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The First Sunday after Epiphany, also called the Baptism of the Lord, is January 9, 2022.

The readings for Year C can be found here.

The Gospel reading is as follows (emphases mine):

Luke 3:15-17, 21-22

3:15 As the people were filled with expectation, and all were questioning in their hearts concerning John, whether he might be the Messiah,

3:16 John answered all of them by saying, “I baptize you with water; but one who is more powerful than I is coming; I am not worthy to untie the thong of his sandals. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire.

3:17 His winnowing fork is in his hand, to clear his threshing floor and to gather the wheat into his granary; but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire.”

3:21 Now when all the people were baptized, and when Jesus also had been baptized and was praying, the heaven was opened,

3:22 and the Holy Spirit descended upon him in bodily form like a dove. And a voice came from heaven, “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.”

Commentary comes from Matthew Henry and John MacArthur.

I wrote an exegesis on Luke 3 last year for the Third Sunday of Advent. That post covers verses 15 through 17.

Verse 18, also included in that post, reads:

So, with many other exhortations, he proclaimed the good news to the people.

Here are verses 19 and 20, which give the sad outcome for John the Baptist’s ministry. This is a parenthetical insert. Herod the tetrarch had invited him on a few occasions to talk to him privately:

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.

Verses 21 and 22 follow on from verse 18. They are in a new section of Luke 3 entitled ‘The Baptism and Genealogy of Jesus’.

When all the people were being baptised, as the New International Version puts it, Jesus was also baptised and prayed, at which point Heaven opened up (verse 21).

Note that Jesus was the last to be baptised, waiting for the others.

Matthew Henry’s commentary says:

Christ would be baptized last, among the common people, and in the rear of them; thus he humbled himself, and made himself of no reputation, as one of the least, nay, as less than the least. He saw what multitudes were hereby prepared to receive him, and then he appeared.

Henry said that, when Jesus prayed after His baptism, it was not the same prayer that the people had made. They prayed for repentance and forgiveness of sin. He prayed that He would receive His Father’s favour:

He did not confess sin, as others did, for he had none to confess; but he prayed, as others did, for he would thus keep up communion with his Father. Note, The inward and spiritual grace of which sacraments are the outward and visible signs must be fetched in by prayer; and therefore prayer must always accompany them. We have reason to think that Christ now prayed for this manifestation of God’s favour to him which immediately followed; he prayed for the discovery of his Father’s favour to him, and the descent of the Spirit. What was promised to Christ, he must obtain by prayerAsk of me and I will give thee, c. Thus he would put an honour upon prayer, would tie us to it, and encourage us in it.

Furthermore, Henry says that our Lord’s prayer at that time reopened Heaven for our benefit:

Thus was there opened to Christ, and by him to usa new and living way into the holiest sin had shut up heaven, but Christ’s prayer opened it again. Prayer is an ordinance that opens heaven: Knock, and it shall be opened unto you.

John MacArthur tells us that our Lord’s baptism was the only time that the lives of Jesus and John the Baptist, his cousin, actually intersected:

… there was a two- or three-day, probably three days, when Jesus…day one, was baptized by John; day two was marked out as the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world; and then on the third day, came to where John was.  That would be the only time in their lives when they were actually together John went on ministering six months longer before he was imprisoned and then was imprisoned up to a year Jesus’ ministry, of course, went on as well So for six months at least their ministries went along together, but they were in two different locations and they didn’t meet So here you have just the one brief time when they met And Jesus came for the purpose of being baptized 

Until Heaven opened, Jesus was just someone in the crowd awaiting his turn for baptism:

That was His objective and what was to happen there was critical.  Putting Jesus into the water wouldn’t necessary signify anything.  John was doing that with masses and masses of people.  In fact, it tells us in verse 21, “It came about when all the people were baptized that Jesus also was baptized.”  He was one among many just being baptized there.  There was nothing to single Him out. Unless there was some divine intervention to identify Him, no one watching would know that this was any other than just another Jew coming down wanting to prepare himself for the Messiah by repenting of his sins and going through this baptism of repentance.

And so, when Jesus was baptized, all heaven broke loose because this was not just another baptism.

The Holy Spirit descended upon Jesus in the form of a dove; His Father’s voice came from Heaven saying, ‘You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased’ (verse 22).

MacArthur explains the Greek text and the significance of our Lord’s baptism:

This was a singular event to launch the ministry of the Messiah, the Son of God, the Savior of the world What John [Luke?] is focusing on in verses 21 and 22 is the voice that comes out of heaven.  When you study the Greek language, you learn its grammar, its construction.  And what you have here in the Greek construction is a main clause at the end of verse 22, “A voice came out of heaven, ‘Thou art My beloved Son, in Thee I am well pleased.'”  Here is God, out of heaven proclaiming Jesus as His Son, the Son of the Most High God, as Gabriel had said He was, Immanuel, God with us.  And the Father is also proclaiming His perfection saying He is well pleased with everything about Him.

That is the main clause of these two verses and everything else is subordinate to that.  What you have here are three infinitive clauses.  In the Greek language, some of you who know Greek and even remember your English grammar will remember the words “infinitive” and “participle.”  Infinitives and participles are verb forms that modify a main verb. They’re subordinate, and that’s what you have.  The focus of what Luke writes is the last statement, the statement of the Father that this is My Son. Everything else subordinates that It was a time when people were being baptized, that Jesus was baptized and He was praying and heaven opened and the Holy Spirit came down, and all of that culminated in the voice coming out of heaven which is the main emphasis.  So it is the divine testimony of the Father to the Son that Luke is interested in.

And it’s interesting to me that Luke doesn’t give us any details about the baptism He doesn’t give us anything in terms of meaning of the descent of the Holy Spirit. He just says the Holy Spirit descended in a form that was visible like a dove But he does give us the very word of the Father which is the main issue.

So, thirty years of perfect, sinless growth and maturing are over with Thirty years in which Jesus has increased in wisdom and stature and favor with God and man, as chapter 1 verse 52 says All the preparation is past and now He is ready to begin His ministry So He leaves Nazareth and takes the sixty-seventy-mile hike down from Nazareth to Judea and out to the Jordan river where John is because there He is to be baptized.

MacArthur says that we should not be too concerned about the brevity of Luke’s account:

The Holy Spirit inspired Luke only to say just a brief amount because Matthew wrote about this event, Mark wrote about this event, and so did John So we have four gospels to deal with and we can weave the accounts together and get a full understanding.

MacArthur warns us about falling into the heresy of ‘oneness’, which denies the Trinity, the Triune God that appears in Luke’s account:

One footnote before we look actually at the text, just a big picture footnote.  In these two verses we have the Trinity.  We have the Son being baptized We have the Holy Spirit descending And we have the Father speaking out of heaven All three are present Here is one of the great trinitarian texts of the New Testament There is the Father’s presence, the Spirit’s presence and the Son’s presence, and here is the key word, simultaneously.  And that is very important because there is a heresy that’s been around for a long, long timeIt’s ancient name is “Sebelianism.”  It’s… Another name that was used… It was used to refer to it in the past is “Modalism.”  It is the idea, it is the heresy that God is one God who sometimes appears as the Father, sometimes appears as the Son, and sometimes appears as the Spirit, that He has different modes, but He is not three in one simultaneously, He is not eternally three persons, He is eternally one person who puts on different masks at different times.

This… This ancient heresy has been dealt with through the years, time and time and time again, but has reached a point of popularity today because it is part of what is known as the “United Pentecostal Church,” which is a “oneness” church, which denies the eternal Trinity Now if you do not have an eternal Trinity, you have the wrong God If you have the wrong God, you have the wrong Jesus and the wrong gospel This is a sweeping heresy because it is a fountainhead heresy that literally pollutes all the rest of theology You cannot have Modalism in this event because you have the Son being baptized, the Spirit descending, and the Father speaking simultaneously.  This is one of the many passages that hits the “oneness” view with a death blow.

In fact, a good way to look at the text is to just take it from the viewpoint of the three persons of the Trinity.  Let’s begin with the Son.  With the Son the baptism, with the Spirit the anointing, with the Father the testimony …

The Son, first of all, verse 21 ... “It came about when all the people were baptized that Jesus also was baptized and while He was praying heaven was opened.”

Now it came about, and then all the infinitive modifying statements, that the Father affirmed or confirmed the identity of Jesus as His Son, the Son of the Most High, the anointed Messiah, Savior of the world

May all reading this have a blessed Sunday.

Circumcision of Christ stained glassNew Year’s Day is the feast day of our Lord’s Circumcision and the Holy Name of Jesus.

The readings are the same regardless of Lectionary year.

There is more information about the stained glass depiction of the Circumcision here.

These posts have more detail about the Circumcision:

January 1 – Feast of the Circumcision of Christ (2010)

January 1: why Jesus was circumcised (2021)

New Year’s Day: the Circumcision — and Naming — of Christ Jesus

The next post has more on the shepherds. They reared the lambs to be used in sacrifices at the temple. They lived and worked in a sacred place just outside of Bethlehem, Migdal Eder (Genesis 35:21):

Migdal Eder: the shepherds provide a biblical key to unlocking the Christmas story (Luke’s Gospel, Micah, Genesis; Carl H Bloch’s painting The Shepherds and The Angel, oil on copper, 1879)

The Gospel reading is as follows (emphases mine):

Luke 2:15-21

2:15 When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let us go now to Bethlehem and see this thing that has taken place, which the Lord has made known to us.”

2:16 So they went with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the child lying in the manger.

2:17 When they saw this, they made known what had been told them about this child;

2:18 and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds told them.

2:19 But Mary treasured all these words and pondered them in her heart.

2:20 The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, as it had been told them.

2:21 After eight days had passed, it was time to circumcise the child; and he was called Jesus, the name given by the angel before he was conceived in the womb.

Commentary comes from Matthew Henry and John MacArthur.

It is useful reminding ourselves of the preceding verses, Luke 2:8-14:

The Shepherds and the Angels

And in the same region there were shepherds out in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. And an angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were filled with great fear. 10 And the angel said to them, “Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. 11 For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. 12 And this will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger.” 13 And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying,

14 “Glory to God in the highest,
    and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased!”[d]

John MacArthur explains what the second half of verse 14 means. We know it as ‘peace to men of goodwill’, however, it does not include all of mankind, only those of God’s choosing:

It’s a salvation peace that will belong only to those that God pleases to give it to This is a great and gracious eternal decree.  This involves the great doctrine of election, predestination Before the creation of the universe God chose to save some just because He was pleased to do it Angels, you see, are not rejoicing or glorifying God for what men have done or will do, but because of what God has done and will do.  It’s not that God’s salvation is a reward for those who have goodwill toward men, as the old translation says But salvation is a gracious gift to those to whom God chooses to have goodwill. On earth, the Messiah, Savior, the Christ, the Lord will bring salvation peace to those whom God pleases to save.

After the angels had left to return to heaven, the shepherds felt compelled to go to Jerusalem to see the ‘thing’ that had taken place, as the Lord revealed to them through the first angel and His glory shining around them (verse 15).

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

It’s literally the Greek term rhma, and it means “a word,” or “a reality.”  Let us see this reality.  They now understand that they have heard the word from God, that there’s a reality and the reality is that the Savior has been born Now they can confirm it easy enough because the angel had said to them, you’re going to find a sign, back in verse 12, you’re going to find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying where? In a manger.  Now that’s just an unheard of thing and very unusual, probably never happened. Nobody would put a baby in a feed trough in a stinking stable So that would verify that this was all true.  I mean, they had seen the angels and that was verification enough.  But they were going to get even more verification when in fact they found the child exactly where the angel said He would be, which meant this was not just an earthly situation going on, this was heaven and earth involved.  They believed the angel.

Matthew Henry’s commentary notes the shepherds’ certainty of the angel’s message:

… observe, These shepherds do not speak doubtfully, “Let us go see whether it be so or no;” but with assurance, Let us go see this thing which is come to pass; for what room was left to doubt of it, when the Lord had thus made it known to them? The word spoken by angels was stedfast and unquestionably true.

They hurried and found, as the angel said, the Child lying in the manger, with Mary and Joseph watching over Him (verse 16).

MacArthur thinks the shepherds did a door-to-door search in Bethlehem, but Henry thinks the angel told them where to find Him:

They lost no time, but came with haste to the place, which, probably, the angel directed them to more particularly than is recorded (“Go to the stable of such an inn”); and there they found Mary and Joseph, and the babe lying in the manger.

I, too, prefer to believe that version of events.

When the shepherds saw the Holy Family, they told them about the heavenly message they received (verse 17), and all who heard it were amazed (verse 18), a favourite word of St Luke’s, for it appears several times in his Gospel.

MacArthur says:

… it says in verse 18, “All who had heard it wondered of the things which were told them by the shepherds.”  I mean, what it did create was a stir.  The word “wonder” is the word thaumaz, it’s a… Thaumaz means to marvel, to be amazed.  And by the way, it’s…it’s common in Luke’s gospel He likes that word and it’s repeated again and again I mean, the things that Jesus did caused people to be amazed, they caused them to wonder, caused them to marvel.  I mean, that was pretty typical.  You see him use that word in chapter 4, chapter 8, chapter 9, chapter 11, chapter 20 He uses it in chapter 24 and also in chapters 4 and 5 you get a similar kind of response Jesus caused people to be amazed There’s no question about it.  He was an amazing person. They had never seen anybody like Him.

Henry elaborates on the scene at the manger:

The poverty and meanness in which they found Christ the Lord were no shock to their faith, who themselves knew what it was to live a life of comfortable communion with God in very poor and mean circumstances. We have reason to think that the shepherds told Joseph and Mary of the vision of the angels they had seen, and the song of the angels they had heard, which was a great encouragement to them, more than if a visit had been made them by the best ladies in the town. And it is probable that Joseph and Mary told the shepherds what visions they had had concerning the child; and so, by communicating their experiences to each other, they greatly strengthened one another’s faith.

MacArthur shares that perspective of deep, abiding faith:

They heard it and they believed it, they believed it, the Spirit of God obviously having prepared their hearts … I felt that these men chosen to be the recipients of this divine message were probably true Jews, that is they were believing Jews not just secular Jews, that they truly believed in the true and living God, that they were no doubt among those looking for the redemption of Israel, waiting for their Messiah. They would have been genuine believers in the true God who had repented of their sin and had come to God and sought His grace; all of that because their hearts were so ready and their responses were so right And they heard the heavenly revelation and they believed it.  They believed the fact that Messiah, the Savior, and Christ, the Lord, had come.

MacArthur imagines the conversation between the shepherds and Mary and Joseph:

… they unfold the saga.  Well, um, um, and I can just hear them all vying for telling the story their way as Joseph and Mary tried to sit quietly and listen And it must have been wonderful confirmation for them as well, for any malingering doubts that might have been raised in their minds. And they told the story of how an angel came and an angel described one who had been born, good news of great joy, a Savior.  He is Christ the Lord.  And on and on, they told the whole story.  And then a whole host of angels came and there were angels everywhere, and they were bright and they were shining and they were praising God and thanking God.  And oh, it was incredible.

And as that story unfolded I think Joseph and Mary probably began to unfold some of their side of the details Well isn’t that wonderful because, you know, an angel came to me, Joseph might have said And he told me not to worry about the fact that my virgin, betrothed, bride-to-be Mary was pregnant because the baby that was in her womb was put there by the Holy Spirit. She was not sinful. She was not unfaithful to me.  That she was going to have a child who would be Immanuel, God with us, God in human flesh and that He would be named Jesus because He would save His people from their sins And this all happened to me when I was deciding whether to divorce her or stone her to death And I had a dream and in that dream an angel of the Lord came to me and told me the whole thing.

And then Mary might have quietly said, and, you know, I had a visit from Gabriel and Gabriel came to me even though I am just a young girl and a virgin and said you’re going to have a baby and that baby is going to be Son of David, Son of the Most High God, He’s going to rule over a kingdom that will last eternally. And it all is beginning to come together.  And these shepherds, talk about being in on the scoop, they’re in on it.

And at this particular point, it’s Joseph and Mary and a handful of shepherds, and Zacharias and Elizabeth and they know about it, and really nobody else has the kind of inside information that these people have.

Luke says that Mary treasured all these words and pondered them in her heart (verse 19). Luke would repeat this later on in the same chapter, verse 51, which was in last Sunday’s reading, when Jesus stayed behind after Passover at the age of 12 to listen to the teachers in the temple:

Then he went down with them and came to Nazareth, and was obedient to them. His mother treasured all these things in her heart.

Henry says that Mary’s is a good example to follow:

She laid the evidences together, and kept them in reserve, to be compared with the discoveries that should afterwards be made her. As she had silently left it to God to clear up her virtue, when that was suspected, so she silently leaves it to him to publish her honour, now when it was veiled; and it is satisfaction enough to find that, if no one else takes notice of the birth of her child, angels do. Note, The truths of Christ are worth keeping; and the way to keep them safe is to ponder them. Meditation is the best help to memory.

The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had seen, just as it was revealed to them (verse 20).

Henry says it would not matter if no one else believed them, because God would accept their thanks:

If others would not regard the report they made to them, God would accept the thanksgivings they offered to him. They praised God for what they had heard from the angel, and for what they had seen, the babe in the manger, and just then in the swaddling, when they came in, as it had been spoken to them. They thanked God that they had seen Christ, though in the depth of his humiliation.

Henry compares the manger scene with the Crucifixion, both of which reflected God:

As afterwards the cross of Christ, so now his manger, was to some foolishness and a stumbling-block, but others saw in it, and admired, and praised, the wisdom of God and the power of God.

Eight days later, Jesus was circumcised and (officially) named (verse 21), in accordance with Jewish law.

This was the first time His precious blood would be shed. The next time would be as He was crucified, the one sufficient sacrifice for the sins of the world and a ransom for many.

As He is the Son of God, He had no need for the rituals of man, even as laid out by His Father, however, Henry explains that Jesus was obedient to His Father at all times. His circumcision also made Him part of the Abrahamic covenant, bringing Him closer to mankind:

1. Though it was a painful operation (Surely a bloody husband thou has been, said Zipporah to Moses, because of the circumcision,Exodus 4:25), yet Christ would undergo it for us; nay, therefore he submitted to it, to give an instance of his early obedience, his obedience unto blood. Then he shed his blood by drops, which afterwards he poured out in purple streams. 2. Though it supposed him a stranger, that was by that ceremony to be admitted into covenant with God, whereas he had always been his beloved Son; nay, though it supposed him a sinner, that needed to have his filthiness taken away, whereas he had no impurity or superfluity of naughtiness to be cut off, yet he submitted to it; nay, therefore he submitted to it, because he would be made in the likeness, not only of flesh, but of sinful flesh, Romans 8:3. 3. Though thereby he made himself a debtor to the whole law (Galatians 5:3), yet he submitted to it; nay, therefore he submitted to it, because he would take upon him the form of a servant, though he was free-born. Christ was circumcised, (1.) That he might own himself of the seed of Abraham, and of that nation of whom, as concerning the flesh, Christ came, and who was to take on him the seed of Abraham, Hebrews 2:16. (2.) That he might own himself a surety for our sins, and an undertaker for our safety. Circumcision (saith Dr. Goodwin) was our bond, whereby we acknowledged ourselves debtors to the law; and Christ, by being circumcised, did as it were set his hand to it, being made sin for us. The ceremonial law consisted much in sacrifices; Christ hereby obliged himself to offer, not the blood of bulls or goats, but his own blood, which none that ever were circumcised before could oblige themselves to. (3.) That he might justify, and put an honour upon, the dedication of the infant seed of the church to God, by that ordinance which is the instituted seal of the covenant, and of the righteousness which is by faith, as circumcision was (Romans 4:11), and baptism is.

Henry says that our Lord’s circumcision is a sign that we should baptise our children as infants:

And certainly his being circumcised at eight days old doth make much more for the dedicating of the seed of the faithful by baptism in their infancy than his being baptized at thirty years old doth for the deferring of it till they are grown up. The change of the ceremony alters not the substance.

In closing, most of my friends in the UK are, at best, agnostics. I know few believers here.

Many ask why they should believe in God through Jesus Christ: ‘What has God done for me lately?’

MacArthur provides the answer, which is life eternal rather than earthly comfort:

it’s not that Jesus saves you from your meaninglessness, it’s not that Jesus saves you from your anxiety, it’s not that Jesus saves you from your poverty, it’s not that Jesus saves you from your lack of fulfillment, it’s not that Jesus saves you from your trouble Really there is no guarantee in this life that you’re going to be rescued from any of those things.  Jesus saves you from the eternal wrath of God, that’s the issue It’s not that Jesus saves you from anything in this life in particular.  You may still struggle through all kinds of troubles and struggles and you may still have a measure of unfulfillment.  You may even find life to be less than you want it to be in this world, more painful than you can bear There’s no guarantee that that will change in this life.

But Jesus came to save His people from their what? Sins, from the penalty of their sins, first of all, which is eternal hell, the wrath of God, the power of their sins by giving them the Spirit of God so they can be victorious over their sins even in this life, and finally the presence of sin, when we leave this world and enter His glory; that’s the good news that He would save His people from their sins and therefore save them from the wrath of God which is eternal wrath in hell forever.  The wages of sin is death And that death is not just spiritual death or separation from God, but eternal death, separation from God forever in a place of torment and punishment.

The child was born to save us from the wrath of God

May all reading this be blessed on this first day of 2022.

It is unusual to have a 48-hour period of Christmas worship.

December 26, 2021, is the First Sunday after Christmas.

It is also Boxing Day in the United Kingdom:

Boxing Day – a history

Ireland remembers the first martyr on the 26th — St Stephen’s Day:

St Stephen, the first martyr

December 26 — St Stephen’s Day, Boxing Day and more (the money box, details on St Stephen and Good King Wenceslas)

Readings for the First Sunday after Christmas can be found here.

The Gospel is as follows (emphases mine):

Luke 2:41-52

2:41 Now every year his parents went to Jerusalem for the festival of the Passover.

2:42 And when he was twelve years old, they went up as usual for the festival.

2:43 When the festival was ended and they started to return, the boy Jesus stayed behind in Jerusalem, but his parents did not know it.

2:44 Assuming that he was in the group of travelers, they went a day’s journey. Then they started to look for him among their relatives and friends.

2:45 When they did not find him, they returned to Jerusalem to search for him.

2:46 After three days they found him in the temple, sitting among the teachers, listening to them and asking them questions.

2:47 And all who heard him were amazed at his understanding and his answers.

2:48 When his parents saw him they were astonished; and his mother said to him, “Child, why have you treated us like this? Look, your father and I have been searching for you in great anxiety.”

2:49 He said to them, “Why were you searching for me? Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house?”

2:50 But they did not understand what he said to them.

2:51 Then he went down with them and came to Nazareth, and was obedient to them. His mother treasured all these things in her heart.

2:52 And Jesus increased in wisdom and in years, and in divine and human favor.

Commentary comes from Matthew Henry and John MacArthur.

Luke shows us that Jesus is the Son of God in his second chapter. The preceding verses contain the prophecies of Samuel and Anna in the temple when Mary and Joseph presented Jesus as the firstborn in thanksgiving to the Lord. Although Scripture does not say so, Mary had completed her ritual bath 40 days after delivering the Christ Child. Joseph bought a sacrifice of two young turtledoves (verse 24). Simeon prophesied (verses 34 and 35):

34 And Simeon blessed them and said to Mary his mother, “Behold, this child is appointed for the fall and rising of many in Israel, and for a sign that is opposed 35 (and a sword will pierce through your own soul also), so that thoughts from many hearts may be revealed.”

Luke tells us that, every year, Mary and Joseph went up to Jerusalem for Passover (verse 41).

John MacArthur says that, normally, only men went for the feast of Passover. For Mary to accompany him indicates a strong devotion to God:

In fact, for a woman to go to Passover, according to Jewish tradition, was to demonstrate on her part a rather unusual spiritual devotion, a rather unusual interest in the things of God, a devotion to God and to His Word and to obedience. How interesting, verse 41, “His parents used to go to Jerusalem every year.” And here again, Luke reminds us of the devout character of the faith of Joseph and Mary. They were true worshipers of the living God. They went every year to Passover. It wasn’t something they did now and then, it wasn’t something that Joseph alone did out of duty. They went together.

Matthew Henry’s commentary says that Joseph probably attended the other two important Jewish feasts on his own:

We have reason to suppose that Joseph went up likewise at the feasts of pentecost and tabernacles; for all the males were to appear there thrice a year, but Mary only at the passover, which was the greatest of the three feasts, and had most gospel in it.

When He was 12 years old, Jesus accompanied his parents for the festival (verse 42).

Henry says that Jesus might have accompanied them before, although Scripture does not say so:

It is not said that this was the first time that Jesus went up to Jerusalem to worship at the feast: probably he had done it for some years before, having spirit and wisdom above his years; and all should attend on public worship that can hear with understanding,Nehemiah 8:2.

The fact that He was 12 years old is significant because Jewish children are supposed to begin to fast at that age, at minimum on the Day of Atonement. Boys are to know and obey the Lord’s precepts at the age of 13:

The Jewish doctors say that at twelve years old children must begin to fast from time to time, that they may learn to fast on the day of atonement; and that at thirteen years old a child begins to be a son of the commandment, that is, obliged to the duties of adult church-membership, having been from his infancy, by virtue of his circumcision, a son of the covenant.

Jewish boys make their bar mitzvah at age 13. MacArthur says that there were no bar mitzvahs when Jesus lived. That ceremony came afterwards:

At thirteen Jewish boys were considered to be obligated to the law of God themselves. They passed out from under parental authority and they were accountable to the law of God themselves at thirteen. That is why after Jesus’ time, not at Jesus’ time, after Jesus’ time, an official ceremony developed and that is known as bar mitzvah. It wasn’t the ceremony of Jesus’ time but later on it developed, but it developed out of the idea, bar mitzvah meaning son of the law, or son of the commandment, that at thirteen a son was responsible to the law of God.

When the festival had ended, Jesus stayed behind in Jerusalem, unbeknownst to His earthly parents (verse 43).

On their way back, they had travelled for a day before realising that Jesus was not with the group of travellers (verse 44).

MacArthur says that there would have been a large group of people, separated by age and sex, with children going first, followed by women, then men:

… most of the traditional Jewish scholars would say the children were in front because if the parents got in front they would be going too fast for the kids. So they put all the children in front, followed by the women, followed by the men, so that the men couldn’t, because they tend to stride a little faster, distance themselves. And they would go in caravans for the sake of friendship and fellowship, family, neighbors, acquaintances. But also because it put them in a safer position to be able to withstand the traditional onslaught of highway robbers and marauders who would attack people traveling in small groups or alone.

That would explain why they noticed only after a day of walking, which would have been around 20 or 25 miles, according to MacArthur:

… they went a whole day’s journey, twenty, twenty-five miles. And then when they realized at the end of that day, because the families would then come together, find each other, eat and sleep, they began looking for Him among their relatives and acquaintances, assuming that He would be with somebody they knew.

When they did not find Jesus, Mary and Joseph returned to Jerusalem (verse 45).

It took three days for them to find Jesus. This must have been a traumatic time for them. Jerusalem would still have been teeming with people. During this time, Jesus was with the teachers of the temple, listening to them and asking questions (verse 46).

Henry has an interesting thought, derived from St Stephen. Jesus could have been there to indicate that the Messiah was among them, although they did not understand that:

Methinks this public appearance of Christ in the temple, as a teacher, was like Moses’s early attempt to deliver Israel, which Stephen put this construction upon, that he supposed his brethren would have understood, by that, how God by his hand would deliver them, Acts 7:24; Acts 7:25. They might have taken the hint, and been delivered then, but they understood not; so they here might have had Christ (for aught I know) to enter upon his work now, but they were only astonished, and understood not the indication; and therefore, like Moses, he retires into obscurity again, and they hear no more of him for many years after.

All listening to Him were amazed at His understanding and His answers (verse 47).

Henry reminds us of His ancestor David in this context:

And his wisdom and understanding appeared as much in the questions he asked as in the answers he gave, so that all who heard him were astonished: they never heard one so young, no indeed any of their greatest doctors, talk sense at the rate that he did; like David, he had more understanding than all his teachers, yea, than the ancients, Psalms 119:99; Psalms 119:100.

MacArthur says that this is the only time Luke refers to the Jewish hierarchy as teachers:

We don’t know who these teachers were.  Luke is kind to them.  He calls them teachers. Didaskalos is the word, and it’s a word that he never uses to refer to Jewish teachers againFrom now on when he identifies them, he’ll identify them as nomikos, lawyers, or grammateus, scribes, but he never calls them teachers again.  He reserves that word for John the Baptist and most particularly he reserves that word for JesusOnce Jesus became the teacher, nobody else is called by Luke a teacher.  But for now he gives them credit as teachers.

MacArthur surmises that Jesus was eager to hear these men, who came not only from Jerusalem but all over the Diaspora:

Just after the Passover many people would linger, and most notably during the Passover, great teachers who were devout Jews would come from all over the dispersion. Jews had been scattered over the Roman world and even down into Africa.  And they would come to the Passover so there would be a great coming together of…of teachers.  This is an opportunity Jesus seized uponIt’s an opportunity that never would be afforded Him in the out-of-the-way place called Nazareth where He lived, to be able to sit in the midst of the great Jewish teachers, those who are expert in the law, expert in the prophets, expert in the hagiographa, the holy writings the three sections of the Old Testament, the laws, the Pentateuch, the books of Moses.

But Jesus also knew what was going to happen in the years to come:

Again, remember He knew who He was and He knew why He had come. And the imagery of the Passover was very clear in His mind as the Lamb of God slain from the foundation of the world. And He saw a people frenetically engaged in acts that were endeavoring to…to offer some atonement for the overwhelming burden of their sins. He could see the power of sin in the butchery that was taking place and in the guilt-ridden lives of the people. He could see the hypocrisy of Judaism, all of it laid out to His now fully aware and wisdom-filled mind. The questions must have dealt with those kinds of issues and they astonished these teachers.

Mary and Joseph were astonished when they found Jesus in this setting and Mary, mother-like, gave Him a verbal correction, saying that He had put them both under a lot of anxiety (verse 48).

I highlighted Simeon’s prophecy of a sword going through Mary’s heart. This is why:

this is the first time the sword pierces Mary’s heart. You remember back in chapter 2, verse 35, Simeon had said that this child is going to put a sword through your heart, Mary. Well now it had been twelve years and there wasn’t any sword. This child had been nothing but a joy. After escaping Herod, after escaping the slaughter, they had returned back from Egypt to Nazareth. They had lived there for these years. The child had been nothing but obedient, nothing but compliant, nothing but submissive, nothing but loving. And certainly Mary loved that…that Son like no other child and certainly that Son loved her like no one ever loved her. One can only imagine what it was like to have a perfect child, the sinless Son, God in human flesh with all the sensitivity and tenderness and kindness and mercy and grace that that child could bring to bear upon her life and Joseph’s. There had never been a sword, but now there was a sword.

To Mary, Jesus replied that He was doing His Father’s work, in His Father’s house (verse 49).

Neither parent understood what Jesus said (verse 50).

Henry says this is because they believed Him to be a temporal Messiah, not a spiritual one:

They did not understand what business he had to do then in the temple for his Father. They believed him to be the Messiah, that should have the throne of his father David; but they thought that should rather bring him to the royal palace than to the temple. They understood not his prophetical office; and he was to do much of his work in that.

Then the three went down from Jerusalem, returning to Nazareth, where Jesus was obedient to them; meanwhile, Mary pondered these things silently, treasuring them in her heart (verse 51).

This is not the first time Luke has mentioned Mary’s consideration of events concerning Jesus.

MacArthur reminds us:

Back in chapter 2 verse 19 it says the same thing, when she heard from the shepherds she treasured up all these things pondering them in her heart. Mary had a lot to think about, a lot to think about. She had to realize that this Son was to be thought of as a Savior, that she had to exchange authority for submission. She had to exchange commanding for obeying. She had to exchange responsibility for redemption. She had to exchange wonder over the child for worship of the child.

In fact, a sword pierced her heart as recorded in Mark 3 when she came to find Jesus one time with some of her other children, brothers and sisters. And the crowd said, “Your mother is seeking You.” And Jesus said, “Who is My mother? Whoever does the will of My Father in heaven, the same is My brother, My sister, My mother.” And He distanced Himself from that human relationship, not because He didn’t love her, He loved her with a perfect love, but because she needed not to see Him as a Son to do what she wanted but as a Savior doing what the Father demanded. In fact, Luke only mentions Mary one more time. Just once more is Mary mentioned and that’s in chapter 8 verses 19 to 21 where it refers to that very account that I just mentioned from Mark chapter 3.

Jesus went on to increase in wisdom and years, in divine and human favour (verse 52).

Henry says this was a gradual process:

Though the Eternal Word was united to the human soul from his conception, yet the divinity that dwelt in him manifested itself to his humanity by degrees, ad modum recipientis–in proportion to his capacity; as the faculties of his human soul grew more and more capable, the gifts it received from the divine nature were more and more communicated. And he increased in favour with God and man, that is, in all those graces that rendered him acceptable to God and man. Herein Christ accommodated himself to his estate of humiliation, that, as he condescended to be an infant, a child, a youth, so the image of God shone brighter in him, when he grew up to be a youth, than it did, or could, while he was an infant and a child. Note, Young people, as they grow in stature, should grow in wisdom, and then, as they grow in wisdom, they will grow in favour with God and man.

May all reading this have a blessed Sunday.

The Fourth (and final) Sunday of Advent is December 19, 2021.

Readings for Year C can be found here.

The Gospel reading is as follows (emphases mine):

Luke 1:39-45, (46-55)

1:39 In those days Mary set out and went with haste to a Judean town in the hill country,

1:40 where she entered the house of Zechariah and greeted Elizabeth.

1:41 When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the child leaped in her womb. And Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit

1:42 and exclaimed with a loud cry, “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb.

1:43 And why has this happened to me, that the mother of my Lord comes to me?

1:44 For as soon as I heard the sound of your greeting, the child in my womb leaped for joy.

1:45 And blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfillment of what was spoken to her by the Lord.”

1:46 And Mary said, “My soul magnifies the Lord,

1:47 and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior,

1:48 for he has looked with favor on the lowliness of his servant. Surely, from now on all generations will call me blessed;

1:49 for the Mighty One has done great things for me, and holy is his name.

1:50 His mercy is for those who fear him from generation to generation.

1:51 He has shown strength with his arm; he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts.

1:52 He has brought down the powerful from their thrones, and lifted up the lowly;

1:53 he has filled the hungry with good things, and sent the rich away empty.

1:54 He has helped his servant Israel, in remembrance of his mercy,

1:55 according to the promise he made to our ancestors, to Abraham and to his descendants forever.”

Commentary comes from Matthew Henry and John MacArthur.

John MacArthur sets the scene for us so that we can better appreciate these two miraculous pregnancies:

Two pregnant women, two miracle mothers One is old, married for many years, childless and barren The other is young, having never been married and a virgin One in her 70s or so, one in her early teens.  Interestingly enough they are relatives.  They have both been chosen by God to be the human instruments for the birth of two very, very unusual men: John the Baptist, the greatest prophet who ever lived up until his time, and Jesus Christ, Son of Man, Son of God, Savior of the world.

These two conception miracles, these two miracles in the womb of two women launch the whole series of messianic miracles The whole miraculous coming of Christ begins with these two conception miracles.  And at that point God has injected Himself miraculously into the otherwise non-miraculous course of life.  As I told you before, there hasn’t been a miracle in over 400 years. There hasn’t been a series of miracles in at least 500 years.  Nobody has heard from an angel or even from God in well over 400 years Miracles didn’t happen.  God didn’t speak.  Angels didn’t show up until now.  And it all begins with these two amazing conceptions: Elizabeth, chosen to be the mother of John the Baptist, the forerunner of Messiah; and Mary, chosen to be the mother of Messiah, the Son of God.

In both cases the angel Gabriel came to make the announcement In the first case, the angel Gabriel came to Zacharias, who was the father of John the Baptist, and Zacharias received the message from Gabriel that he and his wife, Elizabeth, together would conceive and have a son who would be the greatest prophet, the forerunner of Messiah.  Gabriel then came later to a virgin, to Mary, and gave her the message that we saw in verses 26 to 33, that she without a man would be given a child who would be the Son of God.  So all of a sudden redemptive history reaches its great high point.

Luke tells us that Mary set out with haste to go to a Judean town in the hill country (verse 39).

Matthew Henry’s commentary says that Mary was on a spiritual mission to better understand the importance of hers and her cousin Elizabeth’s pregnancies:

She arose, and left her affairs, to attend this greater matter: in those days, at that time (as it is commonly explained, Jeremiah 33:15; Jeremiah 50:4), in a day or two after the angel had visited her, taking some time first, as it is supposed, for her devotion, or rather hastening away to her cousin’s, where she would have more leisure, and better help, in the family of a priest. She went, meta spoudes–with care, diligence, and expedition; not as young people commonly go abroad and visit their friends, to divert herself, but to inform herself: she went to a city of Judah in the hill-country; it is not named, but by comparing the description of it here with Joshua 21:10; Joshua 21:11, it appears to be Hebron, for that is there said to be in the hill-country of Judah, and to belong to the priests, the sons of Aaron; thither Mary hastened, though it was a long journey, some scores of miles.

Henry says that Dr Lightfoot, an eminent Bible scholar, believed that Mary conceived miraculously at Hebron:

Dr. Lightfoot offers a conjecture that she was to conceive our Saviour there at Hebron, and perhaps had so much intimated to her by the angel, or some other way; and therefore she made such haste thither. He thinks it probable that Shiloh, of the tribe of Judah, and the seed of David, should be conceived in a city of Judah and of David, as he was to be born in Bethlehem, another city which belonged to them both. In Hebron the promise was given to Isaac, circumcision was instituted. Here (saith he) Abraham had his first land, and David his first crown: here lay interred the three couples, Abraham and Sarah, Isaac and Rebecca, Jacob and Leah, and, as antiquity has held, Adam and Eve. He therefore thinks that it suits singularly with the harmony and consent which God uses in his works that the promise should begin to take place by the conception of the Messias, even among those patriarchs to whom it was given. I see no improbability in the conjecture, but add this for the support of it, that Elisabeth said (Luke 1:45; Luke 1:45), There shall be a performance; as if it were not performed yet, but was to be performed there.

MacArthur gives us a geographical note:

Elizabeth lived in the hill country of Judah. That would be around Jerusalem in the south of Israel Mary lived in Nazareth, a small town in the Galilee, as it’s known, and that is in the north of Israel, separated by seventy-five or eighty miles or so

It would take her about three or four days to get there.

Mary entered the house of Zacharias, a local priest who served two weeks every year in the temple, and his wife Elizabeth, whom she greeted (verse 40).

Zacharias did not believe Gabriel’s message of a son, so God struck him deaf and dumb, a state in which he would remain until it came time to name John. That was another controversial moment, because John was not a family name, yet Zacharias wrote it on a slate, at which point, God restored his hearing and speech.

With that in mind, Henry says that the elderly priest was keeping to his room, leaving the two women alone to talk:

Mary entered into the house of Zacharias; but he, being dumb and deaf, kept his chamber, it is probable, and saw no company; and therefore she saluted Elisabeth (Luke 1:40; Luke 1:40), told her she was come to make her a visit, to know her state, and rejoice with her in her joy.

MacArthur explains what ‘greeting’ meant in the ancient world. It was more than a simple salutation. It was a conversation involving catching up on personal news:

It was not something brief.  It was not some kind of simple formula.  What was involved in a greeting was a lengthy dialogue.  It was sort of a…sort of a ceremonial social occasion, the significance of which lay in the content of the conversation I’ll give you an illustration of it.  And there might be a number of them that you could use, but back in 18 of Exodus it says in verse 7, “Moses went out to meet his father-in-law and he bowed down and kissed him and they asked each other of their welfare and went into the tent.”  Now that is a classic, ancient Near Eastern greeting.  There’s an embrace, a physical expression of affection and then in the tent they go to talk about how life is with both of them.  That’s exactly what we can assume occurred upon Mary’s arrival when it says, “She greeted Elizabeth.”  She went in and a typical traditional greeting began to take place which would be hours of conversation And my, they had a lot to talk about, an awful lot to talk about.

When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the future John the Baptist leapt in her womb and she was filled with the Holy Spirit (verse 41).

Elizabeth was probably six months pregnant at this point.

Henry expands on this movement of the future prophet in Elizabeth’s womb:

It is very probable that she had been several weeks quick (for she was six months gone), and that she had often felt the child stir; but this was a more than ordinary motion of the child, which alarmed her to expect something very extraordinary, eskirtese. It is the same word that is used by the LXX. (Genesis 25:22) for the struggling of Jacob and Esau in Rebecca’s womb, and the mountains skipping, Psalms 114:4. The babe leaped as it were to give a signal to his mother that he was now at had whose forerunner he was to be, about six months in ministry, as he was in being; or, it was the effect of some strong impression made upon the mother. Now began to be fulfilled what the angel said to his father (Luke 1:15; Luke 1:15), that he should be filled with the Holy Ghost, even from his mother’s womb; and perhaps he himself had some reference to this, when he said (John 3:29), The friend of the Bridegroom rejoiceth greatly, because of the Bridegroom’s voice, heard, though not by him, yet by his mother.

Elizabeth, filled with joy and awe, spoke loudly, proclaiming that Mary was blessed among women and blessed was the fruit of her womb (verse 42).

That verse is part of the Catholic prayer, the Hail Mary.

It was also an ancient Jewish greeting, bestowing honour among a mother.

MacArthur tells us:

First of all, “Blessed are you among women.”  That’s a simple Hebrew construction that means you’re the most blessed of all women.  You’re the most blessed of all women.  Why?  Well in the Hebrew culture, in the Jewish world, a woman gained her greatest stature on the basis of her children That was it.  A woman’s greatness was tied to the greatness of the children she bore Over in the eleventh chapter of Luke this comes up again.  Jesus is speaking, verse 27, “It came about while He said these things one of the women in the crowd raised her voice.”  Some woman in the crowd yelled at Him and said, “Blessed is the womb that bore you and the breasts at which you nursed.”  That was a typical Jewish way to honor a mother because you saw the greatness of her child And so Elizabeth is saying, you are the most blessed because you have the greatest child.

Elizabeth, the aged wife of a priest, did not begrudge her young cousin her divine pregnancy. In fact, she praised it loudly and rejoiced with her.

Henry explains:

She said, Blessed art thou among women, the same word that the angels had said (Luke 1:28; Luke 1:28); for thus this will of God, concerning honouring the Son, should be done on earth as it is done in heaven. But Elisabeth adds a reason, Therefore blessed art thou because blessed is the fruit of thy womb; thence it was that she derived this excelling dignity. Elisabeth was the wife of a priest, and in years, yet she grudges not that her kinswoman, who was many years younger than she, and every way her inferior, should have the honour of conceiving in her virginity, and being the mother of the Messiah, whereas the honour put upon her was much less; she rejoices in it, and is well pleased, as her son was afterwards, that she who cometh after her is preferred before her, John 1:27. Note, While we cannot but own that we are more favoured of God than we deserve, let us by no means envy that others are more highly favoured than we are.

Elizabeth continues in humility, asking how it can be that the mother of her Lord — the Messiah — deigned to visit her (verse 43).

Henry says:

Observe, (1.) She calls the virgin Mary the mother of her Lord (as David in spirit, called the Messiah Lord, his Lord), for she knew he was to be Lord of all. (2.) She not only bids her welcome to her house, though perhaps she came in mean circumstances, but reckons this visit a great favour, which she thought herself unworthy of. Whence is this to me? It is in reality, and not in compliment, that she saith, “This was a greater favour than I could have expected.” Note, Those that are filled with the Holy Ghost have low thoughts of their own merits, and high thoughts of God’s favours. Her son the Baptist spoke to the same purport with this, when he said, Comest thou to me? Matthew 3:14.

Elizabeth tells Mary that as soon as she (Mary) greeted her, the baby leapt for joy in her womb (verse 44).

MacArthur explains the prophecy behind it:

This is not completely without precedent.  If you go back to Genesis 25, do you remember a mother by the name of Rebekah?  And Rebekah had in her womb two boys, remember that?  Remember their names?  Jacob and EsauAnd God gave prophecies through those two little unborn boys in verse 22 of Genesis 25 The children… It says in verse 21, she conceived, Rebekah conceived, Isaac and Rebekah, “The children struggled together within her.”  Now it’s one thing for two brothers to fight when they’re born; these guys started in the womb.  And she said, “If it is so, why then am I this way?”  So she went to the Lord and she said, “Lord, You know, why is all this going on inside of me?”  And He said, “It’s prophetic.”  He said to her, “Two nations are in your womb.”  That’s right.  Jacob was the nation Israel, and Esau the Arab world “Two nations in your womb.  Two people shall be separated from your body, one people will be stronger than the other.  The older shall serve the younger.”  There’s conflict going on in your womb that is prophetic of conflict that’s going to go on when those two children are born. That conflict is still going on today as we speak between Israel and the Arab world, between Jacob and Esau.

So God, when He wants to, can send a prophetic message through something physical occurring in a woman’s womb It’s a very unusual thing.  That’s the only Old Testament occasion of such and this is the only New Testament occasion of such But after all, folks, there isn’t any human explanation of this.  This is a miraculous time, isn’t it?  This is a miraculous set of conceptions here.  We would expect miraculous things to be going on as God is moving toward the arrival of the Savior of the world, the Messiah.  Movements of a fetus are normal and common, but this is not one of those. This is not coincidental. We know that because of verse 44, Elizabeth gets a message from God.  “Behold, when the sound of your greeting reached my ears, the baby leaped in my womb,” to reposition itself.  Is that what it said?  It doesn’t say that.  The baby was not motivated by anything other than what? Joy, joy.  Elizabeth interprets the child’s movements.

Now I want to tell you, John the Baptist was really a true prophet.  If he couldn’t speak, he just jumped.  And that’s all he could do.  He could only leap.  He could only jump with divinely inspired delight.  His mother had to speak under the inspiration of God to interpret that.  So in a physical way John the Baptist, while still in the womb, gave his approval to the birth of the Messiah. Isn’t that great?  That was not just the normal course of things. That was a word from God through the physical realm.

Then Elizabeth gives a blessing, unspecified as to whom it is intended (verse 45). It is intended towards anyone, including Mary and Elizabeth, who believed that the Lord would fulfil the words that He spoke.

MacArthur says:

It’s really sort of like a general beatitude. It just sort of widens everything up.  “And blessed is she,” anybody, “who believed that there would be a fulfillment of what had been spoken to her by the Lord.”  Blessed is she, sure that’s Mary, of course, blessed is Mary because she believed.  But, you know, it doesn’t say “blessed are you, Mary,” it just says “blessed is she” and it puts it in the third person. Anybody who believes God fulfills His promises is going to be blessed, right?  And so the beatitude starts with Mary, moves to the child, embraces Elizabeth and goes beyond.

The remaining verses are known traditionally as The Magnificat (exaltation) and, more recently, the Song of Mary.

Mary speaks with such faith for such a young person. She also speaks in a highly Psalm-like way.

Henry says Mary must have been very tired after such a long journey, yet she felt moved to praise God before settling down to rest or take refreshment:

We may suppose the blessed virgin to come in, very much fatigued with her journey; yet she forgets that, and is inspired with new life, and vigour, and joy, upon the confirmation she here meets with of her faith; and since, by the sudden inspiration and transport, she finds that this was designed to be her errand hither, weary as she is, like Abraham’s servant, she would neither eat nor drink till she had told her errand.

Mary begins by saying that her soul magnifies the Lord (verse 46), exalting Him, praising Him.

MacArthur tells us that she understood and believed Scripture:

The psalm that Mary pours out here contains numerous references to the law, to the Psalms, and to the writings of the prophets It indicates that this young teen-aged girl knew her Old Testament It’s a great testimony to her own life and her devotion It’s a great testimony to her parents and how she had been raised to love the Word of God and to know it very well And it’s not as if before offering this praise she has to go and find a concordance so she can bring together the assorted verses.  They just flow from within her.

For example, she starts out in verse 46 by saying. “My soul doth magnify the Lord,” which is an echo of Psalm 34:2, “My soul shall make her boast in the Lord.”

Mary says that her spirit rejoices in God her Saviour (verse 47).

MacArthur gives us the reference:

In verse 47 she says, “And my spirit has rejoiced in God my Savior,” which echoes Isaiah 45:21, “There is no God else beside Me, a just God and a Savior.” 

In the next two verses, she praises God for His blessings to her.

She says that He has looked down upon the lowliness of His servant, adding that all generations will call her blessed (verse 48).

She says that the Mighty One — God — has done great things for her and holy is His name (verse 49).

Henry has an interesting insight into that verse, basing it on Old Testament episodes involving lowly women:

Upon her own account, Luke 1:48; Luke 1:49. [1.] Her spirit rejoiced in the Lord, because of the kind things he had done for her: his condescension and compassion to her. He has regarded the low estate of his handmaiden; that is, he has looked upon her with pity, for so the word is commonly used. “He has chosen me to this honour, notwithstanding my great meanness, poverty, and obscurity.” Nay, the expression seems to intimate, not only (to allude to that of Gideon, Judges 6:15) that her family was poor in Judah, but that she was the least in her father’s house, as if she were under some particular contempt and disgraced among her relations, was unjustly neglected, and the outcast of the family, and God put this honour upon her, to balance abundantly the contempt. I … rather suggest this, for we find something toward such honour as this put upon others, on the like consideration. Because God saw that Leah was hated, he opened her womb, Genesis 29:31. Because Hannah was provoked, and made to fret, and insulted over, by Peninnah, therefore God gave her a son, 1 Samuel 1:19. Whom men wrongfully depress and despise God doth sometimes, in compassion to them, especially if they have borne it patiently, prefer and advance; see Judges 11:7. So in Mary’s case. And, if God regards her low estate, he not only thereby gives a specimen of his favour to the whole race of mankind, whom he remembers in their low estate, as the psalmist speaks (Psalms 136:23), but secures a lasting honour to her (for such the honour is that God bestows, honour that fades not away): “From henceforth all generations shall call me blessed, shall think me a happy woman and highly advanced.” All that embrace Christ and his gospel will say, Blessed was the womb that bore him and the paps which he sucked,Luke 11:27. Elizabeth had once and again called her blessed: “But that is not all,” saith she, “all generations of Gentiles as well as Jews shall call me so.” [2.] Her soul magnifies the Lord, because of the wonderful things he had done for her (Luke 1:49; Luke 1:49): He that is mighty has done to me great things. A great thing indeed, that a virgin should conceive. A great thing indeed, that Messiah, who had been so long promised to the church, and so long expected by the church, should now at length be born. It is the power of the Highest that appears in this. She adds, and holy is his name; for so Hannah saith her song, There is none holy as the Lord, which she explains in the next words, for there is none beside thee,1 Samuel 2:2. God is a Being by himself, and he manifests himself to be so, especially in the work of our redemption. He that is mighty, even he whose name is holy, has done to me great things. Glorious things may be expected from him that is both mighty and holy; who can do every thing, and will do every thing well and for the best.

MacArthur gives us the Old Testament verses:

… in verse 48 she says, “He has regarded the lowest state of His handmaid,” which echoes 1 Samuel 1:11, “If Thou wilt indeed look on the infliction of Thine handmaid and remember me and not forget Thy handmaid,” the words of Hannah It is also is reminiscent of Psalm 136:23, “Who remembered us in our low estate, for His mercy endures forever.”  Again in verse 48 she says, “Behold from henceforth all generations shall call me blessed,” which echoes the words of Leah in Genesis 30 verse 13, “Happy am I for the daughters will call me blessed.”  In verse 49 she says, “He that is mighty has done to me great things,” which echoes Psalm 126:3, “The Lord has done great things for us whereof we are glad.”  And then in verse 49 she says, “Holy is His name,” directly quoting Psalm 111:9, “Holy and reverend is His name.”  And so it goes that she is very well versed in the Old Testament as she unfolds her familiarity with Scripture and applies it to her own situation.

Then Mary goes on to praise God for the mercy and blessings He has bestowed on others throughout the course of Jewish history and going forward into the future.

She says that He bestows mercy on those who live in a (holy) fear of Him (verse 50).

Henry says this is an echo of Hannah’s words:

… as Hannah (1 Samuel 2:3, &c.). In this she has especially an eye to the coming of the Redeemer and God’s manifesting himself therein.

Also:

It is a certain truth that God has mercy in store, mercy in reserve, for all that have a reverence for his majesty, and a due regard to his sovereignty and authority. But never did this appear so as in sending his Son into the world to save us (Luke 1:50; Luke 1:50): His mercy is on them that fear him; it has always been so; he has ever looked upon them with an eye of peculiar favour who have looked up to him with and eye of filial fear. But he hath manifested this mercy, so as never before, in sending his Son to bring in an everlasting righteousness, and work out an everlasting salvation, for them that fear him, and this from generation to generation; for there are gospel privileges transmitted by entail, and intended for perpetuity. Those that fear God, as their Creator and Judge, are encouraged to hope for mercy in him, through their Mediator and Advocate; and in him mercy is settled upon all that fear God, pardoning mercy, healing mercy, accepting mercy, crowning mercy, from generation to generation, while the world stands. In Christ he keepeth mercy for thousands.

Mary says that God has shown strength with His arm in scattering the proud in the thoughts in their hearts (verse 51).

God has brought down the powerful from their thrones to lift up the lowly instead (verse 52).

He has filled the hungry with good things and sent the rich away empty (verse 53).

Henry explains:

First, In the course of his providence, it is his usual method to cross the expectations of men, and proceed quite otherwise than they promise themselves. Proud men expect to carry all before them, to have their way and their will; but he scatters them in the imagination of their hearts, breaks their measures, blasts their projects, nay, and brings them low, and brings them down, by those very counsels with which they thought to advance and establish themselves. The mighty think to secure themselves by might in their seats, but he puts them down, and overturns their seats; while, on the other hand, those of low degree, who despaired of ever advancing themselves, and thought of no other than of being ever low, are wonderfully exalted. This observation concerning honour holds likewise concerning riches; many who were so poor that they had not bread for themselves and their families, by some surprising turn of Providence in favour of them, come to be filled with good things; while, on the other hand, those who were rich, and thought no other than that to-morrow should be as this day, that their mountain stood strong and should never be moved, are strangely impoverished, and sent away empty. Now this is the same observation that Hannah had made, and enlarged upon, in her song, with application to the case of herself and her adversary (1 Samuel 2:4-9.2.7), which very much illustrates this here. And compare also Psalms 107:33-19.107.41; Psalms 113:7-19.113.9; Ecclesiastes 9:11. God takes a pleasure in disappointing their expectations who promise themselves great things in the world, and in out-doing the expectations of those who promise themselves but a little; as a righteous God, it is his glory to abase those who exalt themselves, and strike terror on the secure; and, as a good God, it is his glory to exalt those who humble themselves, and to speak comfort to those who fear before him. Secondly, This doth especially appear in the methods of gospel grace.

Finally, Mary remembers the covenant that God made with Abraham.

God helped His servant Israel, showing her mercy (verse 54) according to the promises He made to the Jewish ancestors, Abraham and his descendants forever (verse 55).

Henry says:

Note, What God has spoken he will perform; what he hath spoken to the fathers will be performed to their seed; to their seed’s seed, in blessings that shall last for ever.

In closing, many of us wonder how Mary could have explained her pregnancy and left her family’s house on her own at such a tender age.

MacArthur runs us through the possible scenarios:

I think Mary went for the confirmation but I also think she went to see Elizabeth because she knew only Elizabeth would believe her I mean, let’s try to put it in a normal context.  Your 13-year-old daughter comes in and says, “I’m pregnant.”  And you say, “What?”  And she says, “An angel came to me and told me that I have been impregnated by God and I’m going to be the mother of the Savior of the world.”  “Really?”

Sounds like something a teenager would come up with, doesn’t it?  What in the world kind of wild story, I mean…at least try to find something rational.  I mean, there would be only…there would be only the slightest glimmer of hope that anybody would believe that Even Joseph, who knew Mary well, made the natural assumption when he found out she was with child, he assumed that she had violated her betrothal vows to him and committed sin.  And he says, “I’m either going to have to stone her or divorce her.”  And he loved her and he knew her and he knew the family and he must have known something about her character and it must have seemed out of character for her to have done some sin like that, but there wasn’t any other explanation.  Frankly, there was only one woman on the earth who would buy Mary’s story.  Who was it?  Elizabeth.  Only one place she could go and tell this tale.

The text doesn’t say anything about what she may or may not have said to her family or Joseph or anybody else.  It just says she was out of there to Elizabeth, the only person who would have any rational reason to believe that what she was saying was in fact true.  Telling Elizabeth first made sense.

Then Elizabeth could be support for her when she told everybody else Because Elizabeth was living, personal confirmation that God was doing conception miracles You tell anybody else and they’re going to think Mary’s made up this preposterous story about Gabriel and being the mother of the Son of God. Nobody would believe that.  But Elizabeth would believe it.  And the parallels were really startling.

This is one of my favourite passages in the New Testament. Atheists hate it because it involves the supernatural. Some clergy hate it, too, for the same reasons. However, believers love it because it shows that, with God, all things are possible.

It is one of the passages that makes the Christmas story so wonderful and meaningful.

The Third Sunday of Advent — Gaudete Sunday — is December 12, 2021.

Readings for Year C can be found here.

The Gospel reading is as follows (emphases mine):

Luke 3:7-18

3:7 John said to the crowds that came out to be baptized by him, You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come?

3:8 Bear fruits worthy of repentance. Do not begin to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our ancestor’; for I tell you, God is able from these stones to raise up children to Abraham.

3:9 Even now the ax is lying at the root of the trees; every tree therefore that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.”

3:10 And the crowds asked him, “What then should we do?”

3:11 In reply he said to them, “Whoever has two coats must share with anyone who has none; and whoever has food must do likewise.”

3:12 Even tax collectors came to be baptized, and they asked him, “Teacher, what should we do?”

3:13 He said to them, “Collect no more than the amount prescribed for you.”

3:14 Soldiers also asked him, “And we, what should we do?” He said to them, “Do not extort money from anyone by threats or false accusation, and be satisfied with your wages.”

3:15 As the people were filled with expectation, and all were questioning in their hearts concerning John, whether he might be the Messiah,

3:16 John answered all of them by saying, “I baptize you with water; but one who is more powerful than I is coming; I am not worthy to untie the thong of his sandals. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire.

3:17 His winnowing fork is in his hand, to clear his threshing floor and to gather the wheat into his granary; but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire.”

3:18 So, with many other exhortations, he proclaimed the good news to the people.

Commentary comes from Matthew Henry and John MacArthur.

Matthew Henry’s commentary on Luke 3 is excellent, full of pithy observations.

This particular Sunday is Gaudete Sunday, the one in Advent which is full of joy. Traditionalist priests wear a rose vestment to signify that happiness in the expectation of our Saviour’s birth. The corresponding Sunday in Lent is Laetare Sunday, when we anticipate Christ’s resurrection after His ultimate sacrifice on the Cross.

On the face of it, today’s Gospel reading does not seem very cheery. However, Henry has this to say of the state of our own souls and of John the Baptist’s heralding of Christ’s ministry:

When way is made for the gospel into the heart, by the captivation of high thoughts and bringing them into obedience to Christ, by the leveling of the soul and the removing of all obstructions that stand in the way of Christ and his grace, then prepare to bid the salvation of God welcome

We are now drawing near to the appearance of our Lord Jesus publicly; the Sun will not be long after the morning-star.

Therefore, it is a time of joy as we further prepare to celebrate the coming of the Christ Child.

We pick up from where we left off last week, when John exhorted the people to make straight the path of the Lord, our King, the Messiah. Luke gives us a full sense of John the Baptist’s preaching.

How was it that so many Jews — and undoubtedly some Gentiles — turned out for John the Baptist?

John MacArthur explains that they would have known his miraculous family story of his aged parents Elizabeth and Zacharias:

Now people came out to see John. In fact, the Scriptures tell us that all Jerusalem and all Judea came out. And there is a reason for that. I’m sure people knew about John. I’m sure the story had circulated through the thirty-year period that an old priest by the name of Zacharias, and Elizabeth, were able to conceive a son miraculously and that Gabriel the angel told Zacharias it would happen and that the son would be the forerunner of the Messiah and that that son was alive and he was out in the wilderness and he was a prophet of God. I’m sure that circulated outside the family of Zacharias and Elizabeth and circulated around the related relatives, Mary and Joseph and their family, because they all knew the story. The story must have spread. The fact that Gabriel showed up, the fact that a miraculous birth had occurred, the fact that the Messiah’s forerunner had been born must have been to some extent around so that people knew about it. And once John began to preach and announce the coming of Messiah, the people came out. They were curious. They were ready for the Messiah. They wanted the Messiah. They were compelled by their curiosity. They were compelled by the fact that this could be it, this could be true. I mean, how else can you explain Gabriel showing up? And how else can you explain an old priestly couple having a miraculous child? Maybe this is it. So the people desired to come and find out if indeed he was the forerunner of Messiah and if indeed the Messiah had come.

They were ready. They wanted to participate in the long-awaited blessings promised to Abraham and David. They were really weary of the oppression of the Romans. They were weary of never having independent authority and sovereignty and rule. They were weary of the way things were. They were excited with messianic hope.

John the Baptist did not mince his words. He called his audience a ‘brood of vipers’ and asked who warned them about the wrath to come (verse 7).

Today, we would say that his approach was not very nice, or, in theological parlance, not ‘seeker-friendly’. He would have received a pasting by both traditional and social media.

MacArthur elaborates on the imagery of vipers:

First of all, I think he’s calling them children of Satan.  Jesus did that in John 8:44. He said to the Jewish leaders, “You’re of your father, the devil,” didn’t He?  He said, “You’re of your father, the devil.”  Jesus said to the Pharisees, Jewish leaders, Matthew 12:34, Matthew 23 I think it’s verse 33, both places, “You brood of vipers,” same phrase exactly.  Jesus said it twice to the Jewish leaders. You sons of snakes!  I think he’s really identifying them with their father.  The devil appeared in the Garden in Genesis 3 in what form?  A serpent.  And according to the Scriptures he is a serpent, as clearly indicated in Revelation chapter 12.  So he is… He’s really telling them, you belong to Satan, you snakes.  What he’s saying to them is, you are running from the fire but not interested in any change of your nature.  You’re still snakes. You’re just scrambling in front of the fire.  Shallow repenters are offsprings of that snake, Satan.

By the way, Matthew 3:7, when Matthew writes about the preaching of John, says when John said this, at least on the occasion of Matthew writing, he said it to Pharisees and SadduceesLuke says he said it to everybody So particularly to the Pharisees and Sadducees who were the most vicious, poisonous and deadly, deadliest of all the snakes, of all the children of Satan because they wore the name of God, as it were, on the outside but were satanic on the inside. Thus their hypocrisy was more devastating.  He says you’re the worst of it, the rest of you also belong to the same nature, same satanic nature.  Beyond just the Pharisees and the Sadducees, all those people had the very nature of Satan. They were the children of Satan.  And he’s pointing out their superficiality. He says, your repentance is superficial because your true nature is vicious, your true nature is of the serpent, your true nature is poisonous, your true nature is hostile, your true nature is deadly, particularly those Pharisees and Sadducees, paraded themselves as if they represented God and they were just…just biting the people and filling them with poison.

Henry says that John refused to flatter any of the Jewish hierarchy who came to hear him. As far as John was concerned, all were tarred with the same brush of sin, hence a universal message to all:

… he did not alter it in compliment to the Pharisees and Sadducees, when they came, but dealt as plainly with them as with any other of his hearers. And as he did not flatter the great, so neither did he compliment the many, or make his court to them, but gave the same reproofs of sin and warnings of wrath to the multitude that he did to the Sadducees and Pharisees; for, if they had not the same faults, they had others as bad.

The idea that they had to be baptised must have been shocking for the Jews, because baptism was a cleansing ritual that Gentiles who wished to convert went through, not those born into the Covenant.

MacArthur tells us that, despite such a message, the people obeyed:

The people were so compelled by this that they did it. They came. They heard John and they got baptized which was a great admission on their part. To some degree they were saying, we’re outside, okay we’re outside, we’ve got to get inside and so we’ll go through this even if it is an acknowledgement that humbles us, by having to admit that we aren’t in the kingdom, we’re on the outside, no better off than a Gentile proselyte wanting to become associated with Judaism.

John could see that theirs was a superficial faith of belonging to the Covenant but not needing to do more than obey Mosaic law, so he insisted that they bear true fruits of repentance, warning them not to rely on their ancestry from Abraham, because God could make children of Abraham out of the nearby stones (verse 8).

Henry says:

By the fruits of repentance it will be known whether it be sincere or no. By the change of our way must be evidenced the change of our mind.

… If we be not really holy, both in heart and life, our profession of religion and relation to God and his church will stand us in no stead at all: Begin not now to frame excuses from this great duty of repentance, by saying within yourselves, We have Abraham to our father.

On that point, how many of us have heard a sermon preaching repentance this year, or any year? I have not.

MacArthur laments this omission from today’s churches:

John understands the reality of shallow faith. John understands the reality of shallow repentance, false repentance. And this sample of his preaching demonstrates that concern and it demonstrates the message that needs to be preached. And all across this country in churches all across this land a shallow message is being preached, a shallow gospel, a shallow call to repentance that is giving people the tragic and damning illusion that they are saved when they are not.

John goes further by saying that the ax is at the foot of the trees — implying divine judgement; all trees not bearing good fruit will be thrown into the fire of divine wrath (verse 9).

Our repentance must bear fruit in the way we treat others and revere God, otherwise it is but a shallow one. Henry expands on that point:

7. The greater professions we make of repentance, and the greater assistances and encouragements are given us to repentance, the nearer and the sorer will our destruction be if we do not bring forth fruits meet for repentance. Now that the gospel begins to be preached, now that the kingdom of heaven is at hand, now that the axe is laid to the root of the tree, threatenings to the wicked and impenitent are now more terrible than before, as encouragements to the penitent are now more comfortable. “Now that you are upon your behaviour, look to yourselves.”

8. Barren trees will be cast into the fire at length; it is the fittest place for them: Every tree that doth not bring forth fruit, good fruit, is hewn down, and cast into the fire. If it serve not for fruit, to the honour of God’s grace, let it serve for fuel, to the honour of his justice.

The crowds asked what they should do (verse 10).

Henry speaks of a personal journey of repentance, which John spells out in the next four verses:

They that would do their duty must desire to know their duty, and enquire concerning it. The first good word Paul said, when he was converted, was, Lord, what wilt thou have me to do? These here enquire, not, What shall this man do? but, What shall we do? What fruits meet for repentance shall we bring forth? Now John gives answer to each, according to their place and station.

By way of a general response, John says that he who has two coats must give one to someone who has none and those with food must share it (verse 11).

Henry notes that we are not to give in order to deprive ourselves unnecessarily; however, if we have more than we need, then we are to give of that bounty:

The gospel requires mercy, and not sacrifice; and the design of it is to engage us to do all the good we can. Food and raiment are the two supports of life; he that hath meat to spare, let him give to him that is destitute of daily food, as well as he that hath clothes to spare: what we have we are but stewards of, and must use it, accordingly, as our Master directs.

MacArthur says that the word ‘coat’ means ‘tunic’ in this context:

“Tunic,” the word there refers to an undergarment and you only wore one of those so if you had two you had a spare one. It was the undergarment that you wore over your skin and then you wore your outer garment on top of that

So, this is more profound than it appears, perhaps, on the surface because there was a general selfishness, always is, in unregenerate minds.  There would be the evidence of regeneration in selflessness and in the consuming love of one another where you look not on your own things but on the things of others, as Paul said in Philippians 2.  So if you have two chiton, two of those linen undergarments and somebody has none, then you give him yours

Then the tax collectors — the publicans — who were the lowest of the low because they often asked for more tax than they should so as to line their own pockets asked what they should do (verse 12).

John told them to collect only the amount of tax due and no more (verse 13).

Henry observes that John did not tell them to leave their secular employ, only to carry out their duties honestly and beyond reproach:

The public revenues must be applied to the public service, and not to gratify the avarice of private persons. Observe, He does not direct the publicans to quit their places, and to go no more to the receipt of custom; the employment is in itself lawful and necessary, but let them be just and honest in it.

Soldiers asked John what they should do; he told them not to extort money in a violent or dishonest way and to be happy with their wages (verse 14).

Who were the soldiers? Here our commentators differ.

MacArthur is sure they were Jews, having changed his mind from them being Romans:

In my study Bible I put the note that they were probably Roman soldiers. I think I was wrong. As I’ve studied it again. It’s debatable in some ways, but I really kind of… I’m going to change that in the next edition. I’m going to change it to the fact that I think they were Jewish soldiers who were really assigned to Herod Antipas and stationed at Perea. That’s the best way to historically track them back. There’s really no compelling reason why Romans would show up here to get ready for the Messiah

However, Henry thinks they were Gentiles: Roman soldiers. I side with Henry on this one. It would be an early instance of Gentiles being welcomed into the Jewish group of penitents, just as the Magi — three Gentiles — were among the first to pay homage to the Christ Child:

Some think that these soldiers were of the Jewish nation and religion: others think that they were Romans; for it was not likely either that the Jews would serve the Romans or that the Romans would trust the Jews in their garrisons in their own nation; and then it is an early instance of Gentiles embracing the gospel and submitting to it.

Henry describes the military mind, which is not given to religion:

Military men seldom seem inclined to religion; yet these submitted even to the Baptist’s strict profession, and desired to receive the word of command from him: What must we do? Those who more than other men have their lives in their hands, and are in deaths often, are concerned to enquire what they shall do that they may be found in peace.

He then analyses John’s answer in light of military activities. Wise words follow, especially with regard to wages:

In answer to this enquiry, John does not bid them lay down their arms, and desert the service, but cautions them against the sins that soldiers were commonly guilty of; for this is fruit meet for repentance, to keep ourselves from our iniquity. [1.] They must not be injurious to the people among whom they were quartered, and over whom indeed they were set: “Do violence to no man. Your business is to keep the peace, and prevent men’s doing violence to one another; but do not you do violence to any. Shake no man” (so the word signifies); “do not put people into fear; for the sword of war, as well as that of justice, is to be a terror only to evil doers, but a protection to those that do well. Be not rude in your quarters; force not money from people by frightening them. Shed not the blood of war in peace; offer no incivility either to man or woman, nor have any hand in the barbarous devastations that armies sometimes make.” Nor must they accuse any falsely to the government, thereby to make themselves formidable, and get bribes. [2.] They must not be injurious to their fellow-soldiers; for some think that caution, not to accuse falsely, has special reference to them: “Be not forward to complain one of another to your superior officers, that you may be revenged on those whom you have a pique against, or undermine those above you, and get into their places.” Do not oppress any; so some think the word here signifies as used by the LXX. in several passages of the Old Testament. [3.] They must not be given to mutiny, or contend with their generals about their pay: Be content with your wages. While you have what you agreed for, do not murmur that it is not more.” It is discontent with what they have that makes men oppressive and injurious; they that never think they have enough themselves will not scruple at any the most irregular practices to make it more, by defrauding others. It is a rule to all servants that they be content with their wages; for they that indulge themselves in discontents expose themselves to many temptations, and it is wisdom to make the best of that which is.

Luke’s tone changes with the 15th verse, as he says that the people were filled with expectation wondering whether John the Baptist was the Messiah. That, by the way, was what many people wondered, even during and after our Lord’s ministry. Acts tells us of people far from Jerusalem who had followed John the Baptist but had never heard of Jesus. The people saw John as a pivotal, prominent figure, a great prophet.

John explained his position, saying he was unworthy of unloosing the sandals of He who is to come — Jesus; John could only baptise with water, but He would baptise with the Holy Spirit and fire (verse 16).

John goes on to say that Jesus is ready to gather the wheat into his granary — save the faithful — but burn the chaff with unquenchable fire (verse 17).

Henry elaborates:

He owns him to have a greater energy than he had: “He is mightier than I, and does that which I cannot do, both for the comfort of the faithful and for the terror of hypocrites and dissemblers.” They thought that a wonderful power went along with John; but what was that compared with the power which Jesus would come clothed with? [1.] John can do no more than baptize with water, in token of this, that they ought to purify and cleanse themselves; but Christ can, and will, baptize with the Holy Ghost; he can give the Spirit to cleanse and purify the heart, not only as water washes off the dirt on the outside, but as fire purges out the dross that is within, and melts down the metal, that it may be cast into a new mould. [2.] John can only preach a distinguishing doctrine, and by word and sign separate between the precious and the vile; but Christ hath his fan in his hand, with which he can, and will, perfectly separate between the wheat and the chaff. He will thoroughly purge his floor; it is his own, and therefore he will purge it, and will cast out of his church the unbelieving impenitent Jews, and confirm in his church all that faithfully follow him. [3.] John can only speak comfort to those that receive the gospel, and, like other prophets, say to the righteous that it shall be well with them; but Jesus Christ will give them comfort. John can only promise them that they shall be safe; but Christ will make them so: he will gather the wheat into his garner; good, serious, solid people he will gather now into his church on earth, which shall be made up of such, and he will shortly gather them into his church in heaven, where they shall be for ever sheltered. [4.] John can only threaten hypocrites, and tell the barren trees that they shall be hewn down and cast into the fire; but Christ can execute that threatening; those that are as chaff, light, and vain, and worthless, he will burn with fire unquenchable. John refers here to Malachi 3:18; Malachi 4:1; Malachi 4:2. Then, when the floor is purged, ye shall return, and discern between the righteous and the wicked, for the day comes that shall burn as an oven.

MacArthur says that part of that verse relates to the destruction of the temple, and part of it relates to God’s judgement involving every one of us. At some point in the future, the Jews will be saved and the Gentiles will fall away:

There were many individuals who…whose repentance was shallow and the ax was laid at the root of the tree, believe me, in those individuals’ lives. In 70 A.D. the Romans came in there and murdered, literally massacred a million 100 thousand Jews and the ax fell in judgment and those people were cast into eternal hell. There were so many of them that it constituted a nation literally going into temporary exile, as it were, out of existence temporarily. And, of course, they will mourn for Him and then a fountain of cleansing will be opened and they will be spiritually transformed and they will become the witness nation that God always wanted them to be and they’ll witness all through the tribulation and they’ll witness all through the kingdom so that on the robe of every Jew will be hanging ten Gentiles saying, “Take me to see the King of kings.”

But at the time that John was preaching, they rejected. The time of Jesus preaching, they rejected. So many individuals rejected that it constituted a national rejection. But every tree that doesn’t bear good fruit will be cut down.

And by the way, the Messiah will not only judge Israel this way, but He’ll judge all men this way. Zephaniah 1, “The great day of the Lord is near, very near, coming very quickly. It’s a day of wrath, a day of trouble, distress, destruction desolation, darkness, gloom, clouds, thick darkness.” And at the end it says, “He will make a complete end on the day of the Lord’s wrath, all the earth will be devoured. He will make a complete end, a terrifying one of all the inhabitants of the earth.” It isn’t just Jewish people that will feel the wrath of God. Anyone who rejects the Messiah will be subject to that final, terrifying judgment. He says in chapter 3 of Zephaniah verse 8, “He will pour out His indignation and burning anger on the whole earth.”

Luke concludes by saying that, with many other exhortations, John proclaimed the Good News to the people (verse 18).

Henry explains the verse in this way:

Many other things in his exhortation preached he unto the people, which are not recorded. First, John was an affectionate preacher. He was parakalonexhorting, beseeching; he pressed things home upon his hearers, followed his doctrine close, as one in earnest. Secondly, He was a practical preacher. Much of his preaching was exhortation, quickening them to their duty, directing them in it, and not amusing them with matters of nice speculation. Thirdly, He was a popular preacher. Though he had scribes and Pharisees, men of polite learning, attending his ministry, and Sadducees, men of free thought, as they pretended, yet he addressed himself to the people, pros ton laonto the laity, and accommodated himself to their capacity, as promising himself best success among them. Fourthly, He was an evangelical preacher, for so the word here used signifies, euengelizetohe preached the gospel to the people; in all his exhortations, he directed people to Christ, and excited and encouraged their expectations of him. When we press duty upon people, we must direct them to Christ, both for righteousness and strength. Fifthly, He was a copious preacher: Many other things he preached, polla men kai heteramany things, and different. He preached a great deal, shunned not to declare the whole counsel of God; and he varied in his preaching, that those who were not reached, and touched, and wrought upon, by one truth, might be by another.

MacArthur gives us the keys to true repentance:

This is the real deal.  The genuine repenter does a real, honest inventory of the reality of his personal transgressionHe understands that no religious ritual and no heritage can bring about escape or protection from divine judgment.  That he must have a heart transformation that results in a righteous life that manifests love and justice and honesty and those virtues that are characteristic of God Himself. And all that is good.

There’s one other thing missing.  And the one thing missing is the sixth and final element in a true gospel preacher’s arsenal. It is this. He must receive the true Messiah. He must receive the true Messiah.   All the rest is insufficient without the true Messiah so that you repent but you also put your faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, because Acts 4:12 says, “There is not salvation in any other name.” 

Despite the negatives here, which, we, living in the 21st century are unaccustomed to, MacArthur says that John’s message ends on the positive note of salvation and the coming of the Holy Spirit:

this is a very notable portion of Scripture, not because it is a theological treatise on repentance, but because it is an example of the true preaching for repentance exhibited by this man of God. And John gives us … elements of a true, genuine, saving repentance. This section, by the way, is just loaded with theology, just loaded with it. John moves from hamartiology, which is the study of sin, through eschatology, to soteriology to Christology and to pneumatology, the study of the Holy Spirit. Huge theological themes existed in his preaching. He was, of all things, a theological preacher.

He talks about sin. He talks about the end of the age and the coming wrath. He talks about salvation. He talks about within the framework of salvation, conversion, transformation, regeneration. He talks about Christ. He talks about the Holy Spirit. It is a…It is a sweeping treatment of theology. He was truly a theological preacher.

Therefore, we have every reason to be joyful on Gaudete Sunday.

The Second Sunday of Advent is December 5, 2021.

Readings for Year C can be found here.

The Gospel reading is as follows (emphases mine):

Luke 3:1-6

3:1 In the fifteenth year of the reign of Emperor Tiberius, when Pontius Pilate was governor of Judea, and Herod was ruler of Galilee, and his brother Philip ruler of the region of Ituraea and Trachonitis, and Lysanias ruler of Abilene,

3:2 during the high priesthood of Annas and Caiaphas, the word of God came to John son of Zechariah in the wilderness.

3:3 He went into all the region around the Jordan, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins,

3:4 as it is written in the book of the words of the prophet Isaiah, “The voice of one crying out in the wilderness: ‘Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight.

3:5 Every valley shall be filled, and every mountain and hill shall be made low, and the crooked shall be made straight, and the rough ways made smooth;

3:6 and all flesh shall see the salvation of God.’”

Commentary comes from Matthew Henry and John MacArthur.

Luke sets out the historical background to the beginning of John the Baptist’s ministry (verse 1), which began when he was 30 years old. His cousin Jesus would begin His ministry shortly afterwards. They were the same age, John being some months older.

This was a terrible time for the Jews, both politically and religiously.

Matthew Henry’s commentary summarises the political oppression they experienced:

(1.) It is dated by the reign of the Roman emperor; it was in the fifteenth year of Tiberius Cæsar, the third of the twelve Cæsars, a very bad man, given to covetousness, drunkenness, and cruelty; such a man is mentioned first (saith Dr. Lightfoot), as it were, to teach us what to look for from that cruel and abominable city wherein Satan reigned in all ages and successions. The people of the Jews, after a long struggle, were of late made a province of the empire, and were under the dominion of this Tiberius; and that country which once had made so great a figure, and had many nations tributaries to it, in the reigns of David and Solomon, is now itself an inconsiderable despicable part of the Roman empire, and rather trampled upon than triumphed in

The lawgiver was now departed from between Judah’s feet; and, as an evidence of that, their public acts are dated by the reign of the Roman emperor

(2.) It is dated by the governments of the viceroys that ruled in the several parts of the Holy Land under the Roman emperor, which was another badge of their servitude, for they were all foreigners, which bespeaks a sad change with that people whose governors used to be of themselves (Jeremiah 30:21), and it was their glory. How is the gold become dim! [1.] Pilate is here said to be the governor, president, or procurator, of Judea. This character is given of him by some other writers, that he was a wicked man, and one that made no conscience of a lie. He reigned ill, and at last was displaced by Vitellius, president of Syria, and sent to Rome, to answer for his mal-administrations. [2.] The other three are called tetrarchs, some think from the countries which they had the command of, each of them being over a fourth part of that which had been entirely under the government of Herod the Great. Others think that they are so called from the post of honour they held in the government; they had the fourth place, or were fourth-rate governors: the emperor was the first, the pro-consul, who governed a province, the second, a king the third, and a tetrarch the fourth. So Dr. Lightfoot.

John MacArthur has more, too much to cite here, including the year of John’s ministry, which would have been AD26 because of calendrical conventions and calculations. 

Tiberius was the son-in-law of Augustus Caesar, who wanted his grandsons to become Caesars. Normally the Roman Senate appointed Caesars; they did not follow a family blood line. However, Augustus broke with convention and persuaded the Senate to appoint Tiberius, whom he actually adopted to make his succession more amenable to the senators. The Romans believed that a man’s adoption of a son was more significant because he did it by choice.

Pontius Pilate we know about from Christ’s trial and crucifixion. He had run-ins with the Jews, who had reported him to Rome on more than one occasion. That is why he washed his hands of Jesus. The Jews had likely threatened him with a recall by Rome, which would have destroyed his career.

When Herod the Great died, his sons inherited separate parts of the land over which he had ruled. Herod Antipas, a wicked man and the one referred to in the first verse here, ruled Galilee. He was the one who had John the Baptist beheaded.

His brother Philip was the best of a bad lot and ruled the region of Ituraea and Trachonitis.

MacArthur says:

Philip was tetrarch of the region of Iturea and Trachonitis. That’s northeast of the Sea of Galilee And he ruled from 4 B.C. to 34 A.D., a long rule of 37 years The capital of that region is a city way up at the headwaters of the Jordan River called Caesarea Philippi, another city named after Caesar

Herod the Great’s third son was called Archelaus. He ruled over Judea, Samaria and Idumea initially, but he was deposed.

MacArthur describes what happened next:

They had to have somebody else to rule that area, Judea, Samaria and Idumea.  They just combined it into one area, called it Judea and put in a series of prefects, the fifth of which was Pilate So you had Archelaus ruling that area for ten years, and then you had a succession of four rulers and finally in 26, the same time John steps in, you have Pilate.  So those dates coincide very well.  It was at the time when Pontius Pilate had just stepped in to governing Judea because Judea was now the name for all three areas.

Abilene had two rulers named Lysanias. The one to whom Luke refers is the second one. Abilene is north of Galilee and west of Damascus.

MacArthur describes life for the Jews under Tiberius:

The reign of Tiberius Caesar is linked with a number of trials, linked with treasons, sedition.  There were lots of Jews — when he was the emperor, when he was the Caesar — there were lots of Jews deported out of Israel and taken to Rome for trials and sedition and things like that He was a typical Caesar with all of the bizarre machinations, all of the expressions of cruelty, all of the self-centeredness, all of the ego gone mad. The whole thing was all part of Tiberius.  And in his latter years he descended into dementia, to one degree or another His mental abilities were so severely hindered that the last part of his rule has been called “a reign of terror,” a combination of his wickedness unchecked because of his irrationality He was in many ways the worse possible kind of ruler.

So, over the…the life of Israel hangs this great cloud, this dark ominous cloud by the name of Caesar Tiberius, and he is oppressive and he at any time can rain down all the evil of the Roman purpose on their heads.  To be ruled by a Gentile, pagan, uncircumcised idolater is the worst possible scenario for the Jewish people

MacArthur gives us facts about Pontius Pilate:

it says, “Pontius Pilate was governor.”  It’s not a noun here, it’s actually a participleHe was governing. It’s the same generic word from hgemoneu He was ruling in the land of Israel, in the land of Palestine.

We know about him because in 1961 there was a plaque discovered, a dedicatory statement discovered in Caesarea Caesarea was the center of Roman occupation. You can visit the ruins today and still see some of the original Roman ruins there.  But in Caesarea, where the Romans had their main occupation center in the land of Palestine, apparently there is a building built there called the Tiberium, named for Tiberius.  They did a lot of that.  The city of Tiberius, which you can visit in Israel today, was named for Tiberius It’s on the west shore of the Sea of Galilee But in 1961 there was discovered there a dedicatory plaque on a building called the Tiberium and on that dedicatory plaque is the name “Pontius Pilate.”  Pontius Pilate is a real person.  He has the dedicatory plaque because he built the building in honor of Tiberius and called it Tiberium.

On that plaque he is called prefectus Prefectus was the official title He was a Roman prefect, a Roman prefect Later on that word in verse…in I think 46 A.D. was changed to procurator.  Sometimes you hear Pilate called a procurator, but that wouldn’t have been true until 46 A.D. and Pilate was through in 36, so he was never called a procurator In 70 A.D. they changed it to a legate. He wouldn’t have been called that either.  By then he was certainly dead.  But he was a prefect.

Luke tells us that two high priests ruled, Annas and Caiaphas; it was during this time that the word of God came in the wilderness to John, the son of Zechariah (verse 2).

Looking at the religious corruption, Henry points out that there was supposed to only be one high priest at a time then gives us reasons as to why there might have been two:

God had appointed that there should be but one high priest at a time, but here were two, to serve some ill turn or other: one served one year and the other the other year; so some. One was the high priest, and the other the sagan, as the Jews called him, to officiate for him when he was disabled; or, as others say, one was high priest, and represented Aaron, and that was Caiaphas; Annas, the other, was nasi, or head of the sanhedrim, and represented Moses. But to us there is but one high priest, one Lord of all, to whom all judgment is committed.

However, MacArthur says that, during this time, Rome appointed the high priests, which would have been the reason for two of them — and they might not have even been priests:

during Roman times the Levitical line was ignored. During Roman times the Romans appointed the priests, the high priests. They had to approve of and appoint the high priests. So what that meant was that you became high priest by somehow currying the favor of Rome.

We don’t know anything about the lineage of Annas. We don’t know anything about the lineage of…of Caiaphas, really. They were in the position they were in because they had somehow gotten the favor of Rome and been placed there. It is even said by some historians that the office of high priest was often bought with money, or granted as some kind of political favor.

So, Annas had garnered that favor from Rome and he was in that place because he served Rome’s purposes, not God’s. It wasn’t that he was a priest truly or that he was in the priestly line. We don’t know any of that background. But it was that he was there because he served the purposes of Rome well.

Between them, Annas and Caiaphas could be described as the Jerusalem mafia, with Annas as the Godfather:

Now in some ways Annas, who is mentioned first here, who is the older of the two, had a death grip on the high priesthoodThe real power exerted over the people of Israel on a day-to-day basis was exerted by the most powerful man in their recognized structure, and that would be the high priest. He was the real power because he represented, theoretically, God. And what he brought to bear on them was not an intrusion into their life, but was reflective of what God had ordained, and that is that they be ruled by priests and a high priest. So he represented the leadership they could accept and had to accept by virtue of its ordination by God, even though in this case it had been terribly, terribly corrupted.

Caiaphas was the son-in-law of Annas, who:

was high priest from the year 7 to 14 A.D., 7 to 14 A.D. During the silent years, the private years of John and Jesus, during those thirty years when Jesus was living in Nazareth and John was out in the wilderness, 7 to 14 A.D., just a…not a long period of time, but he was succeeded in the priesthood by five sons and one son-in-law. That son-in-law is Caiaphas.

Even though Caiaphas carried out a lot of the day-to-day responsibilities, Annas had to know everything that went on:

That’s why he’s constantly identified as the high priest.  When you go to John 18 and they go and arrest Jesus, they arrest Jesus and they say, “We’ve got to take Him to Annas first.”  It says, “Caiaphas was the high priest that year, but they took Him to Annas first.”  He was the real power behind the priesthood.  And the priesthood was not just a position, not just a position of spiritual leadership, it was… It was a crime family is what it was.  It was the Jerusalem mafia. That’s what it was.  And the mafioso boss was Annas.  He still had the power.  He probably maintained the title all his life …

But the fact of the matter is it wasn’t just a titular designation. The fact is he ran everything and that’s indicative…that’s indicated, I should say, when they took Jesus first to Annas before they went to Caiaphas, who was the high priest, because they knew that Annas had the final say and if it didn’t get by him, no use going anywhere else.

Their biggest racket was the temple’s sacrificial system and money-changing operation, which made them wealthy. They were deeply unhappy when Jesus twice took a whip to the tables in the temple compound.

MacArthur describes their hatred of Jesus, who was disturbing their operation:

Annas and his sons and son-in-law — they managed to turn the high priesthood into an incredibly profitable business.  And I… Just as a footnote, I’ve been studying this particularly in the last few weeks. I just finished writing a book called The Murder of Jesus [1999] … in which I just take you clear through the whole story of the crucifixion.  And in doing so I got very involved in the life of Annas and Caiaphas, who play a major role, of course, in the execution of Jesus.  In fact, if you want to lay the responsibility for the crucifixion of Jesus at anybody’s feet, you can start with God because God sent Him to die for sinners, and then you can move to Annas and Caiaphas. They drove the plotThey were the ones who cornered Pontius Pilate and had him in a position where in blackmail he had to do what he did and that was authorize the execution of Jesus.  But they were the ones that drove the plot.  And the reason they hated Jesus had a little to do with His theology and mostly to do with the fact that Jesus interrupted temple business.

When Jesus first showed up on the scene, He went to the temple and He made a whip and he cleaned out the place.  You remember that?  And then at the end of His ministry, He did it again.  This did not make them happy.  If you want to carry the analogy a little bit, what happened at the cross was they finally found a hit man to execute the guy who was intruding into their operation. And Pilate was the hit man.

MacArthur says that there were 28 high priests during 100 years of Roman occupation. Caiaphas served for 20 years in that post, which was a remarkable tenure:

So twenty-eight high priests, you take seven, eight years of Annas and twenty years of Caiaphas and you’ve got this say thirty years, so you’ve got twenty-six left for a seventy-year period. So they ran through that office pretty fast. For a person to stay there twenty years was pretty remarkable. Caiaphas was there for twenty years.

MacArthur says that the two high priests were no doubt Sadduccees. Sadduccees didn’t pay much attention to Scripture, preferring to follow established tradition instead. They also did not believe in the supernatural, therefore, they had few qualms about installing a temple racket:

Now Caiaphas from his theological standpoint was a Sadducee and Sadducees were religious liberals. They didn’t believe in the supernatural, they didn’t believe in angels, they didn’t believe in the supernatural character of Scripture. It’s easy to remember them because somebody says they didn’t believe in angels, they didn’t believe in the resurrection, they didn’t believe in the supernatural character of Scripture, that’s why they were so sad, you see. So that’s how I remember them. It’s not bad. It’s not bad. They were materialists.

As I said, they were religious liberals. They… They were opportunists and because they were materialists and anti-supernaturalists, they were the kind of people who could run an enterprise li…enterprise like this in the temple and not worry that they were just going to be incinerated by God, turning His house of prayer into a den of thieves. They had a very, very low view of Scripture. Frankly, they were very much like modern Jews. They had a high view of tradition and a low view of Scripture. They were anti-supernaturalists. They were… They were really sort of traditionalists rather than scriptural in their commitment.

These two men were the real power over the people and they were as wretched as wretched could be. They weren’t any better than the pagans. So this is a very, very, very dark time in the land of Israel. They are apostates who blaspheme the God of Israel, really. They blaspheme the God of Israel right in God’s own temple. I can’t imagine those guys going into the Holy of Holies once a year, right? On the Day of Atonement and wondering whether they’d ever come out. They were the ones who drove the conspiracy to execute Jesus because He tampered with their business and they couldn’t agree with the Pharisees on anything except to kill Jesus. The Pharisees hated Jesus because He attacked their religious system. The Sadducees hated Jesus because He attacked their economic system. And they all got together and cornered Pilate and got Pilate to agree to execute Jesus with the threat that if he didn’t they’re going to complain again about Pilate to Tiberius Caesar. And Pilate was already on some serious thin ice because of things he had done in Israel.

Turning to John the Baptist, it is likely he took a lifetime Nazirite vow, as I explained several years ago. The only other two in the Bible to do so were Samson (e.g. long hair) and Samuel. John lived a very basic life, however, away from people. He foraged for his food. He wore animal skins rather than conventional clothes.

Most Jewish men, such as Paul, took short term Nazirite vows, but John lived his life as a Nazirite monk.

Henry tells us more about John’s receiving the word of God:

He received full commission and full instructions from God to do what he did. It is the same expression that is used concerning the Old-Testament prophets (Jeremiah 1:2); for John was a prophet, yea, more than a prophet, and in him prophecy revived, which had been long suspended. We are not told how the word of the Lord came to John, whether by an angel, as to his father, or by dream, or vision, or voice, but it was to his satisfaction, and ought to be to ours. John is here called the son of Zacharias, to refer us to what the angel said to his father, when he assured him that he should have this son. The word of the Lord came to him in the wilderness; for those whom God fits he will find out, wherever they are. As the word of the Lord is not bound in a prison, so it is not lost in a wilderness. The word of the Lord made its way to Ezekiel among the captives by the river of Chebar, and to John in the isle of Patmos. John was the son of a priest, now entering upon the thirtieth year of his age; and therefore, according to the custom of the temple, he was now to be admitted into the temple-service, where he should have attended as a candidate five years before. But God had called him to a more honourable ministry, and therefore the Holy Ghost enrols him here, since he was not enrolled in the archives of the temple: John the son of Zacharias began his ministration such a time.

Wilderness in this context means ‘desert’. MacArthur says:

Chapter 1 verse 80 [of Luke’s Gospel] tells us. That’s the last we’ve heard of John. “He grew and became strong in spirit,” talking about John. “He lived in the desert,” or wilderness, “till the day of his public appearance in Israel.” There he’s just the wilderness guy. He’s out there in the wilderness. That is the wilderness of Judea, it’s called, from the… I’ll give you a little geography on Israel. There’s a coastal plain, there’s a Mediterranean Sea, and there’s a coastal plain. There’s a coastal range of mountains. The Sharon…the Carmel range, it’s called. There’s the Plain of Sharon, which is a coastal…coastal lowland, a coastal valley, much like we have in California. And then you go inland a little bit and you have a range of mountains that was called Carmel. We talk about Mount Carmel. Carmel wasn’t one mountain it was kind of a range of mountains. And then you had a valley and then you had another set of mountains on the east and that was where Jerusalem was, the high point, the plateau range, and then that fell off into the wilderness of Judea. And that wilderness extended across the Jordan River. From the Dead Sea to the Sea of Galilee up the Jordan River was that wilderness area.

His parents — Elizabeth and Zechariah — lived on the edge of that wilderness:

Now John’s family lived in the hill country of Judea which would be the western border of that wilderness, which would go from the Dead…the top of the Dead Sea half way up to the Sea of Galilee to where the river Jabbok came in and it would go west of that and east of that. That is a very barren area.

Having received the word of God, John, the last of the Old Testament prophets and the first in 425 years, left the wilderness to go to the region around the Jordan River, proclaiming a baptism for the forgiveness of sins (verse 3).

The people went to him. MacArthur refers us to Matthew:

Back in Matthew chapter 3 and verse 5, it says, “Then Jerusalem was going out to him and all Judea and all the district around the Jordan, and they were being baptized by him in the Jordan River as they confessed their sins.”

You know what happened? Everybody went to John. And again you have almost an illustration of the necessary disconnect from the system that is required when someone comes to the truth. And so the Lord leaves John out in that barren, barren place, apart from the establishment because like Isaiah, like Jeremiah, like Ezekiel and some other prophets, John is going to have to keep his distance, he’s going to have to be untouched, unpolluted.

He proclaimed the message from Isaiah from the wilderness, as prophesied: ‘Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight’ (verse 4), with no obstacles of valleys, mountains and hills or rough roads (verse 5).

All — Jew and Gentile — will see the salvation of God (verse 6).

MacArthur explains the importance of these verses:

it is from Isaiah chapter 40 verses 3 through 5. That prophecy was given 700 years before John, 700 years before Jesus began His ministry. And it is a powerful, powerful prophecy. In fact, I confess to you as a human preacher, a very human preacher, I’m not sure I can bear the weight of it. Literally this prophecy overwhelms me and I…I confess to you that it places on me a huge burden to communicate because it has so much contained in it. The implications around this prophecy are…are vast. Even the explicit elements of this prophecy are powerful, but what surrounds this prophecy in the context of Isaiah has sweeping implications. And Luke, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, has picked the perfect prophecy from the Old Testament to identify John. It is a prophecy that has immense theological implications, immense historic implications, immense salvation implications. It is not just limited to John, the forerunner crying in the wilderness. It is the whole message of what he is saying that is coming to fulfillment at that moment with the arrival of Messiah. And all its implications for Israel and for all flesh, as verse 6 indicates, that is all people across the faith of the earth. This is a sweeping prophecy that literally covers all the ground of redemptive history.

This imagery suggests the way one would prepare for the arrival of a king, in this case, the Messiah — Jesus:

In ancient times when a monarch went on a tour of his domain and approached the various cities and towns along the route, there would be an advanced message “The king is coming and you need to make things ready. We don’t want the king going through deep ravines. We don’t want the king having to climb over great high rocks and mountains. We don’t want the king going on some circuitous pathway. We don’t want the king to have to come stumbling over rocks and boulders and great holes in the path. We want a highway for the king that suits his dignity and one that provides ease for the monarch. We want you to get a highway ready for the great king to come to your city.”

Now the people, knowing this, would set about to do this. It was the greatest of events to have the monarch come to their town, to have the king come to their home. And they would know of such an arrival. They hadn’t seen the king so it was an act of faith, but a forerunner came and said he’s coming, get everything ready so that he has easy access into your city. Start preparing a road. Start constructing a road, because in a matter of months or whatever the time might be, the king will be arriving.

So Isaiah said in his prophecy, the king will come someday, but before he comes, a voice will come in the wilderness and tell people to get the highway ready for the king. And here Luke quotes that because John is the fulfillment of that. He is the voice crying in the wilderness. He has come to the people and he is saying to the people of Israel, “Get the highway ready, the king is right behind me.” And truthfully, but six months later the King did begin His ministry.

So John is…is taking that prophecy of Isaiah and fulfilling it. And Luke makes note of that fulfillment. John was calling on the people to prepare a highway for the true King who was Messiah.

MacArthur says that, until this point, baptism was a cleansing ritual reserved for Gentiles who wished to convert to the Jewish faith. By proclaiming that all needed to be baptised, John was telling the Jews that they were spiritually no better than Gentiles. They needed to repent:

When John came he came preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. They were religious people, they were lost. They needed the forgiveness of sin. The theology was they had a form of religion without the reality of it. They had a zeal for God but not according to a true knowledge of God, as Paul put it. And so John tells them their sins can be forgiven but only if they repent. And if they repent so deeply that they’re willing to be baptized in the same way that a Gentile was when a Gentile wanted to enter into Judaism. When a Gentile wanted to be a proselyte, they were baptized in a…in a special ceremony to show that they needed to be cleansed before they can engage themselves with the covenant people of God.

Well John, by baptizing Jews, is saying you have to repent to such a depth that you will confess you’re no better than a Gentile. So he preached a baptism for repentance for the forgiveness of sin. That was the theological perspective. The people were under the damning burden of guilt and they needed forgiveness which God always has given, always will give to those who repent, whose repentance is genuine and in this case evidenced by a willingness to say I am no better than a pagan.

Years ago, a Presbyterian pastor’s daughter told me that the Book of Isaiah was ‘depressing’. Unfortunately, she hadn’t read the whole book nor has she paid attention to readings used during Advent and Christmas. That’s a very sad state to be in, especially for a pastor’s daughter.

MacArthur says that the first 39 chapters of Isaiah are all about judgement, but chapters 40 to 66 are about redemption.

According to Isaiah, God will redeem Israel one day:

Chapter 40 then launches the rest of the book of Isaiah all the way to chapter 66 and the message changes from judgment to salvation, from warning to encouragement. The latter half of Isaiah’s prophecy is all about salvation and the Messiah and His kingdom and righteousness and joy and peace. And the simple message of the overall view of the book is the same God who has judged Israel for sins will someday save Israel. That is the great message of the book of Isaiah. The same God who promised terrible judgment on a sinning Israel promises salvation on a penitent Israel. That, folks, is at the heart of redemptive history. God is not finished with Israel. Whatever may lie ahead and the prophet Isaiah knows what’s going to lie ahead, he’s said it for thirty-nine chapters and the people know it, and it’s also been prophesied by many other prophets, but whatever may lie ahead for the people of Judah and Jerusalem, God’s ultimate purpose for them is not judgment, God’s ultimate purpose for them is salvation. God’s ultimate purpose for them is not destruction but redemption, not death but life. God’s ultimate purpose for them is not the abolition of His covenant, but the fulfillment of His covenant.

So you see here really in my mind a dramatic insight into the unfolding and eternal purposes of salvation that God has purposed for Israel. There is a future for Israel, for Jewish people who today reject their Messiah, but someday will be saved by the very Messiah they reject because they will look on Him and see Him for who He really is and turn to Him for salvation and Zacharias said, “A fountain of cleansing will be opened to the house of Israel.”

So these two verses have a warm, affectionate, and tender tone, something unfamiliar in the first thirty-nine chapters. God is saying there will come a time when sin has been paid for. There will come a time when suffering is over, warfare has ended. There will come a time of salvation so here’s the message, comfort, oh comfort My people … 

So God looks and says, I promised to save you but there’s nobody that can do it but Me. And so God says I’ll come, I’ll come and save sinners. That’s what the incarnation was about. John is saying He’s here and He’s about to begin His work. Are you ready? “Ready” means repentant. You can’t save yourself but you can prepare your heart for the only one who can save you. Get ready, He’s coming. And for us, He’s already come, hasn’t He? Already died for sinners. And when you repent, you are forgiven. Someday Israel will do that. Until then, Jew and Gentile alike can do that and do as the Spirit works in their hearts.

May everyone reading this have a blessed Sunday.

The First Sunday of Advent is November 28, 2021.

Readings for Year C — the new liturgical year — can be found here.

The Gospel reading is as follows (emphases mine):

Luke 21:25-36

21:25 “There will be signs in the sun, the moon, and the stars, and on the earth distress among nations confused by the roaring of the sea and the waves.

21:26 People will faint from fear and foreboding of what is coming upon the world, for the powers of the heavens will be shaken.

21:27 Then they will see ‘the Son of Man coming in a cloud’ with power and great glory.

21:28 Now when these things begin to take place, stand up and raise your heads, because your redemption is drawing near.”

21:29 Then he told them a parable: “Look at the fig tree and all the trees;

21:30 as soon as they sprout leaves you can see for yourselves and know that summer is already near.

21:31 So also, when you see these things taking place, you know that the kingdom of God is near.

21:32 Truly I tell you, this generation will not pass away until all things have taken place.

21:33 Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away.

21:34 “Be on guard so that your hearts are not weighed down with dissipation and drunkenness and the worries of this life, and that day catch you unexpectedly,

21:35 like a trap. For it will come upon all who live on the face of the whole earth.

21:36 Be alert at all times, praying that you may have the strength to escape all these things that will take place, and to stand before the Son of Man.”

Commentary comes from Matthew Henry and John MacArthur.

We had a similar passage about the Second Coming two weeks ago, on the Twenty-fourth Sunday after Trinity: Mark 13:1-8.

This Sunday’s is Luke’s version of Christ’s prophecy.

As with Mark’s (and Matthew’s) version, Luke’s preceding verses had to do with the destruction of the temple and the end of the Jewish sacrificial system, which occurred at the hands of the Romans in AD 70.

With regard to His second coming, Jesus tells us that the universe will give us signs as will the earth, where the movement of the seas will create distress across the nations (verse 25).

Jesus goes on to say that people will ‘faint with fear and foreboding’ as ‘the powers of the heavens will be shaken’ (verse 26).

John MacArthur says:

The staging is given in verses 25 and 26. Sun and moon and stars…what happens to them in that period of time? They go out. The sun goes out therefore the moon goes out. The stars go out as well, blackness covers the universe. At the same time the seas begin to roar, the waves turn into a tumult and we see the powers of the heavens being shaken. This is all final staging and parallels the Old Testament prophets and the book of Revelation.

Now that brings us to the third word and where we pick up the text this morning. The third word is shock…shock. There’s only one possible response to this unimaginable chaos, verse 25, “And upon the earth dismay among nations in perplexity.” Verse 26, “Men fainting from fear and the expectation of the things which are coming upon the world.”

And again I remind you, this is how history ends. This is the real story of the end of the earth and the universe as we know it. This is the first step in the beginning of the eternal state …

The confusion comes because people can’t do anything about it. There is absolute chaos. There’s no way to solve this. You’ve got a third of the oceans destroyed, a third of the fresh water destroyed. You’ve got mountains exploding. You’ve got heavenly bodies crashing and careening into the earth. You’ve got the skies going dark. You have horrible storms, hundred-pound hailstones and other things described in the book of Revelation. And the confusion comes because they can’t sort it out.

They can’t even react to it because it’s coming in such rapid-fire succession. There’s reason to believe that the trumpet judgments come in months and then the final judgments described in Revelation, the bowl judgments come in weeks and days…rapid-fire succession. Shock is so great that we are told that men are fainting from fear. And fainting is a rather benign way to translate another rare word used no where else in the New Testament, aposuche(?). What that word means is to breathe out or to expire. That’s another word for to die. People will be scared to death. People will be scared to death. People all over the world will die of terror because of what is happening and because what is happening they know will lead to further horrors. As they watch everything turn into chaos, they understand the implications. It’s not just what’s going on in the moment, it’s what all this means in the immediate future. That is to say the terror comes from the immediate and the terror is compounded by the total absence of any hope of relief. You might be able to mitigate your anxiety if you thought there would be an end but there will be nor can there be…there will be no end nor can there be any end. The chaos is too great.

This is not, by the way, hyperbole. This is lethal emotional trauma causing rapid pulse, low blood pressure and cardiac collapse. Rapid-pulse, low blood pressure, cardiac collapse, scared to death. This is not something the disciples wouldn’t have heard about before. This is shocking coming from Jesus and yet this is what Isaiah said. Listen to Isaiah 13:8, “All hands will fall limp, every man’s heart will melt. They will be terrified. Pains and anguish will take hold of them. They will writhe like a woman in labor. They will look at one another in astonishment, their faces aflame.” Listen again to the Revelation chapter 6, as we read familiar words. “The kings of the earth, the great men, verse 15, the commanders, the rich, the strong, every slave, every free man hid themselves in the caves and among the rocks of the mountains and they said to the mountains and to the rocks, ‘Fall on us and hide us from the presence of Him who sits on the throne and from the wrath of the Lamb for the great day of their wrath has come and who is able to stand?’” They want to die. Some will be scared to death. Others will be scared but cannot or do not die, they will wish to be buried alive just to escape what’s next.

In the ninth chapter of the Revelation and verse 6, “In those days men will seek death and will not find it. They will long to die and death flees from them.” In the sixteenth chapter of Revelation and verse 8, “The fourth angel pours out the rapid-fire judgments called bowl judgments and the sun scorches men with fire. They’re scorched with fierce heat and they blaspheme the name of God who has the power over these plagues that didn’t repent so as to give Him glory. Then the fifth angel poured out his bowl on the throne of the beast, his kingdom became darkened. They gnawed their tongues because of pain and they blasphemed the God of heaven because of their pains and their sores and didn’t repent of their deeds.” The chapter ends in verse 21 with a statement, “The plagues were extremely severe.”

The eighteenth chapter gives us a description of the disintegration of life at that final hour, in those final weeks, in those final days. The eighteenth chapter of Revelation, we can pick it up in verse 8. Plagues will come pestilence, mourning, famine, fire, the Lord God is bringing judgment. The symbol here is Babylon, Babylon is the unifying term to describe the final world coalition of religion and government, the final world system. And it’s going to be wiped out. The kings of the earth who committed acts of immorality live sensuously with this system will weak and lament over her when they see the smoke of her burning. Standing at a distance because of the fear of her torment saying, “Woe, woe, the great Babylon, the strong city, in one hour your judgment has come.” Again indicating to us how rapid-fire the final judgments will be.

The merchants of the earth weep and mourn over her, again symbolizing the whole economy of the earth in this one symbol of Babylon. Nobody buys their cargoes anymore, cargos of gold and silver and precious stones and pearls, fine linen, purple silk, scarlet, the clothing industry, the jewel industry, every kind of citron, wood and every article of ivory, every article made from costly wood and bronze and iron and marble, the construction industry as well, cinnamon, spice, incense, perfume, frankincense, wine, olive oil, fine flour, wheat, cattle, sheep, cargos of horses, chariots, slaves, transportation industry, food industry, everything goes…the fruit you long for has gone from you, all things that were luxurious and splendid have passed away from you. Men will no longer find them. The merchants of these things who became rich from her will stand at a distance because of the fear of her torment, weeping and mourning, saying, “Woe, woe, the great city, she who was clothed in fine linen, purple, scarlet, adorned with gold, precious stones and pearls in one hour such great wealth has been laid waste.” Again indicating the suddenness of this destruction.

Matthew Henry’s commentary acknowledges that some Bible scholars believe this refers only to the destruction of the temple, but, like MacArthur, he says this pertains to the eventual end of the world and the terror that unbelievers will experience:

… our Saviour makes use of these figurative expressions because at the end of time they shall be literally accomplished, when the heavens shall be rolled together as a scroll, and all their powers not only shaken, but broken, and the earth and all the works that are therein shall be burnt up, 2 Peter 3:10; 2 Peter 3:12. As that day was all terror and destruction to the unbelieving Jews, so the great day will be to all unbelievers.

Jesus says that, at the appointed time, people will see ‘the Son of Man coming in a cloud’ of great power and glory (verse 27). The quote comes from a verse in the Book of Daniel.

His appearance, MacArthur says, is the final sign:

… here is THE sign, verse 27, “And then they will see the Son of Man coming in a cloud with power and great glory.” That is THE sign, the final sign, the sign is the Son of Man.

Listen to Matthew 24:30, the parallel account. The words of our Lord, “And then the sign of the Son of Man will appear in the sky.” The sign of the Son of Man will appear in the sky then all the tribes of the earth will mourn, they’ll already be emotional basket cases, to put it mildly. They will now launch into a final mourning as they see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of the sky with power and great glory. THE sign of THE Son of Man, that is a subjective genitive, the sign which is the Son of Man.

It is not another sign that points to the Son of Man, it is the sign which is the Son of Man. Now remember, the whole world will be pitch dark. As Joel puts it, the sun will go dark and the moon will not give its light. The stars will fall. Heaven rolls up like a scroll. It’s pitch blackness. And out of that blackness, the whole world sees the Son of Man coming. This is the moment to which all redemptive history moves. This is its glorious culmination, when the once humiliated Christ returns as the eternally exalted Christ. He came once to die. He comes now to kill. He came once to build His church. He comes again to establish His glorious Kingdom.

Henry ties the Second Coming back to the temple so that we might better understand that its destruction presages the return of Christ:

The destruction of Jerusalem was in a particular manner an act of Christ’s judgment, the judgment committed to the Son of man; his religion could never be thoroughly established but by the destruction of the temple, and the abolishing of the Levitical priesthood and economy, after which even the converted Jews, and many of the Gentiles too, were still hankering, till they were destroyed; so that it might justly be looked upon as a coming of the Son of man, in power and great glory, yet not visibly, but in the clouds; for in executing such judgments as these clouds and darkness are round about him. Now this was, 1. An evidence of the first coming of the Messiah; so some understand it. Then the unbelieving Jews shall be confined, when it is too late, that Jesus was the Messiah; those that would not see him coming in the power of his grace to save them shall be made to see him coming in the power of his wrath to destroy them; those that would not have him to reign over them shall have him to triumph over them. 2. It was an earnest of his second coming. Then in the terrors of that day they shall see the Son of man coming in a cloud, and all the terrors of the last day.

Jesus says that, when believers see these alarming signs, they can stand up and raise their heads because their redemption is near (verse 28).

MacArthur says:

A word to the saints in verse 28. These are the folks that will be alive at the time and will have believed in Christ. “But when these things begin to take place, straighten up, lift up your heads because your redemption is drawing near,” engizo, about to start.

Then Jesus gives the disciples a parable about the fig tree and other trees (verse 29), saying that when they sprout leaves, everyone knows that summer is near (verse 30).

Similarly, when these dramatic signs take place, we can be sure that the kingdom of God is near (verse 31).

MacArthur says that analogies involving fig trees are common in the Bible. They were the easiest ways to get a point across:

both in the Old Testament and in the teaching of the Lord, the fig tree served a purpose as an illustration. It is designed to help people understand. In fact, in Matthew 24:32, where the parallel text in Matthew’s record is, he says Jesus also said, “Now learn this parable of the fig tree.” The point is: This is for your learning – manthanō – this is so you can understand. And the reason I press that point is because it seems to me that people turn these parables into very complex things when they are the most simple, especially when you have such a simple parable as this.

It was also apposite as Jesus taught His disciples this lesson about the temple and His later return in the middle of His Passion, which we commemorate during Holy Week. It was Passover week, therefore, springtime.

MacArthur explains the deeper meaning of summer, which involves fruit and harvest, therefore, blessings for some and judgement for others:

When you see the signs – leaves – you know summer’s near. And with summer comes fruit and harvest.

By the way, harvest is always, in the Old Testament, a symbol of judgment as well as blessing. So, you have a simple analogy.

MacArthur says the disciples who would witness the destruction of the temple were symbolic of the people who would witness the end of the world:

The disciples are only symbolic of those people. They are only representative of that future group of people. “You,” meaning you believers, who are alive when you see these things happen. What the Lord is saying is: It’s going to come very fast.

You remember He told a parable about a man who went on a long journey? We’re living in the long journey. We’re living in the long time, two thousand years now. But once those signs start – once they start – you can be sure that when you see these things happen, the Kingdom of God is near …

Jesus emphasises — ‘Truly I tell you’ — that the present generation will not pass away until all those things have taken place (verse 32).

This is a confusing verse, because some of the things that Jesus prophesies here did not take place when the Romans destroyed the temple.

MacArthur says that Jesus means whoever is alive at the time and sees the prophesied events take place, whether about the temple or His coming again in glory:

Let me tell you how simple this is. Verse 32, “Truly I say to you, this generation.” What generation? “The generation that sees these things happen will not die until it’s all taken place.” Whoever is among the you who sees these things happen can know this, it’s going to happen soon in your lifetime, and if you see the beginning, you’re going to be there for the end.

If you see Jerusalem surrounded, if you’re alive and you see Jerusalem surrounded and you see the changes and the devastating changes in the universe, you see those signs, you will see the Son of Man. Such a simple thing. If you see the leaves, you know summer is near. If you see the signs, you know Christ is near; He’s at the door.

And our Lord is simply saying, “You asked Me a question. You asked Me, what do we look for? What are the signs?” And I’m telling you this, that generation alive that sees these things will see the Son of Man return. Our Lord is answering the question

If you’re alive and you see the signs and you survive through that and you’re not martyred – and we’re talking about believers here; believers who are alive and looking and waiting for the coming of Christ – if you’re alive when all that starts, you’re going to be there when He returns and you’re going to go into His Kingdom. That’s all it means.

If this is looking for an antecedent, the obvious antecedent is you in verse 31 – you, you. It is this generation – the you that sees these things – that will see it all take place.

Jesus makes it clear that heaven and earth will pass away, but His words will not; they will endure forever (verse 33).

MacArthur explains:

You were saved through the living and abiding word and you will be brought to glory through that same living, abiding word. Whatever God says is absolutely the way it is, whether He speaks of salvation, or sanctification, or glorification. And we look forward to the unfolding of this.

Then Jesus gives stern warnings about our behaviour. We must not be weighed down by the concerns of this life to the extent that we become despondent and drunk as a result, lest His return catch us by surprise (verse 34), like a trap (verse 35). In our era, I would also include getting out of one’s mind on drugs in that warning.

We do not want to be out of our minds when the time comes for us to meet our Lord.

Henry says:

See here, 1. What our danger is: that the day of death and judgment should come upon us unawares, when we do not expect it, and are not prepared for it,–lest, when we are called to meet our Lord, that be found the furthest thing from our thoughts which ought always to be laid nearest our hearts, lest it come upon us as a snare; for so it will come upon the most of men, who dwell upon the earth, and mind earthly things only, and have no converse with heaven; to them it will be as a snare. See Ecclesiastes 9:12. It will be a terror and a destruction to them; it will put them into an inexpressible fright, and hold them fast for a doom yet more frightful.

Jesus calls upon us to be ‘alert at all times’ — ‘watching’, in some translations — and praying that we are strong enough to escape these terrible events and be able to stand before Him one day (verse 36).

Henry says:

Watch therefore, and pray always. Watching and praying must go together, Nehemiah 4:9. Those that would escape the wrath to come, and make sure of the joys to come, must watch and pray, and must do so always, must make it the constant business of their lives, (1.) To keep a guard upon themselves. “Watch against sin, watch to every duty, and to the improvement of every opportunity of doing good. Be awake, and keep awake, in expectation of your Lord’s coming, that you may be in a right frame to receive him, and bid him welcome.” (2.) To keep up their communion with God: “Pray always; be always in an habitual disposition to that duty; keep up stated times for it; abound in it; pray upon all occasions.” Those shall be accounted worthy to live a life of praise in the other world that live a life of prayer in this world.

MacArthur says:

He will come. He will come. We don’t know when He will come. And so, we live in perpetual vigilance, a vigilant anticipation, never letting that out of our minds. He could come at any moment…He could come at any time…He could come at any day. This needs to be kept before the church at all times. This is one of the gifts that our Lord wants from us. When He comes…Oh, we expected You, we expected You. We’ve been waiting, we’re ready.

This might seem to some as an odd reading in Advent, a time which, for us, is full of preparation for Christmas, including happy social engagements.

Yet, Advent readings begin by calling us to account, to repent, so that we might better appreciate Christ’s deigning to come to the world as an infant and living a fully human — yet fully divine — life among us.

File:Himmelfahrt Christi.jpgThe feast day of the Ascension of the Lord is Thursday, May 13, 2021.

The painting at left is German, Himmelfahrt Christi (The Ascension of Christ), by Mattheis Störbel. It was painted between 1515 and 1519 and is in the Deutsche Museum Nürnberg. This is likely to be the only depiction of the Ascension showing our Lord’s feet alone. (Image credit: Wikipedia)

Relevant posts follow, including the readings:

Readings for Ascension Day (same regardless of Lectionary year)

Ascension Day 2016 (John MacArthur on Acts 1-11)

A Reformed view of the Ascension (Christ as prophet, priest and king)

Acts 1:9-11 on the Ascension (addresses errors of preterism)

The Gospel reading is as follows (emphases mine):

Acts 1:1-11

1:1 In the first book, Theophilus, I wrote about all that Jesus did and taught from the beginning

1:2 until the day when he was taken up to heaven, after giving instructions through the Holy Spirit to the apostles whom he had chosen.

1:3 After his suffering he presented himself alive to them by many convincing proofs, appearing to them during forty days and speaking about the kingdom of God.

1:4 While staying with them, he ordered them not to leave Jerusalem, but to wait there for the promise of the Father. “This,” he said, “is what you have heard from me;

1:5 for John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit not many days from now.”

1:6 So when they had come together, they asked him, “Lord, is this the time when you will restore the kingdom to Israel?”

1:7 He replied, “It is not for you to know the times or periods that the Father has set by his own authority.

1:8 But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”

1:9 When he had said this, as they were watching, he was lifted up, and a cloud took him out of their sight.

1:10 While he was going and they were gazing up toward heaven, suddenly two men in white robes stood by them.

1:11 They said, “Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking up toward heaven? This Jesus, who has been taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way as you saw him go into heaven.”

Commentary is from John MacArthur.

The first verse should be no mystery, although I hope that celebrants everywhere explain to their congregations that Luke is the author of the Book of Acts, or Acts of the Apostles.

John MacArthur gives us the details:

Luke is the author of Acts. And Luke was closely associated with the apostles from about the time of Jesus’ death, around 30 A.D. to about 60 or 63 A.D. when evidently he penned this book; and in those intervening 30‑plus years, as Luke travelled in the companionship of the apostles, he penned what was going on …

Now, there are many reasons that Luke wanted to write this, and we could, perhaps, pull out as many reasons as there are truths in the book. It’s important, because it gives us the pattern of the church. It’s important, because it shows us the pattern of world evangelism. It’s important, because there are principles of discipleship. It’s important for a multiplicity of reasons. But in Luke’s own mind, as he is writing, he is directing this book to a particular Roman high official whose name we shall see in a moment; and in writing to this man, he is evidently – as one of his purposes – attempting to commend Christianity to the Roman world.

MacArthur tells us about Theophilus:

Now, if you go back to the beginning of Luke and look at chapter 1, verse 3, Luke addresses this gospel to Theophilus. He says, “To write unto thee in order, most excellent Theophilus, that thou mightest know the certainty of those things wherein thou hast been instructed.” Luke wrote Luke, the gospel of Luke, to Theophilus, and we know that. Now, here in chapter 1 of Acts, verse 1, he says, “The former treatise have I made, O Theophilus,” so we know it’s the same writer

Now, picking just a moment, some thoughts from the name Theophilus, which is a combination of two words meaning beloved of God, or friend of God, or lover of God. Theophilus we know little or nothing about except historically. In the second century, his name appears, and is some indication in the second century sources that he was an influential wealthy official in Antioch. There’s also some indication that Luke was originally from Antioch, and therefore Luke had a knowledge of this man; and perhaps because he was a well‑known physician had some connection with Theophilus.

Undoubtedly, Theophilus had become a believer; and consequently Luke had addressed these particular volumes to Theophilus to give him information, as he states in Luke, concerning Jesus Christ that he might well understand the things in which he had been instructed. So evidently he had come to Christ, and now he needed detail; and perhaps Theophilus was a man who demanded detail. Also the fact that he commends Christianity to the Romans would be in back of his mind as he writes to a Roman like Theophilus.

Now, we may also assume from Luke chapter 1, where he calls him “excellent Theophilus,” that he was a high-ranking Roman official, for the term “excellent” also appears in connection with Festus and Felix who were governors. So it is very likely that this man Theophilus was a very high-ranking Roman official who had come to Christ; and it is this one to whom Luke pens this two-volume set on the work of Jesus Christ, His work on earth and His work through His church, Volume 2. And you’ll notice that this is indicated very simply in verse 1. It says this: “I’m writing to you about all that Jesus” – what’s the next word? – “began, began to do and to teach.” In other words, “I only got it started.” Jesus on earth in the gospel accounts only began to do the work.

Luke writes that his first book — the Gospel — was about the ministry of Jesus up to His ascension to heaven, having given Spirit-inspired instructions to the Apostles, whom He had chosen (verse 2).

Readers of the New Testament know that the Apostles, especially Peter, did not understand the purpose of His ministry very well. Jesus knew that He needed to send them the gifts of the Holy Spirit, otherwise they would not be able to expand the Church.

MacArthur explains Luke’s use of ‘taken up to heaven’, repeated in verses 9 and 11:

Verse 9 emphasized it. It say He was taken up, verse 11 says He was taken up, and verse 22 says He was taken up. And the Holy Spirit is trying to tell us something: He was taken up. Physically in His glorified body, Jesus went up into heaven.

… the same Jesus Christ in the same glorified body that was touched by those disciples is sitting at the right hand of the Father, no different than He was when He left …

When He comes back He’ll be the very same that He was when He left. That’s why we can have confidence in what the writer of Hebrews says that we have not a high priest that cannot be touched with the feelings of our infirmities. He knows how we feel, because He’s there even now in a glorified body.

After His resurrection, Jesus continued appearing to the Apostles — eleven in number — teaching them about the kingdom of God (verse 3).

Jesus no longer appeared to everyone, as He had done before He was crucified. He appeared only to His disciples.

Luke says that Jesus told His disciples not to leave Jerusalem but to wait until God fulfilled His promise (verse 4): a baptism not of water, as in John the Baptist’s time, but of the Holy Spirit (verse 5).

That baptism of the Spirit would be a first. MacArthur explains how the Holy Spirit operated through prophets previously:

in the old economy, the Spirit would come and go according to the need. If you’re going to do a special work, the Spirit would come in, and then when the work was done He would depart.

The Old Testament says the Spirit of God descended upon Elijah then the Spirit of God departed. This is how the Spirit of God worked, never indwelling, but just moving in-and-out for a specific purpose. But the promise now is that the Spirit will come and be in you. That’s John 14:17, one of the really key verses in all the Word of God.

Note that when they gathered around Jesus before His return to the Father, the Apostles asked if He was going to restore Israel’s kingdom (verse 6). They were still thinking temporally, not spiritually.

Jesus deflects that by saying that only God the Father knows when He will accomplish His purpose according to His timeline (verse 7).

He then returns to discussing the imminent arrival, ten days hence, of the Holy Spirit which will enable the Apostles to be Christ’s witnesses, not only in the lands nearest to Jerusalem but also ‘to the ends of the earth’ (verse 8).

MacArthur paraphrases that verse:

“Don’t concentrate on when I’m coming; you concentrate on doing the job until I get there.”

He discusses the word ‘witness’ in Greek, from which we get the word ‘martyr’, and applies it to Westerners’ practice of Christianity today:

It’s interesting; the word “witness” here is martures. “Witnesses unto me” is mou martures, “My martyrs, My martyrs.” For some of you maybe it’ll be that. So many Christians died that the word “witness” finally came to mean martyr. So many of them died. Are you willing?

It’s sad; not only are we not willing to die for Jesus, most of us aren’t even willing to live for Him. We haven’t even learned not only what it is to be a dead sacrifice, but we haven’t learned what it is to be a living sacrifice.

Do you know what it is to be a living sacrifice? I think maybe Hosea knew a little bit about it when he said, “I’ll offer God the calves of my lips,” – in other words – “the real me.” I think Abraham knew what it was about when he went to sacrifice Isaac. Isaac would have been a dead sacrifice; Abraham would have been a living one. He was sacrificing all of his dreams, and promises, and everything God had ever given him when he slew that son. But he was willing to do it for God’s sake.

And that’s what a living witness is all about; that’s what a martyr is all about. God doesn’t necessarily want you to die for Him, but He wants you to live for Him as if you couldn’t care less about anything, sacrificing everything you have for His glory: a living witness, a living martyr, a living sacrifice.

As soon as Jesus had spoken about the Apostles’ upcoming mission, He was ‘lifted up’ and a cloud took Him out of their sight (verse 9).

As He ascended — returning home — the Apostles looked upward, when, suddenly, two men in white robes appeared beside them (verse 10).

The two men ask why the Apostles were looking heavenward, then say that Jesus will return to us in the same way that He left (verse 11). What a glorious day that will be.

The rapid growth of the Church was the result of the Holy Spirit entering into the Apostles, then those to whom they preached, not just for a time, but throughout their lives, just as we do:

The early church did it right. They did it from the day of Pentecost for thirty years. And you can follow the church by the blaze of their witness: super-charged with divine power. Witnessing fearlessly to the world, they turned the currents of civilization, they changed the face of the ages for God; and they had no more equipment than you have – none at all.

Admittedly, the Apostles did have particular Spirit-led gifts, such as healing. These were only for the Apostolic Era in order to spread the growth of the Church.

MacArthur’s sermon ends with this:

My grandfather had a poem written in his Bible, and I memorized it; and it goes like this: “When I stand at the judgment seat of Christ and He shows me His plan for me, the plan of my life as it might have been, and I see how I blocked Him here and checked Him there and would not yield my will; will there be grief in my Savior’s eyes, grief though He loves me still? He would have me rich, but I stand there poor, stripped of all but His grace, while memory runs like a haunted thing down a path I can’t retrace. Then my desolate heart will well nigh break with tears I cannot shed. I’ll cover my face with my empty hands, I’ll bow my uncrowned head.” Then this prayer: “O Lord, of the years that are left to me, I give them to Thy hand. Take me, break me, mold me to the pattern that Thou hast planned.”

I don’t know how much time we have, but I know whatever you do for Christ needs to be done today, because Jesus is coming. Christian, do you see it? Chapter 1, verse 1 to 11. You’ve got it all, you’ve got it all. It’s only a question of your will.

There is much for us to contemplate between Ascension Day and Pentecost Sunday — the Church’s birthday — in ten days’ time.

Below are the readings for the Third Sunday of Easter, April 18.

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

Emphases mine below.

First reading

Peter has just healed a lame man. It is a pity that the Lectionary compilers could not have included the first part of Acts 3 to put this reading into context. This miracle took place soon after the first Pentecost. Who doesn’t want to hear about a miracle?

One would almost think the Lectionary editors despise the Bible. These omissions make most pewsitters think that Holy Scripture is arcane, obscure or boring.

Here are those verses:

The Lame Beggar Healed

Now Peter and John were going up to the temple at the hour of prayer, the ninth hour.[a] And a man lame from birth was being carried, whom they laid daily at the gate of the temple that is called the Beautiful Gate to ask alms of those entering the temple. Seeing Peter and John about to go into the temple, he asked to receive alms. And Peter directed his gaze at him, as did John, and said, “Look at us.” And he fixed his attention on them, expecting to receive something from them. But Peter said, “I have no silver and gold, but what I do have I give to you. In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, rise up and walk!” And he took him by the right hand and raised him up, and immediately his feet and ankles were made strong. And leaping up, he stood and began to walk, and entered the temple with them, walking and leaping and praising God. And all the people saw him walking and praising God, 10 and recognized him as the one who sat at the Beautiful Gate of the temple, asking for alms. And they were filled with wonder and amazement at what had happened to him.

Peter Speaks in Solomon’s Portico

11 While he clung to Peter and John, all the people, utterly astounded, ran together to them in the portico called Solomon’s.

Here is today’s reading, which shows how the Holy Spirit transformed Peter into a bold healer and preacher:

Acts 3:12-19

3:12 When Peter saw it, he addressed the people, “You Israelites, why do you wonder at this, or why do you stare at us, as though by our own power or piety we had made him walk?

3:13 The God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, the God of our ancestors has glorified his servant Jesus, whom you handed over and rejected in the presence of Pilate, though he had decided to release him.

3:14 But you rejected the Holy and Righteous One and asked to have a murderer given to you,

3:15 and you killed the Author of life, whom God raised from the dead. To this we are witnesses.

3:16 And by faith in his name, his name itself has made this man strong, whom you see and know; and the faith that is through Jesus has given him this perfect health in the presence of all of you.

3:17 “And now, friends, I know that you acted in ignorance, as did also your rulers.

3:18 In this way God fulfilled what he had foretold through all the prophets, that his Messiah would suffer.

3:19 Repent therefore, and turn to God so that your sins may be wiped out,

Psalm

In this short Psalm, David exhorts his people to repent for the peace it provides with God. It fits well with the reading from Acts.

Psalm 4

4:1 Answer me when I call, O God of my right! You gave me room when I was in distress. Be gracious to me, and hear my prayer.

4:2 How long, you people, shall my honor suffer shame? How long will you love vain words, and seek after lies? Selah

4:3 But know that the LORD has set apart the faithful for himself; the LORD hears when I call to him.

4:4 When you are disturbed, do not sin; ponder it on your beds, and be silent. Selah

4:5 Offer right sacrifices, and put your trust in the LORD.

4:6 There are many who say, “O that we might see some good! Let the light of your face shine on us, O LORD!”

4:7 You have put gladness in my heart more than when their grain and wine abound.

4:8 I will both lie down and sleep in peace; for you alone, O LORD, make me lie down in safety.

Epistle

Readings from 1 John continue. John tells his Christian converts of the glorified bodies that they and all believers will have one day as children of God.

1 John 3:1-7

3:1 See what love the Father has given us, that we should be called children of God; and that is what we are. The reason the world does not know us is that it did not know him.

3:2 Beloved, we are God’s children now; what we will be has not yet been revealed. What we do know is this: when he is revealed, we will be like him, for we will see him as he is.

3:3 And all who have this hope in him purify themselves, just as he is pure.

3:4 Everyone who commits sin is guilty of lawlessness; sin is lawlessness.

3:5 You know that he was revealed to take away sins, and in him there is no sin.

3:6 No one who abides in him sins; no one who sins has either seen him or known him.

3:7 Little children, let no one deceive you. Everyone who does what is right is righteous, just as he is righteous.

Gospel

This reading comes at the end of Luke’s Gospel. The preceding event was the encounter with Christ — although the disciples did not recognise Him — on the road to Emmaus on the day of our Lord’s resurrection. He now had a glorified body.

Luke 24:36b-48

24:36b While they were talking about this, Jesus himself stood among them and said to them, “Peace be with you.”

24:37 They were startled and terrified, and thought that they were seeing a ghost.

24:38 He said to them, “Why are you frightened, and why do doubts arise in your hearts?

24:39 Look at my hands and my feet; see that it is I myself. Touch me and see; for a ghost does not have flesh and bones as you see that I have.”

24:40 And when he had said this, he showed them his hands and his feet.

24:41 While in their joy they were disbelieving and still wondering, he said to them, “Have you anything here to eat?”

24:42 They gave him a piece of broiled fish,

24:43 and he took it and ate in their presence.

24:44 Then he said to them, “These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you–that everything written about me in the law of Moses, the prophets, and the psalms must be fulfilled.”

24:45 Then he opened their minds to understand the scriptures,

24:46 and he said to them, “Thus it is written, that the Messiah is to suffer and to rise from the dead on the third day,

24:47 and that repentance and forgiveness of sins is to be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem.

24:48 You are witnesses of these things.

So, Jesus fulfilled the prophecies of Scripture. It was God’s plan for His Son to suffer at the hands of men to die for our sins, reconcile us to God and bring us to everlasting life.

I am writing this on Saturday, the day of Prince Philip’s funeral at Windsor Castle. Eternal rest grant unto your servant Philip, O Lord, and let perpetual light shine upon him. May his soul and all the souls of the faithful departed through the mercy of God rest in peace. Amen.

All being well, Monday’s post will recap the funeral and include more recollections about Prince Philip.

Below are the readings for the First Sunday after Epiphany, the Baptism of the Lord, January 10, 2021.

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

Emphases below are mine.

First reading

We have Moses’s account of the beginning of the world. Moses wrote the first five books of the Bible, the Pentateuch. Matthew Henry’s commentary says that word Moses used for God was Elohim, meaning ‘the great God, the God of Creation’.

Genesis 1:1-5

1:1 In the beginning when God created the heavens and the earth,

1:2 the earth was a formless void and darkness covered the face of the deep, while a wind from God swept over the face of the waters.

1:3 Then God said, “Let there be light”; and there was light.

1:4 And God saw that the light was good; and God separated the light from the darkness.

1:5 God called the light Day, and the darkness he called Night. And there was evening and there was morning, the first day.

Psalm

Matthew Henry says that many Bible scholars think that David wrote this Psalm during a severe storm. While all around him were paralysed by fear, David wrote of his confidence that God, the ruler of nature, would let no harm come to them.

Psalm 29

29:1 Ascribe to the LORD, O heavenly beings, ascribe to the LORD glory and strength.

29:2 Ascribe to the LORD the glory of his name; worship the LORD in holy splendor.

29:3 The voice of the LORD is over the waters; the God of glory thunders, the LORD, over mighty waters.

29:4 The voice of the LORD is powerful; the voice of the LORD is full of majesty.

29:5 The voice of the LORD breaks the cedars; the LORD breaks the cedars of Lebanon.

29:6 He makes Lebanon skip like a calf, and Sirion like a young wild ox.

29:7 The voice of the LORD flashes forth flames of fire.

29:8 The voice of the LORD shakes the wilderness; the LORD shakes the wilderness of Kadesh.

29:9 The voice of the LORD causes the oaks to whirl, and strips the forest bare; and in his temple all say, “Glory!”

29:10 The LORD sits enthroned over the flood; the LORD sits enthroned as king forever.

29:11 May the LORD give strength to his people! May the LORD bless his people with peace!

Epistle

I hope that celebrants giving sermons on Sunday explain to their congregations that John the Baptist had many followers. During his ministry, a good number of those baptised were passing through the region then returned home to a distant land. As such, they had not heard of Jesus. Paul taught them about Jesus and the Holy Spirit. Ephesus was in Asia Minor, a very long way away from the River Jordan.

Acts 19:1-7

19:1 While Apollos was in Corinth, Paul passed through the interior regions and came to Ephesus, where he found some disciples.

19:2 He said to them, “Did you receive the Holy Spirit when you became believers?” They replied, “No, we have not even heard that there is a Holy Spirit.”

19:3 Then he said, “Into what then were you baptized?” They answered, “Into John’s baptism.”

19:4 Paul said, “John baptized with the baptism of repentance, telling the people to believe in the one who was to come after him, that is, in Jesus.”

19:5 On hearing this, they were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus.

19:6 When Paul had laid his hands on them, the Holy Spirit came upon them, and they spoke in tongues and prophesied

19:7 altogether there were about twelve of them.

Gospel

This is Mark’s account of the baptism of Jesus. Our Lord did not need baptism, but as He did with Jewish law, again unnecessary for Him, he obeyed. In other Gospel accounts, John was understandably reluctant to baptise his relative, Jesus, but He insisted. The Holy Spirit and God the Father’s voice came from heaven after our Lord’s baptism (verses 10, 11). Note that John did not preach his message in Jerusalem, but, as was prophesied, in the wilderness.

Mark 1:4-11

1:4 John the baptizer appeared in the wilderness, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.

1:5 And people from the whole Judean countryside and all the people of Jerusalem were going out to him, and were baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins.

1:6 Now John was clothed with camel’s hair, with a leather belt around his waist, and he ate locusts and wild honey.

1:7 He proclaimed, “The one who is more powerful than I is coming after me; I am not worthy to stoop down and untie the thong of his sandals.

1:8 I have baptized you with water; but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.”

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

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

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

I read on a notionally Christian website around 15 years ago that Baptism was not necessary for salvation. Perhaps, in certain cases. However, throughout His life, Jesus went to the temple in Jerusalem, preached in the synagogue in Nazareth and obeyed the religious laws of His time.

He set the example for believers. Why would we not follow it by joining a good church and receiving the Sacraments?

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