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advent wreath stjohnscamberwellorgauWhat follows are the readings for the Second Sunday of Advent, December 10, 2017.

These are from Year B in the three-year Lectionary. Emphases mine below.

Note the themes of temporal time contrasted with eternity as well as God’s mercy, God’s glory and the coming of the Saviour.

Isaiah 40:1-11

40:1 Comfort, O comfort my people, says your God.

40:2 Speak tenderly to Jerusalem, and cry to her that she has served her term, that her penalty is paid, that she has received from the Lord’s hand double for all her sins.

40:3 A voice cries out: “In the wilderness prepare the way of the LORD, make straight in the desert a highway for our God.

40:4 Every valley shall be lifted up, and every mountain and hill be made low; the uneven ground shall become level, and the rough places a plain.

40:5 Then the glory of the LORD shall be revealed, and all people shall see it together, for the mouth of the LORD has spoken.”

40:6 A voice says, “Cry out!” And I said, “What shall I cry?” All people are grass, their constancy is like the flower of the field.

40:7 The grass withers, the flower fades, when the breath of the LORD blows upon it; surely the people are grass.

40:8 The grass withers, the flower fades; but the word of our God will stand forever.

40:9 Get you up to a high mountain, O Zion, herald of good tidings; lift up your voice with strength, O Jerusalem, herald of good tidings, lift it up, do not fear; say to the cities of Judah, “Here is your God!”

40:10 See, the Lord GOD comes with might, and his arm rules for him; his reward is with him, and his recompense before him.

40:11 He will feed his flock like a shepherd; he will gather the lambs in his arms, and carry them in his bosom, and gently lead the mother sheep.

Psalm 85:1-2, 8-13

85:1 LORD, you were favorable to your land; you restored the fortunes of Jacob.

85:2 You forgave the iniquity of your people; you pardoned all their sin. Selah

85:8 Let me hear what God the LORD will speak, for he will speak peace to his people, to his faithful, to those who turn to him in their hearts.

85:9 Surely his salvation is at hand for those who fear him, that his glory may dwell in our land.

85:10 Steadfast love and faithfulness will meet; righteousness and peace will kiss each other.

85:11 Faithfulness will spring up from the ground, and righteousness will look down from the sky.

85:12 The LORD will give what is good, and our land will yield its increase.

85:13 Righteousness will go before him, and will make a path for his steps.

2 Peter 3:8-15a

3:8 But do not ignore this one fact, beloved, that with the Lord one day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like one day.

3:9 The Lord is not slow about his promise, as some think of slowness, but is patient with you, not wanting any to perish, but all to come to repentance.

3:10 But the day of the Lord will come like a thief, and then the heavens will pass away with a loud noise, and the elements will be dissolved with fire, and the earth and everything that is done on it will be disclosed.

3:11 Since all these things are to be dissolved in this way, what sort of persons ought you to be in leading lives of holiness and godliness,

3:12 waiting for and hastening the coming of the day of God, because of which the heavens will be set ablaze and dissolved, and the elements will melt with fire?

3:13 But, in accordance with his promise, we wait for new heavens and a new earth, where righteousness is at home.

3:14 Therefore, beloved, while you are waiting for these things, strive to be found by him at peace, without spot or blemish;

3:15a and regard the patience of our Lord as salvation. So also our beloved brother Paul wrote to you according to the wisdom given him.

Mark 1:1-8

1:1 The beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.

1:2 As it is written in the prophet Isaiah, “See, I am sending my messenger ahead of you, who will prepare your way;

1:3 the voice of one crying out in the wilderness: ‘Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight,'”

1:4 John the baptizer appeared in the wilderness, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.

1:5 And people from the whole Judean countryside and all the people of Jerusalem were going out to him, and were baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins.

1:6 Now John was clothed with camel’s hair, with a leather belt around his waist, and he ate locusts and wild honey.

1:7 He proclaimed, “The one who is more powerful than I is coming after me; I am not worthy to stoop down and untie the thong of his sandals.

1:8 I have baptized you with water; but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.”

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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 have omitted — 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, here and here).

Acts 13:13-14a

Paul and Barnabas at Antioch in Pisidia

13 Now Paul and his companions set sail from Paphos and came to Perga in Pamphylia. And John left them and returned to Jerusalem, 14 but they went on from Perga and came to Antioch in Pisidia.

Acts 13:40-43

40 Beware, therefore, lest what is said in the Prophets should come about:

41 “‘Look, you scoffers,
    be astounded and perish;
for I am doing a work in your days,
    a work that you will not believe, even if one tells it to you.’”

42 As they went out, the people begged that these things might be told them the next Sabbath. 43 And after the meeting of the synagogue broke up, many Jews and devout converts to Judaism followed Paul and Barnabas, who, as they spoke with them, urged them to continue in the grace of God.

———————————————————————————-

Last week’s post discussed Paul’s blinding of Elymas the sorcerer for trying to prevent Sergius Paulus from converting. Paul accomplished this via divine grace as the Holy Spirit welled up in him.

That happened in Paphos, on the island of Cyprus.

Verse 13 tells us that Paul and his companions — including Barnabas — left Cyprus. they sailed from Cyprus to Perga in Pamphylia then onto Antioch in Pisidia (not Syria). John (John Mark, Mark of the Gospel) returned to Jerusalem (verse 14).

John MacArthur explains what probably happened (emphases mine below):

And here’s the sad note. “And John departing from them returned to Jerusalem. You say, “What’s so sad about that?” Paul was very upset about that, very very upset. S[o] why did John Mark leave? There’s several possibilities. Some say that he had resentment over Paul becoming the leader over Barnabas. Some say Mark was more attached to Barnabas and Paul, by his very nature, became the leader he was angry with Paul and didn’t want to work under him. Others say he was afraid because they were having to go over the Taurus mountains and the Taurus mountains were noted for being perilous. They were terribly fast torrents that was spanned by very weak bridges, and there were also robbers that lurked and the Roman government had tried to get the robbers out of the Taurus mountains but there was so many cracks and crevices and caves they couldn’t get them, and so it was a terribly perilous thing to even be in the Taurus mountains. It’s interesting, too, that in II Corinthians Paul says, “In my life I’ve been in the peril of robbers and in the peril of rivers,” and it may have been just that when he was talking about when he went to the Taurus mountains on his way.

And so perhaps Mark had a little chicken in him. There’s a third possibility and that is that the romance of mission work had worn off. Like so many missionaries who go out the first time around, the romance is going and they come back and that’s it. But whatever it was Paul was upset and it caused friction. Over in Chapter 15, verse 38, it had a terrible effect. They were going to go on a second missionary journey Paul and Barnabas, and this is, we’ll get to this and ooh you’ll learn some things there. Look at the difference between this and verse 36, “Let us go again.” Um Paul you’re running ahead, right? The last time the Spirit of God said, “Separate Me Paul and Barnabas.” Paul said, “Let us go.” You know what happened? They didn’t go. Paul wound up taking Silas and Barnabas wound up going somewhere else.

But you know what happened? Barnabas determined to take John, verse 37, “But Paul thought it not good to take him with them, who departed from them from Pamphylia and went not with him to the work and so the contention was so sharp that they departed asunder one from the other.” You know that leaving of John Mark actually fractured the relationship between Paul and Barnabas? There’s a beautiful ending to the story II Timothy 4:11, Paul is closing out his life and he writes and he says, “Only Luke is here. Could you send Mark? He could be profitable to me.” Somewhere in the years he and Mark got back together.

MacArthur tells us that Antioch in Pisidia is in the region known as Galatia in Asia Minor.

In Antioch in Pisidia, Paul and his companions attended synagogue on the Sabbath. The leader asked them for a ‘word of encouragement to the people’ (verse 15). Paul rose to preach a message tailored for a Jewish audience.

MacArthur describes the themes Paul used:

First of all, the Jewish mind was dominated by the fact that God was active in the history of Israel. They exalted in the fact that they were God’s chosen people; that they were the ones that God had called out, set apart, through whom He gave the blessings, the covenants, the promises and so forth. The Jew was absorbed joyously in the concept that God was his God and so the concept of God’s involvement in Israel’s history was one of the general themes that dominated their minds.

The second general theme that dominated their minds was God’s future plans for them through Messiah. The Jew exalted in his nationalism. He exalted in his Jewishness but he also exalted in the future hope of Israel. They dreamed, they hoped, they lived for the day that Messiah would come. It was said that the Jewish mothers used to wish that their son would be the Messiah. This was the dream of every true Jew.

The third thought that dominated their minds was God’s attitude in dealing with sin. The Jew never forgot his identity. The Jew never forgot his hope and the Jew never forgot his sin. Those three things absolutely saturated and dominated the life of a Jew and it is to those three things that Paul directs his message, answering to the three great themes of Judaism. Every Jew saw God in control of his destiny. Every Jew saw God’s promise of a Messiah as his hope and every Jew was careful to follow the sacrifices set down to deal with sin.

When Paul mentioned King David, he said:

23 Of this man’s offspring God has brought to Israel a Savior, Jesus, as he promised.

Paul then discussed Jesus’s ministry, His death and Resurrection, explaining that these events were all prophesied — the holy and certain blessings of David. Corruption (below) refers to sin, by the way:

34 And as for the fact that he raised him from the dead, no more to return to corruption, he has spoken in this way,

“‘I will give you the holy and sure blessings of David.’

Paul went on to say that only these blessings could save the Jewish people, adding that the law of Moses could not (verse 39).

This brings us to the second set of verses, where Paul warns that his audience must believe that Jesus is the Messiah, otherwise another prophecy will come true (verse 40).

The prophecy, to which Paul refers (verse 41) is in Habakkuk 1:5 and Isaiah 29:14, the latter cited below as it explains the penalty for unbelief:

therefore, behold, I will again
do wonderful things with this people,
with wonder upon wonder;
and the wisdom of their wise men shall perish,
and the discernment of their discerning men shall be hidden.”

The Jews knew how God had severely punished their ancestors for disobedience. Paul’s audience thought back to the events in Habakkuk.

MacArthur gives us the history:

In Habakkuk’s day, Israel was a mess and God said, “Habakkuk, you better tell the people that I’m going to do a work that they’re not even going to believe even though you tell them,” and the work is the work of judgment, incidentally here. The passage warns against the unbelief of Israel. If Israel rejects as continually as they have the message of God, they’re going to get it.

Do you remember what God did to them in Habakkuk? Sent the Chaldeans, sacked Jerusalem, hauled them off to Babylon, wiped out the whole country and Paul says, “You remember what the prophets said God was going to do to Israel of old? Listen,” he says to that congregation in Antioch, “You better beware lest what God did then happens to you, when God will work a work of judgment.” Notice a couple of notes and it’s so powerful. “I’ll work a work in your days which you shall in no way believe even though somebody tells it to you.”

Paul’s review of Jewish history and his conclusion with Habakkuk got the people in the synagogue thinking deeply. Instead of being angry, they begged Paul to return the following Sabbath to preach again (verse 42).

Verse 43 says that those who heard Paul began following him and Barnabas, who urged them to continue in the grace of God.

That verse mentions Gentiles — ‘devout converts to Judaism’. Therefore, Jew and Gentile received the message and acted upon it.

Interestingly, Matthew Henry’s commentary says that verse 42 is not as positive as it looks. Some Jews actually were incensed at Paul’s words. There were Gentile pagans who also heard them and longed to be included in the divine promise. This perspective makes the rest of Acts 13 more understandable. First, Henry’s explanation:

I. There were some of the Jews that were so incensed against the preaching of the gospel, not to the Gentiles, but to themselves, that they would not bear to hear it, but went out of the synagogue while Paul was preaching (Acts 13:42), in contempt of him and his doctrine, and to the disturbance of the congregation. It is probable they whispered among themselves, exciting one another to it, and did it by consent …

II. The Gentiles were as willing to hear the gospel as those rude and ill-conditioned Jews were to get out of the hearing of it: They besought that these words, or words to this effect, might be preached to them the next sabbath; in the week between, so some take it; on the second and fifth days of the week, which in some synagogues were their lecture days. But it appears (Acts 13:44) that it was the next sabbath day that they came together. They begged, 1. That the same offer might be made to them that was made to the Jews. Paul in this sermon had brought the word of salvation to the Jews and proselytes, but had taken no notice of the Gentiles; and therefore they begged that forgiveness of sins through Christ might be preached to them, as it was to the Jews …

III. There were some, nay, there were many, both of Jews and proselytes, that were wrought upon by the preaching of the gospel

Now on to what happened: practically all of Antioch (Pisidia) gathered to hear Paul and Barnabas preach at the next Sabbath. However, the Jews who were angry with Paul began contradicting him. Paul and Barnabas then stated they would stop preaching to the Jews and focus instead on the Gentiles:

46 And Paul and Barnabas spoke out boldly, saying, “It was necessary that the word of God be spoken first to you. Since you thrust it aside and judge yourselves unworthy of eternal life, behold, we are turning to the Gentiles. 47 For so the Lord has commanded us, saying,

“‘I have made you a light for the Gentiles,
that you may bring salvation to the ends of the earth.’”

That citation is from Isaiah 49:6:

he says:
“It is too light a thing that you should be my servant
to raise up the tribes of Jacob
and to bring back the preserved of Israel;
I will make you as a light for the nations,
that my salvation may reach to the end of the earth.”

How appropriate that we are reading this during Advent!

The Gentiles rejoiced and glorified the word of the Lord. They believed in Christ Jesus. The Gospel message — and, no doubt, conversions — spread throughout Pisidia (verse 49). The most influential Jews banded together to persecute Paul and Barnabas, driving them out of the region (verse 50). MacArthur says:

Now we don’t know the exact nature of it but in 2 Timothy 3:11, Paul talks about his persecution in Antioch and in 2 Corinthians 11, he says he was beaten with rods and with whips and that’s probably what happened there. They really let them have it and then they “expelled them from their borders.”

Paul, Barnabas and their companions ‘shook the dust from their feet’ and went onward to Iconium (verse 51). The disciples were ‘filled with joy and with the Holy Spirit’ (verse 52).

Remember the meaning of shaking the dust from one’s feet in the Gospels. MacArthur reminds us:

Jesus had said in Luke 10, when you go to evangelize, sent out His disciples, when they don’t hear your message and they don’t believe the Messiah, you shake the dust off your feet and leave that town. What He meant was this: No Jew would ever bring Gentile dirt into Israel because the Jews believed that Gentile soil was defiled and so when a Jew arrived at the border of Israel, he would shake the dust off his feet because they didn’t want even Gentile dirt in Israel. They thought it was soiled and Jesus accommodated Himself to that particular view and when He said, “Shake the dust off your feet,” He meant treat those Jews like they were Gentiles. You don’t want a thing to do with them. They’re just as if they were pagan and when Paul and Barnabas shook the dust off their feet in the face of the Jews of Antioch, they were saying in effect, “We consider you heathen.” That in itself was the greatest disclaimer, the most volatile rebuke that anyone could ever give to a Jew was to assign him a place with pagans and they did it to them. From now on, God looks at you like heathen. That was the result. They were lost, doomed, because they rejected their Messiah, Jesus Christ.

Paul and Barnabas left town, took off for Iconium. They left two different groups. God saw some as pagans. God filled the others with His Holy Spirit. Let me say this in closing. Listen. You either live life separated from God, a heathen without God, without the knowledge of God, or you live your life with God’s Holy Spirit inside. There’s no middle ground. You either take Jesus or reject Him. He said, “He that is not with Me is against Me.”

MacArthur says that judgement is always in effect. He warns us:

You know it is hard…the hardest thing for me to understand and inevitably, the hardest thing for people to believe is that God is a God of judgment.

It’s unbelievable because we have a misconstrued idea of the character of God to begin with. We think God is a namby-pamby, senile Santa Claus who pats everybody on the head and says, “Oh, I don’t care what you do. You’re nice,” that kind of thing. It’s not so. God is dealing with sin. You read the Old Testament and you get His attitude toward sin. God deals with sin seriously and we know that it’s difficult to believe. Someone even in our church called the other day and was very, very upset. They went to a class and they heard about hell and they said, “Oh, I can’t believe it. It can’t be. It’s not so,” and so forth and so on. It’s hard to believe that. Even for us who believe it in our hearts, our emotions are hard pressed to handle it, right?

There is a hell and there is a hell where the worm dies not and the fire is not quenched, where there is weeping and wailing and gnashing of teeth and there’s going to be a day of judgment and it’s going to come and men don’t believe it but that doesn’t mean it isn’t going to happen. God knew they wouldn’t believe it. He said that right here. You won’t believe it even though somebody tells you and so the warning closes out Paul’s sermon. He says, “I’m giving you an invitation. For all who believe, all things are forgiven and you’re justified. But beware, if you don’t believe it, God’s going to work a work of judgment which you won’t believe.” So you either believe in Jesus Christ or you don’t believe what’s going to happen in result…in response. Well, God is a God of grace but Paul closes with a serious warning. A man is a fool who rejects Jesus Christ.

To anyone reading this and thinking Christmas is purely a time for secular pleasures, please think again. Begin reading the New Testament. Pray for faith. Pray for grace. Pray that Christmas finally has true meaning.

Next time — Acts 14:1-7

advent wreath stjohnscamberwellorgauWhat follows are my Advent posts to help us to spiritually prepare for Christmas.

There is something for every age group and every mainstream denomination below:

Advent resources for Catholics and Protestants

The next set of posts explain more about the season through the Bible:

Advent reflections: John the Baptist and the Apocalypse

Advent: Make straight a highway

Advent: John the Baptist’s message of Good News — and repentance

Advent: Mary’s Magnificat and Zechariah’s prophecy in Luke 1

John the Baptist, charity and Advent

Vanderbilt University has a set of Sunday readings for Year B.

St NicholasHappy St Nicholas Day!

If you had a celebration today, I hope it was a pleasant treat before Christmas.

My 2014 post has much detail on this famous bishop of the 4th century. There is much we can learn about — and from — this great man:

St Nicholas Day

My 2016 post discusses the customs and celebrations observed on this day:

More on St Nicholas — feast day December 6

In commenting on that post, one of my readers, sunnydaysall, shared her experience of living in Germany and being able to join in the festivities:

Wow! I had no idea St Nicholas was so many things to so many different cultures.

When I lived in Berlin Germany, I lived in the heart of the population… On the “economy” as it was called by military dependents! I loved the German people and their customs, and Christmas was a real treat for my family! We put our shoes out on the stoop for St Nicholas to stuff our shoes with sweet treats and trinkets, and sometimes there was a simple exchanging of gifts! But it was the neighborhood celebrations that we all enjoyed so much!

The European Christmas with St Nicholas was so very different from our American Santa Claus, and Christmas was celebrated with neighbors, family, and friends! The cobblestone streets were filled with carolers and snow! Being from the South, it was the first time I had lived where it truly snowed!! Large beer wagons were filled with hay and people hopped aboard and caroled from the wagons as well! The “huge” horses were draped in jingle bells and they were braided in their mane and tails! The kids would get so excited when they heard them coming!

There were also people in the streets singing and the neighborhood pubs, where everyone gathered, stayed open almost all night! But you had to be ready for Church the next morning! 🙂

For a country with a dwindling population, 40 years ago, Germany was all about celebrating the “family”… But now I hear it is so very different now.

Thanks, sunnydaysall, for documenting a lovely memory — and for letting me share it here.

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 have omitted — 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 13:8-12

But Elymas the magician (for that is the meaning of his name) opposed them, seeking to turn the proconsul away from the faith. But Saul, who was also called Paul, filled with the Holy Spirit, looked intently at him 10 and said, “You son of the devil, you enemy of all righteousness, full of all deceit and villainy, will you not stop making crooked the straight paths of the Lord? 11 And now, behold, the hand of the Lord is upon you, and you will be blind and unable to see the sun for a time.” Immediately mist and darkness fell upon him, and he went about seeking people to lead him by the hand. 12 Then the proconsul believed, when he saw what had occurred, for he was astonished at the teaching of the Lord.

—————————————————————————————-

Last week’s post introduced this dramatic scene. Barnabas, Saul and John Mark (Mark of the Gospel) sailed from the port of Seleucia, not far from Antioch where they had been teaching, and sailed to Cyprus, a short distance away. They ministered from Salamis on the east coast across the island to Paphos, the port on the west coast and the seat of Roman government. The wise proconsul Sergius Paulus wanted to hear what Barnabas and Saul had to say.

The magician — sorcerer — who inserted himself in Sergius Paulus’s court was named Bar-Jesus. He was anything but a ‘son of salvation’ but, in fact, a son of Satan. In verse 8, we see that Bar-Jesus was also known as Elymas, which means magician — sorcerer — an accurate name for this evildoer.

John MacArthur explains that Elymas is an Arabic name of two words:

One of them means wise and one of them means powerful and perhaps he was both.

Elymas actively tried to dissuade Sergius Paulus from the faith (verse 8).

Matthew Henry’s commentary explains how he might have done that (emphases mine below):

He set up himself to be a messenger from heaven, and denied that they were. And thus he sought to turn away the deputy from the faith (Acts 13:8), to keep him from receiving the gospel, which he saw him inclined to do. Note, Satan is in a special manner busy with great men and men of power, to keep them from being religious; because he knows that their example, whether good or bad, will have an influence upon many. And those who are in any way instrumental to prejudice people against the truths and ways of Christ are doing the devil’s work.

MacArthur refers to II Timothy 3, particularly verse 13, which talks about ‘seducers’ — sorcerers, nothing to do with carnal knowledge:

Now goes to verse 13 and I’ll really show you something. “But evil men and seducers shall become worse and worse, deceiving and being deceived.” I want you to look at the word seducers, goates in the Greek, from the Greek verb goaol. You know what that verb means? It means to utter low mystical tones. You say, “What is that?” It was a word used of a class of magicians who chanted magical formulas in guttural languages.

The clearest English translation of goates [–] seducers [–] is sorcerers. That’s the best translation.

Sorcerers feature in the Bible, unsuccessfully trying to stop God’s will:

“Now as Jannes and Jambres withstood Moses.” … The two magicians of Pharaoh who tried to stop the progress of God with Israel. Remember what happened? They were demon-possessed mediums in Pharaoh’s court and when Moses came in and wanted to do what God wanted they withstood him. They were just what Simon [Magus, from Acts 8 (here and here)], the sorcerer was; they were just exactly what Bar-Jesus was … They were demon-possessed people to withstand the purposes of God. But you know who won that contest? Moses.

St Luke, the author of Acts, referred to Saul as Paul for the first time in verse 9.

A few theories abound about this name change. Henry presents two of them. This is the first, which we know better:

Saul was his name as he was a Hebrew, and of the tribe of Benjamin; Paul was his name as he was a citizen of Rome. Hitherto we have had him mostly conversant among the Jews, and therefore called by his Jewish name; but now, when he is sent forth among the Gentiles, he is called by his Roman name, to put somewhat of a reputation upon him in the Roman cities, Paulus being a very common name among them.

Here is the second, which is rather interesting:

But some think he was never called Paul till now that he was instrumental in the conversion of Sergius Paulus to the faith of Christ, and that he took the name Paulus as a memorial of this victory obtained by the gospel of Christ, as among the Romans he that had conquered a country took his denomination from it, as Germanicus, Britannicus, Africanus; or rather, Sergius Paulus himself gave him the name Paulus in token of his favour and respect to him, as Vespasian gave his name Flavius to Josephus the Jew.

Josephus the Jew was the learned historian whose works corroborate the timeline of events in the New Testament.

MacArthur tells us:

He was probably called Paul from his birth, a Gentile name meaning little. You start studying Paul and he doesn’t come out very handsome. He’s little and sort of blind. One historian says, short, fat and bald. I don’t know whether that’s true, but nevertheless perhaps if you can think of him in that term you can get a little visual picture. But anyway, Saul called Paul, that means little, and it was his Gentile name. It says he was now beginning his ministry as apostle to the Gentiles. He’d begun to be called Paul from now on. So this is a transition and we’ll know him as Paul.

Verse 9 says that Paul looked at Elymas ‘intently’, from which we can infer eye-to-eye, eyes being the window to the soul. The Holy Spirit was welling up in Paul. Henry describes what was happening at that moment:

[1.] That he was filled with the Holy Ghost upon this occasion, filled with a holy zeal against a professed enemy of Christ, which was one of the graces of the Holy Ghosta spirit of burning; filled with power to denounce the wrath of God against him, which was one of the gifts of the Holy Ghost–a spirit of judgment. He felt a more than ordinary fervour in his mind, as the prophet did when he was full of power by the Spirit of the Lord (Micah 3:8), and another prophet when his face was made harder than flint (Ezekiel 3:9), and another when his mouth was made like a sharp sword, Isaiah 49:2. What Paul said did not come from any personal resentment, but from the strong impressions which the Holy Ghost made upon his spirit.

[2.] He set his eyes upon him, to face him down, and to show a holy boldness, in opposition to his wicked impudence. He set his eyes upon him, as an indication that the eye of the heart-searching God was upon him, and saw through and through him; nay, that the face of the Lord was against him, Psalms 34:16. He fixed his eyes upon him, to see if he could discern in his countenance any marks of remorse for what he had done; for, if he could have discerned the least sign of this, it would have prevented the ensuing doom.

Then, Paul referred to Elymas as ‘son of the devil’, ‘enemy of all righteousness’, filled with ‘all deceit and villainy’. He asked the sorcerer if he would stop what he was doing:

will you not stop making crooked the straight paths of the Lord?

MacArthur draws us back to the name Bar-Jesus:

His name was son of salvation. He says, “You’re no son of salvation, you’re son of the devil Bar-Jesus, Bar-Satan, bar meaning son. Then he calls him an enemy of all righteousness. He feigned that he was righteous, prophet, Jew, all that. He says, “You’re an enemy of all righteousness. You’re an enemy of God. Everybody in that stuff is an enemy of God. You get that? They’re deceitful, they’re wicked and you and I have nothing to do with them whatever. “Will you,” he says, “Will you not cease to pervert the right ways of the Lord?” Apparently this guy had twisted the truth about God around for satanic purposes. And that’s exactly what false prophets always do.

But there was no sign of remorse from Elymas, Bar-Jesus — in reality, not wise at all nor son of salvation, but rather the spawn of Satan.

So the Holy Spirit worked through Paul to blind the sorcerer, but only for a certain amount of time (verse 11). Paul told Elymas that the hand of the Lord was upon the sorcerer, therefore, this was a divine judgement.

Elymas could have been struck dead, but Henry posits that the blindness might have been a way of bringing Elymas to repentance:

if he will repent, and give glory to God, by making confession, his sight shall be restored; nay, it should seem, though he do not, yet his sight shall be restored, to try if he will be led to repentance either by the judgments of God or by his mercies.

MacArthur compared this blindness to Saul’s three-day blindness of his conversion and thinks it might have worked similarly on the magician:

I don’t know this and I don’t have much information other than just that little statement, “for a season,” but I wouldn’t be a bit surprised when I get to heaven to find Bar-Jesus up there because this was not a permanent judgment. But it was for the moment victory. Do you know something? Do you know the demons can’t handle you in the power of the Spirit? They cannot handle you at all. Mastery!

The seemingly invincible sorcerer was helpless with the ‘mist and darkness’ upon him. Everyone who was there saw what had happened to him. He had to reach out for people to lead him by the hand.

Henry has this analysis:

This silenced him presently, filled him with confusion, and was an effectual confutation of all he said against the doctrine of Christ. Let not him any more pretend to be a guide to the deputy’s conscience who is himself struck blind. It was also an earnest to him of a much sorer punishment if he repent not; for he is one of those wandering stars to whom is reserved the blackness of darkness for ever, Jude 1:13. Elymas did himself proclaim the truth of the miracle, when he went about seeking some to lead him by the hand; and where now is all his skill in sorcery, upon which he had so much valued himself, when he can neither find his way nor find a friend that will be so kind as to lead him!

One wonders how many people witnessing that believed. Whatever the case, Sergius Paulus, as a witness to that miracle, believed and was ‘astonished at the teaching of the Lord’ (verse 12).

Both our commentators put the emphasis on doctrine first, then the miracle, in converting the proconsul. Possibly, in his wisdom, Sergius Paulus wanted to understand the doctrine and saw it, rightly, as being primary.

What happened to him afterwards we are not told, however, Henry’s commentary says:

When he became a Christian, he neither laid down his government, nor was turned out of it, but we may suppose, as a Christian magistrate, by his influence helped very much to propagate Christianity in that island.

MacArthur says likewise:

Satan lost the battle, and now the whole of the island of Cyprus is going to come under the control of the Holy Spirit. What a victory. Then the deputy, when he saw what was done, what’s the next word, believed! You say oh it doesn’t say he was saved. You can believe and not be saved. That’s right. You could. But it doesn’t say he believed and wasn’t saved either. So how are you going to qualify the word believe?

Well, look at the next statement. “Being astonished at the doctrine of the Lord.” … It wasn’t the miracle that got to Sergius Paulus; it was the doctrine of the Lord. How is a man saved? If he confesses with his mouth that Jesus is Lord and believes. I believe that he was astonished at the doctrine. How would they know that unless he verbalized that, which means he believed and confessed with his mouth the doctrine of the Lordship of Christ? I believe he was saved. In fact there may be a wonderful companionship in heaven between Bar-Jesus and Sergius Paulus on a whole different basis going on right now. I hope I find them both there. That’s somewhat speculative, but that’s my opinion.

To wrap up on Sergius Paulus, during the Middle Ages, the Gauls (Gaul — present-day France) circulated legends to tie their cities to the Apostles. One legend posits that Sergius Paulus became the Bishop of Narbonne — Paul of Narbonne. However, that is unlikely because Sergius Paulus lived in the 1st century AD and served under the Emperor Claudius. Paul of Narbonne lived during the 3rd century.

Wikipedia states that Sergius Paulus probably fulfilled his three-year assignment in Cyprus then returned to Rome:

where he was appointed curator.[2] As he is not greeted in Paul’s Epistle to the Romans, it is possible he died before it was written.[3]

The rest of Acts 13 discusses Paul’s and Barnabas’s ongoing ministry. Verse 13 tells us that they sailed from Cyprus to Perga in Pamphylia then onto Antioch in Pisidia (not Syria). From Cyprus, John Mark returned to Jerusalem.

MacArthur explains what probably happened:

And here’s the sad note. “And John departing from them returned to Jerusalem. You say, “What’s so sad about that?” Paul was very upset about that, very very upset. S[o] why did John Mark leave? There’s several possibilities. Some say that he had resentment over Paul becoming the leader over Barnabas. Some say Mark was more attached to Barnabas and Paul, by his very nature, became the leader he was angry with Paul and didn’t want to work under him. Others say he was afraid because they were having to go over the Taurus mountains and the Taurus mountains were noted for being perilous. They were terribly fast torrents that was spanned by very weak bridges, and there were also robbers that lurked and the Roman government had tried to get the robbers out of the Taurus mountains but there was so many cracks and crevices and caves they couldn’t get them, and so it was a terribly perilous thing to even be in the Taurus mountains. It’s interesting, too, that in II Corinthians Paul says, “In my life I’ve been in the peril of robbers and in the peril of rivers,” and it may have been just that when he was talking about when he went to the Taurus mountains on his way.

And so perhaps Mark had a little chicken in him. There’s a third possibility and that is that the romance of mission work had worn off. Like so many missionaries who go out the first time around, the romance is going and they come back and that’s it. But whatever it was Paul was upset and it caused friction. Over in Chapter 15, verse 38, it had a terrible effect. They were going to go on a second missionary journey Paul and Barnabas, and this is, we’ll get to this and ooh you’ll learn some things there. Look at the difference between this and verse 36, “Let us go again.” Um Paul you’re running ahead, right? The last time the Spirit of God said, “Separate Me Paul and Barnabas.” Paul said, “Let us go.” You know what happened? They didn’t go. Paul wound up taking Silas and Barnabas wound up going somewhere else.

But you know what happened? Barnabas determined to take John, verse 37, “But Paul thought it not good to take him with them, who departed from them from Pamphylia and went not with him to the work and so the contention was so sharp that they departed asunder one from the other.” You know that leaving of John Mark actually fractured the relationship between Paul and Barnabas? There’s a beautiful ending to the story II Timothy 4:11, Paul is closing out his life and he writes and he says, “Only Luke is here. Could you send Mark? He could be profitable to me.” Somewhere in the years he and Mark got back together.

It is good to know they put their differences behind them — a good example to follow.

Next time — Acts 13:40-43

Jesus Light of the World 616Christ the King Sunday — also known as the Feast of Christ the King and Stir up Sunday — was on November 26, 2017.

This feast day is the last Sunday of the Church year.

December 2, 2017, is the first Sunday in Advent. From then through the week following the next Christ the King Sunday, readings will come from Year B in the three-year Lectionary used in public worship.

Christ the King Sunday

Pope Pius XI created this feast day in 1925 to combat secularism imposed by dictatorships around the world at that time. Until 1960, the feast day was the last Sunday in October. With Vatican II, it was moved to the end of November.

As Protestant denominations began using the Lectionary in the 1970s, more of them gradually adopted the feast. Wikipedia tells us (bold emphases in the original, the one in purple mine):

Those churches that use the Revised Common Lectionary observe Christ the King Sunday as the final Sunday of their liturgical years.[12] These churches include most major Anglican and mainline Protestant groups, including the Church of England, Episcopal Church, Anglican Church in North America, Evangelical Lutheran Church in America and other Lutheran groups, United Methodist Church and other Methodist groups, Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), the United Church of Christ, and the Moravian Church. Some, such as the Uniting Church in Australia refer to it in non-gendered terms as feast of The Reign of Christ.

In the Evangelical-Lutheran Church of Sweden, this day is referred to as the Sunday of Doom, previously highlighting the final judgement, though after the Lectionary of 1983 the theme of the day was amended to the Return of Christ. In the Church in Wales, part of the Anglican Communion, the 4 Sundays before Advent are called the “Sundays of the Kingdom” and Christ the King is observed as a season and not a single festal day.

The United Methodist Church website has details on the impact the feast had in Mexico in the 1920s (emphases mine below):

It was first added in 1925 by the Roman Catholic Church in response to increasing secularization movements worldwide, but in particular to the plight of Mexican Christians who were being told by their government that only their government was due ultimate allegiance. The Church in Mexico remained faithful, holding public parades throughout the land (with significant governmental pushback!) proclaiming “Cristo Rey!,” “Christ is King!” Pope Pius XI made that declaration the basis of a Holy Day to be observed throughout the entire Roman Catholic Church, “Christ, The King of the Universe.”

In Britain, the feast is popularly known as Stir up Sunday, the time when women start making their Christmas cakes, which need the ensuing weeks in order to achieve maximum flavour and texture. The name comes from the traditional Collect:

Stir up, O Lord, the wills of your faithful people, that they bringing forth the fruit of good works, may by you be richly rewarded: through Jesus Christ Our Lord. Amen

Of course, in our postmodern era, some Christians object to the use of gender-oriented language, such as the word ‘king’. Therefore, some churches refer to it as Reign of Christ Sunday.

The aforementioned United Methodist Church article has a social justice tone to it regarding this particular feast day:

Here’s the part we may not like as well, but must pay attention to.

This shepherd takes sides.

This is also the shepherd who will choose to ignore or even destroy the sheep who have prospered at the expense of those who have been injured and scattered, those who have pushed or shoved the others out of the way to get all the choicest pasture for themselves, those who made themselves strong on the backs of those who were weaker and whom they made weaker still. This shepherd has no interest in their preservation. They are like a cancer, taking and consuming resources for themselves and their own purposes that were intended to be made available for the good of the whole body. If they will survive at all, it will be without the help of this shepherd.

This shepherd sides with the weak, the outcast, the damaged, the diseased, the abandoned, the marginalized.

That is what the Year A readings say, certainly, but there are different readings for the other two Lectionary years.

ChurchYear.Net understands our Saviour, the King of Kings, more broadly:

The earliest Christians identified Jesus with the predicted Messiah of the Jews. The Jewish word “messiah,” and the Greek word “Christ,” both mean “anointed one,” and came to refer to the expected king who would deliver Israel from the hands of the Romans. Christians believe that Jesus is this expected Messiah. Unlike the messiah most Jews expected, Jesus came to free all people, Jew and Gentile, and he did not come to free them from the Romans, but from sin and death. Thus the king of the Jews, and of the cosmos, does not rule over a kingdom of this world.

ChurchYear.Net explains Pius XI’s original objectives for establishing this feast day:

Pius hoped the institution of the feast would have various effects. They were:

1. That nations would see that the Church has the right to freedom, and immunity from the state (Quas Primas, 32).
2. That leaders and nations would see that they are bound to give respect to Christ (Quas Primas, 31).
3. That the faithful would gain strength and courage from the celebration of the feast, as we are reminded that Christ must reign in our hearts, minds, wills, and bodies (Quas Primas, 33).

Today, the same distrust of authority exists, although the problem has gotten worse. Individualism has been embraced to such an extreme, that for many, the only authority is the individual self. The idea of Christ as ruler is rejected in such a strongly individualistic system. Also, many balk at the idea of kings and queens, believing them to be antiquated and possibly oppressive. Some even reject the titles of “lord” and “king” for Christ because they believe that such titles are borrowed from oppressive systems of government. However true these statements might be (some kings have been oppressive), these individuals miss the point: Christ’s kingship is one of humility and service.

The site also has a separate page of prayers and hymns for Christ the King Sunday.

The readings for 2017 — Year A — are on the Vanderbilt University Lectionary site. The respective Epistle and Gospel follow:

Ephesians 1:15-23

1:15 I have heard of your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love toward all the saints, and for this reason

1:16 I do not cease to give thanks for you as I remember you in my prayers.

1:17 I pray that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you a spirit of wisdom and revelation as you come to know him,

1:18 so that, with the eyes of your heart enlightened, you may know what is the hope to which he has called you, what are the riches of his glorious inheritance among the saints,

1:19 and what is the immeasurable greatness of his power for us who believe, according to the working of his great power.

1:20 God put this power to work in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly places,

1:21 far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and above every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the age to come.

1:22 And he has put all things under his feet and has made him the head over all things for the church,

1:23 which is his body, the fullness of him who fills all in all.

——————————–

Matthew 25:31-46

25:31 “When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on the throne of his glory.

25:32 All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats,

25:33 and he will put the sheep at his right hand and the goats at the left.

25:34 Then the king will say to those at his right hand, ‘Come, you that are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world;

25:35 for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me,

25:36 I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me.’

25:37 Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry and gave you food, or thirsty and gave you something to drink?

25:38 And when was it that we saw you a stranger and welcomed you, or naked and gave you clothing?

25:39 And when was it that we saw you sick or in prison and visited you?’

25:40 And the king will answer them, ‘Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.’

25:41 Then he will say to those at his left hand, ‘You that are accursed, depart from me into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels;

25:42 for I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink,

25:43 I was a stranger and you did not welcome me, naked and you did not give me clothing, sick and in prison and you did not visit me.’

25:44 Then they also will answer, ‘Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not take care of you?’

25:45 Then he will answer them, ‘Truly I tell you, just as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.’

25:46 And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.”

First Sunday of Advent

The Epistle and Gospel readings for the First Sunday of Advent — Lectionary Year B — continue a similar theme, about being prepared for the Final Judgement.

Note that Paul’s letter to the Corinthians mentions thankfulness, spiritual strength and spiritual gifts — all coming from God — and being called into the fellowship of Christ Jesus:

1 Corinthians 1:3-9

1:3 Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.

1:4 I give thanks to my God always for you because of the grace of God that has been given you in Christ Jesus,

1:5 for in every way you have been enriched in him, in speech and knowledge of every kind–

1:6 just as the testimony of Christ has been strengthened among you–

1:7 so that you are not lacking in any spiritual gift as you wait for the revealing of our Lord Jesus Christ.

1:8 He will also strengthen you to the end, so that you may be blameless on the day of our Lord Jesus Christ.

1:9 God is faithful; by him you were called into the fellowship of his Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.

In Mark’s Gospel, we read Jesus’s warning about not knowing when the time will come, therefore, be prepared — ‘keep alert’, ‘keep awake’:

Mark 13:24-37

13:24 “But in those days, after that suffering, the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light,

13:25 and the stars will be falling from heaven, and the powers in the heavens will be shaken.

13:26 Then they will see ‘the Son of Man coming in clouds’ with great power and glory.

13:27 Then he will send out the angels, and gather his elect from the four winds, from the ends of the earth to the ends of heaven.

13:28 “From the fig tree learn its lesson: as soon as its branch becomes tender and puts forth its leaves, you know that summer is near.

13:29 So also, when you see these things taking place, you know that he is near, at the very gates.

13:30 Truly I tell you, this generation will not pass away until all these things have taken place.

13:31 Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away.

13:32 “But about that day or hour no one knows, neither the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father.

13:33 Beware, keep alert; for you do not know when the time will come.

13:34 It is like a man going on a journey, when he leaves home and puts his slaves in charge, each with his work, and commands the doorkeeper to be on the watch.

13:35 Therefore, keep awake–for you do not know when the master of the house will come, in the evening, or at midnight, or at cockcrow, or at dawn,

13:36 or else he may find you asleep when he comes suddenly.

13:37 And what I say to you I say to all: Keep awake.”

Most Christians observe Advent as a time of spiritual preparation for Christmas. I will feature Advent posts and resources in the coming weeks.

Until then, readers might find Vanderbilt’s Advent resources and this page of Sunday readings useful.

Bible GenevaThe 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 have omitted — 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 13:4-7

Barnabas and Saul on Cyprus

So, being sent out by the Holy Spirit, they went down to Seleucia, and from there they sailed to Cyprus. When they arrived at Salamis, they proclaimed the word of God in the synagogues of the Jews. And they had John to assist them. When they had gone through the whole island as far as Paphos, they came upon a certain magician, a Jewish false prophet named Bar-Jesus. He was with the proconsul, Sergius Paulus, a man of intelligence, who summoned Barnabas and Saul and sought to hear the word of God.

————————————————————————————

Last week’s entry discussed the verses following Herod’s death by worms. First, the number of new Christians increased — the death was so slow, so public and gruesome it could only have been seen as a divine judgement. Secondly, Barnabas and Saul brought John Mark (St Mark of the Gospel) into their ministry.

Yesterday’s post explained the first three verses of Acts 13. If you haven’t yet read it, doing so will help clarify the shift out of Jerusalem and Judea to distant lands to spread the Word.

In summary, the church in Antioch was becoming well established to the point that two of the ministers could go and establish another church elsewhere. The five teachers in Antioch were Barnabas (the eldest), Simeon Niger, Lucius of Cyrene, Manaen and Saul. The Holy Spirit directed the five to send Barnabas and Saul away for a new ministry.

Those who know the Bible well and those have been following my series on Acts, recognise Barnabas, the Levite from Cyprus who converted. He first appears at the end of Acts 4. I wrote about him in last week’s Forbidden Bible Verses instalment about Acts 12:24-25.

Note that St Luke, the author of Acts, again impresses upon us that the Holy Spirit sent forth Barnabas and Saul, who went to the port of Seleucia and sailed to Cyprus (verse 4). It is possible that Barnabas wanted to evangelise his homeland.

If not, Cyprus was still an easy first destination. MacArthur says that arriving at Seleucia from Antioch was a 16-mile journey via the Euphrates River. From Seleucia:

you could look out a few miles, you could see Cyprus, a little island out there. They got a ship and took off …

MacArthur describes Cyprus (emphases mine below):

That little island of Cyprus, 30 to 50 miles wide, 110 miles long, two important cities, one in the southeast corner, one in the northwest corner Salamis and Paphos and the land in-between was going to be conquered for Christ. That’s the first new adventure for the Gentile church. What an exciting thing.

They first arrived at Salamis on the south-east coast, where they began preaching and teaching in the synagogues with John (Mark, of the Gospel) to help them (verse 5).

Saul of Tarsus preached in the synagogues of Damascus (Acts 9:20), so it seemed logical to do the same on Cyprus. MacArthur explains:

Now there were a lot of Jews in that city, many thousands, enough to keep several synagogues operating. And as Paul’s custom was soon to be, he went into the synagogues and there he used the place as a platform. It was a public place where many could gather and it was a great place for preaching and he’d go there and begin to preach. And since he was a Jew he would inevitably have access and as a former member of the Sanhedrin and so forth and so on they would be receiving him.

John Mark’s role was of a preacher-in-training. Matthew Henry’s commentary tells us:

They had John for their minister; not their servant in common things, but their assistant in the things of God, either to prepare their way in places where they designed to come or to carry on their work in places where they had begun it, or to converse familiarly with those to whom they preached publicly, and explain things to them; and such a one might be many ways of use to them, especially in a strange country.

The three men travelled from east to west, a journey of 110 miles, no doubt stopping in many places along the way to preach and teach. Luke did not tell us how long this journey with frequent stops took, but it must have been some time.

Their final destination was Paphos on the north-west coast (verse 6). Paphos was the seat of the Roman government on the island and was well-known for the Paphian Venus, as there was a widespread and deep cult surrounding the goddess of love there. MacArthur explains:

Venus was supposedly, according to their tradition, to have been born in the foam of the sea off the shore of Paphos having been born then come to live in Paphos and she was worshipped with the wildest kind of sexual orgies, as were so many of the gods and goddesses of that time. One writer said the city was a pit of sin where people wallowed in moral filth. So here comes two guys and a helper. They are going to conquer Paphos. Here they come, but the Spirit of God is with them.

It could only be expected that Satan would be there to try and frustrate their holy work. The three men met a Jewish sorcerer by the name of Bar-Jesus (verse 6), which means ‘son of salvation’ or ‘son of Joshua’. Henry says that the name carried an alternative — darker — meaning:

the Syriac calls him, Bar-shoma–the son of pride; filius inflationis–the son of inflation.

‘Inflation’ there means being puffed up with pride.

Bar-Jesus’s other name was Elymas, which we will see next week (Acts 13:8).

Bar-Jesus was not a magician who does card tricks or pulls rabbits out of hats. He was a practitioner of the dark arts.

If you think this scene with a magician sounds familiar, you remember the story of Simon Magus from Acts 8 (here and here), when he was baptised thanks to Philip the Evangelist then asked the Apostles to sell him power from the Holy Spirit. Clearly, the man never understood and Peter rebuked him severely. Simon Magus and Bar-Jesus shared similar characteristics.

John MacArthur expands on this:

Both were demon-possessed mediums. You know what a medium is? It’s a contact. Men contact this medium who is infested with demons and thus they contacted the demonic world.

The title sorcerer, let me take a footnote on that. The title sorcerer comes from the Greek word magos, from which we get magic. Now watch very carefully. The word initially doesn’t have to mean anything evil in its full sense. The word magos is the very word translated in Matthew 2 for wise men magi. It’s the same word. In reference to them, remember they came bearing gifts for the Christ child, but in reference to them it has kind of a good sense for they were good men, they were astronomers from Persia and magi became the title of Persian astronomers, Persian scientists.

But some of that Persian science had degenerated into the occult. Astronomy became what? Astrology. And so there were two kinds of Persian scientists. There were magi who were in a rather good sense somewhat scientific and there were magi who were correctly to be translated sorcerers. And though they were Zoroastrian priests to begin with, they rather divided into two kinds, those who were really plugged into Satan and those who were somewhat pseudoscientific. And so the word itself can go either way. But magic really was the art practiced by Persian priests in connection with astronomy. It deteriorated into astrology and now it comes down to what we know today.

And so every kind of fraud and deception and every form of the occult and so forth and so on was going on in the name of magic. And this guy was into it. He was a magician. He was a sorcerer. Now I’m not talking about magic. I’m not talking about pulling rabbits out of hats. That’s inconsequential. That’s immaterial. That may even prove to illustrate some good principles. We’re talking about demonic magic.

All right, they found a certain sorcerer, a false prophet. Now notice this: mediums are very often false prophets. Demon possessed people very often fain to be prophets of God.

Bar-Jesus was with the Roman pro-consul, Sergius Paulus, at the time he summoned Barnabas and Saul to hear the Word (verse 7). We are told that Sergius Paulus is ‘a man of intelligence’.

Given that information, did Sergius Paulus invite Bar-Jesus to be an adviser of some sort? MacArthur thinks so:

Sergius Paulus then dabbled in the occult and he had this man with him. And it’s interesting the emperor Tiberius, at this particular time in the world, had a whole flock of these occult medium demon-possessed people around him giving him information. Is it any wonder the Roman Empire went out of existence? All the information was coming from the pit.

Henry’s commentary proffers another perspective:

He was hanging on at court, was with the deputy of the country. It does not appear that the deputy called for him, as he did for Barnabas and Saul; but he thrust himself upon him, aiming, no doubt, to make a hand of him, and get money by him.

The story continues next week.

However, in closing, MacArthur gave this sermon in 1973. It begins with the deterioration of the Spirit-driven Church in favour of something secular:

I hope that several things are happening as we’re studying the book of Acts. One of those is I hope that it’s iconoclastic in a sense. That is I hope that it smashes some idols about the church, because I think that for many years through the filtering in and out of church history and culture and so forth the church has very often substituted its form for its real life. It has substituted its ritual for its reality. It has become an institution instead of life. It has become a business instead of a body. It has become a kind of professional pulpitism sponsored by lay spectators rather than a ministering organism and I hope that somehow as we study the book of Acts, even as we did when we studied the book of Ephesians, we are smashing some old idols about the church and that we can kind of get down to the basis of what the New Testament church is to be …

There are two extremes of the church that I see. There is the religious machine type church, which is big business. The church becomes an end in itself. It just exists to exist. It is not a means to anything. It is just an end. It doesn’t have as its primary goal, at least in a working sense, teaching and winning and discipling and reproducing. Its success is measured by the number of people that are there, the number of bodies that are briefed, baptized, blessed, and given tithing envelopes, and that’s about it. And if you have more bodies in your building than the guy down the street you’re successful and he’s not.

And so you have the big business idea of the church, which, of course, is totally foreign to the concept of an organism and a body that operates in simplicity through the gifts of the Spirit and the responsibilities of fellowship.

On the other hand, you have the other extreme, which is the social reform view of the church. That the church isn’t really to preach the Word of God, the church is to preach economics, politics, it is involved in civil and social and environmental struggles and truly the pastors and leaders are as lost as the heathen, only they are more damned the Bible says, because they sin willfully against light and their false prophets. Their concern is a preoccupation with civil issues. If there is no reality to their theology, if they can’t believe the Word of God, if they can’t really nail down who Jesus is and they can’t be firm on fact on who God is, the only thing left to do is fool around with man. And so that’s what happens.

U. S. and News and World Report recently did some surveys of young pastors and young ministers and these men says the article, “Are calling on our churches to save the individual.” Sounds good. It goes on, “By saving or reforming society dealing with the ills of urbanization technology and discrimination.” Only that approach they feel will make religion relevant.

Beloved, that approach will make religion obsolete. That is not what we’re to do. Oh ultimately we are to minister to the total man in every way, but the church preoccupied with social ills is a church that is had the gospel vacuumed and sucked right out of it. And I reject the idea that the church is a reformed institution for the world. I think the church is a reformed institution for one man at a time on the basis of the gospel of Jesus Christ and changed individuals will change the world. You’ll never change society any other way than to change men through the preaching of the gospel of Jesus Christ.

That approach severely weakened Christianity, starting in the 1980s and continuing on through the present day.

The terrible truth is that no clergyperson will admit this grave error, indeed, a grave sin against Christ.

Next time — Acts 13:8-12

Bible read me 2Up through Chapter 12, the Book of Acts, which St Luke wrote, is mostly about the disciples’ preaching to the Jewish people.

Chapter 13 shows the shift to a Gentile Church. Commentary cited below comes from Matthew Henry and John MacArthur.

These first three verses are in the three-year Lectionary used in public worship:

Barnabas and Saul Sent Off

13 Now there were in the church at Antioch prophets and teachers, Barnabas, Simeon who was called Niger,[a] Lucius of Cyrene, Manaen a lifelong friend of Herod the tetrarch, and Saul. While they were worshiping the Lord and fasting, the Holy Spirit said, “Set apart for me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them.” Then after fasting and praying they laid their hands on them and sent them off.

I wrote about the church in Antioch a few weeks ago to better appreciate Acts 13. Acts 11:19-30 is also in the three-year Lectionary. This is an important reading, especially these verses (emphases mine below):

25 So Barnabas went to Tarsus to look for Saul, 26 and when he had found him, he brought him to Antioch. For a whole year they met with the church and taught a great many people. And in Antioch the disciples were first called Christians.

As my post explains, ‘Christians’ was a derogatory term used by the pagans to mean cultish followers of Christ. In Greek, ‘iani’ means ‘the party of’. The pagans in Antioch meant it as an insult.

The Christians in Antioch were devout and sent donations to the church in Judea:

27 Now in these days prophets came down from Jerusalem to Antioch. 28 And one of them named Agabus stood up and foretold by the Spirit that there would be a great famine over all the world (this took place in the days of Claudius). 29 So the disciples determined, every one according to his ability, to send relief to the brothers[d] living in Judea. 30 And they did so, sending it to the elders by the hand of Barnabas and Saul.

In Acts 13, we discover that Barnabas and Saul left Antioch to continue their ministry elsewhere, which will be the subject of the next Forbidden Bible Verses post.

In the first verse, St Luke wrote that there were prophets and teachers in the church in Antioch. Agabus was a prophet, as he revealed the Holy Spirit’s message that a famine would occur. The teachers revealed the truth of Jesus Christ as instructed by the Spirit.

Matthew Henry explains:

… those here mentioned were at times divinely inspired, and had instructions immediately from heaven upon special occasions, which gave them the title of prophets; and withal they were stated teachers of the church in their religious assemblies, expounded the scriptures, and opened the doctrine of Christ with suitable applications. These were the prophets, and scribes, or teachers, which Christ promised to send (Matthew 23:34), such as were every way qualified for the service of the Christian church. Antioch was a great city, and the Christians there were many, so that they could not all meet in one place; it was therefore requisite they should have many teachers, to preside in their respective assemblies, and to deliver God’s mind to them.

St Luke named five men ministering to the church in Antioch.

Those who know the Bible well and those have been following my series on Acts, recognise Barnabas, the Levite who converted. He first appears at the end of Acts 4. I wrote about him in my last Forbidden Bible Verses instalment about Acts 12:24-25.

Simeon — Simon — Niger, Henry’s commentary says, was so called for his jet black hair. John MacArthur believes Simeon was black. Either way, he was notable for his hair or skin colour. Regardless, the early Christians were colour-blind, and Simeon was a leader of the church in Antioch.

Questions also arise about the identity of Lucius of Cyrene. Cyrene — in present-day Libya — was known as the Athens of Africa. Was St Luke identifying himself? Again, we do not know. As with Simeon Niger, we do not have enough information to say either way. Henry wrote that a prominent Bible scholar of his day, Dr Lightfoot, thought Lucius of Cyrene was Luke, positing that Luke received the Gospel when he left Cyrene for Jerusalem. Lightfoot probably read Origen to come to that conclusion. MacArthur, on the other hand, makes no such connection. Whatever the case, Lucius of Cyrene was one of the founders of the church in Antioch and could have been one of the converts to flee Jerusalem after Stephen’s martyrdom (Acts 7:55-58).

Manaen had grown up with one of the Herods and gave up a privileged life to preach about Jesus Christ.

Finally, there was Saul of Tarsus — St Paul. Acts 13 is the first time we see ‘Paul’ instead of Saul. That passage will also be the subject of another Forbidden Bible Verses post.

Henry’s commentary tells us that Barnabas was named first as he was the eldest. Note that Saul was named last, possibly, as Henry says, because he was the youngest. That said, Saul’s ministry would become pre-eminent and feature largely in the New Testament.

Before going on to the next verse, it is important to understand the importance of the first verse. MacArthur explains the growth of the Church at this time:

Now the pattern for the church is very clear again here in Antioch as it was in Jerusalem. Before the church has much effect on the world it must be strong in itself. And so there is a very careful delineating even back in Chapter 11 … of the fact that this church in Antioch was founded in teaching. It had a solid basis, and then from that solid basis it began to move out into the world. You know that was the pattern in Jerusalem. Jerusalem grew up first of all in itself. Then, as best as we can tell, it was seven years after the founding of the Jerusalem church that people were first sent out from there, first sent out toward Antioch. That church grew strong and then established a beachhead in the world. And that beachhead in the pagan world was Antioch.

There’s been time for Antioch to get strong, and as Antioch has become solid and strong it’s ready to move out and establish new beachheads elsewhere in the pagan [world]. And that’s the way the church is to work. The church is to grow strong. It is to grow virile in the Word of God. It is to grow solid and then when it grows solid then it can have an effect on its world and it moves out from there sending out equipped and trained men to establish new beachheads. That’s the plan of the church.

It is exciting to contemplate this, particularly in our era, when the Church appears faithless. The faith of these leaders and their focus on teaching was what made the difference. How many clergy are teaching the Gospel today? Not very many. They prefer to expound on politics and social justice. Wrong!

By contrast, these five men in Antioch worshipped the Lord and fasted (verse 2). Henry points out that fasting took root among believers after Jesus ascended to Heaven:

Though it was not so much practised by the disciples of Christ, while the bridegroom was with them, as it was by the disciples of John [the Baptist] and of the Pharisees; yet, after the bridegroom was taken away, they abounded in it, as those that had well learned to deny themselves and to endure hardness.

Such was their devotion that the Holy Spirit spoke to them — either literally or figuratively (giving the men the same thought) — with a request that Barnabas and Saul go to minister elsewhere.

After their fasting and praying was complete, Simeon, Lucius and Manaen laid hands on Barnabas and Saul, who then left Antioch.

Henry’s commentary tells us:

They implored a blessing upon them in their present undertaking, begged that God would be with them, and give them success; and, in order to this, that they might be filled with the Holy Ghost in their work. This very thing is explained Acts 14:26, where it is said, concerning Paul and Barnabas, that from Antioch they had been recommended to the grace of God for the work which they fulfilled. As it was an instance of the humility of Barnabas and Saul that they submitted to the imposition of the hands of those that were their equals, or rather their inferiors; so it was of the good disposition of the other teachers that they did not envy Barnabas and Saul the honour to which they were preferred, but cheerfully committed it to them, with hearty prayers for them; and they sent them away with all expedition, out of a concern for those countries where they were to break up fallow ground.

MacArthur tells us what the lesson of these verses is:

A church that is not under the control of the Holy Spirit is not going to have an effective ministry. Now that is so basic it almost beggars the terms to even talk about it or the concept. Now let me show you what I mean by that.

Now go to I Corinthians 12:7-13. I Corinthians 12, and I want you to just catalog in your mind generally the idea of the importance of the Spirit in the life of the church as you listen to me read these verses. Just key in on the word Spirit, referring to the Holy Spirit. “But the manifestation of the Spirit is given to every man to profit. For to one is given by the Spirit the word of wisdom; to another the word of knowledge by the same Spirit; to another faith by the same Spirit; to another the gifts of healing by the same Spirit.” Verse 11, “But all these worketh that one and very same Spirit.” Verse 13, “For by one Spirit were we all baptized into one body, whether we be Jews or Greeks, bond or free, we’ve all been made to drink into one Spirit.”

Now here you have some interesting things, watch. You have the giving of spiritual gifts done by whom? Well the agent is the Spirit. You have the manifestation of the Spirit given to every man. You have the Spirit energizing all the gifts in verse 11. You have the Spirit baptizing everybody into the body in verse 13 and the Spirit indwelling everybody. Do you know what the life of the church depends on? It depends on what? The Holy Spirit! It’s an absolute contradiction to assume that a church can function unless it is under the very direct control of the Holy Spirit. You got it? A church cannot function apart from that. Why? Because all the church is, is the combination of the ministries of the gifts of the Spirit. Right? All it is, is the interaction of the Holy Spirit through human vessels. That’s all it is. If you suck that out of the church you have nothing but carnal clanging going on.

And that describes what is happening in the majority of our churches today — ‘carnal clanging going on’. Pray fervently and frequently for the state of the Church. And, churchgoers or not, let us also pray with all our hearts that we stay — or become — righteous in God’s sight. Studying the Bible is essential in this process.

Forbidden Bible Verses continues tomorrow.

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

Yet, it doesn’t tell the whole story.

My series Forbidden Bible Verses — ones the Lectionary editors and their clergy have omitted — 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 12:24-25

24 But the word of God increased and multiplied.

25 And Barnabas and Saul returned from[a] Jerusalem when they had completed their service, bringing with them John, whose other name was Mark.

——————————————————————————————–

Last week’s post was about the dramatic death of Herod Antipas. It was a just judgement on an evil ruler who beheaded St James the Great and wanted to murder Peter publicly.

As a result of Herod’s death, the early Church continued to grow and grow (verse 24). Matthew Henry explains:

When such a persecutor was taken off by a dreadful judgment, many were thereby convinced that the cause of Christianity was doubtless the cause of Christ, and therefore embraced it.

God’s purposes will not be foiled. John MacArthur says (emphases mine):

You know men have tried to destroy God, they have tried to burn Bibles, they’ve tried to wreck the church, they’ve tried everything and you know what, God’s work just keeps going on. Look at verse 24, just love it. After all of this the word of God did what? Grew and did what? Multiplied. Isn’t that terrific? For a man to think he’s going to stop the purpose of God is like taking a whiskbroom down to the beach and telling somebody you’re going to sweep back the tide. Doesn’t work. Can’t be done.

St Luke, the author of Acts, gives us verse 25 as the transition into Acts 13, which is about the ministries in Antioch and Cyprus.

Barnabas and Saul of Tarsus spent time in Antioch, preaching and teaching the people there.

Barnabas was the Levite in Acts 4:36-37 who gave all of his assets to the church in Jerusalem. In Acts 9, he convinced the disciples in Jerusalem that they should accept the converted Saul of Tarsus, their greatest persecutor — later Paul — into their church.

John Mark wrote the Gospel of Mark. We will read more about him and Barnabas in Acts. They were cousins who spread the Gospel message together. Barnabas also worked with Paul. These are the references to John Mark and Barnabas.

Barnabas and Saul were in Jerusalem for a brief spell. Henry tells us that they no doubt brought donations from the converts in Antioch to the church in Jerusalem. During their stay, it is possible that they lodged at Mary’s house, which Peter visited briefly after the angel released him from prison.

Then, they returned to Antioch, taking with them John Mark, Mary’s son. Henry explains:

It is probable that Barnabas lodged there [at Mary’s house], and perhaps Paul with him, while they were at Jerusalem, and it was that that occasioned the meeting there at that time (for wherever Paul was he would have some good work doing), and their intimacy in that family while they were at Jerusalem occasioned their taking a son of that family with them when they returned, to be trained up under them, and employed by them, in the service of the gospel. Educating young men for the ministry, and entering them into it, is a very good work for elder ministers to take care of, and of good service to the rising generation.

Those were three powerful ministers of the word of God, going out and increasing the numbers in the Church.

MacArthur reminds us:

Listen to what Jesus said: Jesus said, “I will build my church and the gates of hell will not prevail against it.” When God sets His purpose in motion you can’t frustrate His purpose. It can’t be done. Oh in Psalms listen to these verses: Here’s a classic definition of all these kings we’ve talked about. “The kings of the earth set themselves and the rulers take counsel together against the Lord.” And you know what the Lord’s response is? Verse 4, “He who sits in the heavens shall laugh.” It’s stupid to fight God. Doesn’t make sense. Isaiah said this: “Woe unto him that strives with his Maker,” Isaiah 49:5. Man’s a fool to fight God.

MacArthur then has a word for unbelievers, who always say that they are not subject to God’s will:

And I say to you this morning if you’ve never come to Jesus Christ and accepted Him as Savior you’re fighting God’s only provision for your salvation and forgiveness of sin. If you’ve never come to Jesus Christ you’re not giving God the glory, and if you’re not giving God the glory then you’re fighting against His glory. And if you’ve not become a part of His church, a part of His body, you’re fighting against His purpose and all three are losers. You say, well I’m not fighting God. Jesus said, “He that is not with me is what? Against me.” You say, “Well I’d like to get on God’s side. How do I do it?” Jesus said, “No man come unto the Father but by Me.” You come to Christ, receive Him by faith and you’re on God’s side. You cease being an enemy. Are you ready for this? And you become a son, a son of God on whom He pours out all His love.

We are quickly approaching Advent and preparing for Christmas. In the coming weeks, let us pray that more people accept Christ as Saviour, so that Christmas becomes for them a time of holy awe and an increase in faith.

Next time — Acts 13:4-7

Bible and crossThe 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 have omitted — 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 12:20-23

The Death of Herod

20 Now Herod was angry with the people of Tyre and Sidon, and they came to him with one accord, and having persuaded Blastus, the king’s chamberlain,[a] they asked for peace, because their country depended on the king’s country for food. 21 On an appointed day Herod put on his royal robes, took his seat upon the throne, and delivered an oration to them. 22 And the people were shouting, “The voice of a god, and not of a man!” 23 Immediately an angel of the Lord struck him down, because he did not give God the glory, and he was eaten by worms and breathed his last.

——————————————————————————————-

Last week’s post described Herod Antipas’s ire and humiliation over the disappearance of Peter, who makes no more significant appearances in Acts, other than in Chapter 15.

As my post explains, Herod Antipas — i.e. his men — searched for Peter but could not find him. Herod then sentenced his 16 guards assigned to Peter to death.

Matthew Henry thought that their sentence was commuted — because of the events in today’s post. John MacArthur says that they did die.

Regardless, my post said that the death penalty was Roman law for a guard who, even inadvertently, allowed a prisoner to escape.

In any event, Herod Antipas was completely humiliated. He wanted to put Peter on stage for a kangaroo trial and bloody death after Passover that year. He had already had the apostle James — St James the Great — beheaded in a more low-key way. Peter was to be the great public spectacle, akin to Jesus before the Crucifixion.

However, God foiled Herod’s evil plan for Peter at every stage.

And God wasn’t finished yet.

As I wrote last week, after Herod was humiliated, he left Judea for Caesarea, where he staged lavish performances praising Caesar, who had just returned from a triumphant trip to Britain. He was surrounded by the great and the good of the day. They went to sponge off Herod, enjoying his hospitality. They went to honour Caesar, not Herod.

Herod Antipas was saturated with sin. Not only was he angry with the most devout followers of Christ, he was also infuriated by others, as Matthew Henry’s commentary tells us, possibly for trivial reasons.

In verse 20, we discover that he was angry with the people of two ancient cities, Tyre and Sidon. Those cities appear occasionally in both the Old and New Testaments. In 2015, I wrote about Matthew 11:20-24, saying that Sidon was a Phoenecian port city, first mentioned in Genesis 10. The Egyptians sent their wheat to Sidon. From there, ships sent the wheat to Mediterranean ports. Tyre was a nearby fortified city, mentioned in Judges 19. It provided the cedars of Lebanon for Solomon’s temple. The two cities were — not surprisingly — steeped in idolatry, corruption and vice. This is why Jesus’s comment about the two cities — a judgment against the Jews of his time — was such a stinging curse (i.e. ‘Woe to you’):

21 “Woe to you, Chorazin! Woe to you, Bethsaida! For if the mighty works done in you had been done in Tyre and Sidon, they would have repented long ago in sackcloth and ashes. 22 But I tell you, it will be more bearable on the day of judgment for Tyre and Sidon than for you.

Also see the parallel in Luke 10:13-15, with more about the two cities.

MacArthur explains that, at the time of Herod Antipas, who was their king for all intents and purposes:

Tyre and Sidon are two free cities north of Caesarea. Caesarea is right on the Mediterranean Sea west of Jerusalem. And up north in Syria, north of Galilee is Tyre and Sidon, coastal cities, free cities, technically belonging to Syria. They were the neighbors of Galilee and of Herod’s territory, so there was a necessary interdependence.

That interdependence had to do with foodstuffs passing through those cities. Both depended on food from Galilee. Tyre and Sidon did not produce their own, as they traded.

MacArthur tells us:

Herod was mad. Maybe he didn’t like the duties or the tariffs that Tyre and Sidon were charging him for his movement of materials. So he got mad at them and he cut off all supplies and they were hurting badly. Herod was very angry and when Tyre and Sidon couldn’t get the food they needed and the supply they needed from Galilee and Israel they were in trouble. And so they knew they needed to make a treaty with Herod.

The people of Tyre and Sidon made an ally out of a man named Blastus, the king’s chamberlain — his trusted attendant or treasurer — who acted as their intermediary. Henry wrote that they likely used bribes.

In any event, they asked for peace, because they were in danger of going hungry.

Herod agreed a date to speak to them. This was a situation he must have relished: having two powerful ports — comparable to city states — being forced to grovel at his feet.

Herod made sure he donned his most royal robes, looked majestic on his throne and delivered an oration to them (verse 21). He milked this for all it was worth. MacArthur says:

He decided that the whole world would know how super he was, how great he was, and watch these two nations bow at his feet, these two cities.

MacArthur adds that all the great and the good who saw the performances lauding Caesar were likely to have been in attendance. The performances had taken place the day before.

Henry agrees with MacArthur that the Jewish historian Josephus also wrote about this event (emphases mine):

he had all the mucky mucks and the leaders all arriving in Caesarea and they met in the amphitheatre that had been built by his grandfather, Herod the Great. I was in that place where that is, big massive amphitheatre and there he had his big throne and all the people were sitting around cheer upon cheer cheering people and he comes out splendid in his royal apparel and Josephus said he had a silver robe on, made of silver. And the sun just came and splattered off of that thing and he just looked resplend[ent] in all of his glory, which is just what he wanted. He was going to get out there and sit in his throne and the cheering people, and he was going to watch all the Tyre and Sidon people bowing down to him and … eat up every second of it. This was day one, the tip of the hat to Caesar, day two my day, see. So he got day one out of the way and the second day comes in his silver robe and he’s the glory of man at its pinnacle. All the Rome pomp and circumstances there, the soldiers, the whole shot, everything is set up and all the little mealy mouth favor seekers are sitting in the chairs cheering, crowds lining everywhere.

This was a big deal. If this were to happen today, it would have been discussed for days on all the cable news channels, on Internet sites, tweeted about and hyped beyond reason. It would have been in all the newspapers and analysed endlessly. It would have been filmed live as a great televisual showdown.

So, duly puffed up with himself, Herod Antipas gave an oration. Henry paints the picture for us:

He made a speech to the men of Tyre and Sidon, a fine oration, in which, probably, after he had aggravated their fault, and commended their submission, he concluded with an assurance that he would pass by their offence and receive them into his favour again–proud enough that he had it in his power whom he would to keep alive, as well as whom he would to slay; and probably he kept them in suspense as to what their doom should be, till he made this oration to them, that the act of grace might come to them with the more pleasing surprise.

If that had occurred today, there would have been a lengthy commercial break between oration and conclusion of perceived mercy.

Amazingly, those who heard the oration — and, frankly, this isn’t too different to our times — pronounced the ‘voice of a god, and not of man’ (verse 22).

Immediately, an angel of the Lord struck him down. He breathed his last, but not before being eaten by worms (verse 23).

N.B.: Herod Antipas was sentenced to death by worms. Those worms did not eat him in his grave. They ate him alive. We all know how hideous maggots and grubs are. Imagine being eaten by them. Talk about a spectacle. That was God’s — and Jesus Christ’s — message to him, those watching and us.

Henry analyses this for us, including Herod’s quasi-Judaism:

his fault was that he said nothing, did not rebuke their flattery, nor disown the title they had given him, nor give God the glory (Acts 12:23); but he took it to himself, was very willing it should terminate in himself, and that he should be thought a god and have divine honours paid him. Si populus vult decipi, decipiatur–if the people will be deceived, let them. And it was worse in him who was a Jew, and professed to believe in one God only, than it was in the heathen emperors, who had gods many and lords many.

This brings us back to Jesus’s curse on Chorazin and Bethsaida cited above. If we know and ignore God’s will and Christ Jesus, we will surely perish.

We cannot know God unless we truly believe that Jesus Christ is our Lord and Saviour.

As Henry explains:

Now he was reckoned with for vexing the church of Christ, killing James, imprisoning Peter, and all the other mischiefs he had done.

Also:

The angel smote him with a sore disease just at that instant when he was strutting at the applauses of the people, and adoring his own shadow. Thus the king of Tyre said in his pride, I am a god, I sit in the seat of God; and set his heart as the heart of God; but he shall be a man, and no God, a weak mortal man, in the hand of him that slayeth him (Ezekiel 28:2-9), so Herod here. Potent princes must know, not only that God is omnipotent, but that angels also are greater in power and might than they. The angel smote him, because he gave not the glory to God; angels are jealous for God’s honour, and as soon as ever they have commission are ready to smite those that usurp his prerogatives, and rob God of his honour.

Henry adds the following for his audience, as the microscope was in its infancy then. His words are also pertinent for us today, four centuries later:

Surprising discoveries have of late been made by microscopes of the multitude of worms that there are in human bodies, and how much they contribute to the diseases of them, which is a good reason why we should not be proud of our bodies, or of any of their accomplishments, and why we should not pamper our bodies, for this is but feeding the worms, and feeding them for the worms.

Yes! A thousand times yes!

Of the worms, MacArthur tells us:

Josephus says they ate him for five days before he died. That’s a sickening debasing terrible way to die. Just when a man thinks he has exalted himself to the place of glory God crushes him to a place of humility. And I say to you, you can’t fight God because his power can’t be contested and His punishment can’t be avoided. Don’t fight God. He was painfully smitten. The pompous fool done in by worms.

God will never be defeated by unbelievers or mockers.

Next time — Acts 12:24-25

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