christian unless you’re poor in spirit. 

And as you live your Christian life you’ll never know the other graces of the Christian life as long as you violate poverty of spirit.  And this is tough.  Jesus is saying, “Start here.  Happiness is for the humble.”  Happiness is for the humble.  Until we are poor in spirit, Christ is never precious to us.  Because we can’t see him for the looking at ourselves.  Before we see our own wants and our own needs and our own desperation, we never see the matchless worth of Christ.  Until we know how really damned we are, we can’t appreciate how really glorious he is.  Until we comprehend how doomed we are, we can’t understand how wondrous is his love to redeem us.  Until we see our poverty, we cannot understand his riches. 

And so out of the carcass comes the honey.  It is in our deadness that we come alive.  And no man ever comes to Jesus Christ, no man ever enters the kingdom who doesn’t crawl with a terrible sense of sinfulness, repentance

MacArthur examines the meaning of ‘poor’ in the Greek:

Now let’s take that term.  The word “poor,” ptchos, interesting word.  From a verb – now watch this one – the verb in the Greek means “a shrinking from something or someone to cower and cringe like a beggar.”  That’s what it means.  Like you just kind of cringe and cower like a beggar does. 

Classical Greek uses this word to refer to one who is reduced to beggary, who crouches in a corner of the dark wall to beg for alms.  And the reason he crouches and cowers is because he doesn’t want to be seen.  He is so desperately ashamed to even allow his identity to be known.  Beggars have all that stuff piled on, all those things pulled over their face, and they reach like this, lest they should be known.

By the way, the word “poor” here, the very word, is the word used in Luke 16 when it says, “Lazarus the beggar.”  That is what the word means.  It is not just poor, it is begging poor And by the way, there is another word in the Bible for normal poverty, pensPens means you’re – generally and sometimes there’s an overlap – but generally pens means you’re so poor you have to work just to maintain your living. 

Ptchos means you’re so poor you have to beg.  You’re reduced to a cringing, cowering beggar.  Pens you can earn your own living.  You can earn your own sustenance.  Ptchos, you are totally dependent on the gift of somebody else.  All you’ve got going for you, no skill, no nothing.  In many cases, you’re crippled, you’re blind.  You’re deaf.  You’re dumb.  You can’t function in society and you sit in the corner with your shamed arm in the air, pleading for grace and mercy from somebody else.  You have no resource in yourself to even live.  Total dependence on somebody else. 

MacArthur moves on to ‘in spirit’:

Well, what does it mean in spirit?  Let me talk about that for a minute.  It means with reference to the spirit, which is the inner part of man, not the body, which is the outer part.  That’s all.  He’s begging on the inside, not necessarily on the outside.

Isaiah put it this way.  Isaiah 66:2.  “But to this man will I look.”  Here’s God talking.  Now listen.  “To this man will I look, even to him that is poor and of a contrite spirit, and who trembles at my word.”  It’s the man who shakes on the inside because of his destitution.  Psalm 34:18 put it this way.  “The Lord is nigh unto them that are of a broken heart and saveth such as be of a contrite spirit.”  Psalm 51:17.  “The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit, a broken and contrite heart, Oh God, thou wilt not despise.”

It’s the broken and the contrite.  “Blessed are the beggars,” says Jesus.  Blessed are those whose spirit is destitute.  Blessed are the spiritual paupers, the spiritually empty, the spiritually bankrupt who cringe in a corner and cry out to God for mercy.  They are the happy ones.  Why?  Because they’re the only ones who tapped the real resource for happiness.  They’re the only ones who ever know God.  They’re the only ones who ever know God’s blessedness.  And theirs is the kingdom.

James put it this way.  It’s not just the Sermon on the Mount, James said it.  He said in James 4:10, “Humble yourselves in the sight of God and he will – what? “ – lift you up.”  The poverty here is not a poverty against which the will rebels, but it’s a poverty under which the will bows in deep dependence and submission I’m afraid this is a rather unpopular doctrine in the church today.  We emphasize celebrities and experts and superstars and rich, famous Christians.  But happiness is for the humble

The sum of the great truth is simply stated.  The first principle of the Sermon on the Mount is that you can’t do it by yourself.  There’s a new lifestyle to live and that new lifestyle promises eternal happiness for you, but you can’t do it by yourself, so that the only standard for living is for those who know they can’t do it …

We have the grace now, the grace of the kingdom.  We have the glory later.  The kingdom as I see it is grace and glory.  Grace now, glory later.  What a tremendous thing.  Do you know what it is, people to possess the kingdom?  That’s what the word means, to possess.  You possess the kingdom.  It is yours.  The rule of Christ, the reign of Christ, you know what that means?  You’re his subject, he takes care of you

And by the way, you can’t do it by looking at yourself.  Also, you can’t do it by looking at other people.  Don’t try to find somebody else who will set the standard for you.  There’s only one place to look if you want to become poor in spirit, that’s to concentrate on God.  That’s the first thing.  Look at God.  Read his Word.  Face his person in its pages.  Look at Christ.  Look at Christ constantly.  As you gaze at Jesus Christ, you lose yourself.  You lose yourself. 

Secondly, not only look at God.  I’ll give you three little principles.  If you’re going to know what it is to be poor in spirit, look at God, not at you, not at anybody else.  Look at God.  Two, starve the flesh.  Starve the flesh.  You know, even the ministries, even the ministries of this generation feed on pride in so many cases.  We have to seek the things that strip the flesh naked … 

I’d say a third thing.  These are the things I see in my own life.  I’ve got to look at God all the time.  Secondly, I got to starve my flesh.  I don’t want to run to the thing that compliments.  But there’s a third thing and I think it’s simple.  Ask.  You want to be poor in spirit?  Ask.  There’s one thing about a beggar.  He’s always what?  Asking.  You ever notice that.  Always.  Ask.  “Lord,” said the sinner, “be merciful to me, a sinner.”  Jesus said, “That man went home justified.”  Happy is the beggar in his spirit.  He’s the one who possesses the kingdom.  Why did Jesus begin with this?  Because it’s the bottom line.

What does it mean?  It means to be spiritually bankrupt and know it.  What is the result?  You become a possessor of the kingdom here and now and forever.  How do you become poor in spirit?  Look at God.  Starve your flesh.  And ask, beg.  He doesn’t mind a bit

How do you know if you’re poor in spirit?  You’ll be weaned from yourself, lost in the wonder of Christ, and you’ll never complain about your situation because the deeper you get the sweeter the grace. 

Fourth.  You will see only the excellencies of others and only your own weakness.  You will see only the excellencies of others and only your own weakness.  Poor in spirit, the truly humble, is the only one who has to look up to everybody else. 

Fifth.  You will spend much time in prayer.  Why?  Because a beggar is always begging.  He knocks very often at heaven’s gate and he doesn’t let go until he’s blessed.  You want to know if you’re poor in spirit?  Are you weaned from yourself?  Are you lost in the wonder of Christ?  Are you never complaining no matter what the situation?  Do you see only the excellencies of others and only your own weakness?  Do you spend much time begging for grace? 

Six.  If you’re poor in spirit, you’ll take Christ on his terms, not yours.  You will take Christ on his terms, not yours.  The proud sinner will have Christ at his pleasure, Christ and his covetousness, Christ and his immorality.  The poor in spirit is so desperate he will give up anything just to get Christ, see.

Then Jesus said that blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted (verse 4).

The interpretation which is often heard is that when we mourn the death of our loved ones or another type of loss, God will comfort us. That is true.

However, Jesus intended a spiritual mourning for the state of our souls.

MacArthur says that this has to do with repentance:

Listen, you can cry your eyes out about your problems and you can weep all you want about loneliness, and about discouragement, and about disappointment, and out of earnest love, and you can weep all you want about all those things, and you can cry your head off about your unfulfilled lusts, and when you’re said and done, every bit of that worldly sorrow will not bring you life.

There’s only one kind of sorrow that brings life, and that is godly sorrow, which leads you to – what? repentance.  Therefore, we conclude that it is sorrow over – what? – sin that is the issue That’s the issue.  It is godly sorrow, sorrow over sin.  The sorrow of the world is useless.  It works death where godly sorrow works repentance, which brings salvation, which brings comfort.  That’s the whole idea.  That’s the key.  Godly sorrow is linked to repentance, and repentance is linked to sin …

You’re not mourning here over circumstances, human circumstances.  Over sin is what you’re mourning about.  Remember verse three, where the beatitudes all began?  “Blessed are the poor in spirit for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”  What does it mean to be poor in spirit?  I told you.  It’s a sense of being spiritually bankrupt.  It is the thing that says “in my flesh there dwelleth – ” what? “ – no good thing.”  That’s what it is. 

And that’s the intellectual part, and verse 4 is the emotional part Because your mind is convinced that you are spiritually bankrupt, your emotion takes over and you mourn that bankruptcy Such are kingdom people.

David’s Psalm 51 is one of many illustrations of mourning the state of one’s soul:

In Psalm 51, reflecting on the same sin with Bathsheba he said, “Have mercy upon me, O God, according to thy loving kindness, according to the multitude of thy tender mercies blot out my transgressions.  Wash me thoroughly from mine iniquity; cleanse me from my sin For I acknowledge my transgressions and my sin is ever before me.”  I can’t get it out of my vision.  I can’t get it out of my mind. 

Verse 10, “Create in me a clean heart, O God.  Renew a right spirit within me.  Cast me not away from thy presence, and take not thy Holy Spirit from me.  Restore unto me the joy of thy salvation, and uphold me with a willing spirit.”  Listen.  When he mourned his sin and he confessed his sin, he was cleaned out.  It was a whole different attitude. 

Verse 32 illustrates the comfort that God’s forgiveness of sin brings:

And you know what he said in Psalm 32 when he got it all out?  He said, “Blessed, happy.  Happy is the man who mourns, because happy is the one whose transgression is forgiven, whose sin is covered.  Happy is the man unto whom the Lord does not impute iniquity.”  You know why mourners are happy?  Because mourners over sin who are the only ones who are – what? forgiven.  The rest of the world has to live with that guilt endlessly with no relief.

Beloved, let me say this.  The happiness doesn’t come in the mourning.  It comes in what God does in response to it.  You just try as a Christian to keep sin in your life and bottle it up and you just see how ruinous it becomes.  You confess it and see the freedom and the joy that comes in forgiveness …

Listen.  Nobody ever came into the kingdom of God who didn’t mourn over his own sinfulness.  And you can’t verify to me that you’re a true Christians or to anyone else unless throughout your life there is the same sense of grief over the sin in your own life.

Now I don’t mind being happy because I’m forgiven, but I can’t enjoy that happiness until I have dealt with sin.  A child of God is one constantly broken over sinfulness You know it’s hard for me to be happy much any more.  It really is.  I used to be a lot happier than I am now.  I know too much to be happy

MacArthur means this:

going back to Matthew chapter 5, the verb here is a present tense, penthountes, continuous action, “the ones who are continually mourning are the ones continually being comforted.”  Luther in his 95 Theses said that our entire life is a continuous act of repentance and contrition.  David cried it out, Psalm 38, “For my iniquities are gone over my head.  Like a heavy burden they are too heavy for me.”  It was a way of life.  He just faced his sin as a reality all through his life.

You know something?  In all of the New Testament we find so much about Jesus, but one thing we never see Jesus do in the whole New Testament account is laugh He never laughed.  Oh, I don’t know if he did laugh or not, but it isn’t recorded.  Hard for me to imagine that he had much to laugh about.  He was hungry.  He was angry.  He was thirsty, but it never says he laughed, and that’s such a part of human emotion.  But it does say he wept.  He was a man of sorrows acquainted with grief. 

I think we’ve left that.  We have been sucked into an entertainment, thrill seeking, pleasure mad, silly world of fools and jesters and comedians, some of them even trying to ply their trade in the church.  Do you know that it was man introduced the other night on Christian television program as the leading Christian comedian?  Who needs that?  That’s what it means.  You understand now don’t you what it means to mourn over your sin?

What’s the result of it?  Second question.  These will be shorter.  And I didn’t say all I wanted to say, either, about that.  You realize that you just get the tip of the iceberg week after week.  Living with that frustration is very difficult.  What is the result of mourning?  You say, “So what’s it going to get me?  I mourn around, mope around, sorry for my sin, what do I get?”  Comfort, comfort.  By the way, as I said before, mourners are not blessed because they mourn, mourners are blessed because they comfort.  You don’t mourn, you don’t get comforted.  You just try to hide your guilt and it eats away.  There’s no happiness in the sorrow of the world because it can’t be comforted.

And by the way, they use the emphatic pronoun autoi here, which means “blessed are they who continue to mourn for they alone shall be comforted.”  It is only the mourners who know the comfort of God.  It is only those who mourn for sin who know what it is to have their tears dried by the loving hand of Jesus Christ.  They shall be comforted, parakale from which we get paraclte, the one called alongside to help, the one that Jesus referred to, the comforter. 

By the way, the Bible tells us God is a comforter, Psalm 30:5, Psalm 50:15, Isaiah 55:6-7, Micah 7:18-20, and on and on and on talks about the comfort that God gives us.  He helps us, he succors us, he hears our cry, he meets our need, he’s always there beseeching, and admonishing, and consoling, and sympathizing, and encouraging, and strengthening, and forgiving, and restoring, and that adds up to comfort.

As our mourning rises to the throne of God, His unsurpassed and matchless comfort descends from Him by Christ to us.  “God is a God of all comfort,” the Bible says.  And did you know who the comforter was?  Jesus … said, “When I go away, I’ll send another – ” what? “ – comforter.”  …  God, the God of all comfort, Christ, the first Paraclete, called alongside to help, and the Holy Spirit followed up on the work God is a God of comfort.  Christ is a Christ of comfort.  The Holy Spirit is a Spirit of comfort.

Jesus said that blessed are the meek, because they will inherit the earth (verse 5).

Meekness is similar to yet different from humility.

MacArthur explains the progression, which related to the urge for political domination, something the Jews wanted over the Romans. Yet, Jesus addressed the spiritual side and proclaimed meekness, recognising God’s holiness and pursuing godliness:

Meek.  It’s different from broken in spirit.  Let me show you how.  The root word is the same idea – different word, same idea.  But let me show you.  In fact, some places in the Bible these two words could be used interchangeably, but there’s a beautiful distinction made here.  Now watch.  “Broken in spirit” centers on my sinfulness, okay?  Verse 3, “Broken in spirit” centers on my sinfulness.  “Meekness” centers on God’s holiness.  Two sides of the same thing.  Broken in spirit because I’m a sinner and meek because God is so holy by comparison.  Two sides of the same thing.

Look at it another way.  Broken in spirit is negative and it results in mourning.  Meekness is positive and it results in seeking righteousness.  See?  It’s just the other side of this thing.  That’s the beauty of the sequence.  There’s a progression here.  First of all, there is this brokenness, this tremendous sense of sinfulness and it’s negative and it results in mourning.  And then, all of a sudden, you begin to see the other side of itYou begin to see a holy God, and that’s meekness.  And then you begin to hunger after his holiness.  You see the sequence, the flow? 

“Happiness,” Jesus says, “Happiness, blessedness.  Oh, that’s for people like this, people who are – watch – realistic about their sin, who are repentant about their sin, who are responsive to God.”  And the unblessed and the unhappy and those shut out of the kingdom are the arrogant, self-sufficient, self-righteous, unrepentant, stiff-necked, proud people.  Man this was devastating.  Ooh. 

You see, the Zealots were saying, “We want a military Messiah.  We want a military kingdom.”  The Pharisees were saying, “We want a miraculous Messiah.  We want a miraculous kingdom.”  By the way, the Sadducees were saying, “We want a materialistic one.”  They were the materialists.  I suppose the Essenes were over in the corner saying, “We want a monastic one.”  But Jesus said, “I’ll give you a meek one.”  The kingdom is not going to be materialism.  It’s not going to be monasticism.  It’s not going to be militarism, and it’s not going to be just flashy miracles.  It’s going to be for the meek. 

And, you know, our world will still have trouble with that. Our world is, associates happiness and success with strength, and confidence, and self assurance, and survival of the fittest, and conquest, and power. That wasn’t Jesus’ way. His kingdom is for people who are meek.

MacArthur says that meekness also ran throughout the Old Testament and cites several passages.

He then gives us the biblical definition, which does not mean being a doormat, by the way. It means to be submissive towards God:

Look further.  “The meek” comes from a Greek word.  The root is praus.  And it means basically, here’s the root, “mild, gentle, and soft.”  Mild, gentle, and soft.  So the idea is a person who is gentle, mild, tenderhearted.  Somebody who’s patient.  Somebody who’s just submissive, and so forth.  Now that’s the root concept:  Mild, gentle, soft, patient, kind, quiet, willing, submissive … 

It is a byproduct of self emptying, of self humiliation. It is a brokenness before God.

Meekness also means exercising self-control over one’s own power:

When Jesus came into the city, you see, he didn’t come on a white charger conquering and to conquer. He came riding in on the colt, the foal of a jackass. I mean, that was really low-class transportation. He was meek. Further, let me say something to you about it. It is a gentleness, and a mildness, and a subdued character – watch this – it is not weakness. It is power under control. Get that definition

It’s Ephesians 4:26It’s okay to be angry, but don’t sin.  In other words, let it be a righteous anger, a controlled anger for God’s purposes.  Don’t be angry because you’ve been offended, be angry because God has, see?  It’s anger for the right reason at the right time

Meekness doesn’t mean impotence.  It is power under control.  And if you examine Proverbs 25:28 it says, “He that hath no rule over his spirit is like a city that is broken down and without walls.”  That’s power out of control.  You’ve got power, but there’s nothing to contain it, and it’s like a destroyed city.  On the other hand, Proverbs 16:32 says, “He who is slow to anger is better than the mighty, and he who rules his spirit than he who takes a city.”  In other words, to rule the spirit is meekness.  To be out of control is the lack of meekness.  It is power under control … 

Power under control.  They trust in God.  They delight in him.  And God promises to give them the earth.  It isn’t cowardice.  It isn’t flabbiness.  It isn’t a wishy-washy lack of conviction.  It isn’t just human niceness.  Meekness says, “In myself, nothing is possible.  But in God, everything is possible.”  Meekness says, “For me, I offer no defense.  For God, I’ll give my life.  For God I’ll die.”  It’s not a passive acceptance of sin, but it’s an anger under control.  It’s holy indignation. 

Illustration. “For even hereunto were you called, because Christ also suffered for us, leaving us an example that you should follow his steps.”  Now here’s real meekness.  He did no sin.  Neither was guile found in his mouth.  Now start right there.  He never did anything wrong.  So, whatever anybody accused him of was false accusation.  So whatever anybody punished him for was wrong.  Whenever they abused him, they were out of line.  Whenever they slandered him, they were wrong.  Whenever they mocked him, it was a lie, because he never did anything wrong.  He never sinned.  He never deceived.  He never did anything wrong. 

And even though he never deserved any criticism, when it came – in verse 23 – and when he was reviled, he didn’t revile again.  And when he suffered, he didn’t threaten.  He just committed Himself to him that judges righteously.

Stop right there.  That’s meekness.  Jesus never defended himself, never.  But when they desecrated his Father’s temple, he made a whip and started beating them, didn’t he?  Meekness says, “I’ll never defend myself, but I’ll die defending God.”  That’s meekness.  “I’ll never defend myself.  I’ll die defending God.” 

As for inheriting the earth, MacArthur says:

The people in the kingdom shall inherit the earth and the only ones who enter my kingdom are the meek, not the proud. The ones that are broken over their sin, not the ones who think they have no sin. The ones who are mourning over the fact that they’re lost, not the ones who are laughing about the fact that they’re supposedly all right.

Jesus said that blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteouness, for they will be filled (verse 6). This is another verse that is often misinterpreted in a socio-political context, yet it builds on the preceding Beatitudes and has spiritual, not temporal, significance.

MacArthur explains:

in your meekness before God, you realize that the only hope you have of ever knowing righteousness is to seek it at His hand, and so you come to the fourth Beatitude and you hunger and thirst after what you know is not yours on your own

So the progression is simple.  Martyn Lloyd-Jones writes:  “This Beatitude follows logically from the previous ones.  It is a statement to which all the others lead.  It is the logical conclusion to which they come.  It is something for which we should all be profoundly thankful and grateful to God.  I do not know of a better test that anyone can apply to himself or herself in this whole matter of the Christian profession than a verse like this.  If this verse is to you one of the most blessed statements of the whole of Scripture, you can be quite certain you’re a Christian.  If it is not, you had better examine your foundations again.” 

Because if you have been broken in your spirit and are overwhelmed with your sinfulness and you mourn over your sinfulness and then you look up to recognize the holiness of God, the response should be that you hunger and thirst for what He has that you need And if you do not hunger and thirst after righteousness, you are not a citizen of God’s kingdom.  Our society chases all the wrong things, you see.  They chase money, materialism, fame, popularity, pleasure, usually all because of greed, not need, but it’s all the wrong stuff.  And you know the sad part of it is, even though the United States grants us the pursuit of happiness, people don’t find it because they define happiness in a wrong way.  Happiness is money.  Happiness is pleasure.  Happiness is having material things.  Here it says happiness is brokenness, happiness is mourning, happiness is meekness, happiness is hungering and thirsting after righteousness. 

This is spiritual thirst, spiritual hunger, neither of which abates in the true believer:

The Greek verbs are just very powerful.  Peinntes means to be needy, to suffer hunger.  It has the idea of a deep hunger, not just superficiality.  The word dipsa, to suffer thirst Again, it carries the idea of a genuine thirst And here they are, the strongest impulses in the natural realm.  And by the way, they are in a continuous present participle The ones who are hungering.  The ones who are thirsting.  It is a continuous thing.  And so I say to you, beloved, this is not only the one – the condition of the one coming in, but this is the condition of the one in the kingdom. 

You know – I’ll put it this way:  When I came to Jesus Christ, I hungered and thirsted for His righteousness, and now that I know Him, I hunger and thirst for more of it, right?  That’s what He’s saying.  In fact, Lenski, the great commentator, says:  “This hunger and this thirst increases in the very act of being satisfied.”  Luke adds a note to this.  Luke has a parallel passage and he adds the word “now.”  “Blessed are they who are hungering now.”  It is a present, it is a continuous thing.  It is a moment-by-moment way of life.  When you become a Christian, you don’t stop

This is because sanctification is involved. Paul urged the Thessalonians, even in their abundant faith and love, to improve on that. It is part of the Christian journey:

Happiness is a byproduct.  Happy are those who hunger and thirst after what?  Righteousness.  You want to be happy, it comes as a byproduct of righteousness.  It’s not any holy high you get with some zap.  It’s not some experience you find.  That isn’t what it is.  Dikaiosun, righteousness, justification to be made right with God.  And what am I saying?  Listen, simple, the only real happiness in life is to be right with God That’s it.  The only real happiness in life is to be right with God.  And I believe this points to two things First of all, salvation and second of all, sanctification.  First of all, salvation and second, sanctification … 

Now let me say it in simplicity:  Happiness belongs to the holy That’s what he’s saying.  If you’re unhappy in your life, somewhere along the line, you’re unholy.  Jesus was talking to Jews who thought they were righteous.  To them holiness was a conformity to rules, it was an external thing.  But it wasn’t enough.  That’s why Jesus said, “Unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you’ll never enter the kingdom.”  Their righteousness doesn’t cut it.  The Beatitudes took the external, stripped it away and forced us to look at the inside.  And when you hunger and thirst for salvation, then you’ll be filled

But there’s a second element.  I think it also implies sanctification.  I don’t think once you get saved you stop hungering and thirsting, as I said.  Then you hunger and thirst for sanctification, for an increasing holiness.  Beloved, I don’t know how to express this as strongly as I feel it.  I hope in your life there is this hunger, hunger that never stops, the desires to be more and more like Christ.  This is a mark of a Christian.  You keep on hungering, you keep on thirsting to desire more virtue, a greater purity, more Christlikeness You never get to the place where you’ve arrived. 

Jesus said that blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy (verse 7).

MacArthur says that the first four Beatitudes point to the inner life. The one about those who are merciful points towards outward actions:

These first four Beatitudes were entirely inner principles.  They dealt entirely with an inner attitude.  They dealt entirely with what you see of yourself before God.  But now, as He comes to the fifth Beatitude, this, while being also an inner attitude, begins to reach out and touch others.  There is a manifestation in this that is the fruit of the other four … 

So we’ve made a transition now.  Now we’re going to talk about the character that is manifest when that inward attitude is there in the first four Beatitudes.  When you have those first four, there are going to be four characteristics of your character that will be made manifest, and we’ll see them as we study these last four areas in this wonderful introduction. 

Now, you know, there are a lot of people who’ve tried to use this Beatitude in kind of a humanistic way

It isn’t simply the idea that if you’re merciful to everybody, then everybody’s going to be merciful to you.  That’s wishful thinking in a Roman society, and I’ll tell you something else:  It’s wishful thinking in our selfish, grasping, competitive society.  You know, in our society we could say, “You be merciful to somebody else and he’ll step on your neck.”  That doesn’t always work.  But the best illustration of the fact that it’s not just a human platitude is our Lord, Jesus Christ.  He proves once and for all that it isn’t a human platitude. 

MacArthur gives us examples of our Lord’s mercy:

Jesus Christ came into the world and was the most merciful human being that ever lived Jesus Christ came into the world and never did anything to harm anybody Never.  Jesus Christ came into the world, He reached out to the sick and He healed them And He reached out to the crippled and He gave them legs to walk.  And He reached to the eyes of the blind and they saw and to the ears of the deaf and they heard and to the mouths of the dumb and they spoke.  And He found the prostitutes and the tax collectors and those that were debauched and He drew them into the circle of His love and He redeemed them and He set them on their feet He picked up the sorrowing, He wept with them, and He took the lonely and He made them feel like they were loved.  And He took little children and He gathered them into His arms and He loved them Never was there a human being who ever lived in the face of the earth with the mercy of this one. 

Once He was going along the streets and a funeral procession came by, and He saw a mother weeping because her son was dead and who would care?  No son, no husband.  And Jesus reached out in the midst of the funeral procession, stopped the casket, put His hand on it, and raised the child from the dead and gave him back to his mother.  In John chapter 8, some men had caught a woman in adultery and they dragged that woman into the presence of Jesus, and He looked at that woman after He had talked with her and after He’d confronted her accusers and He forgave her and He said, “Neither do I condemn thee.  Go and sin no more.”  What mercy. 

He ate with tax collectors, He ate with sinners, and when the scribes and Pharisees saw Him eat with the tax collectors and the sinners in Mark chapter 2, verse 16, they said to His disciples, “How is it that He eats and drinks with publicans and sinners?  He runs around with the riffraff.”  From start to finish, the life of the blessed Lord Jesus was one of constant mercy.  He was merciful to everyone.  Listen, I’m telling you something, people:  Mercy given doesn’t mean mercy returned.  You can’t work that human platitude in Jesus’ case.  You know what?  He was the most merciful human being that ever lived and they screamed for His blood and they slammed Him to a cross and they nailed Him there.  That’s not a human platitude.  Doesn’t make it.  That’s not what it’s talking about.  If mercy carried its own reward, they wouldn’t have nailed the most merciful being that ever lived to a cross and spit in His face and cursed Him.  The most merciful one who ever lived received from the people to whom He gave mercy no mercy at all

MacArthur explores the Greek and the Hebrew words for mercy:

Let’s look at the word “merciful.”  Elemnes.  The word is only used twice in the entire New Testament Once it is used here and once it is used in Hebrews chapter 2 and verse 17, and there it says, “Wherefore in all things it behooved him to be made like his brother and that he might be a merciful and faithful” – what? – “high priest.”  Christ is the great illustration of mercy.  He is our high priest who intercedes for us, and it is from Him that mercy comes.  The verb form, however, is used many, many times in the Bible.  It is very, very common.  It is common in the Old Testament, Septuagint, the Greek edition.  The Hebrew synonym would be chesed and it is also very common.  The word simply means to have mercy on – now listen – to succor the afflicted, to give help to the wretched, and to rescue the miserable.  It’s a very broad idea. 

Anything you do that is of benefit to someone in need, that’s mercy.  Very broad idea, we think of mercy so much in terms of its aspect of forgiveness in salvation, but it’s a very broad term.  It means compassion in action.  It goes beyond compassion.  It goes beyond sympathy.  It means compassion in action, sympathy in action toward anyone who has any need.  And when our Lord talks about it here, the real elemnes, the real stuff, is not a weak sympathy which carnal selfishness feels but never does anything to help.  It is not that false mercy which really indulges its own flesh in salving of conscience by giving tokenism.  It is not the silent, passive pity which could be genuine but never seems to be able to help in a tangible way.  It’s not any of those superficial things.  It is genuine compassion with a pure, unselfish motive that reaches out to help somebody in need.  That’s what it is. 

In other words, Jesus was saying to them, “The people in my kingdom aren’t takers, they’re givers.  The people in my kingdom aren’t condemners, they’re mercy givers.  The people in my kingdom aren’t the ones who set themselves above everybody, they’re the people who stoop to help everybody.”

Forgiveness and love are also connected to mercy:

We cannot think of mercy without its expression in forgiveness.  We cannot think of forgiveness without its source: mercy.  But listen, people, forgiveness is not the only expression of mercy … 

Forgiveness flows out of mercy, mercy flows out of what?  Love.  Why has God been merciful?  It is based on love.  But God, who is rich in mercy – why?  For His great love wherewith He loved us.  You see the sequence?  God loves and love is merciful and mercy is forgiving, among many other things.  And so love is behind mercy, but love is bigger than mercy, if you can imagine this. 

You say, “Now wait a minute.  You said mercy was bigger than forgiveness.”  That’s right.  Mercy is bigger than forgiveness and love is bigger than mercy.  Because love can do a lot of things, a lot more than just show mercy.  Because mercy presupposes a problem and love can act when there isn’t a problem, right?  The Father loves the Son, the Son doesn’t need mercy.  The Son loves the Father and the Father doesn’t need mercy.  The Father loves the angels and the angels love the Father and neither one of them need mercy.  Love is bigger than mercy.  Mercy is the physician.  Love is the friend.  Love acts out of affection, mercy acts out of need.  Love is constant, mercy is reserved for times of trouble.  But there’s no mercy without love.  But love is bigger than mercy. 

Then there is grace:

What about mercy and grace?  People say, “Well, is mercy like grace?” and “Is grace like mercy?”  Well, yes and no.  Now listen, you’re going to really get a theological exercise, so hang on.  The term “mercy” and all of its derivatives – listen – always deal with elements of pain and misery and distress Always the result of sin, whether it’s individual sin or just the sin of the world, just the problem of being in a sinful world You see, mercy always presupposes problems.  It deals with the pain and the misery and the distress.  But grace deals with the sin itself.  Mercy deals with the symptoms, grace deals with the problem. 

You see, mercy offers relief from punishment Grace offers pardon for the crime.  You understand?  First comes grace and grace removes the sin and then mercy eliminates the punishment They’re different.  You know, in three of his letters – and he never does it in a letter to a church, he only does it in letters to individuals, 1 Timothy, 2 Timothy, and Titus, Paul says “mercy and grace and peace.”  Mercy and grace are different.  Mercy eliminates the pain and grace grants a better condition.  Let me give you an illustration.  The Good Samaritan, right?  He’s lying – the man’s lying on the side of the road, he’s been beaten to the point of dying, he’s been robbed, and the priest goes by and walks along and doesn’t want to get involved.  And the Levite goes by, doesn’t want to get involved.  All the sudden, a half-breed Samaritan comes by and he sees this poor Jew all beaten and maimed and so forth, and he goes over and he cares for him You know what mercy does?  Mercy relieves his pain.  Mercy pours oil in his wombs and mercy binds up his wounds.  And mercy relieves the suffering.  And you know what grace does?  Grace goes over and rents him a room so he can live in an inn. 

You see, mercy deals with the negative and grace puts it in the positive.  Mercy takes away the pain and grace gives a better condition.  Mercy says no hell, grace says heaven.  Mercy says I pity you, grace says I pardon you.  So mercy and grace are two sides of the same marvelous thing And God offers mercy and grace. 

However, we cannot forget justice:

People say, “Well, if God is a God of justice, how can He be merciful?”  If you look at it that way, if God’s a just, holy, righteous God, can He just negate justice?  Can He say, “Well, I know you’re a sinner and I know you’ve done awful things, but oh, I love you so much and I have so much mercy, I’m just going to forgive you”?  Can He do that?  Yeah, He can.  You know why?  Because He came into the world in human form and died upon a cross, and at the cross when Jesus died – don’t ever forget it – justice was satisfied. 

Did you get that?  God said there would be no forgiveness of sin without the shedding of blood and God said there had to be a perfect sacrifice to bear the sins of the world, and Jesus was that and justice was satisfied.  And now mercy does no violation to justice.  I’m not – when I talk about the mercy of God, it’s not some foolish sentimentality that excuses sin.  Listen, we got too much of that going on, even in the church.  The only time God ever extended mercy to anybody was when somebody paid the price for the sin involved.

And God will never violate the truth of His justice and His holiness to be merciful He will be merciful, but only when truth has been dealt with

We’re not talking about sentimentality.  I’m not telling you that if you sin your life away and never acknowledge Jesus Christ, God’s going to be merciful and accept you.  That’s not true.  You will have judgment without mercy.  And I believe that the only time God can really give mercy is when the truth has been accepted Only when we accept the sacrifice of Christ or as Christians who’ve done that, if God is to be merciful to us, then we must confess sin as sin and repent and turn from it, and then we’ll know His mercy. 

So, mercy is special It is more than forgiveness.  It is less than love.  It is different than grace.  And it is one with justice.  It is more than forgiveness, less than love, different than grace, and one with justice.  To sum up the significance of being a merciful person, listen to this:  The merciful not only hears the insults of evil men, but his heart reaches out to the very same evil men in compassion.  The merciful one is sympathetic.  He is forgiving.  He is gracious.  He is loving.  He’s not so sentimental that He will excuse evil.  He’s not so sentimental that He will allow for sin to go unpunished or unconfronted just because somebody is kind of sad or tragic.  No, mercy means you reach out in sympathy and total forgiveness and love and grace when truth is accepted Psalm 37:21 says this:  “The wicked borrows and pays not back, but the righteous shows mercy.”  We’re going to be merciful to those who accept the truth. 

Jesus said that blessed are the pure in heart — the holy — for they will see God (verse 8).

Matthew Henry tells us:

This is the most comprehensive of all the beatitudes; here holiness and happiness are fully described and put together.

1. Here is the most comprehensive character of the blessed: they are pure in heart. Note, True religion consists in heart-purity. Those who are inwardly pure, show themselves to be under the power of pure and undefiled religion. True Christianity lies in the heart, in the purity of heart; the washing of that from wickedness, Jer 4 14. We must lift up to God, not only clean hands, but a pure heart, Ps 24 4, 5; 1 Tim 1 5. The heart must be pure, in opposition to mixturean honest heart that aims well; and pure, in opposition to pollution and defilement; as wine unmixed, as water unmuddied. The heart must be kept pure from fleshly lusts, all unchaste thoughts and desires; and from worldly lusts; covetousness is called filthy lucre; from all filthiness of flesh and spirit, all that which come out of the heart, and defiles the man. The heart must be purified by faith, and entire for God; must be presented and preserved a chaste virgin to Christ. Create in me such a clean heart, O God!

2. Here is the most comprehensive comfort of the blessed; They shall see God. Note, (1.) It is the perfection of the soul’s happiness to see God; seeing him, as we may by faith in our present state, is a heaven upon earth; and seeing him as we shall in the future state, in the heaven of heaven. To see him as he is, face to face, and no longer through a glass darkly; to see him as ours, and to see him and enjoy him; to see him and be like him, and be satisfied with that likeness (Ps 17 15); and to see him for ever, and never lose the sight of him; this is heaven’s happiness. (2.) The happiness of seeing God is promised to those, and those only, who are pure in heart. None but the pure are capable of seeing God, nor would it be a felicity to the impure. What pleasure could an unsanctified soul take in the vision of a holy God? As he cannot endure to look upon their iniquity, so they cannot endure to look upon his purity; nor shall any unclean thing enter into the new Jerusalem; but all that are pure in heart, all that are truly sanctified, have desires wrought in them, which nothing but the sight of God will sanctify; and divine grace will not leave those desires unsatisfied.

MacArthur lays out the progression of the Beatitudes thus far and prepares us for the next, that of the peacemakers:

… you begin with the reality of being poor in spirit.  And when you see yourself as a cowering beggar in a corner, reaching out a hand that can only be given a gift, you have no power to earn anything.  And as a cowering beggar, ashamed to show your face, you reach out in tremendous sense of inadequacy.  You reach out to God.  That’s where it begins, and then in your reaching out as a beggar, your next response is to mourn over the sin that has put you in that position.  And out of your total sense of sinfulness, you fall meek before an absolutely holy God You couldn’t be anything else but humble.  And in your humility, all you can do is cry out and hunger and thirst for a righteousness which you can’t attain and yet you’ve got to have.  And you cry that God would give it.  And then what happens?  He gives you mercy and that’s the next Beatitude and you become one of those who are merciful.  And once you have been granted mercy and once God by His mercy has cleansed your heart because you hungered for His righteousness, then and then alone do you become pure in heart, and only when you are pure in heart could you ever be a peacemaker. 

Jesus said that the peacemakers are blessed, for they will be called children of God (verse 9).

MacArthur says that the peacemakers are not politicians, statesmen or diplomats:

God’s peacemakers are vastly different, which is good because the world’s peacemakers have a terrible failure record … 

I’ll never forget reading a statistic.  The question was:  How many peace treaties have been broken?  The answer:  All of them.  You see, peace is that glorious brief moment in history when everybody stops to reload.  The United Nations was concerned in the aftermath of World War II with developing an agency for world peace, and so in 1945, the United Nations brought itself into existence, and since that time there has not been one single day of peace on the earth — not one.  The world is filled with never-ending upheavals.  The motto of the United Nations was set in 1945:  “To have succeeding generations free from the scourge of war.”  So far they haven’t done it for one day.  It’s a pipe dream.

He defines peace through the Jewish greeting, ‘Shalom’:

Peace is not just stopping the war; peace is creating the righteousness that brings the two parties together in love.  When a Jew says to another Jew, “Shalom,” which is the word for peace, he doesn’t mean “May you have no wars, may you have no conflict,” he means “I desire for you all the righteousness that God can give, all the goodness that God can give.”  Shalom means “God’s highest good for you.”  It’s a creative force for goodness.  So if we are to be peacemakers, we do not only stop the war, we replace it with the righteousness of God We replace it with all the goodness of God.  Peacemakers are those who not only call a truce but a real peace where all is forgotten, and they embrace one another.  It is an aggressive good.  What I’m trying to say is that peace is not creating a vacuum.  Peace is not creating the absence of something, but the presence of something

The peace of the Bible does not evade issues.  It never evades issues.  The peace of the Bible is not peace at any price.  It isn’t a gloss.  The peace of the Bible conquers the problem.  You see the difference?  It conquers that problem in the middle ground so that the two can come together.  It builds a bridge to two sides.  Sometimes it means struggle.  Sometimes it means pain.  Sometimes it means anguish.  Sometimes it means a little more strife but in the end, real peace can come. 

Peace is linked to holiness — purity of heart:

The wisdom that is from God finds its way to peace through what?  Purity.  First pure, then peaceable.  Peace is never sought at the expense of righteousness.  You have not made peace between two people unless they have seen the sin and the error and the wrongness of the bitterness and the hatred and they have resolved to bring it before God and make it right, then through purity comes peace Peace that ignores purity is not the peace that God talks about.  In Hebrews 12:14, it says this, and another word that you must remember:  “Follow peace with all men and holiness.”  In other words, you cannot divorce peace from holiness.  You cannot divorce peace from purity.  You cannot divorce peace from righteousness.  Psalm 85:10 says, “Righteousness and peace have kissed each other.”  Where there is real peace, there is righteousness.  Where there is real peace, there is holiness.  Where there is real peace, there is purity, because that resolves the issue. 

Paradoxically, biblical peace is not without conflict:

When Jesus says, “Be a peacemaker in the world,” that doesn’t mean you don’t ever bring up anything that is true if it offends somebody.  On the contrary, you better bring it up if it’s true and it better offend them so they can get past that to the real peace.  Biblical peace is real peace.  We are not peacemakers in the world in the sense that we never make strife.  We make strife all the time.  But we are peacemakers in the world in this sense, that when the strife is over the real peace is there.  Biblical peace is that kind of peace.  Now, we are not agreeing to just settle things without dealing with truth.  We will deal with truth.  And if you’re going to deal with truth, beloved, you’re going to be a divider You’re going to be a disturber, you’re going to be a disrupter.  There’s no way to get around it. 

And you know, you see that, don’t you?  You go to work and you start to live for Christ and you start to give your testimony and all of a sudden, here you are trying to be a peacemaker and help people to make peace with God and help them make peace with each other and help them make peace in their own hearts, but you’re doing your best to get them to make peace and all they can do is get mad at you Because the whole premise of your message is that they have to deal with sin, and people don’t like to hear that so they get very upset.  Our Lord said in Luke 12:51, “Do you suppose that I am come to give peace on earth?  I tell you nay, but rather division.  From henceforth there shall be five in one house divided, three against two and two against three.  The father shall be divided against the son, the son against the father, the mother against the daughter, the daughter against the mother, the mother-in-law against the daughter-in-law, and the daughter-in-law against the mother-in-law.”  In other words, Jesus said it’s very obvious at the beginning that when people come to Jesus Christ there will be conflict And He knows that true peace can only come when truth reigns and it’s more than a truce It’s a real peace. 

MacArthur gives us a practical application for us to discern if we are peacemakers. This follows on from the previous Beatitudes:

You have righteousness in your life, you have purity in your life, you have holiness in your life and you’ll have peace in your life.  And if you’ve got problems in your marriage and there’s conflict in your marriage and conflict in your family or in your home, I’ll tell you one thing: You have righteousness, holiness, and purity in your marriage and your home and you’ll have peace in your home.  Because that’s always the way.  Once you have righteousness, you’re at peace with God, peace with man, peace with self. 

And so to be a peacemaker, you’ve got to go through all the Beatitudes.  You’ve got to come to the place where you see your own sinfulness, you see yourself as a wretched soul, miserable, deserving nothing with no rights or privileges, hating your natural self, crying out to a holy God to give you a righteousness you could never get but must have.  And God, in His great, great love, gives you mercy, purifies your heart, and then and only then will you ever be a peacemaker

Peace belongs to God.  It doesn’t belong to man at all.  In fact, you want to hear something?  Since the fall of man, in Genesis 3, man has never known peace unless he took it as a gift from God, because man doesn’t have it.  God is perfect peace.  In fact, God is at perfect peace with Himself.  God is characterized by perfect oneness.  The Trinity has perfect oneness.  It is absolutely tranquil.  It is in absolute harmony.  It is perfectly united.  In the Trinity, there is no conflict.  There is only peace and that radiates from God.  The only way we’ll ever know peace is if God comes to us.  And I love the statement of Ephesians 2:14 that tells us that’s exactly what He did.  It says, “For He” – that is Christ – “is our peace.”  When Christ came into the world, He was the peace of God coming to take the hand of God and the hand of man and by His own sacrifice make man righteous and join his hand to God. 

MacArthur says that true peacemakers help people make peace with God:

There’s a second thing:  A peacemaker is one who has peace himself with God and, secondly, one who helps others make peace with God.  One who helps others make peace with God.  I think Jesus had in mind here evangelism I think that’s the greatest thing about peacemaking.  You can go to somebody who’s at war with God and make peace between that person and God, right?  And I’ll tell you something else.  Anybody who is unsaved is at odds with you, too, because they’re out of the family.  They’re cursed by God.  They’re set apart from the kingdom.  And the minute they come to Jesus Christ, they make peace with God and peace with you, they become God’s child and your brother, right?  Evangelism is peacemaking.  What a fabulous thought.  The best way to be a peacemaker is to preach the gospel of peace.  To impart to men the gospel so that their alienation from God can be ended.  So that their alienation from the church, the body of Christ, from your fellowship, can be ended.  And they can be at peace.  No wonder it says in Romans 10:15, “How beautiful are the feet of them that preach the gospel of” – what? – “peace.” 

You see, it’s a beautiful thing to bring people to a peaceful relationship with God.  You want to really be a peacemaker?  Just tell somebody about Jesus Christ.  That’s infinitely beyond what any mortal politician or statesman has ever accomplished in a political sense.  That’s ultimate, eternal, real peace. 

Jesus discusses the final beatitude — the blessed state of those who are persecuted for righeteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven — in verses 10 and 11.

MacArthur explains why:

Now, I really believe that this is one Beatitude The reason I believe it’s the same one is because the term “persecute” is used in verse 10, and the term “persecute” is used again in verse 11 It’s really the same thing, it’s just expanded in verse 11.  Another reason I believe it’s really only one Beatitude is that there’s only one result given.  You take verse 10 and 11, and the only result is at the end of verse 10:  “For theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”  Now, all of the Beatitudes have a promise with the character, and there’s only one promise in verses 10 and 11, and that’s at the end of verse 10.  You say, “Well, if it’s only one promise, then why does it have two ‘blesseds’?”  I believe that God double-blesses those who suffer.  I believe God double-blesses those who are persecuted.  It’s almost as if we need it in this particular case.  Double-blessed are those who are persecuted

This beatitude carries on nicely from being a peacemaker:

There was never anyone more loving than Jesus Christ.  There was never a greater peacemaker than Jesus Christ.  And for some people, they responded to that love, and for some people, they entered into that peace But even though Jesus was the most loving, magnanimous, gracious, kind, peaceful person who ever lived, everywhere He went, He created antagonism.  Why?  Because He was confrontive about the issues.  And it is so with all the righteous.  You chart the course of the righteous throughout history, and they have always suffered for their godliness Always.  It began in the very beginning, in the book of Genesis, when a godly, righteous man named Abel was murdered by an ungodly, unrighteous brother who simply could not tolerate his righteousness, and it’s been so ever since.  Moses had to choose rather to suffer affliction with the people of God than compromise himself in the pleasures of Egyptian society, Hebrews 11 tells us.  There was always a price to pay. 

MacArthur says that not all of us will be persecuted. Nonetheless, we need to be prepared for that possibility:

It doesn’t mean that every single one of us is going to know constant persecution all our lives to an intense degree, he is simply saying the world will pick some of us out And I believe anyway that all of us who live righteously in the world, at some time or another, are going to know the rebuke of the cross

Maybe it’s going to affect how they get their living.  Maybe they’re going to have to believe God to supply the thing that they don’t know the source for if they turn their back on what they’ve known in the past.  And so it could affect their secular job and it still can today

We return to an internal Beatitude here:

This is an attitude.  It is an attitude of a willingness to be persecuted.  That’s what He’s saying.  It is that lack of fear, that lack of shame, that presence of boldness that says, “I will be in this world what Christ would have me be.  I will say in this world what Christ will have me say.  And if persecution results, let it be.”  It’s that attitude.  It is a passive participle in the Greek and it indicates a permissiveness.  Those who allow themselves to be persecuted.  Blessed are they who allow themselves to be persecuted. 

There is the matter of being reviled as well as being slandered or libelled (verse 11):

There’s a second element.  He says in verse 11 they’ll revile you.  Oneidiz.  It literally means to cast in one’s teeth.  To cast in one’s teeth.  It’s used in the crucifixion of Christ in Matthew 27:44.  They cast in His teeth.  They mocked Him.  They made fun of Him.  They reviled Him.  They scorned Him.  It’s to throw something in your face, is what it is.  It’s to abuse somebody with vile, vicious, mocking words.  That’s essentially what it means.  So we not only are going to be chased out of the groups we used to be in, we’ll be ostracized from the activities that we used to be a part of.  Not only that, there are going to be people who are going to speak evil of us, they’re going to say things about us, they’re going to use unkind words when our name comes up.  They did it with Jesus.  They said, “Ah, he hangs around with prostitutes and winebibbers,” and so forth.  So if you’re going to live the Beatitude life, you’ve got to be willing to be persecuted and reviled, and there are going to be some people who are going to say unkind things about you.  Some people maybe you may care about, too

There’s a third thing, and this is really a hard one to take.  You know, I’ve always found that I could take the chasing me away.  Nobody wants me around much after they find I’m a minister.  It’s amazing how fast people want to get out of my presence.  After they find out I’m not like a minister like other ministers they’ve known, that I’m a little more confrontive.  And so they’ll find that out as I begin to maybe confront them a little with the things of Christ, and then they’re really itchy to get out of there.  I’m rarely invited to the activities that they engage in.  I can handle that and I can even handle people saying unkind and vile and vicious things about me and I get some of that

And I know what it is to be arrested from preaching.  I preached a sermon in a certain place in the South and I didn’t go very far from there until a police car caught up with me and arrested me and threw me in jail and threatened to strip my clothes off and beat me with a whip and so forth and so on if I continued to do what I was doing.  That’s in the United States of America.  I guess those things, can tolerate, but then there’s that third thing where he says here that they’ll “say all manner of evil against you falsely.”  And you know, sometimes that’s so hard to take.  I don’t mind if they don’t like what I do say, but when they make me say things that I don’t say, that’s hard to take.  And then you got to try to defend yourself for something you never even said. 

“They say slanderous and evil things against you.”  They tried to say about Jesus that he was the illegitimate son of a Roman soldier.  That wasn’t true.  They’ve tried to say things about God’s people throughout all of history.  Arthur Pink well says that “it is a strong proof of human depravity that men’s curses and Christ’s blessings should meet on the same person.”  Isn’t that interesting?  What a picture of depravity.  Christ’s blessings and men’s curses meet on the same person. It’s the people He blesses that the world curses.  That shows you how far they are from God.  Such a life provokes the ungodliness of men to be resentful.  It is the enmity of the serpent against the holy seed. 

MacArthur discusses the Greek word for ‘persecution’:

“Persecution” is from a Greek word that means “to harass, to treat evilly.”  Literally, in its root, it means “to pursue.”  You’re going to come after us.

Even in 1979, he could feel the winds of change. And lo, it has come to pass:

I really feel in America, we’re on the threshold of some days that are going to be real different than what we’ve known in the past.  I think that we’ve been sort of lollygagging around in the post-American Awakening era.  You know, we’ve been living off the revivalists of the past and the benefits that America had from its heritage of those days.  That is fast coming to an end.  Not only is government acting against religion, and religion is acting against itself by proliferating all of the cults and -isms and schisms and spasms and everything else.

And we’re seeing the government crack down on religious groups.  We’re seeing changes in attitudes.  We’re seeing the IRS and other agencies begin to make laws that are going to directly impact those of us who are in the church of Jesus Christ.  We’re seeing reactions to things that once were held to be sacred, the whole idea of church and all of those kinds of things, you know, it’s all gone with mom and apple pie.  That’s gone too, and so, “They’re going to come after us,” He says.

How?  Verse 11.  Remember what we told you?  “Revile.”  That’s abuse to the face.  “…say all manner of evil against you falsely…,” that’s slander behind the back.  They’re going to come at those who are God’s people right on the nose and around the back.  They’re going to talk about us when we’re gone, and they’re going to react to us when we’re there.  There will be open confrontations, and there will be that private slander.

This is why:

It isn’t you.  It’s that they don’t know God And because they don’t know God, they don’t know Christ And because they don’t know Christ, they don’t understand righteousness And because they aren’t willing to accept righteousness, they want their sin and will not tolerate a confrontation at that point.

Jesus ends the Beatitude section by saying that the persecuted and reviled should be glad, for their reward will be great in heaven, because, in the same way, were the prophets who went before were subject to the same treatment (verse 12).

MacArthur says persecution probably won’t be a constant event, but God will watch over us:

It is not the idea that we are going to be incessantly, unmitigatedly persecuted, an unceasing stream of persecution.  That wasn’t true in Paul’s time.  That wasn’t true in Christ’s time.  There were times when Christ enjoyed the respite of a family time with Mary and Martha and Lazarus.  There were times when Jesus retreated to the Mount of Olives.  There were wonderful times with the Twelve in Galilee.

No, it isn’t going to be incessant, unending, unceasing.  But whenever – hotan – whenever it happens, then God will be there to bring His blessedness to bear upon that willing soul.  He always makes it bearable, doesn’t He?  “There’s no trial taken you but such as is common to man, but God is faithful who will never allow you to be tried above that you are able, but will, in that trial, make a way of – “ what? “ – escape…”  …

Whatever loss here could never be compared with what gain in God’s Kingdom.  “Blessed,” he says.  Twice he says it, emphatically repeating, “Blessed.  Blessed again,” because those who would willingly stand up for Jesus Christ will know the bliss of obedience and the blessedness of being a part of God’s eternal kingdom

MacArthur points out the circularity of the first and the eighth Beatitude:

Listen.  The kingdom is the gift of the Beatitudes.  Did you note the first Beatitude began with the promise, “Theirs is the kingdom of heaven,” and the last Beatitude ends with the promise, “Theirs is the Kingdom of Heaven”?  And what it’s really saying to us is that the major promise of the Beatitudes is you become a kingdom citizen now and forever, and the ones in between are just elements of kingdom life.

What we can conclude is that, if we want to be a part of God’s eternal kingdom, we would do well to heed the Beatitudes, live by them, pray that we can further fulfil them by studying the Word of God regularly. The more we read of the Bible, the better we understand God’s purpose for us.

May all reading this enjoy a blessed Sunday.

 

 

John F MacArthurThose who have been following the Year A Lectionary readings during the season of Epiphany have good reason to be confused.

On the Second Sunday of Epiphany (January 15, 2023), the Gospel reading was John 1:29-42. The following Sunday, the Gospel was Matthew 4:12-23. Both tell how Jesus called John the Gospel writer, who goes unnamed in his own account, and brothers Simon Peter and Andrew to follow Him.

Why are they so different?

This is why.

John’s account relates how John the Baptist told his followers that Jesus is the Lamb of God and that they should follow Him. From this, we can see that John the Gospel writer, Andrew and Simon Peter became disciples of John the Baptist. John and Andrew spent several hours, probably an overnight stay, with Jesus learning from Him. The following day, Andrew told his brother Peter (John 1:41):

He first found his brother Simon and said to him, “We have found the Messiah” (which is translated Anointed).

It was at this point that Jesus named Simon Peter Cephas, meaning ‘rock’ (John 1:42). The name Peter also means ‘rock’. Cephas is pronounced ‘KEFF-us’, by the way:

He brought Simon to Jesus, who looked at him and said, “You are Simon son of John. You are to be called Cephas” (which is translated Peter).

In John 1:43-51, Jesus calls two more of His initial disciples, Philip and Nathanael.

Because John was with Jesus from the beginning, his Gospel has accounts that the other three — Matthew, Mark and Luke — do not have. John 2 has the miracle of the wedding in Cana and our Lord’s first cleansing of the temple courts. John 3 recounts His first encounter with Nicodemus and the brief simultaneous ministries of Jesus and John the Baptist along the Jordan. John the Baptist says (John 2:30):

He must become greater; I must become less.”[h]

In John 4, we have the encounter between Jesus and the Samaritan woman. Thanks to her testimony, many other Samaritans from her town believed in Jesus and asked Him to spend more time with them. John begins his account of our Lord’s Galilean ministry in verse 43:

After the two days he left for Galilee.

The Gospels of Matthew, Mark and Luke are known as the synoptic Gospels because they have the same episodes from our Lord’s ministry, with slight variations. Of those three writers, only Matthew was an Apostle.

Matthew lived in Galilee, in Capernaum. Therefore, he knew Jesus only when He began His public ministry there. His account in Matthew 4 is our Lord’s second calling to the same men. It is an escalated call, one designating apostleship, although it is the first in a series of apostolic calls. Each of these calls took the men higher up the rungs of evangelism.

Consider that when a person receives a call to become a priest or a pastor, he goes to seminary. He has received what we know as a divine calling, one to a vocation. However, at that point, the seminarian has not been ordained nor does he go out to preach and to teach until later in his studies. After ordination, he is assigned a church and its flock. He may move on to another church, perhaps a larger one. In some denominations, he might become a bishop or, again where applicable, an archbishop. Those are examples of escalated divine callings, each carrying with it greater responsibilities.

John MacArthur explains our Lord’s calls to His first disciples, who later became Apostles, in his 1978 sermon, ‘Fishing for Men’. Excerpts follow, emphases mine.

In the first instance, we go back to John, Andrew and Peter in John 1 and Matthew 4, two different calls, Matthew’s being the second:

Now, this is their call, but I want you to notice something.  This is phase two of their call.  I’m going to give you a little technical thing that’ll help you in your study of the gospels.  We have several different calls of the disciples in the gospel. Each gospel writer, for his own purposes, chooses one or the other.  There was a sequence of things.  In other words, there were at least five different times when Jesus sort of called them; each one taking them to a different level, kind of like you.  Once you were called to salvation, right?  Then, maybe there was a time in your life when you were called to a new level of commitment.  Then, maybe there was a time in your life, like in my life, when you were called to serve Jesus Christ in a specific way.  Then, maybe there was a time in your life when you were called to a specific place, to Grace Church, or some other specific ministry.  In other words, the way God directs us may have phases, and that is true in the case of the disciples.

The first call is in John chapter 1 ... This was their call to salvation.  Andrew, John, Simon, Phillip, Nathaniel and James called to salvation.  This was the initial call, and you remember it was when John the Baptist said, “Don’t follow me anymore.  Follow Him.”  They took off after Jesus Christ, and it was the call to salvation. 

Now, this is phase two in Matthew 4:18.  This is the call to be fishers of men.  They’re now going to follow Jesus, but it was only a kind of a momentary thing here.  It isn’t the full final departing from everything. For now, they followed Him. For this moment, for this day, for this time, they were called to win souls.  They were called to fish for men.  They were called to come after Him.

Before I continue with MacArthur’s train of thought, another question popped up at the service I attended on Sunday. We had a guest vicar preach who pointed out Matthew 4:21 and 4:22:

4:21 As he went from there, he saw two other brothers, James son of Zebedee and his brother John, in the boat with their father Zebedee, mending their nets, and he called them.

4:22 Immediately they left the boat and their father, and followed him.

The guest preacher wondered how they could leave their father Zebedee behind.

I suspect that John, having followed John the Baptist and being with Andrew in spending many hours with Jesus once being told that He was the Lamb of God, went home and told his brother James as well as his parents Zebedee and Salome what he had experienced.

In my post ‘John MacArthur on the synagogues of our Lord’s era’, there are several citations from the Gospels on the power of our Lord’s words when He taught and proclaimed the Good News. Imagine you and a friend are sitting alone with Jesus as He discourses on the kingdom of God. It’s just the three of you and He would answer any questions you put to Him. It must have been the most life-changing experience ever for Andrew and John.

No doubt Zebedee and Salome gave their blessing to John to follow Jesus.

In my post on Matthew 4’s account, I cited Matthew Henry’s commentary, which has a follow-up on them:

James and John left their father: it is not said what became of him; their mother Salome was a constant follower of Christ; no doubt, their father Zebedee was a believer, but the call to follow Christ fastened on the young ones. Youth is the learning age, and the labouring age. The priests ministered in the prime of their life.

Returning to MacArthur, Jesus made further calls to His first disciples. The third occurs in Luke 5:1-11 with the bursting fishing nets. This took place in the daytime, which is even more extraordinary as big hauls are caught at night:

Jesus Calls His First Disciples

One day as Jesus was standing by the Lake of Gennesaret,[a] the people were crowding around him and listening to the word of God. He saw at the water’s edge two boats, left there by the fishermen, who were washing their nets. He got into one of the boats, the one belonging to Simon, and asked him to put out a little from shore. Then he sat down and taught the people from the boat.

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

Simon answered, “Master, we’ve worked hard all night and haven’t caught anything. But because you say so, I will let down the nets.”

When they had done so, they caught such a large number of fish that their nets began to break. So they signaled their partners in the other boat to come and help them, and they came and filled both boats so full that they began to sink.

When Simon Peter saw this, he fell at Jesus’ knees and said, “Go away from me, Lord; I am a sinful man!” For he and all his companions were astonished at the catch of fish they had taken, 10 and so were James and John, the sons of Zebedee, Simon’s partners.

Then Jesus said to Simon, “Don’t be afraid; from now on you will fish for people.” 11 So they pulled their boats up on shore, left everything and followed him.

MacArthur says:

There’s a third call.  Luke records it in chapter 5.  This comes after the one in Matthew; it’s different.  There are some similarities, but there are some distinct differences.  As you look at Luke chapter 5 for a moment, you’ll see them.  I’ll show you the level of call here.  In Luke 5, He comes along, and the situation is a little different.  They’re still fishing, which indicates that the second phase, they did not leave their profession permanently.  They simply followed Him for that moment, and now it’s going to be a little more firm.  He’s not going to say, “I want you to just be fishers of men,” generally.  He’s going to say, “I want you to be fishers of men only.”  This is the next step, and this time He stood by the Lake of Genessaret, which is another name for the Sea of Galilee.  Of course, Luke calls it a lake, as I said, because he’s been around.  He’s seen some big stuff, and that doesn’t rank with it.

He saw two boats standing by the lake, and the fishermen were gone out of them and so forth.  He entered into one of the boats, Simon’s, and now there’s a difference here.  All of a sudden, we’re in a boat.  Different than the situation in Matthew.  He says, “Launch out, let down your nets,” and there’s a whole fishing miracle that occurs here.  This is a completely different account.  What it is, is a time for them to come to grips with a real commitment, and Jesus reiterates it in verse 10 There were, “James and John, the sons of Zebedee, partners with Simon, and Jesus said to Simon, ‘Fear not from henceforth,’” doesn’t matter you can’t catch fish anymore.  You remember the story?  They couldn’t catch fish on their own, not without the Lord.  He was going to control the fish. 

He said, “You want fish?  Put it down where I say, and you’ll get fish.  Without me, you won’t get anything.  Don’t worry about whether you’re going to be able to catch them without me. From now on you shall,” what? “catch men.  When they had brought their boats to land they forsook,” what? “all and followed Him.”  You see this is another level of commitment.

I guess this is a part of our life, isn’t it?  At some point in time you come to Christ, and it isn’t long after that somebody says to you, “You are to fish for men.”  But maybe it’s a long time after that, and maybe it’s never for a lot of folks, that you forsake all to catch men.

The next call comes in Mark 3. Why so early in that Gospel? Because Mark’s is the shortest of the four. He wrote in a journalistic style and for the people of Rome that they might know Christ. Every Gospel has a different theme. Mark focuses on Christ’s miracles. In my 2012 post on Mark, I wrote:

Mark’s Gospel focusses on Jesus’s divinity as He expressed it through His miracles. Many men have profited greatly from reading Mark. Some fell on their knees and embraced Christianity as a result …

Mark’s Gospel also ends suddenly. Some translations provide a smoother conclusion in an attempt to tie up loose ends. I read somewhere that the last part of Mark’s scroll might have gone missing, which may account for this.

In the 1930s, a playwright or theatre critic — I don’t recall — fell to his knees one night in New York after having read Mark’s Gospel into the early hours of the morning. I no longer have the link, but, one evening, a Christian friend of his stopped by to chat. Their conversation developed and the friend brought up Christianity. The theatre chap said that he was an atheist. His friend suggested reading Mark’s Gospel. The man said he’d think about it. After his friend left, he couldn’t get to sleep. So he pulled out a Bible — again, I don’t remember if his friend left him a copy or if he had one already — and read through Mark. He read it in its entirety then fell to his knees in awe. He still couldn’t get to sleep, so he walked the streets of Manhattan until early in the morning. That was his conversion story. He never looked back.

But I digress.

This is what Mark 3 says about the calling of the Apostles:

Jesus Appoints the Twelve

13 Jesus went up on a mountainside and called to him those he wanted, and they came to him. 14 He appointed twelve[a] that they might be with him and that he might send them out to preach 15 and to have authority to drive out demons. 16 These are the twelve he appointed: Simon (to whom he gave the name Peter), 17 James son of Zebedee and his brother John (to them he gave the name Boanerges, which means “sons of thunder”), 18 Andrew, Philip, Bartholomew, Matthew, Thomas, James son of Alphaeus, Thaddaeus, Simon the Zealot 19 and Judas Iscariot, who betrayed him.

MacArthur says this was the official apostolic calling:

In Mark 3, there was another call.  They were not just going to catch men.  They were going to be official apostles.  In verse 14, “He appointed twelve,” Mark 3:14, “that they should be with Him, that He might send them forth to preach, and to cast out demons.”  Boy, now they’ve got miraculous power, and they were given the power also to heal diseases.  So they went from salvation to a general call, to a specific total commitment, and now to a miraculous power.

He says that the fullest calling came in Matthew 10, when Jesus sent the Apostles out to teach, preach (proclaim) and heal:

Jesus Sends Out the Twelve

10 Jesus called his twelve disciples to him and gave them authority to drive out impure spirits and to heal every disease and sickness.

These are the names of the twelve apostles: first, Simon (who is called Peter) and his brother Andrew; James son of Zebedee, and his brother John; Philip and Bartholomew; Thomas and Matthew the tax collector; James son of Alphaeus, and Thaddaeus; Simon the Zealot and Judas Iscariot, who betrayed him.

The rest of the chapter gives our Lord’s full instructions on what the Apostles were to do and not do. It is the blueprint of Christian ministry to this day. Admittedly, not all clergy follow it.

MacArthur says:

Then finally, the fifth phase is recorded in the tenth chapter of Matthew in the first verse. “And when He had called to Him those twelve, He gave them power against unclean spirits to cast them out, to heal all manner of sickness and diseases.”   He said, “Go,” in verse 7, and He told them all how to go, and He sent them out, verse 16, “As sheep in the midst of wolves,” and they went to preach

Now, do you see the progression here, beloved?  It is to be so with us.  It all begins at some point in time when we meet Jesus Christ, and we accept Him as Savior.  Then a little later the prodding of the Spirit of God, fish for men.  Then, hopefully later, you forsake all and your life is geared for that.  Then the time comes when, in the midst of that, you sense the power of God, and you move out, an official sent one to do His work.

As students of the Gospels know, it took Jesus three years to smooth the Apostles’ rough edges. Sadly, among them was His betrayer, Judas Iscariot. The process did not finish until the Holy Spirit appeared upon them at the first Pentecost, by which time Matthias had replaced Judas. Then the Church took off in leaps and bounds. The powers that Jesus gave them to teach, preach and heal in His name lasted during the Apostolic Era, or Apostolic Age, which lasted until around AD 100. The Book of Acts chronicles some of those events, including those of Saul of Tarsus who became Paul, arguably the greatest of the Apostles, also personally instructed by Christ in his three days of blindness on the way to Damascus and later in an African desert, after which Paul evangelised everywhere he could possibly travel.

One might ask how it works in our time, if all of us, like the everyday men Jesus called, are to do likewise.

Here, too, MacArthur has an answer. He tells the story of a man on the Grace Community Church staff who trained other church members to evangelise:

Several years ago, we brought – I guess all of you know Jim George on our staff.  We could have hired a man to do visitation, to go out and evangelize.  You know what we did?  We decided to support a man, who would train others to evangelize.  If we had just hired a man to evangelize, you know what we’d have now five years later?  We’d have a man evangelizing, but instead we’ve got between 200 and 300 people trained to catch men.  That’s what Jesus did.

As to how we evangelise effectively, MacArthur begins by talking about the Apostles then tells us that obeying the Gospel commands is the surest way:

You say, “Well did they have a great passion for souls?”  I doubt it, seriously doubt it.  I’m quite confident they didn’t have a passion for anything.  So what they’d do it for?  Listen, you want to know something? You want to know how to get a passion for souls?  Try obeying to start with.  That’s where it all begins.  Just be obedient.  I put it this way; obedience is the spark that lights the fire of passion.  The way to gain a passion for souls, the way to have your heart burn for the lost is to obey God and move out, and watch God take the pilot light of obedience and fan it into a forest fire.

Amazing.

Does Jesus want us to evangelise? Yes, He does.

Matthew’s Gospel ends with the Great Commission, Matthew 28:16-20:

The Great Commission

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

MacArthur reminds us:

Listen, God’s greatest concern is to win people to Himself; Christ’s greatest concern, the Spirit’s greatest concern, the greatest concern of the apostles, and it was the greatest concern of the early church.  When they were scattered in Acts chapter 8, they went everywhere preaching Jesus Christ, endeavoring to win people to Him.

Even in the Old Testament, it was no different.  In the Old Testament God’s great heart was a concerned heart, and it was concerned for those that were lost.  In fact, in Proverbs 11:30, we have this great statement, “He that winneth souls is,” what? “is wise.”  If you know anything about the term “wise” in the book of Proverbs, you know that the term wise is a synonym really for righteous living.  The truly righteous person, the person who really lives with understanding, the person who doesn’t just know but lives it out, is the one who wins souls.  He is truly wise.

MacArthur’s closing words on evangelising are useful:

You say, “Can I do that?”  Yeah.  You say, “How?”  Listen, number one, be a believer.  You can’t be on the team unless you are.

Number two, be available.  Learn how to win people to Christ.  If that means getting involved in an evangelism ministry, then get involved.  If that means reading the New Testament and underlining everything about evangelism and cataloging it and learning it, do it.  Be a believer and be available.

Three, be concerned, be concerned.  Maybe that means reading some books.  Surely, it means meeting some unsaved people.  It all starts with obedience, so be obedient.  Go out and do it.  Even if the passion isn’t there, do it.  Reach out to that neighbor.  Speak the words you’ve always wanted to speak and never have.  Then, realize Jesus is your pattern. Study how He did it.  Then, find somebody else you can follow, and let them be your model.

Be a believer, be available, be concerned, be obedient, be following Jesus, and be taught by an example.  So, Jesus began at the right point, in the right place, with the right proclamation, and the right partners.  The light dawned, beloved, and we’re to carry it to the rest of the world. 

The easiest way to evangelise is to lead by example, wherever we are in life. Combine that with studying Scripture and praying regularly. Our good Lord will take it from there.

John F MacArthurThis year’s Gospel reading for the Third Sunday of Epiphany — January 22, 2023 — was Matthew 4:12-23.

It was about the beginning of our Lord’s ministry in Galilee and His calling of two sets of brothers to be among His Apostles, to be fishers of men: Andrew and Simon Peter as well as John and James.

Verse 23 says:

Jesus went throughout Galilee, teaching in their synagogues and proclaiming the good news of the kingdom and curing every disease and every sickness among the people.

Jesus, as did the Apostles after the first Pentecost, particularly Paul, taught in the synagogues regularly.

John MacArthur describes these houses of worship and their additional functions in ‘The Healing Work of Jesus’ which he preached in 1978.

Excerpts follow, emphases mine.

MacArthur begins by commenting on the verse itself and how it fits in with Matthew’s Gospel as a whole, with its theme of Jesus as the Messiah, the King of Kings:

Let’s look at verse 23: Jesus began on the right plan “And Jesus went about all Galilee, teaching in their synagogues, and preaching the gospel of the kingdom, and healing all manner of sickness and all manner of disease among the people.”  Now here we come right to those two dimensions of messianic credentials: His words and His works Let’s look at some specifics here.  “And Jesus went about,” that’s an interesting verb.  I want to stop for a minute; it’s an imperfect tense verb, and when you have the imperfect it doesn’t mean it’s less than perfect. It’s just a term used for something that’s continuous action in the past tense It means that He was constantly going about, the idea of a constant endeavor.  You might even translate it, “He was continually going around” – incessant effort is the idea And really what you have in verse 23 – hang on to this thought – is a one-verse summary of the whole Galilean ministry.

Now notice, Matthew will take this one-verse summary and expand it in chapter 5, 6, 7, 8, and 9, so that those chapters to come – 5 through 9 – are an expansion of verse 23.  In fact, His words are the subject of chapter 5, 6, and 7.  His works are the subject of chapter 8 and 9.  So Matthew simply introduces those two elements here and then he begins to expand them in the next section, verses 5:1 through 9:38.  First, 5, 6, and 7 – His words – the great truth of the Sermon on the Mount that was absolutely shocking, devastating, and divine. And then His mighty works and miracles, chapters 8 and 9.

So He went all over the place incessantly and constantly, and you’ll notice it says, He “went about all Galilee.”  He was moving all the time.  Now “all Galilee” is a strong expression.  The term “all” is a very strong term, and when it says “all” in this sense it really does mean in a comprehensive sense

The point is this: that to cover 204 villages and to move around through all of that mass of humanity required much time and constant travel and Jesus was busy.  Somebody figured out just to touch every town, moving at a rate of one town a day, is gonna take a half a year, and that would be only if you stayed one day in each place

And so Jesus moved about.  He was going to touch as many as He could.  It was important that the whole of all those people – and remember they were Jew and Gentile mixed, and even the Jewish ones had been exposed to Gentile culture.

That is because Galilee was along the trade route to and from Africa.

The local synagogue was the heart of the community:

First of all it says, in verse 23, “Teaching in their synagogues.”  Within Galilee Jesus chose to kind of center His ministry in the synagogues.  Now the synagogue was the most important institution in the life of any Jew.  Keep that in mind.  It was the most important institution.  It is very like the church is to you, you that are Christians. You love the Lord Jesus Christ, you’re active at Grace Community Church, you’re involved here – this is the most important institution in your life.  Your family is here, your kids are here, your friendships are here, this is your life.  No different in those days.  The whole of Jewish life centered around the synagogue.  In fact, in some cases it would be even more intense because even the politics of life and the economics of life – you traded there, you learned to sort of match up your businesses with people of like trade because they sat according to trade It was everything to the Jewish people.  In fact, the worst thing that could ever happen to a Jew was to be unsynagogued Aposunaggos, “to be unsynagogued” was it.  And you see, that’s exactly what happened when a Jew became a Christian He was dis-fellowshiped from the synagogue.  It was vital.  That’s why the whole book of Hebrews is written.  It was written to Christians, but also there are warnings throughout that book to certain Jewish people who were so afraid of being unsynagogued that even though they believed the gospel, they wouldn’t receive Christ.  This synagogue was the key to their life.

He describes the physical location of the synagogue:

In most cases, the synagogue was built on a hill, using the most prominent hump in the city of the little town, and every town had one.  And there would be the synagogue, and it would be the highest place in the city and usually would be distinguished by a tall pole shooting up in the sky so that everybody could focus on that It was as familiar a sight to go into a Jewish town and see a synagogue spire as it is to go in the middle of New England and see a little church spire in the little villages.  It’s common.

Sometimes, if there weren’t any hills, they would build along the river and the bank of the river, and very often they built synagogues without a roof They just let their worship go up to God … the synagogue they’ve uncovered in Capernaum and have reconstructed really doesn’t have any roof We don’t know if it did or didn’t have one or what kind of one it had, but it was where they gathered.

This was the pattern of worship:

Divine worship was held in the synagogue every Sabbath, every Saturday.  Sabbath ran from Friday at sundown to Saturday at sundown, and on the second and fifth day of every week they had special services, every Sabbath they had special services Of course, they had special services every festival day, all the feast days and all the special days.  Now basically when they came together on the Sabbath, if it wasn’t a special day, this is how the format went: first there was the reading of the Law and the reading of the Prophets by certain people who were called upon, and then there were prayers offered by the leader, and then there were responses by the people They would respond with amens and various praises to God.

Following that there would be an exposition of some text of the Scripture, and that went all the way back to the return under Ezra and Nehemiah.  When they read the Scripture – You remember in Nehemiah? – “and then Ezra the scribe stood up and gave the sense of it” expository preaching is not something new in this generation It is the kind of preaching in the restoration under Ezra and Nehemiah, and it is historically what the Jews have done in their synagogue, first the reading, then the prayer, and then the exposition And it was interesting, if there was a visiting dignitary or a visiting rabbi, he would be given the right to speak the exposition very often. And that’s where, of course, Paul moved right into the synagogue and used some Old Testament text and took off That was very common.

This is how the synagogue was organised and how it ruled over the community:

The affairs of the synagogue were administered by ten men; basically, ten elders of whom three were called the rulers of the synagogue.  They acted as judges.  They would admit proselytes or not admit them.  They settled issues.  There was a fourth ruler called the angel of the church who was sort of the chairman of the board.  There were others who were called servers who carried out the direction of the three and the one There was an eighth one, according to Jewish tradition, that was the Hebrew interpreter who took the ancient Hebrew and translated it into the vernacular.  There was a ninth one who headed up the theological school.  And by the way, every synagogue had a theological school in it And there was a tenth one who interpreted the theological school instructor stuff because it was usually over the heads of the people So they had this whole organization, this incredible structure.

Listen, the synagogue became the court of law, and any disputes or court problems or civil things, they came there; their judgment was made and execution was even pronounced Listen, you know the Roman government only took away from the Jews the right of execution at the time of Jesus They could do everything else.  They could run their own affairs.  The only thing they couldn’t do was take somebody’s life.  That’s why they had to take Jesus to the Romans to have Him crucified.

They ruled their own affairs.  And as we see, the small villages and towns in the time of Jesus, they would have their own court of law.  Also the synagogue was a public school for boys, and the little boys would go there, in their childhood, and learn the Talmud.  And further, the synagogue was a theological school for the men.  So this was the center of the whole concentration of Jewish life.  And when Jesus went there to that place, He would be stepping right into the midst of Israel.

The temple in Jerusalem differed from the synagogue, as it was only there where sacrifices and monetary offerings could be made:

Now there’s a vast difference, remember, between the synagogue and the temple There’s only one temple, and that is at Jerusalem.  That’s the only temple.  There isn’t one there now, as you know, not since 70 A.D. when Titus came in and wiped it out.  But there was only one temple, but wherever there was a small colony of Jews, wherever there was a handful of Jewish men, they could start a synagogue And so they were every place, and they were the platform for Jesus, and they were the platform for the apostle Paul.

By the way, the temple was not a place for teaching, and the temple was not a place for preaching, unless like Jesus you happened to stand up in there and take off The temple was a place for offering sacrifice and making offerings.  But the synagogue was a place of teaching and preaching.  It was essentially a preaching/teaching place.  In fact, the church today pretty well has modeled its patterns after the synagogue Now we still have Jewish synagogues with us There’s one right down the street, only now they call it a – What? a temple. But it isn’t, because there’s no blood sacrifice being offered there.  It’s simply a synagogue, a gathering place.

MacArthur describes how Jesus made use of the synagogues for His teaching:

Well, Jesus took advantage of the opportunity for any dignitary, any visiting rabbi or teacher, to have the opportunity to speak And so Jesus would go in the synagogue and He would teach – Why? because this would reach the heart of Israel Listen, the most zealous people for God were in the synagogue.  That’s where you’d find the true hearts, if there were any in Israel.  That’s where the remnant would be, wouldn’t they?  They’d be there worshiping the true God in the best way they knew how. So Jesus went where they would listen to Him, where they would hear Him – the synagogue.  And He would go in, and He would teach the Scripture That was His pattern – to open the Scripture, to give exposition This is exactly what He did throughout the pattern of His ministry.  Even when He was in Nazareth He broke open His whole ministry by doing an exposition on an Old Testament scripture that referred to Him Even in the Sermon on the Mount He kept referring, “You have heard it said, and the Scripture says, and I say,” and He’d take off from there, either from a scripture of God’s authorship or from some ancient tradition that they had held to. Jesus would move off from there to do the exposition and turn the whole thing to Himself.

And so Jesus was teaching in the synagogues.  By the way, the word didask has to do with didactic, instructive relating of truth The word concentrates on the passing of information.  The word emphasizes the content, the passing on of information.  That’s what Jesus did.  And by the way, His method, I’m quite confident, was expository, taking the text and out of it teaching the principles I really believe this is the greatest way to preach and teach the Word of God.

Proclaiming, MacArthur notes, is different to teaching:

Secondly, it says in verse 23, “Not only was He teaching in their synagogue, but He was also preaching the gospel of the kingdom.”  Now this is a different word – kruss – and it means “to proclaim,” and it concentrates not so much on the didactic method, the relating of truth, the content, as it does on the very voice, the very style of proclamation. And it simply means “He heralded it out,” “He cried out.”  Often about Jesus you see the word ekraxan, “he cried out.” That’s preaching.  Teaching is where there is the careful, instructive relating of content.  It’s kind of from the mind to the mind.  Preaching is the crying out, the impassioned cry of Jesus Christ to the people.  And there it wasn’t so much in the synagogues, although He did both there as well, and the two are mixed up in His ministry so you can’t separate ’em.  There was never teaching without preaching, and there was never preaching without teaching, but the preaching is the crying out.  It is the heralding of the gospel.

Some have said preaching is the heralding of the gospel and teaching is the explaining of the gospel that’s been heralded.  Jesus did both – preaching, making a public announcement.  William Hendrickson, who’s a great commentator, says this:  “Between preaching and teaching there is a difference.  Though it is true that good preaching is also teaching, the emphasis is nevertheless not the same.  Preaching means proclamation.  Teaching, on the other hand, indicates imparting more detailed information regarding the proclamation that was made,” end quote.  That’s the idea.

The proclamation is what is called the krugma, and the teaching is what is called the didach.  You may see those terms sometime in your reading, and there’s never any good krugma without didach It doesn’t do any good to proclaim something if you don’t explain what it is.

MacArthur points out that Jesus avoided teaching about the socio-political issues of the day. He focused only on the kingdom of God:

Look at it in verse 23, the gospel of the kingdom, the good news of the kingdom.  This is what He was always talking about, always.  He was always talking about this.  In fact in Acts chapter 1, after He had risen from the dead, until He ascended, He had 40 days with His disciples, and it says in verse 2 of Acts 1, “Until the day in which he was taken up after he through the Holy Spirit had given commandments unto the apostles whom he’d chosen: to whom also he showed himself alive after his passion by many infallible proofs” – now watch this – “being seen by them forty days, and speaking of the things pertaining to the kingdom of God.”

From the time He began His ministry in Matthew right here, to the time that He was silenced in His ascension, He never spoke of anything other than the kingdom of God.  He never got dragged into social issues that were unrelated; He never got dragged into politics, into revolutions, into economics – He spoke of the kingdom of God.  And it’s a great pattern.  I feel in my heart I need to follow that kind of pattern.  Sometimes people ask me why I don’t say things about this and that and the other thing, and I guess maybe it’s because Jesus, until He was taken up, spoke to them the things concerning the kingdom of God. And if that was His priority, then that’s going to be my priority.

Jesus began His ministry gently by speaking of the good news of the Gospel: repent and be saved. As He neared the end of His ministry, however, He began to pass righteous judgement on wilful unbelief:

… first of all, the word “gospel” means something simple, good news, good news.  It’s good news and the world is full of bad news – Isn’t it? – all bad news.  This is the only good news, really good news.  The teaching and preaching of Jesus Christ was filled with good news.  You know something interesting?  Listen to this: John the Baptist’s preaching is never called good news, never.

Now maybe it was good news, and maybe it might have been called good news, but it never is.  I began to think about why.  Perhaps it is because the note of judgment is so strong, the ax is laid at the root, the winnowing fan is moving, the fire is consuming, and John fired out so much judgment and so much condemnation and cried for such repentance that maybe his message was too strong to win the gracious title “good news.”  But it really was good news, wasn’t it?  It’s kind of like the deal you’ve gotta have bad news before you get good news. But I think the reason John’s is never called good news is because there never really was good news until Jesus arrived.  There never really was any good news until Jesus came.  And it is Jesus who is said to preach the good news.  John was saying, “Get right, repent, get ready, and avoid judgment.”  And then Jesus came along and gave the other side of it, and come to Me and I’ll take you to heaven.  That was the good news.

After the Messiah had encountered more and more of the hypocrisy and more and more of the hostility of the hierarchy of Israel, His preaching became even more stern than John’s.  You know that?  But at the very beginning there was no strong word of condemnation.  Jesus didn’t come saying there’s going to be an ax, and there’s going to be a winnowing fan, and there’s going to be a fire consuming you.  You don’t hear that at the beginning of Jesus’ ministry.  That comes later.  It was just the good news.  And what is the good news? – the kingdom, the kingdom.  That God is going to establish His rule.  That we can be a part of God’s dominion, that as Paul said we can be translated out of the kingdom of darkness into the kingdom of His dear Son, that our sins can be forgiven.  Listen, the gospel of the kingdom is the same gospel preached today It’s just the message of salvation.

The good news is this: God has a kingdom; He wants you to be a citizen; here’s how.  That’s the good news.  Oh, it has all kinds of ramifications, as we’ll see as we go through Matthew.  But it’s the good news of salvation because that’s the way you get in His kingdom.  Once you’re in it has all kinds of features.  There is the element of the kingdom now in us in the Holy Spirit.  There is the element of the millennial kingdom for a thousand years on earth.  There is the element of the eternal kingdom and glory in the new heaven and the new earth forever with God.  It has different facets and wondrous things that we’re gonna see, but for now all we need to know is that the good news is that God has a kingdom and you can be in it.  You can be a part of it.  That’s good news.

I’ll tell you the alternative is pretty sad, isn’t it?  These people had long had a weariness of being in the kingdom of Rome, before that the kingdom of the Greeks, before that the kingdom of the Medes and the Persians, before that the Babylonians.  And even when they tried to do it on their own with their own kings, it was nothing but debauchery and evil.  And the very fact that there could be a kingdom with God was what they had longed for.  This was good news.  Jesus was saying, there’s a way to escape.  There’s good news, there’s a kingdom, and the good news is you can be a part of that kingdom.  How?  What is that good news that gets you into the kingdom?  First Corinthians, chapter 15 and verse 1, tells us.  Here’s the gospel which I preach to you – listen – “For I delivered unto you, first of all, that which I also received” – here comes the good news – “that Christ died for our sins according to the scriptures…that He was buried…that He rose again the third day according to the scriptures.”  That’s the gospel, folks.

The good news is this: Jesus died for you.  He rose for you.  Your sin is paid for.  Your eternal life is purchased, and you can be in God’s kingdom.  That’s good news, isn’t it?  And that’s what Jesus came preaching and teaching.  The plan of salvation is the good news.  Oh, He didn’t cover all the ground early on here.  He just simply announced, “I’ve got good news.  God has a kingdom for you.  God has a kingdom for you.”  In fact it would have been an earthly kingdom if they had believed, wouldn’t it?  If they had accepted Jesus as their Messiah, and they’d have been saved there, and the nation Israel had repented, and come to Christ, their kingdom would have been right then and there. 

It should be noted that everyone who heard Jesus understood the powerful accuracy of His teaching and preaching:

The words that He preached; “no man” – the officers had it right – “ever spoke like that man spoke.”  His words about the kingdom for three years went across the land of Israel.  They should have known.  It should have been obvious.  To some it was.  Listen to Luke 4, verse 22, “And all bore him witness.” This was when He was preaching in Nazareth.  And by the way, He did an exposition of an Isaiah passage; took Isaiah and just cracked it open for them.  Isaiah 61 – preached a sermon off of that text, and then they listened, and finally, in verse 22, they “bore him witness, and wondered at the gracious words that proceeded out of his mouth. And they said, ‘Is not this Joseph’s son?’”  I mean, “these words coming from this guy who grew up in our town, the son of a carpenter.”  Verse 31, “And he came down to Capernaum, a city of Galilee, and he taught them on the sabbath days. And they were astonished at his doctrine: for his word was with power.”  And in verse 36, they said, “What a word is this!”

In Matthew chapter 24, I think it’s verse 35, He said this: “Heaven and earth shall pass away, but my words shall not pass away.”  He spoke an eternal word, a powerful word, like no one ever spoke.  They could never confound Him in His words. They could never trap Him in His words. They could never stump Him in His words. They were literally devastated by His words.  They were so powerful that they were literally thrown down in their own tracks when they tried to encounter Him and catch Him in His words.

I pray that John MacArthur’s exposition on our Lord’s preaching and teaching bring His words to life for us, if they have not done so already.

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 Anglicised (ESVUK) with commentary by Matthew Henry and John MacArthur.

2 Thessalonians 3:1-5

Pray for Us

Finally, brothers,[a] pray for us, that the word of the Lord may speed ahead and be honoured,[b] as happened among you, and that we may be delivered from wicked and evil men. For not all have faith. But the Lord is faithful. He will establish you and guard you against the evil one.[c] And we have confidence in the Lord about you, that you are doing and will do the things that we command. May the Lord direct your hearts to the love of God and to the steadfastness of Christ.

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Last week’s post explored Paul’s discussion of the Antichrist, ‘the lawless one’, who will come one day, controlled by Satan. When Jesus returns, He will kill the Antichrist with ‘the breath of His mouth’, but not before unbelievers — the damned — are in thrall of what he does. This, Paul says, is because God has condemned them for refusing ‘to love the truth and so be saved’. Therefore, God punishes them with ‘a strong delusion’ so that they can do nothing but ‘believe what is false’.

Today’s verses are in the final chapter of 2 Thessalonians.

As he did from all of his churches, Paul sought the prayers of the Thessalonians for his continuing ministry.

John MacArthur describes this message from Paul to his friends in Thessalonica:

It’s very tender. It’s very personal. It is Paul saying this is what I expect from you, this is what I cherish in terms of your Christian conduct.

He asks them to pray for him and his associates Timothy and Silvanus (Silas) that the Word of the Lord — the Gospel message — may speed ahead and be honoured, as was the case with in Thessalonica (verse 1).

Matthew Henry points out the importance of prayer, especially for our absent friends, including the clergy (emphases mine):

I. The apostle desires the prayers of his friends: Finally, brethren, pray for us, v. 1. He always remembered them in his prayers, and would not have them forget him and his fellow-labourers, but bear them on their hearts at the throne of grace. Note, 1. This is one way by which the communion of saints is kept us, not only by their praying together, or with one another, but by their praying for one another when they are absent one from another. And thus those who are at great distance may meet together at the throne of grace; and thus those who are not capable of doing or receiving any other kindness may yet this way do and receive real and very great kindness. 2. It is the duty of people to pray for their ministers; and not only for their own pastors, but also for all good and faithful ministers. And, 3. Ministers need, and therefore should desire, the prayers of their people. How remarkable is the humility, and how engaging the example, of this great apostle, who was so mighty in prayer himself, and yet despised not the prayers of the meanest Christian, but desired an interest in them.

MacArthur says:

He desires that they be prayerful. “Finally, brethren,” verse 1, “pray for us.” The shepherd wants the prayers of his people. Now think about it for a moment. Paul was without equal as a gifted, powerful, competent, effective minister. He had immense natural abilities, brilliant, logical, persuasive, erudite, educated, trained, religious, spiritually minded, perceptive, experienced. He had it all. But all that natural ability and all that education and all that religious training and all that experience and all of that skill, highly developed through the years, was not the source of his great power and it was not the source of his usefulness. It was the power of God at work in him that transcended his natural giftedness; that made him the man that he was for divine purposes. He himself confessed in Colossians 1 verse 29, “I labor, striving according to His power, which mightily works within me.” He had no confidence in his flesh. And he knew that whatever success he had was not related to his natural giftedness or any of those things which had occurred in his life on the human level, but to the very power of God surging through him. He was dependent on the Lord entirely for every aspect of his ministry. He even said, “Nevertheless I live, yet not I but Christ lives in me.” He knew where his power source was.

And consequently there are frequent pleas for his people to pray for him. And those pleas underline and underscore how strongly he leaned on divine power. I sometimes think that those in ministry who are least naturally gifted … get the most prayer because people assume that naturally gifted people don’t need any. Nothing could be further from the truth. There may be greater temptation for those more gifted to trust in their own giftedness. There may be greater possibility for human ingenuity to take over for the power of God in the unusually gifted than in those who are more humbly gifted. Thus those with the greater gifts may be those with the greatest need for prayer.

Some translations use ‘glorified’ instead of ‘honoured’ in that verse.

Henry explains the prayer petition that Paul requests and applies it to us today:

Observe, further, what they are desired and directed to pray for; namely, (1.) For the success of the gospel ministry: That the word of the Lord may have free course, and be glorified, v. 1. This was the great thing that Paul was most solicitous about. He was more solicitous that God’s name might be sanctified, his kingdom advanced, and his will done, than he was about his own daily bread. He desired that the word of the Lord might run (so it is in the original), that it might get ground, that the interest of religion in the world might go forward and not backward, and not only go forward, but go apace. All the forces of hell were then, and still are, more or less, raised and mustered to oppose the word of the Lord, to hinder its publication and success. We should pray, therefore, that oppositions may be removed, that so the gospel, may have free course to the ears, the hearts, and the consciences of men, that it may be glorified in the conviction and conversion of sinners, the confutation, of gainsayers, and the holy conversation of the saints. God, who magnified the law, and made it honourable, will glorify the gospel, and make that honourable, and so will glorify his own name; and good ministers and good Christians may very well be contented to be little, to be any thing, to be nothing, if Christ be magnified and his gospel be glorified … Note, If ministers have been successful in one place, they should desire to be successful in every place where they may preach the gospel.

MacArthur says that Paul has borrowed from Psalm 147:

Pray that God’s Word, he says, may spread rapidly.  The Greek verb trechō means literally “to run.”  Pray that the Word may run.  He’s borrowing this concept, shows his knowledge of the Old Testament, from Psalm 147:15 where it says, “God’s Word runs very swiftly.”  So he says pray that the Word will run like a powerful runner, like a strong runner moving unobstructed and unhindered, making rapid progress

Pray that the Word will go rapidly.  Pray that when I’m given opportunity I’ll open my mouth.  Pray that when I’m ready to open my mouth God will open a door so I can speak, and then when I get the opportunity, pray that I’ll say what needs to be said; always asking the church to pray for the success and the spread of the message.

In 2 Timothy 2:9 he reminded young Timothy the Word of God is not bound.  I might be; it isn’t.  Pray that it will move powerfully through the land.

And then he adds this, “And be glorified,” and be glorified.  What does that mean?  It simply means appreciated, honored, respected, extolled, admired.  He’s simply saying that it will be received with a proper response, that people will hear the gospel and they will affirm it to be the gospel, the saving truth.  He’s talking about acceptance.

Paul also wanted the Thessalonians to pray that he and his associates be delivered from wicked and evil men, for not all men have (the gift of) faith (verse 2).

MacArthur reminds us of the danger Paul constantly faced:

He also knew the meaning of persecution. He faced difficulty. He faced a solitary life. He faced danger constantly. He usually was self-supporting, usually had to preach to people who didn’t want to hear what he said in places where he never was invited to start with. Life for him was one unending challenge and the threat of death was imminent. He bore in his body the marks of Jesus Christ. He faced death on a daily basis. And he knew he couldn’t succeed in his own human flesh and he was dependent upon the power of the Lord and he knew that power was released through the prayers of his people.

He was experiencing trouble in Corinth, where he was writing this letter:

… as he writes this he’s in the city of Corinth. Things haven’t gone well. The 18th chapter of Acts records what was going on in the city of Corinth and as I said, it wasn’t good. There was a hostile reaction to the gospel. Chapter 18, verse 6 tells us the Jews resisted and blasphemed and he shook out his garments and said to them, “Your blood be on your own heads, I’m clean. From now on I go to the Gentiles.” He hit a stone wall there, not like Thessalonica, not like Galatia. And so he is in…in the context of that resistance as he writes. I believe that he wrote this letter some time after that initial resistance and he wants the gospel to break through, to really break through, and so he says, “Will you please pray that it will spread rapidly and be accepted?”

There’s a second thing he asks in verse 2.  “And that we may be delivered from perverse and evil men for not all have faith.” What is this?

First he asks for the success of the message.  Secondly: The safety of the messengers.  “That we may be delivered,” rhuomai, rescued, saved.  “Not for self-preservation alone, not for personal comfort or safety alone, but because if we’re not protected then the message won’t be heard.  Pray that the message will go forth successfully and the messengers will be unhindered.  Paul was always facing hostility.  We’ve already read about it in the book of Acts.  I can remind you at the end of Romans 15, he says, “Pray for me that I may be delivered from those who are disobedient,” disobedient to God. Pray for me that I’ll be able to carry on my ministry.

In Corinth, as I said, there was tremendous resistance. And perhaps after he wrote this letter it really blew sky-high because in Acts 18 verse 12 it says, “Gallio was proconsul of Achaia. The Jews with one accord rose up against Paul and brought him before the judgment seat.” The whole Jewish population were united in hostility against the gospel and they made an issue out of it. They even took, in verse 17, Sosthenes, the leader of the synagogue, began beating him in front of the judgment seat. A riot really ensued. Paul is in the context of this resistance and he’s pleading with them to pray for the success of the message and the safety of the messenger.

Now would you note also that he identifies who is dangerous: Perverse and evil men. “Perverse” literally is the word “out of place.” This is the only time in the New Testament it’s used of a person. It’s always used of some object that got lost, something that’s out of its proper place, something improper. Here it means some person who is out of his proper place, who is perverse, unrighteous; one writer says “morally insane.” And then he adds evil, malignant aggressive wickedness. Pray for us that we will be rescued from the threats and the power of morally insane, perverse, aggressively wicked people who want to shut our mouths so the message can’t be preached. Pray for us.

I would echo that. Pray for the success of the message as I preach and pray for safety and security for the messenger. Maybe the persecution isn’t the same today as it was then, but it’s still out there.

And then he adds a note of explanation, “For not all have faith.” The Thessalonians probably assumed that because they responded in such a wonderful way, because the Jews and the Gentiles together responded to the gospel, that this might be the norm. Now remember, Paul had just been with them a matter of really just a few months, weeks. And they probably thought their response would kind of be the pattern and he says to them, “Pray regarding this hostility because not all have faith.” It is possible to interpret that two ways. Some might say, “Not all have the faith,” the definite article being there, talking about the content of Christian faith. But I would take it that what he’s saying here is not all believe. Either way, it comes out the same. Not all are Christians and unbelievers are the ones who are hostile. No, everyone isn’t going to respond the way you did, so the beloved apostle calls for the intercession of the church so that the Word may move rapidly and triumphantly and the messengers will not be hindered by hostile unbelievers. That’s his prayer.

Henry has a practical application of the verse for us:

(2.) For the safety of gospel ministers. He asks their prayers, nor for preferment, but for preservation: That we may be delivered from unreasonable and wicked men, v. 2. Note, Those who are enemies to the preaching of the gospel, and persecutors of the faithful preachers of it, are unreasonable and wicked men. They act against all the rules and laws of reason and religion, and are guilty of the greatest absurdity and impiety. Not only in the principles of atheism and infidelity, but also in the practice of the vice and immorality, and especially in persecution, there is the greatest absurdity in the world, as well as impiety. There is need of the spiritual protection, as well as the assistance, of godly and faithful ministers, for these are as the standard-bearers, who are most struck at; and therefore all who wish well to the interest of Christ in the world should pray for them. For all men have not faith; that is, many do not believe the gospel; they will not embrace it themselves, and no wonder if such are restless and malicious in their endeavours to oppose the gospel, decry the ministry, and disgrace the ministers of the word; and too many have not common faith or honesty; there is no confidence that we can safely put in them, and we should pray to be delivered from those who have no conscience nor honour, who never regard what they say or do. We may sometimes be in as much or more danger from false and pretended friends as from open and avowed enemies.

Then Paul segues to the Thessalonians by saying, ‘But the Lord is faithful’, meaning to him and to them; the Lord will establish them (keep them steady) and guard them against the evil one, Satan (verse 3).

Henry explains:

1. What the good is which we may expect from the grace of God-establishment, and preservation from evil; and the best Christians stand in need of these benefits. (1.) That God would establish them. This the apostle had prayed for on their behalf ( ch. 2:17), and now he encourages them to expect this favour. We stand no longer than God holds us up; unless he hold up our goings in his paths, our feet will slide, and we shall fall. (2.) That God will keep them from evil. We have as much need of the grace of God for our perseverance to the end as for the beginning of the good work. The evil of sin is the greatest evil, but there are other evils which God will also preserve his saints from—the evil that is in the world, yea, from all evil, to his heavenly kingdom.

2. What encouragement we have to depend upon the grace of God: The Lord is faithful. He is faithful to his promises, and is the Lord who cannot lie, who will not alter the thing that has gone out of his mouth. When once the promise therefore is made, performance is sure and certain. He is faithful to his relation, a faithful God and a faithful friend; we may depend upon his filling up all the relations he stands in to his people. Let it be our care to be true and faithful in our promises, and to the relations we stand in to this faithful God.

MacArthur sees the verse as Paul’s exhortations to the Thessalonians to keep trusting God, regardless of what happens, e.g. persecution:

… he says, “This is what I want to happen in your life.” There’s a certain sense in which he feels at arm’s length, “and I can’t be there to insure it, but this is my desire for you.”  Verse 3: “But the Lord is faithful and He will strengthen and protect you from the evil one.”

What he’s saying to them is, look, no matter what happens, no matter how hostile they are, no matter how severe the persecution and trials and trouble, no matter what might happen, you know this, your Lord is faithful. Keep trusting.

Any pastor who is away from his people would want from the depths of heart that his people remain faithful to the God who is faithful to them.  In contrast to faithless men in verse 2 is a faithful Lord in verse 3.  And no matter what may come in trials and no matter what may come in persecutions, the Lord’s plan for you will come to pass, He is faithful.  Why Paul sure gave testimony to that at the end of his life in 2 Timothy 4:16, “At my first defense no one supported me, all deserted me but the Lord stood with me and strengthened me.”  Everybody else was gone, but He was there, He’s faithful.  I wish we had time to go through the Old Testament and the New to see how many times the Bible tells us the Lord is faithful. The Lord is faithful …

He will strengthen you, he says, he will strengthen you, stērizō. There’s that word from which we get steroids, make you strong, make you firm, establish youThat’s talking about the inside, strengthening your inner man, giving you an inner security.  He’ll build you up on the inside and protect you from the evil one on the outside.  He will fill you with internal strength and He will shield you from the evil one, most likely a reference to Satan.  It could be translated, “From the evil,” but it is better to see it as “The evil one, Satan.”

In the inside He’ll strengthen you.  On the outside He’ll shield you so that you’re never hit with satanic arrows that are going to destroy you and you have the internal strength to maintain your faith.  There is your great security, beloved.  No matter what comes or goes, a faithful Lord will strengthen you on the inside and guard you from attacks by the enemy on the outside.

I suppose Jude had it all when he said this, “He is able to keep you from stumbling and to make you stand in the presence of His glory, blameless with great joy.”  He will strengthen you so you don’t fall.  He will protect you so Satan cannot destroy you.

Paul says that he has confidence in the Lord about the Thessalonians, that they are doing well and will do what he commands (verse 4), i.e. obey the Gospel message.

MacArthur reminds us that the Gospel is a command to obey God through obedience to Jesus Christ:

The pastor has spent his time teaching the Word of God, in a sense, commanding. Remember Paul said to Timothy, “Command and teach.” Teaching has the note of authority because we give you the Word of God. And Paul has the desire for his people that they maintain a pattern of obedience. Verse 4, “We have confidence,” and it’s a very positive approach to this exhortation, “we have confidence in the Lord,” not in your flesh, “but in the Lord concerning you, that you are doing and will continue to do what we command”

Were these personal commands by Paul? No, he was simply passing them on. They came from God. He’s essentially saying to them what he noted about them back in chapter 4 of his first letter. He said, “You ought to walk and please God just as you actually do walk, that you may excel still more.” You’re already doing it. I want you to do it more. I want you to do it better. Here he says it again. You’re already doing it. I want you to continue to do it in the future.

Do what? Obey my commands. Scripture is command. Did you know that? It is command. Scripture in Psalm 19 is called, “the commandments of the Lord.” Jesus said in the Great Commission, “Teach them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you.” Do you know that even the gospel is a command to repent and believe? All injunctions are commands. And so he says I want to see your continued, sustained, ongoing obedience and I’m confident in the Lord that you will continue by His strength to obey as you have been obeying.

Paul concludes this section of his letter by praying that the Lord direct their hearts to the love of God and the steadfastness of Christ (verse 5).

Certainly, the Thessalonians were already experiencing that, but Paul wanted it to be enduring and ever-expanding.

Henry explains the beauty of the verse, which is one of blessing:

It is a prayer for spiritual blessings. Two things of the greatest importance the apostle prays for:—1. That their hearts may be brought into the love of God, to be in love with God as the most excellent and amiable Being, the best of all beings; and this is not only most reasonable and necessary in order to our happiness, but is our happiness itself; it is a great part of the happiness of heaven itself, where this love shall be made perfect. We can never attain to this unless God by his grace direct our hearts aright, for our love is apt to go astray after other things. Note, We sustain a great deal of damage by misplacing our affections; it is our sin and our misery that we place our affections upon wrong objects. If God directs our love aright upon himself, the rest of the affections will thereby be rectified. 2. That a patient waiting for Christ may be joined with this love of God. There is no true love of God without faith in Jesus Christ. We must wait for Christ, which supposes our faith in him, that we believe he came once in flesh and will come again in glory: and we must expect this second coming of Christ, and be careful to get ready for it; there must be a patient waiting, enduring with courage and constancy all that we may meet with in the mean time: and we have need of patience, and need of divine grace to exercise Christian patience, the patience of Christ (as some read the word), patience for Christ’s sake and after Christ’s example.

MacArthur says:

Paul’s expectation, because of the Lord’s faithfulness to His people, because they had an obedient inner man delighting in God’s command, was that they were going to be all right.  But he wanted them to continue spiritual growth.  And in a sense, that’s really what he’s saying in this verse.  “May the Lord direct your hearts.”  The word “direct” here means to make straight, “heart,” your inner person.

The word “direct” is used in 1 Thessalonians 3:11 of removing all the obstacles and hindrances out of the way and opening up a path.  May the Lord open up a path for you so that your inner man can move down that path.  He doesn’t want any static here, nothing stationary.  You aren’t there yet.  I want the Lord to open the path to clear the trail and to move your inner man down that path. To what?  Into the love of God.

Is that objective or subjective?  Are we talking about into God’s love for you, or your love for God?  And the answer is probably both.  I love that ambiguity in the epistles.  The Greek language provided the original writers a certain ambiguity that resulted in the fullness of the truth.  Down the path into God’s love for you and your love for Him … For you technicians that’s the objective and subjective genitive. And when you look at it, you can’t tell the difference in the original language and we feel that that’s because they’re both there. 

Go down the path deeper and deeper into God’s love for you which is going to cause you to love Him more and more. And secondly, he says, I want the Lord to lay out the path and push your inner being down the path into, notice it, the steadfastness or the patience of Christ. That can be either one; his patience with us or our patience in His strength through endurance. I want you to go down the path learning more and more how patient, how enduring Christ is over your sins and your problems and your struggles and even how greater you can understand His own endurance in His own struggles, and then consequently have a greater endurance of your own.

I want you to know more about God’s love so you can love Him more. I want you to know more about Christ’s endurance so you can endure more. I want you to grow spiritually in your love and in your endurance. That’s his point. You’re not there. I want you to advance in love and advance in patience under persecution as Christ did.

In other words, Paul wants them to pursue the lifelong process of sanctification, which they had already begun. He wants them to continue on that Christian journey, which should never be static.

MacArthur summarises the duty of congregations to their clergy:

What is the duty then of the people to the pastor? The sheep to their shepherd? To be prayerful on his behalf, that his message may succeed and that he may be safe in the proclamation of it. Their duty to him is to continue in their faithful trust in a faithful Lord who will never allow them to be weak on the inside and who will never allow them to be assaulted beyond what they are capable on the outside but will always be there to strengthen and protect them; and the duty to be obedient, to continue in the presence or absence of the shepherd to follow obediently the commands which he gave them from God …

So, with a growing love and a growing endurance of the difficulties of life, the pastor wants his congregation to obey, trusting in the faithfulness of the Lord and praying always for the shepherd. No pastor could ask more than that from his people, that they be prayerful, trusting, obedient and spiritually growing. That’s my desire for you, that God may be glorified in His church.

Next week’s verses conclude 2 Thessalonians.

Next time — 2 Thessalonians 3:13-18

The Third Sunday after Epiphany is January 22, 2023.

Readings for Year A can be found here.

The Gospel is as follows (emphases mine):

Matthew 4:12-23

4:12 Now when Jesus heard that John had been arrested, he withdrew to Galilee.

4:13 He left Nazareth and made his home in Capernaum by the sea, in the territory of Zebulun and Naphtali,

4:14 so that what had been spoken through the prophet Isaiah might be fulfilled:

4:15 “Land of Zebulun, land of Naphtali, on the road by the sea, across the Jordan, Galilee of the Gentiles

4:16 the people who sat in darkness have seen a great light, and for those who sat in the region and shadow of death light has dawned.”

4:17 From that time Jesus began to proclaim, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.”

4:18 As he walked by the Sea of Galilee, he saw two brothers, Simon, who is called Peter, and Andrew his brother, casting a net into the sea for they were fishermen.

4:19 And he said to them, “Follow me, and I will make you fish for people.”

4:20 Immediately they left their nets and followed him.

4:21 As he went from there, he saw two other brothers, James son of Zebedee and his brother John, in the boat with their father Zebedee, mending their nets, and he called them.

4:22 Immediately they left the boat and their father, and followed him.

4:23 Jesus went throughout Galilee, teaching in their synagogues and proclaiming the good news of the kingdom and curing every disease and every sickness among the people.

Commentary comes from Matthew Henry and John MacArthur.

N.B.: This is a long post, as it entails much geography and history.

Last Sunday’s reading was John 1:29-42, which was our Lord’s first call to John the Baptist’s disciples John (unnamed), Andrew and Simon Peter. Anyone who missed reading it and is unfamiliar with the text might wish to examine it.

Furthermore, today’s First Reading is Isaiah’s prophecy of our Lord’s arrival in Galilee:

Isaiah 9:1-4

9:1 But there will be no gloom for those who were in anguish. In the former time he brought into contempt the land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali, but in the latter time he will make glorious the way of the sea, the land beyond the Jordan, Galilee of the nations.

9:2 The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who lived in a land of deep darkness on them light has shined.

9:3 You have multiplied the nation, you have increased its joy; they rejoice before you as with joy at the harvest, as people exult when dividing plunder.

9:4 For the yoke of their burden, and the bar across their shoulders, the rod of their oppressor, you have broken as on the day of Midian.

Matthew tells us that when Jesus heard that John the Baptist had been arrested, He withdrew to Galilee (verse 12).

Unbelievers often think that Jesus operated randomly. On the contrary, God had a plan, and everything went according to His plan, which will become clearer in this post.

John MacArthur discusses John 1:29-42 and the verses that follow to give us more of an insight into our Lord’s initial calling of His disciples, who were not yet His Apostles:

First day, “He is here.”  Second day, John says, “Behold Him.  Behold Him.  See Him.  That’s who He is.”  And he points to Jesus Christ, the Lamb of God, the Son of God.  There was a third day, verse 35“Again the next day John stood with two of his disciples, and looking upon Jesus as he walked away” – the best rendering – “he looked to Jesus as he walked away.”  First day He stood in the crowd.  Second day He came out of the crowd and stood with John, and John said, “This is Him.”  And now He’s walking away.  Day three.

Look at verse 36, “‘Behold the Lamb of God!’  And the two disciples heard him speak, and they” – Did what? – “they followed Jesus.”  Day one, John says, “He’s here.”  Day two, he says, “Behold Him.”  Day three, he says, “Follow Him.”  “Follow Him.”  In effect, that’s what he was saying; and so Jesus lingered after His temptation for three days so that the testimony of John, the witness of John, as chapter 1:19 says, could be completed, and then He walked away And John said to his own disciples, “You go after Him.  You follow Him.”  Jesus was making the transition from the days of the Old Testament to the New, from John the Baptist to Himself; and so Jesus walked away; and they followed Him.  And you know what?  He called them to be His disciples.

From verses 38 to 51 of John 1, Jesus calls the first group of disciples.  Andrew, and another one who isn’t named – and take a wild guess who that might be.  John; and Peter and Philip, and who was the last one?  Nathaniel.  He gathers the first group, makes the first call.

Matthew Henry’s commentary has a summary of events from that point to today’s Gospel reading and explains why Matthew begins his account here:

Several passages in the other gospels, especially in that of St. John, are supposed, in the order of the story of Christ’s life, to intervene between his temptation and his preaching in Galilee. His first appearance after his temptation, was when John Baptist pointed to him, saying, Behold the Lamb of God, John 1 29. After that, he went up to Jerusalem, to the passover (John 2.), discoursed with Nicodemus (John 3.), with the woman of Samaria (John 4.), and then returned into Galilee, and preached there. But Matthew, having had his residence in Galilee, begins his story of Christ’s public ministry with his preaching there, which here we have an account of.

John has the intervening detail because he was following Jesus and was a witness to it.

MacArthur elaborates on that same timeline and calls our attention to the following verses in John 3:

22 After this [teaching Nicodemus], Jesus and his disciples went out into the Judean countryside, where he spent some time with them, and baptized. 23 Now John also was baptizing at Aenon near Salim, because there was plenty of water, and people were coming and being baptized. 24 (This was before John was put in prison.)

He says:

Isn’t that interesting?  John and Jesus simultaneously preaching and baptizing.  The transition isn’t over yet.  There’s still a little overlap.  John is still gathering people to himself, transmitting them to Jesus, little by little; and both are working side by side.  It’s a time of transition – and John kept on baptizing until verse 24 says, “He was not yet cast into prison.”  He continued his ministry till he was thrown in prison.  In fact, that’s the way God stopped his ministry

John had done his work.  He had heralded the King.  He had pointed Him out.  He had told the people to follow Him.  Jesus had come to Jerusalem, proclaimed Himself.  He’d come to His temple.  He cleansed His temple.  He’d gone to Cana.  He’d done a miracle to establish who He was, and then He rested a little while in Capernaum.  He came back to the – to be with His disciples, continued His ministry while John continued to preach. But now it was time for Him to begin His work.  It was time for John to phase out and Jesus to phase in; and Jesus knew He had to go to Galilee to start, so we come to chapter 4. But before that, at the end of chapter 3, John gives us the great phase out. And John says in verse 30, “He must” – What? – “increase, and I must decrease.”  He says, “It’s the end of me and the beginning of Him,” and Jesus takes over in chapter 4.

MacArthur points out the divine plan at work:

We see Him begin His ministry at the right point, in the right place, by the right proclamation, with the right partners, on the right plan, for the right purpose.  I just want you to get the picture that God does things right. When Jesus began His ministry, it was right – at the right point; in the right place; with, by the right proclamation; with the right partners; on the right plan; for the right purpose.

His ministry began, first of all, at the right point.  Let’s look just at that.  At the right point, verse 12.  “Now when Jesus heard that John was cast into prison, he departed into Galilee.”  The sense of timing in the life of Jesus Christ is absolutely amazing.  He was always on a divine timetable.  He had in His heart an eternal clock clicking away, with sovereign hands ticking off His destiny with unfailing accuracy.  He moved gracefully in accord with a divine timetable.  Everything at its exact moment.

John’s Gospel has several references to that timetable:

Throughout the gospel of John, particularly, He talks about His hour has not yet come His hour is not yet come.  His hour is not yet come.  And then, later on in the gospel, all of a sudden you find Him beginning to say in the 13th chapter, “Mine hour is come.”  “Mine hour is come.”  You find it again in the 17th chapter.  He had a sense of timing that was divine.  There was a time and a point for everything, and Jesus knew that He would begin His official ministry when John was in prison It was time to start.

Matthew has this, this aspect of the Holy Spirit’s inspiration to set up as a real feature here for us that we might see the incredible and amazing accuracy of God’s historic plan.  It was the hour for Jesus to begin.

Surely, Jesus in His omniscience would have known that John was in prison. No doubt, but MacArthur says:

Well, He never used His supernatural knowledge – to bypass ordinary means that could accomplish the same thing.  That was part of His becoming human — submitting Himself where … at all possible, to all human characteristics So He heard, and what He heard is this:  John was cast into prison. 

I will summarise MacArthur’s account of why John was thrown into prison, for those who do not know the story:

I’ll show you how it happened, because the whole story is in Luke 3:19.  Two verses tell it; Luke 3:19

“But Herod the tetrarch – now that’s just a mathematical word that means a ruler over a fourth of something; Herod who was the ruler over a fourth of something.  This man’s real name was Herod Antipas

Now, let’s see what happened.  “Herod the tetrarch, being reproved by John the Baptist for Herodias, his brother Philip’s wife, and for all the evils which Herod had done, added yet this above all, that he shut up John in prison”

Herod Antipas was the son of Herod the Great and Malthace.  He had a half-brother named Herod Philip.  Please, that is not the same as Philip the tetrarch.  He named two sons Philip, just to go with the two wives named Mariamne, so nobody could ever figure out anything. Anyway, Herod Antipas had a half-brother by a different mother, but the same father, by the name of Philip.  Now, Philip was such a rotten kid that he was rejected by his father, and he didn’t get a piece of anything.  He wound up in Rome living as a private citizen He was extremely wealthy, but he had no royalty.  He was not given any kind of kingdom.  He was simply a private citizen.

Now, he had a wife who was just a horrible, ghastly, immoral, awful woman by the name of Herodias. So you have this man named Philip, who is a non-ruling member of Herod the Great’s family, living in Rome.  He’s got this wife, Herodias, who eventually gets her daughter, Salome, to dance and get John the Baptist’s head on a plate She’s a rotten, vile, incredible woman who literally destroyed everything she touched …

Well, Herod Antipas visited Rome to see his half-brother, who was married to his father’s son’s daughter, Herodias. And to make it worse, he seduced his half-brother’s niece, Herodias, committing some kind of horrible incest to add to what was already a horrible debacle He literally seduced Herodias, committed adultery, incest, and led her to divorce Philip and marry him Well, you know what happened?  John the Baptist didn’t think that was right, and it says in verse 19, um, that John the Baptist “reproved him for all the evils which Herod had done.”

You know, he was a bold, blunt, powerful, godly man; and he just said it because it needed to be said.  You know what happened?  Herod Antipas grabbed him and threw him in prison, and it wasn’t very long, and it is Matthew 14 that Salome did her dance, and they went in there, and they whacked his head off, and brought it in on a plate. He was imprisoned in a dungeon, in a castle of Machaerus.  Machaerus is located on the shore of the Dead Sea, and archeologists have found it.  They found the tunnels.  They found the caves that were a part of that ancient prison; and it was there that John was kept until he was finally beheaded, all because he was bold and strong and fearless

So Jesus withdrew to Galilee, walking towards rather than away from potential danger:

Was Jesus afraid?  Did He run to Galilee because He feared what Herod Antipas might do to Him?”  I’ve got news for you.  I told you about ten minutes ago that Herod Antipas was the ruler of – What? Galilee. If, if that was the problem, then He went the wrong way.  He shoulda run into the territory of Archelaus, or the territory of Philip the tetrarch.

It should be noted that the Jewish hierarchy were delighted when Herod Antipas had John the Baptist arrested and imprisoned. This, too, was part of the divine plan:

John chapter 4, verse 1.   Now listen.  This is most interesting.  Do you know what the Jewish leaders felt when John was imprisoned by Herod?  You know how they felt?  Take a guess.  They were thrilled.  They didn’t try to stop it.  They didn’t try to forbid it.  They were 100 percent thrilled that John the Baptist got put in prison.  Jesus knew it.  They wouldn’t have done it, because it would’ve feared the people; but when it was done, they were thrilled.  Now look at verse 1 of John 4.  “When therefore the Lord knew how the Pharisees had heard that Jesus made and baptized more disciples than John, He left Judea and departed into Galilee.”

Listen, they hated John for making so many disciples; and they were glad when Herod did what he did; and, listen, when Jesus heard that they knew He did more than John did, then He knew well what would be coming for Him You say, “Was He afraid of them?  Was He afraid of the Pharisees?”  No, He was avoiding a premature crisis, and He did it all through His life.  It wasn’t His hour, right?  It wasn’t His hour.  It wasn’t time for Him to be captured in Jerusalem.  It wasn’t time for Him to have a conflict with the Pharisees.  It wasn’t on God’s clock or God’s calendar yet.  Listen, when the time came, Jesus would face those Pharisees nose to nose He would face those religious leaders head on.  He would face the Sadducees, the chief rulers of the Jews, and He wouldn’t wince, and He wouldn’t back down when the time came.  He even said to them, “You don’t take My life from Me.  I lay it down of Myself.  I have power to lay it down.  I have power to take it up.”  And when they came to get Him in the garden in John 18, He said, “You just listen to this.  If I wanted, I could call on legions of angels.”  He didn’t run because He was afraid of Herod, and He didn’t run because He was afraid of the Pharisees.  He went to Galilee because He was avoiding a premature crisis.

Galilee, though endowed with abundant fish in the sea — or Lake Gennesaret, as Luke calls it — and wonderfully fertile land, was essentially a backwater. No one outside of the area had a high opinion of it.

Henry says:

The place where he preached; in Galilee, a remote part of the country, that lay furthest from Jerusalem, as was there looked upon with contempt, as rude and boorish. The inhabitants of that country were reckoned stout men, fit for soldiers, but not polite men, or fit for scholars. Thither Christ went, there he set up the standard of his gospel; and in this, as in other things, he humbled himself.

Matthew says that Jesus left Nazareth and made His home in Capernaum, by the sea, in the territory of Zebulun and Naphtali (verse 13).

Henry reminds us:

… he left Nazareth; particular notice is taken of that, v. 13. And with good reason did he leave Nazareth; for the men of that city thrust him out from among them, Luke 4 29. He made them his first, and a very fair, offer of his service, but they rejected him and his doctrine, and were filled with indignation at him and it; and therefore he left Nazareth, and shook off the dust of his feet for a testimony against those there, who would not have him to teach them. Nazareth was the first place that refused Christ, and was therefore refused by him. Note, It is just with God, to take the gospel and the means of grace from those that slight them, and thrust them away. Christ will not stay long where he is not welcome. Unhappy Nazareth! If thou hadst known in this thy day the things that belong to thy peace, how well had it been for thee! But now they are hid from thine eyes.

MacArthur has more:

When He got to Galilee, first place He went, where do you think?  Where had He spent the first 30 years of His life?  Where?  Nazareth – that little town, that little town on the brow of that hill.  I’ve seen it a few times.  That little town that just sits up there and kinda sparkles.  Nazareth.  He went to Nazareth, and Luke tells us exactly what happened.  Luke 4:16, “And he came to Nazareth, where he had been brought up.  And as his custom was, he went into the synagogue on the Sabbath day.”  I imagine from the time He was a little boy that was true, don’t you?  I mean, I imagine from the time He was a child, Joseph and Mary had taken Him there.

And He stood up to read this time.  “And there was delivered to Him a book of the prophet Isaiah.  And when he had opened the book, he found the place where it was written, ‘The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he’s anointed me to preach the gospel to the poor; he has sent me to heal the brokenhearted, to preach deliverance to the captives, recovery of sight to the blind, to set at liberty them that are bruised, to preach the acceptable year of the Lord.’  And he closed the book, and he gave it again to the minister, and he sat down.  And the eyes of all them that were in the synagogue were fastened on him.  And he began to say unto them, ‘This day is this scripture fulfilled in your ears.'”  Wow!  What a statement!  He was saying, “I’m the Messiah.”

“And they all bore witness and wondered at his gracious words which proceeded out of his mouth.  And they said, ‘Isn’t this Joseph’s son?’  And he said unto them, ‘Ye will surely say unto me this proverb, ‘Physician, heal thyself: whatever we have heard done in Capernaum, do also here in thy country.’  And he said, ‘Verily I say unto you, no prophet is accepted in his own country.’  And that was really the beginning of the end.  He knew it, and you remember what happened?  When He got all done with His speech, verse 28, “Everybody in the synagogue, they heard these things, were filled with wrath They rose up, thrust him out of the city, led him to the brow of a hill on which their city was built, that they might throw him down headlong.”

…  “He, passing through the midst of them, went his way.”  It was too soon for Him to die.  He passed from their midst. 

Eventually, Capernaum ended up being no better than Nazareth:

You know, Capernaum wasn’t any more gracious to Jesus than was Nazareth, and one day Jesus cursed that city and said of that city, “Capernaum, it’s gonna be better for Sodom and Gomorrah in the day of judgment than it’s gonna be for you. This was My home.  You saw what I did.  You heard what I said.  You turned your back on Me.  Better for Sodom and Gomorrah than for you.

MacArthur gives us two reasons why Jesus went to Galilee rather than Judea or Jerusalem:

lest people think His message is an accommodation of current Judaism. But His message is for the world.

In my exegesis on Matthew 3:13-17, read two weeks ago on the First Sunday after Epiphany in Year A, I cited MacArthur’s sermon explaining that Matthew wanted the Jews to see Jesus as the Messiah, the King of Kings.

MacArthur reiterates that message in discussing today’s verses:

We’ve already seen the King’s ancestry, the King’s arrival, the King’s adoration, the King’s anticipation, the King’s announcer, the King’s affirmation, the King’s advantage, and now the King’s activity.  The King begins His ministry and Matthew picks it up

MacArthur gives us the history of Galilee, Zebulun and Naphtali.

This is what he says about Galilee:

“Galilee” comes from a Hebrew word, galil, which means “a circle,” and Galilee is, believe it or not, a circle.  It is an area that circles the sea known as the Sea of Galilee.  It is also called the Lake of Chinnereth, but basically we know it as the Sea of Galilee.  It is a country that circles that sea, bordered on the east plateau that now is known as the East Bank, bordered on the west by the Mediterranean Sea, on the north by the mountains of southern Lebanon, on the south by Judea, the southern part.  And there that circle surrounds the Sea of Galilee, and it’s known as Galilu, “Galilee.”  It’s stretched from the Lithiney River in the north to the Plain of Esdraelon, and even below.  On the west, all the way through the coastal plain to the sea, the Mediterranean Sea and on the east, it was bounded by the cliffs, that in that day were possessed by the nation Syria – today Arab territory.  Basically Galilee is about 50 miles from north to south and about 25 miles from east to west – 25 miles wide, 50 miles long; an area surrounding the Sea of Galilee.

Now it was a very densely populated area And you’ve got to have a little geography, folks, so this whole thing is going to mean something to you when you get into the Galilean ministry.  It is the most fertile region of Palestine, from the southern part of Palestine down around the city today known as Tel Aviv; down in the south, anciently known as Joppa.  Remember Joppa?  Peter was there on the roof when he got the vision.  Well, from the southern part all the way north into Galilee – now the city of Haifa being the major city of the north – that whole coastal plain is called anciently the Valley of Sharon And when you hear about the rose of Sharon, and that speaks volumes to anybody who understands geography because that valley is intensely fertile It is bordered all the way along by the Carmel Mountain range – you remember Elijah on Mt. Carmel.

So Carmel is a group of mountains, not one mountain, but a group that runs up the coast; and between the Carmel range and the sea is the valley of Sharon, incredibly fertile.  Then over the Carmel range there’s another area between the Carmel range and the Sea of Galilee – another fertile area, tremendously fertile.  This was the most productive land in all of the nation of Israel.  In fact, there was a saying that it was easier to raise a legion of olives in Galilee than to bring up one child in Judea.

MacArthur says that Josephus the historian was once a governor of Galilee:

Josephus, who at one time was the governor of Galilee – maybe you didn’t know that; Josephus the historian – said, quote, “It is throughout rich in soil and pasture, producing every variety of tree, and inviting by its productivity even those who have the least inclination for agriculture, it is everywhere killed and everywhere it is productive.”  Even people without a green thumb can make anything grow in Galilee.  And, of course, nowadays the nation Israel can produce all that it needs to supply its own nation with food right in those areas.

Now it also, because of its fertility, had an enormous population.  In fact, Josephus tells us, and he’s writing about the time of the New Testament era – maybe not pinpointing it exactly but close – and Josephus tells us that there were 204 villages in Galilee at that time Now if you know anything about an area 25 miles wide and 50 miles long, you know to get 204 villages in there is pretty packed.  In fact, none of the villages, according to Josephus, had fewer than 15,000 people, which would make the total population of Galilee about three million sixty thousand It’s amazing that they had that many people there and still had enough room left to grow the things, the things they grew.

Culturally, Galilee was less conventional than Jerusalem and had a lot of Gentiles. It was part of a major trade route to Africa:

It was much less traditional than Judea.  It would be sort of like the difference between trying to preach the gospel in a rural area of Italy as opposed to trying to preach the gospel in the Vatican City.  You just might run into a little tougher opposition in the Vatican City, because there was where the center of religious tradition existed.  The same is true in terms of the land of Israel.  Jerusalem was the place of tradition.  Galilee was a little freer.  In fact, Josephus says of the Galileans, and I quote him again, “They were fond of innovations and by nature disposed to change and they delighted in seditions,” or they liked revolution.  They liked to disagree. That’s a good place to begin.  In fact, the historians tell us that it was a great place to get a bunch of people for a revolution Or, if you wanted to start an insurrection, you just went to Galilee and gathered your army.  They were non-traditionalists.  They were ready, at the drop of a hat, to go against the grain.  And Jesus knew that that would be a good place to gather followers who wouldn’t be afraid to fight the old tradition.

Now the name Galilee got a little bit added to it, and if you’ll notice at the end of verse 15, it is called “Galilee of the Gentiles.”  Now that was the name of mockery because Galilee, though it was territorially Israel, had long ago begun to kind of mix together with the Gentiles And, of course, to a Jew that’s a very despicable thing to do, so there was much frowning upon Galilee because of the mixture of people that lived there But, you see, Galilee was surrounded by foreign people Along the coast, the very coastline itself, was that great people who sailed the Mediterranean Sea known as the Phoenicians.  On the northern part were Syrians.  On the southern part were Samaritans.  You remember the southern part of Israel, and the northern part were separated by Samaria where the half-breeds lived.  So they had the half-breed Samaritans on the bottom of them, and they had on the north and east the Syrians, and on the west they had the Phoenicians.

And so there was a tremendous non-Jewish influence And it tended to sort of water down the traditionalism, and they were open to something fresh, and they were open to something new, and Jesus knew that He selected that area.  Additionally, the roads of the world, the great roads of the world running from the east to the west and the north to the south, passed immediately through Galilee Now we know about this; in fact, there was a very famous road in those days known as the Way of the Sea And the Way of the Sea led from Damascus through Galilee and then made a left turn and went right down to Africa Things coming from the eastern part of the world would come to Damascus; they’d be taken west to Galilee and then straight down into Africa.  The road to the east went through Galilee and right on out to the furthest frontiers of the east, so it was a trade route Because of that there was a tremendous mingling.  Jerusalem never had that.  Because of Jerusalem’s location it was isolated It was on a high, high plateau.  People didn’t bother to go up there.  It was in a desolate desert area to the east and a coastline to the west – desert to the south, and so Jerusalem never had that trade element as did Galilee The traffic of the world passed through there.

MacArthur gives us the history of Zebulun and Naphtali:

Listen, Galilee’s geographical position had affected its history dramatically.  Originally Galilee was assigned when God gave Israel the land.  You remember God gave Israel the land.  They broke it up into twelve tribes, remember that?  Well, the Galilean section was given to Asher, Naphtali, and Zebulun.  You can find that in Joshua chapter 9.  It was Asher, Naphtali, and Zebulun.  Notice in verse 13 it tells us that it’s “the borders of Zabulon and Naphtali,” and that is also in verse 15.  So it was the original territory of these tribes.  But these tribes made a terrible mistake.  When God sent all the tribes into Israel, after the wanderings, and God got them all organized. He told them to do one thing, one very important thing.  He said, “Run out all the Canaanites.”  Get rid of all the Canaanites.  Zebulun and Naphtali didn’t do that.  And so from the very start, because they didn’t expel the Canaanites, they began with a mixed population.

So here they had this mixture from the very beginning.  In fact, in the 8th century B.C., 800 years before Christ, the Assyrians literally engulfed the whole land and took the people exile; and strangers settled in Galilee.  Another important date in the history of Galilee is 164 B.C.  A hundred and sixty-four years before the time of Christ, Simon Maccabees chased the Syrians back to their own territory and took back a remnant of Galilee.  In 104 B.C. a man named Aristobulus reconquered Galilee totally for the Jewish nation, and you know what he did?  He forcibly circumcised its inhabitants He was going to make it Jewish no matter what.  So, from the actual time of the captivity of the northern kingdom, in the 8th century, clear to 164, that was a place inhabited by strangers.  In 164 there was a remnant.  In 104 it was conquered again for the Jewish nation and repopulated by Jews.  But the influence through those centuries and centuries and centuries of Gentiles had tended to diminish the strong Jewish traditionalism of that part of the land of Israel.

So it was a place of variety, open to new ideas and new influences.  And Jesus was to begin in fertile soil where He knew He could gain a hearing before He went to Jerusalem where they slammed the door in His face and nailed Him to a cross.

MacArthur gives us the history of Capernaum:

The word means “the village of Nahum,” “the village of Nahum.”  Some say it was named after the prophet Nahum.  I don’t know.  If you translate the word Nahum it means “compassion.”  It could just be a title – “the village of compassion.”

It’s a famous little town.  In the time of Jesus it was a flourishing city Matthew himself had his tax office there Matthew 9:9 tells us that.  It was there that Jesus called his disciples.  John 1 – we studied last time – the first time Jesus called His disciples, the first group that He ever called, He called in Capernaum.  We’ll see again there in Capernaum, here in the fourth chapter, as we note His meeting with His disciples again.  It was in Capernaum that Jesus did miracle after miracle after miracle, and I don’t even want to take the time but there are at least eight different miracles in the book of Matthew that occurred in Capernaum.

… You know, I’ve been to Capernaum twice.  They have uncovered the remains of the city.  The ruins of the ancient synagogue at Capernaum have been lifted up.  The pillars are up.  The great beams of concrete or stone – really is what they are – stone have been laid on bits and pieces of the façade and the roof.  They have reconstructed the synagogue, and it’s a fantastic thing.  It’s right on the water.  You can stand in the middle of the synagogue and flip a rock into the Sea of Galilee.  To the left of that little synagogue, just a matter of a few steps away, is a house that they’ve uncovered.  They say it is the earliest house occupied by Christians, because everywhere they found the sign of the fish.  Some archeologists believe it was Peter’s house and that’s why the first church was established there.  But they know that Christians met there because they found all over the place the sign of the fish … 

Now the location was strategic.  It was right at the northern tip of the Sea of Galilee, a vital place.  You could get there by boat; you could get there by land – access from anywhere.  Now notice that it tells us that Capernaum, in verse 13, was in the seacoast, right on the water, “in the borders of Zabulon and Naphtali,” that is, in the tribal territory which once was assigned to Zebulun and Naphtali. And it’s called Galilee at the end of verse 13, or end of verse 15, “Galilee of the Gentiles.”  It was really Galilee of the Jews until all those influences had come in.  That was a title of mockery.

You know, one of the sad things about Capernaum is further on in Matthew.  We’ll get to this, but let me just give you a preview, Matthew 11:23, “And thou, Capernaum” – here’s the final verdict on His own city – “and thou, Capernaum, which art exalted unto heaven, shall be brought down to hades.”  Capernaum was exalted unto heaven because that was Jesus’ city.  Any city that could be the city of Jesus would be the recipient of the most exalted person that ever walked the earth.  They were exalted to the heavens but would “be brought down to hades: for if the mighty works, which have been done in thee, had been done in Sodom, it would have remained until this day.  But I say unto you, ‘That it shall be more tolerable for the land of Sodom in the day of judgment, than for thee.’”  That tremendous city situated, and I’ll tell you, on one of the most beautiful locations of any city I’ve ever seen – absolutely magnificently nestled at the foot of those beautiful hills, right on the coast, an incredible place for a city – and right now, in 1978, you know how many people live in Capernaum?  One old monk if he hasn’t died.  Desolate, as desolate as Sodom and Gomorrah, brought down to hades because it never recognized the Lord Jesus Christ.

Matthew says that Jesus went there to fulfil Isaiah’s prophecy (verses 14 and 15) in the aforementioned First Reading.

The prophecy said that the people who have sat in darkness have seen a great light — Jesus — and, for those of that region and in the shadow of (spiritual) death, light has dawned (verse 16).

Henry summarises the Old Testament history in those verses:

The prophecy that was fulfilled is this, v. 14-16. It is quoted from Isa 9 1, 2, but with some variation. The prophet in that place is foretelling a greater darkness of affliction to befal the contemners of Immanuel, than befel the countries there mentioned, either in their first captivity under Benhadad, which was but light (1 Kings 15 20), or in their second captivity under the Assyrian, which was much heavier, 2 Kings 15 29. The punishment of the Jewish nation for rejecting the gospel should be sorer than either (see Isa 8 21, 22); for those captivated places had some reviving in their bondage, and saw a great light again, ch. 9 2. This is Isaiah’s sense; but the Scripture has many fulfillings; and the evangelist here takes only the latter clause, which speaks of the return of the light of liberty and prosperity to those countries that had been in the darkness of captivity, and applies it to the appearing of the gospel among them.

The places are spoken of, v. 15. The land of Zebulun is rightly said to be by the sea coast, for Zebulun was a haven of ships, and rejoiced in her going out, Gen 49 13; Deut 33 18. Of Naphtali, it had been said, that he should give goodly words (Gen 49 21), and should be satisfied with favour (Deut 33 23), for from him began the gospel; goodly words indeed, and such as bring to a soul God’s satisfying favour. The country beyond Jordan is mentioned likewise, for there we sometimes find Christ preaching, and Galilee of the Gentiles, the upper Galilee to which the Gentiles resorted for traffic, and where they were mingled with the Jews; which intimates a kindness in reserve for the poor Gentiles. When Christ came to Capernaum, the gospel came to all those places round about; such diffusive influences did the Sun of righteousness cast.

He explains the spiritual darkness the people were in and the light that Christ and the Gospel brought to them:

Now, concerning the inhabitants of these places, observe, (1.) The posture they were in before the gospel came among them (v. 16); they were in darkness. Note, Those that are without Christ, are in the dark, nay, they are darkness itself; as the darkness that was upon the face of the deep. Nay, they were in the region and shadow of death; which denotes not only great darkness, as the grave is a land of darkness, but great danger. A man that is desperately sick, and not likely to recover, is in the valley of the shadow of death, though not quite dead; so the poor people were on the borders of damnation, though not yet damned-dead in law. And, which is worst of all, they were sitting in this condition. Sitting in a continuing posture; where we sit, we mean to stay; they were in the dark, and likely to be so, despairing to find the way out. And it is a contented posture; they were in the dark, and they loved darkness, they chose it rather than light; they were willingly ignorant. Their condition was sad; it is still the condition of many great and mighty nations, which are to be thought of, and prayed for, with pity. But their condition is more sad, who sit in darkness in the midst of gospel-light. He that is in the dark because it is night, may be sure that the sun will shortly arise; but he that is in the dark because he is blind, will not so soon have his eyes opened. We have the light, but what will that avail us, if we be not the light in the Lord? (2.) The privilege they enjoyed, when Christ and his gospel came among them; it was as great a reviving as ever light was to a benighted traveller. Note, When the gospel comes, light comes; when it comes to any place, when it comes to any soul, it makes day there, John 3 19; Luke 1 78, 79. Light is discovering, it is directing; so is the gospel.

It is a great light; denoting the clearness and evidence of gospel-revelations; not like the light of a candle, but the light of the sun when he goes forth in his strength. Great in comparison with the light of the law, the shadows of which were now done away. It is a great light, for it discovers great things and of vast consequence; it will last long, and spread far. And it is a growing light, intimated in that word, It is sprung up. It was but spring of day with them; now the day dawned, which afterward shone more and more. The gospel-kingdom, like a grain of mustard-seed or the morning light, was small in its beginnings, gradual in its growth, but great in its perfection.

Observe, the light sprang up to them; they did not go to seek it, but were prevented with the blessings of this goodness. It came upon them ere they were aware, at the time appointed, by the disposal of him who commandeth the morning, and causes the day-spring to know its place, that it may take hold of the ends of the earth, Job 38 12, 13.

From that time, Jesus began to proclaim, ‘Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near’ (verse 17), which is the same message that John the Baptist had preached.

Henry explains:

He had been preaching, before this, in Judea, and had made and baptized many disciples (John 4 1); but his preaching was not so public and constant as now it began to be. The work of the ministry is so great and awful [awe-inspiring], that it is fit to be entered upon by steps and gradual advances.

The subject which Christ dwelt upon now in his preaching (and it was indeed the sum and substance of all his preaching), was the very same John has preached upon (ch. 3 2); Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand; for the gospel is the same for substance under various dispensations; the commands the same, and the reasons to enforce them the same; an angel from heaven dares not preach any other gospel (Gal 1 8), and will preach this, for it is the everlasting gospel. Fear God, and, by repentance, give honour to him, Rev 14 6, 7. Christ put a great respect upon John’s ministry, when he preached to the same purport that John had preached before him. By this he showed that John was his messenger and ambassador; for when he brought the errand himself, it was the same that he had sent by him. Thus did God confirm the word of his messenger, Isa 44 26. The Son came on the same errand that the servants came on (ch. 21 37), to seek fruit, fruits meet for repentance. Christ had lain in the bosom of the Father, and could have preached sublime notions of divine and heavenly things, that should have alarmed and amused the learned world, but he pitches upon this old, plain text, Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand. [1.] This he preached first upon; he began with this. Ministers must not be ambitious of broaching new opinions, framing new schemes, or coining new expressions, but must content themselves with plain, practical things, with the word that is nigh us, even in our mouth, and in our heart. We need not go up to heaven, nor down to the deep, for matter or language in our preaching. As John prepared Christ’s way, so Christ prepared his own, and made way for the further discoveries he designed, with the doctrine of repentance. If any man will do this part of his will, he shall know more of his doctrine, John 7 17. [2.] This is preached often upon; wherever he went, this was his subject, and neither he nor his followers ever reckoned it worn threadbare, as those would have done, that have itching ears, and are fond of novelty and variety more than that which is truly edifying. Note, That which has been preached and heard before, may yet very profitably be preached and heard again; but then it should be preached and heard better, and with new affections; what Paul had said before, he said again, weeping, Phil 3 1, 18. [3.] This he preached as gospel; “Repent, review your ways, and return to yourselves.” Note, The doctrine of repentance is right gospel-doctrine. Not only the austere Baptist, who was looked upon as a melancholy, morose man, but the sweet and gracious Jesus, whose lips dropped as a honey-comb, preached repentance; for it is an unspeakable privilege that room is left for repentance. [4.] The reason is still the same; The kingdom of heaven is at hand; for it was not reckoned to be fully come, till that pouring out of the Spirit after Christ’s ascension. John had preached the kingdom of heaven at hand above a year before this; but now it was so much the stronger; now is the salvation nearer, Rom 13 11. We should be so much the more quickened to our duty, as we see the day approaching, Heb 10 25.

MacArthur says:

Luke 19:10 says, “For the Son of Man is come to seek and to save that which was lost.”  The work of winning the lost is God’s concern and Christ’s concern, and also the greatest concern of the Holy Spirit.  For it is the Holy Spirit who comes, according to John 16, to convict men of sin and of righteousness and of judgment.  It is the Holy Spirit who comes upon the church, and after we have received the Holy Spirit, we are made witnesses, Jesus said, “Unto me in Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria, and the uttermost part of the earth.”  The great concern of God is evangelism The great concern of Christ is evangelism The great concern of the Spirit is evangelism, saving the lost. 

When you come into the New Testament, you find it also is the apostles’ greatest concern Certainly, it was true of Paul.

As Jesus walked by the sea, He saw Simon Peter and his brother Andrew, casting a net into the sea, for they were fishermen (verse 18).

And he said to them, ‘Follow me, and I will make you fish for people (verse 19).

For these verses, I prefer the old translations. Here is Henry’s version of those two verses:

18 And Jesus, walking by the sea of Galilee, saw two brethren, Simon called Peter, and Andrew his brother, casting a net into the sea: for they were fishers. 19 And he saith unto them, Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men.

Interestingly, at least in the UK, the word ‘fisher’ is being used once again, as fisherman is rather outdated because more women are entering that industry.

And what is more memorable than ‘I will make you fishers of men’? It’s easily committed to memory.

This is our Lord’s second calling of Simon Peter and Andrew. With John the Baptist, Jesus called them to be His disciples.

Here Jesus is calling them to be Apostles.

MacArthur tells us:

This is phase two of their call.  I’m going to give you a little technical thing that’ll help you in your study of the gospels. We have several different calls of the disciples in the gospel.  Each gospel writer, for his own purposes, chooses one or the other.  There was a sequence of things.  In other words, there were at least five different times when Jesus sort of called them; each one taking them to a different level, kind of like you.  Once you were called to salvation, right?  Then, maybe there was a time in your life when you were called to a new level of commitment.  Then, maybe there was a time in your life, like in my life, when you were called to serve Jesus Christ in a specific way.  Then, maybe there was a time in your life when you were called to a specific place, to Grace Church, or some other specific ministry.  In other words, the way God directs us may have phases, and that is true in the case of the disciples.

The first call is in John chapter 1 ... This was their call to salvation.  Andrew, John, Simon, Phillip, Nathaniel and James called to salvation.  This was the initial call, and you remember it was when John the Baptist said, “Don’t follow me anymore.  Follow Him.”  They took off after Jesus Christ, and it was the call to salvation. 

Now, this is phase two in Matthew 4:18.  This is the call to be fishers of men.  They’re now going to follow Jesus, but it was only a kind of a momentary thing here.  It isn’t the full final departing from everything.  For now, they followed Him.  For this moment, for this day, for this time, they were called to win souls.  They were called to fish for men.  They were called to come after Him.

Immediately, Simon Peter and Andrew left their nets and followed Jesus (verse 20).

When Jesus moved on, He saw James and John, the sons of Zebedee, in the boat with their father, mending nets; He called them (verse 21).

James and John immediately left the boat and their father to follow Jesus (verse 22).

MacArthur says:

The Lord, when He thought about evangelism, He had a lot of folks in mind.  So He called these, Simon and Andrew, but also look at verse 21, “And going from there, He saw two other brethren, James the son of Zebedee, and John his brother, in a boat with Zebedee their father mending their nets; and He called them.”  Now He’s got four here, and He has a plan for them.  They’re rough jewels, these guys.  I want you to know that.  They are rough jewels.  They are tough, crusty, outdoorsmen.  No doubt a certain crudeness.  We know that in the case of Peter, and no doubt true of the others to some extent.  They had a lot of problems.  They had a lack of spiritual perception.  It didn’t matter what Jesus said for the first few months of His ministry, they never did figure it out …

… Jesus had to unravel everything.  They had a lot of learning to do.  They had a terrible lack of sympathy.  They were really an unsympathetic bunch …

They were terrible at prayer meeting.  They kept falling asleep.  They didn’t have a whole lot of courage.  When the shepherd was smitten, the sheep were scattered, right?  Great bunch!  No spiritual perception, no sympathy, no humility, no sense of forgiveness, not able to persevere in prayer, and a bunch of cowards.  “Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men.”  That’ll tell you what the Lord can do with you and me.  He’s terrific with raw material that shows little or no potential It’s a good lesson too.

I know something, though.  Jesus saw something there, didn’t He?  He saw something in them.  He knew what He was doing.  He picked out a potential.  He saw it there.  I thought to myself, as I was going through this, that the fact that He picked fishermen is sort of a rebuke to the whole Jewish system, isn’t it?  I mean why didn’t He pick rabbis to be His team; great, brilliant, astute, knowledgeable rabbis, or great leaders of Israel?  Fishermen?  What do they know?  They’d never been to school.  Maybe they can’t even read.  He relied on something better, didn’t He, than worldly wisdom?  Something better than human influence, something better than formal religion, something better than education, something better than ritual.  “Not many noble, not many mighty,” said Paul.  “He’s chosen the foolish things of the world,” the base things of the world

For three years, Jesus trained His men how to be available, how to have no favorites, how to be sensitive, how to secure a public confession, how to use love and tenderness and how to take time and to apply everything they ever knew as fishermen; patience, perseverance, courage, an eye for the right moment, and hide themselves in the midst of all of it.  I think whoever said it is right when he said, “Evangelism is not taught as much as it’s caught,” like everything else in the Christian life.

Henry says that the Old Testament also has examples of humble workers being called for something greater:

Note, Diligence in an honest calling is pleasing to Christ, and no hindrance to a holy life. Moses was called from keeping sheep, and David from following the ewes, to eminent employments. Idle people lie more open to the temptations of Satan than to the calls of God. (4.) They were men that were accustomed to hardships and hazards; the fisher’s trade, more than any other, is laborious and perilous; fishermen must be often wet and cold; they must watch, and wait, and toil, and be often in perils by waters. Note, Those who have learned to bear hardships, and run hazards, are best prepared for the fellowship and discipleship of Jesus Christ. Good soldiers of Christ must endure hardness.

As for James and John leaving Zebedee behind, Henry tells us:

Note, Those who would follow Christ aright, must leave all to follow him. Every Christian must leave all in affection, set loose to all, must hate father and mother (Luke 14 26), must love them less than Christ, must be ready to part with his interest in them rather than with his interest in Jesus Christ; but those who are devoted to the work of the ministry are, in a special manner, concerned to disentangle themselves from all the affairs of this life, that they may give themselves wholly to that work which requires the whole man

James and John left their father: it is not said what became of him; their mother Salome was a constant follower of Christ; no doubt, their father Zebedee was a believer, but the call to follow Christ fastened on the young ones. Youth is the learning age, and the labouring age. The priests ministered in the prime of their life.

Jesus went throughout Galilee, teaching in the synagogues, proclaiming the Good News of the kingdom and curing every disease and every sickness among the people (verse 23).

Henry says:

Observe, 1. What Christ preached—the gospel of the kingdom. The kingdom of heaven, that is, of grace and glory, is emphatically the kingdom, the kingdom that was now to come; that kingdom which shall survive, as it doth surpass, all the kingdoms of the earth. The gospel is the charter of that kingdom, containing the King’s coronation oath, by which he has graciously obliged himself to pardon, protect, and save the subjects of that kingdom; it contains also their oath of allegiance, by which they oblige themselves to observe his statutes and seek his honour; this is the gospel of the kingdom; this Christ was himself the Preacher of, that our faith in it might be confirmed. 2. Where he preached—in the synagogues; not there only, but there chiefly, because those were the places of concourse, where wisdom was to lift up her voice (Prov 1 21); because they were places of concourse for religious worship, and there, it was to be hoped, the minds of the people would be prepared to receive the gospel; and there the scriptures of the Old Testament were read, the exposition of which would easily introduce the gospel of the kingdom. 3. What pains he took in preaching; He went about all Galilee, teaching. He might have issued out a proclamation to summon all to come to him; but, to show his humility, and the condescensions of his grace, he goes to them; for he waits to be gracious, and comes to seek and save. Josephus says, There were above two hundred cities and towns in Galilee, and all, or most of them, Christ visited. He went about doing good. Never was there such an itinerant preacher, such an indefatigable one, as Christ was; he went from town to town, to beseech poor sinners to be reconciled to God. This is an example to ministers, to lay themselves out to do good, and to be instant, and constant, in season, and out of season, to preach the word.

II. What a powerful physician Christ was; he went about not only teaching, but healing, and both with his word, that he might magnify that above all his name. He sent his word, and healed them. Now observe,

1. What diseases he cured—all without exception. He healed all manner of sickness, and all manner of disease. There are diseases which are called the reproach of physicians, being obstinate to all the methods they can prescribe; but even those were the glory of this Physician, for he healed them all, however inveterate. His word was the true panpharmacon—all-heal.

Three general words are here used to intimate this; he healed every sickness, noson, as blindness, lameness, fever, dropsy; every disease, or languishing, malakian, as fluxes and consumptions; and all torments, basanous, as gout, stone, convulsions, and such like torturing distempers; whether the disease was acute or chronical; whether it was a racking or a wasting disease; none was too bad, none too hard, for Christ to heal with a word’s speaking.

Three particular diseases are specified; the palsy, which is the greatest weakness of the body; lunacy, which is the greatest malady of the mind, and possession of the Devil, which is the greatest misery and calamity of both, yet Christ healed all: for he is the sovereign Physician both of soul and body, and has command of all diseases.

May all reading this have a blessed Sunday.

John F MacArthurMy regular readers know that I have been writing about 2 Thessalonians over the past two weeks.

My January 8 post covered 2 Thessalonians 1:5-10, which is Paul’s brief yet stark description of the Second Coming.

In the two verses that follow, Paul wrote that he prayed for the enduring faith and love of the Thessalonians, some of whom were preoccupied by the prospect of the Second Coming, expecting it to be imminent:

11 To this end we always pray for you, that our God may make you worthy of his calling and may fulfil every resolve for good and every work of faith by his power, 12 so that the name of our Lord Jesus may be glorified in you, and you in him, according to the grace of our God and the Lord Jesus Christ.

In 1992, John MacArthur preached a sermon on those verses, ‘Praying for the Right Things, Part 1’, which is an excellent examination of prayer.

Excerpts follow, emphases mine.

MacArthur contrasts Paul’s prayer with many of our own:

That is what I would call a prayer report from Paul.  It is not a prayer, though his letters have many prayers in them, but it is a report of how he prays He is telling the Thessalonians the nature of his prayer for them.  And as you look at that prayer and consider it, you come to the conclusion that he is praying for the right stuff Sadly, the prayers of most Christians are directed toward the wrong stuff. 

Most of the time, Christians pray in regard to themselves and those they love for somewhat shallow things.  The prayers are often misdirected and very shortsighted and, in fact, selfish.  Christians typically pray for health and happiness and success.  They pray for personal benefit.  They pray for comfort.  They pray for solutions to fix all of the little problems of life.  They pray for a healed body or a home or food or a job or a car, a husband, a wife, a promotion, more money.  Those things, while they certainly make up part of life, are very low on Paul’s priority list They’re also very low on the priority list of Jesus, who said basically take no thought for what you eat or drink or wear, knowing full well that God supplies all of those things.  Get on with seeking matters that relate to the kingdom of God.  Often we ask, says James, and receive not because we ask amiss for the sole purpose of consuming it on our own lusts.  So very often we not only pray for the wrong stuff but we pray for the wrong reason ..

I suppose at this particular point I could ask the question of you:  What do you pray for?  When it comes down to you and your life and your family and the people in your world, the people you love, your church, for what do you pray?  What do you desire for yourself?  What do you desire for your spouse?  What do you desire for your children?  What do you desire for the people that you love?  What do you desire for the people in your church?  What do you really want? 

If God showed up and said, “I want to give you three wishes.  Whatever you ask I will do,” what would they be?  What would you ask God for?  Do you have the right values?  Do you have the right priority list?  We live in a world, of course, that is skewed, a world that is deviated, a world that knows little of true value We live in a world where people pursue all the wrong stuff.  And that massive overpowering pursuit that is all around us encroaches on our lives and gets us caught up in the very pursuit of things which mean nothing or should mean nothing to us

The world is full of fools, fools who the hard way learn what is the right stuff and fools who never learn what is the right stuff.  We who know the Lord Jesus Christ and who have the Word of God need not be so foolish.  We need not waste our time endeavoring to get what is ultimately, after all, not even valuable.  We need to spend our time gaining what is priceless.  Three wishes Paul had for them:  worthiness, fulfillment, and powerful service.  Before we look at those requests and their implications, I want us to consider the text from the perspective of prayer.  Paul begins in verse 11 by saying, “To this end also we pray for you,” and he introduces us to his resource.  Whatever it was that he wanted for the Thessalonians, he knew he could obtain only by prayer.  He did not turn to human ingenuity.  He did not turn to some program.  He turned to God. 

MacArthur looks at Paul in his role as shepherd of that flock, even though he was in Corinth at the time when he wrote his letter:

As we think about this great text and before we look at the requests and the reasons for the requests in verse 12, we need to look at this matter of the resource, which is prayer.  “To this end also we pray for you always.”  Several things flow out of that.  First of all, obviously, that he prayed for them.  Secondly, that he prayed for them all the time, unceasingly, which, of course, was typical of Paul.  And thirdly, that in praying for them all the time he had a goal in mind, to this end or for this reason or for this purpose.  His prayers were very pointed.  They were very direct.  They were not generic.  They were not general.  They were specific.  And the three things that were the goal or the end or the purpose or the direction of his prayer were worthiness, fulfillment, and effective service.  That’s what he prayed for.  He sought for them the right stuff. 

The pattern of prayer for the shepherd is a prayer for the sanctification of his people, for the maturity of his people, for the growth of his people, for the development of his people spiritually, and that is that for which Paul prays.  Not only, of course, did he pray for them but he also taught them the Word of God.  That’s the twofold responsibility

There are brief times that we’re able to teach.  There are unlimited times that we’re able to pray.  And the prayer life of the shepherd is a constant thing.  He may not always be on his knees.  He may not always have his hands folded or his eyes closed, but there is seldom a waking moment when the shepherd doesn’t have the sheep on his heart, and being on his heart they are thus carried to the heart of God, and the prayer for sanctification is a way of life.  So we’re not surprised when Paul, in writing his epistles, stops at points to pray or inject a prayer report about how he’s been praying and will continue to pray for them.  So here he says, “I know this, I want you to be sanctified.  I want you to be worthy.  I want you to be fulfilled.  And I want you to serve with power.  And the resource that I tap for that is God.  I go to God.”  And here we’re introduced to a wonderful balance We know we must teach the people because they must obey the Word to be sanctified.  But we also know that it is God alone who can prompt that obedience.  That’s why when anything good happens in our life, who gets the credit?  God.  Because in our flesh, we can do no good thing. 

MacArthur discusses the spiritual tension that the true Christian experiences:

So there’s a wonderful tension there that must be maintained in our hearts and minds that basically says if I’m going to be a sanctified Christian moving along the path to Christlikeness, if I’m going to be growing in grace and in the knowledge of the Lord, if I’m going to be more and more holy, moving from level of glory to the next level of glory, changed by the Holy Spirit to be more and more conformed to Christ, if that process is going on in my life, it demands my obedience.  I must obey the Word and the Spirit.  But I also know that the only way that that can happen is when God empowers it to happen And so I’m caught, as it were, on the vortex of that same tension that exists so many, many places in the Word of God and the truth of the Christian faith. 

But I want to speak to that, if I might, this morning because I think it’s important.  There is a growing response among Christian people to the truth of God’s sovereignty, and I thank God for that.  The church is finally awakening to the fact that God is an absolutely and utterly sovereign God, that God controls all things by the word of His power, that God will do what He will do when He will do it the way He will do it because He has so ordained and because He is absolutely in charge and because He has the power to do it.  God has set in motion His perfect purpose from before the world began.  It is all set and established by His infinite mind and will operate according to His infinite power and purpose.  I’m glad the church has affirmed that.  But I also am concerned that in the affirmation of the absolute sovereignty of God, there come not a depreciating sense of responsibility on the part of the believer, either on the one hand to pray or to obey. 

Just as obedience is an element in which God works His sovereign purposes of salvation and sanctification, so prayer is a human element by which that purpose is effected.  That is a mystery which is not understood but is believed. 

MacArthur looks at the prayers of Jesus, who is all divine and all human — another holy mystery:

In Luke 22 – this is fascinating – Jesus says to Peter, “Simon, Simon,” – and He called him by his old name when he was acting like his old self – “Simon, Simon, behold:  Satan has demanded permission to sift you like wheat.”  “Satan wants to come after you.”  And the implication is, “And I’m giving him permission.”  But you could also fill in the white spaces, “I know you’re going to survive.”  Right?  He knew that.  He knew Peter wouldn’t totally lose his salvation and be plunged into Satanic power and end up in hell, He knew that.  “Satan wants to have you and he’s going to put you through a very sifting test, and I’m going to let him do it.”  And He knew exactly how it would turn out.  But look at verse 32:  “But I have” – what? – “prayed for you.” 

Do you know that the prayers of Jesus were even a part of the sovereign plan of God?  Jesus didn’t say, “Well, there’s no sense in me praying, I know how this whole deals going to come out.”  Jesus didn’t say, “Well, not only do I know how it’s going to come out, I’m controlling the whole deal, so why should I pray?”  Jesus, in His humanity, gives us an example of one though knowing perfectly the plan of God who yet prayed for that plan to be fulfilled.  He knew Peter would pass the test, survive, ultimately give his life in the cause of Christ as a faithful servant, die a martyr, without renouncing his faith.  Jesus knew all of that, He planned all that, He made that all happen, He effected that in Peter’s life, and yet He prayed for Peter right here.  If the Son joins in prayer along with the sovereign plan of the Father, then should we do less?  Prayer and sovereign power go together with pleading and human responsibility. 

MacArthur advises us how to pray, citing an example from Isaiah 38:

You want to pray for one another, this is how you pray.  These are the things you pray for because these are the things that concern God.  God doesn’t really care about the little nuances of life as much as He cares about the big, spiritual issues of life.  You see, the purpose of God by the Holy Spirit is to conform you more and more to the image of Jesus Christ The little things in life that come and go are incidental to that process.  They work with that process maybe one way or another.  And so God has a sovereign plan which He will sovereignly fulfill, but within that sovereign plan there is a place for prayer as we line up ourselves up with that plan and as we even become the means to activate that plan for the effectual prayer of a righteous man does avail much – it does avail much. 

And do we need to be reminded of that most fascinating illustration about Isaiah?  Isaiah went to Hezekiah.  “This is what the Lord says,” Isaiah told him, “Put your house in order because you’re going to die.  You’re not going to recover.”  Isaiah 38:1 Told him, “You’re not going to recover; you’re going to die.”  After that, the king wept bitterly, you remember, and he prayed about his impending doom.  Well, it was Isaiah, then, who hadn’t even gotten out of the king’s house after delivering the first message who was told by God, “Go back and tell Hezekiah this:  This is what the Lord the God of your father David says, I’ve heard your prayer, seen your tears, I will heal you, I’ll add fifteen years to your life.”  Amazing.  The prophet’s own account makes it very plain that had the king not prayed, if he hadn’t prayed, he would have died.  So somehow the instrumentality of prayer fits into the plan as does obedience, for if you don’t obey, you won’t be sanctified.  If you don’t obey the gospel you won’t be saved. 

We cannot, then, believe in the sovereignty of God, we cannot just believe in the teaching of the Word of God if it somehow strips us of the passion to pray.  Prayer, then, is the heart longing to unite with the holy purposes of God for their accomplishment

Paul then prays, “And to this end, that God may count you worthy of your calling, fulfill every desire for goodness and the work of faith with power,” those three things.  They are magnificent things.  Worthiness, that has to do with spiritual character.  That the Lord would make you the kind of person you ought to be.  Fulfillment, that God would then fulfill in your life circumstances every holy longing And then, finally, that whatever service you do would be done with power.  That’s what God’s after.  A worthy life, a fulfilled life, a powerful life.  That’s the right stuff to pray for.  When you pray for your spouse or you pray for your children or you pray for your friends or you pray for your church or you pray in behalf of your own spiritual life, you pray for those things: worthiness, fulfillment, power in service

MacArthur concludes:

Can you stay focused?  Can you stay at the speed God wants you to stay at, moving toward the goal He wants you to move at with all the stuff going on around you and be undistracted?  Can you stay with the right stuff?  That’s the challenge.  You can’t, on your own, and that’s why Paul prays that you be able to by the power of God.

MacArthur’s reflections add a whole new dimension to the purpose of and petitions in prayer, things to think about in the week ahead.

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 Anglicised (ESVUK) with commentary by Matthew Henry and John MacArthur.

2 Thessalonians 2:6-12

And you know what is restraining him now so that he may be revealed in his time. For the mystery of lawlessness is already at work. Only he who now restrains it will do so until he is out of the way. And then the lawless one will be revealed, whom the Lord Jesus will kill with the breath of his mouth and bring to nothing by the appearance of his coming. The coming of the lawless one is by the activity of Satan with all power and false signs and wonders, 10 and with all wicked deception for those who are perishing, because they refused to love the truth and so be saved. 11 Therefore God sends them a strong delusion, so that they may believe what is false, 12 in order that all may be condemned who did not believe the truth but had pleasure in unrighteousness.

———————————————————————————————————-

Last week’s post discussed Paul’s description of the Second Coming, which, whilst brief, it is the starkest outside of the Book of Revelation.

He ended by discussing the saints who would marvel at the glory of the Lord on that day.

In the concluding verses of 2 Thessalonians 1, Paul says that he prays — or he, Timothy and Silas (Silvanus) pray — for the congregation to be upheld in their faith (emphases mine below):

11 To this end we always pray for you, that our God may make you worthy of his calling and may fulfil every resolve for good and every work of faith by his power, 12 so that the name of our Lord Jesus may be glorified in you, and you in him, according to the grace of our God and the Lord Jesus Christ.

Paul has more about the Second Coming in 2 Thessalonians 2, which begins as follows:

The Man of Lawlessness

Now concerning the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ and our being gathered together to him, we ask you, brothers,[a] not to be quickly shaken in mind or alarmed, either by a spirit or a spoken word, or a letter seeming to be from us, to the effect that the day of the Lord has come. Let no one deceive you in any way. For that day will not come, unless the rebellion comes first, and the man of lawlessness[b] is revealed, the son of destruction,[c] who opposes and exalts himself against every so-called god or object of worship, so that he takes his seat in the temple of God, proclaiming himself to be God. Do you not remember that when I was still with you I told you these things?

Verse 2 indicates that someone other than Paul spoke to or wrote to the Thessalonians about the Second Coming. In fact, it seems someone claiming to be Paul sent them a letter. The content must have alarmed them, because Paul felt the need to write this short second letter to the congregation.

It is strange how wrapped up people have been throughout history with regard to this event. Yet, they give little thought to the state of their souls with regard to death, likely to be the more immediate event. Some obsess over the end of the world yet neglect to prepare themselves for their leaving this mortal coil.

The man of lawlessness is the Antichrist, the real one to come in a time of apostasy.

Matthew Henry’s commentary sagely reminds us that there has always been a period of apostasy after a rise in piety, including in Old Testament times:

By this apostasy we are not to understand a defection in the state, or from civil government, but in spiritual or religious matters, from sound doctrine, instituted worship and church government, and a holy life. The apostle speaks of some very great apostasy, not only of some converted Jews or Gentiles, but such as should be very general, though gradual, and should give occasion to the revelation of rise of antichrist, that man of sin. This, he says (v. 5), he had told them of when he was with them, with design, no doubt, that they should not take offence nor be stumbled at it. And let us observe that no sooner was Christianity planted and rooted in the world than there began to be a defection in the Christian church. It was so in the Old-Testament church; presently after any considerable advance made in religion there followed a defection: soon after the promise there was revolting; for example, soon after men began to call upon the name of the Lord all flesh corrupted their way,—soon after the covenant with Noah the Babel-builders bade defiance to heaven,—soon after the covenant with Abraham his seed degenerated in Egypt,—soon after the Israelites were planted in Canaan, when the first generation was worn off, they forsook God and served Baal,—soon after God’s covenant with David his seed revolted, and served other gods,—soon after the return out of captivity there was a general decay of piety, as appears by the story of Ezra and Nehemiah; and therefore it was no strange thing that after the planting of Christianity there should come a falling away.

Paul, reviewing what he had told the Thessalonians when he was with them, says that they know what is restraining the Antichrist until the appropriate time (verse 6).

John MacArthur says:

Paul had told them. When he was with them he told them. We can only had wished that he had repeated it here. But he didn’t, he just says, “You know,” and so we’re all saying, “Right, they know but are we sure?” How did they know? He taught them when he was with them. It was information well known to them, if not to us. That which is restraining, notice it there, literally the verb means to hold down, or to hold back. And so he says you know what the restraining force is. It is in the neuter here. So here you’re talking about a force

Human forces deal with human issues, not supernatural issues. Human forces, human power, human ingenuity, human society, human institutions do not cope well with supernatural forces.

So the power that holds back Satan from bringing the Antichrist and the final apostasy must be supernatural. Now let me give you a little insight here. Satan doesn’t want to wait for God’s timetable. You understand that? He is in a hurry. If he had his way the Antichrist would be here now. If he had his way the Antichrist would have already been here. But that’s not God’s plan. God has a timetable and God is operating that timetable. And Satan wants it to happen now. He wants the final rebellion now. He wants the false Messiah now. He wants the blasphemy now. He wants to set himself up as the controller of the universe and his Antichrist, as it were, as Christ now. But God says no and he is being restrained by God through a supernatural means. The man of sin cannot come until God removes this restraining force.

So there is a power in operation and it has to be a supernatural power. It has to be dealing on another level, not just an earthly one. And it is retarding Satan from pulling off his plan with a final Antichrist. Now remember, this will be a human being. 

I think the Second Coming will be a long way away, because certain criteria must be fulfilled before the Antichrist comes to power.

MacArthur tells us:

You say, “What is the season?” Listen very carefully, you’ll understand it. God is redeeming His church. Before the foundation of the world, God ordained who would be redeemed. Their names were written in the Lamb’s Book of Life. If Satan were not restrained, he would come, he would send the Antichrist, he would bring the holocaust of final blasphemy and disaster and then God would step in and judge the whole thing and the Day of the Lord would come and the end would come but the problem would be there would still be people who had been planned by God to live and believe and populate His eternal kingdom who would not yet have been born. You understand that? So God must wait until the fullness of the Gentiles be come in, to borrow Paul’s term in Romans 11, until the whole plan is consummated, until all those from before the foundation of the world set for eternal redemption are born and believe, and only then can it come, otherwise Satan has successfully thwarted the plan of God. So, only in his time will he be revealed. Not Satan, not demons, not any human enterprise or human force of fallen men, no devilish plan, no purpose from hell can operate until God allows it. His plan, His power control everything including Satan and Antichrist. As one commentator put it, “Evil will not pass beyond its limits.” God would never allow that …

In God’s perfect time the Messiah came, and in God’s perfect time the false Messiah comes. In God’s perfect plan, Christ came. In God’s perfect plan, Antichrist comes on time on the schedule God has eternally ordained. He controls all of it. And He has ordained a specific time for the appearing, the manifestation, the apocalypse, the revelation, the unveiling of Antichrist just as He did for the appearing of Jesus Christ the first time and the appearing of Jesus Christ the second time. God the Father knows exactly when Christ will appear. You remember, Jesus said, “No man knows the day nor the hour except the Father,” He does know the day, He does know the hour, He knows the split second and He operates the plan that way.

Paul goes on to say that the ‘mystery of lawlessness’ — sin — is already at work then adds, ‘Only he who now restrains it will do so until he is out of the way’ (verse 7).

Henry relates the first part of this verse to the Church from its earliest days:

The apostle justly calls it a mystery of iniquity, because wicked designs and actions were concealed under false shows and pretences, at least they were concealed from the common view and observation. By pretended devotion, superstition and idolatry were advanced; and, by a pretended zeal for God and his glory, bigotry and persecution were promoted. And he tells us that this mystery of iniquity did even then begin, or did already work. While the apostles were yet living, the enemy came, and sowed tares; there were then the deeds of the Nicolaitans, persons who pretended zeal for Christ, but really opposed him. Pride, ambition, and worldly interest of church-pastors and church-rulers, as in Diotrephes and others, were the early working of the mystery of iniquity

MacArthur relates it more generally to Western society:

The true character of lawlessness, follow this, the true character of lawlessness is already at work. It’s already at work.  But you haven’t yet seen the final picture of it.  That’s the idea.  It’s already working.  Evil men are growing worse and worse, 2 Timothy 3:13. It already is visible.  We’re watching a dying culture.  We see iniquity prevailing and escalating.  And so the mystery is gradually unfolding.  It is already at work, but we have not yet seen in this world what lawlessness is really like. It is still somewhat of a secret.  And the world will not know how wretched sin is, how wicked Satan is, how evil the kingdom of darkness is until the mystery is fully revealed.  That happens when the apostasy takes place and the Antichrist sets himself as God

But even now, he says, the mystery is already at work. It’s already working powerfully and effectively.  In our world we have evil and wretchedness and vileness and wickedness and lies and hypocrisies and false teachers and false religions and they get worse and worse and worse and it’s almost as if the mystery is capped, but it’s in a jar maybe but it leaks and finally someday the whole thing is going to blow.  The final satanic plan to overthrow God and bring the false Christ is the ultimate form of the mystery of lawlessness and it’s not yet revealed.  But the spirit of this is in action.  First John 2:18 says, “There’s coming an Antichrist in the future but even now there are many Antichrists.”  That’s the same concept.  We can see the spirit of Antichrist.

MacArthur says that the second half of verse 7 explains verse 6, the force keeping the Antichrist at bay:

“Only He who now restrains will do so until He’s taken out of the way.” The mystery will not be fully revealed until He who restrains is taken out of the way. Now here’s a very important change. In verse 6, what restrains was neuter. Now we have “He” who restrains. We’ve moved from a neuter, a force, to a masculine, a person. And I believe this is a good indication that there is a person here, that there is a supernatural person who is exerting the force in verse 6. There is a force that restrains but there is a “He” who exercises that force.

Who is it? I believe the best understanding would lead us to believe it is the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit is the person who exerts the force that holds back Satan

So we have a number of passages in which the Holy Spirit is seen dealing with sin, wrestling with sin, confronting sin, convicting of sin, restraining sin.  No doubt He could be assisted by Michael, but Michael is not omnipresent.  And Michael is limited because he is a created angel.  I wouldn’t argue that He may use someone like Michael, an angel like Michael or other holy angels, but I believe it is the Holy Spirit who is the restrainer.

Now please note.  The Holy Spirit’s restraint will go on until half way through the time called the tribulation.  The period called the great tribulation is the second half of the seven years.  The Holy Spirit restrains until the mid point and then He allows the Antichrist to go into the temple, do the abomination, bring the apostasy, and then the horrors described in the book of Revelation take place, which lead to the Day of the Lord.  So that restraint will go on until the man of sin is revealed in God’s perfect time.  The Holy Spirit then, I believe, is most likely the restrainer because it must be a supernatural being. The Holy Spirit is the one most frequently associated with dealing with sin, restraining, convicting.  And we could see it as a neuter because there is a force that He exerts and as a masculine because He is a person.

By the way as a footnote for you that are interested, in the Upper Room discourse, Jesus spoke about the Holy Spirit.  And in that discourse as He spoke about the Holy Spirit interestingly enough, He fluctuated between the neuter and the masculine gendersIf you study the Greek text of the Upper Room discourse, John 13 to 17, you will see Him fluctuate between the neuter and the masculine referring to the Holy Spirit, depending on whether He was using a gender to agree with a grammatical term or whether He was using a gender to emphasize personality.  So the Holy Spirit can be spoken of in the neuter. After all, pneuma the Greek word for Spirit, is neuter. He can be spoken of in the masculine when He’s identified as a person.  So that’s not an unfamiliar thing in Scripture.  So I would take it that the Holy Spirit is preventing Satan from the full, final lawlessness under Antichrist until God’s perfect time.  And it has to be in God’s time because He has to redeem the church that is ordained from before the foundation of the world, He has to accomplish all that that involves.

The Holy Spirit will always be present, even during the tribulation period:

Listen, in the first place, the Holy Spirit is omnipresent, right? So He has to be everywhere. In the second place, people are going to be saved during this time and nobody is saved who isn’t begotten again by the Spirit. So the idea that the Holy Spirit leaves is not true. What happens is the Holy Spirit is taken out of the way in terms of blocking Satan, in terms of His restraining ministry. So the Holy Spirit is simply taken out of the way as a restrainer, removed as a roadblock, not removed from the world or no one could be saved and God wouldn’t be effecting His purposes and His plans. So we don’t want to make too much out of that. It is the Holy Spirit, He is not removed from the world, or there could be no evangelization by the 144 thousand, there could be no comprehension of the gospel because the Spirit has to quicken the mind, there could be no conversion because He alone is the one who gives eternal life, so He has to be here doing His work. He just stops the restraining part of it.

Once unrestrained, Paul says, the Antichrist is revealed and, at the Second Coming, Christ will kill him with the breath of His mouth and bring him to nothing (verse 8).

Henry posits that Paul wishes to comfort the Thessalonians:

The apostle assures the Thessalonians that the Lord would consume and destroy him; the consuming of him precedes his final destruction, and that is by the Spirit of his mouth, by his word of command; the pure word of God, accompanied with the Spirit of God, will discover this mystery of iniquity, and make the power of antichrist to consume and waste away; and in due time it will be totally and finally destroyed, and this will be by the brightness of Christ’s coming. Note, The coming of Christ to destroy the wicked will be with peculiar glory and eminent lustre and brightness.

MacArthur says that Paul is using an Old Testament expression in that verse:

This is very interesting: “By the breath of His mouth.”  He will be slain by the breath of His mouth.  In other words, the Lord doesn’t even have to do anything to destroy him, as formidable as he is, as powerful as he is, as monumental as he is in human history, the greatest world ruler the world has ever known. He has surpassing control over the whole of the earth. This massive Satanic empowered man is so powerful and yet Christ doesn’t have to do anything, He doesn’t have to call an army, He doesn’t have to speak a word, all He has to do is breathe and he will be destroyed.  That phrase, by the way, is an Old Testament one used in 11 of Isaiah, chapter 11 verse 4, “With righteousness He will judge the poor and decide with fairness for the afflicted of the earth, He will strike the earth with the rod of His mouth. With the breath of His lips He will slay the wicked.”  That’s obviously where Paul got it, with the breath of His lips He will slay the wicked, in this case the wicked one, even the Antichrist.

Again in Isaiah 30 verse 33, that phrase is used again.  “The breath of the Lord, like a torrent of brimstone, sets afire.”  God, as it were, lets the breath out of His mouth and it comes like fire and brimstone to consume and destroy.  Psalm 33:6 has a similar expression.

Notice again back there in verse 8, a second statement, “He will slay him with the breath of His mouth and bring to an end,” and bring to an end. Literally abolish, render inoperative, immobilize. Both verbs side by side give you the full annihilation of this man and his enterprise. Satan’s false Christ, he’s a counterfeit-like Jesus Christ.

Paul says that Satan will direct the Antichrist ‘with all power and false signs and wonders’ (verse 9).

Henry explains that these will seem to be supernatural signs but are not:

A divine power is pretended for the support of this kingdom, but it is only after the working of Satan. Signs and wonders, visions and miracles, are pretended … and lying wonders, or only pretended miracles that have served their cause, things false in fact, or fraudulently managed, to impose upon the people: and the diabolical deceits with which the antichristian state has been supported are notorious. 

MacArthur says that the Antichrist will make sure that what he does looks as much as what Christ did:

He has a parousia, he has a revelation just like Jesus Christ.  He has a message which is a lie.  He has a day just like Jesus Christ has a day.  He has power to do signs and wonders.  He even has a kind of resurrection, Revelation 13:12 and 13 indicates.  He has a supernatural person behind him.  In all of those ways he’s like Christ.  Christ has a coming, a revelation.  Christ has a message.  Christ has a day. Christ has the power to do signs and wonders.  Christ had a resurrection.  Christ has behind him the supernatural God.  But this one comes to a quick end and he’s destroyed with the breath of God’s mouth.  His whole enterprise is brought to an end.  Please note when it happens: By the appearance of His coming, that’s the Second Coming of Christ

And what happens to him? Revelation 20 verse 10 says he’s thrown into the lake of fire and brimstone and tormented there forever and ever, along with the devil and his angels and the false prophet. So we see the revelation of this man. He will be revealed in God’s time. And we see the destruction of the man. 

This will be a very difficult time for believers, I think, because unbelievers will persecute them for not believing in the Antichrist. We know how hysteria builds on social media. This will carry out into real life. Anyone who doesn’t believe in this satanic fraud will be considered a heretic.

MacArthur says the Antichrist’s works will all be very convincing:

So powerful is he, verse 10, that with all the deception of wickedness he works.  Now here he tells us about his power.  Paul says he comes in accord with the activity, the energeia, the energy of Satan.  By the way, that word energeia is used in Scripture for power in action.  You see it in Ephesians 1:19 and 20, you see it in Ephesians 3:7, Ephesians 4:16, Paul uses it a lot in that letter and it means power in action.  He comes with real power, okay?  This is not just deception.  This is not just tricks, magic.  He comes in real satanic power.  Satan’s power is limited, but it is real.  It is limited but it is real.  And so he comes in the actual energy of Satan.  It is limited in terms of comparison to God’s unlimited power, but whatever it is able to do he will be the manifestation point.

Then note again, “With all power and signs and false wonders.”  Power, signs, wonders, or you could translate it, miracles, signs and wonders. Dunamis is the word for power, also translated miracles.  What about that strikes you?  The same strikes me. Those are the same three things that are used to describe the works of whom?  Christ, miracles, signs, wonders, Acts 2:22.  Those are the same things that are used to describe the apostles, Hebrews 2:4, miracles, signs, wonders.  He’s a counterfeit. He’s a counterfeit. He mimics the true Christ.  And while it is not just magic, it is real supernatural power, it does have its limitations but it is convincing.

Note that Paul says the Antichrist will operate ‘with all wicked deception’ for those perishing — those condemned to Hell — because they refused to love the truth and, thereby, be saved (verse 10).

Again, this will be a terrible time for Christians who are alive to experience it.

MacArthur tells us:

Verse 10 says it is convincing enough to deceive people with all the deception that wickedness can muster. Would you please note it says with all power, or all miracles, signs and false wonders, literally miracles, signs and wonders that are false and deceptive; false not in the sense that they’re fakery, but that they lead to false conclusions about who he is. Power, what is that? Mighty displays of supernatural acts. Signs: Pointing to him as the one who does them, pointing to his supernatural power. Wonders: Getting the astonishing results. He will do powerful miracles which will point to him as a supernatural being and create wonder and shock and astonishment, so much so that people will conclude that he is divine, the Jews will conclude that he is the Messiah, people will conclude that he is God, he will set himself up as God, the world will fall at his feet and worship him. He will consume all other religion, the whole world will bow down to him and anybody who doesn’t will be destroyed by him. He will do mighty acts, pointing to himself as a supernaturally energized person, exciting and eliciting astonishment and wonder from the world.

The word “false” should be taken with all three. It’s pseudos, from which we get “pseudo.”  It shows the effect of the miracles, not the nature of them. They’re not false miracles in the sense that it’s fakery.  They are supernatural, satanic things, not like the miracles of God, but enough to be convincing.  The effect of them is to make people believe a lie.

And then verse 10, “With all the deception of wickedness.”  That is, all that wickedness can do to deceive, all the deceit that wickedness has at its disposal, all the deception that wickedness at its worst can produce.  The whole operation is a lie, it is false. It lures people to believe that Antichrist is the world’s savior, the world’s Messiah.  Even non-religious people are going to see him as the one who will solve the world’s problems, who will fix the world.  You can see how our world today would bow at the feet of a man like that, can’t you?  Especially if he could do supernatural things.  They’re going to believe that this is the man to deliver the world from all its troubles.  Religious people are going to believe this is God’s man; this is the world’s deliverer.  And every hellish, supernatural ploy Satan has will be used to achieve this deception. And he’ll do it and he’ll be successful because the Holy Spirit will step out of the way and not restrain itAll of evil’s undiluted, unrestrained power to deceive will act.

MacArthur explains the second half of verse 10:

In verse 10, he comes with all the deception of wickedness for those who perish because they did not receive the love of the truth so as to be saved.  The extent of his influence: On all who perish.  Literally those who are perishing, those who reject the truth, those who do not love the truth, the truth written, the truth incarnate.  If you don’t love the Word of God and love the Lord Jesus Christ so as to be saved, you will be caught up in the deception. The unregenerate will believe the lie.  Listen, they always believe a lie.  And you remember back in John 8 Jesus said to the Jews, “You’re not of God, you’re of your father the devil, and he’s a liar from the start.”  If you don’t believe the truth of God, you’ll believe the lie of the devil.  This is the class of people who will succumb to Satan’s deception.

In Matthew 24:24 we have a very important statement being made there.  There will be people being converted at this time and believing the truth and it says that this guy will be so formidable and so deceptive and so many signs and so many wonders will come so as to mislead if possible even the what? The elect, but it isn’t what? Possible.  The unregenerate, yes.  Their blindness is self-imposed because they did not receive the love of the truth so as to be savedIt’s the only time in the New Testament that phrase is used.  It doesn’t say they didn’t receive the truth, he adds that compelling thought they didn’t receive the love of the truth to show you that true salvation is a love relationship with truth written and truth incarnateThe love of the truth, the gospel, they gave it no welcome, they didn’t want it, they didn’t love it.

Back in chapter 1 verse 8 it says that the unsaved do not know God and do not obey the gospel.  They don’t know God, they don’t obey the gospel and they don’t love the truth.  John 3 says men love darkness rather than light because their deeds are evil.  They reject Christ’s words, they reject Christ’s person.  He said, “I am the way, the truth and the life,” He is the truth incarnate, embodied.  Ephesians 4:21, “If indeed you have heard Him and have been taught in Him just as truth is in Jesus.”

They don’t love Jesus, they don’t love truth.  Their unbelief is not a matter of mind, it is not a matter of intellect. It is a matter of heart. It is a matter of affection.  They may have heard, they may have understood, they may have even thought it was true, but they had no love for the truth.  I think we have a lot of people today who if you asked them – do you believe Jesus is God, died and rose again for salvation – would say yes but they don’t love Him or His truth.  This is the test of destiny.  If they had loved the truth, if they had loved Christ, they would have been saved and delivered from Satan’s lies and deception and destruction. So the guilt is theirs.  All unredeemed people are under some damning level of satanic deception.  Did you get that?  All unredeemed people on the face of the earth are under some damning level of satanic deception. They are all believing a lie.  And we’re not surprised to find these folks sucked up in the lie of Antichrist because it’s the most powerful embodiment of satanic deception in the history of the world.

Ultimately, this is Paul’s message to the Thessalonians:

… So Paul says, look, don’t be deceived, don’t be forgetful and don’t be ignorantYou are not in the day of the Lord, it hasn’t come. It won’t come until the apostasy pulled off by this man of lawlessness. 

Paul’s final two verses discuss unbelievers.

Because they refused to love the truth (of Christ), God sends them a strong delusion so that they can believe what is false (verse 11).

Henry says that this is God’s judgement. God withdraws divine grace from them:

God shall send them strong delusions, to believe a lie. Thus he will punish men for their unbelief, and for their dislike of the truth and love to sin and wickedness; not that God is the author of sin, but in righteousness he sometimes withdraws his grace from such sinners as are here mentioned; he gives them over to Satan, or leaves them to be deluded by his instruments; he gives them up to their own hearts’ lusts, and leaves them to themselves, and then sin will follow of course, yea, the worst of wickedness, that shall end at last in eternal damnation. God is just when he inflicts spiritual judgments here, and eternal punishments hereafter, upon those who have no love to the truths of the gospel, who will not believe them, nor live suitably to them, but indulge false doctrines in their minds, and wicked practices in their lives and conversations.

MacArthur posits that unbelief is a moral decision and a conscious one at that:

Scripture is absolutely crystal clear on this issue. Going back, for example, to the words of our Lord Himself in John chapter 5 and verse 39, Jesus speaking, “You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life.  And it is these that bear witness of Me.”  Then verse 40, “And you are unwilling to come to Me that you may have life.”  Your problem is not a lack of information.  You search the Scriptures and they tell about Me, but you won’t come to Me that you might have life.  Their antipathy, listen, their antipathy to truth is not intellectual.  Their antipathy to truth is moral.  Did you get that?  Their resistance to the gospel is not intellectual. Their resistance to the gospel is moral.  In John 8 verse 24, Jesus said this, “I said therefore to you that you shall die in your sins, for unless you believe that I am He, you shall die in your sins.”

Why do people go to hell?  Because they die in their sins.  That is, their sins have never been forgiven, atoned for, or covered, and so hell is where they will pay for them forever.  Why do they die in their sins?  Because they believe not on Me.  Why do they not believe?  Because they are unwilling to believe; it is a question of human volition.  And again I say, their antipathy is not intellectual. It is moral.  It is moral.  If you go to someone and say, “There is a God who loves you.  There is a God who loves you so much that He came into the world in the form of a man to die on a cross to pay the penalty for your sins.  And He wants to forgive you all your sins.  And He wants you to be free from any guilt or any condemnation or any judgment and He wants you to spend eternity in glory and bliss and joy and happiness and peace.”  I daresay to you that anybody is going to say, “I like that.” I like that.  I like a God who is willing to forgive any of my sins.  I am very excited about a God who paid the penalty for my sins so that I will never be punished for any of them.  I like a God who wants to remove all my guilt, I like that.  I like a God who wants to give me peace and joy and love and satisfaction.  I like that.”

But the kicker in the whole story is this. Are you willing to abandon your sin, repent of it, and turn toward the path of righteousness, and embrace Jesus Christ as Lord?  You see, the decision is a moral one, not an intellectual one.  You give someone the intellectual data of the gospel. But now you confront them and you say, will you love the truth or will you love your sin?  And you have faced them with a moral dilemma.  And, in fact, according to John 3:19, it is simply resolved in these words, “Men love darkness rather than light because their deeds are evil.”

Coming to Christ is not an intellectual decision, it is a moral one.  It is a decision that says I will no longer love my sin, I will love Christ.  Would you please notice verse 10?  They perish because they did not receive the love of the truth so as to be saved.  If they had received the love of the truth, they would be saved.  Note this, please. It doesn’t say they did not receive the truth, but they did not receive what? The love of it.  This marvelous, enlightening phrase, used only here, tells us what is really involved in accepting Christ and the gospel.  They had no desire to be saved.  They loved their sin, not the truth.

Now what is the truth?  Well certainly it’s the gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ, the truth that saves, the love of the truth so as to be saved.  So it would have to be saving truth and saving truth is the gospel.  But I think it could even be a capital “T” and refer to Christ Himself.  First Corinthians 16:22 says, “If any man love not the Lord Jesus Christ, he is accursed.”  So it is the truth of the gospel as embodied in the Truth who is the gospel, the Lord Jesus Christ.  He’s saying to them, “You refuse to love Christ and His saving truth.  That’s your problem.  You love your sin

They love their sin, they love what they believe, and what they believe is in themselves. They love the lie of Satan and they hate the gospel and Christ. That is a human choice. That is a willful choice and they bear completely the guilt for that refusal. As I said, one can actually receive the truth but not love it. One can make an intellectual apprehension of the truth and not love it.

Somehow, and for whatever reason, unbelievers think:

that sin is beneficial.

God’s judgement in leaving unbelievers to their own devices results in their condemnation because they took pleasure in unrighteousness rather than the truth (verse 12).

MacArthur says:

Verse 11, “God will send upon them…” Folks, that’s divine judgment. That is divine judgment. God will send upon them. What a thought. The sovereign power of God is going to act on unbelievers to seal their fate, to seal their fate.

We have scriptural evidence for it:

In the case of Matthew chapter 13 Jesus speaks in parables.  Why?  Why does He speak in parables?  Why doesn’t He just speak clearly?  And He says, “I speak in parables,” Matthew 13:13, “because while seeing they do not see, while hearing they do not hear, nor do they understand,” and I am fulfilling the prophecy of Isaiah, “you will keep on hearing but will not understand, you will keep on seeing but will not perceive, for the heart of this people has become dull and their ears they scarcely hear and they have closed their eyes lest they see with their eyes and hear with their ears and understand with their heart and return and I should heal them.”  In other words, they’ve done it on their own and now I’m doing it to them.  That is repeated in Mark 4:12, Luke 8:10, John 12:40, Acts 28:26 and 27, that same Isaiah passage.  If you will not hear and will not hear and will not see and will not see, the day will come when you cannot hear and cannot see.  If you reject the truth the day will come when all you can believe is a lie as God hardens you in the path which you have chosen

What does that mean? That means they passed the point of grace. That means God let go. God turned them over to the consequence of their own choice … Evangelists through the centuries have said, “Don’t you continue to sin past the period of grace.” You will wake up in the period of judgment and you will have no capacity to believe anything but the lie …

It’s a set condition that man brings upon himself by willful unbelief that ultimately becomes a judicial consequence of his own chosen course of action, sealing him in the chains of his own iniquity. He refuses light and chooses darkness, then he’ll have darkness and he’ll never recognize light. He hardens his heart? Then hardened it shall be. He refuses the love of the Truth? Then let him receive a lying spirit and embrace the ultimate lie of idolatry and worship the man of lawlessness. He spurned eternal life? Then let him have eternal death. So they reap the reward of their unbelief and God even uses Satan and Antichrist to punish him. In all ages, not just the time of the Antichrist, in all ages those who persist in sin may find that eventually they won’t be able to change the pattern.

Paul’s message here is:

if you want to look joyfully at the return of Christ, if you want to be eager about His coming, if you want to love His appearing, then don’t be deceived and don’t be forgetful and don’t be ignorant, and please, most of all, don’t be unbelieving. Any of those should produce anxiety.

Paul ends the chapter with another uplifting message for the Thessalonians, reminding them of their election, their faith and the Holy Spirit’s sanctification. Note ‘stand firm’:

Stand Firm

13 But we ought always to give thanks to God for you, brothers beloved by the Lord, because God chose you as the firstfruits[d] to be saved, through sanctification by the Spirit and belief in the truth. 14 To this he called you through our gospel, so that you may obtain the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ. 15 So then, brothers, stand firm and hold to the traditions that you were taught by us, either by our spoken word or by our letter.

16 Now may our Lord Jesus Christ himself, and God our Father, who loved us and gave us eternal comfort and good hope through grace, 17 comfort your hearts and establish them in every good work and word.

With this, Paul finishes writing to the Thessalonians about the Second Coming.

Next week begins the final chapter of 2 Thessalonians.

Next time — 2 Thessalonians 3:1-5

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