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The First Sunday after Trinity is June 19, 2022.

Readings for Year C can be found here.

The Gospel reading is as follows (emphases mine):

Luke 8:26-39

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Commentary comes from Matthew Henry and John MacArthur.

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

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

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

Matthew Henry’s commentary states:

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

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

Henry introduces our Gospel reading:

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

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

John MacArthur describes the scene for us:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

MacArthur says:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Henry explains:

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

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

MacArthur tells us:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

MacArthur says:

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

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

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

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

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

Henry says:

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

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

It was an extraordinary event, as MacArthur explains:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Henry makes this observation:

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

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

MacArthur expands on their extraordinarily negative response:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I hope we will not be disappointed on Sunday morning.

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

Yet, it doesn’t tell the whole story.

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

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

Ephesians 5:3-7

But sexual immorality and all impurity or covetousness must not even be named among you, as is proper among saints. Let there be no filthiness nor foolish talk nor crude joking, which are out of place, but instead let there be thanksgiving. For you may be sure of this, that everyone who is sexually immoral or impure, or who is covetous (that is, an idolater), has no inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and God. Let no one deceive you with empty words, for because of these things the wrath of God comes upon the sons of disobedience. Therefore do not become partners with them;

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Last week’s post examined Paul’s exhortation to the Ephesians to renounce walking in the way they had as unregenerated Gentiles, urging them instead to take off the ‘old self’ and put on a ‘new self’.

Careful readers will notice there is no commentary from John MacArthur. Coincidentally, he is at this very time in 2022 giving his sermons on Ephesians.

As such, unfortunate though it is, I will have to finish my exploration of Ephesians without his insight.

That said, I have only two more posts to follow on this letter.

Ephesians 5 continues Paul’s discourse on Christian duties concerning behaviour, which began in the preceding chapter. As we so often say, with privileges come responsibilities, and this is the pattern that Paul followed when writing, not only in this letter but also in his other manuscripts.

People say that Christians are goody two shoes, and this chapter goes some way in explaining why that is.

In the first three chapters, Paul laid out the blessed privileges of becoming a true member of the Church and the promise of eternal glory that comes with the afterlife.

We are to be obedient to God, just as Jesus obeyed Him, even to the horrific and humiliating death on the Cross for our sins and the sins of all mankind — past, present and future.

As saints, we are to refrain from sexual immorality, impurity and covetousness, because those do not befit us as Christians; even discussing them is forbidden (verse 3).

Matthew Henry’s commentary says that foul acts emulate the world, which is at enmity with God (emphases mine below):

Filthy lusts must be suppressed, in order to the supporting of holy love. Walk in love, and shun fornication and all uncleanness. Fornication is folly committed between unmarried persons. All uncleanness includes all other sorts of filthy lusts, which were too common among the Gentiles. Or covetousness, which being thus connected, and mentioned as a thing which should not be once named, some understand it, in the chaste style of the scripture, of unnatural lust; while others take it in the more common sense, for an immoderate desire of gain or an insatiable love of riches, which is spiritual adultery; for by this the soul, which was espoused to God, goes astray from him, and embraces the bosom of a stranger, and therefore carnal worldlings are called adulterers: You adulterers and adulteresses, know you not that the friendship of the world is enmity with God? Now these sins must be dreaded and detested in the highest degree: Let it not be once named among you, never in a way of approbation nor without abhorrence, as becometh saints, holy persons, who are separated from the world, and dedicated unto God.

Interestingly, we have another bit of serendipity here, because my exegesis on the Epistle reading for Trinity Sunday — June 12, 2022, Lectionary Year C — discusses God’s loathing of sin, so much so that He deeply dislikes those who follow the world instead of Him. This is why Jesus told us to take the Gospel to the unconverted, urging them to repent of their sins and realising that, when they come to Him in faith, God forgives those sins.

We are also to stop joking crudely and talking foolishly, replacing that with thanksgiving to God for our many blessings (verse 4).

There is always a place for wit, but, as Henry explains, it should be amusing for all rather than offensive:

Neither filthiness (Ephesians 5:4; Ephesians 5:4), by which may be understood all wanton and unseemly gestures and behaviour; nor foolish talking, obscene and lewd discourse, or, more generally, such vain discourse as betrays much folly and indiscretion, and is far from edifying the hearers; nor jesting. The Greek word eutrapelia is the same which Aristotle, in his Ethics, makes a virtue: pleasantness of conversation. And there is no doubt an innocent and inoffensive jesting, which we cannot suppose the apostle here forbids. Some understand him of such scurrilous and abusive reflections as tend to expose others and to make them appear ridiculous. This is bad enough: but the context seems to restrain it to such pleasantry of discourse as is filthy and obscene, which he may also design by that corrupt, or putrid and rotten, communication that he speaks of, Ephesians 4:29; Ephesians 4:29. Of these things he says, They are not convenient. Indeed there is more than inconvenience, even a great deal of mischief, in them. They are so far from being profitable that they pollute and poison the hearers. But the meaning is, Those things do not become Christians, and are very unsuitable to their profession and character. Christians are allowed to be cheerful and pleasant; but they must be merry and wise. The apostle adds, But rather giving of thanks: so far let the Christian’s way of mirth be from that of obscene and profane wit, that he may delight his mind, and make himself cheerful, by a grateful remembrance of God’s goodness and mercy to him, and by blessing and praising him on account of these. Note, 1. We should take all occasions to render thanksgivings and praises to God for his kindness and favours to us. 2. A reflection on the grace and goodness of God to us, with a design to excite our thankfulness to him, is proper to refresh and delight the Christian’s mind, and to make him cheerful. Dr. Hammond thinks that eucharistia may signify gracious, pious, religious discourse in general, by way of opposition to what the apostle condemns. Our cheerfulness, instead of breaking out into what is vain and sinful, and a profanation of God’s name, should express itself as becomes Christians, and in what may tend to his glory. If men abounded more in good and pious expressions, they would not be so apt to utter ill and unbecoming words; for shall blessing and cursing, lewdness and thanksgivings, proceed out of the same mouth?

Paul says we may be certain that anyone who is sexually or morally impure or who is covetous — i.e. an idolater, someone who loves the world — cannot inherit the kingdom of Christ and God (verse 5).

Henry tells us:

1. He urges several arguments, As, (1.) Consider that these are sins which shut persons out of heaven: For this you know, &c., Ephesians 5:5; Ephesians 5:5. They knew it, being informed of it by the Christian religion. By a covetous man some understand a lewd lascivious libertine, who indulges himself in those vile lusts which were accounted the certain marks of a heathen and an idolater. Others understand it in the common acceptation of the word; and such a man is an idolater because there is spiritual idolatry in the love of this world. As the epicure makes a god of his belly, so the covetous man makes a god of his money, sets those affectations upon it, and places that hope, confidence, and delight, in worldly good, which should be reserved for God only. He serves mammon instead of God. Of these persons it is said that they have no inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and of God; that is, the kingdom of Christ, who is God, or the kingdom which is God’s by nature, and Christ’s as he is Mediator, the kingdom which Christ has purchased and which God bestows. Heaven is here described as a kingdom (as frequently elsewhere) with respect to its eminency and glory, its fulness and sufficiency, c. In this kingdom the saints and servants of God have an inheritance for it is the inheritance of the saints in light. But those who are impenitent, and allow themselves either in the lusts of the flesh or the love of the world, are not Christians indeed, and so belong not to the kingdom of grace, nor shall they ever come to the kingdom of glory. Let us then be excited to be on our guard against those sins which would exclude and shut us out of heaven.

Paul cautions us against accepting flattery — empty words — because these lead to the wrath of God coming on the sons of disobedience (verse 6), i.e. unregenerated Gentiles.

Henry reminds us of the first instance of flattery, when Satan deceived Eve in the Garden of Eden:

(2.) These sins bring the wrath of God upon those who are guilty of them: “Let no man deceive you with vain words, c., Ephesians 5:6; Ephesians 5:6. Let none flatter you, as though such things were tolerable and to be allowed of in Christians, or as though they were not very provoking and offensive unto God, or as though you might indulge yourselves in them and yet escape with impunity. These are vain words.” Observe, Those who flatter themselves and others with hopes of impunity in sin do but put a cheat upon themselves and others. Thus Satan deceived our first parents with vain words when he said to them, You shall not surely die. They are vain words indeed; for those who trust to them will find themselves wretchedly imposed upon, for because of these things cometh the wrath of God upon the children of disobedience. By children of disobedience may be meant the Gentiles, who disbelieved, and refused to comply with, and to submit themselves to, the gospel: or, more generally, all obstinate sinners, who will not be reclaimed, but are given over to disobedience. Disobedience is the very malignity of sin. And it is by a usual Hebraism that such sinners are called children of disobedience; and such indeed they are from their childhood, going astray as soon as they are born. The wrath of God comes upon such because of their sins; sometimes in this world, but more especially in the next. And dare we make light of that which will lay us under the wrath of God? O no.

We are not to enter into close friendships or alliances with such people (verse 7), for fear that we may partake in their sins — and the punishment that lies ahead.

Henry offers this analysis:

“Do not partake with them in their sins, that you may not share in their punishment.” We partake with other men in their sins, not only when we live in the same sinful manner that they do, and consent and comply with their temptations and solicitations to sin, but when we encourage them in their sins, prompt them to sin, and do not prevent and hinder them, as far as it may be in our power to do so. 

Back in 2009, when I first started Forbidden Bible Verses, I used a set of Lectionary readings that the Episcopal Church in the United States stopped using some time later.

Huge portions had been omitted. The Episcopal Church since switched to using the standard Lectionary readings.

However, as I began writing this series before knowing that, I wrote about Ephesians 5:1-21, which explores the chapter further.

As I said when I began writing about the rest of Ephesians a few weeks ago in 2022, most of it is in the three-year Lectionary.

Paul concludes Ephesians 5 with his instructions on married life:

Wives and Husbands

22 Wives, submit to your own husbands, as to the Lord. 23 For the husband is the head of the wife even as Christ is the head of the church, his body, and is himself its Savior. 24 Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit in everything to their husbands.

25 Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, 26 that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, 27 so that he might present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish.[a] 28 In the same way husbands should love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. 29 For no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as Christ does the church, 30 because we are members of his body. 31 “Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.” 32 This mystery is profound, and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the church. 33 However, let each one of you love his wife as himself, and let the wife see that she respects her husband.

Paul’s instructions sound old fashioned to us today, but, when he wrote them, they were liberating compared to the way that Romans and Greeks treated their wives, which was sometimes brutal. Women were seen as property and not as full persons in their own right.

Gentile women, therefore, would have found this liberating. Gentile men hearing this for the first time would have had pause for thought. The social and legal framework was very different in those times.

Paul follows this with instructions for children and servants.

Next time — Ephesians 6:1-9

Bible read me 4The three-year Lectionary that many Catholics and Protestants hear in public worship gives us a great variety of Holy Scripture.

Yet, it doesn’t tell the whole story.

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

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

Ephesians 4:17-24

The New Life

17 Now this I say and testify in the Lord, that you must no longer walk as the Gentiles do, in the futility of their minds. 18 They are darkened in their understanding, alienated from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them, due to their hardness of heart. 19 They have become callous and have given themselves up to sensuality, greedy to practice every kind of impurity. 20 But that is not the way you learned Christ!— 21 assuming that you have heard about him and were taught in him, as the truth is in Jesus, 22 to put off your old self,[a] which belongs to your former manner of life and is corrupt through deceitful desires, 23 and to be renewed in the spirit of your minds, 24 and to put on the new self, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness.

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Last week’s post discussed Paul’s imprisonment when he wrote this letter and his instruction to the Ephesians to not become despondent because of his own plight; he was suffering for their glory as new Christians.

The first three chapters of Ephesians focus on the divine mystery of the Church and our privilege to be members of the body of believers. The second three chapters address our responsibilities as Christians.

Matthew Henry’s commentary says (emphases mine):

We have gone through the former part of this epistle, which consists of several important doctrinal truths, contained in the three preceding chapters. We enter now on the latter part of it, in which we have the most weighty and serious exhortations that can be given. We may observe that in this, as in most others of Paul’s epistles, the former part is doctrinal, and fitted to inform the minds of men in the great truths and doctrines of the gospel, the latter is practical, and designed for the direction of their lives and manners, all Christians being bound to endeavour after soundness in the faith, and regularity in life and practice. In what has gone before we have heard of Christian privileges, which are the matter of our comfort. In what follows we shall hear of Christian duties, and what the Lord our God requires of us in consideration of such privileges vouchsafed to us. The best way to understand the mysteries and partake of the privileges of which we have read before is conscientiously to practise the duties prescribed to us in what follows: as, on the other hand, a serious consideration and belief of the doctrines that have been taught us in the foregoing chapters will be a good foundation on which to build the practice of the duties prescribed in those which are yet before us. Christian faith and Christian practice mutually befriend each other. In this chapter we have divers exhortations to important duties. I. One that is more general, Ephesians 4:1. II. An exhortation to mutual love, unity, and concord, with the proper means and motives to promote them, Ephesians 4:2-16. III. An exhortation to Christian purity and holiness of life; and that both more general (Ephesians 4:17-24) and in several particular instances, Ephesians 4:25-32.

Of today’s verses, John MacArthur tells us:

Now in the first part … verses 17 to 19, you have a description of the way things are. In fact, when Stephanie called me early in the week and said, “Can you give me a title for your sermon?” I said, “Here’s the title: ‘What Is Wrong with Everybody?’ ‘What Is Wrong with Everybody?’” Well, that’s basically described in verses 17 to 19. What salvation does is described in verses 22 to 24. But in between 17 to 19 (which describes the whole world in sin) and verses 22 to 24 (which describe the saints) is verses 20 and 21, and that speaks of salvation. Salvation is the dividing point

So verses 20 and 21 look at the work of God in salvation; and that is what transforms people from what they were, verses 17 to 19, to what they are in Christ, verses 22 to 24. The moment of your salvation is the transformation miracle. Not a process, not a process; it’s an event. It’s a divine, supernatural event in which you were transferred from the kingdom of darkness to the kingdom of God’s dear Son, in which you ceased to be a member of the children of Satan, and you became a member of the family of God. It all happened in the moment of your salvation.

And, yes, his sermon is indeed called ‘What is wrong with everybody?’

Here are the opening verses of Ephesians 4. Verses 4 through 6 feature in one of the celebrant’s prayers in the Catholic Mass and the modern Anglican liturgy:

Unity in the Body of Christ

I therefore, a prisoner for the Lord, urge you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit—just as you were called to the one hope that belongs to your call— 5 one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all. But grace was given to each one of us according to the measure of Christ’s gift. Therefore it says,

“When he ascended on high he led a host of captives,
    and he gave gifts to men.”[a]

(In saying, “He ascended,” what does it mean but that he had also descended into the lower regions, the earth?[b] 10 He who descended is the one who also ascended far above all the heavens, that he might fill all things.) 11 And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds[c] and teachers,[d] 12 to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, 13 until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood,[e] to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ, 14 so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes. 15 Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, 16 from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love.

Paul tells the Ephesians that they must no longer walk in the ways of the Gentiles, in the futility of their minds (verse 17).

Henry interprets the verse succinctly:

Converted Gentiles must not live as unconverted Gentiles do. Though they live among them, they must not live like them.

Paul says that unconverted Gentiles are darkened — blinded — in their understanding, alienated from the life of God because they are ignorant; their ignorance comes from their own hardened hearts (verse 18).

In short, they love their sin too much to come to the light and truth that is Christ Jesus.

Henry explains:

They sat in darkness, and they loved it rather than light: and by their ignorance they were alienated from the life of God. They were estranged from, and had a dislike and aversion to, a life of holiness, which is not only that way of life which God requires and approves, and by which we live to him, but which resembles God himself, in his purity, righteousness, truth, and goodness. Their wilful ignorance was the cause of their estrangement from this life of God, which begins in light and knowledge. Gross and affected ignorance is destructive to religion and godliness. And what was the cause of their being thus ignorant? It was because of the blindness or the hardness of their heart. It was not because God did not make himself known to them by his works, but because they would not admit the instructive rays of the divine light. They were ignorant because they would be so. Their ignorance proceeded from their obstinacy and the hardness of their hearts, their resisting the light and rejecting all the means of illumination and knowledge.

The unconverted Gentiles have become callous in their behaviour and have given themselves up to sensuality, eager to satisfy themselves with every type of impurity (verse 19).

Henry gives us this analysis, which sounds a lot like today’s world:

They had no sense of their sin, nor of the misery and danger of their case by means of it; whereupon they gave themselves over unto lasciviousness. They indulged themselves in their filthy lusts; and, yielding themselves up to the dominion of these, they became the slaves and drudges of sin and the devil, working all uncleanness with greediness. They made it their common practice to commit all sorts of uncleanness, and even the most unnatural and monstrous sins, and that with insatiable desires. Observe, When men’s consciences are once seared, there are no bounds to their sins. When they set their hearts upon the gratification of their lusts, what can be expected but the most abominable sensuality and lewdness, and that their horrid enormities will abound?

MacArthur addresses verses 17 and 18, discussing our social malaise in the 21st century. Readers will be interested to know that he delivered this sermon on March 6, 2022, so it could not be more current:

What’s wrong with everybody? What’s wrong with everybody? Why is the world such an evil, chaotic, dark, demonic place? What’s wrong with everybody? I checked, this week, Journal of Psychology, and they agreed that everybody’s basically good. So you can wipe out that field.

What’s wrong with everybody is laid out here. This has to be understood. You’re different; you’re new. This is the testimony of Paul, by the way, according to verse 17, and also the testimony of the Lord. The Lord affirms this.

Now look at the word Gentiles—“You no longer walk . . . as the Gentiles.” That’s ethnē, ethnicities. Again, there’s only one race, and there are many ethnicities; only one human race in various shades of brown, depending on how much melanin you have or don’t have. But there is not only unity over the physical nature in humanity, there is unity over the spiritual nature of humanity: They are all sinners, the whole human race, the whole human race.

But because of the calling that we have received from God, because of the unity we have in the truth, because of the truth that is written and the truth incarnate in Christ, because of the privileges of being granted spiritual gifts, because we have been graced by God to be a part of the body of Christ, because of the presence of the Holy Spirit conforming us to Christ—everything he’s been talking about in the first part of chapter 4—because of the responsibility to speak the truth in love, we can’t live the way we used to live. You can be sucked back in; you can be drawn back in. It will never be the pattern of your life; it’ll never be the unbroken pattern of your life. But the corrupt world tries to seduce you, tries to pull you in; but you’ll never again become a slave of sin. You’ve been transformed. John said in 1 John, if anyone goes out from us, it only manifests they never were of us—because you’re a new creation, and that’s eternal. All ethnicities are hostile to God, all ethnicities, dominated by pride, greed, lust, selfish pleasure—the whole human race, including us before our conversion.

Paul then exclaims that that is not what the Ephesians learned about Christ (verse 20), assuming they have heard about Him and were taught in Him, as the truth resides in Jesus (verse 21).

MacArthur says:

It’s a mind game. It’s about the truth coming to the mind so that there’s understanding. If you’re a Christian, according to what we just saw in verses 20 and 21, you were reprogrammed. You learned Christ, you heard Him speak to you through His Word, and you learned your lesson by the power of the Holy Spirit, and you embraced the truth that’s in Jesus. And that totally transformed you.

But let’s talk about the way people are. First of all, verse 17, they’re selfish. They “walk”—meaning daily conduct—“in the futility of their mind.” Their thinking is so warped. And I think it’s the possessive pronoun here that we ought to focus on: “their” mind. This is what happens to sinful people: They think they are the source of truth. They don’t subject themselves to the truth of God. They reject the truth of God—again, Romans 1. So their mind is basically the purveyor of their philosophy, theology, and religion. And if you think you are the source of truth, you are insane.

But this is not new. Back in the Old Testament, “Everybody did that which was right in his own”—what?—“in his own eyes.” This is what people do; they worship themselves. And it’s futile, futile, although it’s based on the wretchedness of human pride. The word futile doesn’t mean pride or conceit, it means that which is useless, that which is worthless, empty, void, vain.

If you want to live a vain, empty, void, meaningless, useless, worthless life, then just live in your own head; just decide that everything that you can think of is the way reality is.

The imagery of the old self and the new self in the next three verses is splendid. Paul refers to our old wardrobe of sinful clothes and a wonderful set of new clothes of godliness.

Paul tells the Ephesians that they are to put (take) off their old self — ‘man’ in some translations — which refers to their unregenerated souls, which deceitful desires have corrupted (verse 22).

Henry says:

Here the apostle expresses himself in metaphors taken from garments. The principles, habits, and dispositions of the soul must be changed, before there can be a saving change of the life. There must be sanctification, which consists of these two things:– (1.) The old man must be put off. The corrupt nature is called a man, because, like the human body, it consists of divers parts, mutually supporting and strengthening one another. It is the old man, as old Adam, from whom we derive it. It is bred in the bone, and we brought it into the world with us. It is subtle as the old man; but in all God’s saints decaying and withering as an old man, and ready to pass away. It is said to be corrupt; for sin in the soul is the corruption of its faculties: and, where it is not mortified, it grows daily worse and worse, and so tends to destruction. According to the deceitful lusts. Sinful inclinations and desires are deceitful lusts: they promise men happiness, but render them more miserable, and if not subdued and mortified betray them into destruction. These therefore must be put off as an old garment that we should be ashamed to be seen in: they must be subdued and mortified. These lusts prevailed against them in their former conversation, that is, during their state of unregeneracy and heathenism.

Paul calls on the Ephesians to be renewed in the spirit of their regenerated minds (verse 23) and to put on a new self, created in the likeness of God in righteousness and holiness (verse 24).

Henry tells us:

(2.) The new man must be put on. It is not enough to shake off corrupt principles, but we must be actuated by gracious ones. We must embrace them, espouse them, and get them written on our hearts: it is not enough to cease to do evil, but we must learn to do well. “Be renewed in the spirit of your mind (Ephesians 4:23; Ephesians 4:23); that is, use the proper and prescribed means in order to have the mind, which is a spirit, renewed more and more.” And that you put on the new man, Ephesians 4:24; Ephesians 4:24. By the new man is meant the new nature, the new creature, which is actuated by a new principle, even regenerating grace, enabling a man to lead a new life, that life of righteousness and holiness which Christianity requires. This new man is created, or produced out of confusion and emptiness, by God’s almighty power, whose workmanship it is, truly excellent and beautiful. After God, in imitation of him, and in conformity to that grand exemplar and pattern. The loss of God’s image upon the soul was both the sinfulness and misery of man’s fallen state; and that resemblance which it bears to God is the beauty, the glory, and the happiness, of the new creature. In righteousness towards men, including all the duties of the second table [of the Ten Commandments]; and in holiness towards God, signifying a sincere obedience to the commands of the first table; true holiness in opposition to the outward and ceremonial holiness of the Jews. We are said to put on this new man when, in the use of all God’s appointed means, we are endeavouring after this divine nature, this new creature. This is the more general exhortation to purity and holiness of heart and life.

MacArthur further interpreted these verses in line with our world today. He explains the original Greek text:

People are just fools; they think they’re wise. And the universities are the places where all the deceived PhDs are, who are espousing things that they think are wise, when they are the leading fools. Colossians 2:18 describes this futility of mind as “inflated without cause by his fleshly mind.” Peter says, however, 1 Peter 1:18, we have been redeemed from the futile way of life.

So what’s wrong with everybody? They’re selfish. They want to design their own standard of morality, invent their own religion. They want to be their own god. Secondly, Paul says, they’re consequently senseless: verse 18, “Being darkened in their understanding, excluded from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them, because of the hardness of their heart.” Darkened, excluded, ignorant, and hard-hearted. This makes you into a senseless brick.

Lost in the foolishness of their own mind, they become senseless, and their senselessness is perpetuated until it becomes hardness. “Darkened in their understanding”—skotoō, it means “to darken or blind.” They are blind, and in their blindness they continue down a path of blindness that is defined next as being “excluded from the life of God,” which is another way of saying they are dead, they are dead.

They’re dead and blind, estranged from God, and it takes them down a path of the hardness of heart. “Hardness of heart,” pōrōsis in the Greek, from pōrōs, which meant a very, very hard stone or was used to describe the tissue that developed when bones were fused together and became very hard. It meant “to be hard without feeling.” “Same sun that melts the wax hardens the clay.” You hear the truth and resist the truth, and what should melt your heart hardens it. When sin is ignored, when conscience is silenced, when guilt and conviction are not permitted, the heart grows harder and harder and harder, conscience becomes scarred. And we are warned in Hebrews 3 and 4, “Don’t harden your heart. Don’t harden your heart.” It’s deadly, it’s deadly.

What’s wrong with everybody? They’re selfish, and they are senseless. Thirdly, they’re shameless. In verse 19, “They . . . become callous.” This means being past feeling. They don’t feel anything. In fact, their callousness is so severe that Philippians 3:19 says this—this is a stunning statement: “Their glory is in their shame.” “Their glory is in their shame.” They are shameless. “Their glory is in their shame.” They parade their shame. What they should be ashamed of is what they parade. This whole culture does that. The Internet is just full of it: people parading shame. What people should be ashamed of is their glory, their claim to fame. The verb here, apalgeō, means “to cease to feel pain.”

Selfishness leads to senselessness, and senselessness develops into shamelessness. Then you’re into verse 19: sensual. “They, having become callous,” or shameless, “have given themselves over to sensuality,” which releases “the practice of every kind of filthiness with greediness.” They literally hand themselves over. This is self-inflicted; they hand themselves over. So selfish, so senseless, so shameless, they hand themselves over to sensuality.

The word there for “sensuality” is aselgeia, and it means basically “an unrestrained life.” It’s a step beyond shame, which is a step beyond senselessness. This is the disposition of the soul where selfishness, senselessness, and shamelessness reach their ultimate expression. There’s no restraint; you flaunt everything.

Our culture is there, where people are proud of their perversions. They want to make sure nobody restrains them. They practice every kind of impurity, akatharsia, every kind of uncleanness, every kind of filthiness, and they do it “with greediness”; they can’t get enough filthiness. “Greediness” is pleonexia, which is the insatiable craving, the uncontrolled appetite, the unsatisfied passion. This is what’s wrong with everybody.

Here are the closing verses of Ephesians 4 and the first two verses of Ephesians 5, which are read in Year B on a Sunday in the season of Pentecost:

25 Therefore, having put away falsehood, let each one of you speak the truth with his neighbor, for we are members one of another. 26 Be angry and do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger, 27 and give no opportunity to the devil. 28 Let the thief no longer steal, but rather let him labor, doing honest work with his own hands, so that he may have something to share with anyone in need. 29 Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear. 30 And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, by whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. 31 Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice. 32 Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.

Walk in Love

Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children. 2 And walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.

Verse 30 is particularly apposite, as this post appears on Pentecost Sunday 2022.

Paul has more behaviours for the Ephesians — and us — to shun. More on those next week.

Next time — Ephesians 5:3-7

Most Anglicans know that their main denominations, e.g. the Church of England or the Episcopal Church, stopped preaching about sin at least a generation ago.

However, acknowledging sin is essential in realising that we need help — divine help.

Following an article by an Anglican priest changing churches, which I wrote about here several days ago, a man named Dave Corby left an excellent comment about sin.

Emphases mine:

A wonderful essay that I enjoyed very much.
The only thing missing is the critical subject of sin.
Rather than a “small shove in the back” what we need is more preaching to help people understand the reason for the feeling of guilt and that constant nudge of the conscience when we do anything that deviates from the right and true way.
We all know that there is a cost to doing wrong, even the smallest lie or the second look at something we should not view burns in our brain for days, months, years, or even the rest of our life.
Once we acknowledge that cost, and that it is the unconscious knowledge of sin that leads to death, only then can we understand why we need a savior. We sin against God and he loves us so much that He sent His only Son to pay the price of that debt.
That deep, deep, acknowledgment of our sin and desperate need for forgiveness is what drives us to take that step of faith.

It’s such a simple message and such a profound one, yet we hear little about it from the average Anglican Communion pulpit.

It is unfathomable how Anglican clergy can ignore sin, considering that the whole of the Bible revolves around acknowledging our trespasses and transgressions.

God hates sin. That is why, as the Book of Hebrews explains, He required countless blood sacrifices from His people until He sent His Son to us as the ultimate sacrifice for the sins of the whole world — past, present and future.

There was a brief moment during the Crucifixion when God could no longer bear the thought of sin. That is why Jesus called out in desperation, ‘My God, My God, why are you foresaking Me?’ At that moment, Jesus felt — and carried — the full weight of mankind’s sins.

However, afterwards, just before dying on the Cross, Jesus, always obedient, said, ‘Father, into Your hands I commend My spirit’.

If Anglican clergy preached more about sin rather than social issues — also a by-product of sin — they would have more people’s attention. It sounds paradoxical, but more of us would start going to church again.

John MacArthur often preaches about sin and his Grace Community Church has thousands of people in attendance every week.

It would be fascinating and instructive to see MacArthur go head-to-head in a debate about sin with an Anglican bishop. No prizes for guessing who would win.

John F MacArthurOne of John MacArthur’s sermons that I used for my Holy Saturday exegesis on the Epistle is ‘Breaking Sin’s Grip’ from 1992.

It might seem as if 1992 were a long time ago, but his sermon is as fresh today 30 years on as it was then.

In it, he asks, ‘Whatever happened to sin?’

Excerpts follow, emphases mine:

… it struck me that the present political scene is talking a lot about values.  Have you noticed that?  Everybody wants to talk about family values, moral values, traditional values, and it strikes me as a rather a fruitless discussion since no one is willing to talk about sin.  And as long as you will not define sin then you cannot define morality; and so all the talk about values amounts to little more than some sentimentality.

In fact, I’ve been so concerned about this that I have a three-book contract with Word Publishers and I said to them, I said, “This third book that I’m going to write which hasn’t yet been done, I would like to write on the subject of sin,” thinking that I would immediately get told that that would never work.  I was amazed when they responded by saying, “We think that’s great.”  So I’m prepared in the next few months to dig into the subject of whatever happened to sin.

And it’s kind of a curious thing to me because it’s, if anything is true of our society, true that we don’t want to even acknowledge sin.  We continue down a path of improperly diagnosing man’s behavior and therefore not having any clue about how to cure it.

Several years ago Dr. Karl Menninger, of the famous Menninger Clinic, which is a psychiatric clinic and he’s a world-famous psychiatrist, wrote a book and the title of the book was just that, Whatever Happened To Sin?  Here was a renowned psychiatrist basically saying, “I operate a psychiatric clinic and if I’m going to help people with their problems, I have got to tell them about sin.”  He tried to make people face the reality of sin as the curse that creates the problems of lifeThe book was somewhat widely read but also widely rejected.

Frankly, sin isn’t as nearly as marketable as other things.  Today in our culture I think it would be fair to say that sin isn’t even an acceptable wordYou don’t hear anybody talk about sin, certainly not a politician, rarely a preacher in some casesNot only is it an unacceptable word, it is an unacceptable cause for the troubles of man.  With all this talk about values and no talk about sin, the definition of values is hopelessly vague.

Certainly sin is not an acceptable diagnosis of man’s problems.  We look at the world and what do we see?  We see evil everywhere but it’s not defined as evilWe see sin everywhere but it’s not defined as sin.  It’s not an acceptable word. It’s not an acceptable cause. It’s not an acceptable diagnosis of man’s nature.

In fact, things that we used to willingly say were sin we don’t want to call sin anymore.  There was a column in the August 29 Dallas Morning News written by columnist Anne Melvin.  She wrote this column about sin interestingly enough. This is what it says, part of it: “Most sins have gained respectability through politics or profitability.  They’re mostly all legalized, advertised, organized, supervised and taxed.  We’ve got liquor by the drink, and young girls dress like hookers just to be in fashion at their homecoming dance.  We’ve got your basic graphic sex on cable TV and an entertainment market from wind-up toys to electronic state-of-the-art based solely on violence. So, hey, is it fair to name all these little diversions sins?”

She goes on, “Sin, go figure out how you can make a fortune for Time Warner with a recording about killing cops, how you can refuse to let school children say grace for lunch and then teach them how to use a condom before recess.  Clearly we are foundering here, a society preoccupied with values yet hopelessly vague on sin,” end quote.

It isn’t just the politicians and it isn’t just the profit takers who want to market sin and sell it.  The politicians don’t want to talk about sin because they don’t want to alienate any sinning votes.  The entrepreneurs and the materialists don’t want to talk about sin because they can sell it.  The government doesn’t want to talk about sin because they can tax it.   But what is really most amazing, I guess, of all is that even the people helpers, the counselors, the psychologists, the psychiatrists, they don’t want to talk about sin either.  And again I remind you, they don’t want to talk about sin because they don’t want to deal with the sin in their own lives, and secondly, because sin doesn’t sell very wellSickness sells a lot better.   Addiction is a much nicer word than iniquity.

I read a book yesterday, the title of it is, I’m Dysfunctional, You’re Dysfunctional.  It’s a short book, I read it in the morning and then I thought about it in the afternoon.  It’s written by a lady by the name of Wendy Kaminer and it’s a secular book.  And in this secular book she confronts as a critic the new anthropology, the new theology, the new psychology.  That new stuff that is called abuse psychology, or codependency, all of that kind of stuff that basically is saying, “You’re really a wonderful person and everybody keeps abusing you and what’s happening outside of you is the problem because everything inside of you is so wonderful.”

She talks about the fact that this new anthropology, this new sociology, psychology, theology and she even lists…well she lists secular sociologists, secular psychiatrists, Christian psychologists into one big bag as all affirming basically the same thing.  She writes this in evaluating the movement and articulating what they believe. This isn’t her view but this is what she says they are espousing, “No matter how bad you’ve been in the narcissistic 1970s and the inquisitive 1980s, no matter how many drugs you’ve ingested, or sex acts you’ve performed, or how much corruption you’ve enjoyed, you’re still essentially innocent.  The divine child inside you is always untouched by the worst of your sins.”

And then she further says these new definers of man’s nature say, quote: “Because no one is inhabited by evil or unhealthy urges because inside every addict” that’s the new word for sinner “is a holy child yearning to be free.”  And then she goes on assessing what they say, “They say inner children are always good, innocent and pure, like the most sentimentalized Dickens characters, which means that people are essentially good and evil is merely a mask, a dysfunction.”  She says, “The therapeutic view of evil as sickness not sin is strong in codependency theory.” that’s that new kind of theory.  “Shaming children, for example, is considered a primary form of abuse.”

In other words, what she’s saying, if I can digress, is that if you make your child feel any shame about anything, any guilt about anything, that is a form of child abuseThat will wind up, you can be sure, in the courts, and it already has as child abuse.

She goes on, “Both guilt and shame are not useful, they say.”  And then she adds, “Someone should remind these people that there is a name for people who lack guilt and shame. They’re called sociopaths.”  She’s right.

But here is a secular writer looking at the face of the people-helping industry and saying these people are saying that innately inside in the deepest heart of man, he is innocent, pure, holy and good.  Boy, it’s amazing how all these people who are that way on the inside can be so rotten on the outside.

The point is this. You basically have a culture that denies the reality of sin.  And as we said in our discussions about homosexuality, if you misdiagnose the problem then you’re not going to be able to offer the proper cure.  So what happens is, if you alleviate people of the responsibility for dealing with the sin in their lives, you have, in effect, made them unredeemable.  You have damned them.

That’s the kind of culture we live in, not just minimizing sin but eliminating itAnd then coming up with the unbelievable idea that man is some kind of good, holy, pure thing inside, longing to be free from these terrible dysfunctions that have occurred on his outside because of the way he’s been abused by others, usually his parents.

Now we’re victims, to some extent, of that kind of thing in our culture.  We have as wicked, as wretched, as sinful, and as vile a culture as could be imagined.  And at the same time we have a massive campaign to remove the word “sin” from our vocabulary.  You talk about putting people in an unredeemable position. They aren’t even going to understand that they are responsible for their own offense against God. They’re not even going to be in a position to seek a deliverer from their iniquity, thus they are unredeemable.  I can’t imagine that Satan could have devised any more effective plan than to move a culture toward the most wretched, vile kind of life, and at the same time sell it wholesale the philosophy that no such thing as sin exists innately in the human heart.  Talk about damning a culture, damning a world, that’s how to do it.

Now the fallout to this…the fallout to this we feel in the church, and the church tends to minimize the reality of sin, even in its own life even among Christians.  We tend to be desensitized, don’t we, to the iniquity around us, and if we are desensitized, let me tell you this, to the iniquity around us we will be desensitized to the iniquity in us.  If I am not outraged by the sin I see outside, then I will be less likely to be outraged by the sin I see inside.  People always decry the Victorian era, periods of history where even the society itself has had a highly developed sense of sin.  But those kinds of societies at least articulated a morality that held the church accountableNow society holds the church accountable for nothing because society has no morality, no definition of sin, therefore the church can behave itself in just about any way it wants.  In fact, I imagine today that because of the way the church has behaved itself in our culture, it would be very hard for anybody in the church to do anything that would shock the world.

So the fallout of this kind of sinless definition of man and the overexposure that even Christians have to iniquity and to sin through the media, desensitizes us to our own sin.  And I’ll tell you what that can do.  Because we don’t really see the sinfulness of sin, because we don’t really see how sinful we are, it is possible to think of ourselves as more holy than we really areIf you go back, for example, and read in the writings of godly men in…in the past, you very often find them bemoaning and bemoaning and bemoaning their own sin.  And you read about their lives and they seem so holy and so pure and so devoted to Christ and yet so overwrought with sinSin was highly defined in ancient times, even in the society in many cases.  And it held even the people who were Christians up to a high standard.  Nobody was letting them off the hook in the cultureNobody was blaming their parents for the way they acted, nobody was blaming some codependency or some addiction. Everybody was dealing in the culture with sin as sin, at least to some degree.  And consequently people were confined to those definitions, saw them for what they really are and I think in some ways the sort of general human goodness in the culture, the sort of pervasive morality helped control the thinking even of ChristiansNow we don’t have that benefitWe can just about call ourselves Christians and live any way we want to live.  And if we sort of exceed the average, we tend to think of ourselves as holy.

J.I. Packer, who is a well-known theologian and a skilled thinker, writes this, “Christians often imagine themselves to be strong, healthy and holy.  But the way to health is to recognize that we are weak and sick and sinful.”

The point is, don’t let the society give you the standard.  I mean, if you’re a little better than the society you’re in, that doesn’t make you very good because they don’t have any definition of sin.

Packer goes on to say, “The first truth is that we are all invalids in God’s hospital,” all of us Christians. He’s talking about believers.  “In moral and spiritual terms we are sick and damaged, diseased and deformed, scarred and sore, lame and lopsided to a far, far greater extent than we realize.  We need,” he writes “to realize that the spiritual health we testify to is only partial and relative, a matter of being less sinful and less incapacitated than we were before.” And then here’s a great statement: “Our spiritual life is a fragile convalescence.  It is a fragile convalescence easily disrupted and we are prone to damaging delusions about it.” Profound.

I grieve because the way our culture goes does affect the churchAnd because we’re two notches above the way they live we assume that we are holyWe are engaged in a fragile convalescence from the near fatal disease of unregenerate life. Therefore we need to deal with sin and we need to deal with it strongly in our livesAnd we cannot allow the world’s standard to become ours.  The politicians can talk all they want about values, family values, traditional values, but when they talk about that they do not mean what you and I understand as biblical Christianity.  We’ve got to deal with it on biblical terms.

At that point in the sermon, MacArthur begins preaching on 1 Peter 4:1-8, on turning from sin to doing God’s will.

He discusses our Lord’s death on the Cross, taking our sins onto His body, which believers remembered on Good Friday last week:

sin was thrown upon Him in its fullness as He bore our sins.  In fact, the Bible says He was made sin on the cross and there the heavy weight of sin was placed upon HimHe suffered, as it were, in the flesh and He suffered from the attacks of sin.  Sin attacked Him in temptation, obviously from outside since He was impeccable, sinless and could not sin on the inside because He was holy God.  Sin attacked Him through the persecutions.  Sin, of course, then was even poured upon Him in its fullness by God the Father as He became the substitute.

In every case remember this, will you, sin made Christ suffer.  He battled it through temptation.  He suffered the indignities and the persecution and the blasphemy and the hatred and the hostility and the violence of evil men and women.  And He suffered until it crushed out His life when He bore sin on the cross.

So look back.  If you’re going to entertain sin in your life, says Peter, look backHe’s reminding persecuted believers here, by the way, who are undergoing some heavy, heavy persecution.  And under that kind of duress it is not unreasonable to assume that some of them may have begun to defect, maybe not wanting to take the heat, some small compromises.  And he reminds them that Christ, the very One he has just described in verses 18 to 22 of chapter 3, who gave His life for them, who when reviled reviled not again, who when He was being evil spoken of never retaliated, and who paid for their sins, that same Christ suffered extremely beyond anything they will ever know and never sinned and never fell to sin, and never stopped trusting the Father, and never yielded up His confidence, and never gave away His hope, and never defectedAnd He becomes your pattern.

Sin did everything it could to destroy ChristIt was ineffective and He was triumphantBut He endured it all and it was all painful.  Even temptation must have been some kind of an offense to His holy nature.  Certainly blasphemy was and mockery and all the rest, and to say nothing of sin bearing.  He suffered.  He suffered and naver…never gave in.  He suffered and never sinned.  And he says, does Peter, you have to arm yourself with the same purpose and you know that the one who has suffered in the flesh has ceased from sin.  The one who goes all the way to death is relieved from sin.

Well what is that point?  The point is this, if you’re faithful like Christ was even to the place where they take your life, as bad as it sounds it’s really good because when you die you cease from what? From sin.  That’s the arm… That’s how you arm your mind.  You say, “I will be holy and I will be pure like my Lord, He is the author and the finisher of faith.  He is the model and the example and He suffered all the way to blood.  And if I go that far in my suffering, if I stand for Christ and holiness and righteousness and it cost me my life, the reward is no more sin, for death means sin has ceased.”

When Christ died on the cross He was relieved from sin.  Never again would He be tempted.  Never again would He be persecuted.  Never again would anybody spit in His face.  Never again would they mock Him to His face.  He was exalted to the right hand of the Father.  Never again would He bear in His own body our sins.  Sin was gone forever from any personal contact with Christ.

And so it is with us.  He says, look, if you’re going to deal with sin you’ve got to have the same kind of purpose, the same kind of…the word in the Greek means idea, thought, concept, the same perspective is probably the best way to say it, that Christ had.  I will endure to the very end, even if I die in the process I will then be freed from sin for good.  That’s the resoluteness of purpose that you see exemplified in Christ.  The One who was made sin, the One who came into the world in the likeness of sinful flesh, Paul says in Romans 8:3, gives us the pattern.  If we’re going to live no longer in the flesh, following the lusts of men, we have to have that kind of perspective.

And then there’s a second thought here at the end of verse 2 that strikes me.  If we are going to have this same perspective, and if we’re going to see what sin did to Christ and therefore its horror and its heinousness and realize that like He we are to endure without compromise to the very end because even that means only reward and bliss, beyond that if we’re going to live the rest of the time in the flesh we have to recognize not only how sin affected Christ, but how it affects God, how it affects God.

Look back in the past.  He says you are to live no longer in the lust of men but for the will of God.  You’ve got to realize that every time you’ve committed a sin in your past, you’ve defied God’s will, you’ve disobeyed God’s will, you’ve rejected God’s will.  In a sense, you’ve usurped the throne.  You’ve pushed God aside and said I will take command of my life; I will do whatever I want to do.  You’re not in charge, I’m in charge.  It is the ultimate act of blasphemy, really, because it questions God’s authority, it questions God’s sovereignty.  Follow this, it questions God’s wisdom.  It questions God’s goodness because sin says I’m in charge, I’ll do it if I want, I’ll make this thing work out into my life, I’ll do it because it will bring me pleasure, it will bring me satisfaction.  And all of that says, “God, You don’t really love me or You wouldn’t withhold this thing from me cause it’s going to be so good.  God, You’re not really wise or You’d really see how this thing can work in my life some way and produce some benefit.  You’re not really in charge because You can’t stop me from doing this.”

You see all of that is inherent in sinning.  When I sin I say, “God, move over, I’m in charge.”  I say, “God, You’re not as wise as You think You are because if You were You’d let me do this and understand it will all work out.  And thirdly, You’re not as good and gracious and kind as You ought to be because if You were You’d let me have what I so desperately want.”

You see, all of that attacks the character and the purpose of God and I become then a rebel.  Look back at your sin and understand what it was. It was an attack on the will of God, an attack on the authority of God, the sovereignty of God, the purpose of God.  It is flat, outright, overt disobedience to God.  And how can you, as we read this morning, say you love Him and not obey Him?  See sin for what it is.  Back in Psalm 51 David said, “Against Thee, Thee only, have I sinned.”  All sin is against God.  It attacks Him first and foremost.  That’s why the point of confession is to God.  You may affect others with your sin but the primary point of confession is always to God.  You may need to seek forgiveness from others because you have sinned against them. The primary point of confession is still God.  He is the One most holy, He is the One most offended.

If I’m going to deal with sin in my life, then, I’ve got to look back and see what it did to Christ, how it pursued Him all through His life and brought Him only pain, only sadness, even tears, ultimately death.  That’s what sin is like, it wants to kill Christ. It wants to kill the purest who ever livedYou need to remember that.  That’s what it wants to do and that’s what it wants to do to you, kill what is pure, what is Christ-like.

And, secondly, you need to remember, too, that sin is a violation of the will of God.  And every time you have sinned in the past you have, as it were, usurped the role that God has as the authority and the leader.  Jeremiah, the prophet, wrote a couple of times the words where God said, “I have spoken to you again and again yet you haven’t listened to Me.”  How it must grieve the heart of God that His children are so rebellious.  Every time we sin it is outright rebellion, and what a long track record of rebellion.  It isn’t helpful to go back into the past and regurgitate all your specific sins. God has forgotten them.  He’s buried them in the depths of the deepest sea. They’re removed as far as the east is from the west.  He remembers them no more.  But it is good to remind yourself that every time you ever sinned you absolutely, rebelliously struck a blow against the will of God.

And there’s a third thing that I think comes out in this text and that is very vivid in verses 3 to 5.  You must remember what sin has done to lost humanity. You must remember what sin has done to lost humanity.  Or to put it more personally, remember what sin was doing in your life before you became a Christian

What a powerful meditation for Easter Week.

Let us remember the power of the Crucifixion and the Resurrection as we move forward in the Easter season. More loving acts have never been done for sinful mankind.

Therefore, let us show God and His Son Jesus Christ the reverence and devotion they so rightly and richly deserve from us.

Let us turn away from sin and lead a new life, following in their Commandments.

The readings for Holy Saturday can be found here.

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

The Epistle is as follows (emphases mine):

1 Peter 4:1-8

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Commentary comes from Matthew Henry and John MacArthur.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Henry says they were Jews living amongst Gentiles:

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

MacArthur says they were Gentiles:

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

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

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

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

Henry says much the same:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

MacArthur says:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Henry says:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Henry says this exhortation refers to the Christian community:

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

MacArthur concludes on Christian love with this:

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

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

May everyone reading this have a blessed day ahead.

The First Sunday in Lent is March 6, 2022.

Readings for Year C can be found here.

The Gospel reading is as follows (emphases mine):

Luke 4:1-13

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Commentary comes from Matthew Henry and John MacArthur.

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

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

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

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

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

We know that the world is sinful and evil:

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

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

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

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

38 the son of Enosh,

the son of Seth, the son of Adam,

the son of God.

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

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

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

John MacArthur explains why this was necessary:

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

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

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

MacArthur says that the place where Jesus went is terrifying:

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

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

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

There is much to look at in this verse.

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

MacArthur explains:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

MacArthur says that this was not always so:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

MacArthur elaborates:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Henry says:

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

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

MacArthur describes the setting:

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

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

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

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

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

Henry explains the verse and the context:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

May everyone reading this have a blessed Sunday.

John F MacArthurJohn MacArthur often laments the state of the Church today.

In May 1998, he gave a sermon on 2 Corinthians 13:1-2, which I cited in my post yesterday.

The sermon is called ‘The Pattern of Sanctification, Part 1: Church Discipline’.

Whilst discussing the first two verses of 2 Corinthians 13, he also gave an excellent exposition of everything that is wrong in the Church today. Excerpts follow, emphases mine below.

Since 1998, the following has exploded in churches around the Western world. Around the end of the 20th century, church growth rose to prominence. Moving on to the 21st century, the last decade saw a rise in home churches. Online church services surfaced during the pandemic and became normalised. The Church of England hierarchy wants more online services and fewer church buildings, retaining them only in community ‘hubs’. I do despair.

MacArthur points out the folly of it all:

Now, before we look at the text itself, I want to kind of get us into the importance of the subject and the importance of the attitude of the apostle Paul here by sharing with you perspective that I think exists in the Church today. Many people are concerned about the state of the Church. The condition of churches today have caused a myriad of seminars and conferences and books to be written. There are constant calls for renewal in the Church, for better understanding of the culture, for changing the style of the Church to fit the style of the ‘90s, replacing preaching of the Scripture with more interesting methodologies and technologies.

All across our country – in fact, all around the world there are these efforts being made to reinvent the Church. The fear is that the Church is not speaking to the time, people are not listening. The Church has somehow become irrelevant; it has become obsolete. Self-styled experts are saying that the future of the Church is in the balance, and the Church may not survive in the West if it doesn’t become culturally relevant, if it doesn’t learn how to package its message better, if it doesn’t target felt needs, if it doesn’t employ more popular and efficient communication devices that it currently uses.

All of this comes into focus in a new book that’s just been out a couple of weeks. It’s one of those books that you could pick up and read rather rapidly. I read it fairly rapidly; I couldn’t put it down. It just kept compelling me to read. It was sort of like enjoying the pain, actually. It was like there’s something redeeming in this self-flagellation that I’m going through, and I’m going to carry it all away to the end. The book pained me deeply, and every page added more to my pain, but I couldn’t put it down because I was so startled by what the book was saying.

It is a book that calls for the Church to do what I just said: reinvent itself. And it says, on the cover of the book, “Today’s Church is incapable of responding to the present moral crisis. It must reinvent itself or face virtual oblivion by mid twenty-first century.” End quote.

So, the book says that if the Church doesn’t reinvent itself, and put itself in better cultural relevance, it’s going to go out of existence in 50 years. That statement alone was overwhelming for me. Do you mean to tell me that the eternal God who determined in the counsels of the Trinity, before the foundation of the world, before time began, who He would redeem and how He would gather His own to Himself and bring them to eternal glory is somehow going to find His whole plan coming unglued in the next 50 years? Do you mean to tell me that the Church which Jesus Christ purchased with His own blood is somehow going to escape His purposes for redemption and atonement? Do you mean to tell me that the Church which Jesus said He would build, and the gates of Hades could not prevail against it is somehow going to become victimized by its own inept[itude]? That is a brash and irresponsible statement, to say that if the Church doesn’t reinvent itself, it’ll face oblivion by the mid twenty-first century.

The only thing that could possibly obliterate the Church on earth by then would be the end of the age and the return of Jesus Christ and the glorification of the Church. That’s a very irresponsible thing to say. And the author of the book fearing – and I think he probably genuinely fears that the Church might go out of existence – suggests that there are some ways to save the Church, and these are the suggestions. “Develop cyber churches, virtual churches on the Internet.

Secondly, develop house churches which appeal to people because they have low control, low authority, and operate without historical tradition, I might add, or theology.” “Eliminate congregational churches” – like this – “for more congenial, less confrontational, and more dispassionately interactive forums. Preachers must be replaced by presenters who have no notes and don’t hide behind pulpits, and who generate a more positive response for their listeners.

“We must get rid of sermons, because one-sided communication is ineffective, and eliminate series and Bible exposition, because everybody’s attendance is sporadic, and people really get irritated coming in and out of series that they can’t consistently hear. So, we need to play to their sporadic attendance. And every sermon should be a unit in itself because most of the folks will miss the next two weeks before they decide to come back.”

You say, “Well, where did he get those ideas?”

They were the result of a survey. If you ask unbelievers outside the Church what they want, you can get answers like that. If you ask unbelievers inside the Church what they want, you can get answers like that. If you ask believers in the Church, ignorant of Scripture, what they want, you can get answers like that. But if you were to survey biblically literate believers, you wouldn’t get answers like that.

So, who is it that determines the character of the Church? You go to the lowest possible source. Unbelievers outside the Church, unbelievers inside the Church, or ignorant believers in the Church. What is the hope of the Church? Is this really it, if we can just disband congregational churches and develop a virtual church on the Internet, will that solve our problem? Will that dramatically affect the Church’s ability to confront the moral crisis of our day, as if that were somehow our reason for existence? And it’s not. Ours is not a moral agenda. Ours is a spiritual one.

Would it be better if we had presenters instead of preachers, and we got rid of pulpits, and got rid of sermon notes, and sat on stools, would that be the difference? And just sort of told stories?

Would it be better if instead of somebody preparing to preach a sermon and giving forth an exposition of Scripture we had a pooling of everyone’s ideas? Would it be better if we never had any continuity in or sermons but had little units week in and week out? Would that really save the Church from virtual oblivion?

And by the way, are we the ones responsib[le for] sav[ing] the Church from going out of existence? Is that our job? That’s all the result of a survey. You see, that’s what people want. And what they want is what they should get. That’s the basic thesis behind all of that.

Now, if you ask me what the Church needs, I don’t need a survey. I just ask the Lord of the Church, and He’s revealed it in His Word. And what the Church really needs is more consistent, faithful, clear theological exposition of the mind of God through the pages of Scripture. What it needs is better preaching, better sermons – and I may get in trouble for saying this – fewer small churches with ungifted, untrained, and unskilled preachers.

The Word must dominate the Church and bear its God-intended power and authority over all who hear. You see, the only way that the Church will ever effectively counter the crisis of our time – moral crisis, spiritual crisis – is when the Word of God is working powerfully in the Church – listen to what I say – to produce not information, but “holiness.” There’s the operative word, folks. Write that down somewhere; that’s the theme of the message this morning.

You see, the hope of the Church and the impact of the Church is all connected to the purity of the Church. Holiness is the issue. When Jesus first addressed the Church in Matthew 18, the first time he ever said anything related to the Church, in that great sermon in Matthew 18:7, the first thing he said about it is this, “If somebody’s in sin, go to him. If he doesn’t listen, take two or three witnesses. If he doesn’t listen, tell the church. And after the church has pursued him, if he still doesn’t repent, throw him out; treat him like an outcast.

The first instruction our Lord ever gave to the CHURCH had to do with sin. In that very first sermon, Jesus said, “If you ever lead another believer into sin, you’d be better off if a millstone were put around your neck and you were drowned in the depths of the sea.” The Lord of the Church is concerned about the purity of the Church. He’s concerned about the holiness of the Church. Sin is the issue to the Lord of the Church, and it should be the issue for us. But I daresay you can go from conference to conference to conference, and book to book to book, and this is not the concern today. You won’t hear talk about the holiness of the Church, the purity of the Church.

When I was at Moody this week, I spoke, and I basically said to them, “You know, I’m going to preach the sermon I’ve prepared for my own church on Sunday.” I kind of tweaked it here and there a little bit. But I said to them what I’m going to say to you, because everybody’s talking about church growth and how to grow your church and have a successful church in a flourishing ministry and more folks and church growth is a begin thing. And I said to them, “It may surprise you to hear this, but I really believe the single greatest contributor to the impact of our church, to the growth of our church, to the ministries of our church, to the effect of our church – the single greatest factor that exists – has existed through the years of Grace Community Church – the single greatest contributor to the influence, and the strength, and the growth of our church has been” – and I paused, and it got real quiet, and I said – “church discipline.” And there was a pall over the meeting.

Church discipline. That is not normally considered a principle of church growth. Most people would assume, “If you want to kill a place, do that. Just start poking around in everybody’s life and they’ll split.” Not the people who love righteousness. Not the people who hate sin. Not the people who want to honor God. Not the people who care about obedience. And that’s the Church, isn’t it? That’s the true and redeemed Church.

It may surprise you to hear this. I believe that ignoring church discipline is the most visible and disastrous failure of the Church in our time. Because what it conveys is we aren’t really concerned about – what? – sin. The Lord of the Church is concerned about sin. The apostle Paul was concerned about sin. It left him with a constant, unrelenting ache in his heart.

The problem with the Church is not that it’s got bad methodology or bad technology. The problem with the Church is it’s lost its interest in holiness. It’s lost its interest in maintaining purity. Churches have become content to be fellowships of independent members with minimal accountability to God, and even less to each other

The absence of church discipline – and I mean it’s absolutely a foreign thing in churches – the absence of church discipline is a symptom of the moral decline, the theological indifference of the Church. It’s a symptom, I believe, of a shallow commitment to Scripture. It’s not as if the Bible is unclear on the subject. It couldn’t be more clear. It is a lack of reverence for the Lord of the Church. It is saying, “Well, I know you’re concerned about the holiness of the Church, but we’re really not. We have other things to be concerned about.” Church discipline is not an elective; it is not an option; it is a necessary an integral mark of true Christianity and life in the church.

And I say it again; the absence of church discipline is the most glaring evidence of the worldliness of the Church. And the worldliness of the Church is the reason for its impotence. And you can have all of the entertainment, and all the hoopla, and all the big crowds that you want and not impact the world. It’s the purity of the Church; it’s the holiness of the Church that is the cause of its power. The problem is the Church is unholy.

Even the idea of confession of sin is outdated in an age of moral relativism and moral ambiguity. The answer is not let’s break up the congregation and produce less accountability; let’s get down to house churches where we have less authority, less confrontation, more autonomy, more independence. The answer is not let’s have more compassion; let’s have a kinder, gentler church.

Albert Mohler, who’s the president of Southern Seminary, writes – and I quote – “Individuals now claim an enormous zone of personal privacy and moral autonomy. The congregation, redefined as a mere voluntary association, has no right to intrude into this space. Many congregations have forfeited any responsibility to confront even the most public sins of their members.” He says congregations are consumed with pragmatic methods of church growth and what he calls congregational engineering. And most churches just ignore the issues of sin.

Let us contrast that approach with that of St Paul:

Well, the apostle Paul wasn’t that way. We’re learning, at the end of the book here, about the faithful pastor’s concerns. What is it that concerns a faithful pastor? What is it that concerns Paul? Well, he’s giving us a summary of that, starting in chapter 12, verse 19, running all the way to chapter 13, verse 10. That whole section is a summation of what concerns Paul.

And we could sum it up in a word. He’s concerned with the spiritual well-being of his flock. That’s what he’s concerned about. Corinth was a challenge. The city was gross in terms of its wickedness. People who came to Christ in that city were coming out of very immoral backgrounds. They brought some of that garbage into the church. He had to write to them 1 Corinthians to confront a long litany of iniquities that they were still engaging in, even though they were in the church and calling themselves believers.

Having sorted out those problems in the writing of 1 Corinthians, it wasn’t long until false teachers had come, and along with false teachers came pride, and along with pride came more sin. And Paul could see the subsequent impotence of that unholy situation and the loss of testimony, the loss of evangelistic impact that would follow.

Paul knew that the problem in Corinth was not going to be whether they were culturally relevant or not. The false teachers criticized Paul for not having a relevant message, not taking into account the expectations of the Corinthians for what oratory ought to be because of what they were used to. They had criticized Paul because his person, his persona was unimpressive, and his speech was contemptible; he was a lousy communicator; he didn’t speak in the venue that people were used to hearing. He didn’t have all of the personal charm to woo the audience.

He had already addressed the issues that he didn’t speak with men’s wisdom, and he didn’t come in the wisdom of the world to achieve divine purposes. He already had laid it down that he was going to come and speak the Word of God, and he believed the Word of God, and he believed the Word of God was the power. And behind that came this conviction and commitment to the fact that the church had to be holy. And what Paul feared in his church was error and sin. Either one of those destroys the church. Theological error, theological ignorance or inequity devastates the church.

I can think of very few pastors who would pursue Paul’s route. Yet, it is the correct one for the Church.

There is the world, the slave to sin. And there is the Church, which teaches that the way to eternal life is through the repentance of sin, a turning around of ourselves and our worldly ways towards … holiness.

Do we notice how the more modern and relevant the Church becomes, the more people avoid it?

There is another problem and that is the use of churches as tools for evangelising. Evangelising is a necessary activity but, done properly, it takes place outside of the church service, not during it.

The church service is designed for worship of our Lord and the exposition of Scripture, not winning converts off the street.

How bad do things have to get before our clergy realise the error of their ways? Sadly, I fear this will drag on and on for decades.

At the end of October 2021, London head teacher Katharine Birbalsingh said that children were born with Original Sin and had to be taught how to be good.

Katharine Birbalsingh founded the highly successful Michaela Community School in Wembley in north west London and was also recently appointed as a Government ‘levelling up’ adviser.

On October 29, The Times reported:

The row was started by a tweet to Birbalsingh which read: “We are all born ‘bad’, that is why it is so important to be morally educated and not just conditioned.”

Birbalsingh replied: “Exactly. Original Sin. Children need to be taught right from wrong and then habituated into choosing good over evil. That requires love and constant correction from all the adults in their lives over YEARS. Moral formation is a good thing.”

Absolutely. I am so glad that Birbalsingh ‘went there’, as it were.

As one would expect, Birbalsingh’s pointing out biblical truth did not go unnoticed. The Times included several quotes from the notional great and the good condemning what she said.

Everyone piled in, as an article by The Spectator‘s Theo Hobson pointed out (emphases mine):

This opinion immediately offended the great and the good, as if her point of view was equivalent to advocating the thumb-screw. An outgoing member of the social mobility commission, which Birbalsingh now chairs, accused her of ‘whipping up division’ and said he hoped it wouldn’t be a ‘sign of things to come’.

Another departing commissioner told the Times that, ‘I wouldn’t agree with those comments and I wouldn’t say her comments reflected at all any of the current commission’s views. I’ve always viewed young people in the best light and any negativity comes from the fact that they haven’t been nurtured or aren’t in the position to get the support they need.’

Others called her view ‘medieval’, a very dated accusation. This remains a strand of secular humanism, the idea that humanity is naturally good, and that people become corrupted by bad ideas as they grow up. This was the opinion of Neil Gray, an SNP MSP, who said her ‘original sin’ comment was ‘the opposite of my world view.’ He added: ‘Children are not born bad. Children are born good and I would suggest trauma, poverty… and negative influences of adults are what drive negative behaviour into adulthood. We must nurture and protect our children not stigmatise them from birth.’

Theo Hobson could even cite a real life example of Original Sin’s presence — in his own son who, at the age of six, was confused about slavery:

When my son was about six he heard something at school about slavery but was not quite clear what it was all about. So I spelled it out. I told him that a slave was someone that someone else owned and ordered around and probably mistreated. I waited for the proper response of moral horror to show on his innocent features. Instead he said, ‘Cool, I want one!’

Hobson concludes:

Many would agree with Birbalsingh that ‘moral formation’ is necessary for children, but reject her appeal to original sin. But I think she is quite right, and that the most rigorous moral idealism entails this concept.

What’s wrong with the vague orthodoxy that everyone is a mix of good and bad impulses, and that most of us manage to be good enough? It is not ambitious enough. The strange thing about original sin is that it sounds amazingly negative but is actually the most idealistic belief available. It says that normal moral decency is not good enough, it’s a compromise that makes us feel moral as long as we don’t break the law. In fact we are all morally inadequate, and even the keenest do-gooders have dodgy inclinations. This ‘bleak’ view of humanity is not bleak at all – it simply means that an ideal of perfect morality is on the table. We should, ideally, be morally ideal, perfectly loving, all the time. It is only in relation to this extreme ideal that ‘sin’, as a universal human condition, makes sense. They are two sides of the same coin.

So hats off to a headteacher capable of teaching us all a lesson.

Even the Stoics, pagans, believed that man was inherently bad. The most famous of them, Marcus Aurelius — yes, he did persecute Christians — wrote a book of his musings on Stoicism called Meditations. This is one of his quotes on mankind’s instinctive carnality:

Begin each day by telling yourself: Today I shall be meeting with interference, ingratitude, insolence, disloyalty, ill-will, and selfishness – all of them due to the offenders’ ignorance of what is good or evil. But for my part I have long perceived the nature of good and its nobility, the nature of evil and its meanness, and also the nature of the culprit himself, who is my brother (not in the physical sense, but as a fellow creature similarly endowed with reason and a share of the divine); therefore none of those things can injure me, for nobody can implicate me in what is degrading. Neither can I be angry with my brother or fall foul of him; for he and I were born to work together, like a man’s two hands, feet or eyelids, or the upper and lower rows of his teeth. To obstruct each other is against Nature’s law – and what is irritation or aversion but a form of obstruction.

That quote came as an answer in the comments to someone writing into The Guardian who was struggling with maintaining his (or her) optimism:

I’ve been an optimist my whole life, with a rugged dedication that even I can see is, at times, questionable. My optimism mainly rests on a belief in the inherent goodness of people and, in many ways, I haven’t been disappointed. But over the last few years I had to face the fact that most of my significant relationships have been abusive and, clearly, there’s a tonne of evidence of hatred, ruthless greed and intolerance everywhere at the moment.

These experiences have provoked something of an existential crisis in me. I still feel an optimistic outlook is, fundamentally, the only way to keep going – otherwise what’s the point? How can I find a comfortable and balanced place in my mind and heart to settle?

The Guardian‘s secular agony aunt responding to this enquiry advocated a good dose of hope and reflecting on the realm of possibility. Here is the excerpt:

The thing we need to keep going isn’t belief – it’s hope. And hope is a choice; hope doesn’t mind what has happened ‘til now, because hope lives in the thought the next moment might be different and better.

Hope isn’t as easily deterred by evidence that goodness sometimes falters, because hope isn’t about evidence. It’s about possibility. Staring into the possibility of other people’s badness makes us rooted to the spot, transfixed with the worst interpretations of what’s going on around us. Looking back into imagination and possibility gives us something else to focus on; it tears our eyes from the void. Don’t look for proof. Look for hope.

Believing in the doctrine of Original Sin is much easier and makes more sense more immediately.

We are in a constant battle against sin. None of us is good. Not one.

Only the Holy Trinity is inherently good and always will be.

God the Father sent His Son Jesus Christ to redeem the world — past, present and future — from sin. Jesus paid the price on the Cross in order to reconcile us to the Father, opening up the promise of eternal life forever.

Original Sin exists and always will. When even pagans realised that two millennia ago, why doesn’t everyone else?

The Seventeenth Sunday after Trinity — the Eighteenth Sunday after Pentecost — is September 26, 2021.

The readings for Year B can be found here.

The Gospel reading is as follows (emphases mine):

Mark 9:38-50

9:38 John said to him, “Teacher, we saw someone casting out demons in your name, and we tried to stop him, because he was not following us.”

9:39 But Jesus said, “Do not stop him; for no one who does a deed of power in my name will be able soon afterward to speak evil of me.

9:40 Whoever is not against us is for us.

9:41 For truly I tell you, whoever gives you a cup of water to drink because you bear the name of Christ will by no means lose the reward.

9:42 “If any of you put a stumbling block before one of these little ones who believe in me, it would be better for you if a great millstone were hung around your neck and you were thrown into the sea.

9:43 If your hand causes you to stumble, cut it off; it is better for you to enter life maimed than to have two hands and to go to hell, to the unquenchable fire.

9:45 And if your foot causes you to stumble, cut it off; it is better for you to enter life lame than to have two feet and to be thrown into hell.

9:47 And if your eye causes you to stumble, tear it out; it is better for you to enter the kingdom of God with one eye than to have two eyes and to be thrown into hell,

9:48 where their worm never dies, and the fire is never quenched.

9:49 “For everyone will be salted with fire.

9:50 Salt is good; but if salt has lost its saltiness, how can you season it? Have salt in yourselves, and be at peace with one another.”

Commentary comes from Matthew Henry and John MacArthur.

These verses pick up from where we left off last week:

9:35 He sat down, called the twelve, and said to them, “Whoever wants to be first must be last of all and servant of all.”

9:36 Then he took a little child and put it among them; and taking it in his arms, he said to them,

9:37 “Whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes not me but the one who sent me.”

Jesus refers to children again in today’s reading as well as the disciples’ argument about who shall be first among them.

Jesus spoke of radical Christianity here, the necessity of mortifying our carnal desires and of ensuring our own purity.

‘Radical’ derives from the word ‘root’, meaning that it is essential.

John MacArthur has more:

This is a very unique portion of Scripture. It is full of graphic terminology, dramatic acts, severe warnings, and rather violent threats. It really is a passage about radical discipleship, and the language bears testimony to that. It calls for radical behaviors, and it shows us just how radical it is to be a true disciple of Jesus Christ. Our Lord here, in these verses, is calling for radical discipleship. I think this is a message that is highly necessary for the day in which we live when under the name of Christianity and even evangelical Christianity, there is so much superficiality.

The language here is severe, extreme, fanatical, and radical language. And that fits the radical nature of our Lord’s invitation to true discipleship. Let me talk about the word “radical.” It’s a word you hear, it’s a word you know, it’s a word that we experience in our world commonly.

If you look in the dictionary, you’ll find two meanings for the word “radical.” Number one probably will be this word means basic or fundamental or foundational, something primary, intrinsic or essential. The second meaning, which may be the one that is more popular today, is that it also means something that deviates by its extreme. When we think of something radical, we think of something revolutionary or something severe or, as I mentioned, something fanatical. But really, the word is both.

It is a word that refers to something that is fundamental and fanatical, that is intrinsic and intensive, that is essential and extreme. Therefore, it is a great word to use as an adjective for a discipleship because discipleship is something fundamental and fanatical, something intrinsic and intensive, something essential and something extreme. The basics of being a disciple are really radical.

John tells Jesus that he and the disciples saw someone casting out demons in His name and that they tried to stop him from doing so because he was not one of them (verse 38).

We do not know when this happened. It could have been during the time when Jesus invested the Apostles with His own divine gifts of teaching and healing.

Jesus replied, saying that no one performing a powerful deed in His name would be able to speak evil of him afterwards (verse 39).

Furthermore, He said that whoever is not against us is for us (verse 40).

Matthew Henry and John MacArthur agree that it is possible that God granted a few outsiders these divine gifts.

MacArthur says:

There were others that the Lord had given this power to. Perhaps this is one who became a part of the 70. We don’t know. But what he was doing was legitimate. God was doing it because he was a true believer in Christ and he was doing it in the name of Christ. But they were telling the guy to stop because he wasn’t a part of their group. This is not Simon Magus, folks. This is the real thing here

Henry posits that the man might have been a follower of John the Baptist and spoke of the Messiah to come, not realising that Jesus was already on Earth:

some think that he was a disciple of John, who made use of the name of the Messiah, not as come, but as near at hand, not knowing that Jesus was he. It should rather seem that he made use of the name of Jesus, believing him to be the Christ, as the other disciples did. And why not he receive that power from Christ, whose Spirit, like the wind, blows where it listeth, without such an outward call as the apostles had? And perhaps there were many more such. Christ’s grace is not tied to the visible church.

Henry refers to a similar incident with Joshua in the Old Testament:

This was like the motion Joshua made concerning Eldad and Medad, that prophesied in the camp, and went not up with the rest to the door of the tabernacle; “My lord Moses, forbid them (Numbers 11:28); restrain them, silence them, for it is a schism.” Thus apt are we to imagine that those do not follow Christ at all, who do not follow him with us, and that those do nothing well, who do not just as we do. But the Lord knows them that are his, however they are dispersed; and this instance gives us a needful caution, to take heed lest we be carried, by an excess of zeal for the unity of the church, and for that which we are sure is right and good, to oppose that which yet may tend to the enlargement of the church, and the advancement of its true interests another way.

2. The rebuke he gave to them for this (Mark 9:39; Mark 9:39); Jesus said, “Forbid him not, nor any other that does likewise.” This was like the check Moses gave to Joshua; Enviest thou for my sake? Note, That which is good, and doeth good, must not be prohibited, though there be some defect or irregularity in the manner of doing it. Casting out devils, and so destroying Satan’s kingdom, doing this in Christ’s name, and so owning him to be sent of God, and giving honour to him as the Fountain of grace, preaching down sin, and preaching up Christ, are good things, very good things, which ought not to be forbidden to any, merely because they follow not with us. If Christ be preached, Paul therein doth, and will rejoice, though he be eclipsed by it, Philippians 1:18. Two reasons Christ gives why such should not be forbidden. (1.) Because we cannot suppose that any man who makes use of Christ’s name in working miracles, should blaspheme his name, as the scribes and Pharisees did. There were those indeed that did in Christ’s name cast out devils, and yet in other respects were workers of iniquity; but they did not speak evil of Christ. (2.) Because those that differed in communion, while they agreed to fight against Satan under the banner of Christ, ought to look upon one another as on the same side, notwithstanding that difference. He that is not against us is on our part. As to the great controversy between Christ an Beelzebub, he had said, He that is not with me is against me, Matthew 12:30. He that will not own Christ, owns Satan. But as to those that own Christ, though not in the same circumstances, that follow him, though not with us, we must reckon that though these differ from us, they are not against us, and therefore are on our part, and we must not be any hindrance to their usefulness.

Following on the same theme, Jesus said that anyone offering the disciples a drink of water because they represent Him will be rewarded (verse 41).

Henry tells us:

If Christ reckons kindness to us services to him, we ought to reckon services to him kindnesses to us, and to encourage them, though done by those that follow not with us.

MacArthur says that Jesus was cautioning against pride on the part of the disciples:

You give a cup of water to drink to someone who belongs to Christ, that’s humility. You don’t have any psychoanalysis of what humility feels like. Forget that. Because as soon as you feel humble, guess what? You’re proud. And as soon as you feel proud, you have hope for humility. I’m not talking about feeling, we’re talking about what humility does because that’s the only way you can define it. It looks like this, it’s basically kind, it’s basically sacrificial toward those who bear the name of Christ.

Whichever one of you goes to the other and gives a cup of cold water for the sake of Christ, you will not lose your reward. Because the fear was, “Oh, if I humble myself, I’m going to lose the fight. This is a competition, we’ve got to win, we’ve got to be first, we’ve got to be first.” So the fear is, if I end up at the bottom, I’m going to lose the reward, I’m going to lose the prize. No, you’re not going to lose it. You’re going to gain it. The simple act of sacrificial kindness to one who belongs to Christ will result in what you will never achieve by elevating yourself. You won’t lose your reward, you’ll gain it.

Then Jesus said that anyone who puts a stumbling block — temptation — before His ‘little ones’ would be better off having a millstone put around his neck and thrown in the sea than suffer the consequences of divine judgement (verse 42).

He was referring to the child in his arms but also to the wider body of believers, God’s children.

Henry tells us:

Whosoever shall grieve any true Christians, though they be of the weakest, shall oppose their entrance into the ways of God, or discourage and obstruct their progress in those ways, shall either restrain them from doing good, or draw them in to commit sin, it were better for him that a millstone were hanged about his neck, and he were cast into the sea: his punishment will be very great, and the death and ruin of his soul more terrible than such a death and ruin of his body would be. See Matthew 18:6.

MacArthur explains the gravity of that threat:

The threat is unmistakable. “Whoever causes one of these little ones who believe” – not children but believers who are considered His children, His precious ones – “to stumble” – to stumble. What do we mean by stumble? Skandalizomai, to be caught in sin, to be trapped in sin, entrapped. “Whoever causes one” – not a group, one, and one is emphatic – “it would be better to have a, mulos onikos, tied around your neck. Mulos is mule, onikos is stone.

They used to grind grain using a mule. There would be a fixed stone and on top of that a round stone that would roll around and crush the grain and be pulled by a mule. It would weigh tons – tons. You would be better off to have one of those tied around your neck and have you thrown to the bottom of the ocean than to cause another Christian to be trapped in sin. Drowning is a very unforgettable threat to Jewish people. They are not seafaring people. The ocean is a great barrier to them. They are agrarian people. They fish in the lake. They don’t like the depths of the sea. This is a horrifying threat.

What our Lord is calling for here is radical love, the kind of love that works very hard never to be a source of sinful solicitation to another person. To solicit them toward the lust of the flesh, toward the lust of the eyes, materialism, toward the love of the world, toward pride. We’re talking here about the other believers in your life, children, spouses, friends, acquaintances. Love doesn’t do that. Love doesn’t solicit to sin. Love does the very opposite of that. According to 1 Corinthians chapter 13, love doesn’t enjoy someone falling into sin …

This is the strongest threat that ever came out of the mouth of Jesus to His own people, and it calls for radical love, and love seeks someone’s best, love seeks to elevate, love seeks to purify, love seeks to bless.

Jesus expanded on that by citing parts of our body that can cause us to sin. He does not intend us to actually remove them, just to rid ourselves of touching (verse 43), going to (verse 45) and seeing things (verse 47) that tempt us. Otherwise, we will end up in hell forever.

MacArthur says that He is calling us to radical purity:

But not just radical love is called for in radical discipleship. Secondly is radical purity – radical purity. And that’s what is laid out in verses 43, 45, and 47. And, of course, they go together because you’re never going to be able to lead someone else into righteousness if you’re not righteous yourself. You’re not going to be a purifying influence on others unless your own heart is pure. Just the reverse is true. If your own heart is impure, you will lead others into sin. You will be the means of other people’s entrapment.

So the danger of leading others to sin is eliminated when you deal with sin in your own heart. And what this text calls for is a radical, severe dealing with that sin.

MacArthur explains the strong metaphors that Jesus used:

The language here is just so strong. First thing that strikes me is the severity with which we are to deal with sin. This is extreme behavior. This reminds me of the illustration of the Old Testament of hacking Agag to pieces as a kind of a symbol of how we have to deal with sin. This is the language that’s similar to Romans where Paul talks about killing sin, mortifying it. This is aggressive, severe treatment of sin, and it’s in metaphoric hyperbole – it’s in metaphoric hyperbole.

The language calls for radical, severe action against any and all sin. Body parts are mentioned here, the hands, the feet, and the eyes. And I think the sum of those is simply to say everything you see, everything you do, everywhere you go – everything that relates to your life, all behaviors, these three separate parts are symbolic of the overall, general emphasis, and the verbs are all in the present tense, which means you keep on doing it. It’s not once and for all. We would like to think of that, but that’s not the way it is. Present tense verbs emphasize the continual struggle with temptation and with sin.

And what our Lord is saying is that salvation and the kingdom of God, mentioned in verse 47, which you want to enter, or life, as it’s referred to in verse 43 and 44, which means eternal life, spiritual life, salvation on the positive side and escape from hell on the negative side, is so important that you need to get rid of anything that is a barrier to that. That’s the point. Amputation is what’s in view. Amputation, radical, severe action against anything that stands in the way of the pursuit of holiness, righteousness, and purity.

Obviously, our Lord is not calling for physical mutilation, not at all. I promise you, a person with one eye and a person with one hand and a person with one leg – or, for that matter, a person with no hands, no legs, and no eyes does not thereby conquer sin. That kind of folly developed in the history of the church, even from the second century on, that somehow if you emasculated yourself or if you mutilated yourself physically in some way, you could defeat sin.

That kind of view in those early years gained enough traction to have developed into kind of a full-fledged cult in the Middle Ages, a false view developed by monks and ascetics who took passages like these and Matthew 19:12 where it refers to those who have been made eunuchs, as if somehow in an action like that they could thereby conquer sin. The testimony from people who did that is that it had no real effect on their hearts, although it may have seriously altered their behavior. The issue is on the inside.

Eagle-eyed readers might be wondering what happened to verses 44 and 46.

MacArthur says that they might have been added later then removed because they were not in the original text:

There are things here that are so firm, so strong, so threatening, so severe that somewhere along the line people thought they needed to ramp up the message because of its severity. And there are things in this passage that are cryptic and challenging to interpret, and so through the years, there have been some alterations, maybe by scribes who wanted to clarify a little bit. Not a good thing to do, change the text, but, fortunately, we have as close to the original as we’re going to get, and we’re going to take the passage at its purest form.

One of the great realities of Scripture is the preservation of the original, which God has overseen so that we have a true reflection of the original Greek and Hebrew text. Let me read this to you, and if you’ll notice it, I’m going to skip verses 44 and 46 when I read. It may be, if you have an NAS or one of the newer translations, you see brackets around them. That is because in the earlier manuscripts, these two statements do not occur. However, the statement in verse 44 and 46 is in verse 48. So we assume that some scribe saw the urgency of this and just wanted to pile it on a little bit.

Jesus said that the worm never dies and the fire is never quenched in hell (verse 48).

MacArthur explains why He used those words, which would have resonated with the Jews, His disciples:

The word “hell,” by the way, is gehenna – gehenna. It is a very interesting term. It is always the term that refers to the lake of fire, not just the place of the dead (like hades) but the actual burning lake of fire. That is why verse 43 describes hell as the place of unquenchable fire. And verse 48, “Where their worm does not die and the fire is not quenched.”

Gehenna – where did that word come from? The root of that word comes from the Valley of Hinnom – the Valley of Hinnom, mentioned in Joshua 15:8. It is a steep ravine down to a valley, south of the city of Jerusalem, very severe. That was a place where Ahaz and Manasseh, two kings, offered human sacrifices to Molech. You can read about it in 2 Kings 16 and 21, 2 Chronicles 28 and 33. Human sacrifices in the land of Israel in the Valley of Hinnom to pacify this vicious, false deity named Molech, an unthinkable practice that Jewish people would sacrifice their babies to Molech.

It was denounced, of course, by the prophets, particularly Jeremiah, Jeremiah 7:31, Jeremiah 32:35. In fact, Jeremiah renames it in Jeremiah 19:6. He calls it the Valley of Slaughter – the Valley of Slaughter. And he also calls it the Valley of Topheth. Topheth comes from a Hebrew word that means drum. Why would it be called the Valley of the Drum? Because some historians tell us that drums were beaten there regularly to drown out the screams of the burning babies. A horrendous place.

Josiah, the good king, according to 2 Kings 23:10, shut that down, stopped all that, and turned it into Jerusalem’s garbage dump. I mean real garbage, no plastic, no paper. Rancid food, sewage, maggots, and a 24/7 fire consuming it. And it was easily adapted as the word to describe eternal hell, unquenchable fire. This is the emphasis of Scripture. All the way from the beginning, Matthew 25 to the end, Revelation 20, hell is a reality about which we are warned. Hell is mentioned twelve times in the New Testament, eleven of them by Jesus, the other one by James (James 3:6) and in this place, the fire is not quenched and the worm never dies, that’s verse 48.

By the way, verse 48 is a direct quote from Isaiah 66:24, and if you remember Isaiah, that’s the last verse in Isaiah. Isaiah ends with a horrible, horrible pronunciation of judgment. “They will go forth and look on the corpses of the men who have transgressed against me, for their worm will not die and their fire will not be quenched, and they will be an abhorrence to all mankind.” Looking at the judgment when the Lord comes as final judge.

This is the strongest call to discipleship, maybe the strongest our Lord ever gave. You either deal radically with issues of sin in your life or you end up in the eternal dump, the garbage pit, punished forever, where there will be darkness, weeping, wailing, and gnashing of teeth in isolation, according to what we read in so many places in Matthew.

Jesus went on to mention salt, in a negative and a positive way.

The use of ‘salt’ would also have resonated with His disciples, because salt was mandated in sacrifices of animals and grain as a sign of God’s covenant with His people.

MacArthur tells us:

Salt was added to sacrifices as a symbol of God’s enduring covenant. Salt is a preservative. But there’s one particular sacrifice that really fits perfectly here, Leviticus 2. In the opening five chapters of Leviticus, you have Scripture instruction on the five offerings – five offerings. In chapter 2, you have the grain offering – the grain offering – and it describes that offering.

But I want you to go down to verse 13, “Every grain offering of yours, moreover, you shall season with salt so that the salt of the covenant of your God should not be lacking from your grain offering.” With all your offerings, you shall offer salt. Salt symbolizes God’s promise, God’s covenant, God’s enduring faithfulness as you make the offering.

Jesus said that those who go to hell will be salted with fire (verse 49).

Henry explains that this salting with fire is eternal, because it works both as a corrosive and as a preservative:

in hell they shall be salted with fire; coals of fire shall be scattered upon them (Ezekiel 10:2), as salt upon the meat, and brimstone (Job 18:15), as fire and brimstone were rained on Sodom; the pleasures they have lived in, shall eat their flesh, as it were with fire,James 5:3. The pain of mortifying the flesh now is no more to be compared with the punishment for not mortifying it, than salting with burning. And since he had said, that the fire of hell shall not be quenched, but it might be objected, that the fuel will not last always, he here intimates, that by the power of God it shall be made to last always; for those that are cast into hell, will find the fire to have not only the corroding quality of salt, but its preserving quality; whence it is used to signify that which is lasting: a covenant of salt is a perpetual covenant, and Lot’s wife being turned into a pillar of salt, made her a remaining monument of divine vengeance. Now since this will certainly be the doom of those that do not crucify the flesh with its affections and lusts, let us, knowing this terror of the Lord, be persuaded to do it.

Jesus then ended with the good use of salt, a seasoning which makes our food taste good, and, in this context, a sign of grace making our utterances and actions palatable and pleasant as believers. If we lose our saltiness, how can we recover it? He called on the disciples and calls on us to have salt in ourselves and to be at peace with one another (verse 50).

Henry says:

Those that have the salt of grace, must make it appear that they have it; that they have salt in themselves, a living principle of grace in their hearts, which works out all corrupt dispositions, and every thing in the soul that tends to putrefaction, and would offend our God, or our own consciences, as unsavoury meat doth. Our speech must be always with grace seasoned with this salt, that no corrupt communication may proceed out of our mouth, but we may loathe it as much as we would to put putrid meat into our mouths …

We must not only have this salt of grace, but we must always retain the relish and savour of it; for if this salt lose its saltiness, if a Christian revolt from his Christianity, if he loses the savour of it, and be no longer under the power and influence of it, what can recover him, or wherewith will ye season him? This was said Matthew 5:13.

Jesus warned against salt that had lost its flavour.

MacArthur explains that this is because some salt was cut, or mixed, with other additives, one of which was gypsum:

Now, if any of you are into chemicals out there, chemistry, you know that sodium chloride is stable. Just sitting around, it doesn’t lose its saltiness, so the question comes up: What can this mean, since salt is stable and doesn’t lose its property, even over a long period of time? What can it refer to?

We’re helped by some historians. Some of them may be ancient, like Pliny, who recorded the fact that there were several kinds of salts in Israel and many of them had properties that made them impure, and they were basically worthless. One kind that seemed to be in some abundant supply was salt that was imperceptibly mixed with gypsum, and it was worse than useless.

So our Lord says, while we’re talking about salt and dedication, let me just pick my salt illustration up and move it up to another point. Salt is good but it’s only good if its unmixed – if it’s unmixed. And then comes His statement: Have salt in yourselves. Be salt, don’t be salt mixed with gypsum or anything else, be undiluted, unmixed.

Being at peace with one another means being humble rather than fighting over who will win top spot in the next life:

… that’s a command and I think it’s a command to radical obedience, a life that is unmixed. Why do you say that? Because He then gives them a direct practical application, “And be at peace with one another.”

Why does He say that? Because that’s what they needed to hear. Back in verse 33 they were – Jesus says, “What were you discussing on the way down here to Capernaum?” They kept silent. On the way they had discussed with one another which of them was the greatest. Wow. They were basically proud, self-serving, competitive. They were guilty of leading each other into sin. There was anger. Anything but humility.

I think our Lord simply says, “You need to be unmixed in your obedience, and here’s the command for today: Stop fighting. Stop elevating yourselves. Stop the competition. Stop being the cause of temptation. Such is the essence of radical discipleship, then, to love extremely, to deal with sin severely, to sacrifice one’s life wholly, and to obey fanatically.

These are certainly not messages we hear in today’s church.

I am looking forward to Sunday’s sermon at my church and seeing how close it comes to this exposition from Henry and MacArthur.

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