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Bible evangewomanblogspotcomThe three-year Lectionary that many Catholics and Protestants hear in public worship gives us a great variety of Holy Scripture.

Yet, it doesn’t tell the whole story.

My series Forbidden Bible Verses — ones the Lectionary editors and their clergy omit — examines the passages we do not hear in church. These missing verses are also Essential Bible Verses, ones we should study with care and attention. Often, we find that they carry difficult messages and warnings.

Today’s reading is from the English Standard Version with commentary by Matthew Henry and John MacArthur.

Acts 26:19-23

19 “Therefore, O King Agrippa, I was not disobedient to the heavenly vision, 20 but declared first to those in Damascus, then in Jerusalem and throughout all the region of Judea, and also to the Gentiles, that they should repent and turn to God, performing deeds in keeping with their repentance. 21 For this reason the Jews seized me in the temple and tried to kill me. 22 To this day I have had the help that comes from God, and so I stand here testifying both to small and great, saying nothing but what the prophets and Moses said would come to pass: 23 that the Christ must suffer and that, by being the first to rise from the dead, he would proclaim light both to our people and to the Gentiles.”

———————————————————————————————————-

Last week’s entry discussed Paul’s defence before King Herod Agrippa II, the Roman governor Festus, Agrippa’s incestuous sister Bernice and a group of dignitaries. Paul spoke of his Damascene conversion.

Festus asked Agrippa to hear Paul speak so that he, Festus, would have a criminal charge to put on Paul’s report which he needed in order to be tried by Nero. Paul believed that he had a fairer chance with Nero than he would in Jerusalem, where he had spent his younger years as a Pharisee under Gamaliel’s tutelage then as a persecutor of Christians. Now the Jews wanted to kill him because he had converted to Christianity himself.

Matthew Henry’s commentary tells us that this scene took place two decades after Paul’s conversion (emphases mine):

It was now above twenty years since Paul was converted

Furthermore, Paul knew that it was God who helped him survive in his ministry (verse 22):

and all that time he had been very busy preaching the gospel in the midst of hazards; and what was it that bore him up? Not any strength of his own resolutions, but having obtained help of God; for therefore, because the work was so great and he had so much opposition, he could not otherwise have gone on in it, but by help obtained of God.

In verse 19, Paul says that he did not disobey our Lord’s instructions during that dramatic conversion, which left him blind for three days. That blindness and shock forced him to think about his role as persecutor. He was going from Jerusalem to Damascus to persecute Christians there. He had to rethink his hate, repent and turn his energies towards preaching God’s grace and Christ Jesus with the same strength of conviction. And, with much prayer then and afterwards, so he did.

Paul told Agrippa where his ministry led him, first to the Jews, then to the Gentiles, giving all the same message: repent — (re)turn to God — with commensurate behaviour (verse 20).

Henry explains:

… they ought, (1.) To repent of their sins, to be sorry for them and to confess them, and enter into covenant against them; they ought to bethink themselves, so the word metanoein properly signifies; they ought to change their mind and change their way, and undo what they had done amiss. (2.) To turn to God. They must not only conceive an antipathy to sin, but they must come into a conformity to God–must not only turn from that which is evil, but turn to that which is good; they must turn to God, in love and affection, and return to God in duty and obedience, and turn and return from the world and the flesh; this is that which is required from the whole revolted degenerate race of mankind, both Jews and Gentiles; epistrephein epi ton Theon–to turn back to God, even to him: to turn to him as our chief good and highest end, as our ruler and portion, turn our eye to him, turn our heart to him, and turn our feet unto his testimonies. (3.) To do works meet for repentance. This was what John preached, who was the first gospel preacher, Matthew 3:8. Those that profess repentance must practise it, must live a life of repentance, must in every thing carry it as becomes penitents. It is not enough to speak penitent words, but we must do works agreeable to those words.

Yet, Paul said, the Jews in Jerusalem objected, seizing him in the temple, where he was completing his Nazirite vow, and attempting to kill him (verse 21). Henry points out the irony of the situation, coming from self-proclaimed holy men:

As true faith, so true repentance, will work. Now what fault could be found with such preaching as this? Had it not a direct tendency to reform the world, and to redress its grievances, and to revive natural religion?

Of course, they were enraged because Paul preached that the same promise that was given to Jews was also given to the Gentiles. John MacArthur says:

That was the problem. Verse 21, “For these causes the Jews caught me in the temple and went about to kill me.” You know why they wanted him dead? Because he was offering equal salvation to whom? Gentiles. The Jews could not tolerate equality with Gentiles. And so Paul says, “They wanted me dead because I offered an equal salvation to Gentiles.” They wanted to kill me in the temple. And you remember they tried to kill him, didn’t they, in the temple. That’s how this whole thing started. That’s how he became a prisoner to begin with.

Paul proclaimed that only God could have allowed him to survive his many travails. MacArthur elaborates:

He says, in 22, “Having therefore obtained help from God,” I love that. He always was getting that. I mean when he – when he was in Lystra they killed him outside the city. The Lord raised him from the dead. When he got to Philippi and they put him in jail, the Lord brought along an earthquake and let him out. It’s amazing the man had help from God all the time. And again, here you have the – the tremendous dichotomy of human effort and divine sovereignty. We struggle and work and give and sweat, and discipline ourselves to work as hard as we can to produce as much as we can for the glory of the Lord. And at the same time it’s all His undergirding strength, isn’t it? This is what Paul is acknowledging.

Paul then said that nothing he preached ever went against Scripture, from Moses through to the prophets (verse 22). Christ — the Messiah — would come to mankind, redeem their sins through suffering and rise from the dead, at which point God’s promise of salvation was equally open to the Gentiles (verse 23).

Henry explains that all of this was in Scripture, therefore, it was strange that could the Jews would object:

Three things they prophesied, and Paul preached:– (1.) That Christ should suffer, that the Messiah should be a sufferer–pathetos; not only a man, and capable of suffering, but that, as Messiah, he should be appointed to sufferings; that his ignominious death should be not only consistent with, but pursuant of, his undertaking. The cross of Christ was a stumbling-block to the Jews, and Paul’s preaching it was the great thing that exasperated them; but Paul stands to it that, in preaching that, he preached the fulfilling of the Old-Testament predictions, and therefore they ought not only not to be offended at what he preached, but to embrace it, and subscribe to it. (2.) That he should be the first that should rise from the dead; not the first in time, but the first in influence–that he should be the chief of the resurrection, the head, or principal one, protos ex anastaseos, in the same sense that he is called the first-begotten from the dead (Revelation 1:5), and the first-born from the dead, Colossians 1:18. He opened the womb of the grave, as the first-born are said to do, and made way for our resurrection; and he is said to be the first-fruits of those that slept (1 Corinthians 15:20), for he sanctified the harvest. He was the first that rose from the dead to die no more; and, to show that the resurrection of all believers is in virtue of his, just when he arose many dead bodies of saints arose, and went into the holy city, Matthew 27:52,53. (3.) That he should show light unto the people, and to the Gentiles, to the people of the Jews in the first place, for he was to be the glory of his people Israel. To them he showed light by himself, and then to the Gentiles by the ministry of his apostles, for he was to be a light to enlighten those who sat in darkness. In this Paul refers to his commission (Acts 26:18), To turn them from darkness to light. He rose from the dead on purpose that he might show light to the people, that he might give a convincing proof of the truth of his doctrine, and might send it with so much the greater power, both among Jews and Gentiles. This also was foretold by the Old-Testament prophets, that the Gentiles should be brought to the knowledge of God by the Messiah; and what was there in all this that the Jews could justly be displeased at?

MacArthur reminds us of the symbolism in the Old Testament, which is particularly apposite as we approach Easter:

Have you read Psalm 22? Have you read Isaiah 53? It’s there. What about all the pictures of all the lambs in the Old Testament? What about the Passover Lamb? It’s all there. “And then that He should rise from the dead.” That’s there too in the Psalms. “Thou shalt not suffer Thine holy one to see corruption.” It’s all there. I’m just preaching what the Old Testament teaches.

Paul was not telling his story to Agrippa just as a self-defence, but also as a means of converting him. More on that after Easter.

Next time — Acts 26:24-29

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