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The Seventh Sunday after Trinity — Eighth Sunday after Pentecost — is July 18, 2021.

Readings for Year B can be found here.

The Gospel reading is as follows (emphases mine):

Mark 6:30-34, 53-56

6:30 The apostles gathered around Jesus, and told him all that they had done and taught.

6:31 He said to them, “Come away to a deserted place all by yourselves and rest a while.” For many were coming and going, and they had no leisure even to eat.

6:32 And they went away in the boat to a deserted place by themselves.

6:33 Now many saw them going and recognized them, and they hurried there on foot from all the towns and arrived ahead of them.

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

6:53 When they had crossed over, they came to land at Gennesaret and moored the boat.

6:54 When they got out of the boat, people at once recognized him,

6:55 and rushed about that whole region and began to bring the sick on mats to wherever they heard he was.

6:56 And wherever he went, into villages or cities or farms, they laid the sick in the marketplaces, and begged him that they might touch even the fringe of his cloak; and all who touched it were healed.

Commentary comes from Matthew Henry and John MacArthur.

This reading follows on from last week’s. The Apostles had returned from their tours of ministry, as described in the reading for the Fifth Sunday after Trinity, and told Jesus what they had done and taught (verse 30).

John MacArthur says the Apostles’ brief ministry was ‘a blitz’. Jesus had invested His powers in them, meaning that they could heal people via miracles:

We don’t have specifics about that journey, about the impact, but it was a blitz on that small region of Galilee by men that were known to the Galileans because they were, eleven out of twelve of them, all but Judas Iscariot, were from that very area

This lasted weeks, probably maybe just a few months. They come back. They gather with Jesus. This is reporting time, debriefing.

He tells us where Jesus was in His ministry at this point:

Jesus has been circulating through Galilee now for well over a year, and there are only a few months left in His ministry there.

He’s going to finalize His ministry there. This [the Feeding of the Five Thousand] is kind of the capstone miracle of His work there, at least in the public sense. After this miracle, He will go toward Tyre and Sidon, He will have a ministry there, which is on the northeast coast, and then He will come back across Galilee one more time and begin His journey down through Decapolis, which is east of Galilee, headed toward Judea, spend the last months of His life in Judea, and ultimately in Jerusalem where He will die and rise from the dead and then ascend back into glory.

So we’re coming to the end of His Galilean ministry, and His Galilean ministry has been marked by several trips through that region. We would say that this is the third and sort of final canvassing of Galilee. And remember now, as we came in to chapter 6, Jesus delegated His power, power to conquer disease, death and demons to the twelve, which multiplied Himself twelve times, and told them to go preach repentance in the Kingdom of God the way He had done for all of the months up to that point. He had done it alone, now He spreads the power. They went out, they preached in His name, they healed in His name, they cast out demons in His name, they raised the dead in His name.

By this time, the Apostles would have been exhausted, and Jesus knew that, so He invited them to a deserted place where they could recoup their energy and have something to eat (verse 31).

However, our commentators agree that this respite was not a lengthy one.

Matthew Henry’s commentary says:

He calls them only to rest awhile; they must not expect to rest long, only to get breath, and then to go to work again. There is no remaining rest for the people of God till they come to heaven.

MacArthur says:

The Lord knew this was going to be very brief – very, very brief – in fact, almost nonexistent.

They went away on the boat to a deserted place (verse 32):

The only rest they got was on the boat. They probably were able to eat while they were trudging across the north end of the Sea of Galilee, about four miles if you go from Capernaum to the point on the northeast shore where this village is believed to have been. It was eight miles if you went around by foot. The crowds were aggressive. The crowds were huge. They numbered in the multiples of thousands. Hard to get away from them.

The Apostles and Jesus went near a village called Bethsaida, which is in Luke’s account:

In Luke 9:10, it says He was taking them with Him. He was taking them with Him. He was the leader who was leading them to the place of rest. And then it says, “He took them to a city called Bethsaida” – to a city called Bethsaida. That’s what Luke tells us. Mark doesn’t tell us where they went, but Luke fills that in.

This city is very likely Bethsaida Julias, a fishing village on the northeast shore of the Sea of Galilee. We don’t know exactly the precise location of it. It was a small enough village that it didn’t leave any lasting ruins.

They went near Bethsaida because the village itself could not accommodate the tens of thousands of people who would soon arrive.

Along with Capernaum, Bethsaida is the other place upon which Jesus passed judgement later on:

Now, Bethsaida is an important village in the New Testament because it is the village where Peter and Andrew and Philip and Nathaniel, four of the apostles, the first four called to the Lord – John 1:43 and 44grew up. It was their town. It was where they learned their fishing trade. Everybody in town knew them, and everybody in that little village who knew them perhaps had just recently experienced their return …

There’s little doubt that Jesus Himself had been there. He had literally traversed Galilee twice over the more than a year that He had already ministered there in Galilee.

So that little village had high exposure to the Lord Jesus, but nothing like they were going to have on this day – on this day – because it was near that little village that our Lord arrives on this day, heals many people … and then does this massive miracle. One would expect that whatever the population of that little village, a few hundred, most of that village was there that day and was fed along with the rest of the crowd, as it tells us, who had come from cities and areas all over that part of Galilee. So they had a very intimate experience with the power of Christ.

Now, why is that important? It is important because of the words of our Lord in Luke 10 and also in Matthew 11:21, the same thing. But I’ll have you look at Luke 10. Luke 10:13, our Lord pronounces a judgment on Bethsaida. “Woe to you, Bethsaida.” Damnation, cursing, condemnation, judgment pronounced on you. “Woe” is actually an onomatopoetic word. An onomatopoeia is a word that sounds like its meaning. “Ouai,” that’s the Greek. “Ouai,” that’s a woe to you, Bethsaida, for if the miracles had been performed in Tyre and Sidon which occurred in you, they would have repented long ago, sitting in sackcloth and ashes. It’ll be more tolerable for Tyre and Sidon in the judgment than for you.

However, the crowds spotted Jesus and the Apostles and hurried on foot to arrive ahead of them (verse 33).

When Jesus saw the massive crowd, He had compassion for them, recognising that they were sheep without a shepherd, meaning bereft of spiritual leadership from the Jewish hierarchy, and He began to teach them many things (verse 34).

Essentially, they were helpless, as MacArthur explains:

sheep without a shepherd will die. They can’t feed themselves. They can’t protect themselves. If they get on their backs, they can’t even put themselves back on their feet. Somebody has to clean them. Somebody has to feed them. Somebody has to peck out of their lanolin-filled wool the bugs and the thorns that bother them and irritate them. Someone has to care for them, lead them to a safe place. Someone has to provide the place for them to drink. All of that.

The missing verses include the Feeding of the Five Thousand and Jesus walking on water afterwards in the early hours of the following morning. He calmed adverse winds which prevented the Apostles from reaching their next destination, Genneseret.

They moored the boat at Genneseret (verse 53) and got out, at which point the townspeople recognised Jesus immediately (verse 54).

From Genneseret, Jesus and the Apostles walked to Capernaum, where He lost a lot of His disciples, as John 6 recounts.

MacArthur tells us:

Well, He took the little bit of time it would take, once they moored the boat, to walk to Capernaum, and John tells us He was in the synagogue at Capernaum when He preached the Sermon on the Bread of Life, the sermon they didn’t want to hear and didn’t want to believe. By the way, in that sermon He said something very important. Not only did He say that the Father had given Him some whom He received and would keep and raise, but He said this, verse 51 of that sermon in John 6, “I am the living bread that came down out of heaven. If anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever and the bread also which I will give for the life of the world is my flesh.” And He promised His death. His death.

It was a great sermon. It even incorporated His death. And, of course, it unmasked all the superficial people, and it allowed for the open confession to be repeated again that day, that morning. “To whom shall we go? You and you alone have the words of eternal life. And we believe and know that you are the Son of God.”

The people rushed around the area to bring the sick to Jesus for healing in Capernaum (verse 55). 

Wherever He went, people brought those who were sick to Him and begged to touch the fringe of His cloak (as the woman with the blood issue did); all who touched the fringe were healed (verse 56).

Henry points out that they were more concerned about their bodies than their souls:

We do not find that they were desirous to be taught by him, only to be healed. If ministers could but cure people’s bodily diseases, what multitudes would attend them! But it is sad to think how much more concerned the most of men are about their bodies than about their souls.

MacArthur asks us:

do you want from Jesus what He really comes to bring, and that is eternal life? Do you want Him as the bread of life which upon eating you never hunger? The water of life which upon drinking you never ever thirst?

Jesus did not come to establish a temporal kingdom, to settle social issues or to bring about prosperity. It is no surprise that He lost disciples in Capernaum. One wonders what would happen if He gave that sermon today. Then as now, many would walk away, disillusioned, to die an eternal death.

The Sixth Sunday after Trinity — Seventh Sunday after Pentecost — is July 11, 2021.

Readings for Year B can be found here.

The Gospel reading is as follows (emphases mine):

Mark 6:14-29

6:14 King Herod heard of it, for Jesus’ name had become known. Some were saying, “John the baptizer has been raised from the dead; and for this reason these powers are at work in him.”

6:15 But others said, “It is Elijah.” And others said, “It is a prophet, like one of the prophets of old.”

6:16 But when Herod heard of it, he said, “John, whom I beheaded, has been raised.”

6:17 For Herod himself had sent men who arrested John, bound him, and put him in prison on account of Herodias, his brother Philip’s wife, because Herod had married her.

6:18 For John had been telling Herod, “It is not lawful for you to have your brother’s wife.”

6:19 And Herodias had a grudge against him, and wanted to kill him. But she could not,

6:20 for Herod feared John, knowing that he was a righteous and holy man, and he protected him. When he heard him, he was greatly perplexed; and yet he liked to listen to him.

6:21 But an opportunity came when Herod on his birthday gave a banquet for his courtiers and officers and for the leaders of Galilee.

6:22 When his daughter Herodias came in and danced, she pleased Herod and his guests; and the king said to the girl, “Ask me for whatever you wish, and I will give it.”

6:23 And he solemnly swore to her, “Whatever you ask me, I will give you, even half of my kingdom.”

6:24 She went out and said to her mother, “What should I ask for?” She replied, “The head of John the baptizer.”

6:25 Immediately she rushed back to the king and requested, “I want you to give me at once the head of John the Baptist on a platter.”

6:26 The king was deeply grieved; yet out of regard for his oaths and for the guests, he did not want to refuse her.

6:27 Immediately the king sent a soldier of the guard with orders to bring John’s head. He went and beheaded him in the prison,

6:28 brought his head on a platter, and gave it to the girl. Then the girl gave it to her mother.

6:29 When his disciples heard about it, they came and took his body, and laid it in a tomb.

Commentary comes from Matthew Henry and John MacArthur.

This account of John the Baptist’s death immediately follows last week’s Gospel reading, which recounted the last time Jesus visited Nazareth and His sending out the Apostles to preach and heal.

No doubt the Apostles gave credit to Jesus for the healing powers He had invested them with for this short time of ministry, so that they could understand what they were to do later on when the Holy Spirit descended upon them at the first Pentecost.

John MacArthur says:

I think the twelve made it crystal clear that the power was not theirs. After all, everybody in Galilee would have been familiar with these men and their families. They had lived their whole lives there.

It was a small area. They had never had this kind of power before – even when they were with Jesus, they hadn’t had it before. They made sure that everyone knew this was a delegated power and it came from Christ and what they did they did in His name.

News travelled quickly about Jesus, and it was the same with the Apostles’ mighty works during this time.

MacArthur describes it:

it was a blitz. It set loose a greater influence for the gospel of Jesus Christ than had occurred prior in the ministry of our Lord, when He was doing it all Himself. Miracles were happening everywhere they went, dead people coming back to life, people with diseases being healed, demons being cast out, and the gospel being preached. There’s never been anything like this explosion of miracles, the explosion of gospel preaching, and it led to an expanded buzz all through Galilee.

Herod heard of it along with the speculation that John the Baptist had been resurrected and responsible for these mighty works (verse 14).

Others believed it was Elijah, while another group of people thought Jesus was a new prophet in the traditional mould of prophets (verse 15).

Herod then decided that this prophet must be John the Baptist whom he had beheaded (verse 16).

Matthew Henry’s commentary exposes the irony — and foolishness — in such thought, which is brought about by unbelief. They thought John the Baptist had been resurrected, but when Jesus was resurrected, they did not want to believe it:

Note, 1. Where there is an idle faith, there is commonly a working fancy. The people said, It is a prophet risen from the dead; Herod said, It is John Baptist risen from the dead. It seems by this, that the rising of a prophet from the dead, to do mighty works, was a thing expected, and was thought neither impossible nor improbable, and it was now readily suspected when it was not true; but afterward, when it was true concerning Christ, and a truth undeniably evidenced, yet then it was obstinately gainsaid and denied. Those who most wilfully disbelieve the truth, are commonly most credulous of errors and fancies.

However, there is another aspect to this, which Herod must have found troubling. What might a resurrected John the Baptist do to him? His conscience would have been disturbed. He might have also feared a physical retribution.

Henry says:

A guilty conscience needs no accuser or tormentor but itself. Herod charges himself with the murder of John, which perhaps no one else dare charge him with; I beheaded him; and the terror of it made him imagine that Christ was John risen. He feared John while he lived, and now, when he thought he had got clear of him, fears him ten times worse when he is dead. One might as well be haunted with ghosts and furies, as with the horrors of an accusing conscience; those therefore who would keep an undisturbed peace, must keep an undefiled conscience, Acts 24:16.

Mark goes on to give us a flashback into John the Baptist’s death. John the Baptist was the son of Elizabeth, Mary’s cousin, thereby making him the cousin of Jesus.

MacArthur says that his death and the crucifixion of Jesus are the two most horrific deaths in the New Testament:

The Jews rejected Jesus, we know that, and eventually, of course, they cried for His blood and said, “Crucify Him, crucify Him, we’d rather have Barabbas released to us,” a common criminal. They rejected Jesus, but they also rejected John the Baptist. In fact, that’s a package deal. If you reject Jesus, then it’s clear that you have rejected John because John the Baptist was the prophet who pointed to Jesus and said, “Behold, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.”

It was John the Baptist who said, “I must decrease and He must increase.” It was John the Baptist who said, “He is far greater than I, I’m not even worthy to loose the strings on His sandals.” So if you reject Jesus, you have rejected John. If you reject John, you’ve rejected Jesus. If they had received John the Baptist as a true prophet, if they had received his message as God’s true Word, of necessity they would have had to receive Jesus Christ of whom John spoke. You receive them both, or you reject them both.

Well, they rejected them both and both were murdered. Before us in the text in Mark 6 is a monumental account of the murder of John the Baptist. It is a preview of the murder of Jesus Christ. And though the Jews didn’t actually kill John the Baptist with their own hands, Herod did. And though the Jews didn’t actually kill Jesus with their own hands, the Romans did. Still, the Jews stood by while the murders occurred. The story of John the Baptist’s murder is drama. It is as dramatic as any story in the New Testament, perhaps only exceeded by the story of the crucifixion of our Lord Himself.

Herod had John arrested and imprisoned because he did not like John’s condemnation of his sham marriage to his sister-in-law Herodias, who was his brother Philip’s wife (verse 17). John told him that their marriage was unlawful (verse 18).

This Herod was Herod Antipas, a son of Herod the Great, as MacArthur explains:

The father of this Herod, who really is known as Herod Antipas, the father of this Herod, and there are many Herods in the scriptures, the father is Herod the Great. Herod the Great compounded your difficulty and understanding what Herod you’re talking about in the New Testament because he had ten wives. So there were a lot of little Herods running all over the place who ended up in all kinds of situations.

Herod the Great was an evil man, including in his own family life, with all sorts of incest taking place.

Herod Antipas ruled under Tiberius Caesar, who succeeded Caesar Augustus. Tiberius Caesar was also a wicked man:

Tiberius was a pedophile of the rankest kind. To describe his life would be a wrong thing to do. Just the discussion itself would be sinful.

Well, Herod Antipas was put under Tiberius in this position, and while the others didn’t last very long, he lasted 42 years – 42 years, through the entire life of our Lord Jesus. This man was the petty ruler for Rome over the realm of Galilee. He is the one, then, who has the most to lose if a power movement starts, if a populist movement rises. And like the rest of the Herods, they’re all paranoid about their power. And if indeed this is John the Baptist risen from the dead and he has the power to conquer death, then Herod is in some serious trouble – serious trouble. And that’s what he is convinced has happened.

As for the sham marriage to his sister-in-law Herodias, MacArthur tells us:

Now we’re into the soap opera. And if you can follow this the first time, you’re better than most. It is so convoluted. Please notice: Herodias is not called his wife but called the wife of his brother Philip. He married her, but the technicality is it was an illegitimate marriage because she should have remained the wife of his brother Philip.

He literally seduced and stole her from his brother. She is not, then, designated as his wife, though they were married. She is legitimately still the wife of his brother, Philip. Scripture in that sense doesn’t recognize her marriage to Herod because of its evil nature.

In other words, Herodias is a bigamist, as is Herod, because his wife is also alive.

There is more to the story:

Herod was already married, and he was married to a very prominent girl whose father was the king of Nabatean Arabia, another area to the east. His name was Aretas. And the kings made these alliances, these marriages. You’re well aware of that even from any form of ancient history. So Herod was married to the daughter of the king of Nabatean Arabia, a man named Aretas.

Herod had a brother, one of the many sons born of the ten wives of Herod the Great. This was a brother also named Philip but a different Philip than the one who had been given a portion of Israel to rule over. This Herod Philip lived in Rome. He stayed in Rome as a private citizen. He was disinherited. We don’t know all of the story behind the story, but anyway, he had been disinherited by the Herod family, so he stayed in Rome as a private citizen and lived without the benefits of whatever the royal line would have brought to him.

He had a wife and her name was Herodias. She was the daughter of another son of Herod the Great. He was a son of Herod the Great, she was a daughter of one of his half-brothers. So she married her uncle, her father’s half-brother. Philip, then, is in an incestuous relationship with her. Philip is one generation from the loins of Herod the Great; she is two generations from the loins of Herod the great. Her brother, by the way, was Herod Agrippa, the one who was eaten by worms. The whole family is caught up in incest.

So Herod goes to Rome, Herod Antipas, and he’s going to visit his brother. He visits his brother and he is attracted, or she seduces him, and so they plan to divorce their spouses. She will divorce his brother, Philip. Herod will divorce his wife, the daughter of the King Aretas, and they will get together. This doesn’t sit well with Aretas, it happens. They did it. Aretas gets mad, amasses an army, and comes and wins a great victory over Herod, who also has an army, and Herod is only saved when the Roman army comes to his rescue. So blood is shed, lots of blood is shed over this marriage.

Because John the Baptist told Herod that his marriage was unlawful, Herodias was dead set against him. She wanted to kill John the Baptist (verse 19) but could not, because Herod protected him. He feared him. He liked what John the Baptist had to say, even though he found it perplexing (verse 20).

Henry explains this contradiction:

Observe, [1.] John was a just man, and a holy [one]; to make a complete good man, both justice and holiness are necessary; holiness toward God, and justice toward men. John was mortified to this world, and so was a good friend both to justice and holiness. [2.] Herod knew this, not only by common fame, but by personal acquaintance with him. Those that have but little justice and holiness themselves, may yet discern it with respect in others. And, [3.] He therefore feared him, he honoured him. Holiness and justice command veneration, and many that are not good themselves, have respect for those that are

He heard him gladly. He did not hear him with terror as Felix heard Paul, but heard him with pleasure. There is a flashy joy, which a hypocrite may have in hearing the word; Ezekiel was to his hearers as a lovely song (Ezekiel 33:32); and the stony ground received the word with joy, Luke 8:13.

However, Herod’s birthday, with the notional great and the good present, was an opportunity for these evil people to do away with John the Baptist (verse 21).

Henry says that Herod was just biding his time, waiting for the right moment:

I am apt to think that Herod was himself in the plot, notwithstanding his pretences to be displeased and surprised, and that the thing was concerted between him and Herodias; for it is said to be when a convenient day was come (Mark 6:21; Mark 6:21), fit for such a purpose.

These birthday parties of Herod’s were so debauched that most Jews disapproved of them, except for those who wanted to curry favour with him.

It was an all-male event. Military officers also attended, as did civilian power brokers affiliated with Rome.

MacArthur says that the party likely took place in Herod’s complex, which included his palace and the prison where John the Baptist was prisoner:

Since John the Baptist was in prison in Machaerus, that must be where the party was held.

After everyone was well fed and watered, so to speak, Herodias’s daughter, also bearing the same name, came in and danced for them, prompting Herod to grant her whatever she wanted (verse 22). He even offered her half his kingdom (verse 23).

MacArthur says that the daughter was not Herod’s child but Philip’s:

As the adoptive father of this, his niece, the daughter of his brother Philip, he had no desire to protect her in any sense. For a young girl aged 15 or 16, as she probably was, to dance like this was a shame, for a princess to dance like this was a double shame, for a mother to let her daughter dance like this is a triple shame.

But “shame” doesn’t exist in the vocabulary of the family of Herod. So she comes in to dance her evil dance when the leering men have reached the right proportion of satiation both with food and alcoholic drink. In she comes, immoral, suggestive, shameless, dancing. That’s what happens. And she pleased Herod in the basest way and his dinner guests. And so he’s going to throw his braggadocio around a little bit. He’s looped, as you would say. He’s inebriated. He’s feeling his petty power. And being excited by this girl’s dance, he says, “Ask me for whatever you want and I’ll give it to you.”

She left the room to ask her mother, who said that she should ask for the head of John the Baptist (verse 24), which she did ‘immediately’, requesting the prophet’s head on a platter (verse 25).

Unbelievable. Words fail me, even though I know this story well.

Mark says that Herod was ‘deeply grieved’ to have to fulfil her request (verse 26), but Henry doubts that he was that upset, although he probably had a pang of conscience:

I can scarcely think he would have made such an unlimited promise, but that he knew what she would ask … 

The king was exceeding sorry, that is, he seemed to be so, he said he was so, he looked as if he had been so; but it was all sham and grimace, he was really pleased that he had found a pretence to get John out of the way. Qui nescit dissimulare, nescit regnareThe man who cannot dissemble, knows not how to reign. And yet he was not without sorrow for it; he could not do it but with great regret and reluctancy; natural conscience will not suffer men to sin easily; the very commission of it is vexatious; what then will the reflection upon it be?

‘Immediately’, Herod ordered that John the Baptist be beheaded, and the deed was done in the prison (verse 27).

The soldier of the guard returned with the prophet’s head on a platter and gave it to the girl, who, in turn, gave it to her mother (verse 28).

MacArthur gives us quotes from ancient historians about this horrifying spectacle, not unknown in the Roman world:

Broadus writes, “When the dish was brought with the bleeding head on it, no doubt she took it daintily in her hands, lest a drop of blood should stain her gala dress, and tripped away to mother, as if bearing her some choice dish of food from the king’s table. It was not uncommon to bring the head of one who had been slain to the person who ordered it as a sure proof that the command had been obeyed. For example, when the head of Cicero was brought to Fulvia, the wife of Mark Antony, she spat on it, and drawing out the tongue that had so eloquently opposed and condemned Antony, she pierced it with her hairpin with bitter ridicule.”

Jerome refers to this incident and says that Herodias did likewise with the head of John. We know not his authority for this assertion, but the desire of the Herod family seems to have been to ape the worst follies and cruelties of the Roman nobility.

When John’s disciples learned of his death, they took his body and buried it (verse 29).

MacArthur says:

Must have been a sad day for them. Must have been a day when they began to wonder because he had been telling them, “Messiah is coming, the Kingdom is coming.” It all seemed to come to a screeching halt. The prophet is beheaded.

John the Baptist had a lot of followers in distant lands, as we know from the Book of Acts. They had to be told about Jesus, whom they believed in.

MacArthur sums up the last of the Old Testament prophets preaching the arrival of the Messiah:

So after imprisonment over a year, John is dead. His work is done. And the one of whom it is said, “There has not risen a greater than John the Baptist,” went into his glorious eternal home, received his full reward for faithful, uncompromising service to his blessed God. And the Jews who were at the party never protested at all. John was incidental to them. John was nothing to them. They had rejected the Messiah. The Herodian party had already been in commiseration with the Pharisees to kill Jesus, reject Jesus. John doesn’t matter. Anything for entertainment.

And so they killed the last of the prophets and the best of the prophets.

MacArthur tells us how the story of Herod Antipas and Herodias ended:

When Caligula came to the throne in Rome as the Caesar, the Philip who had been tetrarch over Trachonitis and Ituraea had died, and Caligula gave it to another Herod, Herod Agrippa, whom we mentioned. Herodias was angry about this. She thought it should have been added to the territory of her husband, Herod. So she forced Herod to go to Rome and to seek the title, to have a bigger kingdom so she could be a bigger queen. He didn’t want to do it, but he had long since lost the battle to her. So he set sail for Rome.

Agrippa beat him to Caligula, and when Agrippa got to Caligula, in order to seal the deal for him to get the kingdom, he bad-mouthed Herod. And by the time Herod arrived, starting to make his case, Caligula had been convinced that he was a treacherous and dangerous man to Caligula’s power, and so both he and Herodias were exiled and died in exile. It was a bad day when Herod met Herodias – a bad day.

What an ending for two wicked people.

The Fifth Sunday after Trinity — Sixth Sunday after Pentecost — is July 4, 2021.

Readings for Year B can be found here.

The Gospel reading is as follows (emphases mine):

Mark 6:1-13

6:1 He left that place and came to his hometown, and his disciples followed him.

6:2 On the sabbath he began to teach in the synagogue, and many who heard him were astounded. They said, “Where did this man get all this? What is this wisdom that has been given to him? What deeds of power are being done by his hands!

6:3 Is not this the carpenter, the son of Mary and brother of James and Joses and Judas and Simon, and are not his sisters here with us?” And they took offense at him.

6:4 Then Jesus said to them, “Prophets are not without honor, except in their hometown, and among their own kin, and in their own house.”

6:5 And he could do no deed of power there, except that he laid his hands on a few sick people and cured them.

6:6 And he was amazed at their unbelief. Then he went about among the villages teaching.

6:7 He called the twelve and began to send them out two by two, and gave them authority over the unclean spirits.

6:8 He ordered them to take nothing for their journey except a staff; no bread, no bag, no money in their belts;

6:9 but to wear sandals and not to put on two tunics.

6:10 He said to them, “Wherever you enter a house, stay there until you leave the place.

6:11 If any place will not welcome you and they refuse to hear you, as you leave, shake off the dust that is on your feet as a testimony against them.”

6:12 So they went out and proclaimed that all should repent.

6:13 They cast out many demons, and anointed with oil many who were sick and cured them.

Commentary comes from Matthew Henry and John MacArthur.

In today’s reading, we have two episodes in the ministry of Jesus: a visit to His hometown of Nazareth and His commission to the Apostles to preach and heal.

Matthew Henry’s commentary says that this was His second trip to Nazareth in His ministry. Luke’s account of His first visit said that the Nazarenes wanted to throw Jesus off a cliff:

He had been in danger of his life among them (Luke 4:29), and yet he came among them again; so strangely doth he wait to be gracious, and seek the salvation of his enemies.

MacArthur says that these trips to Nazareth illustrate the danger of unbelief:

We think about faith as powerful, don’t we? Faith moves mountains. But I want you to understand that unbelief is powerful as well. Unbelief is a great force. The power of unbelief is so great that it extends throughout all eternity. In fact, it has massive force, unbelief does.

Unbelief is the source of many of Western society’s maladies today. Many of our churches and clergy are contributing to unbelief and the havoc it wreaks.

In last week’s reading from Mark 5, Jesus was in Capernaum, His base at the time, healing the woman with the haemorrhage and raising Jairus’s daughter from the dead.

Now He was leaving Capernaum and returning to Nazareth, with His disciples accompanying Him (verse 1).

When He left Capernaum in Galilee, that was the end of His ministry there.

John MacArthur explains:

Now we need to note that at the end of verse 42 in chapter 5, the general response of the crowds around Galilee is summed up, “Immediately they were completely astounded.” That has to do with the resurrection of Jairus’ daughter from the dead. But it is also a kind of general summation statement of how Jesus was received in Galilee. Primarily the response was curiosity and astonishment. That does not equal faith, that does not equal repentance, therefore it doesn’t equal salvation. But there was interest and there was curiosity. There were lots of thrill seekers and people who wanted to be healed and delivered from demons, and who wanted to see the exhibitions of the great power of Jesus. And they were literally astounded as well at His teaching.

And we could say then the general attitude was one of superficial acceptance

Jesus went out from there, meaning Capernaum where He had based His Galilean ministry up to this point. This marks a crisis, by the way, in the history of Capernaum. At this point when He leaves, He never comes back to reestablish Himself there. It’s no more His home, no longer is the center of His Galilean ministry. Only occasionally does He visit there, and only in passing. Capernaum has heard enough and seen enough, plenty to be responsible for believing.

Furthermore, they don’t need more information. They don’t need more revelation. And, additionally, the growing power and hostility of the Pharisees and the scribes makes it dangerous for Him to go there. And then there’s the nearness of Herod’s residence in Tiberias not far away, which made it nearly impossible for Him to be in Capernaum. And furthermore, Capernaum was doomed.

Listen to Matthew 11: “He began to denounce the cities” – verse 20 – “in which most of His miracles were done, because they didn’t repent. ‘Woe to you, Chorazin! Woe to you Bethsaida! For if the miracles had occurred in Tyre and Sidon which occurred in you, they would have repented long ago in sack cloth and ashes. Nevertheless I say to you, it’ll be more tolerable for Tyre and Sidon in the day of judgment than for you.’ That is to say, it’ll be more tolerable in hell for idolatrous Gentiles than it will be for religious Jews who rejected Christ.

‘And you, Capernaum’ – verse 23 – ‘will not be exalted to heaven, will you? You will descend to Hades; for if the miracles that occurred in Sodom which occurred in you, it would have remained to this day. Nevertheless I say to you, it’ll be more tolerable for the land of Sodom in the day of judgment than for you. In hell it would have been better for you to be a homosexual pervert living in Sodom than to be a synagogue-attending, self-righteous Jew living in Capernaum.’” That town is cursed.

On the Sabbath, Jesus preached in the synagogue in Nazareth, astounding the congregation with His wisdom; they also knew of His healing power (verse 2).

Henry surmises that Jesus would have preached sooner, during the week, had the Nazarenes shown up:

It seems, there was not such flocking to him there as in other places, so that he had no opportunity of preaching till they came together on the Sabbath day …

MacArthur says that, even on the Sabbath, not many showed up:

no large crowd appears there, no large crowd.

Although those gathered were amazed by what Jesus said, they identified him as being the carpenter ‘Son of Mary’ and naming His step-brothers and step-sisters (verse 3), a way of condemning Him once more. As such, they ‘took offence’, rejecting the messenger.

MacArthur explains the word in Greek:

End of verse 3: “They took offense at Him.” Skandalizō, they were scandalized by Him. It was an absolute blasphemy in their minds that He would claim to be God, the Son of God. This is scandalous. This is the same word you’ll find in 1 Corinthians 1 where the gospel is a stumbling block, a skandalon to the Jews.

Repeatedly the Scripture talks about how they stumbled over the reality of Jesus and over the gospel. This is adamant antagonism. This is the attitude of an unbeliever when pressed with the truth, when the truth is obvious and the truth is relevant. He tries to obscure the obvious, elevate the irrelevant, and then turn on the messenger.

MacArthur has much to say about this verse, beginning with the perspective of His family members:

He had no acceptance at all in His hometown, none, not even from His intimate family. His family’s attitude is conveyed to us back in Mark 3:21; they thought He’d lost His mind. They thought He was a maniac. For all that they knew, He grew up there for thirty years as a quiet carpenter, and now all of a sudden, He’s catapulted Himself on to the public scene. He hadn’t done miracles as such in Nazareth, but the word about the miracles was running rampant all over everywhere.

They were trying to process all of this with a great measure of skepticism and thought that He had lost His mind, and actually they found Him in verse 31: “His mother and brothers arrived, and standing outside sent word to Him and called Him.” The objective was to get Him out of the public situation He was in and save both the public from His madness and Himself as well. We read in John chapter 7 that His family did not believe in Him, His brothers did not believe in Him.

Luke tells us about His earlier visit. You can turn to Luke chapter 4. He had an earlier visit. And by the way, that chapter 4, verses 16 to 30 of Luke, is one of the great texts in all the gospel record

And right away, somewhere at the beginning, He comes to Nazareth where He had been brought up. And as was His custom, He always did this, every Sabbath day He went to the synagogue. He was faithful to do that, to worship.

He entered the synagogue on the Sabbath and stood up to read. This was traditional. This is what the visiting rabbis were invited to do when they came to town. And He had such a reputation already building up, they wanted to hear about Him. Word had come from Judea during the first year, and now more word from Galilee. He opens up the book of the prophet Isaiah – we won’t go into the detail – He reads from it two messianic prophecies about the Spirit of the Lord being upon the Messiah. The Messiah arriving to preach the gospel and proclaim release to the captive, sight to the blind, and freedom to the oppressed, and proclaim the favorable year of the Lord. He then closed the book, gave it back to the attendant, sat down. Everybody was looking at Him. They were fixed on Him. And He said in verse 21, “Today the Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.” Wow. And that’s only what He began to say. The rest was He told them He was the Messiah. He told them He was the Messiah.

Verse 22: “They were speaking well of Him” – how could they not? – “and wondering at the gracious words which were falling from His lips. But they were puzzled and said, ‘Is this not Joseph’s son?’ And Jesus says, ‘No doubt, you just want more magic, you just want more miracles.’ So you’re going to say to yourself, ‘Whatever was done at Capernaum, do it here.’ But He said, ‘I know your attitude.’ – verse 24, and here’s the first use of this axiom, this truism – ‘No prophet is welcome in his own hometown. All experts come from out of town.’” We all understand that.

And then as His sermon unfolds, He basically says, “I am the Messiah. I am here to preach the gospel to the poor, prisoners, blind, and oppressed – the people who are spiritually poor, spiritually in prisons, spiritually blind, spiritually oppressed.” In other words, “The people who know they’re trapped in sin and death, I’m here to preach the gospel.”

The implication is, “You’re not going to receive it, because you’re just like previous generations”

Well, the response in verse 28 was, “They were filled with rage at this indictment, leaving themselves to be righteous.” This was unacceptable. “They got up,” – in verse 29 – “drove Him out of the city, led Him to the brow of the hill on which their city had been built in order to throw Him down the cliff.” Wow. One sermon and they wanted Him dead. And these are the people who knew Him best, in a small village, His own family involved. They tried to kill Him after one sermon; but passing through their midst, He went His way.

So that was the attitude of Nazareth toward Him. And this is His second and last visit before us – and you can go back now to Mark. Nothing has changed with their attitude, except that at this time they don’t try to kill Him. This is about, however, final rejection, the final rejection of Nazareth. It’s kind of a microcosm of His final rejection in Jerusalem by the whole nation.

There are two other aspects of that verse which MacArthur covers admirably.

One is the reference to Him as the ‘Son of Mary’, meaning that, in their eyes, He is an illegitimate son, because they know that Joseph did not father Him:

Now when we think about Nazareth, we have all kinds of imagination as to what that place was like; and maybe I can help you with it a little bit. It is in its ancient configuration about sixty acres on a rocky hillside on the road to nowhere. The best guess is the town had about five hundred residents, not exactly a booming metropolis, about five hundred residents. It is so obscure that it is never mentioned in the Old Testament, never mentioned in the Jewish Mishnah, never mentioned in the Jewish Talmud, never mentioned by Josephus. And no church ever appeared there until the fourth century A.D. Our Lord returns to this little, small town for one final visit to the people who were most familiar with Him. If you grow up for thirty years in a town of five hundred, you know everybody, and everybody knows you

In Luke 4:22, He is referred to this way: “Is not this Joseph’s Son?” That’s how you referred to people in a respectable way. You referred to someone as the Son of the father. We still have that today, right? When you get married, you take the man’s name: “You are the son of” …

But here He is called Son of Mary.

Some have speculated maybe Joseph was dead. But even if Joseph was dead, you would still refer to Him genealogically as the son of Joseph. It’s very possible that they’re calling Him the Son of Mary, because they’re slandering Jesus for what they’ve come to believe is an illegitimate birth, an illegitimate birth.

The other aspect is their labelling of Him as a ‘carpenter’. Today, people would say, ‘He’s a common tradesman!’ MacArthur explains the word in Greek:

This is meant to be a demeaning expression. Carpenters is the word tektōn, tektōn. We get the word “tech” from that. We get “architect” from that, somebody who builds an arc, arch. It refers to a builder. The word tektōn could refer to a mason, a stone mason, a smith, somebody who worked with metal, a ship builder, a sculptor. Even physicians were referred to by that term. It’s a very, very broad term; and what would be best to say would be that He was a builder. A builder of what, we don’t know; but He was a builder.

The early church held that Joseph and Jesus were carpenters who made yokes and plows. That we find in A.D. 155, about a hundred years, of course, after the main part of the New Testament era; and this from Justin’s dialogue with Trypho where he refers to Jesus and Joseph as those who made yokes and plows. Well, that’s a tradition we really don’t know, but He was a builder; and from their perspective, He wasn’t a part of the elite, He wasn’t a part of the clergy. And so they focused on what is irrelevant

James we know about; he became the leader of the Jerusalem church, and eventually wrote the epistle of James. And Jude we know about, because he wrote the epistle of Jude. They were the half-brothers of Jesus. As far as Joses and Simon, we don’t know anything about them.

And then it mentions, “Are not His sisters here with us?” So there were sisters, plural. We don’t know exactly how many. Matthew says, “All His sisters,” which would take it beyond two, and make it three or more. So, you know, Mary may have had ten children, who knows? She was not a perpetual virgin, by the way. But they’re stuck on the idea that this is a nobody from a nowhere family, with a perhaps an illegitimate birth, who’s a common am haaretz, man of the dirt, man of the earth. This is typical of unbelief to focus on the irrelevant.

Jesus stated, once again, that prophets are accepted everywhere but in their hometowns — even by their own family and in their own house (verse 4).

What an indictment that is.

MacArthur says:

If Joseph was dead, He had only one person in that house who believed in Him. Not His brothers, not His sisters. They came to believe after the resurrection, according to the book of Acts. But at this time, they don’t. He was believed to be a prophet outside of town. You can look through the New Testament. Look up the word “prophet” and see how many times it’s used to refer to Christ. He is deemed a prophet again, and again, and again, and again, and again …

With that, Jesus could do no great miracles in Nazareth, other than laying hands on a few sick people and curing them (verse 5).

MacArthur makes these points about unbelief:

Unbelief obscures the obvious, it elevates the irrelevant, and it resents the messenger. And that resentment comes from hatred of the message. It attacks the messenger. And, of course, Christ lived that out , didn’t He? They killed Him because He was the messenger of the most wonderful message ever preached.

One final characteristic of unbelief: Unbelief spurns the supernatural. Unbelief spurns the supernatural. Verse 5: “He could do no miracle there except that He laid His hands on a few sick people and healed them.” He shut down the whole supernatural operation. Same thing is stated in Matthew 13:58.

Mark tells us that Jesus was ‘amazed’ by the unbelief in Nazareth, so He left to teach in other villages (verse 6).

MacArthur points out the use of the Greek word for ‘amazed’, or ‘wondered’ in some translations:

… verse 6, “He wondered at their unbelief.” “Wondered,” thaumazō is the Greek verb. It appears about thirty times in the New Testament usually to describe the people’s reaction to Him.

The Bible doesn’t say that Jesus wondered, or was astonished, or was amazed, except for two times: here, and on an occasion when He was amazed at the faith of a centurion – as recorded both by Matthew and Luke. The Bible tells us the people were constantly amazed at Him. They were astonished at Him. But only those two times was He amazed at them. Once with the centurion He was amazed at his faith. Here, He is amazed at the unbelief in His own hometown.

Now we proceed to the next episode in the ministry of Jesus, which was to send out the Apostles, two by two, giving them authority over unclean spirits, or demons (verse 7).

Henry says that this was so that one could give the other encouragement and moral support:

That Christ sent them forth by two and two; this Mark takes notice of. They went two and two to a place, that out of the mouth of two witnesses every word might be established; and that they might be company for one another when they were among strangers, and might strengthen the hands, and encourage the hearts, one of another; might help one another if any thing should be amiss, and keep one another in countenance. Every common soldier has his comrade; and it is an approved maxim, Two are better than one. Christ would thus teach his ministers to associate, and both lend and borrow help.

Jesus instructed them to be as humble as possible, as He Himself was: no food, no money, no bag, no material belongings except for a staff (verse 8). They are also to wear only one tunic and sandals (verse 9).

Henry adds that this time of mission was probably a short one:

they must go in the readiest plainest dress they could, and must not so much as have two coats; for their stay abroad would be short, they must return before winter, and what they wanted, those they preached to would cheerfully accommodate them with.

MacArthur provides us with context, pointing out that the crowds following Jesus were huge, so He decided to briefly invest the Apostles with His powers to help meet demand:

He is past the halfway point now in His ministry. He is headed to the cross. There are only a few months left in the Galilee ministry. There were three tours of Galilee; He is about to launch the third and final one, in the winter of the next to the last year of His life on earth. Up to this point, He has done it all: all the preaching, all the teaching, all the healing, all the deliverance from demons, all the raising of the dead, He has done. Everybody, in order to experience His teaching and experience His power, had to be where He was.

That made the crowds larger, and larger, and larger, and the larger they got, the more limiting and confining they became, and the harder it was to get to everyone. Galilee, as I said, only has a little time. In chapter 10 of Mark, and verse 1, Jesus goes to Judea, where He spent the last year of His ministry, Judea being the southern portion of the land of Israel. Not much time left, only time for one brief Galilean tour. The pressure of time, the tremendously increasing crowds, make it clear to Him that He needs to divide the responsibility.

He can multiply Himself twelve times, if He will delegate the truth and delegate the power to the apostles and send them out, so that this final opportunity, this final gracious extension of ministry, is vastly more pervasive, as they take up His place and His role from town to town and village to village. He has to diffuse the single nature of His ministry, diffuse the single crowd phenomenon, and take the message to the towns and villages in a multiplied fashion. It’s time now for these men, who have been in training by being with Him, day after day, 24/7, for months, for no doubt well over a year.

In Luke 10, He sent out more from His group of disciples:

Luke tells us, in the tenth chapter of Luke, that later on, He selected 70 more of His followers, and sent them out on a short-term mission, so He had a lot of disciples to choose from.

Jesus instructed the Apostles to lodge in only one house in every place they visited (verse 10).

He said that if a town or village rejected them, they were to shake the dust off their feet in that place upon leaving, thereby condemning it (verse 11). Shaking the dust off one’s feet as testimony against someone was an ancient Jewish practice against Gentiles that everyone would have understood. 

Henry says of the gesture:

Whosoever shall not receive you, or will not so much as hear you, depart thence (if one will not, another will), and shake off the dust under your feet, for a testimony against them. Let them know that they have had a fair offer of life and happiness made them, witness that dust; but that, since they have refused it, they cannot expect ever to have another; let them take up with their own dust, for so shall their doom be.” That dust, like the dust of Egypt (Exodus 9:9), shall turn into a plague to them; and their condemnation in the great day, will be more intolerable than that of Sodom: for the angels were sent to Sodom, and were abused there; yet that would not bring on so great a guilt and so great a ruin as the contempt and abuse of the apostles of Christ, who bring with them the offers of gospel grace.

MacArthur tells us:

The Gentiles were considered to be unclean; it had reached racist proportions. And when you went outside Israel, and you came back in, you stopped on the edge, and you took your sandals off, and you shook all the Gentile dirt into the Gentile land before you stepped into Israel. And then you shook your robe, because you’ve been kicking up Gentile dirt, and it would be all over you, from your head to your foot.

You shook out your hair, you shook out your robe, you shook out your feet; this was showing disdain for the Gentiles. You didn’t want to bring Gentile dirt, and contaminate the land of Israel. When you’ve been to a place, and you’ve been healing, and you’ve been validating the message that you preach, and you’ve been casting out demons, and perhaps you raised a dead person, and they reject you, you give a testimony, a martirition. You give – it became martyr when used in a Christian sense – you give a testimony to them.

Your testimony they will understand, because you’re going to the lost sheep of the house of Israel. You say to them, “You’re no better than a Gentile town, country. You’re unclean, and you’re under judgment.” In Matthew 10, which is the parallel – which is much, much more extensive instruction, and we’ll refer to that in a minute – says here – this is Matthew recording this: “in whatever city or village you enter, and inquire who’s worthy in it, stay at his house until you leave the city.” Check where you go first.

The Twelve went forth to proclaim repentance (verse 12).

Henry says that this is where good ministry begins (emphases in the original):

Note, The great design of the gospel preachers, and the great tendency of gospel preaching, should be, to bring people to repentance, to a new heart and a new way. They did not amuse people with curious speculations, but told them that they must repent of their sins, and turn to God.

They were able to cast out demons and cure the sick by anointing them with oil (verse 13).

MacArthur explains the significance of anointing with oil (emphases mine):

… oil – olive oil was used medicinally. Luke 10:34, that’s what the good Samaritan used, didn’t he? Pour oil on the suffering man. But in the Old Testament, olive oil was used symbolically by the Jews. Whenever there was anointing, it was a symbol of God’s presence; when a king was anointed, when a priest was anointed, it was symbolic of divine presence. So, I think maybe a good way to understand this would be that Jesus didn’t need to do this, because He didn’t need a symbolic divine presence; He was divine presence.

But since they were just men, they were deferring to the perceivable reality that this was an indication that their power came from God, and they used the symbol that people were used to, that was a symbol of the presence of God, the anointing of God. They knew that they weren’t the source of the power, they were just the channel of it. And by that simple symbol, they, in a familiar way, passed the glory back to the Lord Himself.

I hope this helps to better explain the ministries of Jesus and the Apostles.

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

Readings for Year B can be found here.

The Gospel is as follows (emphases mine):

Mark 5:21-43

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Commentary comes from Matthew Henry and John MacArthur.

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

John MacArthur puts it into context for us:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Matthew Henry’s commentary has this beautiful description:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

MacArthur describes what Jesus wore:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

With that holy fear comes an awareness of personal sins.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Henry explains why:

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

MacArthur has more:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A noisy mourning was also true for Gentiles:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

MacArthur is certain that Jairus was a man of faith:

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

I do hope so.

May all reading this have a blessed Sunday.

The Third Sunday after Trinity is June 20, 2021.

Readings for Year B can be found here.

The Gospel is as follows (emphases mine):

Mark 4:35-41

4:35 On that day, when evening had come, he said to them, “Let us go across to the other side.”

4:36 And leaving the crowd behind, they took him with them in the boat, just as he was. Other boats were with him.

4:37 A great windstorm arose, and the waves beat into the boat, so that the boat was already being swamped.

4:38 But he was in the stern, asleep on the cushion; and they woke him up and said to him, “Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?”

4:39 He woke up and rebuked the wind, and said to the sea, “Peace! Be still!” Then the wind ceased, and there was a dead calm.

4:40 He said to them, “Why are you afraid? Have you still no faith?”

4:41 And they were filled with great awe and said to one another, “Who then is this, that even the wind and the sea obey him?”

Commentary comes from Matthew Henry and John MacArthur.

This reading continues from last week’s.

John MacArthur puts this storm and the Sea of Galilee into context for us:

the Sea of Galilee – which isn’t really a sea, it’s a fresh water lake, and today it’s known as Lake Kinneret, in Israel – but it’s, to us, called the Sea of Galilee. It is the lowest fresh water lake on the planet; it is 682 feet below sea level. It isn’t as low as the Dead Sea, but the Dead Sea is not fresh water; it is highly mineralized content, and the salt in the Dead Sea is so thick that you can float on the top of it rather easily. But this is the lowest fresh water lake in the world, and as a result of that, it has been much studied for its unique properties. It has a stratification of water. There are literally three stratifications of the water, that go down a hundred and fifty feet, and those stratifications have a lot to do with the surface of the lake at various times of the year. They have a lot to do with the content of algae, which has a lot to do with the content of fish. In 1896, one fishing boat alone brought in 92 hundred pounds of fish. It is a prolific lake for the production of fish, and having that kind of water and that kind of resource in Galilee was a great blessing to the people who live there.

It is surrounded by mountains. Essentially, on the west and the northwest, the mountains rise to 1,500 feet. On the northeast and the east, they rise to 3,000 feet, to the Golan Heights, which runs 42 miles in length, and the lake is only 13 miles, so it goes far past the lake; the lake is 13 by 8. So, it sits in a bowl, and the water that comes into the lake that comes – comes partly from some hot springs, but primarily from the Jordan River, which flows out of Mount Hermon. Mount Hermon is up in the north, on the Lebanon border, at 9,200 feet, so the water flows about 10,000 feet down, to fill up this lake in this bowl. It is such pristine, fresh water that it provides, even today, about fifty percent of the water for the nation Israel, so it was a tremendous resource to them, for water as well as for fish.

Now, that’s why so many of the disciples were fishermen; up to seven of them. We know James and John, Peter and Andrew, and there may have been three more who were also fishermen on that lake. Because of its unique location, because it’s only 30 miles from the Mediterranean, and it sinks so low, it has very special properties, because it is surrounded by these mountains. That adds to the uniqueness of the lake, and as a result, scientists have done research on this lake through the years to study it. It is different than all other bodies of water in the world, and what particularly makes it unique is the fact that it is subject to very, very severe winds. And both in the summer and the warm part of the year, and in the winter in the cold part of the year, it experiences these kinds of winds. The winds that come in the summer are the Sirocco winds, from the east; they’d be like our Santa Ana winds, only they typically come every day from noon to six o’clock. They’re pretty predictable. The wind comes down hard off the Golan Heights and a little north of that, and it comes down, and it turns the lake into a boiling cauldron, and it’s pretty much the routine every day during the summer. These make it a very treacherous place to be in a boat at the wrong time.

The winter is even worse, because the winter winds are cold winds, that come from the north and the northwest, and when the cold air comes down, and it hits the warm air that naturally sits in the bowl, it creates a turmoil; the cold air goes through the warm air, and causes tremendous turmoil on the lake.

So, whether you’re in the summer or the winter, it is subject to this. I have been there on a number of occasions, and I have seen these kinds of winds come out of nowhere. I remember one time we got in this metal boat, and we were going to go across the Sea of Galilee. And we were up in the bow, standing on the bow and enjoying the ride, and, all of a sudden, out of nowhere, the lake began to foam, and the waves began to rise. And pretty soon we had to run to the stern, to avoid the water splashing over the bow, only to be drenched by the water that went over the wheelhouse, and hit us all the way in the stern.

So, it can be a very troublesome place if you’re there at the wrong time; between, I guess, November and April, that is the most dangerous, treacherous time. And in very unexpected ways, those winds can come, those cold winds, and the waves can get anywhere from five to ten feet. And that just doesn’t happen on a lake, but it happens there, and it can be a very terrifying experience. In fact, one historian gives the record of the fact that on one occasion, they were in Tiberias, on the western shore of the lake, and the waters, the waves were coming so high that they were coming two hundred yards into the city of Tiberias, off this little lake. All of this is the basic product of the wind.

So, that’s the place where this happens, and so it couldn’t have been a better place for the Lord to demonstrate His power over nature, and that’s exactly what He does here.

Jesus had finished a day of teaching and probably healing, although Mark’s text does not say, and wanted to cross the Sea of Galilee (verse 35).

Matthew Henry and John MacArthur say that He had been teaching from the boat. He was using parables.

The disciples left the crowd on the shoreline. They went into the boat, including Jesus, who had no cloak. There were other boats accompanying the one Jesus was in (verse 36).

MacArthur tells us about the boats and a discovery of one of them in 2009, when he preached this sermon:

The word boat, by the way, ploion, doesn’t tell you anything about the size of the boat; it’s a very generic word. It doesn’t say whether it was a large boat or a small boat, but we know it was a relatively small boat, because the kind of boats that were used for fishing on the Sea of Galilee were relatively small boats. In the last month – you may have seen it – they have discovered one of them, which they were able to dig up from the bottom of the lake. And they have – sort of the rib cage of that boat still remains, and from what I could tell in looking at it, it would probably hold, comfortably, 15 to 20 people.

Well, that wasn’t going to transport all the apostles, and Jesus, and all the disciples who were following Him across, so there were other boats. Everybody else who had a boat and was a follower of Jesus joined, and you had this little flotilla going across the north end of the Sea of Galilee, headed to the other side – “other boats were with Him.”

Mark adds the detail about Jesus being ‘just as he was’. Henry explains:

They took him even as he was, that is, in the same dress that he was in when he preached, without any cloak to throw over him, which he ought to have had, to keep him warm, when he went to sea at night, especially after preaching.

MacArthur says that ‘just as he was’ also implies food:

He didn’t go to change, didn’t go to eat; they just took Him the way He was, and headed off in the water …

A great windstorm arose which caused the waves to crash against the boat, filling it with water (verse 37).

Meanwhile, Jesus was asleep, resting His head on the cushion, while the disciples were panicking. They asked Him if he did not care that they were ‘perishing’ (verse 38).

MacArthur describes the scene:

Mark 4:38 says, “He was asleep on the cushion” – literally, the pillow. It contains the word – that word for cushion contains the word kephalē, which is the word for head; something to put your head on. So that’s the kind of cushion it was, it was a pillow for His head, some kind of pillow that sailors used when they needed to lie down and get a bit of a rest.

So, He lay down in the boat, and immediately fell asleep. This is a beautiful picture of the truly human Jesus, who is exhausted, who is weary. He is the very one who created the water. He is the very one who created the sky. He created the wood the boat was made of. He even created sleep. And now, He employs these things for His own benefit, and He goes to sleep in the boat. Trailing along behind that boat are all those who were followers of His.

MacArthur points out that the disciples in the other boats would leave Jesus in John 6:

It turns out they’re not all true followers; some of them are rocky soil, some of them are weedy soil, as we saw in the parable earlier in the chapter, because John 6:66, which comes later, says that many of His disciples “walked no more with Him.” So, they’re not all going to be the real deal, but they were, at least for now, following Him

Henry says that the disciples felt comfortable enough in His presence to seemingly chide Him:

Their address to Christ is here expressed very emphatically; Master, carest thou not that we perish? I confess this sounds somewhat harsh, rather like chiding him for sleeping than begging him to awake. I know no excuse for it, but the great familiarity which he was pleased to admit them into, and the freedom he allowed them; and the present distress they were in, which put them into such a fright, that they knew not what they said. They do Christ a deal of wrong, who suspect him to be careless of his people in distress.

Jesus awakened to rebuke the wind and the sea, which resulted in complete calm (verse 39).

Henry points out:

It is spoken of as God’s prerogative to command the seas, Jeremiah 31:35. By this therefore Christ proves himself to be God. He that made the seas, can make them quiet.

Then Jesus reproved the disciples, asking them why they were afraid and if they had no faith (verse 40).

Henry compares Mark’s account of this episode with Matthew’s:

The reproof Christ gave them for their fears, is here carried further than in Matthew. There it is, Why are ye fearful? Here, Why are ye so fearful? Though there may be cause for some fear, yet not for fear to such a degree as this. There it is, O ye of little faith. Here it is, How is it that ye have no faith? Not that the disciples were without faith. No, they believed that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God; but at this time their fears prevailed so that they seemed to have no faith at all. It was out of the way, when they had occasion for it, and so it was as if they had not had it. “How is it, that in this matter ye have no faith, that ye think I would not come in with seasonable and effectual relief?” Those may suspect their faith, who can entertain such a thought as that Christ careth not though his people perish, and Christ justly takes it ill.

Instead of being relieved, however, the disciples ‘were filled with great awe’ — terrified — that Jesus had such control over nature (verse 41).

MacArthur says this is because they realised that He could see into their souls:

They were afraid during the storm; now, they’re very much afraid. Why? Well, what’s worse than having a storm outside your boat, is having God in your boat; that’s enough to panic you.

They knew what they were dealing with. The living God was in their boat, the Creator, the controller of His creation. Terror set in. Panic set in. You remember, on another occasion on the sea, when Peter couldn’t catch any fish? Luke 5, and Jesus said, “Try this side of the boat.” Peter threw his net over there, and they had so many fish they couldn’t bring them in, and what was Peter’s response? “Lord, depart from me for I am a sinful man.”

Well, what kind of reaction is that? That’s the reaction of somebody who knows that the Creator controls all of the living animals, all the fish in the sea, and they go where He tells them to go. That’s frightening, because if you see God, then God sees you. You see His glory, He sees your sin. That’s a very normal response through Scripture.

In closing, some people think that although God created nature, He cannot always control it. John MacArthur explains why that belief is wrong:

only God has such power over wind and waves. We shouldn’t be surprised about that, since we hear the testimony of John, in John 1:1: “In the beginning was the Word” – meaning Christ – “and the Word was with God, the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came into being through Him, and apart from Him nothing came into being that has come into being.” That is to say that Christ, the Word, is the Creator of everything that exists. If He has the power to create it, He has the power to control it.

In Hebrews, chapter 1, it speaks of God’s Son, who is appointed heir of all things, verse 2, “through whom also He made the world.” And then in verse 3, He “upholds all things by the word of His power.” Here, we are told that God made the world through the agency of Christ, and Christ sustains it by His power.

MacArthur says this about climate change believers:

I just wish the people in our world who think they can control the future of the planet understood what the Bible says. They’re not in charge of the planet; none of them are, and they aren’t collectively, and they’re not going to make this planet last one split second longer than the Creator has designed for it to last. They have nothing to do with it. All of that is nonsense, absolute nonsense.

I wish I could convince the Church of England of that.

The Second Sunday after Trinity is June 13, 2021.

These are the readings for Year B.

The Gospel is as follows (emphases mine):

Mark 4:26-34

4:26 He also said, “The kingdom of God is as if someone would scatter seed on the ground,

4:27 and would sleep and rise night and day, and the seed would sprout and grow, he does not know how.

4:28 The earth produces of itself, first the stalk, then the head, then the full grain in the head.

4:29 But when the grain is ripe, at once he goes in with his sickle, because the harvest has come.”

4:30 He also said, “With what can we compare the kingdom of God, or what parable will we use for it?

4:31 It is like a mustard seed, which, when sown upon the ground, is the smallest of all the seeds on earth;

4:32 yet when it is sown it grows up and becomes the greatest of all shrubs, and puts forth large branches, so that the birds of the air can make nests in its shade.”

4:33 With many such parables he spoke the word to them, as they were able to hear it;

4:34 he did not speak to them except in parables, but he explained everything in private to his disciples.

Commentary comes from Matthew Henry and John MacArthur.

I am starting with the last verse first today, because John MacArthur explains why Jesus did not explain the parables to others outside of His circle:

So, there was a time when Jesus was proclaiming the truth, and they had heard and believed the truth. But there’s been a very interesting turn in the tide of things … In fact, if you go back to verse 11, Jesus says to the disciples and the apostles, “It has been given to you to know the mysteries of the kingdom of God, but those who are outside get everything in parables, so that while seeing, they may see and not perceive; while hearing, they may hear and not understand, otherwise they might return and be forgiven.” They’re past grace; they’re past forgiveness; they’re past believing.

What has happened is in all these months of ministry in Galilee day after day after day after day, the final verdict of many of the people and the leaders in Galilee is they reject Jesus Christ. Not only do they reject Him, but according to chapter 3, verse 22, they say, “He’s possessed by Beelzebul and cast out demons by the ruler of the demons.” And that’s when it says He began speaking to them in parables.

They made their final verdict, and they rejected Jesus. And now in an act of divine judgment, he cuts them off from any further truth. And so, in regard to the disciples, he speaks to them explaining the parables.

When the crowd gathers, He speaks to the crowd in parables without explanation. From now on, in His ministry in Galilee, He doesn’t explain anything because they have made their final decision. Our Lord’s judgment then is to withhold the light from that generation of Jews in Galilee who had finally rejected Him and were beyond hope

So, the point is this, the plan is the light will shine, the seed will be sown. For the moment, a judgment has been rendered on those people in Galilee who made their final decision. But just a few chapters later, there are other folks in other places, even in Galilee, as well as later on in Judea to whom they are to go.

But the assumption, when He sends them out in chapter 6, verses 7 to 13, is that they’re going to be rejected. He tells them if they – “If they reject you, just shake the dust off your feet and get out of there.” But that was a kind of a training mission for what would finally be their full commission.

Now, this is in accord with the divine intention. If you go to verse 22, you see that in the next little parable. Nothing is hidden except to be revealed, nor has anything been secret that it – but that it would come to light. This is a simple, simple, little concept. People hide things because there’s a certain time that they need to be revealed.

Mark 4 begins with the Parable of the Sower. The Lamp under a Basket follows. The Parable of the Seed Growing and that of the Mustard Seed, today’s reading, follows that.

Jesus discusses the divine plan for the Church, comparing it to someone planting seed (verse 26).

Matthew Henry’s commentary says:

The good seed of the gospel sown in the world, and sown in the heart, doth by degrees produce wonderful effects, but without noise (Mark 4:26; Mark 4:26, c.) So is the kingdom of God; so is the gospel, when it is sown, and received, as seed in good ground.

As the sower’s days and nights pass, and he knows not how, the seed sprouts and grows (verse 27), first into a stalk, then the head, then the full grain in the head (verse 28).

Henry makes the following comparisons to the word of Christ and the power of the Holy Spirit:

1. It will come up; though it seem lost and buried under the clods, it will find or make its way through them. The seed cast into the ground will spring. Let but the word of Christ have the place it ought to have in a soul, and it will show itself, as the wisdom from above doth in a good conversation …

2. The husbandman cannot describe how it comes up; it is one of the mysteries of nature; It springs and grows up, he knows not how,Mark 4:27; Mark 4:27. He sees it has grown, but he cannot tell in what manner it grew, or what was the cause and method of its growth. Thus we know not how the Spirit by the word makes a change in the heart, any more than we can account for the blowing of the wind, which we hear the sound of, but cannot tell whence it comes, or whither it goes. Without controversy, great is the mystery of godliness; how God manifested in the flesh came to be believed on in the world, 1 Timothy 3:16.

3. The husbandman, when he hath sown the seed, doth nothing toward the springing of it up; He sleeps, and rises, night and day; goes to sleep at night, gets up in the morning, and perhaps never so much as thinks of the corn he hath sown, or ever looks upon it, but follows his pleasures or other business, and yet the earth brings forth fruit of itself, according to the ordinary course of nature, and by the concurring power of the God of nature. Thus the word of grace, when it is received in faith, is in the heart a work of grace, and the preachers contribute nothing to it. The Spirit of God is carrying it on when they sleep, and can do no business (Job 33:15; Job 33:16), or when they rise to go about other business …

MacArthur points out the Greek used in verse 28:

I love this, verse 28, “The soil produces crops by itself.” It’s the Greek word automatē, from which we get the English word “automatically.” It’s divinely automatic. How encouraging is that? Regeneration, transformation, spiritual transition, conversion, new birth can’t be produced by anyone or any human means. The whole process is divinely automatic. You can’t start it, and you can’t stop it. And once it starts, it goes to the full.

When the grain matures, the farmer knows it it time to harvest it (verse 29).

MacArthur says that, for believers, the enjoyment of the harvest will be ours forever, not just as part of a church community:

one way we enjoy the harvest is fellowship, don’t we? This is fellowship. Another way, in eternity in the future, friends for eternity, that we don’t even know now that we’ll meet then. So, forever and ever, we will enjoy the harvest. We’ll taste the harvest.

Jesus then segues into the Parable of the Mustard Seed by asking what can be compared to the Kingdom of God (verse 30). He answers by saying that the mustard seed is the smallest of all the seeds (verse 31), yet grows into the greatest of shrubs, able to accommodate nesting birds (verse 32).

MacArthur says that the mustard seed was the smallest known to them:

Now, a mustard seed was the smallest seed that they used in their farming. It wasn’t the actual smallest seed on the planet, but it was proverbial for something small to them because it was the one they were familiar with. Matthew 17:20, “Jesus said, ‘If you have the faith of a grain of mustard seed’” – and so forth. So, that was their proverbial expression for something very small, and it was the size of a grain of sand.

But proportionately, there was nothing that they planted that started that small and became so large. A mustard bush would be up to 15 feet high and 6 feet in diameter. A massive thing to come out of a seed the size of a grain of sand. And what our Lord is saying to them is obvious. There’s no explanation here. The small beginnings, guys, do not give you any indication of where this is going.

Therefore, from small beginnings a great Church will grow and expand, as we saw in the reading from Acts 2 on Pentecost Sunday.

Mark tells us that Jesus spoke to the disciples in parables to the extent that they could understand them (verse 33).

Henry says:

The glory of the Lord was covered with a cloud, and God speaks to us in the language of the sons of men, that, though not at first, yet by degrees, we may understand his meaning; the disciples themselves understood those sayings of Christ afterward, which at first they did not rightly take the sense of. But these parables he expounded to them, when they were alone. We cannot but wish we had had that exposition, as we had of the parable of the sower; but it was not so needful; because, when the church should be enlarged, that would expound these parables to us, without any more ado.

MacArthur offers us a practical application of these two parables:

The promise is the Lord will bless the seed you sow. The Lord will return to you blessing. It doesn’t mean that all the seed you sow will bring about salvation, but what it does mean is that as you are faithful to sow the seed God will be faithful to give you in return. And not just equally. Because at the end of verse 24, “And more will be given to you besides.” And at the beginning of verse 25, “For whoever has, to him more shall be given.” If you’re one of those who has, that is you have eternal life, you have the truth, you have the seed, you will receive not only in measure what you’ve done but far more.

This is Luke 6:38, Jesus said, “Give, and it shall be given unto you, pressed down, shaken together, and running over.” And it will come from men in this life, and from God and spiritual blessing, and in the future eternal blessing.

So, I say we listen obediently and appreciatively because of the promise of reward the Lord has given to us as faithful listeners who let what we hear be known to others

So, we throw the seed, and we shine the light obediently because of the innate obligation, and appreciatively because of the individual opportunity. Each one of us will receive personally the blessing of God on our faithfulness and much, much, much more than we deserve.

What an encouraging thought to lead us into the week ahead.

May all reading this enjoy a blessed Sunday.

The First Sunday after Trinity is June 6, 2020.

This day is also known as Corpus Christi Sunday.

Readings for Year B can be found here.

The Gospel reading is as follows (emphases mine):

Mark 2:23-3:6

2:23 One sabbath he was going through the grainfields; and as they made their way his disciples began to pluck heads of grain.

2:24 The Pharisees said to him, “Look, why are they doing what is not lawful on the sabbath?”

2:25 And he said to them, “Have you never read what David did when he and his companions were hungry and in need of food?

2:26 He entered the house of God, when Abiathar was high priest, and ate the bread of the Presence, which it is not lawful for any but the priests to eat, and he gave some to his companions.”

2:27 Then he said to them, “The sabbath was made for humankind, and not humankind for the sabbath;

2:28 so the Son of Man is lord even of the sabbath.”

3:1 Again he entered the synagogue, and a man was there who had a withered hand.

3:2 They watched him to see whether he would cure him on the sabbath, so that they might accuse him.

3:3 And he said to the man who had the withered hand, “Come forward.”

3:4 Then he said to them, “Is it lawful to do good or to do harm on the sabbath, to save life or to kill?” But they were silent.

3:5 He looked around at them with anger; he was grieved at their hardness of heart and said to the man, “Stretch out your hand.” He stretched it out, and his hand was restored.

3:6 The Pharisees went out and immediately conspired with the Herodians against him, how to destroy him.

Commentary comes from Matthew Henry and John MacArthur.

To put this into context, John MacArthur explains the Jewish Sabbath:

The word “Sabbath” comes from sabbaton. Its root is the verb “to cease.” The double beta like the double “B” in Sabbath is an intensified form, so it’s a complete cessation. It was God who defined Sabbath in Genesis 2:3. He ceased completely from the work of creation. And so, Sabbath came to refer to that day when people ceased working. That’s all the Old Testament says. It simply says you’re not to work. It doesn’t give any particular detailed minute prescriptions. You’re not to work, you’re to rest. It’s to be a day of joy. It’s made for man, a day of rest, recuperation, restoration, worship.

But the hypocritical Pharisees and scribes had developed all kinds of things to make Sabbath worse than every other day because of its unbelievable restraints. Edersheim, in his classic work, The Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah, has done some marvelous work in researching this and going back and digging it out of the Talmud. The Talmud comes after Christ some time but picks up and codifies all the laws that have long existed in Judaism.

Matthew Henry’s commentary says that fasting was common among some Jews:

Why do the Pharisees and the disciples of John fast? They used to fast, the Pharisees fasted twice in the week (Luke 18:12), and probably the disciples of John did so too; and, it should seem, this very day, when Christ and his disciples were feasting in Levi’s house, was their fast-day, for the word is nesteuousi–they do fast, or are fasting, which aggravated the offence. Thus apt are strict professors to make their own practice a standard, and to censure and condemn all that do not fully come up to it.

The disciples began picking grain to eat because they placed more importance on listening to Jesus than having a meal, but then they became hungry (Mark 2:23).

Henry says:

They were so intent upon spiritual dainties, that they forgot even their necessary food; and the word of Christ was to them instead of that …

MacArthur provides more context about fields of grain:

They were going through sown fields. Literally, sown fields is what Luke calls them, maybe wheat or barley. The grain is ripe, which makes it presumably spring or summer. In the Jordan Valley, grain ripens in the Valley from April to August. Harvest may have been very near. The fields are laid out in strips with paths crisscrossing the strips. The roads are not distinguishable from the paths through the field. There aren’t thoroughfares, highways, big roads. Everybody goes through the land walking through the fields and that’s the way it’s always been.

And so, in Deuteronomy 23:25, God makes a wonderful – wonderful provision for travelers. When you enter your neighbor’s standing grain, then you may pluck the heads with your hand, but you shall not put a sickle in your neighbor’s standing grain. Obviously, you can’t just harvest the grain and haul it off, but when you’re traveling through his fields, have at it. Take what’s there. This would be true of – of any kind of food in a reasonable, sensible way. To stave off your hunger, you’re welcome to what is there. So the Old Testament provides for that and it doesn’t restrict it to six days a week, it simply says you can do it.

The Old Testament never restricts how far a person can walk, how far they can go, how heavy the burden they can carry. It simply calls them to stop working and rest and spend the day worshiping God with no other narrowing restrictions. So His disciples are doing exactly what the Old Testament allowed them to do. His disciples making their way along while picking the heads of grain. Luke adds they were then rubbing them in their hands. They pick off the heads of grain, rub the heads of grain so they could get the inside fruit out from the husk and the shell. Matthew adds they did it because they were hungry.

This, of course, was perfectly within the purposes of God and the revelation of God in the Old Testament, but in direct violation of the religious rules manmade which dominated that legalistic culture. So you have then the Sabbath incident. It leads to the scornful indictment in verse 24 …

They’re scrutinizing Jesus. They’re wanting to indict Him because of His violation of their ridiculous manmade rules. Now this is what the Talmud said. If you roll wheat in your hands to remove the husks, it is sifting and that is forbidden. If you rub the heads of wheat, it is threshing and it is forbidden. If you clean off the shell, it is sifting and that is forbidden. If you throw the chaff into the air, that is winnowing. It is forbidden. So just in picking and rolling and rubbing and discarding, they had been reaping, threshing, sifting, grinding, winnowing and preparing food.

The Pharisees followed Jesus a lot. Therefore, upon seeing the disciples eating grain, they asked Him why His disciples were breaking Sabbath law (Mark 2:24), which was man-made law.

Jesus reminded the Pharisees of the time when David and his companions became hungry and ate the bread of the Presence, which was reserved for the priests (Mark 2:25-26).

MacArthur recounts the event, which took place at a time when David was in great danger:

The story is in 1 Samuel 21David was fleeing south from Gibeah because Saul was after him. Saul wanted to kill him. He came, according to 1 Samuel 21:1 to Nob … That’s about a mile north of Jerusalem. That’s where the tabernacle was located. And he had no food and he was hungry.

There he met the priest named Ahimelech and he asks the priest for food. Fleeing for his life – those who were with him, they were all hungry and he asks him for food. He asked him for at least five loaves of bread but was told by the priest that none was available. Verse 4 of 1 Samuel 21 says, “And the priest answered David and said, “There’s no common bread on hand.” Don’t – I don’t have any bread. “But he said, interestingly, this priest, Ahimelech, “There is holy bread,” – Holy bread? What is holy bread? And then he said – “if only the young men have kept themselves from women.”

In other words, I’m willing to let you have the holy bread if your men have been holy. David confirmed, in verse 5, they were holy. In that sense they were clean. Verse 6, “The priest gave him consecrated bread for there was no bread there but the bread of presence. It’s called the bread of the presence, presence meaning God, the ever-present One, which was removed from before the Lord in order to put hot bread in its place.” Let me tell you how that worked. Every Sabbath – every Sabbath, hot bread was brought inside the tabernacle to a golden table. Twelve loaves of hot bread were placed on a golden table inside the tabernacle in the presence of God, symbolizing the need for the twelve tribes to have fellowship with God.

The following Sabbath, the bread that had sat there for a week would be removed and more hot bread would be brought in to keep that symbol fresh. According to Leviticus 24, verses 5 to 9, this is called the bread of the presence. There were two rows, two piles of these twelve loaves. The old bread on the Sabbath when it was removed, was to be eaten by priests only. Now that was the provision that God had made. Verse 26 tells us what happened from Mark’s record of what Jesus said. David and his companions show up, as 1 Samuel 21 says. They “entered the house of God” – the tabernacle – “in the time of Abiathar the high priest.”

The actual priest at the time was Ahimelech, but he was soon replaced and Abiathar had a lengthy priesthood during the time of David. And so he is the one whose priesthood dominates that era. And they ate the consecrated bread, which it is not lawful for anyone to eat except the priests, and he also gave it to those who were with him. The priest was very, very wise. He understood that no ceremony should survive while some person dies. Ceremony is ceremony, ritual is symbolic. You don’t save a ceremony and lose a person. It has its place, but mercy triumphs over ritual and ceremony.

This priest understood what anybody would understand. That’s common sense. Nothing is as valuable as a life. It, perhaps, was actually a Sabbath when the old bread was coming out, and that’s why he could say, “I could give this to you.” So here on a Sabbath, not only were they eating bread but they were eating the bread that was symbolic of the twelve tribes before God and it was to be eaten only by priests. But all symbols are done away with when it comes to human need. Necessity always overrules ritual.

Jesus then said that the Sabbath was made for humankind, not humankind for the Sabbath (Mark 2:27).

Henry explains:

First, God never designed it to be an imposition upon us, and therefore we must not make it so to ourselves. Man was not made for the sabbath, for he was made a day before the sabbath was instituted. Man was made for God, and for his honour and service … but he was not made for the sabbath, so as to be tied up by the law of it, from that which is necessary to the support of his life. Secondly, God did design it to be an advantage to us, and so we must make it, and improve it.

Jesus added that He is Lord, even of the Sabbath (Mark 2:28). It was a rebuke to the Pharisees.

Henry interprets the verse as follows:

The Son of man is Lord also of the sabbath; and therefore he will not see the kind intentions of the institution of it frustrated by your impositions.” Note, The sabbath days are days of the Son of man; he is the Lord of the day, and to his honour it must be observed; by him God made the worlds, and so it was by him that the sabbath was first instituted …

Mark tells us of another incident, about a man with a withered hand in a synagogue (Mark 3:1).

The Pharisees watched Jesus to see if He would cure the man on the Sabbath (Mark 3:2).

Jesus asked the man to come forward (Mark 3:3), then asked the assembly in the synagogue whether it was better to save life or kill it on the Sabbath, but the people were silent (Mark 3:4).

Henry makes an excellent observation:

What fairer question could be put? And yet, because they saw it would turn against them, they held their peace. Note, Those are obstinate indeed in their infidelity, who, when they can say nothing against a truth, will say nothing to it; and, when they cannot resist, yet will not yield.

Jesus looked at everyone in righteous anger, grieved by their hardness of heart; He asked the man to extend his hand and healed it (Mark 3:5).

The Pharisees left and conspired with the government — the Herodians — to kill Him (Mark 3:6).

MacArthur explains the Jewish hierarchy’s hate for Jesus:

The shocking truth that the religious leaders of Israel desired to destroy Jesus Christ seems very hard to grasp. What had He done? Brought healing so that people debilitated and distressed by diseases could find relief and comfort and restoration and usefulness; brought deliverance from demons so that people possessed, indwelt, demonized, could be freed from that hellish domination. Brought comfort therefore to the sorrowing, even brought food to the hungry; and then the message of eternal salvation, the message of the forgiveness of sin and the promise of eternal life in the Kingdom of God in heaven for all who repent and believe.

Wasn’t this more than the Jewish people could have ever hoped for? Not only a message of salvation, but a messenger who demonstrated His power to give salvation by showing that He had power over the material world, power over the demonic world, and even power over sin. What else could they want? Why did they hate Him? Well, they didn’t hate Him because He healed people. They didn’t hate Him because He fed them. They didn’t hate Him because He cast out demons. They didn’t hate Him because He brought funerals to an abrupt end by raising the dead.

It was what He said that made them hate Him, not what He did. And what He said was that He was God, God the Son. He had come down from heaven, that He was the Messiah, the Savior. But more than that, He, in fact, was God. The truth is, He supported that claim by His power over disease, by His power over demons, by His power over death and by His authority over sin. Wasn’t that convincing enough? Why would the claim so infuriate the leaders of Israel? Why would it drive them to want Him dead? And wasn’t the good news good news?

Wasn’t it good news that the spiritually blind could receive spiritual sight, the spiritually dead could receive spiritual life, the spiritually oppressed could receive spiritual liberation? Wasn’t it good news that the Kingdom of God was open to all who would repent and believe? It should have been good news. But there was a tremendous barrier to that because the message of Jesus was that this salvation which He offered was not available by human works. You couldn’t earn it. You couldn’t merit it. You couldn’t deserve it. You couldn’t achieve it.

No matter how many morally good things you did, and morally bad things you avoided, how many rituals you performed, or how many ceremonies you observed, this salvation was apart from works, apart from merit, apart from worthiness, apart from human achievement by grace through faith. And in their religion, spiritual pride reigned. You earned your spiritual status.

Jesus said, “That won’t do it. You need to humble yourself, confess your unworthiness and repent of your sin.” In essence, His message was in complete, direct opposition to the apostate Judaism that dominated the nation and was pervade by the religious leaders, namely the Pharisees and scribes. It was for this they hated Him. They hated His theology. They hated the fact that He attacked them at the point of their spiritual pride.

It’s an age-old story, folks, but the more religious people are and the more proud they are of their religion, the more proud they are of their spiritual achievement, the more proud they are of their accomplishment religiously, the more resistant they are to the gospel of grace. That’s why the people the responded to Jesus were the tax collectors, prostitutes, criminals; lowlifes, who had no spiritual pride, who were not allowed to go to the synagogue, who were not allowed to go to the temple, who were the outcasts, the unsynagogued, they had no pride to hold on to. They came to Jesus

But highly religious people say no to those things on the outside. They’re willing to live under binding moral constraints. They’re willing to live under very tight rules and regulations that make it look like they’re very holy. You say, “Well how can sinners do that?” Because pride, spiritual pride, is such a self-satisfying sin that it makes up for all that you have to forfeit. Listen. Spiritual pride is like an aphrodisiac, it’s like a drug. Spiritual pride is a high, walking around in overtly spiritual pretense in the way you dress and the way you conduct yourself, and making outward pretenses and outward prayers and outward acts of manifest fasting, making an issue out of your giving for all to see. That’s what they did.

They found so much personal satisfaction in spiritual pride that they were willing to let other behaviors go. Spiritual pride is a very, very powerful, powerful sin. It’s also a damning sin. Now, of course, in secret, oh, that’s another story. In secret, they couldn’t restrain the flesh so in secret they committed every sin in their hearts

Why did they hate Jesus? Because He attacked them at the point of their pride. He said, “I reject your assessment of your condition before God.” He said in the Sermon on the Mount, “If your righteousness doesn’t exceed that as the – exceed that of the scribes and Pharisees, you have no part in the Kingdom.” He denounced them. Their hostility toward Jesus was the result of His rejection of their entire works/righteousness system that elevated human pride. That was sort of all they had left and He attacked it. The zenith of this system of manifest spiritual pride was Sabbath. On Sabbath they all came out into public view at the synagogue. On that great day, all the focus of their self-righteous proud system reached its clarity. This was their time to shine.

Spiritual pride is why the Jewish hierarchy hated Jesus. Interestingly, the Deplorables of the day flocked to Jesus, because they had no spiritual pride.

In 2021, the Second Sunday in Lent is February 28.

The readings for Year B in the three-year Lectionary are below:

Readings for the Second Sunday in Lent — Year B

There are two choices for the Gospel reading. I have chosen the first, where Jesus tells His disciples that He must die (emphases mine below):

Mark 8:31-38

8:31 Then he began to teach them that the Son of Man must undergo great suffering, and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes, and be killed, and after three days rise again.

8:32 He said all this quite openly. And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him.

8:33 But turning and looking at his disciples, he rebuked Peter and said, “Get behind me, Satan! For you are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things.”

8:34 He called the crowd with his disciples, and said to them, “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.

8:35 For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake, and for the sake of the gospel, will save it.

8:36 For what will it profit them to gain the whole world and forfeit their life?

8:37 Indeed, what can they give in return for their life?

8:38 Those who are ashamed of me and of my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, of them the Son of Man will also be ashamed when he comes in the glory of his Father with the holy angels.”

Commentary for today’s exegesis comes from Matthew Henry and John MacArthur.

Sometimes, the older versions of the above verses are so well known that it is good to refer to them. Here is the King James Version:

31 And he began to teach them, that the Son of man must suffer many things, and be rejected of the elders, and of the chief priests, and scribes, and be killed, and after three days rise again. 32 And he spake that saying openly. And Peter took him, and began to rebuke him. 33 But when he had turned about and looked on his disciples, he rebuked Peter, saying, Get thee behind me, Satan: for thou savourest not the things that be of God, but the things that be of men. 34 And when he had called the people unto him with his disciples also, he said unto them, Whosoever will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me. 35 For whosoever will save his life shall lose it but whosoever shall lose his life for my sake and the gospel’s, the same shall save it. 36 For what shall it profit a man, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul? 37 Or what shall a man give in exchange for his soul? 38 Whosoever therefore shall be ashamed of me and of my words in this adulterous and sinful generation of him also shall the Son of man be ashamed, when he cometh in the glory of his Father with the holy angels.

Just before Jesus spoke those words, He asked His disciples two questions:

27 And Jesus went on with his disciples to the villages of Caesarea Philippi. And on the way he asked his disciples, “Who do people say that I am?” 28 And they told him, “John the Baptist; and others say, Elijah; and others, one of the prophets.” 29 And he asked them, “But who do you say that I am?” Peter answered him, “You are the Christ.” 30 And he strictly charged them to tell no one about him.

Why those verses could not have been added to today’s reading in order to provide context is perplexing. As I have often said, that is why the Lectionary can be irritating. No wonder people don’t read the Bible more often.

On one level, the disciples know that Jesus is the Messiah. On the other hand, people are confused because they expect a temporal Messiah, one with the appearance of a king.

John MacArthur explains:

… through the years, they struggle with that. They don’t struggle because there’s no evidence of divine power. They just struggle because He doesn’t conform to their preconceived patterns. It’s like he that is convinced against his will is unconvinced still. It’s just a really hard hurdle to get over. They struggle with doubts because, as the people concluded, He can’t be the Messiah, so He has to be somebody short of the Messiah – John the Baptist, the forerunner to the Messiah; Elijah, who will come back before the Messiah; Jeremiah, who will come back before the Messiah. But nobody’s saying He’s the Messiah. He doesn’t fit the preconceived theological package. He’s maybe, obviously, a prophet of God; we’ll grant Him that, but He just hasn’t done what the Messiah will do. Where’s the conquest? Where’s national independence? National freedom? Power? Blessing? Where’s the overthrow of Rome? And He’s so meek, and lowly, and humble, and submissive, and pays taxes to Rome, and He’s hated by the leaders of Israel.

In fact, it was so bewildering, compared to their messianic view, that even John the Baptist got confused. John the Baptist, the one who was His forerunner, the one who was related to Him, the one whose mothers were related, who talked about all these issues. John the Baptist must have heard from His own family all the story about how the angel came and announced to His mom and dad that He would be born, and that He would be the forerunner of the Messiah. And they must have told Him about how Mary came and bore the child who was the Messiah, and Jesus was His relative, and he knew who He was, and it was all angelic, divine revelation. And he heard perhaps again and again the incredible stories of the annunciation and the birth of the Messiah. And yet, he gets confused. Why? Well, he’s in prison. This doesn’t look like the right plan here.

Jesus tells the disciples about what ‘must’ happen to Him: rejection, suffering, death and resurrection (verse 31).

Peter was profoundly affected by that announcement and took Jesus to one side to ‘rebuke’ Him (verse 32). One wonders whether ‘rebuke’ in this verse is the same as it usually is, one of reprimand and condemnation. Peter loved Jesus and wanted to protect Him.

MacArthur says:

Matthew says it this way, “God forbid, Lord; this shall never happen to You.” He’s not asking questions; He’s making statements. And idiomatically, an interesting phrase in Matthew, “May God grant You better than that.” Whoa. “This isn’t going to happen, and we’re not going to allow this.”

Matthew Henry says:

He took himproslabomenos auton. He took hold of him, as it were to stop and hinder him, took him in his arms, and embraced him (so some understand it) he fell on his neck, as impatient to hear that his dear Master should suffer such hard things or he took him aside privately, and began to rebuke him. This was not the language of the least authority, but of the greatest affection, of that jealousy for the welfare of those we love, which is strong as death. Our Lord Jesus allowed his disciples to be free with him, but Peter here took too great a liberty.

That explanation reminds me of an illustration I used to see in my youth of Peter embracing Jesus, his head on His shoulder, weeping. It might have been in our family Bible. However, it was a powerful depiction of this particular moment.

Jesus immediately rebukes Peter — in the traditional sense of the word — correcting him with harsh words in front of the other disciples (verse 33).

MacArthur tells us:

First of all, Matthew said He said, “You’re a stumbling block”you’re in the way; you’re a hindrance. Then the real blow, “Get out of My sight, Satan.” That’s literally what it says. “Get out of My sight, Satan.” It’s a bad idea for followers to play God. When you put yourself in the place of God, you end up putting yourself in the place of Satan. He says to him, “You’re not setting your mind on God’s interests, but man’s.” That’s an indictment of Peter. Peter didn’t want a cross. These guys were looking for glory. Do we remember that James and John had come with their mother to ask if they could sit on the right and the left hand in the kingdom? I mean it was all about elevation, glory, power, prosperity. Jesus says, “You are an offense to Me,” according to Matthew. “You’re a skandalon.” Skandalon means you’re a trap. “You’re a baited trap; you’re a Satan trap; you’re a Satan stumbling block. If you’re trying to dissuade Me from the cross, you’re on Satan’s side. Get out of My sight.”

Far from speaking about glory, Jesus then says that His followers will have to suffer in His name by denying themselves and taking up their own cross (verse 34).

Henry explains the verse this way:

Those that will be Christ’s patients must attend on him, converse with him, receive instruction and reproof from him, as those did that followed him, and must resolve they will never forsake him.

Jesus continues by indicating the way to salvation: caring more about eternal life than temporal life (verse 35).

MacArthur lists other difficult verses on the same theme:

Jesus said the very same thing in Matthew repeatedly, Matthew 10, Matthew 16, and alluded to it elsewhere. He said it in Luke – Luke chapter 9, verses 23 to 27 is a direct repeat of what we read in Mark. And then at the end of Luke 9, verses 57 to 62, Jesus basically says, “If you say you want to follow Me, but you have any other agenda that is more important immediately than Me, then you can’t be My disciple.”

Remember a man said, “Oh, I want to follow you, but I need to go home and get my inheritance. Oh, I want to follow you, but I’ve got to go bury my father. I want to follow you, but I’ve got to go negotiate some things of my family so I make sure I have some money while I’m following You.”

Jesus said, “Don’t do that. Don’t start to follow and turn back or you’re not worthy.” He’s always talking about the price of following Him. In the twelfth chapter of Luke – and Luke is particularly strong in emphasizing these teaching passages of our Lord with regard to invitations. He says in verse 51 of 12, “Do you suppose that I came to grant peace on Earth? I tell you, no, but rather division; from now on five in one household will be divided, three against two and two against three.” Two become a believer and the other three don’t; three become believers, and the other two don’t. “They’ll be divided, father against son, son against father, mother against daughter, daughter against mother, mother-in-law against daughter-in-law, daughter-in-law against mother-in-law.” Again it is this emphasis that you pay a price relationally when you come to Christ

And He said to them, “Strive to enter through the narrow door. For many, I tell you, will seek to enter and will not be able.” This is not easy. Why? You have to say no to self. You have to say no to family. You have to say no to the things of the world, no to the love of sin. People want the kingdom. It’s attractive. They want forgiveness, they want eternal life, but the price is everything. That’s why later in chapter 14, another time, he said, “If anyone comes to Me and doesn’t hate His own father and mother, and wife and children, and brothers and sisters, and even his own life, he can’t be my disciple.” He doesn’t mean hatred in the sense that you despise the people that you love. He simply means that you treat them as if they aren’t nearly as significant as coming to Christ. So, you’re willing to say, “I’ll go to Christ; I’ll follow Christ, even if it costs me my family.”

“And it might even cost you your life,” He said. And in the twelfth chapter of John, He said the same thing in verse 25, “You better be willing to hate your own life.” So, coming to Jesus was not easy. Coming to Jesus was not something that you could simply do because you wanted the pluses that Jesus offered. It demanded much more than that. Jesus’ invitation was not easy. It was even severe because He threatened those who rejected it. It was hard because the cost was so high. So high.

Jesus then asks two questions.

What good is it having everything possible in this world only to lose one’s soul in the next and be condemned to eternal death (verse 36)? What price has a man’s soul (verse 37)?

MacArthur explains:

Remember the man about whom Jesus spoke, the man who kept building bigger barns and bigger barns and bigger barns because he had more stuff and more stuff? And he said, “Okay, soul, take your ease. Eat, drink, and” – what? – “be merry.” And boom comes the divine voice, “Tonight you die.” And then what? What are you going to profit if you gain the whole world? That’s hyperbole. Nobody could gain the whole world. Nobody. But even if you could gain the whole thing, actually, who would want it? But even if you could gain the whole thing, what would it matter if you lost your eternal soul? It is the common belief of man that he is the happiest when he has the most stuff – the most that the world has to offer. And what a delusion that is if he forfeits his soul.

“Because” – verse 37 – “what are you going to give in exchange for your soul?” How are you going to buy back your soul? You think you can – if you owned the whole world, could you pay that price for your soul? If you had the whole world – all the money in the world, all the resources in the world, all the power in the world – with it could you buy your soul? What are you going to give in exchange for your soul? What is of equivalent value to your soul?

You want to look at this the other way? Your soul is worth more than everything in this world because this world will burn up. You will live forever. You say, “I don’t – I even rent my house; I don’t own any of it. I lease my car; I don’t own anything.” You, my dear friend, are more valuable than everything material in this world. There is no price for your soul except the provision of Jesus Christ on the cross. He paid an infinite price because of an infinite value attached to you. That’s the gift of salvation.

Jesus ends His discourse by saying that those who are ashamed of Him in this life will not inherit eternal life in the world to come, because our Lord will be ashamed of them (verse 38).

MacArthur puts it equally plainly:

This is a severe invitation because judgment is attached to it. This is a hard invitation because it requires total abandonment, self-denial, cross bearing, loyal obedience, giving up your life to save it. And if you choose not to do it because you want to hang onto your own life, and you’re ashamed of Christ and ashamed to identify with His words, His teaching, and you want to fully embrace your place in the middle of this adulterous and sinful generation – if that’s where you want to be, the Son of Man will be ashamed of you when He comes at His coming in the glory of His Father with the holy angels. And you take your place with the perishing world, with the doomed rejecters to whom the gospel is a shameful thing, to whom Christ is a shameful person; you will face divine judgment. When Christ comes, He comes to judge the world. That’s what it says.

This is a powerful verse

It certainly is a powerful verse, giving us much to contemplate in the week ahead.

May everyone reading this have a blessed Sunday.

In 2021, the First Sunday in Lent is February 21.

The readings for Year B in the three-year Lectionary are below:

Readings for the First Sunday in Lent — Year B

My focus today is on the Gospel reading from Mark, which concerns the baptism of Jesus (emphases mine):

Mark 1:9-15

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.”

1:12 And the Spirit immediately drove him out into the wilderness.

1:13 He was in the wilderness forty days, tempted by Satan; and he was with the wild beasts; and the angels waited on him.

1:14 Now after John was arrested, Jesus came to Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God,

1:15 and saying, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news.”

Commentary for today’s exegesis comes from Matthew Henry and John MacArthur.

I have often written about the accounts of our Lord’s baptism as a sign of obedience to God the Father. There was no reason for Jesus to undergo immersion in the River Jordan for His sins as He had none. Yet, He partook in what would become a sacrament in order to obey the ordinances of his Father under the New Covenant and to share in our human experience.

However, there is a far greater reason why Jesus was baptised. This was His earthly coronation, as John MacArthur ably explains.

Those who have read Mark’s Gospel know that it skips parts of Jesus’s earthly life and early ministry. This is because Mark wrote it for the Gentiles in Rome. He wanted them to understand quickly and simply that Jesus is the Son of God and our Saviour.

Instead of beginning with the lineage or Jesus or the Nativity, Mark begins with John the Baptist’s ministry, but not before introducing his Gospel as follows (Mark 1:1):

The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.[a]

Christ’s baptism has many scriptural hallmarks of being His coronation, through baptism, a religious ceremony that is not part of the Jewish tradition in terms of repentance.

There are ritual baths, mostly for women, but those are for the purposes of ceremonial rather than spiritual cleansing.

MacArthur looks at both the coronation and the sacramental aspect of baptism.

First, the coronation, involving this meeting between Jesus and His cousin, John the Baptist, as adults:

This is the only one recorded in the New Testament. Though they contacted each other through their disciples, there is no other indication they had met. But this meeting is monumental. This meeting has significance that is sweeping and far-reaching because on this occasion of their meeting, there is the coronation of the new King. Remember I told you that in the gentile world, as well as the Jewish world, the word euaggelion, the word gospel had to do with the ascent of a king, the accession of a king to his throne. And Mark is writing about God’s great King, the new King who is coming, who will declare a new era for the world. This is His coronation.

From the Greek word euaggelion we derive the words ‘evangelist’ and ‘evangelical’. In French, the word évangile means ‘Gospel’.

From Matthew 3:14, we know that John was reluctant to baptise Jesus, because he knew who He was, so He gave this reason:

15 But Jesus answered him, “Let it be so now, for thus it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness.” Then he consented.

Jesus obeyed the commands of His Father, and baptism was one of them (verse 9).

MacArthur explains:

If God said this is to be done, then I will do this. It is that perfect obedience of Christ that is imputed to you and to me when we put our trust in Him. It’s what’s called His active righteousness.

But, how could the King of the Jews come from Galilee, let alone a little-known place called Nazareth?

The Jews considered Galilee unclean. MacArthur lays out the reasons why:

I don’t know if you know the history of Galilee. It was originally, of course, part of the land conquered by Joshua around the eighth century, I think – it was about then – it was invaded by the Assyrians, yes. And when it was invaded by the Assyrians, obviously they deported the Jews and many Gentiles came to live there. In the second century, they tried to – they tried to circumcise those gentiles, that didn’t go over real big.

They tried to attach them all to Judaism, that didn’t go over real big, either. So by the time you get to the ministry of John the Baptist, there are just a lot of Gentiles in that area. That’s why it’s called Galilee of the Gentiles. In fact, it was hated or treated with scorn and disdain by the Jews. One of the things that was said concerning Peter in Mark 14:70 was, “Isn’t he a Galilean?” There was nothing but scorn for Galilee. In fact, the further you were from Jerusalem, the more disdain they had for you, and this was a long, long way from Jerusalem. It was out on the fringes where the unclean people lived.

Yet — and yet — Isaiah prophesied that the Messiah would come from Galilee:

It would be unthinkable for the Messiah to come from Galilee, Galilee of the gentiles, that scorned place. And yet did they forget Isaiah 9, “There will be no more gloom for her who was in anguish. In earlier times he treated the land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali with contempt, but later on He shall make it glorious by the way of the sea on the other side of Jordan, Galilee of the gentiles. The people who walk in darkness will see a great light, the light will shine on them.”

That’s the Messianic prophecy, that the Messiah would come from Galilee of the gentiles, Messiah would come from the land of Zebulun and Naphtali. This is Galilee, northern part of Israel.

Let us take a closer look at Nazareth. MacArthur says:

the town is Nazareth, so obscure it has to be named and it has to be located into Galilee. If you said Jesus came from Nazareth, nobody would know where it was. Nazareth in Galilee because Nazareth is not known. There is no place in any existing Jewish literature, ancient Jewish literature, where Nazareth is ever mentioned. It’s not in Josephus, it’s not in the Talmud, it’s not in the Old Testament, most obscure no-place place.

Except that Nathanael knew about Nazareth (John 1:46; Readings for the Second Sunday after Epiphany, Year B). He asked of the newly-called Apostle Philip, rather bluntly:

1:46 Nathanael said to him, “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” Philip said to him, “Come and see.”

Historically, the Jews expected the Messiah to come from Jerusalem, but the prophets knew better. MacArthur tells us:

The assumption was Messiah would come from Jerusalem, the temple is there, but the head, you know, the core, Jerusalem was corrupt, apostate. So the prophets said the Messiah will come from the fringes. The Messiah will come from the outskirts. He’ll come far at the most remote place from the religious establishment that is apostate. This in itself is a commentary on the corruption of Judaism at the time. And so He came and was baptized by John in the Jordan.

MacArthur explains the River Jordan:

You may have idyllic visions of the Jordan River, this mighty river. No. Jordan River is 105 miles long if you just fly down the Jordan. If you float, it’s 200 miles like that. Ten feet deep. At the widest, 100 feet across. “River” is stretching the word.

But it was there, away again from Jerusalem, in the wilderness, away from civilization because the center was so polluted. But John was baptizing as he had been commanded by God and Jesus came to be baptized.

MacArthur discusses John’s baptism of Jesus and the origin of the Greek word for this sacrament:

Baptizō means to immerse into water, Jesus was immersed, the symbol of the washing away of the old and purification that leads to newness, He was baptized. And He was baptized because God had commanded everybody to be baptized, and He was a man, and He would fulfill all righteousness.

And He was baptized secondarily because it was symbolic, I think, of going through the river of death, bearing the sins of His people.

As Jesus emerged from the water, two dramatic things happened (verse 10).

First, the heavens were ‘torn apart’. Secondly, the Holy Spirit descended upon Jesus in the form of a dove.

MacArthur interprets this for us via Luke’s version of events:

“Immediately coming up out of the water,” Luke adds, Luke 3:21, “while He was praying” – Jesus was in communion with the Father the whole time – “coming up out of the water,” which is an indication that He was immersed. It doesn’t mean He walked up on the riverbank, it means He came up out of the water. The scene, by the way, is trinitarian, right? Trinitarian, one of the great trinitarian texts in Scripture.

Our Heavenly Father had not rent the heavens apart for four centuries prior to this. During that era, He had also silenced prophesy. John the Baptist was the first prophet to emerge since that time.

Then God rent the heavens — tore them apart for that moment when His only begotten Son was baptised — and crowned. The Holy Spirit also appeared.

God also spoke (verse 11).

These three phenomena were open to public witness.

People were there to witness what Isaiah had prophesied centuries before, as MacArthur explains:

as He comes up out of the water, the coronation takes place. Has two parts, a visual and an audible – a visual and an audible. First, the anointing by the Holy Spirit and secondly, the affirmation by the Father. Let’s look at the anointing by the Holy Spirit. “Immediately coming up out of the water, he saw the heavens opened.” This is not a vision, by the way, folks, this is not a vision. We know it’s not a vision because … John 1:32 and following where John says, “I saw it. I saw it. I saw the Spirit descend, I saw it.”

And there’s no reason to think that others didn’t see it as well. It’s not a vision, it’s a visible reality, in contrast, for example, to the vision of Ezekiel 1. He saw the heavens opening. This is a signal of God breaking into time and space. I mean, this is huge. Now, remember, God hasn’t spoken in four hundred years. Four hundred years of divine silence until an angel comes and talks to Zacharias and Elizabeth. And another angel comes and talks to Joseph and Mary, but none of that is public. The heavens have been closed for four hundred years. And now they split.

He saw the heavens opening, and Mark uses a verb that Matthew and Luke do not use, schizō which means to rip. It’s dramatic, the heavens rip open. It’s only used one other time in the New Testament, when the veil in the temple at the death of Christ was ripped from top to bottom. This is so significant because Isaiah has been talking about the coming of Messiah, the coming of Messiah through the 40 chapters and the 50 chapters, and when you come to chapter 64, here’s the cry of the people, here’s the cry of the prophet’s heart, “O, that” – this is Isaiah 64:1. “O, that you would rip the heavens and come down.”

They were waiting for that, that God would rip open the heavens and come down and make His name known. This is anticipation of Messiah. The day is going to come when the silent heavens are going to rip open and God is going to come. The text of Isaiah 64 is a cry for God to do just that, break into history. And the Jews saw that text as evidences that Messiah would come and heaven would split open and down would come God.

MacArthur continues detailing this holy mystery of the Triune God:

God is about to come down, and He does in the form of the Holy Spirit – I love this – “and the Spirit like a dove descending upon Him.” Heaven rips open and you might think of something violent happening, something crashing down, but the Spirit like a dove descends upon Him.

Now, first of all, folks, this isn’t saying the Holy Spirit is a dove. I know there are doves all over Bible covers, and all over paraphernalia and holy hardware and all that, symbolizing the Holy Spirit, but the Holy Spirit is not a dove. The Holy Spirit is not a dove. That’s not what it’s saying. It simply says the Holy Spirit descended visibly – visibly. Luke says, think it’s chapter 3, maybe verse 21 or so, in bodily form, in some visible form, He descended like a dove. The question is not why is He a dove, the question is how does a dove descend. You understand the difference?

A dove doesn’t come crashing down. The dove is the gentlest, according to one text of Scripture, the gentlest of the birds. It comes down lightly, delicately, and rests in its place. That’s how the Holy Spirit came. That’s all it’s saying. It isn’t saying the Holy Spirit is a dove. The Holy Spirit is nowhere pictured as a dove. You don’t have to connect it with the dove that Noah sent out of the ark, like many commentators try to do, which is impossible. A dove is a very gentle, beautiful, delicate bird, and the Spirit came down in some visible form with the same kind of gentleness and beauty which is displayed when a little dove lands softly.

This is important because Isaiah made it very clear that when the Messiah comes, He will be empowered by the Holy Spirit. So this is confirmation that Jesus is the Messiah because here comes the Spirit. Listen to Isaiah 11:1, “A shoot will spring from the stem of Jesse,” that’s the father of David, out of David’s line, “A branch from his roots will bear fruit.” That’s the Messiah coming through Jesse’s line through David. “The Spirit of the Lord will rest on Him.” Messianic prophecy. Thirty-second chapter of Isaiah in the fifteenth verse, “Until the Spirit is poured out upon us from on high.” They knew that when the Messianic Kingdom comes, when Messianic glory arrives, it will be with the full power of the Holy Spirit.

Listen to 42:1, Isaiah 42:1, “Behold my Servant, whom I uphold, my Chosen One whom my soul delights, I have put my Spirit upon Him.” Those are prophecies. The Messiah would have the full presence power of the Holy Spirit. In John 3:34 it says this, that God gave Jesus the Spirit – this is the key phrase – without measure – without measure, without limit. That’s not true of everybody else. Everybody else has the Spirit in measure. Even the New Testament says that even those of us living in the age of the Holy Spirit receive a measure of the Spirit.

But He received the Spirit without measure, the full presence, the full power of the Holy Spirit came down and rested on Him. The infinite presence and power of the Spirit so that the whole life of Jesus was controlled by the Holy Spirit. His whole life was controlled by the Spirit. At the risk of over-simplifying something that is profoundly mysterious and beyond the grasp of all of us, let me see if I can give you a way to understand it. You have the Man Jesus here, you have the Son of God, eternal deity here, and that which is deity is conveyed to the man which is humanity through the means of the Holy Spirit.

As it says, He grew in wisdom and stature and favor with God and man, it was the Holy Spirit dispensing to the man, Jesus, the developing realities of truth that matured Him. That’s how you have to understand it. The Holy Spirit is the mediator between deity and humanity. John Owen makes the point that His divine nature did not directly communicate anything at all to the human Jesus. His divine nature did not communicate anything directly to the human Jesus, it all went through the mediation of the Holy Spirit, part of His self-emptying.

Through the Holy Spirit, divine power came, understanding came, enlightenment came, revelation came, so that His human nature was under the full control of the Holy Spirit, so that everything He did, He did in the power of the Spirit.

Then the Holy Spirit directed Jesus to the wilderness (verse 12).

Mark arrives at this part of the story without filling in intervening details that the other Gospels do because he wants to demonstrate the authority of Jesus.

MacArthur explains Mark’s reasoning:

He demonstrates the authority of Christ over three realms. One, over Satan and his realm. Two, over sin and its dominion. Three, over sinners. It is important for us to know that if the new King is going to take His throne, if the new King is going to reign, if the new King is going to overthrow the usurper, the temporary king, Satan himself, and if the King is going to conquer Satan and sin and sinners, He has to demonstrate the power to do that.

And so that’s where Mark establishes His authority. First in His temptation, His authority over Satan becomes clear … He can overpower and will overpower Satan. He can overpower and will overpower sin.

Mark tells us that Jesus was in the wilderness for 40 days — which is how we derived the period of our Lenten season — and, whilst there, the angels tended to Him (verse 13).

During this time, Jesus went without food, which is the root for Lenten fasting accompanied by prayer.

MacArthur continues, reminding us not only of scriptural precedent but also that Satan was ever present, tempting Him to worldly comforts:

Now, Mark doesn’t tell us what Matthew and Luke tell us, and that is this: that Jesus went without food for the entire forty days. Matthew 4:2, Luke 4:2, He didn’t eat for forty days. Forty-day fasts had happened before. According to Exodus chapter 34, Moses had a forty-day fast. According to 1 Kings 19, Elijah had a forty-day fast. That’s a long time, almost six weeks of eating nothing. Verse 13 says He was in the wilderness forty days, being tempted by Satan. Forty days alone, forty days in isolation, forty days in a dangerous, devastating place. Forty days without anything to eat.

So you have no support system, no one to help Him, no one to comfort Him, no one to instruct Him, no one to encourage Him, and He is at His lowest possible physical condition. His strength would be gone long before the sixth week. It would begin to diminish seriously the second week. But if He is the King, He must be able, alone at His weakest, to conquer the enemy. And so the Holy Spirit throws Him into that conflict.

He is not only to be a King – and this is what you want to keep in mind. He is a King, and He is reigning over His people now, and He will reign over the earth and over all the new heaven and the new earth in eternity. He is a King, He will always reign, and He will ultimately and finally reign over everything. But He is also a suffering servant. And while as a King He is exalted, as a suffering servant, He is humiliated. The new King is also the suffering servant, it is a paradox, it is a paradox. The most exalted one is the one who suffers most.

Wandering in that place alone for nearly six weeks with nothing to eat in the wilderness, He is tempted the whole time by Satan. Some people assume that He was only tempted at the end of the forty days. Well, the temptations that came at the end of the forty days are given in Matthew 4 and Luke 4, but here we are told He was tempted the whole time. The whole time. And the interesting thing about the temptation Mark doesn’t describe, he leaves that to Matthew and to Luke, the interesting thing about the temptation was that the temptation was never a temptation for Him to give up His sovereignty.

It was never a temptation to give up His royalty, if you will. It was never a temptation for Him to give up His rights and His privileges and His honor and His exaltation and His elevation. It was a temptation for Him to abandon His humiliation.

We do not know exactly how the angels ministered to Jesus. Perhaps they kept him away from dangerous beasts, which were in the wilderness. Perhaps they distracted Him in good ways to look at the natural beauty of his surroundings. Even a desert offers God-given flowers and stunning sunsets.

Matthew Henry says:

Note, The ministration of the good angels about us, is matter of great comfort in reference to the malicious designs of the evil angels against us but much more doth it befriend us, to have the indwelling of the spirit in our hearts, which they that have, are so born of God, that, as far as they are so, the evil one toucheth them not, much less shall be triumph over them.

MacArthur says that on the final day, the angels found food for Jesus:

How did the angels minister to Him? They fed Him. After forty days of fasting, they gave Him something to eat. But I think they ministered in another way as well. I think they brought by their very presence and the food the confirmation of the Father. This was God’s way of saying, “I am still well pleased.” The divine approval of His holy triumph over Satan and fierce temptation is signaled by God sending holy angels to minister to Him at the end in the exhaustion of His victory.

Then Herod had John the Baptist arrested, after which Jesus proclaimed the Good News in Galilee (verse 14).

In real time — according to the other three Gospels — this was probably over four months after the end of His time in the wilderness, according to MacArthur.

Note that Jesus preached in Galilee, the region where He grew up. MacArthur says:

Galilee was the northern part of the land of Israel, the hinterlands, the outskirts, far from the religious center in Jerusalem. The fact that Jesus really launched His ministry in full power there was a testimony to the apostasy of the core, the corruption of Jerusalem.

Jesus preached that the kingdom of God, as we still say today, was at hand (verse 15). When people say it now, we understand it to be that the end of the world is nigh.

However, when Jesus spoke of it, he did so proclaiming the era of the long-awaited Messiah. This is the best news the people of faith at that time could receive.

MacArthur explains the message of Jesus:

… this is the message. It is the good news, it is good news, it is the best news the world has ever heard. And what is it? Verse 15, it is this, “The time is fulfilled,” the kairos, not the chronos, not clock time, not calendar time, epochal time – the era, the fixed point in history for an event to happen. Or in the words of Galatians 4:4, “The fullness of time.” The administration of the fullness of time, it’s called in Ephesians 1:10. God’s sovereign moment. The significant hour in human history.

This is it for which the world has long waited, the most significant era in the world’s history, the arrival of the Savior who will pay the penalty for sin and thus provide salvation for all who have believed from the beginning of history to the end. The time is fulfilled. This is God’s great epochal moment. The promises of the Old Testament regarding Messiah, the promises regarding the Kingdom, the promises of salvation are about to be fulfilled. What is the message? That Christ has come not only to conquer Satan but to conquer sin – to conquer sin through the gospel.

The new King has arrived and with Him the Kingdom. The Kingdom is here because the King is here. Wherever the King is present, the Kingdom is. Jesus’ message, very simple, unmistakable: the Kingdom of God is at hand, here it is. I’m here, the Kingdom’s here.

When He was in Nazareth in Galilee, Luke 4, just after His temptation, right at this same time, goes in to the synagogue and He says, “Today this prophecy is fulfilled in your ears.” And He was talking about the Messianic prophecy from Isaiah 61. It is the message, the good news, God’s hour has come, the Kingdom is here because the King is here. How do you enter that Kingdom? Repent and believe in the gospel, writes Mark. Repent of your sin. Believe in the gospel, the good news concerning Jesus Christ.

Matthew Henry says that that people, by and large, forgot the ancient prophesies. Jesus reminded them:

Observe, (1.) The great truths Christ preached The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand. This refers to the Old Testament, in which the kingdom of the Messiah was promised, and the time fixed for the introducing of it. They were not so well versed in those prophecies, nor did they so well observe the signs of the times, as to understand it themselves, and therefore Christ gives them notice of it “The time prefixed is now at hand glorious discoveries of divine light, life, and love, are now to be made a new dispensation far more spiritual and heavenly than that which you have hitherto been under, is now to commence.” Note, God keeps time when the time is fulfilled, the kingdom of God is at hand, for the vision is for an appointed time, which will be punctually observed, though it tarry past our time.

The baptism of Jesus signified His kingship as Christ our Lord forevermore.

Below are the readings for Transfiguration Sunday, February 14, 2021.

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

This is also Quinquagesima Sunday, 50 days before Easter, and the final Sunday before Ash Wednesday, the beginning of Lent.

Emphases below are mine.

First reading

This is the dramatic account of Elijah being whisked into Heaven by a chariot and horses, leaving Elisha to succeed him. Matthew Henry’s commentary explains the background to Elijah’s influence as a prophet and what happened at his death. There were several schools of prophecy among God’s chosen at the time, and Elijah was the spiritual leader for all of them. Before he died, he bade farewell to those in the schools of prophecy. When he was about to die, he did not want Elisha there, but then he relented (verses 2, 4). Elisha asked his spiritual leader for ‘a double share of his spirit’ — meaning ability to properly interpret Scripture and thereby prophesy (verse 9). After Elijah was ‘translated’ (theological term) into Heaven, Elisha rent his own clothes, the traditional manner of mourning in Judaism. Scholars believe that the horse and chariot that whisked Elijah into Heaven were actually angels: cherubim and seraphim. Zechariah 1:8 and Zechariah 6:1 have similar imagery. Elijah appears in the account of the Transfiguration in the Gospel stories (see Mark’s below).

2 Kings 2:1-12

2:1 Now when the LORD was about to take Elijah up to heaven by a whirlwind, Elijah and Elisha were on their way from Gilgal.

2:2 Elijah said to Elisha, “Stay here; for the LORD has sent me as far as Bethel.” But Elisha said, “As the LORD lives, and as you yourself live, I will not leave you.” So they went down to Bethel.

2:3 The company of prophets who were in Bethel came out to Elisha, and said to him, “Do you know that today the LORD will take your master away from you?” And he said, “Yes, I know; keep silent.”

2:4 Elijah said to him, “Elisha, stay here; for the LORD has sent me to Jericho.” But he said, “As the LORD lives, and as you yourself live, I will not leave you.” So they came to Jericho.

2:5 The company of prophets who were at Jericho drew near to Elisha, and said to him, “Do you know that today the LORD will take your master away from you?” And he answered, “Yes, I know; be silent.”

2:6 Then Elijah said to him, “Stay here; for the LORD has sent me to the Jordan.” But he said, “As the LORD lives, and as you yourself live, I will not leave you.” So the two of them went on.

2:7 Fifty men of the company of prophets also went, and stood at some distance from them, as they both were standing by the Jordan.

2:8 Then Elijah took his mantle and rolled it up, and struck the water; the water was parted to the one side and to the other, until the two of them crossed on dry ground.

2:9 When they had crossed, Elijah said to Elisha, “Tell me what I may do for you, before I am taken from you.” Elisha said, “Please let me inherit a double share of your spirit.”

2:10 He responded, “You have asked a hard thing; yet, if you see me as I am being taken from you, it will be granted you; if not, it will not.”

2:11 As they continued walking and talking, a chariot of fire and horses of fire separated the two of them, and Elijah ascended in a whirlwind into heaven.

2:12 Elisha kept watching and crying out, “Father, father! The chariots of Israel and its horsemen!” But when he could no longer see him, he grasped his own clothes and tore them in two pieces.

Psalm

The Psalm tells us to live a life worthy of God and avoid judgement in the afterlife.

Psalm 50:1-6

50:1 The mighty one, God the LORD, speaks and summons the earth from the rising of the sun to its setting.

50:2 Out of Zion, the perfection of beauty, God shines forth.

50:3 Our God comes and does not keep silence, before him is a devouring fire, and a mighty tempest all around him.

50:4 He calls to the heavens above and to the earth, that he may judge his people:

50:5 “Gather to me my faithful ones, who made a covenant with me by sacrifice!”

50:6 The heavens declare his righteousness, for God himself is judge. Selah

Epistle

Paul tells the Christians of Corinth that those who are perishing in sin are incapable of understanding the Gospel. On the other hand, Christians proclaim the Light, which is Christ Jesus.

2 Corinthians 4:3-6

4:3 And even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled to those who are perishing.

4:4 In their case the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God.

4:5 For we do not proclaim ourselves; we proclaim Jesus Christ as Lord and ourselves as your slaves for Jesus’ sake.

4:6 For it is the God who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” who has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.

Gospel

Readings from Mark continue. Jesus took Peter, James and John — His most trusted Apostles — to give them a glimpse of Himself as He lives and reigns forevermore. Note that Elijah (see the first reading above) was there with Moses. God the Father spoke, telling the three men to listen to Him. Compare Mark’s version with Matthew’s (read in Year A).

Mark 9:2-9

9:2 Six days later, Jesus took with him Peter and James and John, and led them up a high mountain apart, by themselves. And he was transfigured before them,

9:3 and his clothes became dazzling white, such as no one on earth could bleach them.

9:4 And there appeared to them Elijah with Moses, who were talking with Jesus.

9:5 Then Peter said to Jesus, “Rabbi, it is good for us to be here; let us make three dwellings, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.”

9:6 He did not know what to say, for they were terrified.

9:7 Then a cloud overshadowed them, and from the cloud there came a voice, “This is my Son, the Beloved; listen to him!”

9:8 Suddenly when they looked around, they saw no one with them any more, but only Jesus.

9:9 As they were coming down the mountain, he ordered them to tell no one about what they had seen, until after the Son of Man had risen from the dead.

These readings give show us the incomprehensible heavenly glory of the life to come.

May I also take this opportunity to wish those celebrating it a very happy St Valentine’s Day!

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