Category Archive: Bible – NT – Luke

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July 11, 2016

Simon the Zealous

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I’ve sometimes heard that one of Jesus’ disciples was a Zealot, presumably a former Zealot who, now that he was follow Jesus, had given up his desire to commit violence.  Even N. T. Wright says, in one passage, that the name of “Simon the Zealot” (Luke 6:15; Acts 1:13) “probably indicates known revolutionary tendencies” (NTPG, 174n33).

But it turns out that that’s not true (or at least, it’s highly unlikely). Yes, he’s called “Simon the Zealot.”  But that title doesn’t mean he was part of a party called “Zealots.” To the best of our historical knowledge, that party didn’t exist or bear that name until after Jesus’ time.

Most likely, then, Simon wasn’t a member of some party in Israel that was inclined toward violence toward Romans or compromising Jews. What Simon was, it seems, was zealous, and that’s not a description of his life before following Jesus; that’s how he was as a follower of Jesus.  He was zealous, and that was a good thing.

Posted by John Barach @ 7:42 pm | Discuss (0)
December 20, 2013

Tertullian in the Archives

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While wrestling with the mysterious reference to the census under Quirinius in Luke 2, Jakob van Bruggen points out something that Tertullian says that suggests that he may have done some research in the Imperial Archives in Rome:

In 202, he visited Rome himself, and from his writings it appears that as a jurist he was familiar with the districts of the city where the Aerarium and the Tabelarium are found, in which the archives were kept….  In the fourth volume of his book against Marcion, written after this visit to Rome, he says in passing that “the Roman archives preserve the census of Augustus as a very reliable testimony to the birth of the Lord” (Adv. Marcionem IV.7.7).  It is very striking that later on in his book he returns to this point and provides more details: “But it is also certain that under Augustus censuses were held in Judea by Sentius Saturninus: in these censuses one could verify his humanity” (IV.19.10).  Even if one … is of the opinion that the plural censuses here makes us think of a number of censuses in which one could verify not so much the year of His birth as the true humanity of the (registered) Jesus, it is still remarkable with how much confidence Tertillian speaks about the presence of reports about censuses (Lukas, 72-73; my translation).

Note, too, that Tertullian talks about censuses “held in Judea by Sentius Saturninus” (who may have been the legate in charge of the censuses, so that Tertillian’s use of his name doesn’t conflict with Luke’s reference to Quirinius).  Where did he come up with that name?  Is it possible that he found it, digging in the Roman census archives, where he found not just Augustus’s census but also others — and maybe even some with Jesus bar Joseph from Nazareth registered?  No, we can’t be sure.  But it makes one wonder….


Posted by John Barach @ 1:52 pm | Discuss (3)
September 14, 2011

Sons of Thunder

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Everything I wrote about the characterization of Peter goes double for the characterization of James and John, who seem to be taken as a couple of hotheads on the basis of one — count it: one — incident in which they asked Jesus if he wanted them to call down fire on an inhospitable Samaritan village (Luke 9:54).

Oh, yes.  There’s also the name Jesus gives them: “Boanerges, that is, sons of thunder” (Mark 3:17).  Some people immediately link that name up with the later event in Luke 9:54 and say, “See?  That’s why Jesus gave them that name.  They were rash and impetuous and hotheaded.”  And since Luke 9 happened after Mark 3, they have to add either the claim that Jesus foresaw that they would say what they did in Luke 9 and named them on the basis of that foresight or the claim that the behavior exhibited in Luke 9 was characteristic so that they were already displaying that sort of hotheadedness at the time Jesus named them.

But there’s no reason at all to see Luke 9 as the basis of the name “Sons of Thunder.”  In fact, there is no reason to take “Sons of Thunder” negatively at all, let alone to understand it as a reference to rashness or hotheadedness.  Going further, there is no reason to take that name as referring to anything in James and John’s character at the time that Jesus named them.

Jesus gives new names to only three of his disciples and he does so at the same time.  Simon he names Peter, not because Simon was already such a solid rock but because Jesus intended to make him into a rock who would be a foundation stone for the church.  Just as by changing Abram’s name to Abraham and changing Sarai’s name to Sarah, Yahweh was making them into new people, the parents of the child of the promise, so by naming Simon “Rock” Jesus was making him into a rock, revealing in the name the plan he had for Simon.

But if that’s true of Simon’s new name, then the parallel suggests that it’s also true with James and John’s new name.  “Sons of Thunder” is not a description of who they already were, nor is it a description of some foolishness or wickedness in their character that Jesus would have to change.  Rather, it’s a description of who Jesus was going to make them to be.

What the name exactly means is disputed by commentators, but many associate it with God’s thunderous voice and with his judgment (Ex 9:23, 28, 29, 33, 34; 19:16; 20:18; 1 Sam 2:10; 7:10; 12:17, 18; 22:14; Job 26:14; 36:29, 33; 37:2, 4, 5; 40:9; Ps 18:13; 29:3; 77:18; 81:7; 104:7; Isa 29:6; Ezek 3:12, 13; John 12:29; Rev 4:5; 10: 3, 4 [this Angel is Jesus]; 11:19; 14:2).  So it seems possible that Jesus is identifying James and John as two witnesses whose speech will be thunderous like God’s speech and will administer God’s judgment, for salvation for his people but destruction for his enemies.

That said, what James and John suggest in Luke 9 — fire from heaven, like lightning associated with thunder — could be seen as a perversion of their name.  Just as Simon is supposed to be a rock, but is anything but when he rebukes Jesus, so James and John are supposed to be sons of thunder but are in danger of abusing their calling.  Luke 9 is not the time and place for that sort of judgment to come from the sons of thunder, and James and John need to learn from Jesus the right way of responding — and the right time and to call down God’s fire from heaven.

Posted by John Barach @ 2:57 pm | Discuss (1)
December 31, 2007


Category: Bible - NT - Luke :: Link :: Print

Something interesting from Peter Leithart:

In Luke 8:16-18, Jesus says that a lamp is made to be set on a lampstand. In context, He is talking about the Word that He preaches, and the fact that it both illuminates and exposes. A light on the lampstand means that “nothing is hidden that shall not become evident, nor anything secret that shall not be known and come to light” (v. 17). I suspect that there is some allusion here to the most famous lampstand in Scripture, the tabernacle menorah (Exodus 25). The lamp was set up to shed light in the holy place, but in a real sense the lamp was covered over in a container and put under a basket (the tabernacle). It was hidden. But nothing is hidden that shall not be revealed, and the light of the menorah is going to shine out once Jesus has torn the temple veil. There’s a link here with Jesus’ claim that He brings judgment on earth: Jesus came to expose things to the light, so that nothing can hide in dark corners anymore.

Posted by John Barach @ 2:21 pm | Discuss (0)
December 20, 2007

Who Calls the Tune?

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An exhortation from Peter Leithart in connection with a sermon on Luke 7:

The word of God always divides. It always evokes hostility as well as faith. That is what Jesus says about John’s preaching and ministry in our sermon text this morning, and it was also true of Jesus’ preaching. Both John and Jesus divided Israel by their words, by the sharp sword of their mouths. We can see it right here in the text: When Jesus commends John’s ministry, part of the crowd, the people and tax-gatherers, justify God; the other part of the crowd, the Pharisees and lawyers, the churchmen, show that they rejected the will of God for them.

One of the reasons the word of God evokes hostility and opposition is that true prophets and true believers do not respond to the tempo or tune of the times. Jesus tells a little parable about the Pharisees and lawyers who did not accept John’s baptism. The men of this generation, He said, are like children playing in the streets, who call out different tunes to one another. And they accuse John and Jesus of not keeping in step with their music. They called for dance music when John appeared, but he would only talk about repentance and judgment. Now they are in the mood for a funeral dirge, and Jesus does nothing but eat and drink with tax gatherers and sinners. Neither of these prophets was willing to follow the lead of the “men of this generation,” and so, eventually, the men of this generation killed them.

There are always people outside the church who want to dictate what the church says and determine how Christians should live. And there are false or misguided teachers in the church who want to dictate the tune. These tunes are played on every possible media outlet — in popular music, in TV sitcoms, in magazines and books. These tunes are institutionalized in Supreme Court decisions and local toleration ordinances. And these tunes are called out by those who are closer to you — friends and sometimes members of your own family.

Wherever these tunes come from, stop your ears. The word of God should call our tune. There is a time to dance and a time to mourn, but we determine which to do by listening to Jesus. That means we will encounter the opposition and hatred of the world, but that is the only way to be a disciple.

Posted by John Barach @ 7:55 pm | Discuss (3)
September 10, 2007

Jesus in the Manger

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I know that some people seem to read through every blog in their blogroll daily or even weekly, checking for new entries and reading each one in full.  I don’t.  When I do check a blog in my list and see that there’s a new entry, I often do little more than glance at it.  I simply haven’t had the time to read each one carefully.

But some blogs repay more study than others, and so I’m now making a point to go back and read each entry in them.  Eventually, I may catch up so that I can read each new entry as it gets posted, but right now, I’m a few years behind.  What that means is that I’ll occasionally point you to some entry from a few years back.  Maybe you read it already way back then or maybe you didn’t, but I didn’t, and so the thought in it is new to me.

In my opinion, the blog with the highest level of important content out there is Peter Leithart‘s, and so that’s where I’ll start.  In writing on Luke 2, Leithart asks:

In the light of Isaiah 1:3, why is it important that Jesus is laid in a manger? “Bethlehem” means “house of bread.” Does this shed further light on the sign that the angels give? See 1:53.

I’ve preached on this passage several times before, noting that Jesus is in an animal’s feedtrough, but I’ve never put things together the way Leithart is suggesting here.  The manger is the place where the animals get their food.  Is Luke suggesting, then, that Jesus Himself is to be the food for the animals, which, in turn, represent Israel?

Leithart also points out the connection between the last episode in that chapter and the end of Luke’s Gospel, a connection I may have guessed at but hadn’t seen spelled out before:

The final episode in this chapter is another of Luke’s stories that foreshadows the whole gospel. Jesus and his parents journey from Galilee to Jerusalem (2:41), as Jesus will later journey from Galilee to Jerusalem with His disciples (9:51). In both cases, Jesus makes the journey for Passover (2:41; 22:1). After Jesus celebrates Passover, he is “lost” (2:43-35; 22:47-23:56), and is “found” three days later (2:46; 24:1-49). People are confused by the whole thing (2:48; 24:19-24), but Jesus explains that it is “necessary” for these things to happen (2:49; 24:50-53).

If Gentile hope for peace and Israel’s hope for salvation are going to be realized, it is “necessary” for Jesus to be “lost” and “found,” to die and rise again, at Jerusalem during the Passover.

Posted by John Barach @ 11:59 am | Discuss (0)
September 7, 2006

The Rich Man’s Return

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… the evil man Dives asked to be allowed to return from hell to warn his lost brothers — not because he had a trace of goodness or compassion for the lost, but because if he could get God to admit that His revelation to the brothers was not sufficient to warn them, then God would have no cause to judge any man, including Dives.  God,  understandably, turned the request down flatly: though one rose from the dead (Jesus Christ), they would not be persuaded (Luke 16:27-31).  Men’s problem is not their lack of revelation; it is their willful rebellion against that revelation (Gary North, “Basic Implications of Six-Day Creation,” The Dominion Covenant: Genesis, pp. 434-435).

I don’t think I’d heard this explanation of the rich man’s request before.  Thoughts?

Posted by John Barach @ 7:51 am | Discuss (5)
December 25, 2005

Luke 2:15-20 Sermon Notes

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Luke 2:15-20
(December 25, 2005, Sermon Notes)

A Saviour has been born in David’s city, and He is the anointed Lord! That was the angel’s message to the shepherds on the night of Jesus’ birth. The glory of the Lord shone around them and they were terrified but the angel comforted the shepherd. The Lord had heard Israel’s prayers and kept His promises. The king who would deliver His people was lying in a manger in Bethlehem.

The good news of Jesus’ birth demands a response, a response of faith-filled celebration. Luke wants us, like the shepherds, to hear the good news and let it move us to respond in joyful faith. And so he shows us here how Israel reacts to the angel’s announcement of Jesus’ birth.


The glory of the Lord didn’t continue to shine around the shepherd. The angels didn’t stick around to fight on the side of the newborn king. The glory and the angels disappear and Luke focuses on the men (literally, verse 15 reads: “When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the men, the shepherds, said….”).

The angels didn’t praise God because of what the Saviour’s birth means for them. Rather, they rejoice because there is joy for men, for “all the people,” that is, the whole nation of Israel, and peace to men on earth. The focus isn’t on the angels here; it’s on the men.

The shepherds respond to the angel’s announcement the right way. They go to Bethlehem, not to see if anything had really happened but to see what the angel had said had happened. The angel announced a sign and the meaning of the sign and the shepherds want to see it, not to interpret it for themselves but to let it confirm for them what the angel had announced.

They come to see the Christ, the anointed king, the saviour, the Lord who would be a rival to Caesar and all other would-be lords. But what do they find? Mary and Joseph, and the baby lying in a manger (v. 16). Mary and Joseph don’t look like a royal family. Joseph works in construction in a hick town in Galilee. And the baby is lying in an animal’s feedbox in a stable behind a house. The house probably belonged to a relative, but with the census, the guest room (a better translation than “inn”) was too full to give Mary the privacy she needed to have the baby and this was the only private place Mary and Joseph could find.

Christmas cards make that stable glow with a warm light so that it looks cosy. But in reality, everything in that scene points to poverty, the poverty of Mary and Joseph, the poverty of the newborn king. But that was no disappointment to the shepherds. Rather, everything they saw was a confirmation of what the angel had said.

There is a contrast between the glory that surrounded the shepherds in the fields and the poverty they see here, but that contrast is not a contradiction. It’s a sign of salvation. Jesus will save His people, not in spite of but by means of His humble birth. He is Israel’s king, Israel’s representative, and He shares here in Israel’s poverty, the poverty that came through sin. He is our representative, and He shares in the poverty of man ever since the Fall.

This manger is the first step on the path to the cross. Jesus came to suffer because He came to save. He takes this poverty and suffering on Himself to deal with sin, the sin that separates you from God, so that the glory the shepherds saw, which once filled the Temple, would shine on all His people.

And what the shepherds see, then, doesn’t put a damper on their joy. It doesn’t need sentimentalizing in order for it to give us joy. This is the sign the angel gave and it confirms that this child, lying here in poverty, is the Saviour, the anointed Lord. And therefore there is joy for you, even in the midst of your suffering, and there is joy to the world.


The shepherds see the sign and they become evangelists. The angel preached the good news to them and they now pass it on (v. 17). They report how they stood in God’s glory without being consumed, what the angel told them about a Saviour born in David’s house who would be the anointed king to rescue His people, and how they found the child swaddled in a manger.

But whom do they tell? Mary and Joseph, obviously, but also others (“all those who heard”). They report it all over Bethlehem. After all, this is “good news of great joy that will be for all the people.” The shepherds want all the people, all Israel, to enter into this joy, to rejoice in what God has done in the birth of that baby lying in the manger.

But the people are hesitant. They marvelled at what the shepherds say (v. 18), which in itself is not a bad reaction. All through Luke’s Gospel, people will marvel at Jesus. Amazement is an appropriate response. But it is only the beginning of the right response. As will happen again and again in Jesus’ ministry, Bethlehem marvels but doesn’t move on to praise. The story holds people’s attention for a time and then they move on to think about other things. They don’t even “keep these things in their hearts,” as everyone had done at the birth of John.

Only Mary does. She keeps thinking about what the shepherds had said and what the angel had said. She remembers what Gabriel had told her about how her son would be God’s son, ruling on David’s throne over the house of Jacob. She remembers that Elizabeth called her “mother of my Lord.” She herself had sung about how the Lord would overthrow Israel’s enemies and fulfil His promises. And now that fulfilment is starting. Mary is amazed, but she goes further. She treasures the shepherds’ words in her heart. Her response is a response of faith.

But the shepherds go further still. They return to their flocks, “glorifying and praising God for all the things they had heard and seen, as it was told them.” Their praise is grounded on the angel’s word (“heard”) and confirmed by the angel’s sign (“seen”). Apart from that word, they wouldn’t have seen anything special — and certainly no cause for joy — in the baby lying in the manger. But the word taught them to interpret that sight correctly.

And though they don’t yet have the full salvation that baby will bring, they start to celebrate it. The victory is certain! The angels celebrated in advance, before the battle was fought, and now the shepherds join in. And that’s the goal toward which God was working all along. In spite of the opposition the world will offer, in spite of the amazement and then indifference with which many hear the story, God’s Word accomplishes its purpose. The angels spoke to move men to sing and these shepherds do.

And we do too. We don’t see our full salvation yet. There’s still opposition and persecution, war instead of peace, suffering and death. But we sing in faith, grounded on what we have heard — not just the announcement of Jesus’ birth but the better news of His life, His death, His resurrection, His ascension, His enthronement as the anointed Lord, who has won the victory and has saved us.

Posted by John Barach @ 9:27 am | Discuss (0)
May 4, 2005

Augustus’s Census

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Well, this should have been obvious to me, but I’ve never noticed it before.

In the latest Biblical Horizons (No. 176), Jim Jordan points out that when David numbered the people God’s judgment fell upon Israel. So when Luke tells us that Caesar, who was the God-appointed ruler of the empire, called for a census, something similar is happening. Luke

is letting us know that the time of judgment has arrived. Caesar is now trying to take over God’s world. As a result, God sends His angel to begin the judgment.

The judgment on David resulted in the selection of the site for the new Temple:

Man had usurpsed God’s rule, God’s world, and that world was judged; but out of this judgment came a new world. The Temple and its courtyard was a symbol of heaven and earth. It was also the place where heaven and earth met, and thus the place of worship. The judgment on David’s sin led to a new world and to a new worship.

And so it was with Augustus’s census:

When devout Jews heard that Caesar, the anointed and God-positioned ruler of the Oikumene, had called for a census of the entire realm, they could begin to look up. With their knowledge of history, they would realize that the time was drawing near, and that the new world was shortly to come.

Posted by John Barach @ 3:23 pm | Discuss (0)
January 1, 2005

The Circumcision of Christ

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A Meditation for January 1, 2005.

January 1 is New Year’s Day. The old has ended; the new has begun. But on the church’s traditional calendar, January 1 is also the feast of Jesus’ circumcision and His naming.


Luke tells us that “when eight days were completed,” Jesus was circumcised (2:21). When God established His covenant with Abram, He gave him circumcision as the sign of the covenant, not only for Abram himself but also for every male in his house. In the case of infants, that circumcision was to take place when the child was eight days old (Gen. 17:12).

But what is so significant about the eight day? To answer that question, we have to recognize first that the numbers in the Bible are symbols. We recognize that, of course, with numbers such as 7, which many commentaries acknowledge often has to do with fullness, or 12, which often points to the twelve tribes of Israel.

To understand the symbolism, however, we have to be familiar with the Scriptures. The significance of the number 7 comes from the seven days of creation in Genesis 1-2. And so does the significance of the eighth day.

The eighth day is the day after the seventh day and it symbolizes the beginning of a new creation. The world that was created in seven days was corrupted through Adam’s sin. But God established His covenant with Abram and his descendants and He wanted that covenant signified on the eighth day as a sign that He would establish a new creation.

Circumcision wasn’t required for a man to be forgiven or to have fellowship with God. All through the time of the Old Covenant, we find numerous Gentiles — uncircumcised men — who are believers. Gentiles were allowed to bring offerings and to eat and drink in God’s presence, just as much as Jews were.

But only those who were circumcised (or, in the case of women, who were in the households of the circumcised) were allowed to partake of the Passover. Circumcision formed Israel into God’s special priestly people, the people through whom God would take away the curse on man’s sin and spread blessing to the world. Through Israel, through the circumcised people, God would bring about a new creation.

Jesus’ circumcision on the eighth day is thus His inclusion in God’s Old Covenant people, the people of Israel. Jesus is identified with them. More than that, He is going to be the ultimate Israel, the faithful Israel, the one who bears the curse away by bearing it Himself, the one through whom God’s blessing comes to the nations.

Paul tells us that Jesus’ death on the cross was a circumcision (Col. 2:11). It was what every circumcision pointed toward, the destruction of the old man, the putting off of the flesh, the life inherited from Adam. Man was created on the sixth day, and Jesus died as a man in man’s place on the sixth day.

But on the eighth day, the other side of circumcision was fulfilled. Jesus didn’t simply put off the old. He is the new. Jesus rose on the eighth day as the firstfruits of God’s new creation.

Paul says that those who have been “buried with Him in baptism” now have been circumcised. We now share in the “putting off the body of the sins of the flesh, by the circumcision of Christ” and we are no longer dead but alive (Col. 2:11ff.). In Christ, we are new creatures (2 Cor. 5:17), God’s new creation.

Incidentally, that’s why baptismal fonts traditionally have eight sides. They’re designed to remind us of circumcision on the eighth day, of the resurrection on the eighth day, and what our baptism mean for us. We have been incorporated into Christ and are a new creation in Him.


Luke says that “when eight days were completed for the circumcision of the child, His name was called Jesus, the name given by the angel before He was conceived in the womb” (Luke 2:21).

The Law didn’t stipulate that the day of circumcision was to be the day of naming, but that was the practice in Jesus’ case. Jesus’ naming on the eighth day is a promise: the new creation will be brought about by Him because He is God’s Son to whom the Lord God would give the throne of David to reign forever (Luke 1:31-33).

At our baptism, even if it isn’t on the eighth day of our lives, we also receive a new name. Through baptism, we become members of Christ’s body (1 Cor. 12:12-13). We share in His name and in what it signifies. We share in the privilege of reigning with Him and we share also in His calling to humble ourselves and suffer for the sake of the gospel so that others can share with us in God’s new creation.

On the eighth day — which is Sunday, the first day of the new week — we assemble to remember and become God’s new creation, to remember and grow into our new identity and our new name as the body of Christ Jesus.

That’s not a bad thing to remember on January 1, the feast of the circumcision and naming of Jesus and the beginning of another year in which Jesus rules the world on the throne of David.

Posted by John Barach @ 6:03 pm | Discuss (0)
December 24, 2004

Luke 2:6-14 Sermon Notes

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Luke 2:6-14
(December 26, 2004 Sermon Notes)

To many people, Christmas reminds us that the world is a nice old place after all. As Christians, however, we know that Christmas reminds us that the world isn’t nice, that we need salvation. The good news is that God has kept his promises and has given us a saviour, born in David’s city.


Jesus is born in Bethlehem, the place from which God promised to bring forth a king (Micah 5:2ff.) We’ve expected the king’s birth all through Luke’s Gospel, but what we’ve seen is the power of Caesar Augustus.

Jesus’ birth isn’t extraordinary. Mary gives birth at full term and wraps him up, just like any other child. The only hint that God’s promises are being fulfilled is that he is a son. Jesus is a human baby. But that’s good news. We needed a saviour who was as human as we are. He had to be human to bear our suffering and to take away our sins.

His suffering starts at birth. Luke says that “there was no room for them in the inn.” The word usually translated “inn” is the word for a guest room (Luke 22:11). It wasn’t that the innkeeper was harsh or that no one cared about Jesus; rather, there was no room for Mary to have privacy because the place they were staying was too crowded and Joseph and Mary were too poor to get another private suite. So Mary has to lay her baby in an animal’s feed box out in the stable. It isn’t a pretty scene, but it’s the beginning of our salvation: “Though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor, that you through his poverty might become rich” (2 Cor. 8:9).


Luke now shifts the scene to focus on some shepherds in the field. Suddenly an angel appears to them and they are standing in the midst of God’s glory, the glory that burned on Mount Sinai and flooded the Temple.

They are terrified but the angel comforts them. God is a consuming fire, but his glory isn’t deadly for these shepherds. On the contrary, they (and we) can now live in God’s presence. Why? The angel announces good news for all the people of Israel and for us as well: “There is born to you this day in the city of David a Saviour, who is Christ the Lord.”

The promised Saviour has been born! He is the heir to David’s throne, the Christ, the anointed king, and he is the Lord who will rescue and rule his people. To him, all the nations will bow (Ps. 72).

The angel adds a sign: the child will look like any other, except for his remarkable poverty. He will be lying in a manger. That poverty is, in fact, the sign of the salvation he will accomplish through his suffering.

And now the armies of heaven break into song. They celebrate even before the victory — that’s how certain it is — and their song invites you to join in. This child’s birth will bring glory to God in the highest and peace on earth for us. Through Jesus, God is showing favour toward men!

Posted by John Barach @ 5:02 pm | Discuss (0)
November 11, 2004

Mark 1:6-8 Sermon Notes

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Mark 1:6-8
(September 12, 2004 Sermon Notes)

The gospel begins with John the Baptist. That’s what we find in Acts and in the four Gospels. John is the culmination of the Old Covenant. Jesus doesn’t throw out the Old Covenant and start something new; rather, He fulfills the Old Covenant. The whole Old Covenant looks forward to Him.

John teaches Israel to expect the coming of Yahweh, Israel’s God, as He promised in the prophets. Yahweh is coming to bring a new covenant, to do something the Old Covenant couldn’t. And John is preparing His way. We see that preparation in John’s lifestyle and John’s preaching.


In the middle of his account of John’s ministry, Mark tells us about John’s clothing and his dress. These aren’t incidental details.

In Zechariah 13:4, we learn that prophets wore robes of coarse hair (and false prophets tried to make themselves look like true prophets by doing the same thing). John’s hairy garment identifies him as a prophet.

More than that, John’s hairy clothes and leather belt remind us of Elijah (2 Kings 1:8). John is the Elijah promised in Malachi 4:5, who is to prepare Israel for the coming of Yahweh.

John is a new Elijah. But Elijah himself is a new Moses. And so John, too, is a new Moses. He calls Israel to a new Exodus, but in a sense he stays in the wilderness. He wears wilderness clothing and eats wilderness food. As Moses died in the wilderness and didn’t enter the Promised Land, John is looking forward to the new covenant, but he doesn’t enter it.


John proclaims that someone stronger is following him. That’s the message of the whole Old Covenant. The Old Covenant couldn’t bring God’s people into their full inheritance, which includes having the Spirit dwell in each of them as He did in the tabernacle and temple.

But Yahweh can. The surprise is that Yahweh is coming to Israel as a man, wearing sandals (1:7). That’s who Jesus is: Israel’s God in person.

In the Old Covenant, God promised to pour His Spirit on Israel (Isa. 443; Joel 2:28; Ezekiel 36:27). John’s baptism with water was effective. It purified Israel so that unclean people could live in God’s presence (see Hebrews 9). But it couldn’t take away sin and cause people to share in the Spirit. Nothing in the Old Covenant could do that.

But Jesus baptizes with the Spirit. That’s what happened at Pentecost (Acts 2), and from Pentecost on, we share in the Spirit through repenting and being baptized with water into the name of Jesus (Acts 2:38). John stayed in the wilderness. Through Jesus, we enter the Promised Land and share in everything God promised, including His Spirit.

Posted by John Barach @ 5:13 pm | Discuss (0)

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