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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!

Below are the readings for the Fifth Sunday after Epiphany, February 7, 2021.

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

As I explained last week, we are now in Shrovetide. Last Sunday was Septuagesima Sunday. February 7 is Sexagesima Sunday, signifying 60 days before Easter.

My posts below discuss these Sundays and Shrovetide in more detail:

Shrovetide — a history

The Sundays before Lent — an explanation (the Sundays that define Shrovetide)

Emphases mine below.

First reading

Isaiah prophesies deliverance, not only for the chosen held captive in Babylon but also salvation for mankind in general through Jesus Christ. Verse 31 contains the imagery of eagles’ wings, also found in Exodus 19, Psalm 91 and Matthew 13.

Isaiah 40:21-31

40:21 Have you not known? Have you not heard? Has it not been told you from the beginning? Have you not understood from the foundations of the earth?

40:22 It is he who sits above the circle of the earth, and its inhabitants are like grasshoppers; who stretches out the heavens like a curtain, and spreads them like a tent to live in;

40:23 who brings princes to naught, and makes the rulers of the earth as nothing.

40:24 Scarcely are they planted, scarcely sown, scarcely has their stem taken root in the earth, when he blows upon them, and they wither, and the tempest carries them off like stubble.

40:25 To whom then will you compare me, or who is my equal? says the Holy One.

40:26 Lift up your eyes on high and see: Who created these? He who brings out their host and numbers them, calling them all by name; because he is great in strength, mighty in power, not one is missing.

40:27 Why do you say, O Jacob, and speak, O Israel, “My way is hidden from the LORD, and my right is disregarded by my God”?

40:28 Have you not known? Have you not heard? The LORD is the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth. He does not faint or grow weary; his understanding is unsearchable.

40:29 He gives power to the faint, and strengthens the powerless.

40:30 Even youths will faint and be weary, and the young will fall exhausted;

40:31 but those who wait for the LORD shall renew their strength, they shall mount up with wings like eagles, they shall run and not be weary, they shall walk and not faint.

Psalm

This is one of the Praise Psalms (145-150). Matthew Henry’s commentary says that many Bible scholars believe this was written after the Jews were released from captivity, but Henry says that a case could also be made for David’s authorship, during the building up of Jerusalem and the return of the outcasts from Saul’s time.

Psalm 147:1-11, 20c

147:1 Praise the LORD! How good it is to sing praises to our God; for he is gracious, and a song of praise is fitting.

147:2 The LORD builds up Jerusalem; he gathers the outcasts of Israel.

147:3 He heals the brokenhearted, and binds up their wounds.

147:4 He determines the number of the stars; he gives to all of them their names.

147:5 Great is our Lord, and abundant in power; his understanding is beyond measure.

147:6 The LORD lifts up the downtrodden; he casts the wicked to the ground.

147:7 Sing to the LORD with thanksgiving; make melody to our God on the lyre.

147:8 He covers the heavens with clouds, prepares rain for the earth, makes grass grow on the hills.

147:9 He gives to the animals their food, and to the young ravens when they cry.

147:10 His delight is not in the strength of the horse, nor his pleasure in the speed of a runner;

147:11 but the LORD takes pleasure in those who fear him, in those who hope in his steadfast love.

147:20c Praise the LORD!

Epistle

The Corinthians were a troublesome congregation, paying too much attention to the world and developing factions among themselves with false teachers. As such, Paul felt the need to justify his commission to preach the Gospel. He explains his strategy for evangelising in order to reach both Jew and Gentile.

1 Corinthians 9:16-23

9:16 If I proclaim the gospel, this gives me no ground for boasting, for an obligation is laid on me, and woe to me if I do not proclaim the gospel!

9:17 For if I do this of my own will, I have a reward; but if not of my own will, I am entrusted with a commission.

9:18 What then is my reward? Just this: that in my proclamation I may make the gospel free of charge, so as not to make full use of my rights in the gospel.

9:19 For though I am free with respect to all, I have made myself a slave to all, so that I might win more of them.

9:20 To the Jews I became as a Jew, in order to win Jews. To those under the law I became as one under the law (though I myself am not under the law) so that I might win those under the law.

9:21 To those outside the law I became as one outside the law (though I am not free from God’s law but am under Christ’s law) so that I might win those outside the law.

9:22 To the weak I became weak, so that I might win the weak. I have become all things to all people, that I might by all means save some.

9:23 I do it all for the sake of the gospel, so that I may share in its blessings.

Gospel

Readings from Mark continue. His account of Jesus’s early ministry continues, relating what happened after he drove the demon out of the man with the unclean spirit. This is his account of His healing Simon Peter’s mother-in-law, who had a debilitating fever. Afterwards, Jesus healed many more people through His power, mercy and compassion.

Mark 1:29-39

1:29 As soon as they left the synagogue, they entered the house of Simon and Andrew, with James and John.

1:30 Now Simon’s mother-in-law was in bed with a fever, and they told him about her at once.

1:31 He came and took her by the hand and lifted her up. Then the fever left her, and she began to serve them.

1:32 That evening, at sundown, they brought to him all who were sick or possessed with demons.

1:33 And the whole city was gathered around the door.

1:34 And he cured many who were sick with various diseases, and cast out many demons; and he would not permit the demons to speak, because they knew him.

1:35 In the morning, while it was still very dark, he got up and went out to a deserted place, and there he prayed.

1:36 And Simon and his companions hunted for him.

1:37 When they found him, they said to him, “Everyone is searching for you.”

1:38 He answered, “Let us go on to the neighboring towns, so that I may proclaim the message there also; for that is what I came out to do.”

1:39 And he went throughout Galilee, proclaiming the message in their synagogues and casting out demons.

Have a blessed Sunday.

Below are the readings for the Fourth Sunday after Epiphany, January 31, 2021.

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

This particular Sunday is also known traditionally as Septuagesima Sunday, marking 70 days before Easter. It is also the beginning of Shrovetide, which concludes on Shrove Tuesday. Shrove Tuesday is the day before Ash Wednesday.

Centuries ago, some Christians began their Lenten disciplines during Shrovetide. A number of traditionalists, not only in the Catholic Church but also the Anglican Communion and Lutheran Church, also observe the pre-Lenten Sundays counting down to Easter: Septuagesima, Sexagesima and Quinquagesima.

My posts which follow discuss these Sundays and Shrovetide in more detail:

Shrovetide — a history

The Sundays before Lent — an explanation (the Sundays that define Shrovetide)

Emphases mine below.

First reading

Moses relates what the Lord told him. From the midst of His people, the Lord promises His people a prophet above all others: Jesus Christ.

Deuteronomy 18:15-20

18:15 The LORD your God will raise up for you a prophet like me from among your own people; you shall heed such a prophet.

18:16 This is what you requested of the LORD your God at Horeb on the day of the assembly when you said: “If I hear the voice of the LORD my God any more, or ever again see this great fire, I will die.”

18:17 Then the LORD replied to me: “They are right in what they have said.

18:18 I will raise up for them a prophet like you from among their own people; I will put my words in the mouth of the prophet, who shall speak to them everything that I command.

18:19 Anyone who does not heed the words that the prophet shall speak in my name, I myself will hold accountable.

18:20 But any prophet who speaks in the name of other gods, or who presumes to speak in my name a word that I have not commanded the prophet to speak–that prophet shall die.”

Psalm

This short Psalm of David’s was likely used in communal worship, reflecting on God’s infinite glory, power and mercy. Verse 10 will be familiar to most readers.

Psalm 111

111:1 Praise the LORD! I will give thanks to the LORD with my whole heart, in the company of the upright, in the congregation.

111:2 Great are the works of the LORD, studied by all who delight in them.

111:3 Full of honor and majesty is his work, and his righteousness endures forever.

111:4 He has gained renown by his wonderful deeds; the LORD is gracious and merciful.

111:5 He provides food for those who fear him; he is ever mindful of his covenant.

111:6 He has shown his people the power of his works, in giving them the heritage of the nations.

111:7 The works of his hands are faithful and just; all his precepts are trustworthy.

111:8 They are established forever and ever, to be performed with faithfulness and uprightness.

111:9 He sent redemption to his people; he has commanded his covenant forever. Holy and awesome is his name.

111:10 The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom; all those who practice it have a good understanding. His praise endures forever.

Epistle

Paul discusses weaker and stronger brothers in faith, a topic that he wrote about extensively in Romans. If a weaker Christian is offended by something that a stronger Christian does, i.e. eating meat sacrificed to idols, then it is incumbent upon the stronger Christian not to do it in his presence or force him to do so. The weaker Christian, if forced to partake of an activity that he finds offensive, could suffer an interminable pang of conscience and could even leave the faith.

1 Corinthians 8:1-13

8:1 Now concerning food sacrificed to idols: we know that “all of us possess knowledge.” Knowledge puffs up, but love builds up.

8:2 Anyone who claims to know something does not yet have the necessary knowledge;

8:3 but anyone who loves God is known by him.

8:4 Hence, as to the eating of food offered to idols, we know that “no idol in the world really exists,” and that “there is no God but one.”

8:5 Indeed, even though there may be so-called gods in heaven or on earth–as in fact there are many gods and many lords–

8:6 yet for us there is one God, the Father, from whom are all things and for whom we exist, and one Lord, Jesus Christ, through whom are all things and through whom we exist.

8:7 It is not everyone, however, who has this knowledge. Since some have become so accustomed to idols until now, they still think of the food they eat as food offered to an idol; and their conscience, being weak, is defiled.

8:8 “Food will not bring us close to God.” We are no worse off if we do not eat, and no better off if we do.

8:9 But take care that this liberty of yours does not somehow become a stumbling block to the weak.

8:10 For if others see you, who possess knowledge, eating in the temple of an idol, might they not, since their conscience is weak, be encouraged to the point of eating food sacrificed to idols?

8:11 So by your knowledge those weak believers for whom Christ died are destroyed.

8:12 But when you thus sin against members of your family, and wound their conscience when it is weak, you sin against Christ.

8:13 Therefore, if food is a cause of their falling, I will never eat meat, so that I may not cause one of them to fall.

Gospel

Readings from Mark continue. This is what happened after Jesus began calling His disciples.

Mark 1:21-28

1:21 They went to Capernaum; and when the sabbath came, he entered the synagogue and taught.

1:22 They were astounded at his teaching, for he taught them as one having authority, and not as the scribes.

1:23 Just then there was in their synagogue a man with an unclean spirit,

1:24 and he cried out, “What have you to do with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are, the Holy One of God.”

1:25 But Jesus rebuked him, saying, “Be silent, and come out of him!”

1:26 And the unclean spirit, convulsing him and crying with a loud voice, came out of him.

1:27 They were all amazed, and they kept on asking one another, “What is this? A new teaching–with authority! He commands even the unclean spirits, and they obey him.”

1:28 At once his fame began to spread throughout the surrounding region of Galilee.

May all of my readers enjoy a blessed Sunday.

Below are the readings for the Third Sunday after Epiphany, January 24, 2021.

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

Emphases below are mine.

First reading

After having been in the belly of the whale for three days for refusing to preach to the Gentiles at Nineveh, Jonah was washed up on land. God gave him a second chance to carry out His command. A humbled Jonah obeyed this time. Matthew Henry’s commentary has an excellent exposition on Nineveh — it was the largest city in the Ancient World at that time, positively massive. It is unfortunate that the Lectionary editors left out the part where the king of the city helped greatly by declaring a royal decree to don not only sackcloth and ashes but also fast. He also abided by that decree. I have included the missing verses (highlighted in purple). The irony with this story is that God gave Israel many prophets, who were persecuted and ignored, yet, this pagan city and its king repented immediately with one visit from Jonah.

Jonah 3:1-5, 10

3:1 The word of the LORD came to Jonah a second time, saying,

3:2 “Get up, go to Nineveh, that great city, and proclaim to it the message that I tell you.”

3:3 So Jonah set out and went to Nineveh, according to the word of the LORD. Now Nineveh was an exceedingly large city, a three days’ walk across.

3:4 Jonah began to go into the city, going a day’s walk. And he cried out, “Forty days more, and Nineveh shall be overthrown!”

3:5 And the people of Nineveh believed God; they proclaimed a fast, and everyone, great and small, put on sackcloth.

The word reached[a] the king of Nineveh, and he arose from his throne, removed his robe, covered himself with sackcloth, and sat in ashes.

And he issued a proclamation and published through Nineveh, “By the decree of the king and his nobles: Let neither man nor beast, herd nor flock, taste anything. Let them not feed or drink water,

but let man and beast be covered with sackcloth, and let them call out mightily to God. Let everyone turn from his evil way and from the violence that is in his hands.

9 Who knows? God may turn and relent and turn from his fierce anger, so that we may not perish.”

3:10 When God saw what they did, how they turned from their evil ways, God changed his mind about the calamity that he had said he would bring upon them; and he did not do it.

Psalm

In this Psalm, David confidently proclaims his trust in the Lord.

Psalm 62:5-12

62:5 For God alone my soul waits in silence, for my hope is from him.

62:6 He alone is my rock and my salvation, my fortress; I shall not be shaken.

62:7 On God rests my deliverance and my honor; my mighty rock, my refuge is in God.

62:8 Trust in him at all times, O people; pour out your heart before him; God is a refuge for us. Selah

62:9 Those of low estate are but a breath, those of high estate are a delusion; in the balances they go up; they are together lighter than a breath.

62:10 Put no confidence in extortion, and set no vain hopes on robbery; if riches increase, do not set your heart on them.

62:11 Once God has spoken; twice have I heard this: that power belongs to God,

62:12 and steadfast love belongs to you, O Lord. For you repay to all according to their work.

Epistle

1 Corinthians 7 is about Christian marriage. That said, Paul takes great pains to point out that marriage is but a temporal state and that we should always have our hearts and minds on the world to come, our home in Heaven.

1 Corinthians 7:29-31

7:29 I mean, brothers and sisters, the appointed time has grown short; from now on, let even those who have wives be as though they had none,

7:30 and those who mourn as though they were not mourning, and those who rejoice as though they were not rejoicing, and those who buy as though they had no possessions,

7:31 and those who deal with the world as though they had no dealings with it. For the present form of this world is passing away.

Gospel

Last week’s reading from John described how Jesus called Philip and Nathanael to be His disciples. In today’s reading from Mark, Jesus calls two more sets of brothers to join him: Simon Peter and Andrew as well as John (the Gospel writer) and James, the sons of Zebedee. John in verse 14 is John the Baptist.

Mark 1:14-20

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.”

1:16 As Jesus passed along the Sea of Galilee, he saw Simon and his brother Andrew casting a net into the sea–for they were fishermen.

1:17 And Jesus said to them, “Follow me and I will make you fish for people.”

1:18 And immediately they left their nets and followed him.

1:19 As he went a little farther, he saw James son of Zebedee and his brother John, who were in their boat mending the nets.

1:20 Immediately he called them; and they left their father Zebedee in the boat with the hired men, and followed him.

I still prefer ‘fishers of men’ (verse 17), which actually includes both sexes, but we are not allowed that usage anymore.

Have a blessed Sunday.

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

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

Emphases below are mine.

First reading

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

Genesis 1:1-5

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

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

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

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

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

Psalm

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

Psalm 29

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Epistle

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

Acts 19:1-7

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

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

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

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

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

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

19:7 altogether there were about twelve of them.

Gospel

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

Mark 1:4-11

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Having posted most, though not all, of the readings for the three Lectionary years, it is now time to delve into the readings.

The readings for Sunday, December 6 — St Nicholas Day, incidentally — are in the following post:

Readings for the Second Sunday of Advent — Year B

You can read more about St Nicholas and his feast day below:

St Nicholas Day (much to learn about a man of great faith)

More on St Nicholas — feast day December 6

St Nicholas Day — December 6 (1970s celebrations in Germany)

Let us look at the Gospel reading for the Second Sunday of Advent in Year B (emphases mine):

Mark 1:1-8

1:1 The beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.

1:2 As it is written in the prophet Isaiah, “See, I am sending my messenger ahead of you, who will prepare your way;

1:3 the voice of one crying out in the wilderness: ‘Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight,’”

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

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

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

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

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

John MacArthur preached an excellent sermon on these verses in 2009. Mark was the last book of the New Testament on which he preached.

Excerpts from ‘The Herald of the New King’ follow, emphases mine.

Unlike Matthew, who went into the full earthly genealogy of our Lord, Mark begins by stating ‘the good news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God’ (verse 1): no ifs, ands or buts.

That is because Matthew wrote for a Jewish audience and Mark wrote for the Gentiles, specifically, those in Rome:

He’s writing to Roman Christians – and, of course, Roman non-Christians – who will hear his history read. He is not concerned primarily about the Jews, so he doesn’t frontload his book with a lot of prophecies. He doesn’t make efforts to connect the arrival of Jesus with the Old Testament, say, by giving genealogies like Matthew and Luke are so careful to give. He doesn’t give specific prophesies about Jesus, such as the virgin birth, Bethlehem, called out of Egypt. And there are a number of prophesies that Matthew refers to and Luke refers to. None of those does Mark refer to in the beginning of his history. It is simply enough to say, “He is the Son of God.” He is the Son of God.

As Christians, we take for granted that Mark used the words ‘the good news’, but, interestingly, that phrase was also used of Roman emperors. Furthermore, the word in Greek is euaggelion, ‘of the gospel’:

This is an inscription from the Roman world. The date is 9 B.C. Okay? Before Christ. This is the inscription, “The Providence, which has ordered the whole of our life” – translated into English, obviously – “showing concern and zeal, has ordained the most perfect consummation for human life by giving it to Augustus, by filling him with virtue for doing the work of a benefactor among men and by sending in him, as it were, a savior for us and those who come after us, to make war to cease, to create order everywhere. The birthday of the god Augustus is the beginning for the world of the euaggelion” – of the gospel – “that has come to men through him.”

How interesting. They used the word euaggelion on that occasion, in that inscription, to describe the arrival of Caesar Augustus. Caesar Augustus is – “by the Providence,” it says – the one who will bring to us the work of a benefactor, the work of a savior, make war cease, create order everywhere. It is the arrival of a god. The good news, then, is that Augustus Caesar has arrived. That actual inscription was dedicated to him, apparently, on his birthday. Then, as a technical term again to refer to the ascendancy of the triumph of an emperor.

So, the Jews and the pagans would both see that word as signifying the arrival of a new monarch, and that would signify the arrival of a new era. And the new era would be an era of order and peace and salvation and blessing.

Mark intended for his story to describe a King that was not of this realm and to ensure it was understood as such:

This is the story of the new King who has arrived, who is about to inaugurate His kingdom and bring a new era of salvation, blessing, peace, and order to the world. One historical writer says, “The parallel between ‘evangel’” – or the gospel – “in the imperial cult and the Bible is Caesar and Christ, the emperor on the throne and the despised rabbi on the cross confront each other. Both are gospel to men. They have much in common, but they belong to two different worlds.”

So, Mark begins his historical account of the life of Jesus with language that would make his Roman readers know that the new and most glorious King has come, and He sets Himself against all other kings, including Caesar. He is the theme of this history. And this is only the beginning of His story. And what is His name? Jesus Christ, the Son of God.

Jesus identifies His human name, Yeshua or Yehoshua in Hebrew – basically, Joshua – meaning Yahweh is salvation. Yehoshua – Yahweh is salvation. That’s His name. “Call Him Jesus, for He will save His people from their sins,” Matthew 1:21. His title – His name is Jesus, His title is Christ. That is not a name; that is not His last name. That’s a title. Royal title. The Anointed One. That’s what Messiah means. Christ and Messiah are the same thing. It means Anointed One. It’s a royal title. His human name is Jesus. His royal title is Messiah, the Anointed One. Simply King. And his lineage? He is the Son of God. One in nature with God, coeternal and coequal.

And thus does Mark introduce us to the beginning of the history of King Jesus. The beginning of the history of King Jesus, the Son of God. Not the Son of some other earthly monarch.

The next two verses refer to passages from the Old Testament. Just as earthly kings had family history, Mark wanted his audience to know that our Lord had been prophesied in Scripture:

No king ever arrived and said, “Hey, I’m the king, and I’m here.” The king always had a forerunner. The king always had an entourage. The king always had some coming before him to prepare the way and make the people ready, and then was appropriately introduced by someone who bore authenticity and authority to make that introduction.

So, Mark, consistent with the Gentile approach to how kings were announced, goes to the Old Testament for the only time in the beginning of his Gospel, not to find a prophecy about Jesus, but to find a prophecy about His herald, to give authenticity to His herald.

But there was more. Mark wanted to include the story of John the Baptist, who preached of His imminent ministry:

With all the Old Testament texts that connect to Jesus Christ, Mark uses prophecy not about the new King at all, but about His forerunner, the one who is to proclaim His arrival. This would be in the kind of official structure of what people in the Gentile world will be used to.

MacArthur says that the Gentile believers in Rome would have known Isaiah’s prophecy:

So, there is coming a messenger. That’s identified in verse 2, “I send My messenger.” And he further identifies the messenger as someone who will be a voice crying in the wilderness. This is from the ancient prophets. He’s quoting from the ancient prophets, and he labels this from Isaiah the prophet. Certainly Isaiah was well-known to even Gentile Christians because of his vast book, much of which was centered on the arrival of Messiah, the servant of Jehovah, as Isaiah identifies Him. So, he draws prophecies out of Isaiah.

By the way, Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John all use – all use these prophecies to label John the Baptist as the fulfillment. John the Baptist is the fulfillment of these prophecies, and all four Gospel writers indicate that. “As it is written in Isaiah the prophet” – or preferably “as it has been written.” The new King is not a new plan; the new King is not an afterthought. This is the plan that God was working out in ancient times. The plan is one culminating in the arrival of the new King, Jesus Christ, the Son of God.

The Gentile readers need to know that the one who announced His arrival is the one prophesied by the ancient prophets, and by the notable prophet Isaiah from the Old Testament. He is an official, divinely commissioned herald for the new King. And so, he’s the one being described in these prophecies.

To be precise, verse 2 is from Malachi and verse 3 is from Isaiah:

Verse 2 is actually Malachi 3:1; and verse 3 is Isaiah chapter 40, verse 3. This is not an uncommon thing to do, to refer to only one of the Old Testament prophets, the more prominent one, the more notable one, and tuck in another prophecy by another prophet, since it was all the Word of God.

These prophecies go together so perfectly, and both refer to the same person, so they may have been frequently used together. Malachi is the introductory one; Isaiah is the more important one. But both are general references. If you go back, they’re – and this is something you need to know that New Testament writers do. Sometimes they quote exactly from the Hebrew; sometimes they quote from the Septuagint, the Greek Old Testament; sometimes they make sort of a general reference to a text, and sometimes it’s an interpretive reference. Because remember now, the New Testament writers are inspired by God. And so, when they interpret an Old Testament text, they interpret that in an inspired way.

So, they always give the true interpretation of the text. Sometimes you’d directly quote it; sometimes it’s an interpretive quote. Here you have some interpretive quotation, certainly in the case of Malachi 3:1.

Isaiah 40:3 is part of the First Reading for this particular Sunday:

A voice cries out: “In the wilderness prepare the way of the LORD, make straight in the desert a highway for our God.

MacArthur discusses Malachi 3:1:

Malachi 3:1 records, “Behold, I send My messenger” – and Malachi says – “before Me.” Here you have an interpretation of that, “Behold, I send My messenger ahead of You, who will prepare Your way.” Obviously, You and Your refers to the coming King. But before the King comes, ahead of Him comes the messenger. So, this is a prophecy that there will be one who comes before the King comes, whose job will be to prepare His way.

Like all prophets, this is a messenger. All prophets are proclaimers. He’s a preacher. He will make a strong call for people to prepare for the arrival of the new King. Malachi 3:1 is a direct reference to this messenger, this herald of the coming new King.

MacArthur then looks at Isaiah 40:3. Today’s First Reading is Isaiah 40:1-11:

from Isaiah chapter 40, the opening, and then down in verses 9 and 10, Isaiah prophesied the return of the Jews from the Babylonian captivity. He prophesied they would come back to Israel; they would go through the wilderness, and God would lead them. And when they arrived, God would be with them, and He would ascend to His throne, and again He would rule over them.

And so, in the near intention of that prophecy, He was talking about the return from the Babylonian captivity and the ascendancy of God to His sovereign place over a reconstituted Israel. And that would require making ready the way of the Lord. God would lead them back from captivity, would make the path for them, make the road for them, and they would head back, and God would be with them. In the future sense, one would come who would make the road ready for the new King. Make the road ready for the new King. And this, of course, is here associated with the forerunner of Jesus, namely John the Baptist. There was to come one who would herald the new King’s arrival, call people to prepare for His glorious ascent to His throne and the establishment of his kingdom of salvation, and blessing, and peace.

In verse 4, Mark says that John the Baptist — ‘the Baptiser’ — was ‘in the wilderness’, proclaiming baptism as a form of repentance.

John the Baptist lived in the desert:

… he appears in the wilderness, in the desert. In fact, in John 3:23, it places Him about 25 to 30 miles south of the Sea of Galilee, along the Jordan River. And up and down that river he went for the duration of his ministry, preaching out in the desert, away from all the cities and all the towns and all the people. He was in that wilderness, basically, his whole life. According to Luke 1:80, he spent his life in the wilderness. He was a wilderness guy. He was a desert man.

When God’s people repented in the Old Testament they were in the wilderness. Many of us consider wilderness to mean a forest, but in Scripture, it means desert. The Jews of John’s time would have understood the significance:

William Lane writes – and I think it’s well stated – “The summons to be baptized in the Jordan means that Israel must once more come to the wilderness. As Israel long ago had been separated from Egypt by a pilgrimage through the waters of the Red Sea, the nation is exhorted again to exercise separation. The people are called to a second exodus in preparation for a new covenant with God.

“As the people heed John’s call and go out to him in the desert, far more is involved than contrition and confession. They return to a place of judgment, the wilderness, where the status of Israel as God’s beloved son must be reestablished in the exchange of pride for humility. The willingness to return to the wilderness signifies the acknowledgement of Israel’s history as one of disobedience and rebellion, and a desire to begin once more. Let’s go back to the wilderness, before we ever came into the land, and start all over again.”

With regard to baptism, the only time it featured in Jewish ceremonies was when a Gentile fully converted to that faith:

The Jews had ceremonial washings, no baptisms except for proselyte baptism.

Therefore, for John to call upon the Jews to be baptised was an unusual request, as that ceremony was only for Gentile converts. Gentiles were outside of the Covenant, so they had to be fully cleansed in order to be brought into it. The Jews considered Gentiles to be spiritually unclean. One can imagine the tension this must have caused Jews who listened to John’s message:

So, a Jew would be saying, by doing that kind of one-time symbolic baptism, “I’m no better than a Gentile. I am no better than a Gentile. I am no more ready to meet the new King, I am no more ready for God to ascend to His throne, I am no more ready for God to establish His kingdom and make me a part of it than a Gentile.” That is a huge admission, for the Jews had been trained pretty much to resent and hate the Gentiles and think of them as outside the covenant.

MacArthur discusses the importance of repentance, which involves a genuine turning away from sin:

He’s calling the Jews to declare themselves no better than Gentiles, to turn many of the hearts of the people toward righteousness, away from rebellion, as Luke 1 put it. And to mark that repentance, that deliberate metanoia which means a turning, a genuine turning. They would need to bring forth the fruit of repentance. Do you remember how John the Baptist said that? Matthew 3:8 records it; Luke 3:8 records it. Luke says, “Bring forth fruits fitting for repentance.” Prove it. The first step would be to be willing to undergo a proselyte baptism and view yourself as if you were no better than a Gentile. Radical, radical repentance. And this was the message that came from God to John, Luke 3:2, “The Word of the Lord came to him,” and this is what He said. This is not baptism in Jesus’ name. We know that because John the Baptist’s followers were later baptized by Paul in Jesus’ name, according to Acts 19.

John’s message worked. We might find that surprising, yet, as MacArthur explains, no one wanted to be left out of the Messiah’s kingdom to come, so they followed along (verse 5):

He was a judgment preacher – fierce judgment preacher. That’s what drove the people to want to deal with their sins. The fear that when the Messiah finally came, when the new King ascended to His throne and established His kingdom, they’d be on the outside looking in. And so, he was a judgment preacher. Judgment was coming. But while God was a God of judgment, He was also a God of grace, and He offered forgiveness of sins for those who repented.

Well, everybody practically wanted to be a part of the Messiah’s kingdom. They didn’t want to get left out. They knew their own heart’s sinfulness. So, according to verse 5, all the country of Judea was going out to him, all the people of Jerusalem. They were being baptized by him in the Jordan River, confessing their sins. This looks like a national revival.

Verse 6 describes John’s primitive appearance and way of life. This would have been according to Nazirite vows that some men took. Paul took Nazirite vows, but for him and most Jewish men, those were only temporary. Samson, Samuel and John the Baptist took lifelong Nazirite vows. In John’s case, this was prophesied. Luke 1:5-17 has the story of John’s conception and the angel’s prophecy of how he would live.

This post of mine has more information about Nazirite vows:

Luke 1:5-17 – Zachary, Zechariah, John the Baptist, Nazirites, incense, Aaron’s lineage, priesthood

See what the angel said to Zechariah, John’s father, in Luke 1:13:17. Abstinence was part of the Nazirite vow:

13But the angel said to him, “Do not be afraid, Zechariah, for your prayer has been heard, and your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you shall call his name John. 14And you will have joy and gladness, and many will rejoice at his birth, 15for he will be great before the Lord. And he must not drink wine or strong drink, and he will be filled with the Holy Spirit, even from his mother’s womb. 16And he will turn many of the children of Israel to the Lord their God, 17and he will go before him in the spirit and power of Elijah, to turn the hearts of the fathers to the children, and the disobedient to the wisdom of the just, to make ready for the Lord a people prepared.”

John knew that he was merely the messenger for the Messiah, Jesus Christ. He knew his role was to prepare people for His ministry among them.

He said that Jesus was ‘powerful’ and that he was unworthy of undoing his sandals (verse 7).

He also added that his baptism was of water but that the baptism that Christ would bring was one ‘of the Holy Spirit’ (verse 8).

MacArthur notes that John never pointed to himself, but to the Lord:

he points to Christ; he points to Church; he points to Christ. Never points to himself. John 3:30, “I must decrease, He must increase.” This is a model for any preacher. Don’t identify with the people, identify with the prophets. Don’t look like the people; look like the prophets. Maintain the dignity of that office handed down. And don’t point to yourself; point to Christ.

“After me the One” – literally definite article – “After me the One is coming who is mightier than I.” How mighty is He? He’s the Lord; He’s Yahweh; He’s Kurios; He’s God the Son; He’s the King – King Jesus. How far above me is He? Huh.

Here’s the negative. “He is so much mightier than I, that I’m not fit to stoop down and untie the thong of His sandals.” You know what? That was the lowest possible job that any servant could have. That was it. That was the bottom. If you were the servant who untied your master’s sandals, you were the scum of the scum of the scum. Dirty feet.

Old quotes from Hebrew sources. “A Hebrew slave must not wash the feet of his master, nor put his shoes on him.” That’s beneath the dignity of a Hebrew slave. Another one, “All services which a slave does for his master, a pupil should do for his teacher, with the exception of undoing his shoes.”

John says, “I’m below the people who do that. I’m not even up to the level of those who would untie His shoes. That’s how low I am.”

Well, that’s the picture, but what’s the reality? Verse 8. Why am I so different? Why are we so infinitely separated? “Because I baptize you with water; but He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.”

“All I can do is stick you in the water; He can transform you on the inside.” This refers to the soul-transforming work of salvation, being born of the water and the Spirit. This is not some Pentecostal second baptism; this is the washing of regeneration and the renewing of the Holy Spirit of Titus 3. This is the new covenant: purification, cleansing, transformation, regeneration, new birth.

John says, “I can’t do that. Only God gives the Holy Spirit. So, the new King, He will give you the Holy Spirit.” With the Holy Spirit comes salvation, sanctification, service.

John MacArthur’s sermon adds more meaning to the Advent message of repentance and to John the Baptist’s ministry.

Below are the readings for the First Sunday of Advent, November 29, 2020.

These are for Year B in the three-year Lectionary used in public worship, meaning that we are now entering into a new calendar year, which always begins with Advent.

Emphases below are mine.

First reading

In Isaiah’s time, God’s people finally repented. This was part of their prayer. However, Matthew Henry notes that it is equally applicable to today’s faithful in any ‘time of affliction’. Verse 6 will be familiar to many; our works are but a filthy rag in the Lord’s sight.

Isaiah 64:1-9

64:1 O that you would tear open the heavens and come down, so that the mountains would quake at your presence–

64:2 as when fire kindles brushwood and the fire causes water to boil– to make your name known to your adversaries, so that the nations might tremble at your presence!

64:3 When you did awesome deeds that we did not expect, you came down, the mountains quaked at your presence.

64:4 From ages past no one has heard, no ear has perceived, no eye has seen any God besides you, who works for those who wait for him.

64:5 You meet those who gladly do right, those who remember you in your ways. But you were angry, and we sinned; because you hid yourself we transgressed.

64:6 We have all become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous deeds are like a filthy cloth. We all fade like a leaf, and our iniquities, like the wind, take us away.

64:7 There is no one who calls on your name, or attempts to take hold of you; for you have hidden your face from us, and have delivered us into the hand of our iniquity.

64:8 Yet, O LORD, you are our Father; we are the clay, and you are our potter; we are all the work of your hand.

64:9 Do not be exceedingly angry, O LORD, and do not remember iniquity forever. Now consider, we are all your people.

Psalm

Although it is unclear under what circumstance this Psalm was written, it is appropriate during times of trouble.

Psalm 80:1-7, 17-19

80:1 Give ear, O Shepherd of Israel, you who lead Joseph like a flock! You who are enthroned upon the cherubim, shine forth

80:2 before Ephraim and Benjamin and Manasseh. Stir up your might, and come to save us!

80:3 Restore us, O God; let your face shine, that we may be saved.

80:4 O LORD God of hosts, how long will you be angry with your people’s prayers?

80:5 You have fed them with the bread of tears, and given them tears to drink in full measure.

80:6 You make us the scorn of our neighbors; our enemies laugh among themselves.

80:7 Restore us, O God of hosts; let your face shine, that we may be saved.

80:17 But let your hand be upon the one at your right hand, the one whom you made strong for yourself.

80:18 Then we will never turn back from you; give us life, and we will call on your name.

80:19 Restore us, O LORD God of hosts; let your face shine, that we may be saved.

Epistle

Paul’s greeting to the errant, divided Corinthians was a heartfelt one, reminding them of the spiritual strength only the Lord can provide through His Son Christ Jesus.

1 Corinthians 1:3-9

1:3 Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.

1:4 I give thanks to my God always for you because of the grace of God that has been given you in Christ Jesus,

1:5 for in every way you have been enriched in him, in speech and knowledge of every kind

1:6 just as the testimony of Christ has been strengthened among you

1:7 so that you are not lacking in any spiritual gift as you wait for the revealing of our Lord Jesus Christ.

1:8 He will also strengthen you to the end, so that you may be blameless on the day of our Lord Jesus Christ.

1:9 God is faithful; by him you were called into the fellowship of his Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.

Gospel

Jesus spoke of His Second Coming, for which we should all be prepared — as we should be for our own individual mortality. We know not when either will come.

Mark 13:24-37

13:24 “But in those days, after that suffering, the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light,

13:25 and the stars will be falling from heaven, and the powers in the heavens will be shaken.

13:26 Then they will see ‘the Son of Man coming in clouds’ with great power and glory.

13:27 Then he will send out the angels, and gather his elect from the four winds, from the ends of the earth to the ends of heaven.

13:28 “From the fig tree learn its lesson: as soon as its branch becomes tender and puts forth its leaves, you know that summer is near.

13:29 So also, when you see these things taking place, you know that he is near, at the very gates.

13:30 Truly I tell you, this generation will not pass away until all these things have taken place.

13:31 Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away.

13:32 “But about that day or hour no one knows, neither the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father.

13:33 Beware, keep alert; for you do not know when the time will come.

13:34 It is like a man going on a journey, when he leaves home and puts his slaves in charge, each with his work, and commands the doorkeeper to be on the watch.

13:35 Therefore, keep awake–for you do not know when the master of the house will come, in the evening, or at midnight, or at cockcrow, or at dawn,

13:36 or else he may find you asleep when he comes suddenly.

13:37 And what I say to you I say to all: Keep awake.”

Advent reminds us to turn from sin and repent — turn over a new leaf in our lives.

In the days before Christ’s earthly ministry began, John the Baptist preached not only baptism but also repentance, so that we may be prepared for Him whose earthly birth we celebrate at Christmas.

May we use the time of Advent wisely.

What follows are the readings for the Twenty-sixth Sunday after Pentecost, November 18, 2018.

These are for Year B in the three-year Lectionary cycle.

This Sunday’s Lectionary directives offer two choices for the first reading. The first two discuss Hannah’s yearning for a child and her joy at giving birth to Samuel. Those are to be read together. The alternate reading is from the Book of Daniel.

Emphases mine below.

First reading

Hannah’s infertility caused her great despair. She went to pray. Her tears and prayers were so fervent that the high priest Eli thought she was drunk. He soon realised that she was not. The Lord then answered her prayer for a child. Note that in verse 11, she vowed to put Samuel under a Nazirite vow for a lifetime. Samuel, Samson and John the Baptist were the only lifetime Nazirites (nazir means ‘to separate’) in the Bible.

1 Samuel 1:4-20

1:4 On the day when Elkanah sacrificed, he would give portions to his wife Peninnah and to all her sons and daughters;

1:5 but to Hannah he gave a double portion, because he loved her, though the LORD had closed her womb.

1:6 Her rival used to provoke her severely, to irritate her, because the LORD had closed her womb.

1:7 So it went on year by year; as often as she went up to the house of the LORD, she used to provoke her. Therefore Hannah wept and would not eat.

1:8 Her husband Elkanah said to her, “Hannah, why do you weep? Why do you not eat? Why is your heart sad? Am I not more to you than ten sons?”

1:9 After they had eaten and drunk at Shiloh, Hannah rose and presented herself before the LORD. Now Eli the priest was sitting on the seat beside the doorpost of the temple of the LORD.

1:10 She was deeply distressed and prayed to the LORD, and wept bitterly.

1:11 She made this vow: “O LORD of hosts, if only you will look on the misery of your servant, and remember me, and not forget your servant, but will give to your servant a male child, then I will set him before you as a nazirite until the day of his death. He shall drink neither wine nor intoxicants, and no razor shall touch his head.”

1:12 As she continued praying before the LORD, Eli observed her mouth.

1:13 Hannah was praying silently; only her lips moved, but her voice was not heard; therefore Eli thought she was drunk.

1:14 So Eli said to her, “How long will you make a drunken spectacle of yourself? Put away your wine.”

1:15 But Hannah answered, “No, my lord, I am a woman deeply troubled; I have drunk neither wine nor strong drink, but I have been pouring out my soul before the LORD.

1:16 Do not regard your servant as a worthless woman, for I have been speaking out of my great anxiety and vexation all this time.”

1:17 Then Eli answered, “Go in peace; the God of Israel grant the petition you have made to him.”

1:18 And she said, “Let your servant find favor in your sight.” Then the woman went to her quarters, ate and drank with her husband, and her countenance was sad no longer.

1:19 They rose early in the morning and worshiped before the LORD; then they went back to their house at Ramah. Elkanah knew his wife Hannah, and the LORD remembered her.

1:20 In due time Hannah conceived and bore a son. She named him Samuel, for she said, “I have asked him of the LORD.”

First reading (continued)

Hannah praised the Lord for giving her a son, Samuel.

1 Samuel 2:1-10

2:1 Hannah prayed and said, “My heart exults in the LORD; my strength is exalted in my God. My mouth derides my enemies, because I rejoice in my victory.

2:2 “There is no Holy One like the LORD, no one besides you; there is no Rock like our God.

2:3 Talk no more so very proudly, let not arrogance come from your mouth; for the LORD is a God of knowledge, and by him actions are weighed.

2:4 The bows of the mighty are broken, but the feeble gird on strength.

2:5 Those who were full have hired themselves out for bread, but those who were hungry are fat with spoil. The barren has borne seven, but she who has many children is forlorn.

2:6 The LORD kills and brings to life; he brings down to Sheol and raises up.

2:7 The LORD makes poor and makes rich; he brings low, he also exalts.

2:8 He raises up the poor from the dust; he lifts the needy from the ash heap, to make them sit with princes and inherit a seat of honor. For the pillars of the earth are the Lord’s, and on them he has set the world.

2:9 “He will guard the feet of his faithful ones, but the wicked shall be cut off in darkness; for not by might does one prevail.

2:10 The LORD! His adversaries shall be shattered; the Most High will thunder in heaven. The LORD will judge the ends of the earth; he will give strength to his king, and exalt the power of his anointed.”

First reading

This brief passage from Daniel describes a vision he had after a period of fasting and prayer. An angel appeared to him and talked about Michael the Archangel, defender of the people of Israel. This passage can be interpreted as a foretelling of the destruction of the temple centuries later in 70 AD and of the Last Judgement to come. The ‘book’ in verse 1 refers to the book of life, also mentioned in Revelation 13:8.

Daniel 12:1-3

12:1 “At that time Michael, the great prince, the protector of your people, shall arise. There shall be a time of anguish, such as has never occurred since nations first came into existence. But at that time your people shall be delivered, everyone who is found written in the book.

12:2 Many of those who sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake, some to everlasting life, and some to shame and everlasting contempt.

12:3 Those who are wise shall shine like the brightness of the sky, and those who lead many to righteousness, like the stars forever and ever.

Psalm

The Psalm praises God for His continuous protection and many blessings.

Psalm 16

16:1 Protect me, O God, for in you I take refuge.

16:2 I say to the LORD, “You are my Lord; I have no good apart from you.”

16:3 As for the holy ones in the land, they are the noble, in whom is all my delight.

16:4 Those who choose another god multiply their sorrows; their drink offerings of blood I will not pour out or take their names upon my lips.

16:5 The LORD is my chosen portion and my cup; you hold my lot.

16:6 The boundary lines have fallen for me in pleasant places; I have a goodly heritage.

16:7 I bless the LORD who gives me counsel; in the night also my heart instructs me.

16:8 I keep the LORD always before me; because he is at my right hand, I shall not be moved.

16:9 Therefore my heart is glad, and my soul rejoices; my body also rests secure.

16:10 For you do not give me up to Sheol, or let your faithful one see the Pit.

16:11 You show me the path of life. In your presence there is fullness of joy; in your right hand are pleasures forevermore.

Epistle

Readings continue from the Book of Hebrews. The author continues to expand on the role of Jesus Christ as the one, sufficient and everlasting High Priest.

Hebrews 10:11-14, (15-18), 19-25

10:11 And every priest stands day after day at his service, offering again and again the same sacrifices that can never take away sins.

10:12 But when Christ had offered for all time a single sacrifice for sins, “he sat down at the right hand of God,”

10:13 and since then has been waiting “until his enemies would be made a footstool for his feet.”

10:14 For by a single offering he has perfected for all time those who are sanctified.

10:15 And the Holy Spirit also testifies to us, for after saying,

10:16 “This is the covenant that I will make with them after those days, says the Lord: I will put my laws in their hearts, and I will write them on their minds,”

10:17 he also adds, “I will remember their sins and their lawless deeds no more.”

10:18 Where there is forgiveness of these, there is no longer any offering for sin.

10:19 Therefore, my friends, since we have confidence to enter the sanctuary by the blood of Jesus,

10:20 by the new and living way that he opened for us through the curtain (that is, through his flesh),

10:21 and since we have a great priest over the house of God,

10:22 let us approach with a true heart in full assurance of faith, with our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water.

10:23 Let us hold fast to the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who has promised is faithful.

10:24 And let us consider how to provoke one another to love and good deeds,

10:25 not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day approaching.

Gospel

Gospel readings from Mark continue. Jesus discussed the coming fall of the temple and the end of the world — as well as the present day.

Mark 13:1-8

13:1 As he came out of the temple, one of his disciples said to him, “Look, Teacher, what large stones and what large buildings!”

13:2 Then Jesus asked him, “Do you see these great buildings? Not one stone will be left here upon another; all will be thrown down.”

13:3 When he was sitting on the Mount of Olives opposite the temple, Peter, James, John, and Andrew asked him privately,

13:4 “Tell us, when will this be, and what will be the sign that all these things are about to be accomplished?”

13:5 Then Jesus began to say to them, “Beware that no one leads you astray.

13:6 Many will come in my name and say, ‘I am he!’ and they will lead many astray.

13:7 When you hear of wars and rumors of wars, do not be alarmed; this must take place, but the end is still to come.

13:8 For nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom; there will be earthquakes in various places; there will be famines. This is but the beginning of the birthpangs.

The Gospel, Epistle and passage from Daniel point to the very real Last Judgement. I wonder how many clergy will preach on that? Alternatively, will they discuss Hannah’s desire for a lifetime Nazirite vow for her son Samuel? Sadly, I think we know the answers to both questions.

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