Cole Newton

Teach Me Good Judgment & Knowledge | Psalm 119:66

As Paul makes clear in Romans 1, our sinful nature makes excusing and even justifying our sins all too easy. Each person’s conscience is certainly a common grace from God that restrains much evil, yet the conscience may be easily seared by continual sin, making good judgment and proper knowledge unavailable. That is why the psalmist roots good judgment and knowledge in believing God’s commandments. 

Teach me good judgment and knowledge,for I believe in your commandments.
Psalm 119:66 ESV

Having begun stanza teth by rejoicing in God’s good dealing with him, the psalmist now continues his prayer by making a petition: teach me good judgment and knowledge. This is a petition that all of God’s people ought to make alongside the psalmist, for we should all desire good judgment and knowledge.
Of course, we tend to first think of the life-altering judgments to be made that need to be informed by the knowledge and wisdom of God. Do I go to school A or school B? Is this the person that I should marry? Should we homeschool our children?
Yet the ability to make a proper judgment is also of use to us each day. We must decide from the moment that we awake whether we will reach for the Bible or for the phone.
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Blessed Be the Lord: The Song of Zechariah | Luke 1:67-79

John and Zechariah, like Abraham and David, rejoiced seeing the Christ’s coming from a distance, though they did not live to see His work of redemption with their own eyes. Thus, we have a great privilege that even they did not have. We have the complete revelation of God in His Word of the redemption that He has worked through Jesus the Christ. Therefore, like Zechariah, we ought to bless the Lord with gladness, praising Him who is guiding “our feet into the way of peace” through the Prince of Peace Himself (v. 79).

And his father Zechariah was filled with the Holy Spirit and prophesied, saying,
    “Blessed be the Lord God of Israel,for he has visited and redeemed his peopleand has raised up a horn of salvation for usin the house of his servant David,as he spoke by the mouth of the prophets from of old,that we should be saved from our enemiesand from the hand of all who hate us;to show the mercy promised to our fathersand to remember his holy covenant,the oath that he swore to our father Abraham, to grant usthat we, being delivered from the hand of our enemies,might serve him without fear,in holiness and righteousness before him all our days.And you, child, will be called the prophet of the Most High;for you will go before the Lord to prepare his ways,to give knowledge of salvation to his peoplein forgiveness of their sins,because of the tender mercy of our God,whereby the sunrise shall visit us from on highto give light to those who sit in darknessand in the shadow of death,to guide our feet into the way of peace.”
            Luke 1:67-79 ESV

Before singing this song, we read that Elizabeth gave birth to her son, and they called him John, as Gabriel had told them. It was after naming John that Zechariah’s mouth was opened, having been made mute by Gabriel for his unbelief, and he began to bless the Lord and to prophesy.
This song, often called the Benedictus, is what Zechariah spoke through the Holy Spirit. Notice that it divides into two major sections. Though it all rejoices in Christ’s coming, the first part (verses 68-75) recount how the Christ’s coming fulfills the promises God long ago made to David and to Abraham, while the second part (verses 76-79) specifically prophesies how what role John will play in setting the stage for the Christ.
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Courage in the Face of Despair | Mark 15:39-47

We know that death did not defeat Christ but that death was defeated by Christ through His dying. Like Christ’s substitutional atoning for our sins, His humiliation was also finished upon the cross. To those looking on, His burial seemed to be the most disappointing in a long stream of would-be messiahs, but in reality, His burial, His descent to the dead, was the beginning of His eternal exaltation. Although Saturday must have been the longest Sabbath the disciples ever felt, the new week began with Jesus’ resurrection, which Paul calls the first fruit. Christ’s resurrection is a foretaste and a guarantee of the great resurrection of all God’s people still to come.

And when the centurion, who stood facing him, saw that in this way he breathed his last, he said, “Truly this man was the Son of God!”
There were also women looking on from a distance, among whom were Mary Magdalene, and Mary the mother of James the younger and of Joses, and Salome. When he was in Galilee, they followed him and ministered to him, and there were also many other women who came up with him to Jerusalem.
And when evening had come, since it was the day of Preparation, that is, the day before the Sabbath, Joseph of Arimathea, a respected member of the council, who was also himself looking for the kingdom of God, took courage and went to Pilate and asked for the body of Jesus. Pilate was surprised to hear that he should have already died. And summoning the centurion, he asked him whether he was already dead. And when he learned from the centurion that he was dead, he granted the corpse to Joseph. And Joseph bought a linen shroud, and taking him down, wrapped him in the linen shroud and laid him in a tomb that had been cut out of the rock. And he rolled a stone against the entrance of the tomb. Mary Magdalene and Mary the mother of Joses saw where he was laid.
Mark 15:39-47 ESV

COVID-19 was an apocalypse. Now, I mean that in the technical sense of the word. Apocalypse means revelation or unveiling, and any crisis inevitably leads to a kind of revealing, especially of people’s hearts. One immediate effect of the pandemic has been a greater societal awareness of illnesses. Many headlines warn to beware of a tripledemic of Covid, flu, and RSV. Winter, however, has always been a season of viruses, particularly respiratory, and some seasons are inevitably worse or better than others. That has not changed, but our awareness has.
Yet, in my opinion, the greatest unveiling of the Covid pandemic was its exposure and amplification of a psychological epidemic of despair that had been growing long before 2020. For instance, suicide rates and the desperate pleas for euthanasia were certainly present before Covid, but the pandemic and the lockdowns have certainly brought them to the surface and even heightened them. Being forced to face our own mortality did not settle well on our secular society, and it exposed that most people simply cannot face the reality of death. That is why we sedate ourselves against reality as much as possible with drugs and entertainment, and when the sedation no longer works, we would rather take death into our own hands rather than embrace the uncertainly of life. We are a culture in despair.
We would do well to consider intently this passage of Mark because His followers were certainly faced with despair in the wake of Jesus’ death. You see, even though Jesus told His disciples three times that He would both die and rise, we have also seen repeatedly that they did not yet have eyes to see that blessed promise. Rather, the Christ who they hoped would restore the kingdom of Israel had been crucified, ridiculed by men and cursed by God, and His disciples had abandoned Him in His suffering. During His life, Jesus made it seem as if God’s kingdom really was at hand, but with His death, it never felt more distant. The sun may have begun to shine again with Jesus’ death, but an even greater darkness loomed over the hearts of the faithful. Though the greatest victory of all time had been accomplished, they could only see the most savage of all defeats.
Yet in the midst of this despair, Mark records for us three examples of courage (a confession, discipleship, and an act of love) from the three unexpected places. We will look at each individually before considering their collective exhortation for us today who likewise live between the cross and the resurrection.
Truly This Man Was the Son of God! // Verses 39
Although the priests and bystanders were not able to understand the sign of the darkness around because of the darkness within them, a ray of light pierced through the most unlikely person imaginable at the foot of the cross.
And when the centurion, who stood facing him, saw that in this way he breathed his last, he said, “Truly this man was the Son of God!”
Although there were other Roman soldiers at the crucifixion, this centurion was their commander. He was responsible for overseeing the execution of Jesus and the two robbers on either side of Him. Timothy Keller notes:
Centurions were not aristocrats who got military commissions; they were enlisted men who had risen through the ranks. So this man had seen death, and had inflicted it, to a degree that you and I can hardly imagine.
Here was a hardened, brutal man. Yet something had penetrated his spiritual darkness. He became the first person to confess the deity of Jesus Christ.[1]
Indeed, Mark explicitly notes that the centurion saw Christ’s divinity through His manner of death. He saw how Jesus breathed His last breath, and a fountain deep within the centurion’s violence-stained heart broke open. As a dealer of death, he knew it very well. He brought the curse of Adam upon others for a living, so he was no doubt intimately familiar with how it snatched up the strong and the weak alike, both old and young, men and women, slave and free. He knew firsthand that all living would be dragged down into that everlasting darkness called the grave.
Yet Jesus was different. Death did not fall upon Jesus; He gave Himself over to it. Even while hanging from the tree, mocked by men and forsaken in our place by the Father, Jesus was still Lord. As both God and the only sinless man, death had no claim over Him; therefore, His life could never be taken from Him. He could only lay it down. I doubt that the centurion could have expressed his thoughts and emotions very well, but I believe that this is what he saw. As the one presiding over the crucifixion, I think he understood that even from the cross Jesus was really in command of the proceedings. Jesus’ death was so unlike normal deaths that the centurion could only conclude that Jesus was indeed divine. Indeed, as Keller said, he is the first human to confess Jesus’ divinity in Mark’s Gospel, and he is the first to confess the second part of Jesus’ twofold confession of Jesus: that He is the Son of God.
Now, we do not know the degree of the centurion’s faith past this point. Did he become a Christian? Perhaps; perhaps not. We will never know on this side of the river. We should, however, commend both his faith and his courage. We can safely assume that the centurion did not have everything in mind that we as Christians do today whenever we talk about the Son of God. I do not think, for example, that he was miraculously given understanding of the Trinity. Instead, the phrase ‘son of god’ was an honorific title given to humans who were deemed to have ascended to divinity. Most notably, it was a title used by Caesar, that is, the centurion’s king and commander. He was, therefore, making a very dangerous confession. He was, at the very least, confessing Jesus to be as equally divine as Caesar.
Also, we should note with wonder and joy that this centurion Gentile is only a foretaste of the salvation that Christ’s death would bring to all nations.
Revealed Under the Cross // Verses 40-41
The second example of faith and courage in the face of despair is not an individual but a group of women:
There were also women looking on from a distance, among whom were Mary Magdalene, and Mary the mother of James the younger and of Joses, and Salome. When he was in Galilee, they followed him and ministered to him, and there were also many other women who came up with him from Jerusalem.
Though all the disciples fled from Jesus and did not have the courage to follow Him to Golgotha (John being the only exception), this small crowd of women did. Just as they had followed Jesus in Galilee, they now followed Him as He went to His death. They were likely forced to do so from a distance because the soldiers would not let them nearer.
I find it significant that Mark makes the revelation of how these women followed and minister to Jesus throughout His ministry immediately after His death while His body still hung upon the cross. In most of the events that we studied in this Gospel, these women were there as eye witnesses. Hearing His words, and seeing His wonders. Yet we are only told of their presence here. I would imagine that their ministry to Jesus was largely unnoticed by the other disciples as well. Luke tells us that it was women like Joanna and Susanna that financially supported Jesus’ ministry, yet their mention is almost like a footnote. They served in the background, until this moment when the more prominent disciples fell away in fear. This again is a picture in miniature of what Jesus taught. The proud will be humbled, while the humble shall be exalted. The servant of all is counted the greatest in the kingdom. The first become last, and the last become first.
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My Soul Magnifies the Lord: The Song of Mary | Luke 1:46-55

This song is a celebration of God’ delight in exalting the humble and opposing the proud. Jesus Himself taught this principle, saying, “For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted” (Luke 14:11). Christ’s humiliation to the point of death on a cross and subsequent exaltation (see Philippians 2:6-11) is the greatest example of all time. 

And Mary said,“My soul magnifies the Lord,and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior,for he has looked on the humble estate of his servant.For behold, from now on all generations will call me blessed;for he who is mighty has done great things for me,and holy is his name.And his mercy is for those who fear himfrom generation to generation.He has shown strength with his arm;he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts;he has brought down the mighty from their thronesand exalted those of humble estate;he has filled the hungry with good things;and the rich he has sent away empty.He has helped his servant Israel,in remembrance of his mercy,as he spoke to our fathers,to Abraham and to his offspring forever.”
Luke 1:46-55 ESV

The opening of Luke’s Gospel ought to sound familiar to students of Scripture: a godly older couple lamenting their childlessness. Abraham and Sarah are the most famous such couple, but then their son Isaac and his wife Rebekah also faced barrenness. In 1 Samuel, we also find Elkanah and Hannah, the parents of the prophet Samuel. Thus, we ought first to read of Zechariah and Elizabeth with great expectation, and sure enough, they were miraculously given a son who would grow into a great prophet.
But Luke’s Gospel is not about their son, John. Indeed, John, like the prophets before him, was only the forerunner to the Christ, who was coming into the world.
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My God, My God, Why Have You Forsaken Me? | Mark 15:33-38

Through Christ, God redeemed for Himself a people for His own possession, and in Christ, we belong to that people. Although it is true that everyone will ultimately stand before the judgment seat of God alone, we have not been left to walk through this life alone. Jesus endured the cross alone, but He calls us to take up our crosses and follow Him together. That is what the death of Jesus purchased for us with the tearing of the curtain. Full assurance to come to God as our Father, a sure and steadfast hope that will endure even the end of all things, and a place among the congregation of the righteous. 

And when the sixth hour had come, there was darkness over the whole land until the ninth hour. And at the ninth hour Jesus cried with a loud voice, “Eloi, Eloi, lema sabachthani?” which means, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” And some of the bystanders hearing it said, “Behold, he is calling Elijah.” And someone ran and filled a sponge with sour wine, put it on a reed and gave it to him to drink, saying, “Wait, let us see whether Elijah will come to take him down.” And Jesus uttered a loud cry and breathed his last. And the curtain of the temple was torn in two, from top to bottom.
Mark 15:33-38 ESV

Surely after their three-day journey to the mountain in Moriah, Isaac knew that this sacrifice was far more solemn than normal. Perhaps that is why, as father and son prepared to ascend the mountain, Isaac asked where the lamb for the sacrifice was. Abraham simply answered, “God will provide for himself the lamb for a burnt offering, my son” (Genesis 22:8). Upon the mountain, Abraham built the altar, laid the wood, and laid Isaac upon the altar. Although this was Abraham’s sacrifice, the fact that Isaac was the one who carried the wood upon the mountain indicates that he was likely already a young man rather than a small boy. Thus, he evidently trusted his father enough to be bound upon the altar and to be slaughtered by his own father. Hebrews 11:17-19 tells us that Abraham still held onto God’s promise that through Isaac his offspring would be named so he reasoned that God would evidently bring Isaac back from the dead. Was that his comfort to Isaac? Was that faith in resurrection the hope that enabled Isaac to lay in silence like a lamb being slaughtered?
Of course, Abraham did not kill his son. An angel stopped his blade mid-air and a ram caught in a thicket to offer in place of Isaac. Abraham’s words were true; the LORD did provide the lamb. The patriarch called that mountain, “the LORD will provide.” Three thousand years later, those words were fulfilled to the uttermost. Upon another mountain, God the Father laid His only Son, the Son He loved even in the eternity before creation, upon the altar. Although the Son could certainly have called upon angels to rescue Him, like Isaac, He trusted His Father. Unlike Isaac, the knife would not be stopped. This time the Father would drive the knife into His beloved Son, for by the Son’s blood Abraham and Isaac and you and I would be ransomed from our sins once for all.
There was Darkness// Verses 33
In our previous passage, we read of the crucifixion of Christ. Particularly, we noted how Mark (as well as the other three Evangelists) does not emphasize the physical torment of the cross but rather gives attention to the mockery and reviling that Jesus endured alongside the bodily agony. Mark’s Gospel now continues with these words: “And when the sixth hour had come, there was darkness over the whole land until the ninth hour.”
Here we have a supernatural darkness that came over Jerusalem for about three hours in the very middle of the day. The sixth hour was noon, and the ninth hour would have been three in the afternoon. Attempts to align this with an eclipse or some other natural phenomena miss the point. Instead, we ought to read with great wonder that the light of the world Himself was engulfed in darkness and that the Author of life was preparing to die.
R. Kent Hughes notes:
Thirty-three years earlier there had been brightness and music at midnight when Jesus was born. Now there is darkness and silence at noontide as he dies.
Why this darkness? To begin with, it was a sign of mourning. Amos prophesied there would be darkness at the time of the Day of the Lord, saying, “I will make the sun go down at noon and darken the earth in broad daylight… I will make it like the mourning for an only son…” (Amos 8:9,10). The cross is draped in the mourning sackcloth of darkness.
In concert with this, the darkness signified the curse of God. At the exodus, a plague of darkness spread over the land before the first Passover lamb was slain. Now before the death of the ultimate Passover Lamb, there again was darkness. God’s judgment was being poured out in a midday night.[1]
Indeed, to further parallel the events in Exodus, we see here that Jesus is not only the Lamb slain to ransom His people from the Destroyer, but He is also the first born of the Father, offered in our place. We may also notice that there was darkness over the whole land, which presumably meant Judea. Thus, with the plague of darkness in Egypt, the Egyptians were cast into darkness, while the land of the Hebrews still had light. Now the reverse was occurring. The land of the Jews was covered in darkness, while the Gentiles nations still had light. Perhaps this was a visual display of Paul point in Romans 3:9-12:
What then? Are we Jews any better off? No, not at all. For we have already charged that all, both Jews and Greeks, are under sin, as it is written:
“None is righteous, no, not one;no one understands;no one seeks for God.All have turned aside; together they have become worthless;no one does good,not even one.”
The Cry of Derecliction // Verses 34-36
After spending three hours plunged in darkness, we read: “And at the ninth hour Jesus cried with a loud voice, ‘Eloi, Eloi, lema sabachthani?’ which means, ‘My God, my God, why have your forsaken me?’” We call this Jesus’ cry of dereliction, and indeed it is. It notably is also the opening sentence of Psalm 22, which together with Isaiah 53 is one of the most explicit descriptions of Christ’s crucifixion, even though it was written by David around a thousand years before Jesus’ day. There are a multitude of mysteries and complexities in this cry of anguish that I suspect will never be fully grasped by finite creatures like us.
Perhaps the greatest mystery is how Jesus could be abandoned by His Father. Could the Second Person of the Trinity really be cut off? Some theologians in an effort to avoid such a thought have argued that Jesus was not forsaken at all. Instead, they argue that Jesus was really pointing to the triumphant conclusion of Psalm 22, and He was not truly forsaken by the Father. Not a few unbelievers have used this cry as proof that Jesus became disillusioned before He breathed His last. We must reject both thoughts. It was for this very reason that Christ became incarnate, so He was certainly no disillusioned self-help guru. Neither should we look upon the suffering of Christ as the Donatists look upon His humanity, as if He only seemed to have suffered. No, Jesus did truly suffer, and He was truly forsaken by the Father.
R. C. Sproul writes,
When Jesus took the curse on Himself and so identified with our sin that He became a curse, God cut Him off, and justly so. At the moment when Christ took on Himself the sin of the world, His figure on the cross was the most grotesque, most obscene mass of concentrated sin in the history of the world. God is too holy to look on iniquity, so when Christ hung on the cross, the Father, as it were, turned His back. He averted His face and He cut off His Son. Jesus, Who, touching His human nature, had been in perfect, blessed relationship with God throughout His ministry, now bore the sin of God’s people, and so He was forsaken by God.[2]
As we noted last week, upon the cross, Jesus was redeeming us from the curse of our sins by becoming a curse for us. He was becoming Himself the sacrifice for our sins. He was taking upon Himself the damnation that we rightfully have earned through our rebellion against our Creator. Again, Sproul is right in saying that, “On the cross, He was in hell, totally bereft of the grace and the presence of God, utterly separated from all blessedness of the Father.”[3]
Thus, Jesus was truly forsaken by the Father. This is what Jesus feared in Gethsemane made reality.
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Allow Me to Vent: How Not to Be a Grumbling Israelite

If we simply want a guilt-free moment to complain, then we are guilty of the sin of grumbling and also guilty of attempting to justify our sin rather than stomping on its head. Brothers and sisters in Christ, let us not justify or excuse our sins, even the seemingly little ones, but let us put it to death as we put on the mind of Christ.

Another Thanksgiving is in the books, placing us firmly in the midst of the holiday season. Although Christmas/Advent is my favorite time of year, I will likely receive your solemn nod of agreement when I say that these days never go as smoothly or joyfully as planned.
Now we could point to a multitude of reasons behind these holiday hiccups, yet the chief among them is often friends and family. Apart from the worshipful significance of Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year’s, the next greatest joy of these holidays is gathering with friends and family, yet ironically, those gatherings also often lead to many holiday frustrations. The mingling of such gladness and frustration should not be as surprising to us as it so often is. The Holy Spirit did not inspire the words of 1 Peter 4:9 for nothing: “Show hospitality to one another without grumbling.”
Alexander Strauch says what all who show hospitality know to be true:
Certainly the ministry (and corresponding inconveniences) of hospitality can easily rattle our grumbling bones. Hospitality demands old-fashioned hard work. It may be costly and is often inconvenient. It is time consuming. It places a strain on the family. Sometimes guests abuse their Christian brothers’ and sisters’ hospitality. And during times of persecution, hospitality can even be dangerous.[1]
It is entirely natural to grumble under such work, but as Christians, we are called to kill our old, sinful nature and to put on the nature of Christ through the power of the Holy Spirit. Thus, while grumbling may be natural, it is nonetheless a sin.
Indeed, the great case study on the sin of grumbling is the people of Israel in the wilderness. At the end of the same chapter where the Israelites sang the first recorded psalm of praise to the LORD for drowning Pharaoh and parting the sea, they begin their grumbling. “And the people grumbled against Moses, saying, ‘What shall we drink’” (Exodus 15:24)? And their grumbling continued throughout their wilderness journey and wandering. Lest we dismiss grumbling as harmless, hear the words of 1 Corinthians 10:6-12 (emphasis added):
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To Obey is Better than Sacrifice | 1 Samuel 15:22

In this manner, we are very often like Saul, caring more about the fickle favor of those around us (or worse, of the online masses) than the favor of the true and living God. Yet we also tend to follow Saul’s pattern in handling our sin. Like Saul, it is all too easy to attempt covering up our disobedience with sacrifice. We disobey in some manner and then resolve to do something else for God. We then feel better because we have done something tangible to make up for our sin. Unfortunately, that impulse runs contrary to the gospel. In fact, it is anti-gospel.

And Samuel said,“Has the LORD as great delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices,as in obeying the voice of the LORD?Behold, to obey is better than sacrifice,and to listen than the fat of rams.”
1 Samuel 15:22 ESV

Even before 1 Samuel 15, God had already promised another king in Saul’s place as a result of his presumptuous sacrifice before a battle. Yet this chapter marks the full-blown decline of Saul’s reign and is followed up in the next chapter with the anointing of David as the next king. Here’s what happened.
Through Samuel, God told Saul to destroy the Amalekites, and by destroy, God meant, “kill both man and woman, child and infant, ox and sheep, camel and donkey” (v. 3). In other words, the LORD was using Saul and the Israelites as His instrument of judgment upon the Amalekites, and their judgment would be the same as that of Sodom and Gomorrah: utter destruction. Wickedness of the Amalekites was evidently complete, and God would not spare any of them.
Those were Saul’s commands, and after assembling an army of two hundred thousand soldiers from Israel and ten thousand from Judah, Saul purged the land of the Amalekites. Unfortunately, Saul cut some corners of God’s commands. For one, he kept Agag the king of the Amalekites alive, likely as a trophy of his victory. For another, the Israelites did not destroy the animals that were pleasing to them. Interestingly, Samuel hears the animals and rebukes Saul.
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You Will Deny Me Three Times | Mark 14:66-72

Peter’s repentance led to his restoration because each of Peter’s three denials (as well as all the rest of his sins) were nailed through Jesus to the cross. The eternal and sinless Word gave Himself as a ransom for Peter’s sins. And for our sins. The only complete triumph over sin comes through Christ our Champion. He alone is the true hero of the ultimate Story. Indeed, in many ways, we are the villains of our own lives, the authors of our own destruction. But Jesus came not to slay us but save us, to rescue and redeem us, to say to the Father and Judge of all the earth: “Take me instead.”

And as Peter was below in the courtyard, one of the servant girls of the high priest came, and seeing Peter warming himself, she looked at him and said, “You also were with the Nazarene, Jesus.” But he denied it, saying, “I neither know nor understand what you mean.” And he went out into the gateway and the rooster crowed. And the servant girl saw him and began again to say to the bystanders, “This man is one of them.” But again he denied it. And after a little while the bystanders again said to Peter, “Certainly you are one of them, for you are a Galilean.” But he began to invoke a curse on himself and to swear, “I do not know this man of whom you speak.” And immediately the rooster crowed a second time. And Peter remembered how Jesus had said to him, “Before the rooster crows twice, you will deny me three times.” And he broke down and wept.
Mark 14:66-72 ESV

Through the Bible, we find over and over again that even the greatest heroes of the faith were deeply sinful. Noah got drunk after being preserve with his family upon the ark. Abraham let Sarah be taken as a concubine twice in order to save himself, not to mention the whole incident with Hagar. Jacob’s name sounds like deceiver in Hebrew, and he lived up to that name. Moses was a murderer. Aaron shaped the golden calf for the Israelites. Samson was as weak for women as he was physically strong. David was an adulterer and a murderer. Solomon was an apostate. The same is true of the New Testament as well. In our present passage, we read of Peter’s lowest moment. J. C. Ryle sets what ought to be our chief lesson from these verses:
These things are written to show the church of Christ what human nature is, even in the best of men. They are intended to teach us that, even after conversion and renewal of the Holy Ghost, believers are compassed with infirmity and liable to fall. They are meant to impress upon us the immense importance of daily watchfulness, prayerfulness, and humility, so long as we are in the body. ‘Let him that thinketh he standeth, take heed lest he fall.’[1]
At A Distance & At A Fire // Verses 54
The opening words of our text, And as Peter was below in the courtyard, ought to take us back to verse 54, which said: “And Peter followed him at a distance, right into the courtyard of the high priest. And he was sitting with the guards and warming himself at the fire.”
As we noted last week, Peter ceased running from Jesus’ arrest at some point and decided to follow the crowd, though he did so at a distance so that he would not be noticed. However, when he got into the courtyard, he sat beside the guards in order to warm himself at the fire. This is significant because the fire would have certainly illuminated his face, which certainly leads to his recognition. I think Ryle is right to say:
There was no wisdom in this act. Having once forsaken his Master and fled, he ought to have remembered his own weakness, and not to have ventured into danger again. It was an act of rashness and presumption. It brought on him fresh trials of faith, for which he was unprepared. It threw him into bad company, where he was not likely to get good but harm. It paved the way for his last and greatest transgression,–his thrice-repeated denial of his Master.[2]
Furthermore, his risk of warming himself by the fire is similar to his inability stay awake in prayer at Gethsemane. His actions were being governed by his comfort. Jesus was standing boldly before the scorn of rulers, while Peter could not stand the cold. How like us! Indeed, how often do we set ourselves up to sin by our desire to be comfortable? David’s decision not to ride with his armies into battle paved the way for his adultery with Bathsheba and murder of her husband Uriah. In this life, we will face plenty of unavoidable temptations; thus, let us take care that we do not add to that number temptations that we have invited by our own actions.
The First Denial // Verses 66-68
Returning to our text, we read:
And as Peter was below in the courtyard, one of the servant girls of the high priest came, and seeing Peter warming himself, she looked at him, and said, “You also were with the Nazarene, Jesus.” But he denied it, saying, “I neither know nor understand what you mean.”
Perhaps we would give Peter more credit if his denials of Jesus came after a guard threatened him with a sword. But that is not what happened. Although Peter sat down with the guards, they apparently did not recognize him or simply did not pay attention to him. Yet this servant girl did, and under her questioning, Peter collapsed. Although he first affirmed Jesus as the Christ, although he alone of the disciples walked on the water out to Jesus, although he was one of the three to see Jesus transfigured upon the mountain, and although he cut a man’s ear off defending Jesus, here Peter could not withstand the simple declaration of his identity as a disciple of Jesus from this servant girl.
This again is a pattern throughout Scripture that many who do great things for God fall into sin through what appear to be insignificant temptations. So it was with Noah. The man who had enough faith to survive God’s destruction of all of humanity except for his family was overcome by wine. Samson could not be defeated by any army, yet loving a treacherous woman left him without strength and blind. The kingdom was ripped away from Saul because he did not fully obey God’s commands but thought that he knew better how to secure God’s favor. Likewise, we should not neglect the danger of respectable sins (as Jerry Bridges calls them), that is, sins like unthankfulness, discontentment, impatience, covetousness, etc. These “little sins” are just as damning as the “bigger” ones.
When looking at Peter’s response, we should first note how irrational sin makes us. In his effort to disassociate himself from Christ, Peter does not merely deny being one of Jesus’ disciples; he denies even knowing who Jesus is. If the girl had any doubts, such denial would have certainly cleared them up, just not the way that Peter intended. After all, remember that the religious leaders could not arrest Jesus while He was publicly teaching each day in the temple because they feared His popularity with the people. Surely everyone in Jerusalem had heard of Jesus, so for Peter to make such a statement was entirely unbelievable.
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You Search the Scriptures | John 5:39-40

When reading Scripture, if we do not see Jesus, then we are reading incorrectly. The religious leaders of Jesus’ day diligently studied Scripture yet did not recognize the embodied Word that spoke to them. They searched for God in His Word, yet God stood right before them unrecognized.

You search the Scripturesbecause you think that in them you have eternal life;and it is they that bear witness about me,yet you refuse to come to me that you may have life.
John 5:39-40 ESV

The Pharisees of Jesus’ day held the Scriptures in high esteem. They believed them to be the actual Word of God, spoken into our dark and sinful world. They read the Bible, studied it, applied it, and obeyed it. Everything seemed correct.
Then came Jesus.
Jesus spoke into the world of these studious Jews and shook them to the core. In the midst of their in-depth studying, they missed the forest for the trees. They passionately searched the Bible because they thought that it would lead them to eternal life, to salvation. However, Jesus makes a bold claim. He says that all of Scripture is about Him; therefore, they should come to Him for eternal life.
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This is My Beloved Son | Matthew 3:17

The Father was pleased with Christ because He was perfectly and entirely obedient. He is only pleased with us because the perfect obedience of Christ has been fully imputed onto us. Therefore, whenever we think upon the works (Ephesians 2:10) or ministry (Ephesians 4:12) that the Father has set for us to accomplish, we do so by faith in the good pleasure of our Father that has been sealed for us beforehand through Jesus our Savior.

and behold, a voice from heaven said, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased.”
Matthew 3:17 ESV

When reading or studying the baptism of Jesus, we rightly tend to fixate upon the stunning display of the Trinity. In that one moment, we find God the Son incarnate and standing in the waters of the Jordan. We find God the Spirit descending upon the Son like a dove. And we hear God the Father’s pronouncement of pleasure in His Son. It is certainly right that we would stand amazed by this scene and by the wondrous mystery of our triune God.
Yet I would like to focus upon the Father’s declaration at Jesus’ baptism: “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased.” While this pronouncement was certainly a testament to others of Jesus’ Sonship at the beginning of His ministry, it seems that it was also given as a testament to Jesus Himself. Though we cannot understand the depths of this mystery, we must remember that Christ lived His earthly life in His humanity. Of course, He never ceased to be divine as some theologians argue from Philippians 2:7, yet it is true that He apparently did not actively exercise His divinity, which would include His omniscience.
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