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Bible croppedThe 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 23:12-15

A Plot to Kill Paul

12 When it was day, the Jews made a plot and bound themselves by an oath neither to eat nor drink till they had killed Paul. 13 There were more than forty who made this conspiracy. 14 They went to the chief priests and elders and said, “We have strictly bound ourselves by an oath to taste no food till we have killed Paul. 15 Now therefore you, along with the council, give notice to the tribune to bring him down to you, as though you were going to determine his case more exactly. And we are ready to kill him before he comes near.”

—————————————————————————————————–

Last week’s entry was about the heated row the Pharisees and the Sadducees had over their faith beliefs, which Paul had purposely triggered.

The next day, however, the Sanhedrin’s focus returned to Paul. More than 40 plotted to kill him and went on a hunger strike until they accomplished their mission (verses 12, 13).

John MacArthur’s four themes for Acts 23: the confrontation, the conflict, the conquest and the consolation. Last week’s verses showed the conflict. However, Paul saw some of the consolation, as our Lord stood beside him in prison (emphases mine):

11 The following night the Lord stood by him and said, “Take courage, for as you have testified to the facts about me in Jerusalem, so you must testify also in Rome.”

The conflict continues this week with these plotters. Both our commentators say that Satan was working through them. Here is Matthew Henry’s analysis. Older translations use ‘curse’ instead of ‘oath’ in verse 12, which adds to the gravity of the sitaution:

(1.) They bound themselves to it. To incline to do evil, and intend to do it, is bad; but to engage to do it is much worse. This is entering into covenant with the devil; it is swearing allegiance to the prince of darkness; it is leaving no room for repentance; nay, it is bidding defiance to it. (2.) They bound one another to it, and did all they could, not only to secure the damnation of their own souls, but of theirs whom they drew into the association. (3.) They showed a great contempt of the providence of God, and a presumption upon it, in that they bound themselves to do such a thing within so short a time as they could continue fasting, without any proviso or reserve for the disposal of an overruling Providence. When we say, To-morrow we will do this or that, be it ever so lawful and good, forasmuch as we know not what shall be on the morrow, we must add, If the Lord will. But with what face could they insert a proviso for the permission of God’s providence when they knew that what they were about was directly against the prohibitions of God’s work? (4.) They showed a great contempt of their own souls and bodies; of their own souls in imprecating a curse upon them if they did not proceed in this desperate enterprise (what a woeful dilemma did they throw themselves upon! God certainly meets them with his curse if they do go on in it, and they desire he would if they do not!)–and of their own bodies too (for wilful sinners are the destroyers of both) in tying themselves out from the necessary supports of life till they had accomplished a thing which they could never lawfully do, and perhaps not possibly do. Such language of hell those speak that wish God to damn them, and the devil to take them, if they do not do so and so. As they love cursing, so shall it come unto them. Some think the meaning of this curse was, they would either kill Paul, as an Achan, an accursed thing, a troubler of the camp; or, if they did not do it, they would make themselves accursed before God in his stead. (5.) They showed a most eager desire to compass this matter, and an impatience till was done: not only like David’s enemies, that were mad against him, and sworn against him (Psalms 102:8), but like the servants of Job against his enemy: O that we had of this flesh! we cannot be satisfied, Job 31:31. Persecutors are said to eat up God’s people as they eat bread; it is as much a gratification to them as meat to one that is hungry, Psalms 14:4.

John MacArthur’s Bible also says ‘curse’. He explains:

They were serious about it as indicated by the fact that it says, “They bound themselves under a curse.”

The Greek is “they anathematized themselves with an anathema.” They devoted themselves to destruction. This was not an uncommon thing. They placed themselves under a divine judgment, as it were. They invoked the vengeance of God. It would go something like this: if any of the other Jewish vows would be similar to this, this would be a typical one, “So may God do to us and more, if we eat or drink anything until Paul is dead.”

Now, they were serious. They wanted this man dead, and the most stringent way they knew was to take this kind of a vow which sort of bound them and sort of told everybody the seriousness of it. And, they invoked the vengeance of God if they didn’t accomplish it. Of course, that’s dumb, because God may or may not be involved in it. That’s why Jesus said, “Swear not at all, don’t do that. Don’t say, ‘God, strike me dead if I don’t do this,’ or, ‘God do this if I don’t do that’.” Let your conversation be “yes and no” and forget that.”

Jesus said, “Swear not at all neither by Heaven or Earth.” But they were doing that, and they wanted to drag God into it and appear very holy. See? “We’ll kill him or God strike us dead,” feeling they were really going to defend God. They wanted God in on the murder plot …

You say, “Well, why would they react to such a man like this? Why not just say, ‘Oh, well. Let him go.’ Why so hostile? Why so violent?” Because of this, folks: to simplify it, they were the dupes of Satan, and that is the simplest way to look at it. They had been so subjected to the power of Satan by this time, existing so long in a false system of religion based on ego and hypocrisy, that they were Satan’s tools. And Satan wanted Jesus and the Gospel done away.

MacArthur tells us why 40+ were involved:

Well, apparently, they felt that the Romans would not bring about Paul’s death; they couldn’t procure the death at the hands of Rome. And, they realized that they didn’t want Paul in front of the people making another speech, or he might wind up persuading too many of them.

And so they saw they had to get rid of him, but they didn’t want any one individual to bear the brunt. So they realized if they had 40 or more (and that’s maybe an arbitrary figure; they may have called together all those who were interested), but if they had enough, no one person could be blamed for it. Plus, that many could accomplish it without Paul escaping. So they bound themselves by a blood oath, swearing to God that they would assassinate Paul, or they would be willing to take the vengeance of God, knowing all the time that they could get out of it.

They then went to the chief priests and elders stating that they had made this oath (verse 14), and what they expected Ananias and the elders to do: pretend they wanted to interview Paul further, and the conspirators would murder Paul when he approached (verse 15).

It is difficult imagining that going on in a religious setting, but MacArthur gives us the background to the Sanhedrin:

Now, the chief priests of the Sanhedrin were the Sadducees. The Sadducees party was the most antagonistic to Paul. Do you remember for what reason? Because Paul taught the resurrection and they were anti-resurrectionists. And so, these conspirators went to the leaders of the Sanhedrin, the top guys, and they said, “Look, we have bound ourselves under a great curse that we will not eat anything until we have slain Paul.”

Now, why would they bother to tell the Sadducees? Because they could get a hearing. They’d get somebody to listen to them who would agree, and they wanted to enlist the support of the Council.

It’s interesting, I think, to just note the fact that the conspirators, the 40-plus, knew that the leadership of Israel was so morally rotten that they were willing to advertise a murder. Can you imagine going and taking a group of murderers up to the Supreme Court and telling them that you’d like their cooperation in a murder?

Well, that’s part of it. But, they were not only the judicial heads of the country; they were the spiritual leaders, so corrupted that justice was corrupted, and spiritual truth was corrupted to the place where they could be enlisted in a murderous assassination. And they knew they’d get a hearing, and had no fears that they would be prosecuted for such a thing as attempted murder – or whatever.

Even knowing that, the plotters were bold as brass dictating to their superiors. What a den of vipers the Sanhedrin was.

Forbidden Bible Verses continues in the New Year.

Next time — Acts 23:16-22

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advent wreath stjohnscamberwellorgauDecember 15, 2018 is the Third Sunday of Advent, also known as Gaudete Sunday, because of its joyful themes in anticipating the birth of our Lord and Saviour, Jesus Christ.

On Gaudete Sunday, a traditional celebrant will wear a rose vestment to symbolise joy.

I wrote about this particular Sunday at length last year. Readers might find the origin of Gaudete Sunday — and the earlier beginning of Advent centuries ago — useful:

Gaudete Sunday: readings for the Third Sunday of Advent — Year B

This Advent, the beginning of the Church year, we are in Year C.

Most churches will probably only select one of the following readings — including the Epistle — followed by the Gospel.

Emphases mine below.

First reading

Zephaniah foretells the deliverance of Israel and prophesies that salvation — via Jesus — is coming.

Zephaniah 3:14-20

3:14 Sing aloud, O daughter Zion; shout, O Israel! Rejoice and exult with all your heart, O daughter Jerusalem!

3:15 The LORD has taken away the judgments against you, he has turned away your enemies. The king of Israel, the LORD, is in your midst; you shall fear disaster no more.

3:16 On that day it shall be said to Jerusalem: Do not fear, O Zion; do not let your hands grow weak.

3:17 The LORD, your God, is in your midst, a warrior who gives victory; he will rejoice over you with gladness, he will renew you in his love; he will exult over you with loud singing

3:18 as on a day of festival. I will remove disaster from you, so that you will not bear reproach for it.

3:19 I will deal with all your oppressors at that time. And I will save the lame and gather the outcast, and I will change their shame into praise and renown in all the earth.

3:20 At that time I will bring you home, at the time when I gather you; for I will make you renowned and praised among all the peoples of the earth, when I restore your fortunes before your eyes, says the LORD.

Second reading

The reading from Isaiah is similar to that of Zephaniah in that God will grant His faithful eternal salvation through His Son, Jesus Christ.

Isaiah 12:2-6

12:2 Surely God is my salvation; I will trust, and will not be afraid, for the LORD GOD is my strength and my might; he has become my salvation.

12:3 With joy you will draw water from the wells of salvation.

12:4 And you will say in that day: Give thanks to the LORD, call on his name; make known his deeds among the nations; proclaim that his name is exalted.

12:5 Sing praises to the LORD, for he has done gloriously; let this be known in all the earth.

12:6 Shout aloud and sing for joy, O royal Zion, for great in your midst is the Holy One of Israel.

Epistle

Paul exhorted the Philippians to be joyful, as the Lord was with them. Verse 4 is the default recessional blessing in Anglican — including Episcopalian — services, a favourite of mine.

Philippians 4:4-7

4:4 Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice.

4:5 Let your gentleness be known to everyone. The Lord is near.

4:6 Do not worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.

4:7 And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

Gospel

The reading from Luke is about John the Baptist’s ministry in anticipation of Jesus, calling for repentance and charity, both of which characterise Advent.

Luke 3:7-18

3:7 John said to the crowds that came out to be baptized by him, “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come?

3:8 Bear fruits worthy of repentance. Do not begin to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our ancestor’; for I tell you, God is able from these stones to raise up children to Abraham.

3:9 Even now the ax is lying at the root of the trees; every tree therefore that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.”

3:10 And the crowds asked him, “What then should we do?”

3:11 In reply he said to them, “Whoever has two coats must share with anyone who has none; and whoever has food must do likewise.”

3:12 Even tax collectors came to be baptized, and they asked him, “Teacher, what should we do?”

3:13 He said to them, “Collect no more than the amount prescribed for you.”

3:14 Soldiers also asked him, “And we, what should we do?” He said to them, “Do not extort money from anyone by threats or false accusation, and be satisfied with your wages.”

3:15 As the people were filled with expectation, and all were questioning in their hearts concerning John, whether he might be the Messiah,

3:16 John answered all of them by saying, “I baptize you with water; but one who is more powerful than I is coming; I am not worthy to untie the thong of his sandals. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire.

3:17 His winnowing fork is in his hand, to clear his threshing floor and to gather the wheat into his granary; but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire.”

3:18 So, with many other exhortations, he proclaimed the good news to the people.

Christmas nears. Joy increases in people’s hearts. The Christ Child is about to be born. The world will soon rejoice.

Two ELCA — Evangelical Lutheran Church in America — pastors have been in the news this month.

Adult content follows — discretion advised.

On Tuesday, December 4, 2018, Big League Politics reported on a story that first appeared in the Christian Post about the Revd Nadia Bolz-Weber who:

is protesting the “evangelical purity culture,” also known as “adherence to the scripture,” and sometimes even “Christianity.” Her plan is to “take down” the church’s teaching about sex, which makes one wonder why she became a pastor in the first place.

This month, she is asking girls to send her their purity rings so that they can be melted down to make a golden vagina:

Mail in your purity rings to be melted down into a special sculpture. In return you’ll receive a Certificate of Impurity, an “Impurity” ring, and the support of all those ready to support a sexual reformation!

Big League Politics tells us:

“This thing about women that the church has tried to hide and control and that is a canvas on which other people can write their own righteousness ― it’s actually ours,” Bolz-Weber reportedly said to HuffPost. “This part of me is mine and I get to determine what is good for it and if it’s beautiful and how I use it in the world.”

The Christian Post article says that one pastor left the ELCA, he was so disgusted by this and similar clerical goings-on (emphases mine):

Rev. Tom Brock, formerly of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, crushed Bolz-Weber on his blog. He left the church over its liberal stances on abortion and same-sex marriage.

“Instead of disciplining this heretical pastor, the ELCA invites her to speak at events,” he said. “I am part of a clergy Facebook page for ELCA and former ELCA pastors and it is tragic to see some of them defend all this.”

Bolz-Weber’s website’s About page has a potted autobiography:

NADIA BOLZ-WEBER first hit the New York Times list with her 2013 memoir—the bitingly honest and inspiring Pastrix: The Cranky, Beautiful Faith of a Sinner & Saint followed by the critically acclaimed New York Times bestseller Accidental Saints in 2015. A former stand-up comic and a recovering alcoholic, Bolz-Weber is the founder and former pastor of a Lutheran congregation in Denver, House for All Sinners and Saints. She speaks at colleges and conferences around the globe.

Big League Politics says:

Bolz-Weber’s behavior is simply the effect of modern liberalism on the church, which tends to preach God’s love and acceptance, forgetting that a large portion of the bible teaches God’s wrath and anger with the wicked.

Their second ELCA clergyman up for examination is the Revd Steven Sabin:

On Monday, December 10, Big League Politics reported on the pastor, who is from San Francisco:

A gay Lutheran Pastor with a history of fighting for gay rights within the church was arrested for possession of child pornography in mid November.

“The Reverend Steven Sabin, pastor at Christ Church Lutheran at Quintara Street and 20th Avenue, was arrested November 15 on three felony charges,” according to Bay Area Reporter. 

Sabin pleaded not guilt to one count of distribution of child pornography and two counts of possession or control of child pornography. According to a San Francisco Police Department news release, the investigators “located a cellphone belonging to Sabin, which contained hundreds of child pornography videos and images depicting juvenile minors being sexually abused. During a subsequent search, investigators found that Sabin was storing child pornography on a cloud storage application.”

The pastor has since been released on bail while he awaits a Dec. 19 pre-trial hearing.

The article says that, in 1998, before the ELCA went off-piste, they expelled Sabin for coming out of the closet. Sabin then joined an offshoot of the ELCA, Christ Church Lutheran. Fortunately, Christ Church Lutheran San Francisco took the child pornography charges seriously and issued this announcement:

We have learned of the arrest of Steve Sabin, who will no longer serve as pastor of Christ Church Lutheran. We are concerned for and ask for prayers for all affected, including all victims of sexual misconduct and for the people of the congregation of Christ Church. We will cooperate fully with law enforcement. We have zero tolerance for clergy sexual misconduct and are committed to providing safe spaces for all children and youth in our church.

Big League Politics points out that the ELCA has gone off the rails over the past two decades:

The ELCA, from which Sabin was booted for being gay, now accepts openly gay pastors, even one who teaches “sex positivity” and is asking young women to send her their purity rings so she can mold them into a large golden vagina. Needless to say, this is contrary to biblical teachings.

Absolutely.

Those looking for a church, especially parents with children, need to exercise caution and pray for discernment.

Before we get too far into Advent and Sunday School comes to a close until the New Year, I would like to point out that candy canes can be a useful teaching tool in telling the Nativity story.

The secular assault on Christmas might have lessened somewhat since President Trump was elected to office, however, there are probably a number of state schools in the US that forbid anything that even hints at the religious, e.g. candy canes and Christmas bell sugar cookies. A 2009 article from American Thinker, ‘Criminalizing Christmas Cookies, Candy Canes and Crèches’, has probably aged well. Please do read it.

So, it would seem that some children are left with learning about the Nativity story at home or in Sunday School. Enter the candy cane. Enterprising mothers and Sunday School teachers might like to make a meringue version for children.

One of my readers writes from the perspective of her golden retriever, Brodie. In 2016, she posted on the ever-popular candy cane:

and by the way here’s the history of the beloved ‘J’ shape like a shepherds crook…so the back story of the candy cane is spiritual and came in celebration of the nativity.

The link, on WhyChristmas?, explores the legend, history and symbolism behind this sweet December treat. There’s a lovely bit in the third paragraph for Sunday School teachers and Christian parents (emphases mine below):

A story says that a choirmaster, in 1670, was worried about the children sitting quietly all through the long Christmas nativity service. So he gave them something to eat to keep them quiet! As he wanted to remind them of Christmas, he made them into a ‘J’ shape like a shepherds crook, to remind them of the shepherds that visited the baby Jesus at the first Christmas. However, the earliest records of ‘candy canes’ comes from over 200 years later, so the story, although rather nice, probably isn’t true!

Sometime around 1900 the red stripes were added and they were flavored with peppermint or wintergreen.

Sometimes other Christian meanings are giving to the parts of the canes. The ‘J’ can also mean Jesus. The white of the cane can represent the purity of Jesus Christ and the red stripes are for the blood he shed when he died on the cross. The peppermint flavor can represent the hyssop plant that was used for purifying in the Bible.

So, although this symbolism is not a fact about the candy cane, it can be used to tell a child about the Nativity.

NoelNoelNoel elaborates on the religious symbolism sometimes associated with the candy cane:

Many people have given religious meaning to the shape and form of the candy cane. It is said that its shape is like the letter “J” in Jesus’ name. It is also in the shape of the shepherds’ crook, symbolic of how Jesus, like the “Good Shepherd” watches over his children like little lambs. It is a hard candy, solid like a “rock”, the foundation of the Church. The flavor of peppermint is similar to another member of the mint family, hyssop. In the Old Testament hyssop was used for purification and sacrifice, and this is said to symbolize the purity of Jesus and the sacrifice he made.

Some say the white of the candy cane represents the purity of Jesus and his virgin birth. The bold red stripe represents God’s love. The three fine stripes are said by some to represent the Holy Trinity: the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Others say they represent the blood spilled at the beating Jesus received at the hands of the Roman soldiers.

Angie from Chocolate Candy Mall posted a story about the candy cane legend of the choirmaster and included a religious poem, perfect for children:

Look at the Candy Cane
What do you see?
Stripes that are red
Like the blood shed for me
White is for my Savior
Who’s sinless and pure!
“J” is for Jesus,
My Lord, that’s for sure!
Turn it around
And a staff you will see
Jesus my shepherd
Was born for Me!

Angie says:

In spite of the fact that the legend is more like folklore, the candy cane can be used in a beautiful way to represent the love and sacrifice of Our Lord Jesus Christ

Short and sweet, isn’t it? Okay, back to the Legend of the Candy Cane story – Whether or not this tale is the true candy cane meaning, it presents us as believers with a simple opportunity to share a little bit of the Gospel story with those we meet during the Christmas season.

May the Lord bless you as you share your faith in Christ with others!

Let us now look at how the candy cane probably developed throughout history. They were likely to have been white sugary sticks in the 1800s, as NoelNoelNoel explains:

The use of candy canes on Christmas trees made its way to America by the 1800’s, however during this time they were still pure white.

In the United States during that time, Today I Found Out tells us that candy canes were part of Christmas tree decorations:

the first known candy cane that popped up in America was also supposedly thanks to a German immigrant, August Imgard, who used the candy cane for this purpose- decorating a Christmas tree in his home in Wooster, Ohio.

If he made crooks, he would have had to be very careful. Crooks became widespread only in the 20th century, for reasons stated below.

Therefore, I will work on the assumption that most of what appeared in this era were straight, white, sticks — possibly, although not always, flavoured with peppermint or wintergreen.

Old Christmas cards provide evidence of what shape and colour the peppermint sticks were. The familiar stripes did not appear until the 20th century:

Evidence, such as Christmas cards from the late 19th century, seems to indicate people were still going with the all-white candy cane at this point. Then in the early 20th century there started to be many instances of candy canes showing up on Christmas cards with red stripes.

Given candy canes were used as much for decoration as eating at this time, it’s not surprising that somebody got the bright idea to put a colorful stripe on them. It should also be noted that a little over a half century or so before stripes were known to be added to candy canes, there is a reference of white peppermint candy sticks with colored stripes added.

WhyChristmas? says that the candy cane we know today came about around 1920 when:

Bob McCormack, from Georgia, USA, started making canes for his friends and family. They became more and more popular and he started his own business called Bob’s Candies.

Today I Found Out has more about the stripes:

who first got that idea to make striped candy canes is still a mystery. Some say it was candy maker Bob McCormack in the 1920s. McCormick’s company by the late 1950s would become one of the world’s largest peppermint candy cane producers, selling about a half a million candy canes per day at their peak. But it may well be that McCormick simply popularized the striping practice, rather than invented it. One thing is for sure, this idea spread like a wildfire and soon a red stripe on a candy cane was near universal, as was peppermint flavoring …

As for the crook:

the cane had to be manually bent when it was still warm/soft coming off the assembly line, usually using a wooden mold or the like.

This proved to be problematic for Bob McCormack on the production line:

McCormack was having trouble at the time because about 22% of the candy canes produced by Bob and his crew were ending up in the trash as they broke during the bending process.

Fortunately, the good Lord blessed McCormack with a splendid brother-in-law. Not only was he a Catholic priest, he was also an inventor. WhyChristmas? says:

Bob McCormack’s brother-in-law, Gregory Harding Keller, who was a Catholic priest, invented the ‘Keller Machine’ that made turning straight candy sticks into curved candy canes automatically!

Today I Found Out adds:

Keller’s machine automated this process and shortly thereafter was perfected by Dick Driskell and Jimmy Spratling, both of which worked for Bob McCormack. This made it so the candy canes came out perfect nearly every time.

WhyChristmas? says:

In 2005, Bob’s Candies was bought by Farley and Sathers but they still make candy canes!

So, there you have the story behind candy canes, with a Christian twist.

If anyone has used the candy cane in a Sunday School lesson, please feel free to share your experience below!

Bible penngrovechurchofchristorgThe 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 23:6-11

Now when Paul perceived that one part were Sadducees and the other Pharisees, he cried out in the council, “Brothers, I am a Pharisee, a son of Pharisees. It is with respect to the hope and the resurrection of the dead that I am on trial.” And when he had said this, a dissension arose between the Pharisees and the Sadducees, and the assembly was divided. For the Sadducees say that there is no resurrection, nor angel, nor spirit, but the Pharisees acknowledge them all. Then a great clamor arose, and some of the scribes of the Pharisees’ party stood up and contended sharply, “We find nothing wrong in this man. What if a spirit or an angel spoke to him?” 10 And when the dissension became violent, the tribune, afraid that Paul would be torn to pieces by them, commanded the soldiers to go down and take him away from among them by force and bring him into the barracks.

11 The following night the Lord stood by him and said, “Take courage, for as you have testified to the facts about me in Jerusalem, so you must testify also in Rome.”

——————————————————————————————————-

Poor Paul. In last week’s entry Ananias the high priest illegally ordered him struck on the mouth — a painful punch or blow with a club or rod — for saying that he had lived his life in good conscience before God. The Sanhedrin then accused Paul of showing disrespect to Ananias, whom he said he did not recognise as the high priest. This was because they were hastily called to Fort Antonia and were not in their usual ceremonial robes. It could also be that Paul did not wish to recognise a scoundrel of a high priest and/or he was affected by bad eyesight, a real possibility.

Under Mosaic law, Paul was wrong and Ananias was wrong in equal measure. Both had violated the law of Jewish conduct.

I cited John MacArthur’s four themes for Acts 23: the confrontation, the conflict, the conquest and the consolation. Last week’s verses showed the confrontation.

Today’s verses show the conflict as the tension briefly moves away from Paul to a dispute between the Pharisees, of which Paul was one, and the Sadducees, who were not at all spiritual in their theological outlook.

Matthew Henry summarises this beautifully (emphases mine):

Many are the troubles of the righteous, but some way or other the Lord delivereth them out of them all. Paul owned he had experienced the truth of this in the persecutions he had undergone among the Gentiles (see 2 Timothy 3:11): Out of them all the Lord delivered me. And now he finds that he who has delivered does and will deliver. He that delivered him in the foregoing chapter from the tumult of the people here delivers him from that of the elders.

Did Paul deliberately cause the division when he announced that he was a Pharisee to take the heat off himself (verse 6)? Matthew Henry answers in the affirmative:

The great council was made up of Sadducees and Pharisees, and Paul perceived it. He knew the characters of many of them ever since he lived among them, and saw those among them whom he knew to be Sadducees, and others whom he knew to be Pharisees …

So does John MacArthur:

So you know what Paul did? He just turned the whole Sanhedrin on itself. Revolution. Civil war. He just calmly stood there while they started the fight. You see, the real issue at stake was Paul had given his testimony, and Paul declared in his testimony that he was going down the Damascus Road and who spoke to him? Jesus of Nazareth. Well, if Jesus of Nazareth spoke to him, that meant Jesus of Nazareth was alive, right? So what was that saying? Resurrection.

Paul further triggered the Sadducees by mentioning that he believed in the resurrection of the dead, which the Pharisees did. With that, the quarrelling between the two religious groups began (verse 7).

Luke, the author of Acts, summarised the theological differences concisely (verse 8), so that the reader would understand.

The dissension escalated when some of the scribes — who were Pharisees — posited that Paul might have received a message from an angel or a spirit (verse 9). Hearing that enraged the Sadducees, who believed in neither. This does not mean that the scribes became Paul’s defenders after this: far from it, as we see in Acts 24. Despite this, Henry thinks that some of the Pharisees seriously thought about Paul’s defence of his faith:

We will hope that some of them at least did henceforward conceive a better opinion of Paul than they had had, and were favourable to him, having had such a satisfactory account both of his conversation in all good conscience and of his faith touching another world …

The arguments between the Sadducees and the Pharisees became so violent that the Roman tribune — commander — was concerned for Paul’s life, so he had his soldiers remove Paul by force and return him to the barracks (verse 10).

MacArthur sees this as providential:

The Romans to the rescue; the second time in two chapters. Amazing, God has superintended them. The whole of the nation of Israel is thrown into confusion, and he’s got the whole Roman army on the side of Paul.

As Henry points out, Paul was truly alone during this prolonged ordeal, with none of his Christian convert friends coming to his aid. Perhaps they were too afraid or perhaps they tried, but were not allowed admittance to see him:

The chief captain had rescued him out of the hands of cruel men, but still he had him in custody, and what might be the issue he could not tell. The castle was indeed a protection to him, but withal it was a confinement; and, as it was now his preservation from so great a death, it might be his reservation for a greater. We do not find that any of the apostles or elders at Jerusalem came to him; either they had not courage or they had not admission.

None of that mattered, because the Lord was with Paul. The next night He stood beside Paul and said that his work in Jerusalem was complete. Rome was to be the Apostle’s next destination in His Holy Name (verse 11): ‘Take courage’.

Henry provides this useful analysis:

Christ bids him have a good heart upon it: “Be of good cheer, Paul; be not discouraged; let not what has happened sadden thee, nor let what may yet be before thee frighten thee.” Note, It is the will of Christ that his servants who are faithful should be always cheerful. Perhaps Paul, in the reflection, began to be jealous of himself whether he had done well in what he said to the council the day before; but Christ, by his word, satisfies him that God approved of his conduct. Or, perhaps, it troubled him that his friends did not come to him; but Christ’s visit did itself speak, though he had not said, Be of good cheer, Paul.

In closing, MacArthur reminds us that our Lord revealed Himself to Paul five times in total. His awe-inspiring appearance to Paul on the road to Damascus was the first. This passage mentions another one of the five:

Always at times of crisis, the Lord stood by him. He was alone in the cell. Maybe he was saying, “Carest Thou not that I perish?” Maybe he was saying, “Lord, seems as though You’ve been all gone a while. Lord, have You forgotten me?” You know, you can have those kind of moods when you’ve been through something like that easily.

It wasn’t enough for the Lord to just remind him of a few principles. Jesus came to him. Jesus came and stood by him and He gave him three little words: consolation; commendation; and, confidence.”

Knowing this, we can better understand why Paul was so optimistic in his letters to the faithful. He understood that the Lord does not forsake His people. Even if we cannot physically see Him, our Redeemer does not forsake us, either.

As MacArthur says:

Do you think God cares for you? God came to Paul and He gave him thanks for the past; comfort for the present; assurance for the future. He’s the God of all comfort. I’ve seen Him comfort many people. I’ve seen Him comfort in my own life and give consolation. I know you have. In the midst of any trial, He cares. Cast your care on Him.

Paul’s ordeal continued with yet another murder attempt against him.

Next time — Acts 23:12-15

Below are the readings for the Second Sunday of Advent, December 9, 2018.

These are for Year C in the three-year Lectionary.

Last week’s readings were about the coming of Christ to Earth to save mankind and His Second Coming in judgement.

This week’s readings prophesy John the Baptist and Jesus.

There are two Gospel readings but the way they are arranged suggests two sets of readings. I am, therefore, just going to list everything as it appears at source, the Vanderbilt Divinity Library.

Emphases mine below.

First reading (Catholic)

Baruch is not in Protestant Bibles, therefore, this is for Catholic Mass. This imagery in this passage is so evocative that it is almost cinematic.

Baruch 5:1-9

5:1 Take off the garment of your sorrow and affliction, O Jerusalem, and put on forever the beauty of the glory from God.

5:2 Put on the robe of the righteousness that comes from God; put on your head the diadem of the glory of the Everlasting;

5:3 for God will show your splendor everywhere under heaven.

5:4 For God will give you evermore the name, “Righteous Peace, Godly Glory.”

5:5 Arise, O Jerusalem, stand upon the height; look toward the east, and see your children gathered from west and east at the word of the Holy One, rejoicing that God has remembered them.

5:6 For they went out from you on foot, led away by their enemies; but God will bring them back to you, carried in glory, as on a royal throne.

5:7 For God has ordered that every high mountain and the everlasting hills be made low and the valleys filled up, to make level ground, so that Israel may walk safely in the glory of God.

5:8 The woods and every fragrant tree have shaded Israel at God’s command.

5:9 For God will lead Israel with joy, in the light of his glory, with the mercy and righteousness that come from him.

First reading (Protestant)

This reading from Malachi prophesies John the Baptist and, above all, Jesus.

Malachi 3:1-4

3:1 See, I am sending my messenger to prepare the way before me, and the Lord whom you seek will suddenly come to his temple. The messenger of the covenant in whom you delight–indeed, he is coming, says the LORD of hosts.

3:2 But who can endure the day of his coming, and who can stand when he appears? For he is like a refiner’s fire and like fullers’ soap;

3:3 he will sit as a refiner and purifier of silver, and he will purify the descendants of Levi and refine them like gold and silver, until they present offerings to the LORD in righteousness.

3:4 Then the offering of Judah and Jerusalem will be pleasing to the LORD as in the days of old and as in former years.

Gospel (first choice)

This passage from Luke concerns the birth of John the Baptist and the prophecy of Christ Jesus. John’s father, Zechariah, spoke them after having been freed from a nine-month (at least) punishment of being deaf and mute for not believing the Archangel Gabriel’s announcement that his wife Elizabeth would bear a child at an advanced age. (Up to then, she had been infertile.) At the child’s circumcision — also his naming ceremony — the judgement was lifted once Zechariah wrote the name ‘John’ on a slate. The choice of name for their baby was controversial, because others wanted him to be named Zechariah.

I do not understand why the Lectionary editors could not have included verse 67, which puts the rest into context. No wonder people don’t listen to Scripture readings:

67 And his father Zechariah was filled with the Holy Spirit and prophesied, saying,

Now on to the reading:

Luke 1:68-79

1:68 “Blessed be the Lord God of Israel, for he has looked favorably on his people and redeemed them.

1:69 He has raised up a mighty savior for us in the house of his servant David,

1:70 as he spoke through the mouth of his holy prophets from of old,

1:71 that we would be saved from our enemies and from the hand of all who hate us.

1:72 Thus he has shown the mercy promised to our ancestors, and has remembered his holy covenant,

1:73 the oath that he swore to our ancestor Abraham, to grant us

1:74 that we, being rescued from the hands of our enemies, might serve him without fear,

1:75 in holiness and righteousness before him all our days.

1:76 And you, child, will be called the prophet of the Most High; for you will go before the Lord to prepare his ways,

1:77 to give knowledge of salvation to his people by the forgiveness of their sins.

1:78 By the tender mercy of our God, the dawn from on high will break upon us,

1:79 to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the way of peace.”

Epistle

This is the beginning of a letter from Paul — who included Timothy in his greeting — to the Christians in Philippi. ‘The one’ in verse 3 refers to Jesus Christ.

As with the aforementioned passage from Luke, this reading would have been further enhanced if the Lectionary editors had included the first two verses to add context:

Paul and Timothy, servants[a] of Christ Jesus,

To all the saints in Christ Jesus who are at Philippi, with the overseers[b] and deacons:[c]

2 Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.

On to the reading:

Philippians 1:3-11

1:3 I thank my God every time I remember you,

1:4 constantly praying with joy in every one of my prayers for all of you,

1:5 because of your sharing in the gospel from the first day until now.

1:6 I am confident of this, that the one who began a good work among you will bring it to completion by the day of Jesus Christ.

1:7 It is right for me to think this way about all of you, because you hold me in your heart, for all of you share in God’s grace with me, both in my imprisonment and in the defense and confirmation of the gospel.

1:8 For God is my witness, how I long for all of you with the compassion of Christ Jesus.

1:9 And this is my prayer, that your love may overflow more and more with knowledge and full insight

1:10 to help you to determine what is best, so that in the day of Christ you may be pure and blameless,

1:11 having produced the harvest of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ for the glory and praise of God.

Gospel

This is Luke’s account of the beginning of John the Baptist’s ministry. Note that John repeats his father’s words, citing Isaiah (see above, Luke 1:76):

Luke 3:1-6

3:1 In the fifteenth year of the reign of Emperor Tiberius, when Pontius Pilate was governor of Judea, and Herod was ruler of Galilee, and his brother Philip ruler of the region of Ituraea and Trachonitis, and Lysanias ruler of Abilene,

3:2 during the high priesthood of Annas and Caiaphas, the word of God came to John son of Zechariah in the wilderness.

3:3 He went into all the region around the Jordan, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins,

3:4 as it is written in the book of the words of the prophet Isaiah, “The voice of one crying out in the wilderness: ‘Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight.

3:5 Every valley shall be filled, and every mountain and hill shall be made low, and the crooked shall be made straight, and the rough ways made smooth;

3:6 and all flesh shall see the salvation of God.'”

These readings are beautiful in every way — the perfect inspiration for a great sermon.

Will you hear a great sermon tomorrow? I pray that you do.

Bible openThe 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 (here and here).

Acts 23:1-5

23 And looking intently at the council, Paul said, “Brothers, I have lived my life before God in all good conscience up to this day.” And the high priest Ananias commanded those who stood by him to strike him on the mouth. Then Paul said to him, “God is going to strike you, you whitewashed wall! Are you sitting to judge me according to the law, and yet contrary to the law you order me to be struck?” Those who stood by said, “Would you revile God’s high priest?” And Paul said, “I did not know, brothers, that he was the high priest, for it is written, ‘You shall not speak evil of a ruler of your people.’”

————————————————————————————————————

Last week’s entry concluded with the Roman tribune putting Paul before the Jewish hierarchy so that he might know the real reason the Jews in Jerusalem were so angry at him.

John MacArthur sets the scene well (emphases mine below):

the apostle Paul is drawn before the Sanhedrin. They have hastily convened in Fort Antonia, called into session by Claudius Lysias – who is the commander-in-chief of the Roman forces – and they have been called in order to try to ascertain what this man has done. The Romans saw the riot. They saw the crowd trying to murder Paul; and, they didn’t really know what the accusation was. They’ve tried several ways to find out, without success; and so now Claudius Lysias figures, “If I can get the Sanhedrin together, they can judge the case. They can hear the evidence. They can come up with a crime for which he can be sent to Caesarea and tried.” He assumed there must be a crime, or they wouldn’t have been trying to kill him in the temple court.

So, as we approach verse 30, the session of the Sanhedrin is called together. As we come to verse 1, we see four major points in this flow of text: the confrontation; the conflict; the conquest; and, the consolation.

We will be looking at the confrontation today.

Paul, bloody and achy, stood before the Sanhedrin, addressing them as ‘brothers’ and saying that he had lived before God with a clean conscience up to that day (verse 1).

This was bound to raise hackles immediately, because there was a formal greeting to be said to the Sanhedrin, and ‘brothers’ was not it. MacArthur explains:

The proper way was Acts 4:8, “Then Peter filled with the Holy Spirit said to them, ‘Ye rulers of the people and elders of Israel’.” Now, you see, the formal title “You rulers of the people and elders of Israel,” gave them their dignity; it put them up where they belonged, and so you were supposed to acquiesce to that.

However, recall that, as a young man, Paul, a Pharisee, had studied under Gamaliel in Jerusalem and was also the chief persecutor of the first Christians in the city, so he would have known these men:

Some of them were the students of Gamaliel, who had studied with him when he was younger. Many of them were Pharisees, and the camaraderie and esprit de corps of the Pharisees was really amazing; and they were buddies. They all knew who he was.

In fact, he had been the arch persecutor of the church and had worked in association with those people in that Sanhedrin.

They were also rankled because Paul had converted to Christianity:

And now they thought he was a traitor; they thought he was an apostate; they thought he was a blasphemer.

They were angry that he rightly claimed to have lived his life ‘before God’ but left the Jewish faith.

MacArthur says that Paul stared at them ‘intently’. MacArthur tells us this is because Paul knew he was innocent:

It’s a very strong word. Atenizō means to stare at, to gaze at, to fix your eyes on. I mean, you could imagine him sort of twiddling his thumbs behind his back and rocking from foot to foot with his head down saying “Uh, er, I, well, I don’t know how I got into this mess, uh, er.” That isn’t him …

He stood up; looked them eyeball-to-eyeball. You might be able to call this kind of thing the look of conscious integrity. You see, he knew he was innocent, and he knew God was with him, and so he was completely confident.

MacArthur and Matthew Henry differ in their interpretation of what ‘up to this day’ means. Matthew Henry’s commentary says that Paul was speaking of the time from his conversion to that point:

He seems rather to speak of the time since his conversion, since he left the service of the high priest, and fell under their displeasure for so doing; he does not say, From my beginning until this day; but, “All the time in which you have looked upon me as a deserter, an apostate, and an enemy to your church, even to this day, I have lived in all good conscience before God; whatever you may think of me, I have in every thing approved myself to God, and lived honestly,” Hebrews 13:18.

MacArthur, on the other hand, thinks that Paul meant his entire life, which then put the onus on the council:

He says to them, “I have lived in all good conscience before God until this day.” That is bold. He says “You know, all through my life, until now, I have done what my conscience has told me God wanted me to do.” Now, you see what that does to them? Now, they’re not judging Paul; they’re judging whom? God, you see. So he really puts them in a corner. “Now, my conscience is clear,” he says.

The high priest Ananias was furious and ordered those nearby to strike Paul on the mouth (verse 2). I’ll get to Ananias’s life story in a moment, but, first, there was no reason for him to order Paul to be struck on the mouth. Both commentators agree that this was either a fist punch or that some instrument was used, such as a club (MacArthur) or a rod (Henry).

Mosaic law put restrictions on a Jew smiting a fellow Jew. MacArthur tells us:

Jewish law said, “He who strikes the cheek of an Israelite, strikes, as it were, the glory of God.” That’s Jewish law. Jewish law said, “He who strikes an Israelite strikes the Holy One.” The Jewish law safeguarded the rights of a man, and he was innocent until proven guilty. And Ananias had no business touching him by way of the Jewish law; he had no business touching him by way of criminal punishment, either. He wasn’t even accused of anything, let alone judged of it to be guilty.

Although St Luke, the author of Acts, does not say that one of the men struck Paul, both MacArthur and Henry say that Paul did indeed receive a blow to the mouth.

Paul, full of righteous indignation, compared Ananias to a whitewashed wall, warning the high priest that God would strike him and pointing out that he had also broken the law (verse 3).

One can imagine the tense atmosphere. It would only get worse.

Now to Ananias. He was not a good man. In fact, the ordinary Jews did not like him at all. Many thought he was a usurper of the high priest position. They also thought he cosied up to the Romans too much. Hence, Paul’s use of the term ‘whitewashed wall’, not dissimilar to Jesus’s use of the words ‘whited sepulchre’.

Matthew Henry tells us what happened to Ananias afterwards:

Paul did not speak this in any sinful heat or passion, but in a holy zeal against the high priest’s abuse of his power, and with something of a prophetic spirit, not at all with a spirit of revenge. 1. He gives him his due character: Thou whited wall; that is, thou hypocrite–a mud-wall, trash and dirt and rubbish underneath, but plastered over, or white-washed. It is the same comparison in effect with that of Christ, when he compares the Pharisees to whited sepulchres, Matthew 23:7. Those that daubed with untempered mortar failed not to daub themselves over with something that made them look not only clean, but gay. 2. He reads him his just doom: “God shall smite thee, shall bring upon thee his sore judgments, especially spiritual judgments.” Grotius thinks this was fulfilled soon after, in his removal from the office of the high priest, either by death or deprivation, for he finds another in that office a little while after this; probably he was smitten by some sudden stroke of divine vengeance.

MacArthur relates a worse history:

in verse 2, “And the high priest Ananias” – not to be confused with Ananias and Sapphira, and not to be confused with Annas, who was the former high priest at the time of Jesus’ trial; this is a new one, the son of Nedebeus who started in 47 AD and went about 11 or 12 years after that, and then was assassinated.

But, anyway, “The high priest Ananias commanded them that stood by him to smite him on the mouth.” Boy, the high priest lost his cool. Now, this Ananias was really just a profane, foul, filthy character; one of the most disgraceful and foul profaners of the office of high priest. The historians, the ancient historians, have all bad to say about him.

Josephus says “he took all the tithes that were to be distributed for the living of the common priests and stole all of it.” He kept it for himself. He assassinated anybody and everybody who got in his way. He lined his own pockets every way possible. In fact, he started a war; at least was in on the beginning perpetration of a war, and Rome got upset with him; and so Rome hauled him over to bring him to trial, and they couldn’t get anything against him. He was clever, and they had to let him go, and that was five years before this account. He came back, and he was still ruling – very, very evil, tyrannical man.

He became very pro-Roman, however, and really bowed and scraped to Rome, so much so that his own people began to hate him. Imagine a Jewish high priest who is pro-Roman. They hated him. And finally, when in 66 AD – four years before the destruction of Jerusalem – a group of Jewish insurrectionists started a war against Rome, one of the people they wanted to get was Ananias. They found him hiding in an aqueduct, dragged him out, and murdered him and his brother. So he had a rather hasty demise.

Wow.

The council — the Sanhedrin — was the elite of the Jewish religious class. They were not going to tolerate disrespect from anyone, especially Paul. So, those standing nearby asked Paul if he would verbally abuse — revile — the high priest (verse 4). Mosaic law laid out protocol for addressing people in authority, be they religious or secular.

MacArthur tells us how it worked:

When God set up His economy, His theocracy – you can go back to Deuteronomy chapter 17; … “God ordained authority in Israel.” There has to be authority. You know, that even a bad government is better than no government? The worst government is better than no government.

God has leaders. A bad leader is worse than no leader? No. No leader is worse than a bad leader. God ordains authority and submission, and God knows that there are going to be bad leaders, and bad governments and bad high priests, bad judges, and God still said to Israel, “You submit,” because submission is the principle that keeps the thing together. And that judge, or that priest, or that leader, will pay for his own failure. He is accountable to God. You’re accountable to be submissive to him – unless, of course, he makes you do something in direct violation to God.

But here, interesting thing; in Deuteronomy 17:8, God first gave the pattern, “If there arise a matter too hard for thee in judgment, then come to this place which I will choose.” Now verse 9, “And come to the priests, the Levites, and the judge who shall be in those days, and inquire; and they shall show thee the sentence of judgment.” God set up a court, a law where they could go and resolve the problems they couldn’t resolve among themselves. “And thou shalt do according the sentence, which they of that place which the Lord shall choose shall show thee; thou shalt observe to do according to all that they inform thee.” Obey them. “According to the sentence of the law which they shall teach thee, according to the judgment which they shall tell thee, thou shalt do. Thou shalt not decline from the sentence which they shall show thee to the right hand or the left. And the man who will do presumptuously, and not hearken to the priest who stands to minister there before the Lord thy God, or unto the judge, even that man shall die; and you shall put that evil away from Israel.”

You can stone the man if he disobeys the decision of the court. You don’t speak a word, and you don’t disobey the one God has set up to be judge or priest. Both judge and priest came together in the high priest, who was the ruling man in the Sanhedrin. He was both judge and high priest.

Paul was in the wrong:

So, when Paul spoke that way to the high priest, he did stand in violation. The high priest had no right to inflict punishment on him, but he had no right to react the way he did because he was taking an action that violated the principle that God had ordained, the principle that goes with that office. You say, “But the man was a crumb. The guy was no good. He was a terrible person.” That’s not the point. The office was God-ordained.

I think you’d find it interesting sometime if you’ll look up Exodus 21:6, Exodus 22:8 and 9, and Psalm 82:1. You’ll find that name of God, Elohim, is also the title of the judges in those passages. God actually called certain judges in His land gods, because they stood as His place of authority and representation of the law; and in that sense, represented Him.

So, a man who held a sacred position was not to be desecrated or slandered or cursed. But a man was to submit to that, because it was a God-ordained place, even though the man was satanic.

Paul knew that because he cited that divinely-ordained rule and said he was unaware that Ananias was the high priest (verse 5).

It seems to be a bit strange to read that Paul said he did not know who the high priest was, but MacArthur gives two reasons why. First, the council had been hastily convened and, secondly, Paul had poor eyesight.

Let’s look at the first reason:

Now, it’s interesting I think to see that Paul said, “I didn’t know he was the high priest.” You say, “Well, how ignorant can a guy be? What do you mean you don’t know it’s the high priest?” I told you last week that I thought it was important that they convened the session in Fort Antonia, and I don’t think that Claudius Lysias wanted to turn Paul over to the Jews and have them take him over to where they usually met because it could start another riot. So, he wanted to keep custody, so he brought the Sanhedrin to Fort Antonia

And so here they wouldn’t be in their normal configuration. They wouldn’t be seated with the high priest in his special seat. They would just be together in a mass milling around. And since it was an informally-called session, the high priest wouldn’t have his special robes on. So it is very likely that, because of that, he was unrecognizable, and that the voice just came out of the mass of 71 people there.

Now to the second factor, Paul’s eyesight:

In addition to that, it is very possible that Paul had poor eyesight, isn’t it? You remember in Galatians, he writes about how large a letter I have written unto you, and the Greek is with what “large letters”? One of the possibilities of that is that it could refer to poor eyesight, among others.

But he says in Galatians 4:15; he says, “You and I had such a good relationship that you would’ve plucked out your eyes and given them to me.” That may be an indication that he had a eye problem, and had there been transplants possible, they would’ve afforded him the eyes. So it may have been that he had an eye problem. He just couldn’t see that well. I think it’s probably best to assume that that’s possible, but that likely they were mixed together. Without their formal robes on, he wouldn’t have been able to tell who it was.

Despite this tense situation, Paul hadn’t finished stating his case. Next week, we’ll look at what happened.

Next time — Acts 23:6-11

We are now entering a new Church year and, with that, a new Lectionary year: Year C.

Below are the readings for the First Sunday of Advent, December 2, 2018.

Advent readings remind us how many times Jesus was prophesied in the Old Testament.

Emphases mine below.

First reading

This can be understood as the coming release from captivity, but also about the joy to be experienced when the Messiah comes.

Jeremiah 33:14-16

33:14 The days are surely coming, says the LORD, when I will fulfill the promise I made to the house of Israel and the house of Judah.

33:15 In those days and at that time I will cause a righteous Branch to spring up for David; and he shall execute justice and righteousness in the land.

33:16 In those days Judah will be saved and Jerusalem will live in safety. And this is the name by which it will be called: “The LORD is our righteousness.”

Psalm

The Psalm alludes to the comfort and assurance we have in staying close to the Lord.

Psalm 25:1-10

25:1 To you, O LORD, I lift up my soul.

25:2 O my God, in you I trust; do not let me be put to shame; do not let my enemies exult over me.

25:3 Do not let those who wait for you be put to shame; let them be ashamed who are wantonly treacherous.

25:4 Make me to know your ways, O LORD; teach me your paths.

25:5 Lead me in your truth, and teach me, for you are the God of my salvation; for you I wait all day long.

25:6 Be mindful of your mercy, O LORD, and of your steadfast love, for they have been from of old.

25:7 Do not remember the sins of my youth or my transgressions; according to your steadfast love remember me, for your goodness’ sake, O LORD!

25:8 Good and upright is the LORD; therefore he instructs sinners in the way.

25:9 He leads the humble in what is right, and teaches the humble his way.

25:10 All the paths of the LORD are steadfast love and faithfulness, for those who keep his covenant and his decrees.

Epistle

These verses from Paul’s letter to the Thessalonians are beautiful. Notice the emphasis on prayer and love.

1 Thessalonians 3:9-13

3:9 How can we thank God enough for you in return for all the joy that we feel before our God because of you?

3:10 Night and day we pray most earnestly that we may see you face to face and restore whatever is lacking in your faith.

3:11 Now may our God and Father himself and our Lord Jesus direct our way to you.

3:12 And may the Lord make you increase and abound in love for one another and for all, just as we abound in love for you.

3:13 And may he so strengthen your hearts in holiness that you may be blameless before our God and Father at the coming of our Lord Jesus with all his saints.

Gospel

St Luke records the words of Jesus about His Second Coming.

Luke 21:25-36

21:25 “There will be signs in the sun, the moon, and the stars, and on the earth distress among nations confused by the roaring of the sea and the waves.

21:26 People will faint from fear and foreboding of what is coming upon the world, for the powers of the heavens will be shaken.

21:27 Then they will see ‘the Son of Man coming in a cloud’ with power and great glory.

21:28 Now when these things begin to take place, stand up and raise your heads, because your redemption is drawing near.”

21:29 Then he told them a parable: “Look at the fig tree and all the trees;

21:30 as soon as they sprout leaves you can see for yourselves and know that summer is already near.

21:31 So also, when you see these things taking place, you know that the kingdom of God is near.

21:32 Truly I tell you, this generation will not pass away until all things have taken place.

21:33 Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away.

21:34 “Be on guard so that your hearts are not weighed down with dissipation and drunkenness and the worries of this life, and that day catch you unexpectedly,

21:35 like a trap. For it will come upon all who live on the face of the whole earth.

21:36 Be alert at all times, praying that you may have the strength to escape all these things that will take place, and to stand before the Son of Man.”

There is a lot of great sermon material here. It is unfortunate that most clergy today are ill-equipped to expound on it appropriately and accurately.

My longest standing and most loyal supporter has been the Revd Dr Gregory Jackson, a Lutheran clergyman who follows the Augsburg Confession of faith.

On November 21, 2018, Dr Jackson posted his online worship service for Thanksgiving Eve. His sermon was about the errors of the social gospel, which, over the past century and a bit, has come to supplant the Good News of the Gospel.

His Epistle is from Paul’s letters to Timothy:

KJV 1 Timothy 2:1 I exhort therefore, that, first of all, supplications, prayers, intercessions, and giving of thanks, be made for all men; 2 For kings, and for all that are in authority; that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and honesty. 3 For this is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Saviour; 4 Who will have all men to be saved, and to come unto the knowledge of the truth. 5 For there is one God, and one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus; 6 Who gave himself a ransom for all, to be testified in due time. 7 Whereunto I am ordained a preacher, and an apostle, (I speak the truth in Christ, and lie not;) a teacher of the Gentiles in faith and verity. 8 I will therefore that men pray every where, lifting up holy hands, without wrath and doubting.

The Gospel reading is Luke’s account of the healing of the Samaritan:

KJV Luke 17:11 And it came to pass, as he went to Jerusalem, that he passed through the midst of Samaria and Galilee. 12 And as he entered into a certain village, there met him ten men that were lepers, which stood afar off: 13 And they lifted up their voices, and said, Jesus, Master, have mercy on us. 14 And when he saw them, he said unto them, Go shew yourselves unto the priests. And it came to pass, that, as they went, they were cleansed. 15 And one of them, when he saw that he was healed, turned back, and with a loud voice glorified God, 16 And fell down on his face at his feet, giving him thanks: and he was a Samaritan. 17 And Jesus answering said, Were there not ten cleansed? but where are the nine? 18 There are not found that returned to give glory to God, save this stranger. 19 And he said unto him, Arise, go thy way: thy faith hath made thee whole.

Dr Jackson’s sermon concerns the history of the social justice movement in the Church, beginning with the Lutherans in the United States (emphases mine below):

The Social Gospel Movement is extremely important for our country, because a tiny group of people met to form a brotherhood to promote their political goals for the denominations in America. This Brotherhood of the Kingdom was made up of liberals who redefined the doctrines of the Bible according to German rationalism, which is what CFW Walther grew up in – his father a rationalist pastor. Walter Rauschenbusch is the most famous figure in this movement, though Emerson Fosdick was also well known in his time.

The goals of this Brotherhood of the Kingdom became the agenda of the Federal Council of Churches, renamed the National Council of Churches. The mainline denominations adopted these goals, which became the platform of President Franklin Roosevelt. Naturally, these people were fond of socialism and many thought the real deal was Marxism. In the olden days one could easily identify a liberal activist Lutheran because he published something very positive about Rauschenbusch and the Social Gospel.

I wrote my dissertation on this topic, so I will try to be brief. This movement turned the Gospel upside-down, making it pure works. The Parable of the Good Samaritan was not about Jesus as the Samaritan caring for us, but about making the road to Jericho safe! Jesus died to show His solidarity with the poor! Therefore, the purpose of the Christian Church (they imagine) is to change society by passing laws to control our behavior. The Left-wing activism in today’s churches is an outgrowth of this Social Gospel Movement with the addition of various kinds of radicalism.

In the LCA [Lutheran Church in America] this worked by polarizing congregations about various issues, welcoming the exit of those backward people considered conservatives, but called rednecks, Birchers, Fundamentalists. A smaller, smarter church and shrinking but better synod were desirable outcomes.

The Social Gospel Movement combined a rewriting of Christian doctrine to match its political activism

What we see in America is the Social Gospel starting in a rejection of the basic doctrines of Christianity and making an agenda the religion. Once that was achieved in the New Deal, there was agitation for more. Religious agencies dropped the pretext and simply became political action groups using Christianity as a front. I saw this happen in Roman Catholicism too, when the properly social action types wanted to conquer all church leadership and openly despised basic Christian doctrine.

I am concerned about unchurched university students who encounter Christianity for the first time on campus. What are they learning there from campus ministries and other Christian organisations? It’s unlikely to be Christian doctrine based on Holy Scripture.

Dr Jackson explains Paul’s instruction to Timothy (see the first two verses of the aforementioned Epistle) and how that helped to shape the Church (bold emphasis in the original, those in purple mine):

These two verses show that Christianity in the Apostolic Age was quietistic, a phrase used by one of the top scholars of Greek language and culture for that era (A. Mahlherbe). Quietistic means the opposite of activist, engaging in politics, using the church as an instrument to make political points and pass laws governing others. We know that theocratic governments, with the church in control, have been abusive, controlling, and corrupt. The papal states in Italy, owned and poorly governed by the Roman Church, were corrupt and lax.

Quietistic means the Christians were not exhorted to overturn the government or rebel against them. The ultimate tool to remove social evil is the GospelThat solution has worked its way through Western culture over the centuries. Britain, through the influence of Evangelicals like Wilberforce, ended slavery without a civil war.

Instead of church in political action, Paul urged them to pray for all men, for kings and those in authority – the political leaders. That is why Christianity has flourished in all political systems and has grown under persecution.

Indeed.

This is how the Gospel and divine grace work (see verses 3 and 4 from Paul to Timothy, emphases mine):

It is good to remember that the Word is more powerful than any empire. There was nothing like the Roman Empire during the public ministry of Christ, and yet the gold, wealth, and majesty of Rome was no barrier to the Christian Faith. It grew from the bottom up, among slaves and criminals, the bottom of society. And yet when they were tortured and killed in huge stadiums, their peace at the time of death rattled and disturbed the pagan Romans. Slowly the faith worked its way up. Rome was knocked into the dustbin of history, as Luther observed, conquered by the One God they could not tolerate in their pantheon.

Opposition has never quashed Christianity. Earthly power means nothing, as Jesus declared, “My Kingdom is not of this world.” A local ruler could not comprehend this, and yet Jesus disturbed people by His death and His resurrection.

The secret of Christianity is that the Word grows and takes over in  a quiet, subtle, but powerful way. When people are occupied with spiritual truths, their hearts do not have much room for error, for the death-traps (scandalon, literally the trigger of the trap) that plunge people into error and destruction

The irony is that mankind trusts its own power and wisdom and disdains the power and wisdom of the Gospel. Nobody can even predict what the Word can do among believers or how it calls out the faithful from among the mass of people today. While many scorn the simple Word of the Gospel, others who have been fed the lentil soup of earthly wisdom say – “This is the feast of God’s grace and forgiveness.” Their hunger and thirst is satisfied, not by Zen but by the Good Shepherd.

That is so powerful.

I hope that churchgoing parents take time over the upcoming holiday period to ask their university-attending offspring what they are learning in chapel and in chapel-sponsored courses. The answers could be surprising — and in error.

A few years ago, I wrote extensively about the social gospel and how it grew. For those who have not seen these articles, they are near the bottom of my Marxism/Communism page underneath the heading ‘Communism and the Church today’:

The origins of ‘social justice’ — you might be surprised

Communism and the Protestant ‘social gospel’ — a long history

The left-wing origins of ‘What would Jesus do?’

Francis of Assisi never said ‘use words if necessary’

The Methodists, Alinsky and Hillary Clinton

SHOCK: Communist Catholic clergy and Vatican II – Agent AA-1025’s story

Communist infiltration of the Church – introduction — Protestant infiltration; social justice; Catholic Agent AA-1025

Insight into Communist infiltration of Catholic Church – Jesuit agents; destroying parishoners’ faith

The curious Vatican omerta on Communist infiltration – Pope Paul VI, Vatican agents, Vatican II

More on Communist infiltration of the Catholic Church – seminaries, parishes with sleeper agents

La nouvelle théologie — heretical menace to Catholics and Protestants

Media silence on persecution – quotes and incidents

Liberation theology — part 1

Liberation theology — part 2

Sojourners: More socialists masquerading as Christians

Progressives and US churches – making the connections – who’s involved with whom

Obamacare: It’s make or break time for radical and Christian organisations

Faith in Public Life: socialism cloaked in Christianity

Alinsky’s influence on Catholic bishops in the US

How the Catholic Church bankrolled Alinsky projects

How radical Catholic clergy spread CHD message in the US

The Catholic Campaign for Human Development goes on … and on

Recent Catholic funding of Alinsky-inspired projects – CCHD

CCHD collection coming in November – starve the beast! – for American Catholics

Pope [Francis] seeks to involve Chinese state in Catholic churches (2016)

The communist nature of Catholic clergy (2016)

Jesus’s words were never about social justice but life eternal through Him.

Bible kevinroosecomThe 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 22:22-30

Paul and the Roman Tribune

22 Up to this word they listened to him. Then they raised their voices and said, “Away with such a fellow from the earth! For he should not be allowed to live.” 23 And as they were shouting and throwing off their cloaks and flinging dust into the air, 24 the tribune ordered him to be brought into the barracks, saying that he should be examined by flogging, to find out why they were shouting against him like this. 25 But when they had stretched him out for the whips,[a] Paul said to the centurion who was standing by, “Is it lawful for you to flog a man who is a Roman citizen and uncondemned?” 26 When the centurion heard this, he went to the tribune and said to him, “What are you about to do? For this man is a Roman citizen.” 27 So the tribune came and said to him, “Tell me, are you a Roman citizen?” And he said, “Yes.” 28 The tribune answered, “I bought this citizenship for a large sum.” Paul said, “But I am a citizen by birth.” 29 So those who were about to examine him withdrew from him immediately, and the tribune also was afraid, for he realized that Paul was a Roman citizen and that he had bound him.

Paul Before the Council

30 But on the next day, desiring to know the real reason why he was being accused by the Jews, he unbound him and commanded the chief priests and all the council to meet, and he brought Paul down and set him before them.

————————————————————————————————————

Last week’s entry was about the testimony — apologia — that Paul gave to the mob in Jerusalem, who had calmed down long enough to hear him until he said:

21 And he said to me, ‘Go, for I will send you far away to the Gentiles.’

At the mention of the Gentiles, the mob went mad again, clamouring for his death (verse 22), not unlike the mob clamouring for Jesus’s death two decades earlier.

The crowd shouted, took off their garments and threw dirt at Paul (verse 23).

Matthew Henry’s commentary states they acted out — much like today’s leftists do — in order to persuade the Roman tribune (commander, chiliarch) to accede to their demands. Might makes right, in other words. So wrong:

All they intended was to make the chief captain sensible how much they were enraged and exasperated at Paul, so that he could not do any thing to gratify them more than to let them have their will against him.

These people had taken leave of their senses (emphases mine):

They went stark mad against Paul, and against the chief captain for not killing him immediately at their request, or throwing him as a pry into their teeth, that they might devour him (Acts 22:23); as men whose reason was quite lost in passion, they cried out like roaring lions or raging bears, and howled like the evening wolves; they cast off their clothes with fury and violence, as much as to say that thus they would tear him if they could but come at him.

They threw dirt at Paul, signifying it was blasphemy to link Jews with Gentiles. The removal of garments meant that they could get a better handful of dirt to throw at him and/or to stone him, were they able to do so:

rather, they thus showed how ready they were to stone him; those that stoned Stephen threw off their clothesOr, they rent their clothes, as if he had spoken blasphemy; and threw dust into the air, in detestation of it; or signifying how ready they were to throw stones at Paul, if the chief captain would have permitted them.

So the tribune ordered that Paul be brought into the barracks and be tortured — examined — by scourging so that he would confess his crime (verse 24).

There was one problem with that. The tribune assumed that Paul did not have Roman citizenship, even though Paul had already told him he had been born in Tarsus, Roman territory (Acts 21:39):

39 Paul replied, “I am a Jew, from Tarsus in Cilicia, a citizen of no obscure city. I beg you, permit me to speak to the people.”

Paul waited to say something until after he had been bound up for scourging. Binding was more than just securing a person to a whipping post. The Romans stretched the skin to the point that the scourge — best depicted in Mel Gibson’s The Passion of the Christ (watch it and don’t look away) — which was a cat o’ nine tails with sharp and irregularly sized stone bits on the ends to gouge the skin from first contact.

John MacArthur explains:

Verse 25: “And as they bound him with thongs,” – and the word “bound” has the implication of stretching. That’s what they did. They would stretch the man’s body to all extreme, so that his body would be drawn to attention, and so that all the lashes would cause the skin to separate immediately, and cut right into the flesh and the muscle and tissue… 

Now the scourge, if it didn’t kill him would cripple him for life.

Bound yet calm, Paul asked the centurion supervising this if it was lawful for a Roman citizen to be flogged, especially uncondemned (verse 25).

That question was a game-changer, because, if the Romans tortured Paul, they could be in serious trouble, even subject to the death penalty. MacArthur tells us:

… it was a crime to scourge a Roman. The Portion law and the Valerian law forbid any Roman from ever going through punishment by flagellum.

To add to that, Suetonius the lawyer said, “Any Roman who violates or any man who violates the rights of a Roman citizen will be executed of Esquiline Hill in Rome.” So when Paul said, “Is it lawful to do this to a Roman, uncondemned?” panic struck.

The centurion immediately went back to the tribune to ask what to do (verse 26).

The tribune approached Paul and asked him if he had Roman citizenship. Paul answered in the affirmative (verse 27).

The tribune said he had purchased his Roman citizenship. Paul replied that he was a free-born Roman (verse 28), one better.

Hearing that, the tribune and his men were afraid. Their having bound Paul was illegal. They were at risk of punishment, possibly losing their commissions. Roman law was not to be trifled with, especially with regard to citizenship.

Still wanting to get to the bottom of the matter, the tribune decided to turn him over to the Jewish court (verse 30).

MacArthur has information about the tribune:

Verse 26: “When the centurion” – that’s the captain of a hundred men – “heard that, he went and told the chief captain” – that’s the captain of a thousand men, the chief commander, Claudius Lysias – “he said, ‘Take heed what you do. This man is a Roman.’” Boy, when the news got there, panic.

“The chief captain came and said unto him, ‘Tell me, are you a Roman?’ He said, ‘Yes.’” Do you see how God had equipped Paul for every trial?

You know, that reminds me of 1 Corinthians 10. When Paul said it, he knew what he was talking about: “God will never allow you to suffer above that you are able, but will, with every trial or temptation, make a way of escape that you may be able to bear it.” God fits every man for everything He takes him through.

“He said, ‘Yes,’ and the chief captain answered, ‘Oh, with a great sum obtained I this freedom.’ He said, ‘Man, I bought my Roman citizenship. It means a lot to me. You realize what I almost did? Almost lost my citizenship or my life.’”

Paul quietly says, it’s interesting, “I was free born,” which just drives the nails in a little deeper. He wasn’t a second-class citizen, he was a first-class citizen. And here was a second-class citizen going to flagellate a first-class citizen. Bad news. The first guy was on thin ice anyway.

You say, “How did he get his citizenship?” He bought it. You say, “Who’d he buy it from?” Probably under the rule of Emperor Claudius, because his name is Lysias, a Greek name, he’s a Greek guy. Where did he get the Roman name Claudius? Well, people used to take the name of the emperor, so he probably took Claudius’ name, because during the reign of Claudius, Claudius had a wife named Messalina, and Messalina had a bunch of court favorites that hung around her, and they all thought they’d line their own pockets, so they started selling Roman citizenships for exorbitant prices; and what happened was Claudius Lysias bought one of them, took the name of Claudius.

So he was a purchased citizen in that sense; Paul was born a citizen. You say, “That’s interesting. How did Paul’s father become a citizen?” We don’t know, but God made sure it happened.

Well, “Then immediately” – verse 29 – “they departed from him who should have examined him.” Everybody left. “The chief captain was afraid after he knew that he was a Roman, because he had bound him.” He was scared. Chief captain said, “Everybody out; it’s all over with. And the next day, they turned him over to the Jews for due process.”

As to how Paul’s family had free-born status, Henry has this explanation:

Some think he became entitled to this freedom by the place of his birth, as a native of Tarsus, a city privileged by the emperor with the same privileges that Rome itself enjoyed; others rather think it was by his father or grandfather having served in the war between Cæsar and Antony, or some other of the civil wars of Rome, and being for some signal piece of service rewarded with a freedom of the city, and so Paul came to be free-born …

This could explain Paul’s exhortations to obey secular law, as it did not preclude being devoted to God.

In closing, note that the tribune took a different tack to Gallio in Corinth, when Paul appeared before him (Acts 18:12-17). Gallio told the Jews that their argument was a religious one and that he would not permit it in a Roman tribunal. Then, again, as my post explains, Gallio, being son of Seneca the Younger and grandson of Seneca the Elder, was a far wiser man than Claudius Lysias.

Next time — Acts 23:1-5

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