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

Yet, it doesn’t tell the whole story.

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

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

Colossians 4:10-11

10 Aristarchus my fellow prisoner greets you, and Mark the cousin of Barnabas (concerning whom you have received instructions—if he comes to you, welcome him), 11 and Jesus who is called Justus. These are the only men of the circumcision among my fellow workers for the kingdom of God, and they have been a comfort to me.


Last week’s post was about Tychicus, whose ministry involved everything from being a messenger to preaching, and Onesimus, Philemon’s slave who was working with Paul for the Lord.

Today’s verses reacquaint us with Aristarchus and Mark and introduce us to Jesus Justus, the only three Jews with Paul in Rome.

Aristarchus is Paul’s fellow prisoner, and the Apostle has already sent the Colossians instructions with regard to Mark, i.e. welcome him (verse 10).

Got Questions tells us that the name Aristarchus means ‘best ruler’ or ‘best prince’.

He must have been one prince of a fellow because he was loyal to Paul through thick and thin, even to the point of wanting to stay with his friend in prison.

Aristarchus shows up multiple times in Acts.

John MacArthur walks us through his ministry, which, whilst not notable, was certainly of benefit to Paul and, by extension, to the Lord (emphases mine):

Aristarchus is the man with a sympathetic heart, the man with a sympathetic heart. You know what you need if you’re a leader, if you’re in the Lord’s work? You need some people who are just around to feel your burdens with you. You need some burden-bearers. They aren’t whirlwinds at anything, they just care. You know, they don’t put on great programs, and do great things, and astounding, prominent, out-front things, they just care; and you’ve got to have them. And Aristarchus was one of those people with a sympathetic heart.

Verse 10: “Aristarchus my” – now here it comes – “my fellow prisoner greets you.” Those are deep words. Aristarchus is a Jew with a Greek name, which was common in the dispersion. When the Jews were scattered they often took Greek names. So he says, “Aristarchus sends his love and his blessing, he greets you.”

Greeting someone in that era involved more than saying ‘hello’. It was an emotional embrace.

Aristarchus was probably from Thessalonica originally:

Now Aristarchus’ name appears elsewhere in the New Testament in association with the town of Thessalonica. It’s very likely that he came from that town. And at Ephesus, you remember Paul ministered at Ephesus for three years; and during those three years, Aristarchus was with him. And you remember when finally in Ephesus the riot broke out? When the riot broke out, Aristarchus and Gaius were seized by the mob, and Aristarchus found out what it was to be a prisoner. They recognized him as one of Paul’s companions, and so they seized him. Now that’s in chapter 19.

I wrote about Acts 19 in 2018. Here are the relevant verses relating to Aristarchus and the riot:

Acts 19:28-34 – Ephesus, riot for Artemis (Diana), Paul’s companions Gaius and Aristarchus, Paul, Asiarchs, Alexander

Acts 19:35-41 – Ephesus, town clerk calms down mob

In Acts 20, Paul left Ephesus after the riot and took several companions with him to visit other churches he helped build. Aristarchus was one of the men accompanying him. Tychicus, discussed last week, was another:

Acts 20:1-6 – Paul, third missionary tour, Timothy, Sopater the Berean, Thessalonians Aristarchus and Secundus, Gaius of Derbe, Asians Tychicus and Trophimus, Luke, Greece, Macedonia and Troas

Acts 20:13-16 — Paul, third missionary tour, Assos, Mitylene, Chios, Samos, Miletus, Timothy, Sopater the Berean, Thessalonians Aristarchus and Secundus, Gaius of Derbe, Asians Tychicus and Trophimus, Luke

From Miletus, Paul and some of these men, including Aristarchus, went on to Jerusalem, where Paul was going to present the church there with a gift from the Gentile churches.

Paul was imprisoned in Jerusalem for a long time. Festus the Roman governor granted Paul’s request that his case be heard in Rome. As a Roman citizen, Paul could make such a request. Aristarchus was allowed to travel to Rome with Paul, as was Luke:

Acts 27:1-8 – Paul, Luke, Aristarchus, Julius

MacArthur picks up the story:

Now Paul decides to go to Jerusalem. You know what happens? He takes Aristarchus along. So he goes on that trip. Paul gets on the boat. You remember he was captured as a prisoner in Jerusalem, then he was moved to Caesarea on the coast where he stayed as a prisoner. And then finally, in Acts 27, he gets on a boat to go to Rome to be tried in Rome, and he’s a prisoner on the ship; and Acts 27:2 says when he got on the boat, Aristarchus was with him. Had Aristarchus been with him through all the imprisonment? Very possible. Very possible since the time he identified with Paul in the city of Ephesus, and escaped from the riot, and went to Jerusalem.

From that time until now he has stayed with Paul; as a prisoner in Jerusalem, he hung around. Caesarea, he may have hung around.

When they arrived in Rome, having survived a shipwreck, Aristarchus was in prison, too — just to stay with Paul:

Now here he is back in Rome. And guess who’s there? Aristarchus. And Paul calls him “my fellow prisoner.” And the guy hasn’t committed a crime, he just hangs around with criminals, so he spends his time in jail.

Now the word “fellow prisoner” is a beautiful word; sunaichmalōtos. You know what it means? It means one caught with a spear. Literally it means a war captive or a prisoner. “Aristarchus is a captive like me.”

You say, “Well, why did they capture him? They never did. “Well, why did they put him in prison?” They never did. “But why does he call him that?” Because he just spent his time with a prisoner, he might as well have been a prisoner. He is chosen to be beside Paul. If Paul’s in prison, he’s in prison; that’s his choice. It’s unlikely that he actually became a prisoner in Rome; more likely that he chose to make Paul’s lifestyle his lifestyle, because he was sympathetic, because he cared, because he loved, because he knew Paul needed him. He was a man with a sympathetic heart.

Listen, as I said, there are people who can’t lead a meeting, and they can’t speak, and they can’t be prominent in the church; and maybe they’re the most beloved of all, because they’re the burden-bearers. And you know, we don’t know what Aristarchus did, it doesn’t tell us. It doesn’t tell us he delivered anything or did anything. But you know something? We know that whatever he did, he gave up his freedom to do it, to be a prisoner with Paul. And I’ll tell you something. The Lord’s work would never be done if it weren’t for people like this who are willing to give up their liberty to be a prisoner to accomplish what God wants to be accomplished.

Here’s a sympathetic man. I call him the “man for all seasons,” the “bad weather friend.” Thank God for men who stick with you when it’s hard, because all of them won’t, when it gets rough, and really rough. And Paul says, “Who will volunteer?” Aristarchus, the first one with his hand up. “Me, Paul. Where we going? To what prison?” Yeah, true greatness for those who help, believe me.

The story of Aristarchus reminds me of John Milton’s sonnet which ends with:

They also serve who only stand and wait.

Milton was writing about the loss of his eyesight when he had so much more written work he wanted to accomplish.

To put it into context, here are the final verses of the sonnet:

But Patience, to prevent
That murmur, soon replies, ‘God doth not need
Either man’s work or his own gifts; who best
Bear his mild yoke, they serve him best. His state
Is Kingly. Thousands at his bidding speed
And post o’er Land and Ocean without rest:
They also serve who only stand and wait.’

Interesting Literature explains the meaning:

In other words, God does not require work or gifts from mankind, because God is a king. There are thousands of people travelling all over the world, who are able to work and who work hard serving God; but those who merely stand and wait patiently (instead of running about actively serving in other ways) also serve God just as well as those who go out into the world and work hard to please him through their great deeds. Or, to put it more pithily, ‘They also serve who only stand and wait.’

As the word ‘wait’ suggests, patience is a virtue, and especially a Christian one

Now we come to Mark, Barnabas’s cousin.

Matthew Henry’s Bible says:

10 Aristarchus my fellow prisoner saluteth you, and Marcus, sister’s son to Barnabas, (touching whom ye received commandments: if he come unto you, receive him;)

The ESV says:

10 Aristarchus my fellow prisoner greets you, and Mark the cousin of Barnabas (concerning whom you have received instructions—if he comes to you, welcome him),

Henry interprets Mark as being Barnabas’s nephew. We first saw Mark, the Gospel writer, as John Mark in Acts. A row over John Mark took place between Paul and Barnabas. Now, years later, Paul has mended fences with Mark.

Henry says:

Paul had a quarrel with Barnabas upon the account of this Mark, who was his nephew, and thought not good to take him with them, because he departed from them from Pamphylia, and went not with them to the work, Acts 15 38. He would not take Mark with him, but took Silas, because Mark had deserted them; and yet Paul is not only reconciled to him himself, but recommends him to the respect of the churches, and gives a great example of a truly Christian forgiving spirit. If men have been guilty of a fault, it must not be always remembered against them. We must forget as well as forgive. If a man be overtaken in a fault, you who are spiritual restore such a one in the spirit of meekness, Gal 6 1.

It’s hard to forget as well as forgive, but time heals all wounds where there cannot be an active reconciliation.

MacArthur looks at verse 10, worded as Henry’s was, and says Mark was Barnabas’s cousin.

Whatever the case, it was clear they were related and Barnabas stood up for him. Mark’s mother was very active in the church at Jerusalem.

MacArthur recaps the row:

Mark, verse 10: the man with a surprising future, the man with a surprising future.

Verse 10, in the middle, “And Mark, sister’s son to Barnabas,” – he’s a cousin of Barnabas – “concerning whom you received commandments; if he come unto you, receive him. Mark sends his greeting along.” Now maybe we shouldn’t call him Mark, the man with a surprising future; maybe we ought to call him Mark, the man with a second chance.

You remember about Mark? Early on in the story of the book of Acts, as the apostle Paul is moving into the excitement of the ministry as God has called him to the ministry, he decides to take this marvelous young man along. Saul and Barnabas are separated to the work of the Holy Spirit calls them to in Acts 13, and verse 5 says, “And when they were at Salamis, they preached the Word of God in the synagogues of the Jews, and they also had John as their helper.” And it’s John Mark. “Hey, we’ve got this young helper along.” Paul always took somebody. He was always discipling somebody.

He took this young man along. You say, “Boy, it’s great for him. Oh, fantastic; just fantastic.” But in verse 13 of Acts 13, it says, “Now when Paul and his company loosed from Paphos, they came to Perga in Pamphylia.” Now that was going to be the dangerous part of the trip. They had to cross those dangerous mountains to get up into Galatia. They were full of robbers and brigands, and you were taking your life in your hands. And it says, “And John departing from them returned to Jerusalem.” When the going got rough, Mark bailed out. He can’t hack it. If it was easy, smooth sailing, he was gung-ho. They hit the tough part, and he caught the quickest ship back to Mother. And Mother’s house was the center of the Jerusalem church, remember? And later on he caused a problem because of this.

Mark — John Mark — and his mother Mary (a commonly given name, as it is now) appear in Acts 12:

Acts 12:24-25 – Saul of Tarsus, St Paul, St Barnabas, St Mark, John Mark, increasing the Church

Acts 13 sees the Church shift from a Jewish one to a Gentile one. John Mark is there:

Acts 13:4-7 – Barnabas, Saul of Tarsus, John Mark, Cyprus, Sergius Paulus, Bar-Jesus, Elymas

Later in Acts 13, John Mark returns to Jerusalem:

Acts 13:13-14a and Acts 13:40-43 — Paul, Barnabas, companions, Antioch, Pisidia, Anatolia, Jewish – Gentile audience

Paul and his companions — including Barnabas — sailed from Paphos in Cyprus first to Perga in Pamphylia then on to Antioch in Pisidia. John (John Mark, Mark of the Gospel) returned to Jerusalem.

The row over John Mark takes place in Acts 15, at which point Paul and Barnabas go their separate ways:

Acts 15:36-41 — Paul, Barnabas, Silas, John Mark, Mark, Antioch (Syria), Cyprus, Syria and Ciclilia

Upon leaving Antioch (Syria) after presenting the Gentiles at the church there with a comforting, biblical letter from the Jerusalem Council, Paul and Barnabas quarrelled about whether to bring John Mark — Mark (verse 37) — on a continuing ministry.

Although later reconciled, as my post explains, based on New Testament verses, Paul and Silas continued on in Syria and Paul’s homeland of Cicilia. Barnabas took his young relative John Mark — St Mark of the Gospel — en route to his (Barnabas’s) homeland of Cyprus.

Key verse:

38 But Paul thought best not to take with them one who had withdrawn from them in Pamphylia and had not gone with them to the work.  (Acts 15:38)

MacArthur recaps the row in the vernacular:

they’re going to go on their second missionary journey, and Barnabas says to Paul, “Let’s take Mark.” And Paul goes, “You’ve got to be kidding. No deal.” “Paul thought it not good to take him with them, who departed from them from Pamphylia, and went not with them to the work.” “I don’t want a guy like that along,” Paul says.

“And the fight was so sharp between them” – and the reason Barnabas was championing his cause, now we find out in Colossians, is because he was his cousin; he was a blood tie, see. “So they started a big fight and they split, and Barnabas took Mark and sailed to Cyprus, and Paul chose Silas and departed.” And there was the split between Paul and Barnabas, and Mark was the point of contention.

As we see in verse 10, Paul tells the Colossians to welcome Mark. As ‘greet’ implied more than ‘hello’ in those days, ‘welcome’ meant to receive someone warmly, with generous friendship.

MacArthur says that it is unclear who wrote the instructions about Mark, but they imply that he is now a changed character:

You know why they normally wouldn’t receive him? He had the reputation of being a failure. He had the reputation of being a washout. And so they were commanded. Now we don’t know whether Peter wrote that, Barnabas wrote that, Paul wrote that, or whoever wrote that. But he told them, somebody had spread the word around the Asian churches, “If Mark shows up, he’s reformed, you can receive him. He’s all right guy; he’s come around.”

“So Mark sends his greeting – you know Mark, the one you’re supposed to receive if he comes. Mark is changed.” Oh, it’s good to know. Eleven, twelve years later, Mark has been restored to a place of usefulness. I mean this guy was really useful.

Mark also shows up in Paul’s letter to Philemon:

Philemon 24, He names, “Mark, Aristarchus, Demas, Luke, my fellow workers.” Hey, he was a fellow worker. This guy was in it with Paul. He was doing it.

MacArthur thinks Peter worked with Mark and brought about constructive change, to the point where he considered the future Gospel writer to be like a son:

You say, “Well, what turned him around?” Well, I personally believe it probably was the ministry of Peter in his life. Somehow Peter got a hold of this guy.

In 1 Peter 5:13, “The church at Babylon, elected together with you, greet you; and so does Mark, my son,” says Peter. What happened was, Peter was used to failure; he knew how to handle it. So somewhere along the line, he ran into Mark, and he said, “Guy, I know the route. Come along, I’ll help you.” And so he calls him his son.

When Mark turned himself around, Peter sent him to Paul:

So what happened was – no question about it in my mind – Peter took on a restoration project in Mark, it worked, and then he turned him back over to Paul. Hey, that says something about being able to use your past to help somebody, doesn’t it? Peter, no doubt, was the influence. And Mark had a part. Hey, you want to know something exciting? Mark got the wonderful privilege that belonged only to four men in the whole history of humanity: to write one of the gospels – the gospel of Mark.

Even at the end of Paul’s life, Mark was there:

And listen to this, I love it, 2 Timothy 4:11. Paul’s writing, closing out his life, he says to Timothy, “Only Luke is with me, only Luke is left. Take Mark and bring him with you, for he’s profitable to me for the ministry.” Isn’t that good? “Hey, Timothy, when you come, I just want you to bring one guy. I want you to bring Mark, you know, the former washout. Bring him along, because he’s profitable to me in the ministry.”

Paul never ever thought he was going to quit ministering, I don’t think. He said, “Listen,” – in effect – “you, Timothy, and me, and Mark, I mean we can get it rolling again. Bring him along.” You see, something had happened in Mark’s life from the time that Paul said, “I don’t want him with me,” until the time that Paul is dying at the end of his life, and says, “If there’s anybody I want here to minister with me in my last days, it’s Mark.” And so you look at the picture of Mark, and you say, “Hey, there’s a man with a surprising future.”

A few years after this, maybe six at the most, he sat down under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit and wrote the gospel of Mark. I’ve often thought, I imagine what he was thinking in his heart when he was writing the gospel of Mark, and the Holy Spirit said this to him: “And when He had called the people unto Him with the disciples also, He said to them, ‘Whosoever will come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me. Whosoever would save his life, shall lose it. Whosoever shall lose his life for My sake and the gospel, the same shall find it. What shall it profit a man if he gained the whole world and lose his soul, or what shall a man give in exchange for his soul?” I can imagine that Mark would have understood a little bit about what it was to deny self and die daily for the cause of Jesus Christ. He learned the hard way.

Beloved, there’s a second chance. There’s a future for failures. Paul had one, and he had a great future, great future. Praise God for restoration.

So Paul’s friends: a man with a servant’s heart, a man with a sinful past, a man with a sympathetic heart, a man with a surprising future. What a team!

The third person in today’s verses is Jesus who is called Justus; he, Aristarchus and Mark are the only men of the circumcision — Jews — among Paul’s fellow workers for the kingdom of God, and they have been of great comfort to the Apostle (verse 11).

Henry tells us more about the man’s name and his reputation:

Here is one who is called Jesus, which is the Greek name for the Hebrew Joshua. If Jesus had given them rest, then would he not afterwards have spoken of another day, Heb 4 8. Who is called Justus. It is probable that he changed his name for that of Justus, in honour to the name of the Redeemer. Or else Jesus was his Jewish name, for he was of the circumcision; and Justus his Roman or Latin name. These are my fellow-labourers unto the kingdom of God, who have been a comfort unto me. Observe, What comfort the apostle had in the communion of saints and ministers! One is his fellow-servant, another his fellow-prisoner, and all his fellow-workers, who were working out their own salvation and endeavouring to promote the salvation of others. Good ministers take great comfort in those who are their fellow-workers unto the kingdom of God. Their friendship and converse together are a great refreshment under the sufferings and difficulties in their way.

MacArthur says it is lamentable that, out of all the Jews who heard Paul in Rome, he had only three with him in ministry in that great city:

These are the only Jewish fellow workers who were a comfort to Paul. Isn’t that sad? Do you know that the Jews, for the most part, had rejected him; except for Aristarchus, and he’d been around for a long time; and Mark, and he’d been around for a long time too. And then this new one, Jesus Justus. He was a man with a strong commitment; I know that, because he had to step out from his people.

You know, in Acts chapter 28, when the apostle Paul arrived, the first thing he did was begin with Jewish evangelism, and he started to preach to the Jews. And some believed; that’s true, verse 24 of Acts 28, “Some believed the things were spoken, but some believed not. And when they agreed not among themselves, they departed.”

Here are the pertinent verses:

Acts 28:17-22 — Paul, Rome, Rome’s Jewish leaders, chain

Paul explains to Rome’s Jewish leadership why he is there. Paul says he has never done anything against the Jewish nation, his people, to whom he belonged. Paul stated that He believes in the resurrection of the dead — the ‘hope of Israel’ — which the Messiah delivers.

Acts 28:23-28 – Paul, Rome, Roman Jews, Christianity — ‘the sect’, Isaiah 6:9-10, the Holy Spirit

After giving a discourse, or dialogue, lasting several hours, Paul warns Rome’s Jews against ignoring his scriptural discussion about Christ. He mentions that Isaiah’s words came from the Holy Spirit. Yet, the Gentiles will listen to this message without any prior religious background on the subject.

MacArthur elaborates on what happened. As Paul already knew Aristarchus and Mark, Jesus Justus would have been the only Roman Jew to join him in ministry:

even the ones that believed, apparently, never got behind Paul, they just got into an argument with their own people. And Paul says, “Well-spoke the Holy Spirit by Isaiah saying, ‘Go to this people and say, “Hearing, you shall hear, and not understand; seeing, you shall see, and not perceive,” for the heart of this people has become obtuse;’ – or fat – ‘their ears are dull of hearing; their eyes have they closed, lest they should see with their eyes and hear with their ears and understand with their heart be converted, and I should heal them. Be it known, therefore, unto you that the salvation of God is sent to the Gentiles, and they will hear it.’ And when he had said these words, the Jews departed and had great arguments among themselves.”

Even the ones that believed apparently never made a commitment to Paul, only three. Only three Jewish fellow workers stuck by him. Two of them have been around a long time; but this one, Jesus Justus, just may have been one right out of that Roman group. And so I call him the man with the strong commitment, because he paid a big price, didn’t he? He walked right out of his own people.

It’s hard to believe the pettiness that occurred in the life of Paul; but it did. He calls him a fellow worker, a fellow worker for the kingdom, sunergoi, co-laborer. And notice this beautiful statement about Jesus Justus. It says, “These have been a comfort to me”

Paul mentions more of his close friends, to be continued next week.

Next time — Colossians 4:12-14


John F MacArthurJohn MacArthur has told the following story in more than one of his sermons.

I have run across it twice before and meant to post on it but never did.

In short, a playwright, Channing Pollock (1880-1946), was converted through the power of Mark’s Gospel.

The story, which is in ‘Responding to the New Covenant’, follows. I used this sermon in my Good Friday post this year. Emphases mine below:

You say, “Now, I’d like to know more about faith. I want to have faith in God. How does faith work?” Well, let me give you an illustration. Three points. First of all, faith begins with a felt need. It begins when you sense a need. For example, Paul, on the road to Damascus, was just shaking in his tracks, stunned, and he said, “Lord, what wilt thou have me to do?” That’s a need. He felt a need.

Whether it’s a need for forgiveness, whether it’s a need for purpose in life, whether it’s a need for fellowship with God, whether it’s a need for somebody to love you, whether it’s a need to get rid of guilt, whether it’s a need for peace in your heart, whatever the need is, the real kind of faith begins only when you feel a need. And I say that because if you don’t feel a need for God, and if you don’t feel any needs in your life, then you’re nowhere near faith, at least faith toward God. It begins with a felt need.

Secondly, it continues with collecting evidence. If you have a need, you want to look around and find out how that can be supplied. Right? The Bible presents the evidence that Jesus Christ is the only worthy object for faith. In Romans 10:17, it says, “Faith cometh by hearing, and hearing by a speech about Jesus.” Hearing by a speech about Jesus. So you collect the evidence, and maybe you examine the person of Jesus Christ, and you say, “Oh, maybe He’s the one that can fulfill my need.”

There was an article by Dan Poling of an experience that he had with Channing Pollock, who was a pretty well-known playwright. And he related the story this way, he said, “Mr. Pollock was collaborating with another author in writing a play. They were working late one night in Pollock’s New York apartment. Something in the work that they were doing caused the friend to say to Pollock, ‘Have you ever read the New Testament?’ He admitted that he had never read the New Testament, and he went on working. After that, the men worked into the night, and, finally, in the wee hours of the morning, they parted.

“Pollock went, assuming that he could sleep, to bed. But he couldn’t sleep. And he was haunted by the question, ‘Have you ever read the New Testament?’ Finally, he got out of bed, searched all over the place and found a New Testament, sat down, and read it. He read straight through the Gospel of Mark. After he had finished reading the Gospel of Mark, he put his clothes on, and he walked the streets of Manhattan until dawn. When he returned to his apartment, exhausted, he said this, relating the story to his friend, ‘I found myself on my knees, passionately in love with Jesus Christ.’”

And, you see, that’s the process of collecting the evidence and making a decision. Faith begins with a felt need, continues in collecting evidence. Thirdly, it climaxes in commitment. You can say, “I believe,” but it doesn’t mean anything until you commit yourself to it.

Channing Pollock’s story is amazing and inspiring.

Another man who converted thanks to the New Testament is British actor David Suchet, best known for playing Hercule Poirot.

I wrote about him in 2013. That year, he gave an interview to the Radio Times saying that he converted in 1986 after reading St Paul’s letters, beginning with Romans 8. He was alone in a hotel room at the time. He had no religious upbringing and became a practising Anglican.

Several years ago, Suchet completed an audio series of the books of the Bible. It was a decades-long ambition of his to do such a project.

Here he is reading St Mark’s Gospel at St Paul’s Cathedral:

I wish those reading the Bible for the first time every blessing. May God’s grace guide them to the eternal truth found only in Jesus Christ.

The Twenty-fourth Sunday after Trinity — the Twenty-fifth Sunday after Pentecost — is November 14, 2021.

Readings for Year B can be found here.

The Gospel reading is as follows (emphases mine):

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.

Commentary comes from Matthew Henry and John MacArthur.

Last week’s reading was about the venal, money-grubbing hypocrisy of the Jewish hierarchy at the temple.

This week’s reading picks up from that point, with one of the disciples remarking in awe about the temple’s magnificence (verse 1).

Matthew Henry’s commentary remarks on the dichotomy between the greed the disciple had just witnessed and the splendour of what was supposed to be a holy place:

How apt many of Christ’s own disciples are to idolize things that look great, and have been long looked upon as sacred. They had heard Christ complain of those who had made the temple a den of thieves; and yet, when he quitted it, for the wickedness that remained in it, they court him to be as much in love as they were with the stately structure and adorning of it.

Unimpressed with earthly splendour, Jesus prophesied the destruction of the temple (verse 2), which took place in AD 70.

The temple was supposed to be indestructible, yet the Romans, unknowingly accomplishing God’s will, destroyed it. It was a judgement on the Jewish people for having rejected Jesus. With it ended the sacrificial system.

Those two verses complete the prophecy about the temple.

The next six verses — and, when one reads the full chapter, up to and including verse 13 — concern the millennia leading to Christ’s second coming.

John MacArthur summarises these 11 verses:

So, in between the first and second coming, life on this planet will be marked by relentless trouble.

Matthew and Luke’s Gospels also include this discourse from Jesus on the temple and the world.

This discourse, from whatever of the synoptic gospels one chooses, is important to know because it answers the question many agnostics and atheists have: ‘Why does God allow war and natural disasters?’

These terrible things are part of His divine plan. One day, when we are with Him in glory, we will come to understand it.

The disciples and Jesus were on their way back to Bethany for the night. They had been walking from the temple to the Mount of Olives, from which one had a magnificent view of the temple:

In the morning, when you came over the top of the Mount of Olives, you couldn’t even look at the building, because the morning sun reflected off the gold would blind one; in the evening, its glory was only slightly diminished – perhaps the most strikingly beautiful building in the ancient world.

The in-group of Apostles — Peter, James, John and Andrew (verse 3) — asked Jesus when the temple would be destroyed and what sign would there be just before the establishment of the messianic kingdom (verse 4).

MacArthur says:

their question is bigger than the destruction of the temple, because in Matthew 24:3, Matthew records that they asked about the coming of the end of the age; the coming of the end of the age, and the sign of the end of the age – and even the word coming means presence – parousia.

When will there be divine presence, the end of this age – the end of this age, if you will, of apostasy, and the fulfillment of all kingdom promise – how soon will it come? And they’re still asking this question 40 days after the resurrection, because in Acts chapter 1, after 40 days of being instructed by Jesus, they still ask the question, “Will You at this time restore the kingdom to Israel?” They think maybe all it was going to be was 40 days of wars, rumors of wars, nation against nation, kingdom against kingdom, and earthquakes, famines, etc., etc.

Looking beyond the destruction of the temple, Jesus told them to be sure that no one led them astray (verse 5), because many would come in His name and deceive people with false prophecies (verse 6).

MacArthur gave his sermon on these verses in 2011, around the time that Harold Canning was taking the world by storm with his misguided prediction that the world was going to end that year:

If you want a name, stay away from Nostradamus, and the ilk that follow that particular genre. Don’t follow deceivers; there will be many. The latest in the moment in which we live is Harold Camping of Family Radio, who has now established another date for the coming of Christ – he already established one and that was wrong; now he’s at it again. False teachers, false prophets, false Christs will fill up the centuries, and they will make false prophecies about all kinds of things – do not be deceived, do not be misled.

How do you avoid being misled? By staying true to the Scripture. Now, these people who come along who want to convince you, some of them are even going to be so bold as to acknowledge themselves as Christ – verse 6: “Many will come in My name saying, ‘I am He,’ and mislead many.” There will be Christ figures; the bizarre kind – like Charles Manson and the People’s Temple leader, Jones – are simply illustrations of the myriad of these false Christs, these people who claim to be Jesus. They will continue to deceive; they will all have followers who will follow them, in many cases, to death.

Jesus told them not to be worried by wars and rumours of wars, because these must take place, long before the end of the world (verse 7).

MacArthur says:

Our Lord accurately foresaw the world would never know peace, never – never improve morally, never improve socially, never improve spiritually – that it would rather devolve and devolve and devolve into worse and worse condition.

Jesus said that nation would rise against nation but that there would also be earthquakes and famines, all of which are just the beginning of ‘birthpangs’ (verse 8).

MacArthur explains why Jesus used that word. Much worse will befall the world just before He returns again in glory:

It’s the nature of living in a cursed planet; it’s not yet the end. In fact, if you will look at the end of verse 8, it says they’re merely the beginning of birth pangs. That’s an analogy of a woman’s contractions – they are separated, they are mild, and they intensify and intensify and intensify to a great degree just before birth. What we’re seeing in human history is just the beginning, is just the mild contractions; wait till you see what’s going to happen just before the very end.

Two thousand years of these milder contractions will explode in the end

Henry counsels that the Lord will protect His own, provided they are not provoking these events:

The world shall be full of troubles, but be not ye troubled; without are fightings, within are fears, but fear not ye their fear.Note, The disciples of Christ, if it be not their own fault, may enjoy a holy security and serenity of mind, when all about them is in the greatest disorder.

MacArthur summarises the importance of these verses for us:

Let me just add a footnote here – this is another evidence of our Lord’s deity, because the things that He said would be true are, in fact, true. He predicted the destruction of the temple in verses 1 and 2, and it was destroyed in 70 A.D. He predicted that not one stone would be on another, and that’s exactly what happened in 70 A.D. and it’s never been rebuilt. He predicted the nature of life on a corrupt, cursed planet, and everything He said is true; and if you want to get all that He said, you put Matthew and Mark and Luke’s account together, and you get the full picture of what life is like on this planet.

All the things that He said would come to pass, have come to pass, and they are very familiar to all of us. We conclude from that – and this is an important thing to hear – the Bible always perfectly corresponds to reality. When the Bible says something will be a certain way, that is exactly how it will be; it will be what Scripture says it will be, both in general terms as well as in absolutely specific terms. You have a specific event in 70 A.D. that fulfills the words of our Lord and fulfills what the Scripture records.

And you have the very general description of time between the two comings of Christ that we obviously know is the way life really is, and in the future time of tribulation, the very specific things mentioned there concerning the abomination of desolation, and the end of that period, the sign in the sky of the return of Jesus Christ. It’ll all be exactly the way the Scripture says it will be because any examination of history and comparing history with what Scripture says always validates the Scripture.

Next Sunday — Christ the King or Reign of Christ Sunday — is the last in the Church calendar. Advent begins on the Sunday after that and, with it, a new liturgical year.

The Twenty-third Sunday after Trinity — the Twenty-fourth Sunday after Pentecost — is November 7, 2021.

Readings for Year B can be found here.

The Gospel reading is as follows (emphases mine):

Mark 12:38-44

12:38 As he taught, he said, “Beware of the scribes, who like to walk around in long robes, and to be greeted with respect in the marketplaces,

12:39 and to have the best seats in the synagogues and places of honor at banquets!

12:40 They devour widows’ houses and for the sake of appearance say long prayers. They will receive the greater condemnation.”

12:41 He sat down opposite the treasury, and watched the crowd putting money into the treasury. Many rich people put in large sums.

12:42 A poor widow came and put in two small copper coins, which are worth a penny.

12:43 Then he called his disciples and said to them, “Truly I tell you, this poor widow has put in more than all those who are contributing to the treasury.

12:44 For all of them have contributed out of their abundance; but she out of her poverty has put in everything she had, all she had to live on.”

Commentary comes from Matthew Henry and John MacArthur.

We nearly pick up from where we left off last time. These are the intervening verses between last week’s reading and this week’s:

Whose Son Is the Christ?

35 And as Jesus taught in the temple, he said, “How can the scribes say that the Christ is the son of David? 36 David himself, in the Holy Spirit, declared,

“‘The Lord said to my Lord,
“Sit at my right hand,
    until I put your enemies under your feet.”’

37 David himself calls him Lord. So how is he his son?” And the great throng heard him gladly.

Our Lord cites Psalm 110:1 in verse 36:

The Lord says to my Lord:
    “Sit at my right hand,
until I make your enemies your footstool.”

Members of the Sanhedrin were testing Jesus theologically. They failed every time. Yet, the onlookers listened to what Jesus had to say.

Matthew Henry elaborates:

Now this galled the scribes, to have their ignorance thus exposed, and, no doubt, incensed them more against Christ; but the common people heard him gladly, Mark 12:37; Mark 12:37. What he preached was surprising and affecting; and though it reflected upon the scribes, it was instructive to them, and they had never heard such preaching. Probably there was something more than ordinarily commanding and charming in his voice and way of delivery, which recommended him to the affections of the common people; for we do not find that any were wrought upon to believe in him, and to follow him, but he was to them as a lovely song of one that could play well on an instrument; as Ezekiel was to his hearers, Ezekiel 33:32. And perhaps some of these cried, Crucify him, as Herod heard John Baptist gladly, and yet cut off his head.

The events of Mark 12 took place on the Wednesday of Passion Week, two days before the Crucifixion.

Jesus was teaching in the temple. This was His last public teaching session.

He warned the people — ‘Beware’ — about the scribes, the religious lawyers, who enjoyed walking around in their long robes and being greeted with respect in the marketplaces (verse 38). They had the best seats in the synagogues and at banquets (verse 39).

Jesus went on to say that they devoured widow’s houses and, to look better in the eyes of the public, say long prayers. He passed judgement on them saying that their condemnation would be the greater (verse 40).

It is rather serendipitous that this reading comes after the first week of COP26, the synod of the secular religion of climate change. The parallels between the two are uncanny.

John MacArthur says that the people listening to Jesus were aware of the religious corruption but they could do nothing about it and they had been steeped in the system:

I’m convinced that when Jesus wiped out the corrupt businesses in the temple on Tuesday of that week, that many of the people were attracted to Him because of that, because they knew the corruption.

They knew they were paying ten times the price they should pay for a sacrificial animal. They knew they were – they were getting bilked in the exchange of coins when they brought their temple tax offering. They understood the charlatanism and the robbery that was going on there, and Jesus even said, “This is My Father’s house, it’s to be a house of prayer, you turned it into a robber’s den.” I don’t – I don’t think that drove the people away; I think that drew the people to it.

They could see some of the corruption of the system, even though they couldn’t extract themselves from it, and they were bound to it by lifelong commitments to what they had been taught.

MacArthur compares Mark’s account with Luke’s:

And now, as we approach our text, the people are listening; the end of verse 37 says, “The large crowd enjoyed listening to Him.” Luke 20 verse 45, the parallel passage, says, “All the people were listening”; all the people. And then it says, “He said to His disciples” – so around Him are the disciples.

But beyond them, that immediate group gathered around Him – the apostles and whatever assorted disciples were there – the whole crowd, the massive crowd in the temple, is listening to Him. By the way, when Luke says, “All the people were listening, but He said this to His disciples,” that’s a transition. That’s a transition, because after He says this, in verses 38 to 40, to everybody, from here on out, He speaks only to His disciples, as verse 43 indicates, “Calling His disciples to Him, He said” – so this is the final word to the crowds.

The rest is going to be for the disciples. The sad note here: not only have the leaders gone away for the moment in shame and silence, thwarted in their efforts, but the people have never moved from their superficial interest in Him to a real and genuine faith in Him, and so He is really through talking to them as well. These are, then, His last words publicly – His last words publicly, verses 38 to 44 – very strong words and very, very condemning words.

Henry says that there was nothing wrong in wearing a long robe, however, the scribes wore them with pride, as if to say they were closer to God, when nothing could be further from the truth:

1. They affect to appear very great; for they go in long clothing, with vestures down to their feet, and in those they walk about the streets, as princes, or judges, or gentlemen of the long robe. Their going in such clothing was not sinful, but their loving to go in it, priding themselves in it, valuing themselves on it, commanding respect by it, saying to their long clothes, as Saul to Samuel, Honour me now before this people, this was a product of pride. Christ would have his disciples go with their loins girt.

2. They affect to appear very good; for they pray, they make long prayers, as if they were very intimate with heaven, and had a deal of business there. They took care it should be known that they prayed, that they prayed long, which, some think, intimates that they prayed not for themselves only, but for others, and therein were very particular and very large; this they did for a pretence, that they might seem to love prayer, not only for God’s sake, whom hereby they pretended to glorify, but for their neighbour’s sake, whom hereby they pretended to be serviceable to.

3. They here aimed to advance themselves: they coveted applause, and were fond of it; they loved salutations in the marketplaces, and the chief seats in the synagogues, and the uppermost rooms at feasts; these pleased a vain fancy; to have these given them, they thought, expressed the value they had for them, who did know them, and gained them respect for those who did not.

As for receiving a greater condemnation, MacArthur explains why:

They are hypocrites – they may do it in different ways, but they are hypocrites, and they are destructive – so our Lord cautions and characterizes. Then He condemns – end of verse 40: “These will receive greater condemnation.” You know, there are people who think that if you’re religious, you’ll receive less condemnation. Sometimes you hear people say, “Well, I’m sure – I’m sure that I’m going to go to heaven, because I’m a very religious person.” Really. I think hell will be the hottest for religious people – especially religious false teachers, agents of Satan, who, sons of hell themselves, produce more sons of hell.

They will receive a greater condemnation, not a lesser condemnation; not because they were good, or moral, or religious, will they receive less judgment – they will receive more judgment. If you have the idea today that there’s good in all religions, and God loves all religions, and we need to find God in all religions, and find the good that is there – Jesus pronounces a greater condemnation on the religious leaders of Israel – who are monotheists, who believed in the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, the creator God of the Old Testament.

But because they had apostatized from the true religion and come to a self-righteous works system, and because they had rejected Him and the gospel, their hell would be hotter than everybody else. You don’t want to get too close to the truth, because if you’re too close to the truth, the potential for judgment is even greater. “How much greater judgment will the one feel” – Hebrews says – “who has trodden underfoot the Son of God and counted the blood of the covenant an unholy thing?”

That’s the greatest of all judgment, to reject Christ; better you never know Him, hell will be less furious. The idea is clear: those who are in the wrong religion will receive the far-greater suffering, the far-greater damnation, because of that false religion, and because they reject the true gospel, the true Christ, as I just quoted from Hebrews 10. Don’t be fooled by them, don’t be drawn to them, be warned – they are dangerous, and they will be condemned.

The scribes were Pharisees and they handled all matters of law in what was a theocratic society.

Part of their work involved settling estates, which involved enriching themselves and the temple.

MacArthur explains why Jesus condemned them for their treatment of widows:

… the key thing to note right now in verse 40 would be, “They devour widows’ houses” – file that in your mind – “they devour widows’ houses” – that’s just awful. They’re supposed to be the shepherds of the sheep, and if there’s anybody that needs to be protected, who would it be? Widows; widows.

Pure religion – James says that you care for the widows and orphans; that’s an Old Testament command reiterated over and over and over in the Old Testament. I could take you to 25 or 30 Old Testament passages, starting in Exodus 22 and moving right on through Deuteronomy, all the way to Malachi chapter 3, and all in between, and show you how much the Old Testament has to say about the people of God having responsibility to those who are widows in their midst, to care for them.

What do these men do? They consumed them – that verb means to plunder them – it means literally to eat them up – how did they do that? Well, a little bit of historical study will provide an answer for that; there are records about how they did it – their own records, by the way. These false leaders would take support, ask money from widows for themselves – though that was forbidden. They would cheat widows out of their estate, while they were offering them legal protection.

In other words, a widow would have an estate, she would want to make sure that it was secure and safe, and so she would bring in a scribe to take care of the legal work to protect her estate, and while pretending to protect her estate, he would take it. They would mismanage the property of widows. They would abuse the hospitality of widows – living in their houses, taking up space in their houses, eating their food in a gluttonous fashion, making excessive demands, leeching off of them.

They would take money from older widows with deficient mental powers – as the older women lost the ability to reason and think what was going on, they would steal them blind. Then they would take the house of a widow in pledge for the debt that they were owed for their legal services; then when the widow died, they would own the house – nothing would be left if she had children. They demanded that the widows give to purchase blessing from God – as they demanded that from everybody in their system.

Jesus sat and watched the people contributing to the temple treasury; many of the rich put in vast sums of money (verse 41).

Then a widow came to give money to the temple, putting in two small, nearly worthless, copper coins (verse 42), or ‘mites’ in some translations.

MacArthur explains the system. The people had been taught that giving money to the temple purchased salvation:

Their whole system was built on the fact you had to bring your money to the temple – there were thirteen receptacles in the Court of the Women where you dropped your money; that’s how you purchase your salvation. The rabbi said with alms you purchase your redemption. The money went in there, it came out the bottom into the pockets of these religious leaders – the more money that was given, the richer they got – and the money needed to be given, because that’s how you bought your salvation, so people were literally pouring money into those places – those receptacles – to buy redemption.

Jesus called His disciples to Him and said emphatically — ‘Truly I tell you’ — that the poor widow gave more than everyone else contributing to the treasury (verse 43).

He said that the others contributed out of their abundance but that she gave away her last two coins, which was all she had to live on (verse 44).

I am dreading tomorrow’s sermon, because it will likely be about giving to your church until your coffers run dry.

MacArthur sees this entirely differently. He relates it to the corrupt system and says that Jesus condemned forcing a poor widow to give her last two coins, leaving her totally destitute and dependent on society:

No matter who you read on this – or what sermons you might hear on this – typically, people will say this is how we ought to give. We ought to give till it hurts, we ought to give sacrificially, we ought to give in a surrendered fashion. We ought to give so that we completely demonstrate trust in God, and that’s how this woman gave. There isn’t one word of support in this text for any of those perspectives; it doesn’t say anything about her attitude at all.

The fact of the matter is, it doesn’t even tell us that she was a believer; it doesn’t say that she knew the true God, that she believed in Christ; she is not a spiritual hero in the story. What is she in the story? I’ll tell you what she is, she’s a victim; she is a victim. A victim of what? She is a victim of the system. She is the ultimate victim of a system that “devours widows’ houses” – verse 40 – that’s the connection. This has nothing to do with Christian giving, unless you think Christian giving is, “Give everything you have; take a vow of poverty, go home and die.”

You think that’s Christian giving? Or maybe you would go to Plan B: “Give everything you have, take a vow of poverty, spend the rest of your life leeching on everybody else so you can survive.” Where in the Bible is it a Christian principle of giving to give everything you have and go home and die? That is not in the Bible, not at all – it makes no sense, and by the way, the people who gave other than the woman, there’s no judgment rendered on them – Jesus doesn’t condemn that. Why aren’t they the model?

Why don’t we say, “Isn’t it wonderful that rich people gave large sums?” That’s great, isn’t it? You wouldn’t argue that, would you? In fact, if you wanted a model of Christian giving, you’ve got to go with the rich who gave large sums, not the woman who gave everything and went home to die; that – God has never asked that. He doesn’t say that the rich gave too little, He doesn’t say the widow gave exactly the right amount, He doesn’t say the rich had too much left and the widow had the right amount left – none.

He doesn’t say the rich had a bad attitude when they gave a lot, and the woman had a good attitude when she gave everything – He doesn’t say anything about any motivations or any attitudes at all. Her outward action is simply an evidence of what that system did to widows. You want blessing of God, you give your money. She’s destitute; she’s got two cents left. She says to herself, “Either I take my two cents and buy my last meal, or I do what they tell me – send them the money, and God will bless me” – does that sound like a TV preacher to you?

That’s the system: send me your money. If you’re down to your last penny, send me your money, open the floodgates – God will bless you if you send me your money. It was a den of robbers, and they were stealing it from the worst, the lowest, the most destitute, the worst off. This isn’t to teach us about attitudes in giving or amounts in giving; this is to teach us about corrupt religion. Beware of the false shepherds, the false teachers who take the last coins out of the widow’s purse to fill their coffers, on the pretense that that kind of giving is the path to blessing; that’s the prosperity gospel.

There’s nothing in her about the Lord loved her, she was in the kingdom. There’s nothing here about, “Okay, you disciples, you need to follow her example, so take the bag with all the money we’ve got in there and go in there and give it.” That’s the last thing He would have told them. Why would you put your money in a robbers’ den? You wouldn’t commend that; she was a victim. There’s no invitation for the disciples to imitate what she did – empty their pockets, empty the little purse that they carried – would have been a perfect time to do that, right?

Jesus is going on the cross, this would be a great time to test your faith, dump it all in. No. This is not any place for the Lord to inject a lesson on giving. This isn’t about giving, this is about taking. This is all in a judgment context – judgment, verses 38 to 40, and judgment starting in chapter 13 – the whole section as He talks about what’s coming is judgment, judgment, judgment, judgment, judgment. The context all along is judgment, and certainly the rest of His message recorded in Matthew 23 is judgment, judgment, judgment, judgment.

And all those woes pronounced on the leaders are literally justified and validated by this one woman’s act. She is a poor, dear woman who is nothing but a son of hell, captive to a false religious system, dumping her last two coins into that system under the promise that somehow this is the path to blessing. She gave everything she had. Let’s look at the text a little more closely – that’s the overview – verse 41, He was seated there, opposite the treasury. The treasury was in the Court of the Women, it was called, and Jesus had taught there before, John 8 – that’s a great chapter to read what went on when He was teaching there on that occasion …

Relatively speaking, comparatively speaking, her gift was greater, right, ’cause it was a hundred percent. You know, that system can’t be more corrupt; it cannot be more corrupt – devouring widows like that. Scripture is full of commands, by the way, as I told you earlier, to care for the widows. False religion has no interest in that at all – they abuse widows – and they do it in the name of God, they do it in the name of Christ. This is a tragedy, and the Lord will not tolerate it

I hope that has put a different — and truer — perspective on this passage, universally misinterpreted for centuries, which is why I dread this Sunday’s sermon.

The Twenty-second Sunday after Trinity — the Twenty-third Sunday after Pentecost — is October 31, 2021.

Readings for Year B can be found here.

The Gospel reading is as follows (emphases mine):

Mark 12:28-34

12:28 One of the scribes came near and heard them disputing with one another, and seeing that he answered them well, he asked him, “Which commandment is the first of all?”

12:29 Jesus answered, “The first is, ‘Hear, O Israel: the Lord our God, the Lord is one;

12:30 you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength.’

12:31 The second is this, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.”

12:32 Then the scribe said to him, “You are right, Teacher; you have truly said that ‘he is one, and besides him there is no other’;

12:33 and ‘to love him with all the heart, and with all the understanding, and with all the strength,’ and ‘to love one’s neighbor as oneself,’ —this is much more important than all whole burnt offerings and sacrifices.”

12:34 When Jesus saw that he answered wisely, he said to him, “You are not far from the kingdom of God.” After that no one dared to ask him any question.

Commentary comes from Matthew Henry and John MacArthur.

Last week’s Gospel reading was about Jesus’s brief time in Jericho, the place of His last creative miracle.

Jesus and His disciples then travelled to Jerusalem for Passover, where the events of Mark 12 take place.

We are now into our Lord’s Passion week, which we commemorate during Holy Week, just before Easter.

John MacArthur sets the scene for us:

The day before, on Tuesday, He had gone in and thrown out the bazaars of Annas, He had thrown out the buyers and sellers, the corrupt marketers who were extorting money out of people for animals they didn’t need, and overcharging them on coin exchange. They had turned it into a den of thieves, it had actually been that for a long time. Actually it had been that for centuries. Jesus had done the same thing at the beginning of His ministry, according to John chapter 2, when He went into the temple, made a whip and threw them out. He’s back three years later, the final week of His ministry, two days before His crucifixion and He does it again.

The people who run the religion in Israel are not happy about that, obviously. But they haven’t been happy since He showed up three years earlier and did it the first time. The Sanhedrin, the ruling body of Israel made up of 70 men, plus the High Priest who were responsible for the theology of Israel, at least in some measure, but more for the civil and religious life of Israel, they were in positions of power. And Jesus had set Himself against them by doing what He did to the temple, now the second time and also because He exposed their theology as apostate, their religion as hypocritical and their influence as damning. They were making sons of hell, He said. And He said that on this same Wednesday. But He had exposed them for the three years of His ministry in very similar fashion.

The Sanhedrin now is infuriated with Him. They’re not only infuriated with Him, the Sanhedrin being made up of Pharisees, Sadducees and certain scribes, most of whom would be Pharisees. Not only furious with Him because of His theology and His assaults on His religion, but because He had become so popular. He had banished illness from the land of Israel for the duration of His ministry. He had power over demons, power over disease, power over death, power over nature. No one had ever lived on this earth that could even come close to Him in expressions of divine power.

when He came into town and there was that great mass of several hundreds of thousands of people hailing Him as their potential Messiah. So not only were they being attacked by Him, economically, in the operation of the temple, they were attacked by Him, theologically, as He exposed them as apostates and hypocrites and spiritual frauds and fakes, but now they were being attacked in terms of their popular power because the crowds were all drawn to Jesus. His popularity threatens them, threatens their power, their position and their income.

In response, they want to discredit Him. They – they don’t know how to get rid of Him. They want Him dead. But they’re afraid of the people because He’s so massively popular. They can’t just wander in and execute Jesus because the crowds would turn on Him. They have to find a means to get the people to turn against Him, and also to get the Romans to see Him as an insurrectionist, somebody amassing an army against Rome, and execute Him for rebellion against Caesar. So, they unpack some of their traps. They try to entrap Him with a series of questions.

Matthew Henry’s commentary summarises these theological tests:

In this chapter, we have, I. The parable of the vineyard let out to unthankful husbandmen, representing the sin and ruin of the Jewish church, Mark 12:1-12. II. Christ’s silencing those who thought to ensnare him with a question about paying tribute Cæsar, Mark 12:13-17. III. His silencing the Sadducees, who attempted to perplex the doctrine of the resurrection, Mark 12:18-27. IV. His conference with a scribe about the first and great command of the law, Mark 12:28-34. V. His puzzling the scribes with a question about Christ’s being the Son of David, Mark 12:35-37. VI. The caution he gave the people, to take heed of the scribes, Mark 12:38-40.

MacArthur directs us to Matthew’s Gospel to see what happened before the scribe in today’s reading approached Jesus:

First came the Pharisees, then the Sadducees, and now this scribe. But you need to know the preliminary to this. There was a meeting held by the Sanhedrin. Matthew tells us about that. Matthew has a parallel passage to this very important text, as you know. What we learn from Matthew’s parallel text, Matthew 22:34, is “they were gathered together.” The meeting of the Sanhedrin reconvened again because the first two traps were utterly unsuccessful.

Both groups have been left stunned and speechless and had gained no ground at all. In fact, they had just become those who aided the showcasing of the brilliance of Jesus. The whole thing was counterproductive. So now they meet again. And it’s important to make that comment from Matthew 22:34, “they were gathered together,” because it’s a fulfillment of a prophecy.

You say, “What prophecy is that?” It’s a prophecy in Psalm 2 in verse 2. In Psalm 2, verse 2 says, “The rulers take counsel against the Lord and against His anointed.” You say, “Well wait a minute, that could have happened a lot of times in history. How do we know that Psalm 2:2 is a prophecy that’s fulfilled here?”

We know that because of Acts chapter 4, Acts chapter 4. Here we have Peter and John and the apostles being arrested. And when they were released in verse 23 – this is after, of course, our Lord’s resurrection and ascension and the Day of Pentecost – “They went to their own companions, reported all the chief priests and elders had said to them. And when they heard this, they lifted their voice to God with one accord and said, ‘Lord, it is You who made the heaven and the earth and the sea and all that is in them, who by the Holy Spirit through the mouth of Your father David, Your servant said’ – and this is a quote from Psalm 2 – “Why did the Gentiles rage and the peoples devise futile things? The kings of the earth took their stand, and the rulers were gathered together against the Lord and against His Christ?” ‘”

And then comes the interpretation of that prophecy. ‘For truly in this city there were gathered together against Your holy servant Jesus, whom You anointed, both Herod and Pontius Pilate, along with the Gentiles and the peoples of Israel.’” And so here the apostles, Peter and John, say that the fulfillment of Psalm 2:2 occurred when they gathered together against Christ. That would embrace the gathering of the Sanhedrin. That would embrace the gathering of the false trials before Annas, before Caiaphas, before Pontius Pilate and Herod, and even the Roman complicity in the death of Christ along with the people of Israel. Verse 28 says, “all of them together were only doing whatever Your hand and Your purpose predestined to occur.”

Returning to today’s reading, a scribe was among the Sanhedrin, who were disputing amongst themselves, and seeing that Jesus answered their questions correctly, asked which commandment was the first of all (verse 28).

Henry posits that the scribe was sincere with his question:

we have reason to hope that he did not join with the other scribes in persecuting Christ; for here we have his application to Christ for instruction, and it was such as became him; not tempting Christ, but desiring to improve his acquaintance with him.

MacArthur says that the Sanhedrin put this man up as their spokesperson for this test:

the Pharisees and the Sadducees didn’t agree on what was divine Law, but they both did agree that Moses’ writings were divine Law; Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Deuteronomy and Numbers. They all agreed that is the Law of God. So the Sanhedrin comes up with a question they can all agree to. What is the greatest commandment or what is the most important commandment, what is the foremost commandment.

And their hope is that He’s going to give them something that is not found in the Law of Moses, something that supersedes Moses, something above and beyond Moses.

There is another aspect to this question. Mosaic law is comprised of 613 laws. It would be impossible to obey them all, so tradition dictated a pick-and-choose approach. It is no surprise then that they wanted to know what the foremost commandment in importance was.

Jesus answered, quoting the most revered prayer of the Jews, the Shema (verses 29, 30). ‘Shema’ means ‘hear’, which is the first word in the prayer. There is only one God and you shall love Him with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength.

This is from Deuteronomy, which focuses on this commandment, worded and reworded in various ways. This was the last book that Moses wrote. It was guidance to the Israelites on how they must conduct themselves in the Promised Land.

This commandment in the Shema is an internal one, not an external one of animal sacrifices, tithes or cleanliness.

MacArthur explains:

… the intellectual, emotional, volitional and physical elements of personhood all combine to love the one true God. It is an intelligent love, it is an emotional love, it is a willing love and it is an active love. It is an all-consuming love. Back in to Mark 12, just to show you how the words are all repeated, “with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength.” And the addition of those words “with all” every time is to lay out the emphatic nature of this comprehensive whole-hearted love. We might say that God’s whole-hearted love toward us should not be returned with a half-hearted love on our part.

Jesus continued, saying that we must love our neighbour as we love ourselves, concluding that there are no two commandments greater than these (verse 31).

This follows the construct of the Ten Commandments, the first four of which relate to God and the next six to the way we are to honour and treat others.

MacArthur says:

Why does He come up with these two things? Because there’s no other commandment greater than these. And our Lord also said, “On these two, hang all the law and the prophets.” The Ten Commandments are connected to this. The first four are about loving God. You don’t have any other God. You don’t make a false idol. You don’t take His name in vain. And you remember to worship Him. That’s loving God.

And to ten, it’s about loving man. You’re respectful to your parents. You have respect for authority, you have a respect for life, you don’t kill people. You have a respect for moral purity, you don’t commit adultery. Respect for others’ goods and rights, you don’t steal. You have respect for what is true, you don’t lie. Have respect for what God has provided and you’re content, you don’t covet. All that has to do with man to man. The first half has to do with man to God, then man to man, so that these two commandments are simply a summarization of the whole law.

There are only two possibilities; God’s laws that relate to our relationship to Him, and His laws that relate to our relationship with others. This is the – the genius of our Lord. In these two commands, He has said it all. It’s all gathered up in those two commands. Stunning. Love Me, love others. Even your enemies, Matthew 5:43 to 48, not just your friends, not just your brothers, but love your enemies and you’ll truly be the children of your father. Love others.

The scribe rightly responds that Jesus is correct (verse 32) and that obeying those two commandments are more important than any and all burnt offerings and sacrifices (verse 33).

Henry reminds us that some of the Sanhedrin considered burnt offerings and sacrifices to be more important:

There were those who held, that the law of sacrifices was the greatest commandment of all; but this scribe readily agreed with our Saviour in this–that the law of love to God and our neighbour is greater than that of sacrifice, even than that of whole-burnt-offerings, which were intended purely for the honour of God.

When Jesus heard the scribe’s reply, He commended him for it, saying that the man was not far from the kingdom of God; this exchange put an end to the Sanhedrin’s theological tests (verse 34).

What was Jesus saying? The scribe now needed to believe that He is the Son of God.

Henry says:

What became of this scribe we are not told, but would willingly hope that he took the hint Christ hereby gave him, and that, having been told by him, so much to his satisfaction, what was the great commandment of the law, he proceeded to enquire of him, or his apostles, what was the great commandment of the gospel too. Yet, if he did not, but took, up here, and went no further, we are not to think it strange; for there are many who are not far from the kingdom of God, and yet never come thither. Now, one would think, this should have invited many to consult him: but it had a contrary effect; No man, after that, durst ask him any question; every thing he said, was spoken with such authority and majesty, that every one stood in awe of him; those that desired to learn, were ashamed to ask, and those that designed to cavil, were afraid to ask.

MacArthur thinks that the scribe left it there — so close and yet so far:

… that’s good, but not good enough. Near isn’t good enough. You must enter, you must enter, you must enter by faith in Christ, in His death and resurrection. But in what sense is this man near? He’s near because he understands that it’s an internal issue, not a ceremonial ritual issue.

Although the Sanhedrin stopped for the day, they still were not finished with their goal of ending our Lord’s life.

MacArthur says:

They will get there. And by Friday, they’ll have those people screaming for His crucifixion.

MacArthur has a good response to the question of what it means to be a Christian:

When somebody asks you, “What does it mean to be a Christian?” It means to love the Lord your God with all your entire being. We know the one we love, do we not? Because He’s disclosed Himself to us in Scripture. He’s worthy of our love. He’s worthy of far more love than we will ever be able to give Him. Joshua 22:5; Joshua 23:11; when Joshua gets his opportunity to speak, he calls for the same thing. He heard Moses and he understood what he said and he calls on the people to do the same thing, to love God, to love God.

The apostle Paul reminded us to let our love abound more and more in all knowledge. And I think our love for God is connected to knowledge. The more you know about God, the more there is to love. Is that not true? Your love is in correlation to the revelation of God which you know. The more you know about God, the more there is to love Him.

We can love God only imperfectly because of our fallen nature. However, we should strive to love Him more and more as we grow in our Christian journey. Reading and studying the New Testament is a perfect way to achieve that, through our knowledge of Christ.

The Twenty-first Sunday after Trinity — the Twenty-second Sunday after Pentecost — is October 24, 2021.

Readings for Year B can be found here.

The Gospel reading is as follows (emphases mine):

Mark 10:46-52

10:46 They came to Jericho. As he and his disciples and a large crowd were leaving Jericho, Bartimaeus son of Timaeus, a blind beggar, was sitting by the roadside.

10:47 When he heard that it was Jesus of Nazareth, he began to shout out and say, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!”

10:48 Many sternly ordered him to be quiet, but he cried out even more loudly, “Son of David, have mercy on me!”

10:49 Jesus stood still and said, “Call him here.” And they called the blind man, saying to him, “Take heart; get up, he is calling you.”

10:50 So throwing off his cloak, he sprang up and came to Jesus.

10:51 Then Jesus said to him, “What do you want me to do for you?” The blind man said to him, “My teacher, let me see again.”

10:52 Jesus said to him, “Go; your faith has made you well.” Immediately he regained his sight and followed him on the way.

Commentary comes from Matthew Henry and John MacArthur.

We pick up where we left off last week. Last week’s reading was about James and John requesting they sit next to him in Heaven,  insisting they could drink our Lord’s cup (God’s wrath) and take on His baptism (severe trial). Jesus granted their request of the cup and baptism. They ended up martyred. St James the Great was beheaded and St John suffered a slow death in exile on Patmos.

Today’s reading involves another request, but, in contrast to that of James and John, a very humble one made in faith.

Jesus had finished His ministry in Peraea. He and the disciples were now in Jericho, on their way to Jerusalem for Passover.

John MacArthur sets the scene for us and describes the beauty of Jericho:

Jesus had been ministering in Perea, which is a region east of the Jordan and down in the south. And He would keep moving down in Perea, eventually would cross the Jordan, just north of the Dead Sea. And the first town He would come to of any note would be Jericho. And from Jericho it is a direct ascent right up the hill to Jerusalem. “They came to Jericho.”

A great crowd is with Him; that is indicated to us here in the text. They are following along a large crowd. Matthew tells us the same thing: a large crowd, a great multitude. And it’s a combination of people who are following Jesus because they know about Him; and just the mass of humanity flowing down to the south to ascend to Jerusalem because they want to be there for the Passover. Many of them would cross the Jordan to go to the east, and cross the Jordan back again to avoid Samaria.

Our Lord has concluded a brief preaching, teaching, healing mission in Perea, and now crosses over the Jordan, probably by some kind of a ferry or a raft. The river would have been swollen at this time of the year, Passover is springtime, and the snow would have melted high in the mountains of Lebanon and filled up that lake of Galilee, and it would have overflowed down the Jordan River, and they would have crossed. They came to the city of Jericho known as the city of palms, city of Palms – about a six-hour walk straight up to Jerusalem.

Well-known in New Testament times, well-known, formidable place, a city fed by springs, had a lot of water even though its desert. Plenty of water piped in if there wasn’t enough there in the springs. They piped enough in to irrigate that place and to turn that place into a garden. It had a large population because of the availability of water. It was filled, they tell us – historians do – that it was filled with palm trees, it was filled with fruit trees of every kind. It was home to a bush known as the balsam bush that supplied juice that was used as a medicine and found only there.

The climate was warm, obviously. Josephus says linen clothes were warn even when there was snow in Jerusalem. Mark tells us that it was not yet the season for figs in the eleventh chapter, verse 13, in Jerusalem, but it would have been the season for figs ripening already in Jericho. Almonds flourished there, we are told, and rose plants. It was really a garden, the city given by Marc Antony to Cleopatra, according to Josephus, in the place where Herod built a fort and a palace in which he finally died. So it was a magnificent place.

But it’s not just the Jericho of the New Testament that we know about, the Jericho of the Old Testament is pretty famous, isn’t it? We all know the story recorded for us in Joshua chapter 6 about the destruction of Jericho when the walls came falling down, when the Israelites marched around it for seven days. It had a well-known history to the Jews. It had recovered from those darker days and was a flourishing, flourishing place. So in verse 46 they came to Jericho.

Now, Mark says He was leaving Jericho, Luke says He was approaching Jericho. That’s quite interesting. Matthew says He was going out of Jericho. What’s going on here? Well, the best way to understand that is that those references can be taken to mean He was in the general vicinity of Jericho. He was going in and out of Jericho because He was not intending to stay very long, although He did stay long enough to spend an evening and a night in the house of Zacchaeus the tax collector to whom He brought salvation. Whether He was at this point coming in before the incident with Zacchaeus or going out after the incident with Zacchaeus, one can’t be dogmatic about. But safe to say, in any case, it is in the vicinity of Jericho where this happens. And that place would have been a buzz, filled with all kinds of sites and sounds and smells, even memories for Jesus, because very near Jericho was an area called “the devastation,” the devastation, the very place where our Lord had been taken by the Holy Spirit to be tempted by the devil.

Bartimaeus, son of Timaeus, was a blind beggar sitting by the roadside (verse 46).

This story features in the three synoptic Gospels: Matthew, Mark and Luke. The account in Matthew 20 mentions two blind men. Luke 18 and Mark 10 only feature one.

Mark is the only account to name the man.

Matthew Henry’s commentary says that some scholars believe his father’s name is included because he, too, was blind. As was usual in Christ’s miracles, there was also a spiritual element in the cure:

This one is named here, being a blind beggar that was much talked of; he was called Bartimeus, that is, the son of Timeus; which, some think, signifies the son of a blind man; he was the blind son of a blind father, which made the case worse, and the cure more wonderful, and the more proper to typify the spiritual cures wrought by the grace of Christ, on those that not only are born blind, but are born of those that are blind.

The Jews viewed physical infirmity as a divine curse, so when Bartimaeus called out to Jesus, ‘the Son of David’, to have mercy on him (verse 47), the crowd sternly ordered him to be quiet. Yet, he yelled out all the more loudly (verse 48).

MacArthur says Bartimaeus would have been the lowest of the low:

He’s at the bottom, by the way, socially, obviously below the peasants. Below the unclean and degraded sinners are the cursed. He’s just a hair above a tax collector.

MacArthur explains the Greek words in the original text:

When he heard that it was Jesus the Nazarene, which is what they said, he began to cry out and say, “Jesus, son of David.” He began to scream. Mark uses the verb krazō, “to shout.” It’s a very strong word. It is used in Mark 5 to speak of insane epileptics, demon-possessed people. It’s used also in the Scripture to speak of – Revelation 12 – birth pain and the screaming of a woman; strong. He begins to scream in anguish and desperation, and he doesn’t say, “Jesus of Nazareth,” he says, “Jesus, son of David.” 

Bartimaeus uses the messianic title for Jesus:

Son of David; that is a messianic title, and he knew exactly what it was. The Messiah was to be the heir of David’s throne, according to 2 Samuel chapter 7. The Messiah would receive the kingdom that had been promised to a son of David. David’s greater son would be the King who would bring the fulfillment of all the promises both to David and to Abraham. This was the most common Jewish title for the Messiah: son of David, son of David, son of David.

That is why you have the genealogy in Matthew 1 of Joseph that shows He comes from the family of David. That is why you have the genealogy of Mary in Luke to show that she comes from the line of David. Both His earthly father and His true mother were in the line of David. He is truly a son of David.

Jesus stood still and asked the crowd to call Bartimaeus to Him. Their mood changed as they encouraged him to take heart — ‘take courage’ in the older translations is even better — and approach Jesus (verse 49).

MacArthur points out our Lord’s rebuke to the crowd and their change in mood:

this is such a rebuke, such a rebuke to religion, elite religiosity, that the Lord saves the scum

Verse 49: “And Jesus stopped.” And I just need to say, if you see anything through all the years of studying the Gospels, you see the compassion of God toward people, demonstrated in Jesus Christ, compassionate at every turn. He stopped and He said, “Call him here. Call him here. Don’t silence him; call him here, bring him to Me.”

In fact, Luke 18:40 puts it this way: “He commanded that he be brought to Him.” He commanded it. “And so, they called the blind man,” – in verse 49 – “and they said to him, ‘Take courage, stand up! He’s calling for you.’” Now all of a sudden they change their tune. Jesus’ response to the man changes their attitude for the moment. Their curiosity drives them to let this thing happen and see what could be made of it. Maybe they’ll see another miracle.

Bartimaeus threw off his cloak and ‘sprang’ to Jesus (verse 50).

MacArthur says:

Somebody had to bring him obviously.

Jesus asked what He could do for Bartimaeus. It was the same question he asked James and John. Instead of responding with pride and ambition as they did, Bartimaeus addressed Jesus humbly as ‘my Teacher’ and asked to be able to see once again (verse 51).

MacArthur elaborates on this call for divine mercy, both physically and spiritually:

So here is a man who recognizes Jesus as the true Messiah; and here is a man who knows what he needs, and it is mercy, it is mercy. And while this is a typical cry of afflicted people, certainly it’s a true and pure cry of this man from the heart: “Pity me.” He’s not deserving of anything and he knows it. He would have understood the theology of his people as well and thought himself cursed by God because he was blind. He knows he needs mercy, he knows he is a sinner; his blindness aids him in facing that.

Note that Jesus tells Bartimaeus that his faith has made him well. With that He healed the man, who regained his sight and followed our Lord on His way (verse 52).

MacArthur explains:

This man only wants mercy. Unlike James and John who thought they needed elevation, this man knows he deserves nothing. He’s not laying claim on anything. Mercy means to give what people don’t deserve. And he said, the blind man did, “Rabboni,” which means, “Master,” Master. And according to Luke 18 he also said, “Lord, Master, Lord.” Wow, now this theology is starting to fill out here, “Lord and Master,” and he uses a form of the word kurios. He recognizes him as his Master and his Lord; and yet Jesus is taking the role of a servant and a slave. “What can I do for you?” I mean, compassion and sympathy and lowliness and tenderness and kindness and affection and grace and mercy, the King does what the beggar asks him to do.

“What do you want?” “Rabboni, I want to regain my sight. I want to regain my sight.” According to Matthew’s account, Jesus then reached over and touched his eyes. And according to Luke 18:42, He said, “Receive your sight.” He so often healed with a touch, didn’t He? He touched him and said, “Receive your sight.”

What happened? Verse 52: “Go; your faith has made you well. Immediately he regained his sight and began following Him on the road.” This really is a model of a conversion pre-cross, a model of a conversion pre-cross. Do you think there was any doubt in his mind that this was his Lord? No. His Master? No. His Messiah? No. That he was a sinner? No. That he needed mercy? No. There was no doubt in his mind that here was the dispenser of mercy needed by this desperate man.

This then is more than a healing, my friend, more than a healing. When Jesus said to him, “Go; your faith has made you well,” He uses a verb sōzō, from which we get “saved.” It means “to save.” “Your faith has saved you.”

There is a word strictly referring to healing, iaomai. That’s not the word here. It’s the word sōzō, “Your faith has saved you.” And we know that that encompasses the healing, but also the salvation. The healing is indicated, “and he regained his sight,” and the salvation is indicated in, “he began following Him on the road.”

The evidence of the healing was obvious, “He saw,” 20/20 instantaneously. The evidence of salvation was, “following Him.” He had received mercy; and he gives the sign of a true conversion: “He followed.” By the way, Matthew focuses on the two of them, and it says, “They followed.” And so his friend followed also. So he was there when he got to the top of the hill.

MacArthur speculates on what happened next, saying that Bartimaeus could well have been at the first Pentecost. Perhaps that is why Mark wrote of him by name:

You know, there must have been a – there must have been a literally stunning experience going on in his mind as he comes out of his blindness into sight and out of his sin into salvation, and walks with Jesus to the triumphal entry. And he’s there through the week, and he’s there after the resurrection. And very likely he’s there in the church; and that’s why he’s named, and that’s why his story is told. Who knows? My guess is he was one of the hundred and twenty in the upper room at Pentecost; a lifetime of being an outcast, and now he’s on the inside.

MacArthur reminds us that this was the last of our Lord’s creative — healing — miracles. Conversions are the remaining spiritual events with Zacchaeus, the criminal at the Crucifixion and the centurion who saw Jesus die:

in Jericho two wonderful salvation stories take place. Two stories that stand in stark contrast to national rejection in bleak contrast to the unbelief and hatred of the leaders and the people, two. Two prodigals, you might say, come home; two lost souls are found; two darkened minds are enlightened; two sinners are saved; two outcasts are reconciled. One is the story of the blind, the other is the story of Zacchaeus the tax collector; for he too encountered Jesus in Jericho, and that is recorded for us in Luke 19, verses 1 to 10. Mark doesn’t tell us that story, but it is Zacchaeus and Bartimaeus who are the last two trophies of sovereign, saving grace until the cross; and then there is a thief and a centurion.

It’s an illustration, isn’t it, and a reminder of what our Lord said about the narrow gate; and few there be that find it. And it is also remarkably an indication of the fact that there are not many noble, not many mighty; but it’s the poor and the outcasts and the nobodies and the nothings. All four of them fit into that category: a blind beggar, a tax collector, a thief, and a despised Roman. These are the only shining moments. It’s as if they make an exclamation point on the divine rejection of the Jews. The hypocritical hoopla that will occur when He comes into the city is just that, superficial and hypocritical. We really need to cherish these stories of conversion before the cross, and even the two at the cross.

MacArthur concludes with a practical application for us:

So many lessons here. You see the Lord’s profound compassion. You see that He never ignores the cry of a true heart of repentance; and desperate sinners who know they’re worthy of nothing will always gain a hearing with Him. You learn again what we’ve seen all through His ministry, that He has the power to heal disease. But far more importantly, He has the power to save sinners, turn them into obedient followers who live lives of true worship.

That’s why we’re here tonight, because we have been approached by Jesus somewhere along the road in our lives. In our blindness, in our desperation He passed by, and our hearts were awakened, and we cried out, “Son of David, have mercy on me.” And He heard our cry, didn’t He? And all of this is possible because He went all the way to Jerusalem, all the way to the cross, and out the other side of the open tomb.

May everyone reading this enjoy a blessed Sunday.

The Twentieth Sunday after Trinity — Twenty-first Sunday after Pentecost — is October 17, 2021.

Readings for Year B can be found here.

The Gospel reading is as follows (emphases mine):

Mark 10:35-45

10:35 James and John, the sons of Zebedee, came forward to him and said to him, “Teacher, we want you to do for us whatever we ask of you.”

10:36 And he said to them, “What is it you want me to do for you?”

10:37 And they said to him, “Grant us to sit, one at your right hand and one at your left, in your glory.”

10:38 But Jesus said to them, “You do not know what you are asking. Are you able to drink the cup that I drink, or be baptized with the baptism that I am baptized with?”

10:39 They replied, “We are able.” Then Jesus said to them, “The cup that I drink you will drink; and with the baptism with which I am baptized, you will be baptized;

10:40 but to sit at my right hand or at my left is not mine to grant, but it is for those for whom it has been prepared.”

10:41 When the ten heard this, they began to be angry with James and John.

10:42 So Jesus called them and said to them, “You know that among the Gentiles those whom they recognize as their rulers lord it over them, and their great ones are tyrants over them.

10:43 But it is not so among you; but whoever wishes to become great among you must be your servant,

10:44 and whoever wishes to be first among you must be slave of all.

10:45 For the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life a ransom for many.”

Commentary comes from Matthew Henry and John MacArthur.

This reading about pride and humility would have been more powerful had the Lectionary editors added the preceding verses, which follow last week’s reading, about the rich young ruler. It ended with Mark 10:31:

But many who are first will be last, and the last will be first.”

Here are verses 32-34, where, for a third time, Jesus tells His disciples what will happen to Him (also see John MacArthur’s sermon):

Jesus Foretells His Death a Third Time

32 And they were on the road, going up to Jerusalem, and Jesus was walking ahead of them. And they were amazed, and those who followed were afraid. And taking the twelve again, he began to tell them what was to happen to him, 33 saying, “See, we are going up to Jerusalem, and the Son of Man will be delivered over to the chief priests and the scribes, and they will condemn him to death and deliver him over to the Gentiles. 34 And they will mock him and spit on him, and flog him and kill him. And after three days he will rise.”

After hearing that, it is incredible that James and John, the sons of Zebedee, would have the utter brass neck to ask that He do whatever they ask of Him (verse 35). Well, early on, Jesus had called them the ‘sons of Boanerges’, the sons of Thunder:

a name signifying sons of thunder , given by our Lord to the two sons of Zebedee, James and John, probably on account of their fiery earnesty. (Mark 3:17) See (Luke 9:54; Mark 9:38) comp. Matt 20:20 etc.

Matthew Henry’s commentary points out that, in Matthew 20, their mother petitioned on their behalf and they seconded it:

This story is much the same here as we had it Matthew 20:20. Only there they are said to have made their request by their mother, here they are said to make it themselves; she introduced them, and presented their petition, and then they seconded it, and assented to it.

Note, 1. As, on the one hand, there are some that do not use, so, on the other hand, there are some that abuse, the great encouragements Christ has given us in prayer. He hath said, Ask, and it shall be given you; and it is a commendable faith to ask for the great things he has promised; but it was a culpable presumption in these disciples to make such a boundless demand upon their Master; We would that thou shouldest do for us whatsoever we shall desire. We had much better leave it to him to do for us what he sees fit, and he will do more than we can desire, Ephesians 3:20.

So Jesus asked what it was they wanted Him to do for them (verse 36).

Henry says this was a way of putting them in check so that they might realise the folly of what they were doing:

He would have them go on with their suit, that they might be made ashamed of it.

They continued in their conceit and pride, asking that Jesus place one of them on His left and the other on His right in glory (verse 37).

Henry explains the two brothers’ reasoning:

James and John conclude, If Christ rise again, he must be a king, and if he be a king, his apostles must be peers, and one of these would willingly be the Primus par regni–The first peer of the realm, and the other next him, like Joseph in Pharaoh’s court, or Daniel in Darius’s.

John MacArthur has more:

Now as we look at this incident with James and John coming to Jesus and making their request, I want you to see how this breaks out into three characteristics of self-promotion, three characteristics of self-promotion, the path to greatness through self-promotion.

First of all, it’s motivated by self-ambition, or its defined by selfish ambition. Verse 35: “James and John, the two sons of Zebedee, came up to Jesus saying, ‘Teacher, we want You to do for us whatever we ask of You.’” James and John called the sons of thunder, they were brash, bold men. They were the inner circle. They were with Jesus intimately with Peter, the most intimate of all the disciples and apostles. They were close to Him on a regular daily basis, and they think they have gained some ground by that because of their intimacy, because of their participation in the transfiguration, because they have been privy to so many private conversations in times with Jesus. They are sure that they are certainly above and beyond the rest of the men, and so this has come to the place in their minds where they’re bold enough to ask for privilege in the coming kingdom.

MacArthur tells us why their mother petitioned on their behalf in Matthew’s version of the story:

Now this is important. Why would you bring your mother? Come on, be a man. What, you bring your mother? Well, it’s not just that they brought their mother, it’s who their mother was. When you study the crucifixion of Christ in the account of Matthew, Mark, and John, you see three women at the cross: Mary the mother of our Lord, Mary Magdalene, and a third woman. The third woman who is at the cross is identified in three different ways. Matthew calls her the mother of the sons of Zebedee; so it’s this woman, which means she hung in there. When the apostles had fled she hung in there, she was at the cross. So, strong faith there.

Matthew calls her the mother of Zebedee. Mark calls her Salome; so that was her name. John calls her the sister of Jesus’ mother. So their mother is Jesus’ aunt. So this is now a family deal. They’re going to play the family card here, okay. “Not only were we at the transfiguration, not only are we intimately involved with You in the inner circle, but Your mother is our mother’s sister. That’s got to be good for something big, really big.”

She bought into it. She didn’t ask for anything for herself, she didn’t ask if she could have a seat on the dais, she would find her proud fulfillment through her children, like unsuccessful people with bumper stickers, and others on the Internet. She comes worshiping proskuneō. She comes bowing low, and Mark – Matthew says she’s desiring a certain thing of Jesus, and what she’s desiring is exactly what they asked.

So they’re really – this is serious ambition. This is not just personal ambition, this is not whimsical ambition, this is family ambition. Everybody’s in on this deal; and they’re going to come and they’re going to gang up on Jesus thinking they have the right

There’s another feature of pride that rears its ugly head as well, and we could call it arrogant overconfidence, arrogant overconfidence, arrogant overconfidence. This is so much a part of people’s life and attitude today, it’s just absolutely everywhere. They say, “We want to sit one on Your right hand and one on Your left, in Your glory.”

Jesus tells James and John that they do not understand what they are asking; can they drink the cup that He will drink and can they be baptised with His baptism (verse 38).

MacArthur tells us what Jesus was saying. The cup was one of God’s wrath and the baptism was not one of water but being submerged in something profoundly horrible, akin to what we would call a baptism by fire:

“Are you able to drink the cup that I drink?” That’s an Old Testament idiom for taking in something, draining it. And it’s the cup in Isaiah 31 of God’s fury: “Can you handle, can you handle all that is to come?” Jesus was going to drink the cup of God’s fury. Remember in the garden He said, Matthew 26, “Let this cup pass from Me; nevertheless, not My will, but Yours be done,” the cup of God’s wrath, He would drink it to the bottom. That was the image. Drinking the cup was literally imbibing it all in. It’s an Old Testament idiom meaning fully absorbing something, fully experiencing something, taking it all in.

Psalm 75, verse 8 talks about the ungodly drinking the cup of wrath. So that cup is very often associated with suffering. “Are you able to do that? Are you able to be baptized?” meaning not Christian baptism, but immersed into, plunged into, submerged. “Are you really able to go all the way under and suffer, to be, as it were, drowned in persecution, and ultimately martyrdom?” This is strong language. “Can you literally drink it all in and be submerged in it, because that’s what you’re really asking, because if you want the glory, the glory is the reward correspondent to the suffering.”

Naively, the brothers asserted that they were able, so Jesus agreed that they would drink His cup and be baptised into His baptism (verse 40).

Of the two, John was present at the Crucifixion and stayed until the end, with Mary, the earthly mother of Jesus. Jesus commended John to Mary before He died. In fact, John was the only one of the twelve Apostles to be there. Judas killed himself that day and the other ten, James included, hid themselves away in fear.

James and John had no idea what they were affirming and what lay ahead for them. Jesus granted their request about drinking His cup and bearing His baptism, as MacArthur tells us:

“Jesus said to them,” – verse 39 – ‘The cup that I drink you shall drink; and you shall be baptized with the baptism with which I am baptized.’” That’s a prophecy, folks, that’s a prophecy. “Oh, the suffering? Yeah, you’ll have that. You will have that. Yes, you will drink the cup in full, and you will be submerged in suffering.”

For James, he’s the first martyr; for John, he’s the last martyr. James’ martyrdom – had his head cut off – came fast, soon, sudden, lightning quick. For John, his was a slow agonizing, disappointing death as an exile at the end of the century on the island of Patmos which was virtually a prison island. “You will, you will drink the cup.” Rejected, exiled, in John’s case; rejected, executed, in the case of James – the first and last who died because of the gospel.

Then Jesus said that He could not grant them a seat at His right hand or his left, because that status has already been prepared, and not by Him (verse 40). The implication here is that God determines who will sit right next to His Son in glory.

Mark tells us that the ten Apostles listening to this conversation became angry with the two brothers (verse 41).

MacArthur says this was not because they thought the two were prideful but because they got there before Peter and the rest did in asking the question about sitting next to Jesus in glory:

Ha, they got preempted; James and John got there first. They were furious not because they were spiritually offended, but they thought they were getting cut out of the deal. And this is the third aspect of this, and it is ugly competitiveness.

This argument about who will be first continued until the Last Supper, even though Jesus was constantly reminding them of the pre-eminence of service, such as in Mark 9:34-35:

9:34 But they were silent, for on the way they had argued with one another who was the greatest.

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

MacArthur says:

Look, they’re still arguing about this at the upper room. They just had a hard time humbling themselves.

Jesus called the Twelve together and reminded them of the Gentile tyrants who lord themselves over their subjects (verse 42).

He said it would not be that way for the Apostles, because greatness lies in service; the one who wishes to become great must be the other’s servant (verse 43).

Jesus went further, saying that whoever wishes to be first must be the slave to everyone else (verse 44). Talk about radical theology: there it is.

MacArthur discusses the Greek words for ‘servant’ and for ‘slave’:

Here’s the path: Be a servant. Be a servant. Diakonos is the word. “Table waiter” was its primary meaning. “Be a waiter.” Don’t be the person that everybody serves, be the person who serves everybody. Big difference, you know. The fancier the restaurant you go to, the bigger the gap between the people eating and the people serving. You be the server, not the one served. You be the table waiter. That’s what it is to be a servant.

There are six words in the New Testament for servant, all of them Greek words. All of them describe a function: oikonomos, a house servant; hupēretēs, an under-rower in a galley ship pulling oars down in the bottom of a big trireme ship. Be a servant. Be somebody who does something for someone else. You’re not served, you are serving. Be a servant. He doesn’t say, “Be an archōn, be a ruler.” He doesn’t say, “Be a timē, a dignified official.” He doesn’t say, “Be a telos, possessing a powerful office. He doesn’t say, “Be a hiereus, a priest.” The word is, “Be a waiter. Be a waiter. Give your life giving people what they need. Spend your life giving people what they need.”

And it doesn’t end there. Go down even from there, verse 44: “If you want to be first,” – prime – “then be the slave of all.” Wow! The slave of all? This is the word doulos about which you have heard much because of the book Slave. I cannot tell you, folks, how important it is that you read that book; it’ll change your entire understanding of what it means to be a Christian, slave. Slaves were inferior to servants. Servants did a job; slaves were owned, totally controlled. He’s saying, “Consider everybody a person to be served, and consider everyone to be your master.”

Jesus ended by telling them about His primary purpose: to serve and to give His life, ‘a ransom for many’ (verse 45). Notice that He said ‘many’ and not ‘all’. Not all will be saved, because God has already chosen whom He will save: past, present and future.

MacArthur says that Jesus was the slave of His Father:

The greatest service and the greatest slavery was exhibited in Christ, right? He didn’t come to be served. He’s not like other kings, He’s not like other rulers. We say He condescended. That’s one of the ways. He didn’t come like all kings to be served, He came to serve. He didn’t come merely to be Lord and Master, He came also be slave of His Father, and do His Father’s will. He came to be the servant – diakoneō is the verb – but to serve.

But it goes down from there. In giving His life He actually offered a level of obedience that could be deemed slavery. And that’s the language of Philippians. Listen to this: “Do nothing” – verse 3, Philippians 2 – “from selfishness or empty conceit.” This is the same kind of instruction coming from Paul that our Lord gave the apostles. “Do nothing from selfishness or empty conceit, but with humility of mind, regard one another as more important than yourselves.” That’s exactly what our Lord is saying.

And then, “Do not merely look out for your own personal interest, but the interest of others.” And here is the model: “Have this attitude in yourselves which was in Christ Jesus, who, although He existed in the form of God, did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied Himself, taking the form of a doulos, the form of a slave. Humbled Himself to the point of death, even death on the cross.”

And what happened to Him? “For this reason God highly exalted Him.” He made the greatest sacrifice, so He was the most exalted. “God gave Him a name above” – what? – “every name.” So, He got the highest name because He made the greatest sacrifice. That’s the principle. The greater the sacrifice, the more the glory. The greatest sacrifice gets the greatest glory. That’s Christ; That’s the model, that’s the pattern.

We are slaves to sin. We cannot help it. Sin is in our nature and sin is our master.

Through His horrifying and humiliating death, Jesus paid our ransom in blood to God the Father, the only efficacious propitiation for our sin. We are redeemed in God’s eyes, and He welcomes us into His kingdom.

MacArthur discusses ‘ransom for many’:

You want greatness in the kingdom? It’s correlated to your selfless serving slavery on behalf of others in sacrifice. And what was the actual service that Christ rendered? End of verse 45: “He gave His life” – we know that; why? – “a ransom for many, a ransom for many.” Lutron is the Greek word; it means “the price paid for the release of a slave,” the price paid for the release of a slave. Only used here and in Matthew 20; parallel account. He gave His life as the price paid for the release of a slave.

To whom was the ransom paid? To God. To God. God is the judge who had to be satisfiedGod is the executioner who had to be appeased, propitiated. This has now today, gratefully and thankfully, become the dominant theme in our understanding of the gospel, that Jesus is the ransom, Jesus is the substitute. Jesus dies a vicarious, substitutionary death on behalf of sinners. That’s what it says. He gave His life to pay the price in full. The price of sin had to be paid to God, to His divine justice; His justice had to be satisfied. The price that Christ paid satisfied God, propitiated His anger, settled His justice. He did it for many. I love the, kind of, Hebraic way of saying this: “for many,” in exchange for many.

What does that mean? What’s the emphasis there? Why does the word “many” appear? Because it’s juxtaposed with “Son of Man.” The ransomed bought by the sacrificial death of Christ are the many in contrast to the one Son of Man. One Son of Man pays the ransom for many.

Somehow I doubt whether any clergy are going to discuss serving or slavery in their Sunday sermons about this reading.

Let us put away our pride and instead embrace humble service.

Blessings to everyone for a good week ahead.

The Nineteenth Sunday after Trinity — Twentieth Sunday after Pentecost — is October 10, 2021.

Readings for Year B can be found here.

The Gospel reading is as follows (emphases mine):

Mark 10:17-31

10:17 As he was setting out on a journey, a man ran up and knelt before him, and asked him, “Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?”

10:18 Jesus said to him, “Why do you call me good? No one is good but God alone.

10:19 You know the commandments: ‘You shall not murder; You shall not commit adultery; You shall not steal; You shall not bear false witness; You shall not defraud; Honor your father and mother.'”

10:20 He said to him, “Teacher, I have kept all these since my youth.”

10:21 Jesus, looking at him, loved him and said, “You lack one thing; go, sell what you own, and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me.”

10:22 When he heard this, he was shocked and went away grieving, for he had many possessions.

10:23 Then Jesus looked around and said to his disciples, “How hard it will be for those who have wealth to enter the kingdom of God!”

10:24 And the disciples were perplexed at these words. But Jesus said to them again, “Children, how hard it is to enter the kingdom of God!

10:25 It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God.”

10:26 They were greatly astounded and said to one another, “Then who can be saved?”

10:27 Jesus looked at them and said, “For mortals it is impossible, but not for God; for God all things are possible.”

10:28 Peter began to say to him, “Look, we have left everything and followed you.”

10:29 Jesus said, “Truly I tell you, there is no one who has left house or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or fields, for my sake and for the sake of the good news,

10:30 who will not receive a hundredfold now in this age–houses, brothers and sisters, mothers and children, and fields with persecutions–and in the age to come eternal life.

10:31 But many who are first will be last, and the last will be first.”

Commentary comes from Matthew Henry and John MacArthur.

This is a long read, so grab a cuppa and a snack.

We pick up where we left off last week.

Jesus is in the last phase of His ministry and is in Peraea.

John MacArthur says:

He’s on the east side of the Jordan River, down in the south. He is in the last days of His ministry in a place called Peraea, the region east of the Jordan, been ministering there. He’s headed for Jerusalem for the final time to die and rise again. Verse 32 of this chapter says they were on the road going to Jerusalem. They first arrive in Jericho and then up the hill to Jerusalem. So it’s at the end of His ministry, the end of this brief ministry in the region called Peraea. We don’t know any more detail than that about the location.

There are two themes in this reading. Verses 17-23 deal with what is considered ‘good’, and verses 24-31 address what is humanly impossible.

I have had problems in the past with verses 17-23, because it seems that Jesus was harsh with this young man.

If you are of the same mind, this is MacArthur‘s explanation for our Lord’s reaction. The young man’s:

idol was property, money, possessions, and self. He was, therefore, a blasphemer of God. He was a breaker of the back half of the Ten Commandments and the front half. Every time he used the name God, it was in a blasphemous way in vain. Every time he went to the synagogue or the temple on a Sabbath day, it was with hypocrisy because his true God was money. He wanted eternal life but only in addition to what he really worshiped. He had another god. In the end, it was himself.

And what the lesson here is that if you want anything more than salvation, if you want anything more than eternal life, if you want anything more than Christ, if you want anything more than God, you lose everything – you lose everything. He went away sorrowful, it says. He went away saddened. He went away grieving because he owned much property. So he exchanged his eternity for time. That’s a sad story – a sad story. He wanted eternal life but he wanted it as an addition, not as a complete substitution for everything else in life.

As Jesus (and the disciples) set out on a journey, a man ran up and knelt before Him, addressing Him as ‘good teacher’ and asking what he must do to inherit eternal life (verse 17).

There is much to look at in that verse, as Matthew and Luke also tell the same story. The man was a young ruler, therefore, a senior layman in a synagogue. That sort of position normally went to an older man by dint of increased religious knowledge and application. The fact that this man achieved so much for his age means that the elders in the synagogue held him in very high esteem. Therefore, so did everyone else.

Matthew Henry’s commentary says that this could have been a potentially hopeful encounter for the young man:

I. Here is a hopeful meeting between Christ and a young man; such he is said to be (Matthew 19:20; Matthew 19:22), and a ruler (Luke 18:18), a person of quality. Some circumstances here are, which we had not in Matthew, which makes his address to Christ very promising.

People in his elevated position would not run, yet he did:

1. He came running to Christ, which was an indication of his humility; he laid aside the gravity and grandeur of a ruler, when he came to Christ: thus too he manifested his earnestness and importunity; he ran as one in haste, and longing to be in conversation with Christ. He had now an opportunity of consulting this great Prophet, in the things that belonged to his peace, and he would not let slip the opportunity.

2. He came to him when he was in the way, in the midst of company: he did not insist upon a private conference with him by night, as Nicodemus did, though like him he was a ruler, but when he shall find him without, will embrace that opportunity of advising with him, and not be ashamed,Song of Solomon 8:1.

3. He kneeled to him, in token of the great value and veneration he had for him, as a teacher come from God, and his earnest desire to be taught by him. He bowed the knee to the Lord Jesus, as one that would not only do obeisance to him now, but would yield obedience to him always; he bowed the knee, as one that meant to bow the soul to him.

4. His address to him was serious and weighty; Good Master, what shall I do, that I may inherit eternal life? Eternal life was an article of his creed, though then denied by the Sadducees, a prevailing party: he asks, What shall he do now that he may be happy for ever. Most men enquire for good to be had in this world (Psalms 4:6), any good; he asks for good to be done in this world, in order to the enjoyment of the greatest good in the other world; not, Who will make us to see good? But, “Who will make us to do good?He enquires for happiness in the way of duty; the summum bonum–chief good which Solomon was in quest of, was that good for the sons of men which they do should do,Ecclesiastes 2:3.

However, Jesus responded, focusing on the word ‘good’, saying that no one is ‘good’ except God alone (verse 18). How did the young ruler know Jesus was good when He was a total stranger to him?

MacArthur explains ‘good’ in Greek:

“Good teacher.” Good teacher. He acknowledges Jesus as not only a legitimate teacher, not a teacher to be rejected, but as a good teacher, agathe didaskale, agathe. That’s the word agathos from which we get the old name Agatha. Agathos means good internally, virtuous. Kalos, the other word for good, means looking good, good in form. This means good to the core, virtuous, beneficent. This is a deep kind of inherent goodness.

MacArthur then goes into the reaction from Jesus, which revolves around the word ‘good’:

Now, as you look at that, you say, “Well, you know, it seems like everything is in the right place here. Where is the problem here?” Amazingly, it comes up where you wouldn’t expect it. The problem shows up in one word. That word is in verse 17, and it’s the word “good.” It’s the word “good.” You know, if there’s any word that the world doesn’t understand, it’s that word. Good. Stop anybody on the street and say, “Are you a good person?” What are they going to say? “Of course, I’m a good person” …

Now remember, he thought he was good and everybody he associated with good and the whole synagogue crowd was good and everybody was good. And so he’s loose with the word. Thinks he’s commending Jesus by using that word for Him. That’s the problem. And if you understand that that word is the problem, then you begin to understand Jesus’ answer. “Good teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?”…

If somebody comes running up to you and says, “What do I do to take possession of eternal life?” You say, “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ – believe on the Lord Jesus Christ.”

Well, Jesus didn’t say that. He did not say that because there’s something else that has to be confronted here. Faith, essential. But something else is essential as well and it is repentance – repentance. The gospel hangs over this account but it never enters. You can feel it because you know it, but Jesus never says it. It looms in the shadow of this event. It is never uttered. No word of faith ever appears. No comment about believing is ever stated because the issue here is sin and the law and repentance first.

And our Lord makes that clear in one profound statement. “Why do you call me good?” Why are you throwing that word around? You don’t know me. I am a total stranger. Why are you calling me good? He used the word casually. It was a word he used concerning himself and most of the people in his world …

Now, as a Jewish religious leader, he should have known the Psalms – should have known the Psalms. And if he knew the Psalms, he would know that the Psalms say this: “There is none righteous, no not one.” There is none who is good. There is none who seeks after God. All of that comes from the Psalms but it is also collected by Paul in Romans 3. In Romans 3, verses 10 to 18, Paul collects sayings out of the Psalms, none righteous, no not one, none does good, no one. He borrows from Psalm 14, Psalm 53, Psalm 5, Psalm 140, Psalm 10, Psalm 36 and even throws in a verse from Isaiah 59.

He collects from the Old Testament the testimony that no one is good, no one, because good is not a relative reality, it is an absolute – it is an absolute.

What does it mean? To be perfect as your Father in heaven is perfect. As God says, “I am holy, I am holy, I am holy, I am holy, without sin, without flaw, without error.” It is perfect righteousness, perfect holiness, absolute goodness. The law is given to reveal that. How perverted had these Jewish people become when they took the law as a means to establish their own goodness when the purpose of the law was to reveal the goodness of God to which they could never attain? You understand the difference?

Jesus recited the six Commandments that concern our relationships with others (verse 19).

Henry looks at the way Jesus recited these Commandments:

He mentions the six commandments of the second table, which prescribe our duty to our neighbour; he inverts the order, putting the seventh commandment before the sixth, to intimate that adultery is a sin no less heinous than murder itself. The fifth commandment is here put last, as that which should especially be remembered and observed, to keep us to all the rest. Instead of the tenth commandment, Thou shalt not covet, our Saviour here puts, Defraud not.

The man replied that he had kept these Commandments since his youth (verse 20).

Henry says that this was the man’s mistake. He thought himself better than he was:

He thought he had [kept the Commandments], and his neighbours thought so too. Note, Ignorance of the extent and spiritual nature of the divine law, makes people think themselves in a better condition than they really are.

MacArthur compares and contrasts this man’s attitude with St Paul’s, starting from when he was still Saul the Pharisee. Post-conversion, Paul came to understand that the law is meant to convict us and lead us to repentance:

The testimony of the apostle Paul would be very much like this young man. I see a lot of parallels. The apostle Paul was doing really well for a while as a legalist, wasn’t he? Circumcised the eighth day, born of the tribe of Benjamin, Philippians 3, he goes through all of that. He says he was a traditionalist. He was zealous for the law. He was blameless before the law. He toed the line. He had all these credits to himself as a legalist. And then something happened to Paul, which he speaks of in Romans 7:7.

He says this: “I wouldn’t have come to know sin except through the law.” Once he began to really understand the law of God, he saw how sinful he was. What is the law of God? The law of God, which defines for us sin and holiness, is simply a revelation of the nature of God. God discloses His nature as holy in His law. God has revealed Himself in His law. And when Paul saw the reality of the nature of God in the law and knew he couldn’t keep the law, he said, “The law killed me,” Romans 7. “It slew me, it resulted in death for me,” he says, verse 10 …

You say, “What’s the purpose of that?” So that you’re slain, so that you’re devastated, so that you’re crushed and broken. Then the law becomes, Galatians 3:24, the tutor that drives you to Christ who alone can save you from your own corruption. The purpose of the law is to kill, to crush, to show how perfectly good God is and how utterly evil man is, therefore to produce guilt and fear and dread and remorse.

Well, the rich young ruler totally missed that. Totally. He had a superficial view of the law, like all legalists do, all phony religionists. His response is consistent with fallen human nature that thinks it’s good, and the religious people think they’re better than everybody else. He is sure that he’s good. He has met the law’s demands. He is good. Since Jesus is a teacher from God, He’s good, too.

Jesus, looking at the man, loved him — only Mark’s version has that part — and told him to sell everything he had, give the proceeds to the poor, thereby gaining treasure in heaven, and then follow Him (verse 21).

MacArthur says the love Jesus had for him was one of sorrow:

Maybe a tear like the tears He shed over Jerusalem, coursed down Jesus’ cheeks, tears of sympathy and compassion. So sad because this man was a blasphemer and didn’t know it. This man was a violator and didn’t know it. This man was the worst.

By telling him to sell his possessions and give the proceeds to the poor, Jesus was homing in on the man’s sin.

The young man was ‘shocked’ by what Jesus asked him to do and went away ‘grieving’ because he had many possessions (verse 22).

MacArthur explains the idolatry involved:

Here comes the exposure. “One thing you lack, just one thing.” You say, “How can you say that? One thing?” “Go sell all you possess, give to the poor, you’ll have treasure in heaven.” It’s what you said you wanted. “Come follow me.” How can it be that simple? “But at these words, he was saddened and he went away grieving, for he was one who owned much property.” Hmm. You know why he is a blasphemer? Because he has another god. Who is his other god? He had much what? Property? He had an idol. He didn’t love the Lord his God with all his heart, soul, and mind.

That’s the one thing Jesus asked him to do. Let me just have you do one thing. Get rid of the idol, which is your money and your possessions. You don’t get saved by lowering your bank account, you get saved when you get rid of your idol and you embrace the true God. He’s a blaspheming idolater. And again I’ll say it, every time he opened his mouth, he took the Lord’s name in vain. Every time he showed up on a Sabbath, he violated that Sabbath as a hypocritical, idolatrous blasphemer.

Earthly wealth, temporal satisfaction was his God. In fact, he was his own god. Jesus preached the law to him and he never got to the gospel because you can’t get to the gospel, which is the good news, until someone accepts the bad news, the condemnation of the law. How do you tell a highly respected, revered, honored, religious man who sees his prosperity as the beneficence of a God who is pleased with him, who sees his position in the synagogue as evidence of his true spiritual virtue, how do you tell that man that good is not relative, it is absolute, and there’s only one who is good and that’s God, and he is not?

And then tell him, as a student of the law, that he is a regular violator of the whole law of God from the top to the bottom who worships himself. And that’s the way it is with all people who refuse the gospel, who never get to the gospel. That’s why I say the gospel hangs in the shadows silently here. If the law doesn’t drive you to Christ, it will drive you to hell in your own spiritual pride. He’s a blasphemer who has another god. If he would do one thing, it would be to get rid of the other god and love the Lord with all his heart, soul, and mind.

Jesus, indirectly referring to the man’s idolatry while eyeing the crowd, said how hard it is for those with wealth to enter the kingdom of God (verse 23).

MacArthur says:

Looking around, just taking stock of who was there, perhaps making eye contact with certain people He knew that fit into the category of those who were rich. “He then said to His disciples, ‘How hard it will be for those who are wealthy to enter the kingdom of God. How hard it will be.’”

Then Jesus said, to the disciples’ shock, how difficult it is to enter the kingdom of God (verse 24) and that it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for the wealthy to inherit that kingdom (verse 25).

The rich have everything, and many believe they achieved it by themselves, so why would they want anything to do with the afterlife? Note how many celebrities and captains of industry are unbelievers. They have it all, so they think.

The disciples were shocked because, in the Jewish world at that time, wealth meant divine blessing. Lack of it was believed to be a divine curse.

MacArthur tells us about this traditional belief:

Our Lord said this about a very religious man. “How hard it is for those who are wealthy to enter the kingdom of God.” In the context of Israel, these are religious people who are wealthy. And according to their theology, they were wealthy because they were blessed by God. If you were wealthy, you were blessed by God, and if you were poor, you were cursed by God. If you were healthy, you were blessed by God; if you were sick, you were cursed by God.

That was the simplicity of their theology – and a wrong theology to be surebut the idea was that a very, very religious man like this who was very, very wealthy would be easily able to enter into the kingdom of God because he had so much money he could buy all the animal sacrifices, he could buy the spotless lamb where somebody else with less money would have to take a blemished lamb by the sheer money factor, or even lesser than a lamb, maybe even down to a bird.

This man had the money to purchase as many sacrifices as he wanted, maybe in the morning and evening sacrifices, they were capable, the rich were, of making more than the rest. Also, the fact that they continued to be blessed meant that God was pleased with them and it just kept escalating. And so up the ladder of spiritual confidence they would climb – not only in their own eyes but in the eyes of the people around them.

The rabbis said that with alms, one purchases his redemption. That’s what they said. Some of the writings are very interesting. One writing taken from Tobit says this: “It is good to do alms rather than to treasure up gold, for alms deliver from death, and this will purge away every sin.” Okay, that was Judaism. If you want your sins washed away, give money, or Sirach 3 says, “Alms will atone for sin.” Or the Talmud, “Almsgiving is more excellent than all offerings and is equal to the whole law.”

In other words, if you give alms, you have virtually kept the whole law and further will deliver from the condemnation of hell and make one perfectly righteous. Wow. So how do you become perfectly righteous? How are you delivered from the condemnation of the law and of hell? By giving money – by giving money. That was their system. So when Jesus says, “Look, it is hard for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God,” this is completely counterintuitive to them. They don’t get that at all. It is a shocking statement, it is a jolt to their system.

Now remember, they had come to faith in Christ – and Peter will make that confession again in verse 28, as we’ll see in a few minutes – but they still had all the stuff of the legalistic system, which they had imbibed for their entire lives. They still saw wealth as a sign of divine blessing and wealth as a means of entering the kingdom of God because you bought your way in with your giving. They assumed a causal relationship between wealth and power and blessing from God.

Now we come to analysing the word ‘camel’. This is where we enter the theme of something being humanly impossible.

MacArthur looks at ancient writings outside the Bible for the answer:

What is this talking about? This is an expression found in writings outside the Bible. It is found in the Talmud, Jewish writings. And the expression there uses an elephant. It is easier for an elephant to go through the eye of a needle. That statement is used in the Talmud to reflect something that can’t happen. This is impossible. Since the elephant was the largest animal in the Middle East, an elephant was used in the Talmud. In this case, the largest animal in Israel – there were no elephants, as far as we know – was a camel, so they used the camel – fit their experience.

What is our Lord saying? It’s impossible, that’s what He’s saying. You cannot put a camel through the eye of a needle. Some have tried to tamper with that saying. Really, some have tampered even with original manuscripts, kamēlos, camel, kamilos, slight difference in the vowel, rope. Maybe some scribe made a mistake, put the wrong letter and it came out camel but it should be rope. That doesn’t help because you can’t put a rope through the eye of a needle, either. But that’s not the point. The point is this is a very common expression that appears even outside the Bible to express something that is impossible – it’s impossible.

The disciples, still astounded, asked who could be saved (verse 26).

Jesus replied that it was impossible for mortals to save themselves, but not for God, because, with God, all things are possible (verse 27).

MacArthur tells us:

That same phrase is used in Luke 1 to refer to the virgin birth. That’s an impossibility, right? This is an impossibility of that same category. As a child cannot be born without an earthly father, so a sinner cannot be reborn without a heavenly work of the Spirit of God.

It’s interesting that those two statements are made in those two contexts. One having to do with the virgin birth of Christ, which is a divine miracle from above, the other having to do with the regeneration of a sinner, which is a divine miracle from above. Only God can do this mighty, mighty work. John 1 opens up, “As many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, even to those who believed in His name who were born not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God” – but of God.

Or John 3, Nicodemus says in his heart, “What do I do to be born again? What do I do to get into the kingdom?” And Jesus says, “You need to be born again, but that which is born of the flesh” – is what? – “is flesh.” You need to be born from above, anōthen, you need to be born of the Spirit, born from above. Only God can work the work of regeneration. It is a divine miracle, and it is possible with God.

Peter said that he and the other disciples left everything to follow Jesus (verse 28).

Jesus replied that anyone who leaves his or her house, family, friends and livelihood (‘fields’) behind for His sake and that of the Good News (verse 29) will receive ‘a hundredfold’ the same comforts — with persecutions in this life and eternal life to come (verse 30).

Mark is the only one to mention persecution in this story.

Henry offers an interpretation, saying that the comforts we receive in following Christ might not be literally the same but will be comparable to what we left behind:

They shall receive a hundred-fold in this time, houses, and brethren, and sisters; not in specie, but that which is equivalent. He shall have abundance of comfort while he lives, sufficient to make up for all his losses; his relation to Christ, his communion with the saints, and his title to eternal life, shall be to him brethren, and sisters, and houses, and all. God’s providence gave Job double to what he had had, but suffering Christians shall have a hundred-fold in the comforts of the Spirit sweetening their creature comforts. But observe, It is added here in Mark, with persecutions. Even when they are gainers by Christ, let them still expect to be sufferers for him; and not be out of the reach of persecution, till they come to heaven.

Jesus concluded by saying that many who are first (on earth) will be last (in the life to come) and the last will be first (verse 31).

Henry says that Jesus was telling the disciples to stop squabbling about their status, as there would be further and greater disciples to follow in the future, e.g. St Paul:

because they talked so much, and really more than became them, of leaving all for Christ, he tells them, though they were first called, that there should be disciples called after them, that should be preferred before them; as St. Paul, who was one born out of due time, and yet laboured more abundantly than all the rest of the apostles, 1 Corinthians 15:10. Then the first were last, and the last first.

On the other hand, MacArthur says this is a verse of equality:

“Many who are first will be last and the last first.” That principle – so important. They were always arguing about who’s going to be the greatest – right? – who’s going to be first, and our Lord says this to make a statement that can’t be mistaken, and yet many people mistake the meaning of the statement. What does it mean? It means everybody ends up equal, that’s what it means. If you’re first, you’re last, and you’re last, you’re first, then everybody’s the same.

This is defined for us in Matthew 19, verse 30, through 20, verse 16, when Jesus tells the story about people who worked one hour, three hours, five hours, eight hours, all different amounts of work and they all received the same pay. And Jesus said, “That’s because the last are first and the first are last,” everybody ends up the same.

At the conclusion of his sermon about the young ruler, MacArthur leaves us with these thoughts:

And the question is for you. What will you do? Many of you come near to Christ. You have a conversation with Him here on Sunday mornings. You walk away clinging to your cherished blasphemy, holding onto your own self-worship, your own pride, your own achievement, unwilling to recognize the profound depth and damning power of your own sin. You ignore the law’s condemnation. And instead of letting it be the tutor that drives you to Christ, you let it drive you into hell.

You just want to say to this young man, “Don’t you understand that the goodness you can’t achieve will be given to you as a gift? The righteousness you cannot attain will be given to you as a gift through the sacrifice of Christ? He was made sin for you, that you might become the righteousness of God in Him?”

This is Paul, isn’t it? That the thing that he pursued was garbage when he found there was an alien righteousness, the very righteousness of God that would be credited to his account. You can’t come into eternal life unless you’re as good as God, and the only way you can be as good as God is to have the goodness of God credited to you. That’s the gospel. Christ takes your punishment, pays for your sin, gives you His perfect goodness.

Beware of the selfish seeker, deluded about his own goodness, her own goodness. Stop the selfish seeker in his tracks with the law and judgment and a biblical definition of what it really means to be good.

May everyone reading this have a blessed Sunday.

The Eighteenth Sunday after Trinity — Nineteenth Sunday after Pentecost — is October 3, 2021.

Readings for Year B can be found here.

The Gospel reading is as follows (emphases mine):

Mark 10:2-16

10:2 Some Pharisees came, and to test him they asked, “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife?”

10:3 He answered them, “What did Moses command you?”

10:4 They said, “Moses allowed a man to write a certificate of dismissal and to divorce her.”

10:5 But Jesus said to them, “Because of your hardness of heart he wrote this commandment for you.

10:6 But from the beginning of creation, ‘God made them male and female.’

10:7 ‘For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife,

10:8 and the two shall become one flesh.’ So they are no longer two, but one flesh.

10:9 Therefore what God has joined together, let no one separate.”

10:10 Then in the house the disciples asked him again about this matter.

10:11 He said to them, “Whoever divorces his wife and marries another commits adultery against her;

10:12 and if she divorces her husband and marries another, she commits adultery.”

10:13 People were bringing little children to him in order that he might touch them; and the disciples spoke sternly to them.

10:14 But when Jesus saw this, he was indignant and said to them, “Let the little children come to me; do not stop them; for it is to such as these that the kingdom of God belongs.

10:15 Truly I tell you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God as a little child will never enter it.”

10:16 And he took them up in his arms, laid his hands on them, and blessed them.

Commentary comes from Matthew Henry and John MacArthur.

There is a lot to discuss here, so grab yourself a cup of tea and a biscuit.

We pick up where we left off last Sunday.

It is unclear why the Lectionary editors left out Mark 10:1, so here it is:

And he left there and went to the region of Judea and beyond the Jordan, and crowds gathered to him again. And again, as was his custom, he taught them.

John MacArthur explains:

… we find Him, according to verse 1, having concluded His Galilean ministry. And actually, by the time we get into this chapter in Mark, He has also concluded His Judean ministry, which lasted quite a number of months. Mark gives us no record of that at all. If you want the record of that period of ministry, look at Luke 10 through 18, and those months are covered in a summary fashion by Luke.

So we jump from the Galilean ministry right over the top of the Judean ministry, and here we find our Lord beyond the Jordan in the area called Peraea, often referred to, then, as His Peraean ministry. This is the last little bit of ministry He does before He goes down to Jericho and in chapter 11 enters Jerusalem for the final week of His life. So we’re at the end of His earthly ministry here, virtually at the end of it. And He is teaching His disciples some very, very important lessons, and this one happens to be about the subject of divorce.


There were lots of people there. He was ministering there at the very end. Why? Because when He left Galilee, He left the hostility of Galilee. Six months in Judea has escalated the hostility of Judea, so He spent the last brief time before His death crossing the Jordan into Peraea.

So in chapter 10, you really have His Peraean ministry. It’s just one chapter. As I say, Mark doesn’t even tell us about the six months, we just have one chapter, and then in chapter 11, verse 1, He enters Jerusalem. The Galilean Jews who went down to Jerusalem, which they would start doing now because Passover would be coming – that’s why Jesus went there, to be the Passover – Galilean Jews would travel south on the east side of Jordan because if they were on the west side, they’d be going through Samaria, and they hated the Samaritans because they were inter-married half-breeds.

And so they would all go down the east side, all the way down to Jericho, and from Jericho up to Jerusalem, and so our Lord would find crowds there at the last time of His ministry, crowds of people, because there were many Jews who had moved there during the reign of Herod the Great, and they lived there but there would also be many pilgrims, traversing on their way to Jerusalem.

It had a large Jewish population, as I said, that developed during the reign of Herod the Great, the father of the current ruler, Herod Antipas. So we read here there were crowds gathered around Him. Those would be the Jews that lived in that area, as well as the pilgrims headed to Jerusalem, as the migration would have begun toward the coming feasts.

The Pharisees were on hand to test him with a question about divorce (verse 2).

MacArthur says that the question being posed and where the Pharisees posed it was no accident, but part of a plan to put Jesus in danger:

They were putting Him to the test with the purpose of discrediting Him. They wanted Him to say things that would alienate Him from the people. Since divorce was popular among the leaders, it was popular among the people, the men especially. And they wanted Jesus to say what they knew He believed because they had heard it before.

They wanted Him to say that divorce was wrong, and they wanted Him to condemn everybody that was divorced, and that would set Him against the leaders and against the people, irritate the people, and thus Jesus would not be nearly so popular. But even more than that, it happened to be that they confront Him on the subject in Peraea because they’re in the territory under Herod Antipas, and Herod had divorced his wife and married the divorced wife of his own brother and committed incest with her because she was his relative.

And John the Baptist had confronted this divorce and Herod chopped his head off. They were hoping that if Jesus took John’s position on divorce, Herod might rise again and destroy Jesus the way he had destroyed John the Baptist. So they had some plans to discredit Jesus and even to have Him killed by bringing up the question.

We do not normally think of the ancient Jews as favouring divorce, but they did in the Old Testament.

MacArthur tells us of the books of Nehemiah and Malachi where Jewish men divorced their Jewish wives in order to marry pagan women. In the time of Jesus, Jewish men were divorcing their wives under petty claims of indecency, which could be anything trivial, to marry other Jewish women:

What they were doing was divorcing their Jewish wives to marry pagan Gentile women. That’s how, essentially, the Old Testament history ends. Nehemiah and Malachi give us the last word, and the last word of the Old Testament to the priests and the people is, “Do not divorce your wives, I hate divorce.” Four hundred years later, we arrive in Mark’s gospel in the New Testament period, and you can go back to chapter 10. Divorce now has been reestablished as a noble alternative, a righteous behavior.

The Jews of our Lord’s day have a rationalized framework to make divorce acceptable. They’re engaged in it. It was rampant through the culture of Israel and including the priests who were the ones indicted originally four hundred years earlier by Malachi and Nehemiah. This issue of pervasive divorce in the land of Israel becomes the subject of the opening verses of this chapter.

Jesus responds by asking them what Moses commanded (verse 3).

They responded by saying that Moses allowed a man to write a certificate of dismissal and to divorce a wife (verse 4).

Jesus replied that Moses allowed that provision because of their hardness of heart (verse 5).

Matthew Henry says that some men would have killed their wives just to be rid of them:

That the reason why Moses, in his law, permitted divorce, was such, as that they ought not to make use of that permission; for it was only for the hardness of their hearts (Mark 10:5; Mark 10:5), lest, if they were not permitted to divorce their wives, they should murder them; so that none must put away their wives but such as are willing to own that their hearts were so hard as to need this permission.

Jesus referred to Genesis 1:27: Adam and Eve, male and female (verse 6). There were no other humans in the Garden of Eden.

MacArthur discusses God’s plan for a union between a man and a woman:

Now, what’s important about that is there is no provision for polygamy. There isn’t Adam and Eve and Sally and Alice. And there is no provision for divorce because there are not a few single women hanging around as options or alternatives. In the order of creation, there was one man and one woman. There are no spare parts. There are no spare people. They were created for each other and for no one else. Their union was complete, their union was unique, and they are a pattern for all to follow. Every marriage is no less an indissoluble union between one man and one woman.

And there were no provisions for any other people. The argument is clear. In the case of Adam and Eve, divorce is not only inadvisable, it is not only wrong, it is impossible where there isn’t anybody else for either of them to marry.

Jesus went on to cite Genesis 2:24: a man shall leave his mother and father to be joined to his wife and the two will become one flesh (verses 7, 8).

Matthew 19:5 uses the word ‘cleave’ or ‘cling’, as in sticking to each other as one:

Verse 7, “For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother,” and Matthew adds, “and shall cling to his wife.” This is Genesis 2:24. This is the God-ordained view of marriage. It is an independent, strong union. You leave father and mother. You break the prior family bond. And in the language of Matthew 19:5, which is taken from Genesis 2:24, “You cling” or cleave “to your wife.” The idea of that word is glue – glue. You’re literally stuck together.

It is not a – arm’s-length relationship, it is not a look-and-see trial. You are glued together. And it also, that word, carries the idea – cleaving carries the idea of pursuing hard after. It is two people unbreakably connected together, glued together, and pursuing hard after each other to be united in mind and will and spirit and body and emotion. The Jewish term for marriage is kiddushin. It means sanctification or consecration. Both of those words mean something completely set apart for special use. It was used to describe something dedicated to God as His exclusive possession, His personal possession.

Jesus said what God has joined together, no man must separate (verse 9).

MacArthur explains:

You can’t divide one. One is the indivisible number – one is the indivisible number.

That oneness, that indivisibility is seen in the product of those two, isn’t it? Children. The child is the one that comes out of the two. It is an indivisible oneness that manifests itself in the offspring that are the ones that come from the two. Family plays into this, then, by implication. We all understand the destructiveness of the family in divorce.

Later, once they were in the house where they were staying, the disciples asked Jesus again about divorce (verse 10).

He responded, saying that a man who divorces his wife and marries another woman commits adultery against her (verse 11) and that a woman who divorces her husband to marry another man commits adultery (verse 12).

Henry says:

No more is here related of this private conference, that the law Christ laid down in this case–That it is adultery for a man to put away his wife, and marry another; it is adultery against the wife he puts away, it is a wrong to her, a breach of his contract with her, Mark 10:11; Mark 10:11. He adds, If a woman shall put away her husband, that is, elope from him, leave him by consent, and be married to another, she commits adultery (Mark 10:12; Mark 10:12), and it will be no excuse at all for her to say that it was with the consent of her husband. Wisdom and grace, holiness and love, reigning in the heart, will make those commands easy which to the carnal mind may be as a heavy yoke.

Children feature in Mark 10, just as they did in Mark 9.

People were bringing their children to Jesus so that He might touch them, but the disciples rebuked them (verse 13).

We would find that a strange response, but the disciples, still thinking of works-based salvation, disregarded small children because they did not understand Mosaic law nor could they accomplish what was involved in keeping those laws.

MacArthur explains:

So while they had come to salvation by grace, they had imbibed so much of their former system (salvation by works) that they didn’t think children fit in anywhere. And, of course, the Lord hadn’t apparently said anything to this point about the children, so this is their teaching moment. They strongly protest this group of parents who desired the Lord to bless their babies and pray for their babies, convinced that this would just be an unnecessary, trivial interruption.

And, again, if you just took a Greek New Testament, took the word epitimaō and started in Mark 3 and traced it through Mark 10, you would see that every time it’s used, it’s a very intense reprimand. So the disciples really let those parents have it

And that is a very strong word, epitimaō, a compound word intensified again by a preposition as verbs tend to be in the Greek language. Literally, it means they censured them or they reprimanded them. In a noun form, it means punishment. They turned on these parents. Their worldview, their religious worldview, was such that children had no place in the system of religion, no place before God, not until they arrived at the point where they could do the things they needed to do to gain God’s favor.

The practice of a Jewish blessing either by a patriarch or a religious elder was widespread throughout history:

There are Old Testament illustrations of how fathers blessed their children. There are a number of them. All through the patriarchal period, fathers blessed their children, Noah blessed Shem and Japheth, and we see that through the patriarchs, through Jacob and passed down to the next generation and the next, Isaac blessing his sons and Jacob blessing his sons, and this was a typical fatherly benediction pronounced on the heads of children.

What was it about? It was a desire, including a prayer, for their spiritual blessing. It was that God would show favor to them. In fact, it was even more specific. The elders used to say that when you pray for your child and you pray blessing on your child, you pray this, that the child would be famous in the law, faithful in marriage, and abundant in good works. Famous in the law, faithful in marriage, and abundant in good works. The father would lay his hands on the child’s head, the elders of the synagogue would come together and they would do the same and bless the child, and they would pray for the child.

The Talmud tells us that it was a very customary thing for parents to bring their children, their little children, to be blessed by the elders of the synagogue, and in Judaism, there was a special day set aside for this, the day before the Day of Atonement, the day before Yom Kippur. In fact, they would bring their children that day before praying that, of course, the atonement the next day would be applied to those children.

The children in today’s reading were toddlers, little innocents.

Jesus was indignant with the disciples, telling them that they should not stop the children coming to Him because they were part of the kingdom of God (verse 14).

MacArthur tells us:

“He was indignant” – again, a very strong verb, to be angry, to be irate. This is not an insignificant issue, not a minor issue. Jesus doesn’t pass over this lightly. He is very angry that they would treat children this way. The parents were not wrong. He did not rebuke the parents. Only the disciples were rebuked for their wrong assumptions and their bad understanding of Scripture.

MacArthur says this is an unconditional promise for children and is not dependent on baptism. This is important for parents who have lost their little ones:

The kingdom of God belongs to such as these. There are no qualifiers there. Okay? There are no caveats there. There are no conditions there. This is so very important. He doesn’t say the kingdom of God belongs to these as if somehow these particular babies were in the kingdom. He says the kingdom of God belongs to such as these, meaning the whole category or the whole class of beings to which these babies belong. Literally, the kingdom of God belongs to these kind, babies, infants, little children.

Matthew calls it the kingdom of heaven and says the same thing, it belongs to such as these. Not just to these but to the whole category to which these belong. The kingdom of God belongs to babies. They have a place in the kingdom. They have a part in the kingdom.

What is He talking about, the kingdom? He’s talking about the sphere of salvation – the sphere of salvation – same thing He was always talking about. The sphere in which God rules over those who belong to Him, the spiritual domain in which souls exist under His special care.

Now, what’s important here is He just said that babies, as a category, have a part in the kingdom. They belong to it, it belongs to them, same thing. Nothing is said about the parents’ faith, nothing is said about a covenant as if there was some family covenant. Nothing is said about baptism. Nothing is said about circumcision. Nothing is said about any rite, any ritual, any parental promise, parental covenant, or any national covenant. His words simply and completely engulf all babies. They belong to the kingdom; the kingdom belongs to them.

And if our Lord was ever going to teach infant baptism, this would have been the perfect spot. All He would have to have said was, “These children will possess the kingdom if you baptize them.” But He doesn’t say that. This was His golden opportunity, but He said nothing, and neither does anybody else in the Bible say anything about infant baptism. This is not about personal faith, either. He doesn’t commend the parents’ faith. He doesn’t commend the babies’ faith, which would be nonexistent. He simply says babies belong in the kingdom and the kingdom belongs to them, as a category

This is not salvation, but this is His special care. And in the event that the child dies, I think the testimony of Scripture is that child receives salvation at the point of death because of God’s sovereign grace. Another way to look at it is to understand that all babies that die are elect. They’re all saved. Christ’s sacrifice is applied to them all.

Jesus was emphatic — ‘Truly, I tell you’ — that whoever does not receive the kingdom of God as a little child will never enter it (verse 15).

That means that we need to be as little innocents when approaching the Gospel and our Lord.

MacArthur says:

You have to come the way children come – simple, open, trusting, unpretentious, dependent, weak, lacking achievement, humbly. And if you don’t come like that, you’ll never enter the kingdom.

Henry has an eloquent commentary on that verse:

We must receive the kingdom of God as little children (Mark 10:15; Mark 10:15); that is, we must stand affected to Christ and his grace as little children do to their parents, nurses, and teachers. We must be inquisitive, as children, must learn as children (that is the learning age), and in learning must believe, Oportet discentem credere–A learner must believe. The mind of a child is white paper (tabula rasa–a mere blank), you may write upon it what you will; such must our minds be to the pen of the blessed Spirit. Children are under government; so must we be. Lord, what wilt thou have me to do? We must receive the kingdom of God as the child Samuel did, Speak, Lord, for thy servant heareth. Little children depend upon their parents’ wisdom and care, are carried in their arms, go where they send them, and take what they provide for them; and thus must we receive the kingdom of God, with a humble resignation of ourselves to Jesus Christ, and an easy dependence upon him, both for strength and righteousness, for tuition, provision, and a portion.

Jesus took the children in His arms, laid His hands on them and blessed them (verse 16).

Henry says this was a fulfilment of prophecy:

See how he out-did the desires of these parents; they begged he would touch them, but he did more. (1.) He took them in his arms. Now the scripture was fulfilled (Isaiah 40:11), He shall gather the lambs in his arms, and carry them in his bosom. Time was, when Christ himself was taken up in old Simeon’s arms, Luke 2:28. And now he took up these children, not complaining of the burthen (as Moses did, when he was bid to carry Israel, that peevish child, in his bosom, as a nursing father bears the sucking child,Numbers 11:12), but pleased with it. If we in a right manner bring our children to Christ, he will take them up, not only in the arms of his power and providence, but in the arms of his pity and grace (as Ezekiel 16:8); underneath them are the everlasting arms. (2.) He put his hands upon them, denoting the bestowing of his Spirit upon them (for that is the hand of the Lord), and his setting them apart for himself. (3.) He blessed them with the spiritual blessings he came to give. Our children are happy, if they have but the Mediator’s blessing for their portion. It is true, we do not read that he baptized these children, baptism was not fully settled as the door of admission into the church until after Christ’s resurrection; but he asserted their visible church-membership, and by another sign bestowed those blessings upon them, which are now appointed to be conveyed and conferred by baptism, the seal of the promise, which is to us and to our children.

In closing, I wanted to share with you John MacArthur‘s views on marriage. Like him, I would like to see as many people married as possible.

He says not to wait too long or be too fussy:

… by the way, marriage is the grace of life. And here’s a verse all you ladies know, “A man who finds a good wife finds a good thing. A wife is a gift from the Lord,” Proverbs 19:14. A wife is the best gift that God can ever give a man; a husband is the best gift that God could ever give a woman. It’s the best thing in life. It’s the greatest joy in life. It’s the greatest fulfillment in life.

The disciples were talking on a very theoretical and pragmatic level. It’s not good for man to be what? Alone. It is the grace of life. It is the joy of all joys, the blessing of all blessings. It is the path to fruitfulness, to children, the blessing of children, the blessing of grandchildren, the blessing of family. So He says it’s a nice sentiment, but you’re made to be married. Find somebody. Don’t look for the Messiah, just find somebody.

I keep saying that to girls, you know, the Messiah came and went, you’ve got to settle for somebody else. Not everybody can receive it. He means not everybody can be fulfilled in a single state. Not everybody – literally, the word means have space or room for that. You need to be married. We say, “Well, if marriage is so hard….”

Well, look, let me tell you how to make a marriage work. Two people perfectly related to Jesus Christ will be perfectly related to each other. Two people who seek to honor Christ will have no problem honoring each other. How do you treat your spouse? You treat your spouse the way you would treat Christ because when you receive that person, you receive Christ. You treat that person the way Christ would treat that person.

People sometimes say to me, “You seem to have a good marriage.” I do have a good marriage. I’m ecstatic about the marriage that God has given to me. I love my wife more now than I’ve ever loved her. I can’t even – I don’t even know where I stop and she starts. That’s the way it is. She has not been married to a perfect man, but she has been married to a man who pursues the things in her life that I believe Christ would want for her. And the same for me. She pursues in my life the things that Christ would want for me. And it’s the joy of all joys, it’s supreme joy.

And I’ll tell you young people, I know some of you are hanging around, waiting for the perfect person to come up. Look, just find somebody in whom Christ lives who desires to serve Christ and don’t postpone marriage needlessly. Get married. This is the grace of life. We need more kids in the nursery. The kingdom grows that way.

You know, hanging around until you’re 30 years of age, just checking everybody out, guess what – they’re checking you out, and they’re not thrilled, either, so just find somebody. You’re wasting great years, do you understand that? You’re wasting great, great years. If I could wish anything for myself, I wish that I had gotten married younger because it’s such a wonderful thing, a blessed thing, God-honoring thing. In Christ, your marriage can be anything that Christ wants it to be, if you walk with Him.

You’re in the best of circumstances here to have a sanctifying influence. Let me tell you something: It’s not good to be single. It’s good to have a sanctifying influence in your life right next to you 24 hours a day. And you want a strong believer. Just find one and let that person be a spiritual influence on you.

I could not agree more.

Let us pray for singletons seeking a suitable partner for life’s journey.

Marriage is an amazing blessing! I am most grateful for mine; it is a tremendous gift from God.

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

The readings for Year B can be found here.

The Gospel reading is as follows (emphases mine):

Mark 9:38-50

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Commentary comes from Matthew Henry and John MacArthur.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

John MacArthur has more:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

MacArthur says:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Henry tells us:

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

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

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

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

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

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

Henry tells us:

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

MacArthur explains the gravity of that threat:

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

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

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

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

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

MacArthur says that He is calling us to radical purity:

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

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

MacArthur explains the strong metaphors that Jesus used:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

MacArthur tells us:

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

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

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

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

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

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

Henry says:

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

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

Jesus warned against salt that had lost its flavour.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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