The danger of riches: Mark 10-11

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Today’s reading: Mark 10-11.

“Abundance isn’t God’s provision for me to live in luxury. It’s his provision for me to help others live. God entrusts me with his money not to build my kingdom on earth, but to build his kingdom in heaven.” ― Randy Alcorn, Money, Possessions and Eternity

“Why is money a root of evil?”

As Jesus made his final journey to Jerusalem, two events highlighted the power and danger of wealth. First, he encountered a rich young man who sincerely wanted to find eternal life. The young man had lived morally, but Jesus saw that his wealth had become an idol blocking his way to heaven.

Jesus looked at him and loved him. “One thing you lack,” he said. “Go, sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.” At this the man’s face fell. He went away sad, because he had great wealth. Mark 10:21-22

In Jerusalem itself Jesus entered the temple and found it swamped by the buyers and sellers. Some were changing money so that pilgrims could pay the temple tax with the required coin. Others were buying and selling animals for the sacrifices and offerings. The traffic interfered with worship, but the main problem was the greed and unscrupulous practices of the men selling the animals and changing the money.

On reaching Jerusalem, Jesus entered the temple area and began driving out those who were buying and selling there. He overturned the tables of the money changers and the benches of those selling doves, and would not allow anyone to carry merchandise through the temple courts. And as he taught them, he said, “Is it not written: ” ‘My house will be called a house of prayer for all nations’ ? But you have made it ‘a den of robbers.’ ” Mark 11:15-17

Wealth can become a false god. The rich young man wasn’t bad. He had lived a moral, upright life, but he loved money more than God. Jesus saw it right away. The young man couldn’t let go of his money in order to take hold of God. He may have obsessed over it in thought or spent all his time working to make more money. Jesus wasn’t calling on everyone to give away all their riches, but he would tell anyone who idolizes money to abandon it in order to find God.

Wealth makes us focus on the temporary rather than the eternal. Where is your treasure? Jesus wanted the rich man to find his treasure in heaven, but the young man was blinded by the riches in front of him. The sellers in the temple were surrounded by reminders of God’s glory, but they only had an eye for their profits. Profits are not wrong, but when the love of profit crowds out any thought of heaven it becomes very evil. Randy Alcorn has written compellingly about the foolishness of pursuing worldly wealth while ignoring eternal treasure. Our lives here are but a dot on the map of time. Eternity stretches out before us like an unending arrow according to Alcorn. We are extremely short-sighted if we put all our effort into enriching the dot while failing to deposit treasures into our eternal home. As Jesus said, “what does it profit a man if he gains the whole world but loses his soul?”

Wealth tempts an individual to make foolish choices. The rich young man desired to live a moral life and please God. In the end he foolishly abandoned his quest in order to hold onto his hoard. The businessmen in the temple began by performing a needed service. They were doing work for God, but along the way they lost sight of God and began charging exorbitant rates for exchanging money and for buying animals. They allowed their workplace to push worshipers out of the temple. They lost their way as a result of being blinded by the lure of riches.

Here are a few steps to defeat money’s power to lure you away from God:

  1. Be generous. Giving causes you to let go of your belongings.
  2. Be content. Don’t always crave the latest, greatest, thing.
  3. Acknowledge God’s ownership of all possessions; be a good steward of them for his kingdom and his glory.
  4. Invest for eternity more than for yourself.

“Not, how much of my money will I give to God, but, how much of God’s money will I keep for myself?” ― John Wesley

Christians are God’s delivery people, through whom he does his giving to a needy world. We are conduits of God’s grace to others. Our eternal investment portfolio should be full of the most strategic kingdom-building projects to which we can disburse God’s funds. ― Randy Alcorn, Money, Possessions and Eternity

Image by Jin on Flickr, CC by 2.0

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Jesus’ glory revealed: Mark 9

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Today’s reading: Mark 8-9.

Within a week after declaring that the religious leaders would condemn him and kill him, Jesus took his core disciples and headed to an isolated mountain.

After six days Jesus took Peter, James and John with him and led them up a high mountain, where they were all alone. There he was transfigured before them. His clothes became dazzling white, whiter than anyone in the world could bleach them. And there appeared before them Elijah and Moses, who were talking with Jesus. Mark 9:2-4

Transfigured comes from the same word that means transformed in Romans 12:2. In that passage Paul said we should be transformed by the renewing of our minds. The word shows up again in 2 Corinthians 3:18, where Paul says we are being changed, transformed, transfigured into the glory of the Lord by the Holy Spirit. The glory was there all along in Jesus. The change was an external transformation that revealed his glory, rather than an internal metamorphosis that turned him from man to God. Whatever type of change it was, the remarkable thing is that believers go through similar changes. Not changed from man to God, but changed into the image of Jesus.

In the context of telling the disciples about his upcoming death and resurrection, Jesus may have gone through this mountain top transformation to prepare the disciples for the difficult trials ahead. God verbally proclaimed that Jesus was his son, a fact written down by Peter as well as the Gospel writers. Seeing him in his glory and divinity was an act of  grace for the disciples who were so prone to doubting.

Another effect of the transfiguration was to confirm Jesus was greater than the Law and the Prophets. When God told the disciples to listen to Jesus, he was telling them that his authority exceeded that of Moses and Elijah who were there representing the Law and the Prophets. Moses and Elijah were putting their seal of approval on Jesus as the Messiah.

Jesus’ transfiguration was also a fulfillment of his own prophecy, for he had told the disciples in the previous week that some of them would see him in the glory of his kingdom before they died. But the glory they saw was not the glory they expected. The Jews were expecting the Messiah to be a political and military leader, freeing them from their oppressors. Jesus’ glory was the glory of God.

As we read this Gospel story, it is easy for us to miss the point or get only half the picture. The Transfiguration experience does highlight the glory of Jesus. His radiance and the voice of God affirmed that Jesus was not just a bloke from the outback town of Nazareth but that he was the Son of God. The disciples were given a ringside seat and a close up experience of the splendour of God as they witnessed the transfigured Jesus. They were given a future glimpse of the glory of God’s Son beyond his suffering, death and resurrection. Death will not be his end. Beyond death, he will appear in glory, his face ‘shining like the sun’. What they saw must have encouraged and supported them in the gloomy days ahead.

But if that’s all we see then we are missing the point. What the disciples saw that day underscored the announcement of Jesus that he would suffer, die and rise from the dead. This was Son of God speaking – God is not inclined to make up stories – what Jesus said was the truth, “I must go to Jerusalem and suffer much from the elders, the chief priests, and the teachers of the Law. I will be put to death, but three days later I will be raised to life.” The disciples suddenly were able to see Jesus in a new light. Yes, he was the Son of God, but he was also the suffering Messiah.  – Pastor Vince Gerhardy

Image by Randy OHC on Flickr, CC by 2.0

Crumbs for the puppies: Mark 7

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Today’s reading: Mark 6-7.

“Why did Jesus sometimes seem rude?” 

…as soon as she heard about him, a woman whose little daughter was possessed by an evil spirit came and fell at his feet. The woman was a Greek, born in Syrian Phoenicia. She begged Jesus to drive the demon out of her daughter. “First let the children eat all they want,” he told her, “for it is not right to take the children’s bread and toss it to their dogs.” “Yes, Lord,” she replied, “but even the dogs under the table eat the children’s crumbs.” Then he told her, “For such a reply, you may go; the demon has left your daughter.” She went home and found her child lying on the bed, and the demon gone. Mark 7:25-30

A Gentile woman asked Jesus to help her daughter. Jesus had brought his disciples into her country to escape the crowds and take some needed rest. Word of Jesus’ arrival spread quickly, however, and soon the woman was at his house asking for help. In response, he told her it wasn’t right to take the children’s food and throw it to the dogs. His answer sounds awfully rude and heartless. Wasn’t he saying that she was like a dog?

This passage helps illustrate several points about Bible study in addition to the underlying faith lesson.

  • Words sometimes lose their meaning in translation. In this case it’s helpful to study the original Greek word for dog used in this verse.
  • Context is very important. Think about what’s going on around this passage as well as what’s in it. The context of this story is that Jesus, the Messiah to the Jews, and his Jewish disciples, have left the Jewish territories and are spending a few days in neighboring non-Jewish Tyre in order to find some quiet and rest.
  • You begin by reading what the passage says, but then you must move on to what the passage means. What does it mean that Jesus initially denied her request and then granted it? Why was he making this distinction about nationality or religion?

The Greek word for dog used in the original writing meant a little dog like a house dog or puppy – a pet, not a stray dog roaming the streets. In the context of the passage Jesus wasn’t demeaning the woman but saying her needs were secondary in importance to the needs of the “children,” his disciples, who badly needed rest. He may also have been speaking about the primary purpose of his ministry, salvation of the Jewish nation, while educating her and the disciples that winning the Gentile world was a secondary goal.

Jesus was a very effective teacher. He used many more techniques than parables to reach his students. Sometimes he used silence, as in the case of the woman caught in adultery. Sometimes he exaggerated for effect (think camel and needle’s eye). In the interaction with the Gentile woman, he engaged in a form of argument. He could have dismissed her outright, but instead he made an opening argument (I must be taking care of my own children before I can help your child) and waited to see her response. Jesus said she answered so well that he granted her request. In the parallel passage in Matthew 15 he said her answer showed great faith. Specifically, she said that she didn’t need the children’s “bread,” but only a crumb would do. Echoing the faith of a mustard seed story, she was making her faith claim that only a little with Jesus was better than anything else the world could offer, and his little was more than enough.

Jesus did not shut the door. First, he said, the children must be fed; but only first; there is meat left for the household pets. True, Israel had the first offer of the gospel, but only the first; there were others still to come. The woman was a Greek, and the Greeks had a gift of repartee; and she saw at once that Jesus was speaking with a smile. She knew that the door was swinging on its hinges. In those days people did not have either knives or forks or table-napkins. They ate with their hands; they wiped the soiled hands on chunks of bread and then flung the bread away and the house-dogs ate it. So the woman said, “I know the children are fed first, but can’t I even get the scraps the children throw away?” And Jesus loved it. Here was a sunny faith that would not take no for an answer, here was a woman with the tragedy of an ill daughter at home, and there was still light enough in her heart to reply with a smile. Her faith was tested and her faith was real, and her prayer was answered. Symbolically she stands for the Gentile world which so eagerly seized on the bread of heaven which the Jews rejected and threw away. – Barclay, Daily Study Bible

Thanks to Glenn Miller at The Christian ThinkTank for excellent commentary on this passage.

Image by Tony Alter on Flickr, CC by 2.0

Demon possession: Mark 5

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Today’s reading: Mark 4-5.

“Can people really be possessed by demons?”

When Jesus got out of the boat, a man with an evil spirit came from the tombs to meet him. This man lived in the tombs, and no one could bind him any more, not even with a chain. For he had often been chained hand and foot, but he tore the chains apart and broke the irons on his feet. No one was strong enough to subdue him. Night and day among the tombs and in the hills he would cry out and cut himself with stones. When he saw Jesus from a distance, he ran and fell on his knees in front of him. He shouted at the top of his voice, “What do you want with me, Jesus, Son of the Most High God? Swear to God that you won’t torture me!” For Jesus had said to him, “Come out of this man, you evil spirit!” Then Jesus asked him, “What is your name?” “My name is Legion,” he replied, “for we are many.” And he begged Jesus again and again not to send them out of the area. A large herd of pigs was feeding on the nearby hillside. The demons begged Jesus, “Send us among the pigs; allow us to go into them.” He gave them permission, and the evil spirits came out and went into the pigs. The herd, about two thousand in number, rushed down the steep bank into the lake and were drowned. Mark 5:2-13

I have no personal experience with demon possession, but the gospels are full of accounts of Jesus freeing people from demons. In its modern, scientific bias our society tends to write off these episodes as undiagnosed mental health disorders. We would be wiser to accept the gospel accounts at face value. For 2,000 years the power of the kingdom of God, unleashed by Jesus, has spread throughout the world restraining the activity of demons in historically Christian nations. Missionaries in the undeveloped world still report encounters with demon possession, attributing it to the worship of idols and the use of occult materials. The Bible associates idol worship with the worship of demons (Leviticus 17:7, Deuteronomy 32:17, Psalm 106:37, I Cor. 10:20).

We need to keep some caveats in mind. The Gospels didn’t blame every illness on demons. Jesus healed physical diseases as well as illnesses caused by evil spirits. Mental health disorders and demon possession are not the same thing. None of the Gospel accounts seem to describe depression or anxiety, the most common mental health disorders, as characteristic of evil spirits, but demon possession may cause mental or physical symptoms. Typical signs in the Bible include:

  • unnatural strength
  • self-harming behavior
  • torment
  • physical impairments including inability to speak, blindness, and seizures
  • supernatural knowledge, including acknowledgement of Jesus as the son of God
  • immediate healing when demons are expelled

Demon possession is not a threat to believers. As in the example given by Jesus in Luke 11, our house has been cleaned and filled with the Holy Spirit, not left empty for demons to come and fill. Our chief battles are spiritual, however. Paul reminds us that we struggle with demonic forces rather than flesh and blood (Eph. 6:12). Though not mastered by evil spirits, we still face satanic influences and temptations.

The most important lesson is that Jesus is Lord over evil spirits. He enters the strong man’s (Satan’s) house and binds him and overpowers any evil influence (Mat. 12). Jesus said this was another proof that the kingdom of God had come on earth.

There are two equal and opposite errors into which our race can fall about the devils. One is to disbelieve in their existence. The other is to believe, and to feel an excessive and unhealthy interest in them. They themselves are equally pleased by both errors, and hail a materialist or a magician with the same delight. – C. S. Lewis
Since a demon cannot enter even into a swine without being sent by God himself, how little is the power or malice of them to be dreaded by those who have God for their portion and protector! – Adam Clarke

The collective teaching of Scripture is that demons can never spatially indwell a true believer. A clear implication of 2 Corinthians 6, for example, is that the indwelling Holy Spirit could never cohabit with demons. In Colossians 1:13, Paul says God “delivered us from the domain of darkness, and transferred us to the kingdom of His beloved Son.” Salvation brings true deliverance and protection from Satan. In Romans 8:37, Paul says we overwhelmingly conquer through Christ. In 1 Corinthians 15:57, he says God gives us the victory. In 2 Corinthians 2:14, he says God always leads us in triumph. In 1 John 2:13, John says we have overcome the evil one. And, in 4:4, he says the indwelling Holy Spirit is greater than Satan. – John MacArthur

Image by James Vaughn on Flickr, CC by-nc-sa 2.0

The kingdom of God: Mark 1

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Today’s reading: Mark 1-3.

“Are we living in the kingdom of God?”

After John was put in prison, Jesus went into Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God. “The time has come,” he said. “The kingdom of God is near. Repent and believe the good news!” Mark 1:14-15

The kingdom of God or kingdom of heaven was prominent in Jesus’ teaching. He illustrated it with many stories, but he never defined it. That can make it difficult to understand. G. E. Ladd said that we usually think of a kingdom as the realm or land that is ruled, or as the people who are governed. In Biblical terms, however, a kingdom is the rule and sovereignty of the king. “The Lord has established his throne in the heavens, and his kingdom rules over all” (Psalm 103:19). It is the power he exercises and the glory he receives. It operates in a realm – heaven or earth – but exceeds that realm. It rules over and through its subjects but it is not those subjects. Therefore Ladd says, “The Kingdom of God is His kingship, His rule, His authority.” Ladd did an excellent job of outlining some of the key points of the kingdom as taught by Jesus:

This theme of the coming of the Kingdom of God was central in His mission. His teaching was designed to show men how they might enter the Kingdom of God (Matt. 5:20; 7:21). His mighty works were intended to prove that the Kingdom of God had come upon them (Matt. 12:28). His parables illustrated to His disciples the truth about the Kingdom of God (Matt. 1 3: 11). And when He taught His followers to pray, at the heart of their petition were the words, “Thy kingdom come, thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven” (Matt. 6:10). On the eve of His death, He assured His disciples that He would yet share with them the happiness and the fellowship of the Kingdom (Luke 22:22-30). And He promised that He would appear again on the earth in glory to bring the blessedness of the Kingdom to those for whom it was prepared (Matt. 25:31, 34). G. E. Ladd

The kingdom has both present and future components. Referring to its present realities, the Bible says, “For the kingdom of God is not eating and drinking but righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit” (Rom. 14:17). God has “delivered us from the dominion of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son” (Col. 1:13). “The kingdom of God is not coming with signs to be observed; nor will they say, ‘Lo, here it is !’ or, ‘There!’ for behold, the kingdom of God is in the midst of you” (Luke 17:20-21).

But there are also future realities yet to be realized. “Then the King will say to those on his right hand, ‘Come, 0 blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world’ ” (Matt. 25:34).  On that future day there “will be richly provided for you an entrance into the eternal kingdom of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ” (II Pet. 1:11). Now the kingdom is limited. Then it will be universal.

The kingdom came to this physical world through the ministry of Jesus Christ. It continues to work through the power of the Holy Spirit (I Cor. 4:20). Only those who repent and are born again may enter it. Righteousness, peace, and joy characterize its members. They pray, “thy kingdom come,” asking God to rule in their world, their church, and their lives just as he rules in heaven. They are also asking God to bring that day when his kingdom is fully realized in the new heaven and new Earth.

So the Kingdom has come through the Son invading the world. As Messiah we confess that he rules. The Kingdom’s coming now means the defeat of Satan, the forgiveness of God, and the indwelling enablement of the Spirit. And yet, the Kingdom comes one day through the returning Son of Man to vindicate the saints and render God just and His promises true. Then Satan and evil will be removed. Even so, come Lord Jesus. But in the meantime, give us the strength through your enablement to be light to show what the kingdom is and is like. You have pulled the future into the present. Let us illumine the future in an incarnated way through your present rule in our lives. – Darrell L. Bock, Looking Into the Future: Evangelical Studies in Eschatology

God’s Kingdom is the realm of the Age to Come, popularly called heaven; then we shall realize the blessings of His Kingdom (reign) in the perfection of their fullness. But the Kingdom is here now. There is a realm of spiritual blessing into which we may enter today and enjoy in part but in reality the blessings of God’s Kingdom (reign). – G. E. Ladd

“If we only had eyes to see and ears to hear and wits to understand, we would know that the Kingdom of God in the sense of holiness, goodness, beauty is as close as breathing and is crying out to born both within ourselves and within the world; we would know that the Kingdom of God is what we all of us hunger for above all other things even when we don’t know its name or realize that it’s what we’re starving to death for. The Kingdom of God is where our best dreams come from and our truest prayers. We glimpse it at those moments when we find ourselves being better than we are and wiser than we know. We catch sight of it when at some moment of crisis a strength seems to come to us that is greater than our own strength. The Kingdom of God is where we belong. It is home, and whether we realize it or not, I think we are all of us homesick for it.” – Frederick Buechner

Image, Kingdom of Heaven by Frank Bramley

Thankful; even in death he gave life. Matthew 27

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Today’s reading: Matthew 27-28.

When it comes to life the critical thing is whether you take things for granted or take them with gratitude. – G.K. Chesterton

I’m thankful for the gift of life. Because I believe in the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, I’ve been given eternal life in addition to this temporal life on Earth. As I read the account of Jesus’ death on the cross, I’m amazed at the way that, even in death, he gave life to those around him.

The thief on the cross – He believed in the Savior. Matthew introduced the two thieves on the crosses beside Jesus, but Luke gave the rest of the story. One of the thieves confessed his sin and expressed his belief that Jesus was the Messiah. Because of his faith, Jesus promised the thief that he would join him in paradise that day.

The Centurion – He worshiped the Lord. Though a hardened military man, he fell down before the Lord when he saw the evidence of creation being shaken by Jesus’ death.

When the centurion and those with him who were guarding Jesus saw the earthquake and all that had happened, they were terrified, and exclaimed, “Surely he was the Son of God!” Matthew 27:54

Joseph of Arimathea – He loved the Master. Joseph demonstrated his love by the heroic measures he took in providing a tomb for Jesus’s body. It’s not clear when Joseph made the life-changing decision to follow Jesus, but there was no doubt where he stood after Jesus’ death.

Barabbas – He was spared because of the Lamb. I don’t know what happened to Barabbas after he was freed. I do know he escaped a certain death at the hands of the Romans because Jesus took his place. We’ll have to wait until heaven to learn how he used his second chance, but could any man have had a clearer demonstration of the saving power of Jesus’ death on the cross?

The religious leaders taunted Jesus, mocking him for not saving himself. Yet all the while he was continuing to do the miraculous work of saving those around him. Today is a perfect time to thank Jesus for dying to save you. If you haven’t accepted his gift, why not do it today? “If you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved” (Romans 10:9).

Jesus had said, “I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all men to myself” (John 12:32). He foretold the magnetic power of the Cross; and the centurion was its first fruit. The Cross had moved him to see the majesty of Jesus as nothing else had been able to do. – Barclay, Daily Study Bible

Image by J. James Tissot on Flickr, CC by 2.0

He knew, and still pressed on: Matthew 26

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Today’s reading: Matthew 26.

Do you wish you knew your own future? My informal survey shows that most people don’t want to know what’s coming. What struck me as I read through the account of the days before Jesus’ crucifixion is that he knew what he faced and still pressed on. He pressed on despite the pain and betrayal. He pressed on even though he could have taken another path. He pressed on with the utmost courage and compassion.

What proof is there that he knew he faced the cross?

  • He kept telling his disciples what was coming.
  • He turned the Passover feast into a memorial of his own sacrificial death and a sign of the new covenant of grace.
  • Before he was betrayed and arrested, he asked God to change his future, to take this cup from him.

Then Jesus went with his disciples to a place called Gethsemane, and he said to them, “Sit here while I go over there and pray.” He took Peter and the two sons of Zebedee along with him, and he began to be sorrowful and troubled. Then he said to them, “My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death. Stay here and keep watch with me.” Going a little farther, he fell with his face to the ground and prayed, “My Father, if it is possible, may this cup be taken from me. Yet not as I will, but as you will.” Matthew 26:36-39

  • He pointed out how the Old Testament predicted his suffering and death.

“Do you think I cannot call on my Father, and he will at once put at my disposal more than twelve legions of angels? But how then would the Scriptures be fulfilled that say it must happen in this way?” Matthew 26:53-54

How did he know what he faced?

  • As mentioned above, he knew the prophecies and knew what they predicted.
  • He knew what was in the heart of men.

But Jesus, on His part, was not entrusting Himself to them, for He knew all men, and because He did not need anyone to testify concerning man, for He Himself knew what was in man. John 2:24-25

  • God revealed to Jesus what he was doing. I hesitate to say that Jesus was all-knowing. Even the experts debate that point. In some areas he had supernatural knowledge, but he also denied knowing the hour of his second coming, saying only his Father knew when that would happen. He made it clear, however, that he knew what his Father was doing and that he joined him in whatever he was doing.

Therefore Jesus answered and was saying to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, the Son can do nothing of Himself, unless it is something He sees the Father doing; for whatever the Father does, these things the Son also does in like manner.For the Father loves the Son, and shows Him all things that He Himself is doing…” John 5:19-20

Jesus knew what he was facing as he headed to the cross, yet he did not run away. In fact, the Bible says he set his face like flint to the task. Why? “For the joy that was set before him, he endured the cross, despising the shame” (Heb. 12:2). He looked beyond the short-term pain to his eternal joy, the joy of doing his Father’s will, of glorifying God and himself, and of making a way for sinners to be redeemed. That same eternal joy should be our focus as we live our lives for God.

Our Lord Jesus, though he had a quick sense of the extreme bitterness of the sufferings he was to undergo, yet was freely willing to submit to them for our redemption and salvation, and offered himself, and gave himself, for us. The reason of Christ’s submission to his sufferings, was, his Father’s will; as thou wilt, v. 39. He grounds his own willingness upon the Father’s will, and resolves the matter wholly into that; therefore he did what he did, and did it with delight, because it was the will of God, Ps. 40:8. This he had often referred to, as that which put him upon, and carried him through, his whole undertaking; This is the Father’s will, Jn. 6:39, Jn. 6:40. This he sought (Jn. 5:30); it was his meat and drink to do it, Jn. 4:34. – Matthew Henry

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