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This is an important example of left-wing hypocrisy:

Is everyone in the United States aware that the FBI is investigating Bernie Sanders for fraud?

NBC’s Chuck Todd didn’t mention it in his interview with Sanders about last week’s special elections in Georgia and South Carolina. I can appreciate that the network is proud that Meet the Press is in its 70th year, but, please, give people the full story:

In May 2016, Burlington College in Vermont had to close. It went broke. Sanders’s wife Jane had been a recent Burlington College president.

On June 22, 2017, Politico published Harry Jaffe’s article, ‘Jane Sanders Lawyers Up’, which recaps the background. Jaffe, who has been following Sanders’s career since the 1970s, is the editor-at-large for Washingtonian magazine and the author of Why Bernie Sanders Matters. Excerpts and a summary follow.

In short:

Investigative reporters had been breaking stories about a federal investigation into allegations that the senator’s wife, Jane Sanders, had committed fraud in obtaining bank loans for the now defunct Burlington College, and that Sanders’s Senate office had weighed in.

In May 2017, Sanders blamed the story on President Donald Trump’s campaign manager in Vermont:

Sanders had never responded to questions about the case, but he took the bait this time. Briefly.

“Well, as you know,” he said, “it would be improp— this implication came from Donald Trump’s campaign manager in Vermont. Let me leave it at that, because it would be improper at this point for me to say anything more.”

Sanders repeated the accusation:

“Yes,” Sanders responded, “it is nonsense. But now that there is a process going on, which was initiated by Trump’s campaign manager, somebody who does this all of the time, has gone after a number of Democrats and progressives in this state. It would be improper at this point for me to add any more to that.”

Investigators are looking into whether Senator Sanders’s office used his influence to obtain a loan from People’s United Bank to help bail out the college.

Sanders is correct in saying that Brady Toensing, an attorney who chaired Trump’s Vermont campaign, notified authorities. Politico reports that Toensing sent a letter in January 2016:

Toensing, in an email to Politico Magazine, notes, “The investigation was started more than a year ago under President Obama, his Attorney General Loretta Lynch, and his United States Attorney, all of whom are Democrats.”

Politico says that Mr and Mrs Sanders are now seeking top lawyers:

Jeff Weaver, Sanders’ longtime top political adviser who heads Sanders’ political organization, Our Revolution, confirms to Politico Magazine that Bernie and Jane Sanders have lawyered up. The couple has retained Rich Cassidy, a well-connected Burlington attorney and Sanders devotee, and Larry Robbins, the renowned Washington-based defense attorney who has represented I. Lewis “Scooter” Libby and disgraced former Rep. Bill Jefferson, to represent Jane Sanders in the matter.

It’s now Trump’s Department of Justice that is handling the investigation which could proceed via a US Attorney for Vermont, not yet appointed.

Politico says:

The facts of the case are complicated. They are steeped in Vermont’s peculiar educational culture and the incestuous financial system in Burlington, Sanders’ hometown and political base, where some Sanders backers worry that with Trump’s Justice Department calling the shots, the facts—intricate as they are—may not determine the outcome.

Reporters knew about it a year and a half ago:

On January 10, 2016, in the midst of Sanders’ sudden stardom—just weeks before the votes in Iowa and New Hampshire—the U.S. attorney for Vermont was sent a “Request for an Investigation into Apparent Federal Bank Fraud.”

Backed by six exhibits and a dozen documents, the four-page letter described how Jane Sanders had “orchestrated” the purchase of 33 acres along Lake Champlain in Burlington, Vermont’s largest city, where her husband had minted his populist political brand as mayor. The deal closed in 2010, when the senator’s wife was president of Burlington College, a tiny, obscure, nontraditional school that always seemed to be struggling for students and funds. The letter alleged that to secure a $10 million loan and execute her grand plan to expand the college, Jane Sanders had falsified and inflated nearly $2 million that she’d claimed donors had pledged to repay the loans.

Sanders had “successfully and intentionally engaged in a fraudulent scheme to actively conceal and misrepresent material facts from a federal financial institution,” the letter alleged. It pressed for a federal investigation into potential bank fraud.

However, Politico says that reporters did not ask the Sanders about the letter or exhibits, because they were too intrigued by his popularity with voters.

Meanwhile:

Beyond the glare, federal investigators and FBI agents started to pull apart the $10 million financial arrangement. They showed up at Burlington College to sift through hard drives, audit reports and spreadsheets. They began to interview donors, board members and past president Carol Moore. “I was contacted and spoke with an FBI agent numerous times last spring, again last summer,” Moore told Vermont Public Radio in May 2017, “and recently, maybe a month ago.”

A second letter followed, alleging Senator Sanders’s office was involved:

A second letter to federal prosecutors in early 2016 alleged that Senator Sanders’ office had pressured the bank to approve the loan application submitted by Jane Sanders. “Improper pressure by a United States Senator is a serious ethical violation,” the letter asserted.

It is surprising how far back this story goes.

Before discussing that, however, let’s look at a bit of history. Burlington College was founded in 1972 by a literature professor, Steward LaCasce, who had envisaged an institution of higher learning without walls and with a high degree of autonomy. He started Burlington in his living room with 14 students. Anyone reading this who was not alive then should know that the early 1970s was still a time of flower power and experimental lifestyles which held a lot of appeal for a niche group.

Although LaCasce’s fledgling institution was not known as Burlington College initially, it got its name once classes moved to a former grocery store in Burlington.

When Jane Sanders was appointed president in 2004, Burlington College had 200 students. She had big plans for the college’s expansion. However, those did not materialise immediately. In the meantime, she was proving unpopular with other faculty and even students:

In the four years since she had taken over, two dozen faculty and staff had left the tiny college. The Student Government Association in late 2008 described a “toxic and disruptive environment on campus.” Nearly half of the students and faculty members signed a petition demanding a meeting about the “crisis in leadership.” Even so, Sanders’ salary rose to $150,000 in 2009, according to college records, as tuition increased by $5,000, to $22,407 in 2011, and enrollment dropped to 156 students.

Despite this, she carried on with the support of college trustees.

In 2010, she decided to act on expansion. She planned to move the college to larger grounds, on the desirable Lake Champlain, no less. The local Roman Catholic diocese needed to sell a magnificent building — a former orphanage and rectory — because they needed to fund settlements from child abuse lawsuits:

The property went on the market for $12.5 million. The Diocese took Burlington College’s offer of $10 million, which seemed to be a bargain.

There was only one problem. Burlington College could not afford it:

… the college was nearly broke. Its annual budget hovered just below $4 million. Even at a discounted rate, the land would be an extravagant purchase. Yet Sanders was able to craft a complex set of deals to finance the acquisition.

So:

The state’s Educational and Health Buildings Finance Agency voted to issue $6.5 million in tax exempt bonds. People’s United Bank loaned Burlington College $6.5 million to buy the bonds. The Catholic church loaned the school $3.65 million in a second mortgage. To secure the loans, Sanders assured the bank and the church that the college had $5 million in likely pledges and $2.4 million in confirmed pledges, which she would be able to use to pay off the debt. And finally, the college received a $500,000 bridge loan from Anthony Pomerleau, a wealthy Burlington developer close with Bernie and Jane Sanders.

Yet, landscaping the campus required an additional $6 million:

To many locals, it didn’t add up.

In September 2011, Sanders took reporters on a tour of the new campus, overlooking Lake Champlain.

However, one month later, the board of trustees persuaded her to resign. Financial problems — repayments and unfulfilled pledges — as well as her continuing conflicts with faculty were the principal reasons.

Regardless, it was too late for the college to recover:

Burlington’s free fall accelerated after the board forced out Sanders. The school had moved into the old buildings on its new campus, and though Sanders had budgeted for more than $3 million in renovations, the structures were in need of rehabilitation that would cost substantially more. Unable to increase enrollment to pay for the added costs, the school lost students.

Even selling off parcels of prime lakefront property to developers did not suffice. The college still could not pay off the loans sufficiently.

The bank called in the loan in April 2016. In May, Burlington College closed its doors — for good.

In a 2015 interview on Vermont Public Radio, Jane Sanders insisted she left the college in good financial condition in 2011.

Trump’s campaign manager, Brady Toensing, became interested in Burlington College’s financial difficulties in July 2014, after an alternative newspaper, Seven Days, carried an in-depth piece on it:

The New England Association of Schools and Colleges had put it on probation because of the school’s shaky finances. The college was about to sell off land to defray its mounting debt.

Toensing:

requested loan documents from the Vermont Educational and Health Buildings Finance Agency that had issued the $6.5 million bonds for the land. The August 1 response from the bonding agency produced a trove of documents that detailed how Jane Sanders convinced the bank and the church that Burlington College could pay back its millions of dollars in loans.

Politico says he shared the documents with Seven Days and a non-profit Vermont website, VTDigger.

Interestingly, it was The Daily Caller — based in Washington DC — that first broke the story on March 26, 2015:

under the headline: “Exclusive: Bernie Sanders’ Wife May Have Defrauded State Agency, Bank.”

VTDigger took it from there (emphases mine below):

Morgan True, reporting for VTDigger, went deeper. Examining the pledges Sanders had listed on documents she signed for the loan, True and other reporters found discrepancies and overstatements.

The records showed that Sanders had assured People’s United Bank and the state bonding agency that the college had $2.6 million in pledges to secure the loan. Internal college audits showed that only $676,000 in actual donations came in from 2010 to 2014. Sanders listed two people as having confirmed pledges for more money than they had offered; neither knew their pledges had been used to support the loan. A third donor had offered a $1 million bequest, to be paid upon her death. Instead, the college’s loan application counted it in funds to be paid out over the next few years.

When media contacted her at the time, Jane Sanders gave no comment.

Brady Toensing had what he needed. He:

wrapped these figures and facts into the January 2016 letter to the U.S. attorney and the FDIC, requesting an investigation into what he termed “apparent federal bank fraud.” In March 2016, Toensing doubled down in another letter to federal officials. This time, he made an allegation that struck to the core of Bernie Sanders’ clean-government image. “As a result of my [initial] complaint,” Toensing wrote, “I was recently approached and informed that Senator Bernard Sanders’s office improperly pressured People’s United Bank to approve the loan application submitted by the Senator’s wife, Ms. Sanders.”

Politico says that proving that Bernie Sanders’s office was involved would be difficult at best, adding that proving bank fraud is also challenging:

Charges of bank fraud, say legal experts, are not easy to prove. “It requires that the act be performed knowingly,” says William Lawler, a former federal prosecutor now with the law firm Vinson & Elkins. “Not every mistake is going to rise to the level of a crime.”

As I write, investigators have not yet finished their work. Once they have done so, they will present their findings to federal prosecutors and the relevant lawyers will:

have discretion on whether or not to bring charges.

Attorney General Jeff Sessions and the DoJ would then decide whether to prosecute. Remember that Jeff Sessions and Bernie Sanders were both in the Senate together for many years. Sessions will also know what Mr and Mrs Sanders said about Trump on the campaign trail and this year.

The story is on hold for now but is trending on Twitter. However, it will be interesting to see how this materialises, especially, if, as Politico suggests, Brady Toensing is a successful nominee for the post of US Attorney for Vermont.

The 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 8:4-8

Philip Proclaims Christ in Samaria

Now those who were scattered went about preaching the word. Philip went down to the city[a] of Samaria and proclaimed to them the Christ. And the crowds with one accord paid attention to what was being said by Philip, when they heard him and saw the signs that he did. For unclean spirits, crying out with a loud voice, came out of many who had them, and many who were paralyzed or lame were healed. So there was much joy in that city.

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My previous entry discussed the first three verses of Acts 8.

In summary, Stephen’s brutal martyrdom — aided and abetted by Paul (verses 1 and 3) — caused the disciples to scatter. The Apostles remained in Jerusalem to minister to the converts there.

Despite Stephen’s martyrdom in Jerusalem, which everyone would have been aware of, those who scattered continued to preach the word (verse 4).

Matthew Henry makes this point about the persecutors (emphases mine below):

The persecution that was designed to extirpate the church was by the overruling providence of God made an occasion of the enlargement of it. Christ had said, I am come to send fire on the earth; and they thought, by scattering those who were kindled with that fire, to have put it out, but instead of this they did but help to spread it.

As for the disciples:

They did not go to hide themselves for fear of suffering, no, nor to show themselves as proud of their sufferings; but they went up and down to scatter the knowledge of Christ in every place where they were scattered. They went every where, into the way of the Gentiles, and the cities of the Samaritans, which before they were forbidden to go into, Matthew 10:5. They did not keep together in a body, though this might have been a strength to them; but they scattered into all parts, not to take their ease, but to find out work. They went evangelizing the world, preaching the word of the gospel; it was this which filled them, and which they endeavoured to fill the country with, those of them that were preachers in their preaching, and others in their common converse.

They knew Samaria and the Samaritans knew about Christ:

They were now in a country where they were no strangers, for Christ and his disciples had conversed much in the regions of Judea; so that they had a foundation laid there for them to build upon; and it would be requisite to let the people there know what that doctrine which Jesus had preached there some time ago was come to, and that it was not lost and forgotten, as perhaps they were made to believe.

This was thanks to the exchange Jesus had with the Samaritan woman at the well in John 4:

25 The woman said to him, “I know that Messiah is coming (he who is called Christ). When he comes, he will tell us all things.” 26 Jesus said to her, “I who speak to you am he.”

27 Just then his disciples came back. They marveled that he was talking with a woman, but no one said, “What do you seek?” or, “Why are you talking with her?” 28 So the woman left her water jar and went away into town and said to the people, 29 “Come, see a man who told me all that I ever did. Can this be the Christ?” 30 They went out of the town and were coming to him.

39 Many Samaritans from that town believed in him because of the woman’s testimony, “He told me all that I ever did.” 40 So when the Samaritans came to him, they asked him to stay with them, and he stayed there two days. 41 And many more believed because of his word. 42 They said to the woman, “It is no longer because of what you said that we believe, for we have heard for ourselves, and we know that this is indeed the Savior of the world.”

John MacArthur picks up on the words ‘went about’ in verse 4:

It literally means, “They went through countries and districts.” And it’s used of missionary extensions, and here you have the first missionary effort of the church.

Verse 5 brings us to Philip, the subject of much of Acts 8. Like Stephen, he was one of the first deacons, as Acts 6:5 tells us:

And what they said pleased the whole gathering, and they chose Stephen, a man full of faith and of the Holy Spirit, and Philip, and Prochorus, and Nicanor, and Timon, and Parmenas, and Nicolaus, a proselyte of Antioch.

He, again like Stephen, was a Hellenic (Greek) Jew who converted to Christianity.

The Apostles instituted the office of deacon to ensure that food and charity were fairly distributed in the Church in Jerusalem. Acts 6:1 says:

Now in these days when the disciples were increasing in number, a complaint by the Hellenists[a] arose against the Hebrews because their widows were being neglected in the daily distribution.

Incidentally, Philip the Deacon — or Evangelist — is different to Philip the Apostle. Philip the Evangelist might have been the founder of the church in Tralles in Anatolia. He also had four daughters who followed him into prophesying (Acts 21:9).

In a third similarity to Stephen, God gave Philip remarkable powers. Acts 6:8 states:

And Stephen, full of grace and power, was doing great wonders and signs among the people.

Acts 8:6-8 describes Philip as being able to accomplish God-given signs and the ability to drive out demons as well as restore the paralysed and lame to full health, all of which brought much happiness to the people of Samaria.

MacArthur describes the history of the uneasy relationship between the Jews and the Samaritans. First, there is the statement in verse 5 that Philip ‘went down’ to Samaria:

Now when it says he went down to Samaria, everybody always thinks, “Well, my map, Samaria is up.” But if you were in Jerusalem, everything is down because Jerusalem is way up on a high plateau and you go down to go to Samaria, down to go to Jericho, down to go to anywhere. And so he went down and north to Samaria. Samaria was an area, and it was also the name of the city, the ancient capital of that whole area, the Northern Kingdom, was Samaria. And so he went to this place.

Now into the history:

In the 8th Century B.C., you remember before that had been split into the Northern Kingdom and Southern Kingdom of Israel. After Solomon, Solomon messed everything up so much that Solomon had brought about a fracture in the kingdom and, of course, following Solomon, the kingdom was split: Jeroboam and Rehoboam in the north and the south. Ten tribes went north, two tribes went south: Judah and Benjamin. The Northern Kingdom, by the 8th Century, was carried off into captivity by the Assyrians. And at that time, there were some Jews left in the lands. Most of them were carried off; some were left. They then moved strangers into the land, and the Jews, not being really committed to their Judaism, intermarried with the strangers that the Assyrians put in the land. Consequently, it became a mongrel race.

In the 5th Century B.C., the Jews who had been carried into Babylonian captivity, the South Kingdom, was Judah, Benjamin. They’d been carried off. After 70 years, Cyrus gave a decree they could come back. Now remember they came back under Ezra and Nehemiah to build the temple again, and the walls. So they all marched back and started their building. Well, all the guys in the North who were now half-breeds came down and said, “We want to help.” They were contemptuously rejected. Remember the story? They didn’t want a thing from those half-breeds who had desecrated their Judaism by intermarrying with Gentiles. And that began the rift, and it’s continued even until the book of Acts, and often times even until today.

MacArthur says that Philip was the first to bridge the gap between evangelist and teaching pastor. Verse 5 tells us that Philip ‘proclaimed’ Christ to the people. In some translations, the word is ‘preached’:

Now this is an interesting thing because the word “preached” in 5 is different than the word “preaching.” One is euaggelizo, one is kerusso. Philip – kerusso; that means he “proclaimed”. He was a public herald. There is a difference between an individual presenting the gospel, and somebody who is a preacher, a herald, a public speaker. Philip was a public speaker and he presented, in preaching – look at it – Christ, unto them.

The people of Samaria understood and appreciated Philip’s public proclamations because they already knew something about Christ:

So, when Philip went there, he presented to them that Christ is Messiah. It was a simple message, and they were ready for it. Now, hang on to this point. You see, they had the background to understand that announcement.

Because of this, they ‘paid attention’ to what he said and did (verse 6):

In verse 6, bang, they responded right off. And these people, the word is “multitudes,” with one accord, they had a wholesale spiritual awakening; gave heed unto those things which Philip spoke.

Furthermore, the miracles proved the truth of Philip’s words:

God confirmed the preaching with miracles, so they would know it was from God.

MacArthur points out that these abilities ended with the Apostolic Age:

We don’t have that power today. Jesus had the power to cast them out with a word. His apostles and these two [Stephen and Philip], whom He gave the gift of miracles, had the power to do it. But today, we are the same level as we are when we come to the sick. We have to pray for their healing. And so with demon possessed people. We can’t walk around saying “Alright all you demons. In the name of Christ, get out.” And I think a lot of people today are frustrated because they try it and it doesn’t work. You know, people say to me “Well, I tired to cast these demons out. It didn’t go.” Well, I’ve done the same thing and I’ve tried and it didn’t go either.

There’s a question of the ability to do miracles here that does not belong to us and we have to pray for these people even as we do sick people, because we can’t just walk up and say, “Be healed.” That gift belonged to this age.

He says that there was only one time when he was sure he had met someone — a woman — possessed by two demons, who came out only when she confessed serious sins from her past to him and another minister with him at the time:

we found that we had to pray, and it all boiled down to her confession of sin before those demons ever left. Because I had worked for two hours and so had Jerry, trying to get rid of this one demon, called Decito. And nothing ever happened until she finally was willing to confess some really filthy things in her life for which she needed relief, the relief that comes in confession, and the cleansing. And then it was gone, no problem.

So again, we cannot go about casting out demons, but we can certainly pray for people. And we can certainly confront them with the need for confession and cleansing that there might be no place for demons to occupy.

Next week’s post will feature more about Philip’s ministry.

Next time: Acts 8:9-13

Holy Communion stained glassCorpus Christi Sunday is celebrated this year on June 18.

It is most widely known in the Catholic Church, but some traditionalist Anglicans and Lutherans also celebrate this important feast day, which may include a procession of the Blessed Sacrament in a monstrance (pictured at right).Monstrance stisidore-yubacityorg

Corpus Christi means ‘Body of Christ’ in Latin. The feast dates back to the Middle Ages and became a mandatory feast in 1312. It parallels the Last Supper on Maundy (Holy) Thursday, but is a more joyous celebration and one of thanksgiving, as Christ’s prophecies of His death, resurrection and ascension into Heaven have been fulfilled. He also sent the Holy Spirit to His disciples and the Holy Trinity was revealed to mankind — all as He promised.

You can read more about the feast of Corpus Christi in my 2010 post, which also includes the Scripture reference from St John’s Gospel.

Forbidden Bible Verses will return next week.

In 2017, Trinity Sunday is June 11.

As I explained in 2010, also known as the Solemnity of the Most Holy Trinity, it falls on the Sunday after Pentecost.

Catholics, Anglicans, Methodists, Lutherans and many Presbyterians celebrate this important feast day honouring the Triune God: Father, Son and Holy Spirit.  The celebrant wears white vestments.

That post has more information on the history of Trinity Sunday, one of the major feast days in the Church calendar.

These posts might also be of interest:

Anglican reflections on the Trinity

A practical — and Anglican — reflection for Trinity Sunday

Trinity Sunday — an Anglican analysis of its importance

Trinity Sunday 2016: May 22 (John 16:12-15, three-year Lectionary Year C)

Now is a good time to explain the Holy Trinity to children. The concept of Three-in-One can be difficult to grasp, but one Lutheran pastor came up with an ingenious way of explaining it with an egg. This is foolproof:

A great way to explain the Holy Trinity

I hope that all my readers have a blessed day rejoicing in the Triune God.

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Pentecost2June 4, 2017 is Pentecost Sunday.

This important feast, where the Holy Spirit descended on the 70 disciples, is the Church’s birthday.

The Book of Acts describes how dramatic and pure the early Church was. The more it was purified, the stronger and larger it became.

Earlier this year, I wrote about two of the passages from Acts which are related to the first Pentecost but were excluded from the three-year Lectionary:

Acts 2:12-13 – Pentecost, the Apostles, disciples, speaking in tongues, accusations of drunkenness, accusations like those of hierarchy for Jesus

The first Pentecost was ordained by God to fit into the Jewish festival of the first fruits. When the Holy Spirit descended upon the 70 with tongues of fire, He enabled them to speak in foreign languages. This signified that the Church was not the sole inheritance of the Jews of the Old Covenant. Rather, it would be open to them and to people of all nations. Therefore, the Holy Spirit enabled the 70 to speak in known foreign languages. The Jews assembled for the Feast of the First Fruits could not understand what was being said and accused the 70 anointed of drunkenness.

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Acts 2:33-35 – Peter, Pentecost, Peter’s first sermon, Jesus the Messiah and Lord

Peter, filled with the Holy Spirit on the first Pentecost, stood up to refute charges of drunkenness and preached his first sermon. He concluded by saying the 70 anointed had received the divine gift Jesus had promised them through God the Father and that David, too, prophesied Christ (Psalm 110:1).

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I have other past posts which discuss the significance of this important feast day:

Pentecost — the Church’s birthday, with gifts from the Holy Spirit

Lutheran reflections on Pentecost

Thoughts on Pentecost: the power of the Holy Spirit

Reflections for Pentecost — a Reformed view

Pentecost Sunday — May 15, 2016 (John MacArthur explains adoption in the ancient world)

I hope that all my readers have a blessed, happy and contemplative Pentecost Sunday. This is a day on which to give thanks for the power of the Holy Spirit in the life of Christ’s Bride, the Church.

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Sunday, May 28, 2017 is Exaudi Sunday, which comes between Ascension Day and Pentecost.

My post from 2013 explains more about this particular Sunday, considered to be a very sad one by Jesus’s disciples because He had returned to His Father in heaven.

These days, as far as I know, only traditional Lutherans refer to this day as Exaudi Sunday. However, it was once a widespread term in the Church.

Exaudi is Latin, from the verb exaudire (modern day equivalents are the French exaucer and the Italian esaudire). It has several meanings, among them: hear, understand and discern, as well as heed, obey and, where the Lord is concerned, grant. The French version of the Catholic Mass uses exaucer a lot, as do hymns: ‘grant us, Lord’.

Exaudi Sunday is so called because of the traditional Introit, taken from Psalm 17:1. The two first words in Latin are ‘Exaudi Domine’ — ‘Hear, Lord’.

The New Testament readings for Year A in the three-year Lectionary are Acts 1:6-14, 1 Peter 4:12-14 and 1 Peter 5:6-11. The Gospel reading is John 17:1-11.

Commentary follows, emphases mine.

Acts 1:6-14

1:6 So when they had come together, they asked him, “Lord, is this the time when you will restore the kingdom to Israel?”

1:7 He replied, “It is not for you to know the times or periods that the Father has set by his own authority.

1:8 But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”

1:9 When he had said this, as they were watching, he was lifted up, and a cloud took him out of their sight.

1:10 While he was going and they were gazing up toward heaven, suddenly two men in white robes stood by them.

1:11 They said, “Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking up toward heaven? This Jesus, who has been taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way as you saw him go into heaven.”

1:12 Then they returned to Jerusalem from the mount called Olivet, which is near Jerusalem, a sabbath day’s journey away.

1:13 When they had entered the city, they went to the room upstairs where they were staying, Peter, and John, and James, and Andrew, Philip and Thomas, Bartholomew and Matthew, James son of Alphaeus, and Simon the Zealot, and Judas son of James.

1:14 All these were constantly devoting themselves to prayer, together with certain women, including Mary the mother of Jesus, as well as his brothers.

It is important to know that St Luke wrote the Book of Acts — Acts of the Apostles. John MacArthur explains:

And Luke was closely associated with the Apostles from about the time of Jesus’ death, around 30 A.D., to about 60 or 63 A.D. where evidently he penned this book. And in those intervening 30‑plus years, as Luke travelled in the companionship of the Apostles, he penned what was going on. And the story of the book of Acts is the beginning of the church at Jerusalem and its explosion until it reaches the capital of the world, one of those uttermost parts of the earth, the city of Rome.

Note that the disciples still believed that Jesus was a temporal ruler of sorts (verse 6). Jesus responded, saying that only God the Father knows when that time will come (verse 7). Furthermore, they did not realise the full import of the power of the Holy Spirit that would soon descend on them days later at that first Pentecost (verse 8).

Suddenly, Jesus ascended to heaven (verse 9). Two angels appeared to explain what just happened (verse 10), saying that He will return again in the same way. They were talking of the Second Coming.

MacArthur states the importance of the Ascension:

That means that right now in this month in this year … the same Jesus Christ in the same glorified body that was touched by those disciples is sitting at the right hand of the Father, no different than He was when He left.

You say, “You mean He’s up there in that same body that walked on the earth, that same body that the disciples felt and touched and ate with and talked with, that same Jesus Christ in that same form is sitting at the right hand of the Father?” That’s exactly what I mean. He was taken up. And the proof of the pudding comes in verse 11 when it says this same Jesus who was taken up shall what? Shall so come in like manner as you see Him go. When He comes back He’ll be the very same that He was when He left.

Jesus’s friends and family returned from Mount Olivet to Jerusalem to pray (verses 12-14).

As I explained in 2013, Jesus had told them this would happen. All of His words on this subject are in the Gospels. My post has an exposition of the related verses as well as a warning about putting them into a postmodern context.

Believe what the New Testament says. Christ will come again in glory. Make no mistake. Unbelievers will be shaking in their boots on that fateful day wishing they had never been born.

1 Peter 4:12-14

4:12 Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal that is taking place among you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you.

4:13 But rejoice insofar as you are sharing Christ’s sufferings, so that you may also be glad and shout for joy when his glory is revealed.

4:14 If you are reviled for the name of Christ, you are blessed, because the spirit of glory, which is the Spirit of God, is resting on you.

These verses have historical as well as contemporary significance. Peter wrote this letter some time in 64 AD, John MacArthur says. He explains that was the year when Nero fiddled and Rome burned:

The fire spread fast, and although it began on that day it lasted three days and nights, and it broke out again and again even though they tried to check it.  The Romans actually believed that Nero was responsible for burning their great city and their homes.  Why?  Because Nero had this strange fixation with building, and he wanted to build a new city and so they believed that he burned down the old one.

To divert blame away from himself, Nero accused the Christians, which worked in his favour:

Publicly he blamed the Christians for burning Rome.  It was an ingenious choice, frankly, on his part because the Christians were already the victims of hatred and already the victims of slander.  They were connected with Jews in the minds of most people who had been dispersed in the diaspora.  And since there was a rather growing anti-Semitism, it was easy to have an anti-Christian attitude as well …

Christians perished in a delirium of savagery at that time, and even lynching became very common.  Within a few years Christians were imprisoned, racked, seared, broiled, burned, scourged, stoned and hanged.  Some were lacerated with hot knives and others thrown on the horns of wild bulls.

This is the ‘fiery ordeal’ to which Peter refers in verse 12. Peter then tells his flock to rejoice in the face of brutal persecution, because believers will rejoice when they finally see Christ’s glory revealed.

Going further, Peter says that the Spirit of God, that of glory, rests upon the persecuted (verse 14).

MacArthur offers this analysis:

The point here is to expect suffering, expect it, don’t be surprised at it, don’t think it’s some strange thing, expect it.  Peter has consistently through this epistle said that persecution for the Christian in various forms is inevitable.  It is inevitable.  In fact, the surprise would be if it didn’t come … Godly lives lived in an ungodly world confront that world, and we become a kind of unwelcome conscience that is distasteful.  And, if we name the name of Christ loudly enough, we become offensive.  The goodness alone of a Christian can be an offense to a wicked world.  And when you add to that the proclamation of the name of Christ, we become particularly offensive.  It’s as if Peter is saying suffering is the price of discipleship. 

Also:

In view of our precious salvation, he said early in the epistle, suffering is nothing.  In view of our present situation, suffering is very important because how we react to it determines how effective our evangelistic testimony is.  And in view of Christ’s personal Second Coming and our ultimate salvation, it isn’t even worthy to be compared, said Paul, with the glory which shall be revealed in us.  So, are we are understanding already this far in the epistle that Peter is concerned that we see suffering in a right perspective.

Now for the meaning of suffering for Christ:

Suffering for the sake of Christ reveals who’s genuine, right?  The phonies aren’t going to hang around.  That’s why through the years we have always said the persecuted church is the pure church …

Readers who have been following my posts on the Book of Acts know about the purification of the church through suffering and persecution, from Stephen the first martyr to Paul the Apostle. Peter himself was martyred.

MacArthur explains persecution from Peter’s words:

if you can expect it, you can waylay its initial impact.  It’s part of God’s design.  It’s the way He proves the genuineness of your faith and it’s the way He purges your life.  It takes out all the pride and all of the sort of self, the illusion of self-control, the illusion that you can control your world and all of its responses.  It strips you and makes you totally dependent on Him, and that’s a good process.

The second thing that Peter wants to say to us is to rejoice in it.  Not only are we to expect it, but when it comes we’re to rejoice in it.  Notice verse 13 and 14.  “But to the degree that you share the sufferings of Christ, keep on rejoicing so that also at the revelation of His glory you may rejoice with exaltation.  If you are reviled for the name of Christ, you’re blessed because the Spirit of glory and of God rests upon you.”  Now, just take that little phrase in verse 13 “keep on rejoicing,” present tense, keep on rejoicing.  This is the right attitude in the midst of persecution.  This is the right attitude in the midst of affliction, rejection, anything the world brings against you for the sake of righteousness and for the sake of the name of Jesus Christ.  Any of that which comes against you should be cause for rejoicing.  Remember the words of our Lord?  Listen to this, Matthew 5:10 through 12: “Blessed are those who have been persecuted for the sake of righteousness for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”  If you’re being persecuted for righteousness, it’s evidence that you belong to the kingdom of heaven.  “Blessed are you when men cast insults at you, and persecute you, and say all kinds of evil against you falsely on account of Me.  Rejoice and be glad.”  That is a strange one, isn’t it?  “Rejoice and be glad for your reward in heaven is great and that’s the way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.”  You’re in good company.

Regarding the Spirit of God:

What it says is that when you suffer, God’s presence rests on you.  And God’s presence comes in the form of His Spirit, the Spirit who is glory in His essential attribute, even the Spirit who is God.  My, what a tremendous, tremendous truth.  The Spirit of glory, yea, the Spirit of God.  As the Shekinah rested in the tabernacle and the temple long ago, so the Shekinah glory of God, the Holy Spirit in glorious splendor and power rests upon suffering Christians. 

Now, what does the word “rest” mean?  What is that talking about?  Well, simply to refresh by taking over for you.  Rest, in the sense of refreshing by taking over, by becoming the dominant power in the midst of your suffering …

In the midst of the severest persecution and suffering, God grants a special dispensation of the presence of His Holy Spirit, and He rests on the believer, which means He takes over.  And the mind transcends.

MacArthur points to Stephen the first martyr as being a perfect example. I wrote about Stephen’s apologetic and his stoning in my concluding discourse on Acts 7.

1 Peter 5:6-11

5:6 Humble yourselves therefore under the mighty hand of God, so that he may exalt you in due time.

5:7 Cast all your anxiety on him, because he cares for you.

5:8 Discipline yourselves, keep alert. Like a roaring lion your adversary the devil prowls around, looking for someone to devour.

5:9 Resist him, steadfast in your faith, for you know that your brothers and sisters in all the world are undergoing the same kinds of suffering.

5:10 And after you have suffered for a little while, the God of all grace, who has called you to his eternal glory in Christ, will himself restore, support, strengthen, and establish you.

5:11 To him be the power forever and ever. Amen.

Peter exhorts his converts to humble themselves before God so that He may raise them up when the time comes (verse 6).

We are to cast our anxiety before God, the only One who cares for us (verse 7).

In the meantime, we are to increase our self-discipline, keeping ourselves on the watch for temptation and worldliness (verse 8). Satan never sleeps.

Therefore, we must resist Satan and remain strong in the faith, just like our fellow Christians (verse 9).

God is always aware of those who suffer in His name. He is the God of all grace and will restore those suffering temptation and persecution (verse 10). May we glorify God and His almighty, everlasting power over sin and suffering (verse 11).

John MacArthur analyses Peter’s letter as follows (emphases mine):

So Peter says then that the building blocks of spiritual attitudes include submission, humility and trust.  Now let’s move on tonight to the things that are ahead of us.  Starting in verse 8 we find the fourth necessary attitude for spiritual maturity, an attitude of self-control, an attitude of self- control … 

It means to be in control of the issues of life, having the priorities of life in the proper order and the proper balance.  It requires a discipline of mind and a discipline of body that avoids the very intoxicating allurements of the world … 

Abraham, through the eye of faith, understood spiritual priorities and didn’t get himself tangled up with earthly enterprises

Look at verse 8.  The reason we have to have our priorities right, the reason we need to trust God, the reason we need to humble ourselves under His almighty hand, and the reason we need to submit to those in authority over us and to God Himself is because our adversary, the devil, prowls about like a roaring lion seeking someone to devour.  Peter says be on the alert, be on the alert.  Not only sober minded, not only having your priorities right, but watchful.  It’s an aorist imperative, stay awake, be ready, be alert, watch out.  Now strong trust in God’s mighty hand, strong trust in God’s care, strong confidence that we can cast all of our anxiety on Him does not mean carelessness and it doesn’t mean indulgence.  It doesn’t mean that because we trust God and because we throw all our care on Him that we become indolent and lazy and let down our guard or we will become victims of the enemy.  The outside forces that come against us demand us to be alert, vigilance.  The enemy, by the way, is very subtle.  According to 2 Corinthians chapter 11 he disguises himself as an angel of light and his ministers as angels of light.  He very rarely shows himself for who he isHe almost always masks himself as a religious personality, almost always endeavoring somehow in some way to be able to approach you subtly so that you can’t recognize the reality of who he is

He’s always active and he’s always looking for an opportunity to overwhelm us.  His aim is to sow discord, to break fellowship, to accuse God to men, to accuse men to God, to accuse men to each other, to undermine confidence, to silence confession, to get us to stop serving God.  He’s always after us.  He is called in John’s gospel three times the prince of this world.  He commands the human system …

In another sermon, MacArthur explains that Peter says not to attack Satan but to remain firm on the side of godly faith and truth.

Furthermore, we endure this battle together as believers, trusting God:

Suffering is a way of life as God is accomplishing His holy perfecting work in you.  Just look at the goal, he says, and realize everybody’s in it …

Wherever he comes from and in whatever form and manner, the solution is the same, spiritual weapons, stand in the truth, trust God.  And in my trust in God I go to prayer and I let the commander fight the battleIf I know the truth and obey the truth and commit my life to God, I stand strong.

MacArthur points out that Peter is not talking about daily grace from God but the grace He gives us to resist temptation:

while you are being personally attacked by the enemy, you are being personally perfected by God.  It’s personal. Himself[,] He’s doing it.  Marvelous thought.  He is intimately involved in the suffering of our lives.

God Himself is there battling and through the battle you become perfect, confirmed, strong and established.  Submission, humility, trust, self-control, vigilant defense, and hope. 

John 17:1-11

17:1 After Jesus had spoken these words, he looked up to heaven and said, “Father, the hour has come; glorify your Son so that the Son may glorify you,

17:2 since you have given him authority over all people, to give eternal life to all whom you have given him.

17:3 And this is eternal life, that they may know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent.

17:4 I glorified you on earth by finishing the work that you gave me to do.

17:5 So now, Father, glorify me in your own presence with the glory that I had in your presence before the world existed.

17:6 “I have made your name known to those whom you gave me from the world. They were yours, and you gave them to me, and they have kept your word.

17:7 Now they know that everything you have given me is from you;

17:8 for the words that you gave to me I have given to them, and they have received them and know in truth that I came from you; and they have believed that you sent me.

17:9 I am asking on their behalf; I am not asking on behalf of the world, but on behalf of those whom you gave me, because they are yours.

17:10 All mine are yours, and yours are mine; and I have been glorified in them.

17:11 And now I am no longer in the world, but they are in the world, and I am coming to you. Holy Father, protect them in your name that you have given me, so that they may be one, as we are one.

The first ten verses are the initial part of what is known as the High Priestly Prayer. I wrote about them in 2014 for a Maundy Thursday post, as Jesus spoke the words in John 17 at the Last Supper. You can also read parts 2 and 3.

As we approach Pentecost Sunday, we should find today’s Exaudi Sunday readings encouraging and uplifting, in spite of the worldly and vicious clamour around us.

jesus-christ-the-king-blogsigncomThis year Ascension Day falls on May 25.

The feast of the Ascension is always on a Thursday, 40 days after Easter.

Here are past posts about Christ’s return to His Heavenly Father:

Acts 1:9-11 on the Ascension

A Reformed view of the Ascension (Christ as prophet, priest and king)

Ascension Day 2016 (John MacArthur on Acts 1:11)

I feel bad when I read of people who think this was a made-up event. In fact, I read a post on it just a few weeks ago by someone claiming to be ‘spiritual’.

I hope the aforementioned posts will convince those who are doubters that Christ had to ascend to heaven in order for the Holy Spirit to be present at the first Pentecost.

Incidentally, this coming Sunday is known in the Lutheran church as Exaudi Sunday. You can find out more in the post below:

Exaudi Sunday: between the Ascension and Pentecost

Bible read me 2The 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 8:1-3

Saul Ravages the Church

And Saul approved of his execution.

And there arose on that day a great persecution against the church in Jerusalem, and they were all scattered throughout the regions of Judea and Samaria, except the apostles. Devout men buried Stephen and made great lamentation over him. But Saul was ravaging the church, and entering house after house, he dragged off men and women and committed them to prison.

——————————————————————————————

Acts 7 related the apologetic and death of Stephen, the first martyr.

Only his final words and his stoning are in the three-year Lectionary used in public worship.

Over the past few weeks, I have discussed what he said to the temple court and why.

Stephen, one of the first deacons, was also divinely given the gift of ‘doing great wonders and signs among the people’ (Acts 6:8). He also spoke openly about Jesus in Solomon’s Portico (Porch) at the temple. For this, he was arrested on charges of blasphemy: blaspheming God, Moses, the law and the temple. Acts 7 contains his address and the council’s action against him.

Stephen first got the council’s attention by saying he had revered the same traditions as they and respected the history of the people of Israel. He related the story of Abraham, then of Joseph.

At that point, he accomplished two objectives: holding his audience’s attention and defending himself against the charge of blaspheming God.

As Stephen related his scriptural knowledge of the early patriarchs, he also indicted his audience for rejecting Jesus. His reason for mentioning Joseph was to get them to realise that Joseph’s brothers treated him the same way the Jews treated Jesus.

Stephen went on to discuss Moses scripturally, to show that he had not blasphemed him. He began with Moses’s childhood, then his early adulthood, which included self-exile to Midian. After 40 years, an angel of the Lord appeared to Moses in the burning bush and told him he would be going to Egypt to deliver the Israelites.

He then discussed the next part of the apologetic: the Israelites’ rejection of Moses and their turning to idolatry, which was part of their way of life for generations to come. God had left them to their own devices.

What Stephen did throughout his entire apologetic — case for, defence of religious doctrine — was to demonstrate that God’s chosen people had rejected those He sent to them. Similarly, they had rejected Jesus. Stephen exhorted them to consider those rejections very carefully.

Finally, Stephen had to defend himself against charges that he blasphemed the temple. He ended his apologetic by accusing the Jews of rejecting the Holy Spirit. That enraged them and they took him outside of Jerusalem to be stoned.

Among them was Saul, later Paul the Apostle. Acts 7 ends with this (emphases mine):

58 Then they cast him out of the city and stoned him. And the witnesses laid down their garments at the feet of a young man named Saul.

Matthew Henry’s commentary has this analysis:

Now, the stoning of a man being a laborious piece of work, the witnesses took off their upper garments, that they might not hang in their way, and they laid them down at a young man’s feet, whose name was Saul, now a pleased spectator of this tragedy. It is the first time we find mention of his name; we shall know it and love it better when we find it changed to Paul, and him changed from a persecutor into a preacher. This little instance of his agency in Stephen’s death he afterwards reflected upon with regret (Acts 22:20): I kept the raiment of those that slew him.

Before I begin with today’s verses, it is also useful to look at the King James Version, which adds to the drama of the reality in Jerusalem.

I will be returning to these in the commentary below:

And Saul was consenting unto his death. And at that time there was a great persecution against the church which was at Jerusalem; and they were all scattered abroad throughout the regions of Judaea and Samaria, except the apostles.

And devout men carried Stephen to his burial, and made great lamentation over him.

As for Saul, he made havock of the church, entering into every house, and haling men and women committed them to prison.

As Acts 8 opens, St Luke tells us that Saul approved of this execution (verse 1). We know how on fire the converted Saul — the Apostle Paul — was for Jesus Christ. He dominates the letters of the New Testament. Therefore, just imagine what he was like pre-Damascene conversion. I’ll return to this later, but he was a powerful man, both as Saul and as Paul.

For now, both Matthew Henry and John MacArthur believed that Saul had a lot to do with Stephen’s death.

MacArthur says:

He was involved from the very beginning of this conflict with Stephen …

And Saul was the leader, and it may have been that right there at the death of Stephen, he got the whole deal organized. “At that same time” it says. He might have pulled that mob around him, and the very seed of bloodshed was Stephen was dying, was the thing that really spawned the group of people that followed this man Saul around to kill Christians.

Henry’s commentary tells us that Paul probably asked Luke, the author of Acts, to insert the part about consent in the first verse as an expiation for his subsequent guilt:

We have reason to think that Paul ordered Luke to insert this, for shame to himself, and glory to free grace. Thus he owns himself guilty of the blood of Stephen, and aggravates it with this, that he did not do it with regret and reluctancy, but with delight and a full satisfaction, like those who not only do such things, but have pleasure in those that do them.

Saul wanted to ensure the Church died, hence St Luke’s mention of ‘a great persecution’ against Her in Jerusalem. MacArthur explains:

Now we don’t have any of the gory details of what Saul did specifically, we only have some general terms. But whatever it was, it resulted in the people being scattered all over everywhere and being driven out of the city. He just drove them out, and I am sure that the ones who were driven out were dominantly the Hellenistic Jews, the Grecian Jews who didn’t really belong there. And it may have been in these early times that the whole movement was still associated with Stephen as a Grecian Jew.

They fled to Judea and Samaria.

Only the Apostles stayed in the city. There were many converts in Jerusalem and they needed the Twelve. No doubt, they were also intent on converting more Jews. It could be that, as the Apostles came from the area near Jerusalem and spent the feast days there that there was a certain comfort level. It is possible that the converts who had lived in or near Jerusalem all their lives felt the same way.

John MacArthur explains that a whole host of dynamics were at work at this time, good and evil. Stephen’s death was a turning point for the Church, and Acts 8 demonstrates that. The Church was now largely leaving Jerusalem — God’s chosen who had rejected His Son — for the Gentile world. Also observe that what Jesus said quickly came true:

Here’s what Jesus says to be the pattern of the expansion of the church: “But ye shall receive power after the Holy Spirit has come upon you and you shall be witness unto Me.” Now here comes the pattern. “Both in Jerusalem and all Judea.” Now, Jerusalem was a city in which, which was in Judea, as a province or country. And so He said “In Jerusalem and all Judea, then in Samaria, and then the outermost part of the earth.” Now there you have the outline of the book of Acts. First in Jerusalem, then Judea, then Samaria, then the world. And so in 8, we’re beginning to move out of Jerusalem, into Judea and Samaria; the gospel extending. And the Samaritans, I think, in the mind of God, formed a perfect bridge to the Gentile world, because the Samaritans were half-breeds. They were part Jewish, part Gentile. And so it was a little extension, then to go smack into the Gentile situation … So chapter 8, then, is the beginning of the church moving out. And it’s a sad thing in a sense, as well as a great thing, to see the gospel move out. It’s a sad thing to see the door shut on Jerusalem.

Therefore, although the Church remained there, Jerusalem was no longer the main focus. It was now time for the Church to expand elsewhere, to more favourable audiences. As we have seen in the preceding chapters in Acts, whenever there was a setback, God and the Holy Spirit gave the fledgling Church more grace and fortitude to move forward.

Here’s MacArthur’s take. I like his analogy of fire, very much befitting a discussion of the Holy Spirit:

The Holy Spirit is in the business of turning negatives into positives, of taking disasters and turning them into miracles. You can’t blockade the Holy Spirit. He likes to take those kind of tragedies and turn them into victory.

If you’ve been with us in our study of the book of Acts, you know what He’s done with Peter and John. Every time they got in a hopeless situation, it just was a greater opportunity to preach the gospel. Every time they got into a negative scene, the Spirit of God turned it into a positive. Every time the persecution arose, the preaching followed right on its heels. And God allowed the gospel to reach into areas and the hearts of people who could never otherwise be reached, other than through persecution. It’s kind of like trying to stamp out a fire, and the harder you jump on it, the more you scatter the embers and start fires all over everywhere. And that’s exactly what happened. They started jumping all over the church in Jerusalem and all they did was send the embers all over the world, because that’s how the Holy Spirit works.

Verse 2 tells us that Stephen had a dignified, religious burial. Our two commentators differ in their interpretation of ‘devout men’.

MacArthur thinks that the ‘devout men’ were, in fact, pious Jews who thought that his stoning was wrong. He reasons this from the wording:

If they were referring to Christians, it would have said “believers,” or “the brothers,” or something. But it says “devout men”. That’s a term that has to do with pious Jews. And what it says is this: “There were some Jews in Jerusalem, though not Christians, who still believed that the murder of Stephen was wrong.” That’s kind of nice to know. There was still some fertile soil for the gospel in Jerusalem. The apostles stayed; devout men carried Stephen.

Under Jewish law, criminals had to be buried, although Jews were not allowed to lament over them. Yet, these men openly and emphatically lamented him:

So in a very real sense – and incidentally it was probably very public. What they were doing there was reacting by protest to the murder of this man. Now here’s some fertile soil for the apostles to reach for the gospel of Jesus Christ.

Henry surmised that they would have been fellow converts, which I am more inclined to believe, since Stephen was very holy and had been very visible at the temple during his brief ministry. Also, what Christians would have disowned such a man? Here is Henry on the devout men:

Stephen’s death bewailed by others (Acts 8:2)– devout men, which some understand of those that were properly so called, proselytes, one of whom Stephen himself probably was. Or, it may be taken more largely; some of the church that were more devout and zealous than the rest went and gathered up the poor crushed and broken remains, to which they gave a decent interment, probably in the field of blood, which was bought some time ago to bury strangers in. They buried him solemnly, and made great lamentation over him. Though his death was of great advantage to himself, and great service to the church, yet they bewailed it as a general loss, so well qualified was he for the service, and so likely to be useful both as a deacon and as a disputant. It is a bad symptom if, when such men are taken away, it is not laid to heart. Those devout men paid these their last respects to Stephen, (1.) To show that they were not ashamed of the cause for which he suffered, nor afraid of the wrath of those that were enemies to it; for, though they now triumph, the cause is a righteous cause, and will be at last a victorious one. (2.) To show the great value and esteem they had for this faithful servant of Jesus Christ, this first martyr for the gospel, whose memory shall always be precious to them, notwithstanding the ignominy of his death. They study to do honour to him upon whom God put honour. (3.) To testify their belief and hope of the resurrection of the dead, and the life of the world to come.

It could have also been a mix of new Christians and empathetic Jews attending to Stephen’s burial.

Verse 3 brings us back to Saul and his vigilance and violence in going house to house to rout Jerusalem of Christian men and women.

The King James Version mentioned above says that Saul ‘made havock’, which means laying violent waste and ruin to something, in this case, the Church. Saul wanted to achieve the wanton destruction of Christ’s holy Bride.

Henry gives us a chilling description of Saul, a Pharisee, by the way:

Paul owns that at this time he persecuted this way unto the death (Acts 21:4), and (Acts 26:10) that when they were put to death he gave his voice against them …

He aimed at no less than the cutting off of the gospel Israel, that the name of it should be no more in remembrance, Psalms 83:4. He was the fittest tool the chief priests could find out to serve their purposes; he was informer-general against the disciples, a messenger of the great council to be employed in searching for meetings, and seizing all that were suspected to favour that way. Saul was bred a scholar, a gentleman, and yet did not think it below him to be employed in the vilest work of that kind. (1.) He entered into every house, making no difficulty of breaking open doors, night or day, and having a force attending him for that purpose. He entered into every house where they used to hold their meetings, or every house that had any Christians in it, or was thought to have. No man could be secure in his own house, though it was his castle. (2.) He haled, with the utmost contempt and cruelty, both men and women, dragged them along the streets, without any regard to the tenderness of the weaker sex; he stooped so low as to take cognizance of the meanest that were leavened with the gospel, so extremely bigoted was he. (3.) He committed them to prison, in order to their being tried and put to death, unless they would renounce Christ; and some, we find, were compelled by him to blaspheme, Acts 26:11.

MacArthur says that Saul genuinely believed he was doing the right thing:

Galatians 1:13 proves that: “Just as you heard of my manner of life in time past, in the Jew’s religion. How that beyond measure I persecuted the church of God and wasted it. And profited in the Jew’s religion above many my equals and mine own nation, being more exceedingly zealous of the traditions of my fathers. I thought I was pleasing God. I was so zealous for my religion.” But he was wrong.

MacArthur calls our attention to the KJV word ‘haling’, the antiquated form of ‘hauling’:

He just hauled them out of the houses. It means dragging, literally. It’s used in John 21:8 of dragging the fishnet in with all the fish. Remember when Peter caught so many fish he just dragged them? That’s what he did. He grabbed them, dragged them out into the street, and threw them in jail.

From this, we can better understand the violence of Saul’s conversion in Acts 9. It had to be that way.

Acts 8 goes on to follow the ministry of Philip in Samaria, which we will encounter next time.

As there are special Sundays coming up for the next few weeks, Forbidden Bible Verses will resume in June 2017.

Next time: Acts 8:4-8

Bible spine dwtx.orgThe 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 7:44-50

44 “Our fathers had the tent of witness in the wilderness, just as he who spoke to Moses directed him to make it, according to the pattern that he had seen. 45 Our fathers in turn brought it in with Joshua when they dispossessed the nations that God drove out before our fathers. So it was until the days of David, 46 who found favor in the sight of God and asked to find a dwelling place for the God of Jacob.[a] 47 But it was Solomon who built a house for him. 48 Yet the Most High does not dwell in houses made by hands, as the prophet says,

49 “‘Heaven is my throne,
    and the earth is my footstool.
What kind of house will you build for me, says the Lord,
    or what is the place of my rest?
50 Did not my hand make all these things?’

————————————————————————————————

This post concludes the apologetic of Stephen, who defended himself against charges of blasphemy in the temple court.

Stephen, one of the first deacons, was also divinely given the gift of ‘doing great wonders and signs among the people’ (Acts 6:8). He also spoke openly about Jesus in Solomon’s Portico (Porch) at the temple. For this, he was arrested on charges of blasphemy: blaspheming God, Moses, the law and the temple. Acts 7 contains his address and the council’s action against him.

Stephen first got the council’s attention by saying he had revered the same traditions as they and respected the history of the people of Israel. He related the story of Abraham, then of Joseph.

At that point, he accomplished two objectives: holding his audience’s attention and defending himself against the charge of blaspheming God.

As Stephen related his scriptural knowledge of the early patriarchs, he also indicted his audience for rejecting Jesus. His reason for mentioning Joseph was to get them to realise that Joseph’s brothers treated him the same way the Jews treated Jesus.

Stephen went on to discuss Moses scripturally, to show that he had not blasphemed him. He began with Moses’s childhood, then his early adulthood, which included self-exile to Midian. After 40 years, an angel of the Lord appeared to Moses in the burning bush and told him he would be going to Egypt to deliver the Israelites.

Last week’s post discussed the next part of the apologetic: the Israelites’ rejection of Moses and their turning to idolatry, which was part of their way of life for generations to come. God had left them to their own devices.

What Stephen did throughout his entire apologetic — case for, defence of religious doctrine — was to demonstrate that God’s chosen people had rejected those He sent to them. Similarly, they had rejected Jesus. Stephen exhorted them to consider those rejections very carefully.

In this final part, Stephen had to defend himself against charges that he blasphemed the temple. Therefore, he gave a true, scriptural account of its history, beginning with the tent in the wilderness, crafted according to God’s instructions to Moses (verse 44).

Exodus 25 documents those instructions fully. Although it was portable, God commanded parts of it to be made out of gold, silver, bronze and semi-precious stones.

There was the Ark of the Covenant:

16 And you shall put into the ark the testimony that I shall give you.

On top of the Ark was the mercy seat of pure gold:

21 And you shall put the mercy seat on the top of the ark, and in the ark you shall put the testimony that I shall give you. 22 There I will meet with you, and from above the mercy seat, from between the two cherubim that are on the ark of the testimony, I will speak with you about all that I will give you in commandment for the people of Israel.

God also commanded that a Table for Bread be made out of acacia wood and gold:

29 And you shall make its plates and dishes for incense, and its flagons and bowls with which to pour drink offerings; you shall make them of pure gold. 30 And you shall set the bread of the Presence on the table before me regularly.

Finally, there was the elaborate Golden Lampstand.

God was preparing the people of Israel — His chosen — for Christ. The Table for Bread had the holy bread of the Presence, a precursor to the Christian Holy Communion.

The Golden Lampstand was to be tended such that its light never went out, suggesting the light of Christ: the Light of the World.

Recall that in Revelation 1, Christ tells St John of the seven lampstands: the seven churches.

GotQuestions.org has a good article on the lampstand in the Bible, excerpted below (emphases mine):

In the tabernacle, the lampstand was to be placed in the first section, called the Holy Place (Hebrews 9:2). The lamp was to be tended by Aaron and his sons so that its light never went out. The lampstand was to give forth light day and night (Exodus 27:20–21). The lampstand’s being the only source of light points directly to Christ as being the light of the world (John 8:12; 9:5). Jesus is the “true light that gives light to everyone” (John 1:9) and the only way anyone can come to the Father (John 14:6).

Jesus also calls His church the “light of the world” (Matthew 5:14), not of their own doing but because Christ is abiding in the church (John 1:4–5). A Christian who is shining with the light of Christ will live a godly life (1 Peter 2:9). Scripture is overflowing with references that compare and contrast light and darkness, believer and unbeliever, right up through the book of Revelation. In Revelation 1:20 Christ says the “seven lampstands are the seven churches.” The churches of Christ are to walk in the light of God (1 John 1:7) and spread the light of the gospel so that all people will glorify God (Matthew 5:16).

There is other symbolism in the lampstand: it was made of one piece, as Christ is one with His church (Colossians 1:8); the six branches (6 being the number of man) plus the main shaft equals seven lights (7 being the number of completion)—man is only complete in Christ (John 15:5).

Returning to Stephen, he said that when Joshua led the Israelites, God had cleared the Promised Land — Canaan — of Gentiles so that it could be theirs. The tent of witness continued (verse 45).

What follows are verses of interest about the Promised Land.

Joshua 3:10:

10 And Joshua said, “Here is how you shall know that the living God is among you and that he will without fail drive out from before you the Canaanites, the Hittites, the Hivites, the Perizzites, the Girgashites, the Amorites, and the Jebusites.

Joshua 23:9:

9 For the Lord has driven out before you great and strong nations. And as for you, no man has been able to stand before you to this day.

2 Chronicles 20:7:

Did you not, our God, drive out the inhabitants of this land before your people Israel, and give it forever to the descendants of Abraham your friend?

Acts 13:19:

19 And after destroying seven nations in the land of Canaan, he gave them their land as an inheritance.

Returning to Stephen’s apologetic and the tent of witness, he said that the people continued to use it for worship until the time of King David, who found favour with God and wanted to build a dwelling place for Him among His chosen (verse 46).

Stephen wisely omitted mentioning David’s sins, of which he had later repented. One of these, which relates directly to the history between the tent of witness and the first temple is documented in 1 Chronicles 21, where David disobeyed God and took a census of Israel. God then used David’s seer Gad and an angel to bring the king to repentence by building an altar to Him:

1 Then Satan stood against Israel and incited David to number Israel.

But God was displeased with this thing, and he struck Israel. And David said to God, “I have sinned greatly in that I have done this thing. But now, please take away the iniquity of your servant, for I have acted very foolishly.” And the Lord spoke to Gad, David’s seer, saying, 10 “Go and say to David, ‘Thus says the Lord, Three things I offer you; choose one of them, that I may do it to you.’” 11 So Gad came to David and said to him, “Thus says the Lord, ‘Choose what you will: 12 either three years of famine, or three months of devastation by your foes while the sword of your enemies overtakes you, or else three days of the sword of the Lord, pestilence on the land, with the angel of the Lord destroying throughout all the territory of Israel.’ Now decide what answer I shall return to him who sent me.” 13 Then David said to Gad, “I am in great distress. Let me fall into the hand of the Lord, for his mercy is very great, but do not let me fall into the hand of man.”

14 So the Lord sent a pestilence on Israel, and 70,000 men of Israel fell. 15 And God sent the angel to Jerusalem to destroy it, but as he was about to destroy it, the Lord saw, and he relented from the calamity. And he said to the angel who was working destruction, “It is enough; now stay your hand.” And the angel of the Lord was standing by the threshing floor of Ornan the Jebusite.

18 Now the angel of the Lord had commanded Gad to say to David that David should go up and raise an altar to the Lord on the threshing floor of Ornan the Jebusite.

25 So David paid Ornan 600 shekels[a] of gold by weight for the site. 26 And David built there an altar to the Lord and presented burnt offerings and peace offerings and called on the Lord, and the Lord[b] answered him with fire from heaven upon the altar of burnt offering. 27 Then the Lord commanded the angel, and he put his sword back into its sheath.

Returning to Stephen and his apologetic, he said that it was King Solomon, David’s son, who built the first temple (verse 47). That is documented in four places in the Old Testament, one of them being 2 Chronicles 3:1:

1 Then Solomon began to build the house of the Lord in Jerusalem on Mount Moriah, where the Lord[a] had appeared to David his father, at the place that David had appointed, on the threshing floor of Ornan the Jebusite.

Stephen then gave his audience a warning about the temple: that God does not dwell in manmade houses (verse 48). To support his argument, he cited Isaiah 66:1-2 (verses 49-50). God’s throne is in heaven. The earth is his footstool. Anything man can build to honour God comes from things God Himself created.

John MacArthur analyses this. Ironically, the words in verse 48 came from Solomon himself:

Solomon said, when he built the house for God, “It’s not going to hold Him.” And Stephen’s saying, “I’m not blaspheming the Temple, friends. I’m saying God is bigger than the box you’ve got Him in, and I’m only saying what Solomon said. So don’t accuse me of blaspheming your temple. Solomon would be accused of it, too. Look what he said.”

Stephen’s citing Isaiah 66:1-2 offered further support for Solomon’s words and the fact that whatever we build in homage to God is, really, nothing much in His eyes.

Matthew Henry’s commentary points out that what matters is making God’s world a place that honours Him in all things, beginning with us and the state of our souls:

And as the world is thus God’s temple, wherein he is manifested, so it is God’s temple in which he will be worshipped. As the earth is full of his glory, and is therefore his temple (Isaiah 6:3), so the earth is, or shall be, full of his praise (Habakkuk 3:3), and all the ends of the earth shall fear him (Psalms 67:7), and upon this account it is his temple.

Acts 7:51-60 are in the three-year Lectionary for St Stephen’s feast day, December 26. However, they bear discussion here to give you the end of the trial and what happened next.

Stephen ramped up his indictment of the temple leaders, accusing them and their people historically of persecuting anyone God sent to them up through and including Christ. He charged them with a continuous, stubborn, historical rejection of the Holy Spirit. Just as bad, he accused them of not keeping the law:

51 You stiff-necked people, uncircumcised in heart and ears, you always resist the Holy Spirit. As your fathers did, so do you. 52 Which of the prophets did your fathers not persecute? And they killed those who announced beforehand the coming of the Righteous One, whom you have now betrayed and murdered, 53 you who received the law as delivered by angels and did not keep it.”

That was the final straw:

54 Now when they heard these things they were enraged, and they ground their teeth at him.

Death by stoning was on its way. Stephen became the Church’s first martyr.

Stephen had held a figurative mirror up to them, making them look at their hypocrisy and spiritual blindness. They could not respond in any way other than with murderous anger. Even then, they never repented.

MacArthur offers this insight regarding Jesus’s words coming to fruition:

Jesus, speaking to Israel, Luke 13:28, “There shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth when ye shall see Abraham and Isaac and Jacob and all the prophets in the kingdom of God and you yourselves thrown out.”

See, the Jews had waited all along for the kingdom. They had dreamed of the kingdom. The King came, offered them the kingdom, and what did they do to the King? They killed the King. They forfeited the kingdom. Jesus says, “You’re going to spend forever grinding your teeth at God when you see you didn’t get into the kingdom.”

And in Matthew we have it again, in chapter 8 and verse 12. Listen to these words. They’re fearful words. “But the sons of the kingdom,” you know who that is? That’s Israel, the rightful heirs to the kingdom. “Shall be cast into outer darkness. There shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth.”

Then you go on in Matthew to chapter 13, and you have it all over again. Whenever you hear something once in the Bible, it’s absolutely important. Whenever you hear it repeated over and over again, it is extremely important. Matthew, chapter 13, and verse … 41, “The Son of Man shall send forth His angels and they shall gather out of His kingdom all those that offend and them who do iniquity and cast them into the furnace of fire. There shall be wailing and gnashing of teeth.” You know, hell’s going to be full of mad people, angry people. Verse 50, “and shall cast them into the furnace of fire. There shall be wailing and gnashing of teeth.”

Chapter 22 of Matthew, verse 13, Jesus isn’t finished. He says, “Then said the king to the servants, ‘Bind him hand and foot, take him away, cast him into outer darkness. There shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth.'” You find it again in chapter 24 of Matthew as He’s still talking about the kingdom. Verse 51, “shall cut him asunder, appoint him his portion with the hypocrites. There shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth.”

God was merciful to Stephen before he died. Note how St Luke describes him and the moment before the Jewish leaders took him out of Jerusalem to be stoned to death:

55 But he, full of the Holy Spirit, gazed into heaven and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing at the right hand of God. 56 And he said, “Behold, I see the heavens opened, and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God.”

Stephen was brimming with faith — and forgiveness — until the horrific end. What a role model for Christians:

59 And as they were stoning Stephen, he called out, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.” 60 And falling to his knees he cried out with a loud voice, “Lord, do not hold this sin against them.” And when he had said this, he fell asleep.

In closing, it’s worth pointing out verse 58:

58 Then they cast him out of the city and stoned him. And the witnesses laid down their garments at the feet of a young man named Saul.

MacArthur does not mention Saul in his sermon. However, Matthew Henry states that this is the Saul who would convert and become Paul, the last Apostle, who actually referred to Stephen in his ministry:

Now, the stoning of a man being a laborious piece of work, the witnesses took off their upper garments, that they might not hang in their way, and they laid them down at a young man’s feet, whose name was Saul, now a pleased spectator of this tragedy. It is the first time we find mention of his name; we shall know it and love it better when we find it changed to Paul, and him changed from a persecutor into a preacher. This little instance of his agency in Stephen’s death he afterwards reflected upon with regret (Acts 22:20): I kept the raiment of those that slew him.

Saul and Stephen, incidentally, are the subjects of next week’s verses.

Next time — Acts 8:1-3

Bible ancient-futurenetThe 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 7:35-43

35 “This Moses, whom they rejected, saying, ‘Who made you a ruler and a judge?’—this man God sent as both ruler and redeemer by the hand of the angel who appeared to him in the bush. 36 This man led them out, performing wonders and signs in Egypt and at the Red Sea and in the wilderness for forty years. 37 This is the Moses who said to the Israelites, ‘God will raise up for you a prophet like me from your brothers.’ 38 This is the one who was in the congregation in the wilderness with the angel who spoke to him at Mount Sinai, and with our fathers. He received living oracles to give to us. 39 Our fathers refused to obey him, but thrust him aside, and in their hearts they turned to Egypt, 40 saying to Aaron, ‘Make for us gods who will go before us. As for this Moses who led us out from the land of Egypt, we do not know what has become of him.’ 41 And they made a calf in those days, and offered a sacrifice to the idol and were rejoicing in the works of their hands. 42 But God turned away and gave them over to worship the host of heaven, as it is written in the book of the prophets:

“‘Did you bring to me slain beasts and sacrifices,
    during the forty years in the wilderness, O house of Israel?
43 You took up the tent of Moloch
    and the star of your god Rephan,
    the images that you made to worship;
and I will send you into exile beyond Babylon.’

—————————————————————————————————————————–

Stephen, one of the first deacons who was also divinely given the gift of ‘doing great wonders and signs among the people’ (Acts 6:8). He also spoke openly about Jesus in Solomon’s Portico (Porch) at the temple. For this, he was arrested on charges of blasphemy: blaspheming God, Moses, the law and the temple. Acts 7 contains his address and the council’s action against him.

Stephen first got the council’s attention by saying he had revered the same traditions as they and respected the history of the people of Israel. He related the story of Abraham, then of Joseph.

At that point, he accomplished two objectives: holding his audience’s attention and defending himself against the charge of blaspheming God.

As Stephen related his scriptural knowledge of the early patriarchs, he also indicted his audience for rejecting Jesus. His reason for mentioning Joseph was to get them to realise that Joseph’s brothers treated him the same way the Jews treated Jesus.

Stephen went on to discuss Moses scripturally, to show that he had not blasphemed him. He began with Moses’s childhood, then his early adulthood, which included self-exile to Midian. After 40 years, an angel of the Lord appeared to Moses in the burning bush and told him he would be going to Egypt to deliver the Israelites.

Today’s verses are a continuation of the discourse. What Stephen did throughout his entire apologetic — case for, defence of religious doctrine — was to demonstrate that God’s chosen people had rejected those He sent to them. Similarly, they had rejected Jesus. Stephen exhorted them to consider those rejections very carefully.

The angel led Moses — the man the Israelites had rejected — back to Egypt to free them from bondage (verse 45). Note that Stephen quotes the Israelites. They said the same things to Moses that the Jews of Jesus’s time said to Him. Matthew Henry explains:

Now, by this example, Stephen would intimate to the council that this Jesus whom they now refused, as their fathers did Moses, saying, Who made thee a prophet and a king? Who gave thee this authority? even this same has God advanced to be a prince and a Saviour, a ruler and a deliverer; as the apostles had told them awhile ago (Acts 5:30), that the stone which the builders refused was become the head-stone in the corner, Acts 4:11.

Stephen gave full praise to Moses throughout his discourse, thereby proving that he was not blaspheming him at all.

He pointed out that Moses performed ‘wonders and signs’ in Egypt, at the Red Sea and in the wilderness (verse 36).

Stephen then reminded the temple court that Moses told the Israelites that one day a prophet would come from their midst (verse 37). That was a clear reference to Jesus.

John MacArthur says (emphases mine):

You say, “Well, how does that present Christ?” Listen, they knew everything about Christ, and if they looked at the facts they’d see that Christ paralleled Moses in every way. You see? That’s the point. They knew all the facts. For example, Moses was a deliverer from among his own people, a Jew. So was Jesus Christ. Moses came down from a palace to release men in bondage. He condescended. So did Jesus Christ. Moses offered himself to Israel and was rejected and then went and raised up seed among the Gentiles …

Moses was rejected the first time but accepted the second time, and so will be Jesus Christ. Moses was a great redeemer. So was Jesus Christ. Moses leads people out of bondage. So does Jesus Christ. You can talk about Moses as a type of Christ over and over and over. Moses is even a shepherd. So is Jesus Christ. So Moses said, “You look, and when you see one like me, you listen to him. He’s your Messiah.” And they had looked, and they had not seen. And Jesus said of them, “You are blind leaders of the blind.” They couldn’t see anything. Blind. So the history of Moses is the foreshadowing of the history of Christ.

Stephen continued, saying that Moses was the one appointed to be with the Israelites in the wilderness. It was Moses who received the oracles — the Ten Commandments — which he then gave to God’s people (verse 38).

Note that Stephen said ‘living oracles’, thereby demonstrating that he knew the Commandments are still to be obeyed. Therefore, Stephen defended himself successfully against the accusation that he blasphemed the law.

With regard to verse 38, in some translations, ‘church’ is used instead of ‘congregation’. John MacArthur explains that the Greek word used was ‘ekklesia’, meaning ‘called-out ones’, or God’s chosen people who were called out of Egypt.

MacArthur says that we mustn’t confuse ‘church’ with the Christian church. It’s more of a congregation:

The New Testament church doesn’t start until the Day of Pentecost. There was no church in the wilderness as we know it … The reason he calls the group of Israelites the called-out ones is because they were called out of Egypt, not because they were the body of Christ, the church. So let’s call them a called-out congregation.

Stephen then pointedly related to the temple court audience that the Israelites rejected Moses a second time, turning to Egyptian pagan ways (verse 39):

 Our fathers refused to obey him, but thrust him aside …

This happened when Moses went up Mount Sinai to receive God’s law. He stayed there a long time, long enough for the Israelites in their disobedience to ask Aaron for idols (verse 40). They were so impatient for Moses’s return, saying they didn’t know what had happened to him, that they wanted false gods instead.

Stephen mentioned this as a clear indictment that the Jews had not changed.

MacArthur explains:

This is a shot. “Whom our fathers would not obey.” He says, “You want to talk about disobedience to God’s laws, then check your own history. You’re always going back to the sanctity and sacredness of your forefathers. They were the ones that were disobedient. “Whom our fathers would not obey, but thrust him from them, and in their hearts turned back again into Egypt.” They said “Nuts” to Moses. “We want to do what we did in Egypt.”

Remember what they did? Moses was up there getting the law, and what are they doing? Making false gods that they learned about in Egypt and worshipping them at the foot of the mount where Moses is getting the law. Israel’s not so sacred. Their fathers weren’t so to be esteemed. They sure couldn’t boast of the fathers’ loyalty to Moses or the law. They weren’t loyal to Moses or the law. They rejected Moses even at Sinai. They rejected God’s law even while it was being given. They didn’t even wait to hear it. They rejected it before they even knew what it was.

MacArthur tells us that the Israelites knew what they were doing. Oral tradition about their forefathers had been passed down through the generations, from earliest times. Consider Abel:

Listen, they knew enough of the law to know you don’t worship the gods of the Egyptians. Abel knew that. Abel knew to make a sacrifice to the true God, didn’t he? … He knew it, and if he knew it, he did it by faith, and if he did it by faith, faith is based on revelation. “Faith cometh by,” what? “Hearing.” Therefore, he had to hear something. He operated on faith. They knew to worship the true God, and they knew to sacrifice only to Him.

Stephen went on to describe the Israelites’ heinous disobedience while Moses was receiving the law from God. They constructed a golden idol then celebrated their handicraft (verse 41).

MacArthur tells us that Aaron tried to dissuade them from constructing this calf, or young bull:

He said, “If you’re going to do this, then you’ll have to bring all your earrings, your gold earrings and your gold ornaments.” And it may have been that he wanted to stop them from doing it by putting the price so high they wouldn’t want to give up those things. But they did. Maybe he figured that if I’ll get them to do that, they won’t be willing to. But they did. They brought it all, melted it all down and made a golden calf, a golden bull.

MacArthur explains the significance of the golden calf:

the young bull would be the fact that the Egyptians worshipped Apis and Mnevis, two bulls. One was supposed to be Osiris reincarnated. The other was the sun god reincarnated. And so they worshipped these two bulls, and this is Egyptian worship. They had learned this in Egypt.

This ‘rejoicing’ that Stephen spoke of was more of an orgy. MacArthur says:

the Book of Exodus tells us that they took their clothes off and they were in naked shame, carrying on a sexual orgy in the worship of this young bull. All the time, Moses is up there communing with God. Boy, you talk about contrast, friends. You’ll never see a more stark one than that.

Stephen is just absolutely indicting the land of Israel and the nation of Israel for rejecting God all the way through.

Upon his return, Moses was furious to see all that had gone on while he was receiving divine law. God was even angrier. God wanted to destroy His people, but Moses prayed, asking for His mercy instead. So, God ‘turned away’ and left them to their own devices (verse 42). The ‘host of heaven’ refers to the stars and planets.

MacArthur reminds us:

God said, “I’ll only slay 3,000, and let the rest live.” But none of them ever entered the Promised Land. All they did was live 40 years wandering all over the place. And Moses was so mad he slammed down the tablets of stone and broke them all over everywhere and had to go back up and get another set.

Matthew Henry points out that when God left the Israelites to their own devices:

they walked in their own counsels, and were so scandalously mad upon their idols as never any people were

Stephen, in relating this history lesson, went on to quote Amos 5:25-27 (verses 42, 43):

25 “Did you bring to me sacrifices and offerings during the forty years in the wilderness, O house of Israel? 26 You shall take up Sikkuth your king, and Kiyyun your star-god—your images that you made for yourselves, 27 and I will send you into exile beyond Damascus,” says the Lord, whose name is the God of hosts.

‘Damascus’ in Amos 5:27 is ‘Babylon’ in Stephen’s context, by the way. It is thought Stephen said ‘Babylon’ to emphasise the captivity of Israel.

Henry offers a detailed analysis of these last two verses — Acts 7:42-43. God asked if His people had offered Him sacrifices during their time in the wilderness. Notice how He addressed them as ‘O house of Israel’, implying He had chosen them and they, in turn, rejected His law for them:

No; during all that time sacrifices to God were intermitted; they did not so much as keep the passover after the second year. It was God’s condescension to them that he did not insist upon it during their unsettled state; but then let them consider how ill they requited him in offering sacrifices to idols, when God dispensed with their offering them to him.

As for Stephen’s audience:

This is also a check to their zeal for the customs that Moses delivered to them, and their fear of having them changed by this Jesus, that immediately after they were delivered these customs were for forty years together disused as needless things.

Henry then explains the horrors of the Israelites’ gods and idols, which they worshipped from that point until their much later captivity in Babylon ended. This lasted for generations:

Moloch was the idol of the children of Ammon, to which they barbarously offered their own children in sacrifice, which they could not do without great terror and grief to themselves and their families; yet this unnatural idolatry they arrived at, when God gave them up to worship the host of heaven. See 2 Chronicles 28:3. It was surely the strongest delusion that ever people were given up to, and the greatest instance of the power of Satan in the children of disobedience, and therefore it is here spoken of emphatically: Yea, you took up the tabernacle of Moloch …

Then there is the matter of the universe:

Some think Remphan signifies the moon, as Moloch does the sun; others take it for Saturn, for that planet is called Remphan in the Syriac and Persian languages. The Septuagint puts it for Chiun, as being a name more commonly known. They had images representing the star, like the silver shrines for Diana, here called the figures which they made to worship. Dr. Lightfoot [a Bible scholar of Henry’s era] thinks they had figures representing the whole starry firmament, with all the constellations, and the planets, and these are called Remphan–“the high representation,” like the celestial globe: a poor thing to make an idol of, and yet better than a golden calf!

God’s ultimate punishment was to send the Israelites to captivity in Babylon. After that, their idol worship ended.

MacArthur sums this up for us:

So in a short little statement, Stephen recites the history of idolatry in Israel, from Sinai to Babylon. And you know they had the law all that time? They had the law. All those years they had the law. They had teachers of the law, scribes and everybody. They just kept rejecting, rejecting, rejecting, rejecting. So Stephen says, “Don’t accuse me of blaspheming the law. Check your own history.”

MacArthur says that nothing has changed, even today:

If Jesus had been our Messiah, all of those great Jewish leaders would’ve known He was our Messiah. We wouldn’t have missed it.” That’s one of the things that Jews even argue about today. “Why, with all of the great rabbis and teachers of the past, they would know if the Messiah came. They wouldn’t have missed him.”

That is why Stephen framed his apologetic the way he did:

And Stephen says, “Guess what? You missed Moses. Guess what? You missed Joseph. You never picked up on Joseph until the second time around, and you never picked up on Moses until the second time around.” And when is it they’re going to pick up on Jesus? The second time around. That’s no argument at all. “We would’ve known.” Your history proves you didn’t know. “You do always resist the Holy Spirit. As your fathers have done, so do you.” “You’re right on schedule. It always takes two times to get through to you.”

Scripture says that the second time around will be too late.

Let us pray for those who reject Christ, whoever they might be. Let us pray for them to be delivered from spiritual blindness and carnal captivity.

Stephen’s discourse continues in next week’s instalment.

Next time: Acts 7:44-50

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