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Back in Bethany
After His stay in the city of Ephraim (John 11:54), the Lord returns to Bethany. It is six days before the Passover. It does not add ‘the feast of the Jews’. This time our attention is drawn to what this feast means to the Lord. At this feast He will surrender Himself in death as the true Passover Lamb.
On His way to Jerusalem He travels through Bethany, where He is the guest of Martha, Mary and Lazarus. The fact that Lazarus is present will have given a unique shine to this visit. This wonderful shine is further enhanced by the act Mary is about to perform on the Lord Jesus. Lazarus is mentioned as a special attendee, for the reason that he had died, but that Christ had raised him from the dead. The Life-giving and the one made alive belong together. Thus believers may always come together with Him Who has given them life i.e. who were made alive by Him.
A supper is made by Martha for the Lord and served by her. Serving Martha is mentioned here in an appreciative sense. She serves without commenting on the Lord Jesus and her sister (Luke 10:38-:). Lazarus is one of those reclining at the table. Nowhere do we read of Lazarus that he spoke a word. He is a wonderful example of a true worshiper. Without words he enjoys the fellowship with his Lord with all his heart. In what a new way he will have looked at Him, full of gratitude and admiration.
Mary Anoints the Lord Jesus
After hearing some things about Lazarus and Martha, which both have their own place in this scene, our attention is turned to Mary. What she does, also without words, is special. She has had no special prophetic revelation. She acts according to the spiritual feeling of her heart which has found everything in the Christ of God, a heart which feels the danger of death in which He finds Himself. Others may think of His wonders and that He would save Himself, like He did for example when they wanted to throw Him down the cliff in Nazareth (Luke 4:30), but Mary thinks of His death and His burial. With this in mind she has anointed Him, her Lord.
For this purpose she uses a pound of very costly perfume of pure nard which is very valuable. Like David before, she doesn’t want to offer an offering that doesn’t cost her anything (2 Samuel 24:24). For her Lord only the best is enough. She stoops down and anoints His feet with the perfume. His feet speak of the fact that He, the Son of God, has come to earth, sent by the Father to explain Him. She wipes His feet with her hair. Her long hair is her honor (1 Corinthians 11:15). As it were, she puts her honor over the feet of the Lord to wipe them. The result is that her hair is anointed with the same precious perfume and spreads the same delicious fragrance.
Through her devotion, of which the long hair as a veil also speaks (1 Corinthians 11:15), the pleasant fragrance of the Lord Jesus is enjoyed by those around her. The entire house is filled with the fragrance of the perfume (cf. Song of Solomon 1:12) so that all those present can enjoy it. If a believer worships Christ in the meeting by praising Him, others enjoy it.
Judas Responds to the Act of Mary
Not all those present enjoy the act of Mary. There are some who cannot appreciate what she has done to the Lord. We know from other Gospels that the disciples criticize it. Here this criticism is expressed through Judas. John calls him the man “who was intending to betray Him” so that the contrast with the act of Mary is presented in the strongest possible way.
The reason for the criticism of Judas concerns the amount Mary spent for her anointing. He knows how to estimate the amount. If we consider that a denarius is the salary for a day’s work (Matthew 20:2), the perfume of Mary has cost an annual salary. We can convert this to today. As of January 1, 2008, the gross minimum daily wage for someone twenty-three years of age or older is €61,62, which is slightly more than €50,00 net. For convenience, we assume €50,00. This means that the perfume of Mary converted to today represents a value of €15.000,00. What a waste when you consider how much it could have helped the poor. At least that is how Judas pretends by his words.
The true reason is that he wanted to enrich himself with it. He is not interested in the poor. He only thinks about himself. Apart from Judas’ evil motives, there are also many Christians who reason like Judas. They say that a time of worship is a waste of time because the needs in the world are great. Bringing the gospel or helping people in need is much more important to them than worship.
Undeniably, the things mentioned are important things that need to be done. But when we say that such activities are more important than to worship the Son and the Father, we are saying that people are more important than God. Precisely in this Gospel, this one according to John, the Lord Jesus indicates what the Father seeks and that is: worshipers (John 4:23). Mary is such a person. The fact that the Father is looking for them means that, disrespectfully said, they are not for the taking, but that they are quite rare (cf. Luke 17:12-Job :).
It is remarkable that the Lord has entrusted the care of the disciples’ finances to Judas. Couldn’t He better have entrusted this to Matthew? As a tax collector Matthew had learned to deal with money. Although a service for the Lord often fits in with what we do or have done in society, that is not standard procedure for the task the Lord gives His own. The fact that He gave Judas control of the finances does not mean that He did so because Judas was a thief. He put Judas to the test with it, just like He put Adam and Eve to the test and just like He often puts us to the test.
If He puts any human being to the test, it is not because He wants to know how he will react, but to persuade that person to show his dependence on Him in that. If man does that, he will accomplish his task for the glory of God. If man does not do that, he will fail to his own damage and disgrace.
Reaction of the Lord
The Lord rightly admonishes Judas. He does not do this by exposing Judas’ hypocrisy, but by expressing His appreciation for the act of Mary in contrast to the hypocritical behavior of Judas. He justifies her act, an act that should not have been stopped. What she did, He worked in grace in her heart because she sat at His feet to listen to His word (Luke 10:39).
To whoever adopts that attitude towards Him, He can reveal what preoccupies Him and thus form the spiritual feelings for Him. Someone who has been formed in this way knows what He is entitled to, without the need to explicitly make His will known.
By listening to Him, Mary has understood that her beloved Lord will die and be buried. He has said it repeatedly, but the disciples have not understood it. She did. She is therefore not at His tomb, like the other women who wanted to anoint Him, but will come too late because He has already risen. What the women intended to do out of love, but also in ignorance, Mary has already done here.
So very few people have felt anything of what awaited the Lord and what occupied Him. How rare believers still are who, through their close contact with His Word, know what He has accomplished through His death, burial, resurrection and glorification, and honor Him for that by dedicating their lives to Him.
He further points out that they will always have the poor with them, while they will not always have Him with them. The poor would always be there and with that the opportunities to help them. He will soon leave them and then they will no longer be able to do to Him what was still possible now.
Mary understood that and expressed it. She has set the priorities correctly. She has saved and spent her money on perfume for the Lord. She did not use the perfume for her brother’s burial, but kept it for the Lord’s burial. He should always and everywhere take the first place. The things that are done to Him are more important than the things that are done for Him.
The Plan to Kill Lazarus
The arrival of the Lord in Bethany did not go unnoticed. The Jews sought Him (John 11:56) and now they found Him. By the way, they are not only curious about Him Whom they have heard so much about and seen so much of, but they are also curious to see Lazarus. What that Jesus has done with him is of course spectacular. They want to marvel at it, as if it were a rare natural phenomenon. It is the kind of curiosity Herod also showed for the Lord (Luke 23:8). Again and again we see that the Jews want to see signs, but without a real desire to get to know Christ.
The religious leaders see a great danger in Lazarus. His resurrection is enormous propaganda for Christ. That is why Lazarus must also be killed. Just like Jesus, anyone who so clearly points to Him and His power must be put out of the way, their way. Every living witness is a thorn in the side of the enemy. Just by his living appearance, Lazarus is a great witness to Him. Without words he leads many to believe in Him. Just by seeing that he is alive, the Jews believe in Him Who has worked this.
Because this faith is based on a sign, the sign of the revival of Lazarus, we must fear that such faith is nothing more than faith in Someone Who does signs. What we can learn from it is that our testimony points to Him when our lives testify that we have new life. Then we do not always have to say something.
The Entry Into Jerusalem
The next day the message came to the crowd that the Lord Jesus is on His way to Jerusalem. He is already in Bethany. That means that He will soon be in the city. The message of His coming causes a spontaneous reaction in the crowd. They have been so impressed by everything they have heard and what many have also seen of Him, that they are going to meet Him.
The homage that the Lord is prepared here is worked by the Spirit of God. God wants to give His Son a public token of honor before He withdraws from the public with His disciples. For this, God uses the general feeling of the crowd that sees Him as the promised Messiah.
By now we do know that the crowd has not come to repentance en masse, but that as far as they are concerned it is merely an outward impression of Him. They have seen how He has provided bread and healing. Their religious leaders have never done anything like this for them, but have only enriched themselves at their expense. That the spontaneous hosanna call is nothing more than an appearance is evident when, a few days later, we hear the same mass crying out for His crucifixion. Such is the variability of popular favor.
All this does not take away from the fact that God, through His Spirit, works in the crowd to give an open and massive testimony to His Son. They take branches from the palm trees which are a symbol of victory. Then they go to meet Him, speaking words from Psalm 118 (Psalms 118:25-Ezekiel :). The word ‘hosanna’ is a Hebrew word and means ‘save please’ Although this word originally meant a cry for help, it seems that it has become more and more an expression of praise, according to Vine in his explanatory dictionary of Greek New Testament words. This is how it is used here by the crowd.
With the words of the psalm they confess that the Lord Jesus comes in the Name of Yahweh. With this song of praise they do not worship the glory of Christ at the height in which this Gospel presents us to Him. For in this Gospel he is seen as the Son sent by the Father and Who comes in the Name of the Father. Nevertheless, in this quote that the crowd speaks, we find a wonderful reference to this. To their praise they add that He is the King of Israel.
All together they pronounce a full recognition of His dignity as the Messiah. It is also good to remember that the confession of the crowd, unfortunately, without coming from an inwardly convinced conscience, is a picture of the repentant remnant. What the crowd says emotionally is what the faithful remnant will say in true faith when the Lord comes back to actually reign as Messiah in the Name of Yahweh (Matthew 23:39).
We do not hear a single word of appreciation or disapproval from the Lord. What we do see is that He sits down on a young donkey and does what is written about Him. Thus, we know that He accepts this testimony from the mouth of the crowd as the testimony that God has worked.
It says that He “found” the young donkey. In other Gospels we read that He sends His disciples to fetch the donkey and indicates exactly where to find it (Matthew 21:1-1 Kings :; Mark 11:1-1 Kings :; Luke 19:28-Zechariah :). The fact that here it says that He finds it, fits again with this Gospel. As God the Son He does everything Himself.
With this act of the Lord the prophecy of Zechariah 9 is fulfilled (Zechariah 9:9). He is always busy fulfilling the will of His Father. He knows what is written about Him and knows what must be fulfilled at a certain time. He focuses on this (cf. John 19:28).
Although His disciples, who truly believe in Him, see these things, they have not fully understood the meaning of what is happening. They may have applauded, as did the crowd, because they believed that He was going to establish the kingdom after all (cf. Luke 19:11). How wrong they too were. They will understand the meaning of the event after the glorification of the Lord. Then the Holy Spirit will come (John 7:39) and He will guide them into all the truth (John 16:13).
The Crowd and the Pharisees
While the great crowd (John 12:12) cheered Him on, there is another crowd that was with Him when He had raised Lazarus. That crowd bears witness to this great event. They have been particularly impressed by that sign. It is truly unbelievable that they were able to see it with their own eyes.
It is indeed an enormous grace, although most of them unfortunately did not recognize as such. What the Lord has done with Lazarus, He wants to do with every human being in a spiritual sense. Let us hope and pray that this wonder of making alive will still take place in the lives of many.
The crowd that has been present at the resurrection of Lazarus is meeting the other crowd that has already joined the Lord. That must have been an impressive procession, all to Christ’s honor, because of the sign He has done. The addition that it is because of the sign, shows that it is only about a spontaneous expression of feelings and not about an inner conversion.
We see here an expression of feelings as we often notice at mass gatherings. There is hardly any room for individual experience of faith. The feelings are carried away by the great event. There is no chance of a personal encounter with the Lord Jesus.
The Pharisees look at it differently. They look at Him with sadness and grind their teeth in the face of that massive rush. It is completely out of control. They have to conclude that “the world” is following Him. Jews from all over the world have come to Jerusalem (cf. Acts 2:9-1 Kings :) and there is also talk of non-Jews in John 12:20. The leaders notice that they have lost their grip on the masses. How powerless an enemy of God is when God takes the feelings of the masses into His hands for a moment to make them applaud His Son.
Some Greeks Wish to See Jesus
People from the surrounding nations also came to the feast to worship. These are not Jews, but heathen. They may be proselytes, i.e. heathen who have come to adhere to the Jewish religion. Perhaps they were only appealed by them, as we can assume with the Ethiopian eunuch (Acts 8:27; cf. 1 Kings 10:1). In the crowd they have heard about Jesus and they long to see Him. This is a work of God’s Spirit in their hearts.
Maybe they have a certain reluctance to go directly to Him and therefore first turn to Philip. It seems that Philip does not know what to do with this question, because he first consults with Andrew. Philip and Andrew have been together with the Lord from the very first hour (John 1:35-Mark :; John 1:43-Romans :). Then they go together to the Lord and tell Him that there are Greeks who would like to see Him.
The Answer of the Lord
In response to the question of the Greeks through His two disciples, the Lord Jesus gives new and special education about Himself, His work and its results. In order to understand this education correctly, we must bear in mind that the Greeks represent all non-Jews. For this reason, the Lord Jesus does not speak of Himself, like before, as the Son of God Who raises the dead or makes alive, not as the Son of David, the promised Messiah, but as the Son of Man Who will be glorified. When He will be glorified as the Son of Man, He will be a blessing for all mankind, not just for the Jews. Then not only some Greeks will see Him, but the entire world (Revelation 1:7).
Before that, He must first die and then rise from death and be glorified, first in heaven and later publicly on earth. The Greeks wish to see “Jesus”, which means that in Him they assume no more than a human being on earth and wish to see Him that way. However, it is impossible to really see “Jesus” as a Man in humiliation on earth if we have not first understood that He is the glorified Man in heaven. And this is only possible if we have seen that He has gone into death.
In view of this the Lord speaks of Himself as the grain of wheat that must fall into the earth and die. That is the condition to participate in His glorification. He reintroduces that condition with the double “truly” and the authoritative “I say to you”. It is also of the utmost importance that He will die as the grain of wheat, because if He does not, there will be no fruit. Precisely by dying there will be a rich fruit, as from a grain of wheat that falls into the earth and dies, an ear grows with many grains of wheat.
That His death is the only way to produce this fruit clearly shows the state of mankind. No fruit is to be expected of man because he lives in sin. Death alone is the answer to sin and only His death provides the way out for the sinner and turns him into ‘much fruit’ as a result of Christ’s work. This fruit is the spiritual offspring resulting from His work (Isaiah 53:10-1 Kings :; Hebrews 2:12-1 Chronicles :).
Those who are fruit of His resurrection will follow Him in His life on earth. This means that a follower of the Lord Jesus will share in His suffering. This is not the suffering for the sake of the sins borne on the cross, but suffering that is inflicted on him by men because he follows Christ. It is no different with the servant than it is with the Master. What the Lord Jesus said about Himself, He applies to all who want to belong to Him.
Everyone who wants to belong to Him must die. This dying takes place when a person condemns himself. He abandons his own interests and recognizes that the death of Christ has put an end to his own selfish life. Whoever hates his life in this world, demonstrates this by not living for himself. Those who do so save their lives until the moment that it will be fully enjoyed in eternal glory.
It is one of the few times that John presents eternal life as a prospect and not yet as the present part of the believer. A ‘lost’ life, a life that is ‘hated’, is a life in which Christ is served and in which He is followed. Following Him leads someone, as it were, automatically to where He is, that is in the Father’s house. There such a person awaits a special tribute. The Father will honor someone who serves the Son. Isn’t that great?
Glorification of the Name of the Father
After this teaching in response to the question of the Greeks, the Lord speaks about the things that await Him. Where He will be, with His Father, is not His direct goal. He is fully aware of what will first happen to Him in the suffering that will come upon Him. When He thinks about it, His soul becomes troubled, it moves Him. He does not think about the suffering that will be done to Him from the side of people, but what He will have to suffer from the side of God because of sin.
Will He therefore rather ask the Father to be saved from that hour? No, because He has the honor and glorification of the Father in mind and he knows that the love of the Father leads Him. After all, He has become the Lamb of God to take away the sin of the world (John 1:29), because sin has dishonored His Father so immensely. His love for the Father brings Him to that hour of unprecedented need, so that God may be glorified in a sinful world by taking away sin and that sinners may be saved in a righteous way.
The Son addresses Himself to His Father and asks Him to glorify His Name as Father. For that purpose He came to earth in the first place. The answer comes immediately. The voice of the Father sounds from heaven. The Father has glorified His own Name in the revival of Lazarus – and also throughout the life of His Son. He will once again glorify His Father’s glorious Name in the resurrection of His beloved Son (Romans 6:4) – and also through the work of His Son on the cross.
The voice of the Father is unrecognizable to unbelief. When the voice of the Father is heard by unbelievers, unbelief speculates about the sound. The crowd thinks they have heard the sound of a thunder. By those who have no connection with God, the speaking of the Father is experienced as a thunderclap. Others go a step further and suppose that an angel has spoken to Him. In any case, they have heard a voice and even concluded that that voice addressed Him, without having understood anything of the words. Still, they too are far away from the truth.
The Lord declares that the voice was not meant for Him, but for them. It has been an additional testimony to the multitude of His connection with the Father if only they would have had ears to understand it.
If I Am Lifted up From the Earth
The Lord speaks of a new “now”. The previously used “now” refers to His coming into the world (John 5:25). The ‘now’ the Lord uses here refers to the cross. If the Father has spoken of the glorification of His Name in connection with the resurrection of Christ, it means the judgment of the world and the ruler of the world. The resurrection of Christ is the proof that the Father no longer has any connection with the world and that He must give out the world to judgment as incorrigibly evil.
This new ‘now’ also has consequences for the devil. He will be cast out (Luke 10:18; Revelation 12:9; Revelation 20:3Revelation 20:10). Although it will take some time before this judgment is carried out, it is fixed by the resurrection of the Lord Jesus. For the believer this means that because of his connection with Christ in the resurrection, he no longer belongs to the area of authority of the devil.
For all His own, Christ when He hangs on the cross becomes the point of attraction. There, on the cross, He draws His own from the present evil age to Himself (Galatians 1:4). By pointing out the lifting up from the earth as the manner He will die, the Lord announces His death on the cross. Death on the cross is the only death that takes place by lifting up someone from the earth. In the same way, Scripture will be fulfilled that He will die on a tree (Deuteronomy 21:23; Galatians 3:13). With this the Lord excludes that He would be killed by stoning, the usual way of execution among the Jews.
The crowd knows that He referred to Himself as Son of Man. That title is known to them from Daniel 7 (Daniel 7:13). Now He speaks of His being lifted up. Perhaps they have understood that He spoke of the cross (John 8:28). They may also have thought of going to heaven because He spoke about that before (John 6:62). In any case, they know from the law that the Christ, once He is on earth, will always remain on His throne on earth (Psalms 89:5; Psalms 89:37; Isaiah 9:5-Joshua :; Daniel 7:14). This does not involve a lifting up on the cross or a going to heaven. So could He be the Son of Man? And if He was not, then who was He?
Their reasoning always leads them in the wrong direction, because they do not know – and do not want to know either – about a suffering Son of Man. That is because they forget what is written in Psalm 8. There it says that He is to be made “a little lower than the angels”, as the Darby Translation says in Psalm 8:5a. From Hebrews 2 we know that this is because of the suffering of death (Hebrews 2:9).
Last Call to Believe in the Light
Instead of answering their curious question, the Lord points out that they only have a short time left to escape the darkness. Now He is still with them as the light. Let them take refuge in Him and walk in the light. Then the darkness of the night will not overtake them with the result that they will become completely disoriented. In His Person they have the light with them.
He summons them to believe in Him. Then they will become sons of the light, people who are characterized by the light because they came forth from it (Luke 16:8; Ephesians 5:8; 1 Thessalonians 5:5). Then they will understand everything He has said and they themselves will spread light to others (Matthew 5:14; Philippians 2:15). After this invitation, the Lord withdraws from them and they can no longer find Him.
The Unbelief of the People
Here it is clearly stated that all the signs of the Lord did not bring them to believe in Him (cf. Matthew 11:20). This is not surprising, because it is foretold. The rejection of Him in spite of His many signs in their presence is a fulfillment of the word of the prophet Isaiah (Isaiah 53:1). In his days Isaiah preached and spoke about the power of Yahweh for the benefit of His people. However, the people did not listen and rejected Yahweh. John now applies this word of Isaiah to the Lord Jesus, yes, he even says that this word of Isaiah now has its fulfillment.
With this quote John asks the Lord, as it were, in amazement whether the preaching of God’s prophets and those of the Lord Jesus in particular have had any result, despite the revelation of the power of Christ to His people. There is an answer to that question. This answer also comes from Isaiah. Isaiah says that God has blinded the eyes of His people and hardened their hearts (Isaiah 6:9-2 Samuel :). This judgment of hardening is the result of their absolute refusal to obey God. They have rejected both Him and His word. This is how it was in the days of Isaiah and this is how it is with the Lord Jesus. The people do not want to believe.
Then, at a certain moment, God determines that the people can no longer believe. He seals their choice. This same word of Isaiah about hardening is also found when the people rejected the testimony of the glorified Christ (Acts 28:25-Daniel :). Thus we see that the triune God is rejected:
1. In Isaiah 6 it is Yahweh of hosts.
2. Here, in John 12, it concerns the Lord Jesus.
3. In Acts 28 it is about the testimony of the Holy Spirit.
Following his quotation from Isaiah, John states that Isaiah, when he spoke of Yahweh, in fact spoke of the Lord Jesus. With this we have a clear and powerful proof that the Lord Jesus is the same as Yahweh of the Old Testament. The Lord Jesus is God and wherever God reveals Himself in the Old Testament, He does so in His Son. It cannot be said more clearly than John does here. What glory did Isaiah see? He saw “the King, the LORD [Hebrew: Yahweh] of hosts” (Isaiah 6:5). And John says here that Isaiah spoke of Him, that is of the Lord Jesus. What a wonderful testimony!
The judgment of hardening has come upon the people as a whole. And it had to come, because although even many of the rulers believe in Him, they do so without really confessing Him. They do not confess Him according to the truth of His Person, because they only recognize in Him someone who does signs. They admire Him secretly, but do not confess Him openly because they are afraid of the Pharisees. If the Pharisees would sense an admiration for Him, they would be put out of the synagogue. And that they wouldn’t risk. The real reason they do not openly confess Christ is that they are focused the approval of men rather than the approval of God. The approval of God is on the second plan, the approval of people on the first.
As a final testimony, the Lord calls that believing in Him is not possible without believing in the Father. It is as it were a summary of His whole service in this Gospel in the midst of His people and the world. It is about His Sender. It is not possible to seek His honor and not that of God. Believing in Him means believing in Him Who sent Him. Believing in Him only for His signs is not a belief that gives eternal life. He who looks closely at him, that is to say in faith, sees the Father Who sent Him. The Lord again places the greatest emphasis on His unity with His Father.
Once again He points to Himself as a light that has come into the world to save people from darkness. This is what happens to everyone who believes in Him. Whoever hears His words but ignores them will not immediately be judged by Him. That is not the purpose for which He came to earth. He did not come to judge, but to save the world (John 3:17). Will someone then be able to reject Him with impunity and pass by His word? No, such a person will certainly be judged at the last day.
The standard by which he will be judged is the word the Lord has spoken. It will be clearly stated in the light that such a person has heard the word of the Lord, but consciously disregarded it. It is the word, the ‘logos’, that He has spoken, not the words. By pointing at the ‘logos’ as the means by which He judges, He points at Himself. He is the ‘logos’, a word that indicates that He is what He speaks. The ‘logos’, that is the Son Who has revealed Himself through His word, judges man. The severity of the rejection of Him as the ‘logos’ is that with the word of the Son also the word of the Father Who sent Him is rejected. The Son, in His speaking and acting, is perfectly subject to His Father. He is so one with the Father that rejecting Him means rejecting the Father.
For the second time the Lord Jesus speaks here of a commandment that He has received from His Father. The first commandment the Father has given Him is to lay down His life and to take it again (John 10:17-Job :). This second commandment concerns everything the Father has given Him to say and to speak. He knows what He speaks about and what the words of the Father mean. He knows those words perfectly. There is nothing hidden to Him in what the Father has given Him to speak. He fully subscribes to those words. He does not pass them on mechanically, but with complete agreement and corresponding sentiments.
He knows that the commandment means eternal life for everyone who accepts it. That is why He has spoken everything in the way the Father has told Him in the personal conversation He has had with Him and has not chosen His own form of presentation. He has not gone beyond the words the Father has told Him. He has said exactly that and no more than that because only those words are perfectly attuned to the hearers.
Kingcomments on the Whole Bible © 2021 Author: G. de Koning. All rights reserved. Used with the permission of the author
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de Koning, Ger. Commentaar op John 12". "Kingcomments on the Whole Bible". https://www.studylight.org/
the Third Week after Epiphany