Category Archives: Advent

“Why does Luke pay so much attention to Jesus’ burial?” by Sinclair Ferguson

“Luke wants you to admire Joseph of Arimathea. He was ‘a good and righteous man’ (Luke 23:50). That meant he was faithful to God’s covenant and experienced its blessings. Like some others in this Gospel, he was ‘looking’– waiting expectantly– for God’s kingdom to come.

He was also a member of the Sanhedrin but had not consented to its condemnation of Jesus (perhaps its leaders had avoided summoning to the crisis meeting anyone whose loyalties they suspected). Matthew and John tell us explicitly what Luke only implies: he was also a rich man (he already owned a tomb in Jerusalem); and he was a secret disciple who, until this point, had lacked the courage to confess it (Matthew 27:57; John 19:38).

The Sanhedrin was a very select group of well-connected men. Word of mouth travelled fast in Jerusalem. Joseph must soon have learned what had happened. Jesus was dead.

It was now or never for Joseph. He stepped out of the shadows, went directly to Pilate and asked for the body. This was not without risk, or cost. If Pilate granted his request, and Joseph personally handled Jesus’ body, he would be rendering himself ritually unclean.

But he knew that otherwise Jesus’ body would probably be thrown into a common grave where the bones of many criminals already lay– perhaps right there at The Skull (was this the derivation of the name?). Some things are far more important than ritual purity.

Pilate was probably relieved. Now he could relax and forget about the problem of Jesus. Little did he know… But for Joseph there must have been three hours of feverish activity. It was already past three o’clock and the Jewish Sabbath began at six o clock– not a lot of time to get to Pilate for permission, get back to The Skull, arrange helpers, and carry Jesus’ body to the family tomb.

Why does Luke pay so much attention to Jesus’ burial? For several reasons. The first is that he removes any doubt about the reality of Jesus’ death. The Roman soldiers had made sure of that. Joseph had himself handled the body, and others had helped him prepare it for burial and carry it to the tomb.

The second is that Luke makes clear that there was no confusion about the location of Jesus’ burial place. Joseph’s tomb was new, and a variety of witnesses knew where it was.

Then, thirdly, Luke adds that the women went to prepare spices and ointments to return after the Sabbath to anoint the body. In other words, nobody– despite what Jesus had taught them– was expecting Jesus’ resurrection.

But before we come to that resurrection, we should take another look at Joseph. Of all the Gospel-writers, Luke was most like a historian in his method. But historians can also be poets and theologians. And there is something poetically theological about the way he frames his whole Gospel.

His story of Jesus life begins with him being cared for by a man named Joseph, who places him in a borrowed resting place, in which no baby had ever been laid. It ends with Jesus being cared for again by a man named Joseph, who lays him in another borrowed resting place, where no man had ever been laid.

The story has come full circle; another Joseph has received Christ into his heart and life. At the turning point of Luke’s Gospel, near the beginning of the journey to Jerusalem, Jesus had said that discipleship meant following one who had ‘nowhere to lay his head’ (Luke 9:58). Now Joseph had come out into the open as a disciple, whatever it might cost. So he gave up to Jesus the place where he had planned to lay his own head.

At the cross, Jesus had given up what was His for the sake of Joseph. Now Joseph was giving up what was his for the sake of Jesus. That is what it means to be a disciple.”

—Sinclair B. Ferguson, To Seek and to Save: Daily Reflections on the Road to the Cross (Epsom, England: Good Book Company, 2020), 142-144.

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“They preferred to die of thirst” by Augustine of Hippo (A.D. 354-430)

“The Magi see a star in the East and they know that a King has been born in Judea. Who is that King, so small and so mighty, not yet speaking on earth and already issuing commands in heaven?

In truth He did this for us, in His desire that we might learn about Him from the sacred Scriptures, and for the Magi, that they might believe in Him from His prophecies even though He had given them so bright a sign in the heavens and had revealed to their hearts that He was born in Judea.

For, in seeking the place where He whom they desired to see and to adore was born, they had to contact the leaders of the Jews, so that these unfaithful men, wittingly deceptive but unwittingly truthful, might give evidence to the faithful about the grace of faith, evidence drawn from holy Scripture which they carried on their lips but not in their hearts.

How wonderful it would have been if these leaders of the Jews, when they had heard from the Magi that under the guidance of the star they had come desiring to adore Him, had associated themselves with the searchers for Christ, had led them to Bethlehem, which they had pointed out from the sacred books, and had seen, understood, and adored Him along with them?

Instead, after directing others to the fountain of life, they preferred to die of thirst.

They became, as it were, milestones to these strangers; they indicated the path to the travelers but they remained motionless and immovable.”

–Augustine of Hippo, “Sermon 199: On the Epiphany of the Lord,” Sermons on the Liturgical Seasons (ed. Hermigild Dressler; trans. Mary Sarah Muldowney; vol. 38; The Fathers of the Church; Washington, DC: The Catholic University of America Press, 1959), 38: 60-61.

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“Serious thankfulness” by John Newton

“If we are really Christians, and do indeed believe the tenour of the Scriptures, with what serious thankfulness, and joyful composure, ought we to commemorate the coming of a Saviour into the world?

If the little good offices we perform to each other demand a grateful return, what do we owe to Him, who, of His own free motion and goodness, humbled Himself so far, and suffered so much, to redeem us from extreme and endless misery?”

–John Newton, The Works of John NewtonVolume 5 (Carlisle, PA: Banner of Truth, 1988), 5: 403.

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“The world will never starve for want of wonders, but only for want of wonder” by G.K. Chesterton

“The object of my school is to show how many extraordinary things even a lazy and ordinary man may see if he can spur himself to the single activity of seeing.

For this purpose I have taken the laziest person of my acquaintance, that is myself; and made an idle diary of such odd things as I have fallen over by accident, in walking in a very limited area at a very indolent pace.

If anyone says that these are very small affairs talked about in very big language, I can only gracefully compliment him upon seeing the joke.

If anyone says that I am making mountains out of molehills, I confess with pride that it is so. I can imagine no more successful and productive form of manufacture than that of making mountains out of molehills.

But I would add this not unimportant fact, that molehills are mountains; one has only to become a pigmy like Peter to discover that.

I have my doubts about all this real value in mountaineering, in getting to the top of everywhere and overlooking everything. Satan was the most celebrated of Alpine guides, when he took Jesus to the top of an exceeding high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the earth.

But the joy of Satan in standing on a peak is not a joy in largeness, but a joy in beholding smallness, in the fact that all men look like insects at his feet. It is from the valley that things look large; it is from the level that things look high; I am a child of the level and have no need of that celebrated Alpine guide.

I will lift up my eyes to the hills, from whence cometh my help; but I will not lift up my carcass to the hills, unless it is absolutely necessary. Everything is in an attitude of mind; and at this moment I am in a comfortable attitude.

I will sit still and let the marvels and the adventures settle on me like flies. There are plenty of them, I assure you. The world will never starve for want of wonders; but only for want of wonder.”

–G.K. Chesterton, Tremendous Trifles (New York: Dodd, Mead & Co, 1909), 6-7.

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“The star is in the east” by Patrick Schreiner

“The magi have come to worship Jesus, but Jerusalem, the scribes, and Herod the king are troubled when they hear that a new king has appeared on the scene.

The narrative reverses the symbolism of the place of exile. The place that was far from God is now the place of exile. The place that was far from God is now the place of true obeisance.

Matthew confirms that the king is on the scene, but His own people don’t recognize Him. As in the Wisdom literature, wisdom demands a choice between two ways.

As Matthew indicated in the genealogy, Jesus is not only the King of the Jews but now also the King of the whole world.

Jesus both fulfills the old covenant and inaugurates the new.

The star is in the east because the King has come to welcome those ‘east of Eden’ who were cast out so long ago (cf. Gen. 3:24; 4:16).”

–Patrick Schreiner, Matthew, Disciple and Scribe: The First Gospel and Its Portrait of Jesus (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 2019), 80.

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“The best way to shorten winter” by G.K. Chesterton

“The best way to shorten winter is to prolong Christmas.”

–G.K. Chesterton, Collected Works of G.K. Chesterton, Vol. 11 (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1989), 11: 376.

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“A Bridegroom who is beautiful wherever He is” by Augustine of Hippo (A.D. 354-430)

“God’s foolishness is wiser than human wisdom, and God’s weakness more powerful than human strength. Let us who believe, therefore, run to meet a Bridegroom who is beautiful wherever He is.

Beautiful as God, as the Word who is with God, He is beautiful in the Virgin’s womb, where He did not lose His Godhead but assumed our humanity.

Beautiful He is as a baby, as the Word unable to speak, because while He was still without speech, still a baby in arms and nourished at His mother’s breast, the heavens spoke for Him, a star guided the Magi, and He was adored in the manger as food for the humble.

He was beautiful in heaven, then, and beautiful on earth: beautiful in the womb, and beautiful in His parents’ arms.

He was beautiful in His miracles but just as beautiful under the scourges.

Beautiful as He invited us to life, but beautiful too in not shrinking from death.

Beautiful in laying down His life and beautiful in taking it up again.

Beautiful on the cross, beautiful in the tomb, and beautiful in heaven.

Listen to this song (i.e. Psalm 45) to further your understanding, and do not allow the weakness of His flesh to blind you to the splendor of His beauty.

He is lovely in all respects.”

–Augustine of Hippo, Exposition of Psalm 44, in Expositions of the Psalms, 33–50, ed. John E. Rotelle, trans. Maria Boulding (Hyde Park, NY: New City Press, 2000), 283.

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