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Bible ourhomewithgodcomThe 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 17:16-21

Paul in Athens

16 Now while Paul was waiting for them at Athens, his spirit was provoked within him as he saw that the city was full of idols. 17 So he reasoned in the synagogue with the Jews and the devout persons, and in the marketplace every day with those who happened to be there. 18 Some of the Epicurean and Stoic philosophers also conversed with him. And some said, “What does this babbler wish to say?” Others said, “He seems to be a preacher of foreign divinities”—because he was preaching Jesus and the resurrection. 19 And they took him and brought him to the Areopagus, saying, “May we know what this new teaching is that you are presenting? 20 For you bring some strange things to our ears. We wish to know therefore what these things mean.” 21 Now all the Athenians and the foreigners who lived there would spend their time in nothing except telling or hearing something new.

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My past two posts explained the first part of Acts 17: Paul’s establishing churches in Thessalonica and Berea.

These were important developments, as Paul wrote letters to the Thessalonians, who became very devout Christians. Berea appears in the Bible only this one time, but the Bereans are good Christian role models because, even before their conversion, they read Scripture regularly and properly discerned it.

As my posts explain, Paul, Silas and Timothy had to leave Thessalonica, where they were persecuted. The mob from that city then travelled to Berea to persecute the three again. Silas and Timothy stayed in Berea for a time, until Paul received a divine command to summon them to Athens, where Bereans had escorted him.

As Paul was waiting for them in Athens, he was overcome by the idolatry that pervaded the city (verse 16). Even though Paul was well versed in Greek philosophy, he found the sheer number of idols disturbing.

John MacArthur reminds us (emphases mine below):

Now I want us to set the picture, it’s a man and a city. It’s a simple thing. One man against one city. Look at the man. Let’s see what kind of a man he was. He was a Jew. And as a Jew he was beyond just being a Jew he was a Pharisee, a Hebrew of the Hebrews, a student of the great teacher Gamaliel. He was expert in the law, he was expert in ceremonies, he was a leader,-..he was a teacher, he was an expert in the Old Testament. Beyond being a Jew he was a Roman, he was a Roman citizen. And with his Roman citizenship came that kind of special skill in secular affairs that belonged to the Romans, that special knowledge of the military and of politics. Beyond that he was a Greek, not by virtue of his heritage but by virtue of his environ­ment, he was raised in a place called Tarsus which was tremendously influenced by Greek culture. He was a Hellenistic man, he was exposed to Greek art and Greek philosophy. And so he had all of the bests of all of the worlds. He was a man who was cosmopolitan in every sense. And adding to those particu­lar things he had a brilliant and keen mind. He had an intense commitment to the cause he believed in. He was a tireless pursuer of any goal that he set. He was a matchless orator. He was a fearless preacher. He was a brilliant question and answer dialogue man. He was well read, he was well travelled. He was an extraordinary man.

MacArthur gives us a glimpse of Athens’ supremacy at the time, even though it was under Roman rule by then:

… some historians said Athens at the time of Paul was the intellectual center and the university of the world. The minds of that part of the world congregated in Athens. In fact, it was such – it was such a proud city that it even called its university The Eye of Greece and the Mother of Arts. And Athens offered a home, incidentally, to almost every god in existence. In a place called the Pantheon they had a god for everything. They had every god there and every public building in Athens was a shrine to a god. The record house, for example, like the Hall of Records today, was dedicated to the Mother of gods. The Council House housed a statue of Apollo and Jupiter and everything was religious. As I told you last week, some comments were made such as – You can easily find a god in Athens rather than a man. Gods were everywhere. And it was a pagan city in the fullest sense, super cultured. And all of its art had false deities in mind, great monuments were built, great beautiful buildings were built as tributes to gods. Apart from its religion was its tremendous philosophical bent. Socrates and Plato were from Athens. Athens was the adopted city of Aristotle, Epicurus who founded the Epicureans and Zeno who founded the Stoics. And here was the great mind of the world as it were. And from it came the directions that resulted in the activities of other parts of the world. So Athens was some city. Master­pieces of architecture, masterpieces of art, sculpture, the greatest orators who ever lived gave orations in Athens.

As he always did, Paul went to the synagogue to preach and he also went to the marketplace every day to discourse (verse 17). The Greek word for marketplace is agora. Matthew Henry has more …

He entered into conversation with all that came in his way about matters of religion: In the market–en te agora, in the exchange, or place of commerce, he disputed daily, as he had occasion, with those that met with him, or that he happened to fall into company with, that were heathen, and never came to the Jews’ synagogue.

… as does MacArthur:

The marketplace is interesting, it’s the word agora, and in the towns in those times they had a center place, maybe a large area, court kind of a thing, you know, the public buildings were there, the temples were there and around this big area would be a colonnade. And in the colonnade would be little shops and farmers would even bring on the outside areas their cattle in and any goods they’d raised on the countryside and it was a big marketplace. And in the middle area philosophers would walk around with their little groups, you know, and there was always a group of people in the agora, many different kinds, you know, there were peripatetic teachers, philosophers, magicians, hucksters, you know, step right up, folks – that kind of thing, sleight of hand artists.

Paul could debate with the most educated of men, and did so with the Stoics and Epicureans he encountered (verse 18).

Henry explains the Epicureans’ philosophy:

The Epicureans, who thought God altogether such a one as themselves, an idle inactive being, that minded nothing, nor put any difference between good and evil. They would not own, either that God made the world or that he governs it; nor that man needs to make any conscience of what he says or does, having no punishment to fear nor rewards to hope for, all which loose atheistical notions Christianity is levelled against. The Epicureans indulged themselves in all the pleasures of sense, and placed their happiness in them, in what Christ has taught us in the first place to deny ourselves.

MacArthur tells us:

… they got their name from Epicurus who was a philosopher in Athens who has started this movement. He was born in about 342 B.C. so he was long dead and this is like 400 years later but his movement is still going great. Now Epicureans just to give you a little identification believed – 1. that everything happened by chance. They believed everything happened by chance. There was no real reason or rhyme for anything and nobody was running the show. They were the rationalists, see. Second thing, death was the end of everything. You died and that was it. Three, there were gods, they believed in all the gods but they figured the gods were remote and didn’t get involved and didn’t care. Now if you believe everything happens by chance and death is the end of everything and nobody up there cares then the fourth principle of Epicureans is very easy, – pleasure is the main purpose in life. Translated into the modern day – grab all the gusto you can get – you only go around once. See. Which is a very, – which is a beer version of existentialism. Pleasure is the chief end of men. Listen if you believe everything happened by chance and everything was random and you believed that death was the end of everything and you just went into the grave and it was over and you believed that there weren’t any gods who cared what you did, you’d be an Epicurean too, wouldn’t you? Atheistic rationalism ends up in pleasure is the chief end of men. Grab it here, grab it now, do your own thing, live it up. This is ancient existentialism.

Henry describes Stoicism as follows:

The Stoics, who thought themselves altogether as good as God, and indulged themselves as much in the pride of life as the Epicureans did in the lusts of the flesh and of the eye; they made their virtuous man to be no way inferior to God himself, nay to be superior. Esse aliquid quo sapiens antecedat Deum–There is that in which a wise man excels God, so Seneca: to which Christianity is directly opposite, as it teaches us to deny ourselves and abase ourselves, and to come off from all confidence in ourselves, that Christ may be all in all.

MacArthur has this:

… the Stoics. They were the nice guys. They weren’t out each for themselves. They were sort of the humanitarian bunch. They believed, first of all, that everything was God … You know what pantheism is? It’s atheism. If everything’s God, nothing’s God. So everything is God. Secondly, everything is the will of God. No matter what happens in the will of God wills it. They were fatalists. See. The will of God [is] everything. And they believed every so often the world disintegrated and then started all over again. It goes through that cycle every so many years. And, of course, for them believing that every­thing was God, everything was sort of divine and they were Gods and they had to act like Gods and they had to treat everybody else like Gods

The one attribute that both commentators left out about Stoicism is actually a good one: the lack of extreme emotion — no tears, no anger, no complaining.

Some of the Stoics and Epicureans were interested in conversing with Paul (verse 18). While some called him a babbler, others were intrigued by what they understood to be a foreign deity and a resurrection.

Henry explains ‘babbler’, which has always had negative connotations as someone spouting whatever comes into his head:

Some called him a babbler, and thought he spoke, without any design, whatever came uppermost, as men of crazed imaginations do: What will this babbler say? ho spermologos houtos–this scatterer of words, that goes about, throwing here one idle word or story and there another, without any intendment or signification; or, this picker up of seeds. Some of the critics tell us that the term is used for a little sort of bird, that is worth nothing at all, either for the spit or for the cage, that picks up the seeds that lie uncovered, either in the field or by the way-side, and hops here and there for that purpose–Avicula parva quæ semina in triviis dispersa colligere solet; such a pitiful contemptible animal they took Paul to be, or supposed he went from place to place venting his notions to get money, a penny here and another there, as that bird picks up here and there a grain. They looked upon him as an idle fellow, and regarded him, as we say, no more than a ballad-singer.

MacArthur says the babbler is a gutter-sparrow, or guttersnipe:

It was referred to a gutter-sparrow. The gutter-sparrows, you know, they go around and pick up little bits and pieces and scraps of stuff and, you know, that’s how they live. And so this common term which really refers to gutter-sparrows became used for paupers who prowled around the marketplace, parasites who lived off what they could pick up. And it was translated into the philosophy thing and what they were saying was, – Paul, you’re not telling us a philosophy you’re nothing but a philosophical seed-picker. You’ve picked up bits and pieces of philosophy and religion and slapped it all together and you’re trying to pawn it off as knowledge. See. It’s like calling him an eclectic in a negative sense. What an uneducated babble you’re trying to pawn off, bits and scraps of all kinds of random philosophies and religions being passed off as information that is true. And so they mocked him.

As brainy as these fellows were, they did not understand the truth of Christ and the Resurrection, but interpreted both as new gods. Henry gives us the Greek expression:

Ton Iesoun kai ten anastasin, “Jesus they took for a new god, and anastasis, the resurrection, for a new goddess.” Thus they lost the benefit of the Christian doctrine by dressing it up in a pagan dialect, as if believing in Jesus, and looking for the resurrection, were the worshipping of new demons.

Wow.

But, don’t Christians run into similar opposition today? It’s a pity this passage isn’t in the three-year Lectionary. MacArthur gave the sermon I’m citing in 1973 at his church in southern California. Even then, atheism was rife, but, of course, it’s always been around. Atheists continue to give the same objections they always have:

You know, it’s an old story with Christianity but everybody who really believes the Bible and really preaches it at one time or another runs into the mockers who say you’re … intellectually not with it, you – you just, I mean, that’s old wives tales, that’s for old ladies and little kids that believe that Christianity bit. I mean, we intellectuals[,] we’re past that. You know, I get that when I go on a college campus. And I don’t pose to be an intellectlual. But, you know[,] you always hear well, you know Christianity is not even intelligent, well, it’s not even reasonable all that stuff in [the] Bible.

YES!!!

One of the reasons I keep writing Forbidden Bible Verses is to show the truth of the Scripture to those who doubt it. (The other is to learn it better myself.)

But I digress.

The interested philosophers took him to the Areopagus to give him an audience for his ‘new teaching’ (verse 19). There is much to unpack in that verse.

First, Areopagus, translated into English, is Mars Hill. Ares was the Greek god of war. Mars was the Roman god of war. Pagus means hill.

The Areopagus was the most important and most learned place in Athens, as Henry describes. Furthermore, it was the place where new gods could be approved. The philosophers thought Paul would put forward a new deity for approval:

… it was the town-house, or guildhall of their city, where the magistrates met upon public business, and the courts of justice were kept; and it was as the theatre in the university, or the schools, where learned men met to communicate their notions. The court of justice which sat here was famous for its equity, which drew appeals to it from all parts; if any denied a god, he was liable to the censure of this court. Diagoras was by them put to death, as a contemner of the gods; nor might any new god be admitted without their approbation. Hither they brought Paul to be tried, not as a criminal but as a candidate.

Secondly, anything ‘new’ in Athens at that time was seen as intriguing and novel (verse 21). Enquiring minds wanted to know. This is why we call current affairs and any recent information ‘news‘.

Paul explained the risen Christ to them in words they could understand, i.e. from a pagan perspective. More on that next time.

Next time — Acts 17:32-34

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Before my next Forbidden Bible Verses entry appears, it is useful to know what happened in the first half of Acts 17.

Yesterday’s post discussed Paul’s establishment of the church in Thessalonica, the recipient of his letters to the Thessalonians.

Today’s post will look at the next destination for him, Silas and Timothy — Berea:

Paul and Silas in Berea

10 The brothers[b] immediately sent Paul and Silas away by night to Berea, and when they arrived they went into the Jewish synagogue. 11 Now these Jews were more noble than those in Thessalonica; they received the word with all eagerness, examining the Scriptures daily to see if these things were so. 12 Many of them therefore believed, with not a few Greek women of high standing as well as men. 13 But when the Jews from Thessalonica learned that the word of God was proclaimed by Paul at Berea also, they came there too, agitating and stirring up the crowds. 14 Then the brothers immediately sent Paul off on his way to the sea, but Silas and Timothy remained there. 15 Those who conducted Paul brought him as far as Athens, and after receiving a command for Silas and Timothy to come to him as soon as possible, they departed.

Paul, Silas and Timothy had to leave Thessalonica immediately. The converts there sent them to Berea, which was about 60 miles away. Upon their arrival, they made their customary visit to the synagogue (verse 10). That was nearly always Paul’s starting point for preaching and teaching.

Luke, the author of Acts, thought it important to say that the Bereans were more noble than the Thessalonians. That was not a reference to lineage but to the fact that they studied the Scriptures in a deep way for their edification (verse 11). Some translations use ‘search’ instead of ‘examine’. John MacArthur explains (emphases mine below):

The word for search is “to examine.” It was a word to speak of judicial investigation. They sifted the evidence carefully. You know what I believe? I believe that a man who honestly sifts the evidence of Scripture is gonna come to the right conclusion. I think Scripture can defend itself, don’t you?

Jesus had said in John 5:39, He says, “Search the Scriptures for in them you think have eternal life.” And watch, “They are they which testify of Me.” He says, “You go ahead. Study your Old Testament. You know what you’re gonna find? Me.” In verse 46, the same chapter, John 5, “For had you believed Moses, you would have believed Me, for he wrote of Me.” And says, “How shall you believe Me, if you don’t believe him.” Over at chapter 7, verse 17, he says, “If you really want to do God’s will, you’ll know the truth.”

So if someone encourages us to be Bereans, this is what is meant: study the Bible not only regularly but also carefully.

Because the Bereans understood Scripture, they eagerly received Paul’s message. See how that works?

Note the contrast Luke used in the number of new believers. There were ‘many’ in Berea compared with the ‘some’ in Thessalonica (verse 12).

Once again, Luke mentioned the prominent women who converted, just as he did in the account of Thessalonica.

However, the unfortunate persecutors of Paul, Silas and Timothy were on their way from Thessalonica to Berea to wreak the same violent havoc (verse 13).

So the new converts in Berea helped Paul leave. Silas and Timothy stayed behind to minister to the new church (verse 14).

The brethren in Berea took Paul all the way to Athens. Paul received a divine command to ask that Silas and Timothy to join him there (verse 15). Athens challenged Paul deeply, and that will be the subject of tomorrow’s Forbidden Bible Verses instalment.

Sadly, this is the only time Berea is mentioned in the Bible. It would have been interesting to learn more about the people there and how they developed such a love for Scripture.

However, Paul had a special love for the church in Thessalonica. MacArthur tells us:

You never hear another word about Berea in the Bible, but you hear a lot about Thessalonica. And Thessalonica became the most beloved church that Paul ever wrote to. He just loved those people. And of all the churches that are written to in the New Testament, they seem to be the most like Christ wanted the church to be.

Now, watch this. Isn’t it interesting that with Berea, oh, they were so noble, so wonderful, but when they got saved, you never hear another thing about ’em? Thessalonica, they had to be persuaded, they weren’t so noble, but when they got saved, man they went wild. They became what God wanted the church to be. You say, “What’s that supposed to prove?” It is to prove that salvation is the equalizer. It doesn’t matter what you were before you were saved – at the moment of salvation it becomes an issue of what you do with the resources that become yours, do you see? People say, “Well, so and so, before he was saved, was, uh, uh, uh, you know, he was into dope, and into, oh, Satan and into __ __ __. We can’t expect much.”

Oh, believe me, you can expect just as much as you can expect out of Citizen Number 1A. The finest guy that ever was, when he gets saved. Why? Because the resources are the same, you got it? And Thessalonica may not have been noble as Berea, but once salvation happened, the resources were the same and they tapped them in Thessalonica. Now, I don’t know that Berea didn’t; I’m just showing you that there’s no reason to assume that if you come in barely or with all kinds of problems, you don’t get there is. That’s a lot of baloney. Salvation isn’t gradual, it’s instantaneous – you believe that? It’s all yours. You’re complete in Him.

And that’s something that I think we have to remember because I think sometimes we don’t expect enough out of certain people. Because we say, “Oh well, they’ve had such and such a background.” Salvation is the equalizer, beloved – it’s the equalizer.

The strong faith of the Bereans thanks to their examination of Scripture is an important lesson for all Christians. MacArthur gives this analysis:

It’s all in the Old Testament. “They searched the Scriptures and, believe me, God reveals himself.” Paul said to Timothy, “All scripture is given by inspiration of God and is profitable for doctrine for correction, for instruction and righteousness that the man of God maybe be mature, thoroughly furnished” – all good words. “You study the Old Testament,” he said to Timothy, “and you’ll find the truth of righteousness there.” And so these noble folks didn’t need to be publicly persuaded. They sought it out themselves. They were such noble people.

I notice, beloved, I close with this. The Gospel we preach must have two things. It must have qualities that can be open to public questioning. That’s Thessalonica. And it must have quality that can be opened to private research. That’s Berea. Do you have that kind of content? Can you present a message to this world and stand on your feet if the case needs it and defend that message biblically. Secondly, can you present such a message that sends them to the Scripture and find its defense there? … it behooves us to know the Book, to know the Book.

People that make a difference in the world, people who turn it upside down, people who affect this world, are people who know the Word of God. I believe that with all my heart. And are people who can stand on their feet eyeball-to-eyeball with people and defend what they believe and there are people who can take people where they’re at and say, “Here’s what I believe. You take it to the Scripture and let stand the test of Scripture and you’ll find it confirmed.” If you give men answers that you can defend on your feet and answers that you can defend through the Word of God, then you’ve given them answers.

MacArthur goes on to tell us how we can accomplish that in four steps:

If you’re gonna have content, one, confess and repent of all sin. That’s where you start. You don’t start by Bible study. You start by confession. You say, “Why?” 1 Peter 2:1, “Laying aside all malice, guile, hypocrisy, envy, and evil speaking, as newborn babes, the desire the sincere mild of the word.” Before you can ever get into the Word to grow by it, you have to lay aside sin. Purify, that’s point one.

Two, study. You’ll never know the Bible. There’s no shortcut. There is absolute – believe me, if there’s a shortcut, I’d found it a long time ago. There’s none. Paul said to Timothy, “Study to show thy self approved unto God.” What does that mean? Be such a good student that God is excited about the fact that you know the truth.

You know the thing that haunts you all the time when you’re a preacher, when you’re a teacher? The fact that this is supposed to be approved by God, not by you. We can get away with murder with people. You can’t get away with anything with God. So one, purify, confess sin. Two, study. There’s no shortcut, absolutely none. Study the Word. Three, personalize the Word. What does that mean? Translate what is academic into your own life, into your own life.

The things that you’re gonna be effectively teaching other people are the things that you have learned by your own living, right? For me to put something on a piece of paper and teach it to you is one thing. For me to teach you what God has been doing in my life is something completely different.

“What do you mean by that?” Paul says, “Be renewed in your mind.” In Galatians and in Romans 12:2 he says, “Be transformed by the renewing of your mind.” In other words, you know the word and it changes your life and you speak out of experience. So you confess sin. You learn the word and then you personalize it.

I’ll give you the last one. Share it. You say, “I’m gonna learn it and when I get it all learned, then I’m gonna come out of my room and say it.” So somebody, “Oh, that’s ridiculous.” You[‘ll] be talking about it as you’re learning it. There’s no better way to learn than to teach, right? We who teach find out that what we teach we learn.

Let us resolve to be more Berean in our Christian journey. Let us also learn from the Thessalonians who became the strong believers God wanted them to be.

Before I post the next entry of Forbidden Bible Verses, it is important to know where Paul and Silas went after they left Philippi.

The first half of Acts 17 is in the three-year Lectionary but needs explaining. The next post will be about Berea, so this one will be about their first stop in Thessalonica:

Paul and Silas in Thessalonica

17 Now when they had passed through Amphipolis and Apollonia, they came to Thessalonica, where there was a synagogue of the Jews. And Paul went in, as was his custom, and on three Sabbath days he reasoned with them from the Scriptures, 3 explaining and proving that it was necessary for the Christ to suffer and to rise from the dead, and saying, “This Jesus, whom I proclaim to you, is the Christ.” And some of them were persuaded and joined Paul and Silas, as did a great many of the devout Greeks and not a few of the leading women. 5 But the Jews[a] were jealous, and taking some wicked men of the rabble, they formed a mob, set the city in an uproar, and attacked the house of Jason, seeking to bring them out to the crowd. And when they could not find them, they dragged Jason and some of the brothers before the city authorities, shouting, “These men who have turned the world upside down have come here also, and Jason has received them, and they are all acting against the decrees of Caesar, saying that there is another king, Jesus.” And the people and the city authorities were disturbed when they heard these things. And when they had taken money as security from Jason and the rest, they let them go.

Philippi was to the north (see this map of Thrace). Paul and Silas — along with Timothy — travelled south (see map of Thrace, indicated by red dots) to Thessalonica, an important port city from ancient times to the present. Until the Second World War, Thessaloniki (present day name) always had a sizeable Jewish population.

John MacArthur describes Paul and Silas’s journey from Philippi (emphases mine):

When they had passed through Amphipolis, now that was 33 miles from Philippi, they went from Amphipolis to Apollonia that was 30 miles from Amphipolis. And then they went to Thessalonica, which was 37 miles from Apollonia, which was 30 miles from Amphipolis, which was 33 miles – and don’t you ever forget it – from Philippi.

What’s the significance of that? The significance of that is that they had minds set on Thessalonica. They probably stopped for the night in Apollonia and Amphipolis. If they went that way and did cover 30 miles a day and stayed overnight at those two places, which were perfect points – it is as some scholars tell us, evidence that Paul didn’t walk everywhere he went. He probably hired horses, which is an interesting thought. Nevertheless, they just stopped overnight at Amphipolis and Apllonia, likely, that isn’t in the text. That’s a likely conclusion. “And they came to Thessalonica.” Now, watch. “Where there was a synagogue of the Jews.”

As we have read so many times in Acts, every time Paul starts preaching in the local synagogue, he makes a lot of converts, then the Jews who disagree become angry and rile the Gentiles. The angry mob then persecutes Paul and, beginning in Acts 16, Silas.

MacArthur summarises the pertinent persecution points:

Every time he got near a synagogue, wham, he got it. And that’s right. He did.

Chapter 13, verse 6, they had gone to – they met a sorcerer. In verse 6 of chapter 13, the first place they went, the island of Cyprus, they met a sorcerer who was a Jew. Every time they got close to the Jews, they got persecuted and confrontation with Satan.

Go to verse 45. It says that when they came into the area of Galatia, the whole place came together to hear the word, verse 44, “When the Jews saw the multitudes filled with envy, spoke against these things as were spoken by Paul and contradicting and blaspheming.”

Look at verse 50. “The Jews stirred up the devout and honor of women. The chief thieves raised persecution against Paul and Barnabas, expelled them out of their borders.

Chapter 14, verse 1. “They went to the synagogue of the Jews. There were some Jews who believed that just stirred up trouble.”

Verse 2. “The unbelieving Jews stirred up the Gentiles.” They tried to stone them in verse 5. They fled in verse 6.

Go down to verse 19. They threw him out of the city of Lystra. Stoned them there. It was always the Jews, the Jews, the Jews, who persecuted Paul in his ministry.

The same thing happened in Philippi.

However, Paul always began his holy work in synagogues. He would not go near a pagan temple.

Note that Luke, the author of Acts, thought it was worth mentioning that prominent women of the city also converted (verse 4). Recall that Lydia, the purple goods merchant, was the first convert in Philippi. Therefore, women had considerable autonomy at this time.

A man named Jason was among the converts (verse 5) and, perversely, the angry Thessalonians ambushed his house (verse 6). MacArthur describes what happened. Satan was working through these miserable individuals:

Boy, I mean they turned the city up. They got a riot going all through town, they were crying in this blowtorch kind of oratory. “These men are seditious and they are revolutionaries,” and they got everybody all stirred up. Well, they knew they were staying with Jason – who must have been a new Christian there – and so it says, “They all assaulted the house of Jason.” Here comes the whole town, down to Jason’s house. “And they sought to bring them out to the people.” But you know what? God is so far ahead. Paul and Silas and Timothy are gone – they’re gone. And old Jason is there. Well, they didn’t find them, in verse 6 “And when they found him not, they drew Jason and certain brethren under the rulers of the city.”

So, they took Jason and the other Christians instead. “And they hauled them off.” You know, it’s amazing what Satan can do with lazy people. It’s amazing too, what the Lord can do with lazy people who get busy for Him. I was thinking that lazy people must have been a problem in Thessalonica. I don’t know if they had a welfare program or what there, but there was a lot of laziness. These guys were lazy, but later in, 2 Thessalonians 2, in verse 11, he says, “For we hear that there are some who walk among you, disorderly, working not at all, but are busybodies.” You know, some of the Christians were loafing around. I don’t know whether that was a common thing but Satan can always use laziness.

Poor Jason. He and the other Christians were accused of disloyalty to the Romans (verses 6, 7). That stirred up the authorities, in addition to the mob (verse 8). Everyone in the Roman world believed there was only one ruler: Caesar.

MacArthur reminds us of Pontius Pilate’s words to our Lord:

Remember Pilate questioned Him, “Are you a king?” And the Jews all cried out, “No, He’s not our king. We’ll have no king but Caesar.” Well, it was the whole issue of His Kingship, and here Paul had been preaching the Kingship of Jesus Christ, and so they grabbed on that, the same thing that the crowd used to execute Jesus, they were gonna use again, to execute Paul.

Jason had to pay a bond in order for him and the others to be left alone (verse 9):

Boy, that’s smart. You know, what they did, they made Jason come across with a bond, to guarantee that Paul and Silas and Timothy wouldn’t trouble them anymore. So, they had Jason on the spot.

Once again, Paul had to leave a newly established church. MacArthur explores Paul’s letters to the Thessalonians:

Paul reflected back on this, in 1 Thessalonians 2:17, he says, “We brethren, being taken from you for a short time in presence, not in heart, endeavor to more abundantly to see your face with great desire.” Paul says, I tried to come back and see you, but he says, “Satan hindered us.” This whole setup, with the security, the bond, guaranteed by Jason – and Jason did it for their sake – meant that there was never a way he could get back in there, as long as those magistrates were there.

So, the conflict came. Believe me, that’s a good thing. Conflict is a good thing. You know, that that wonderful little church in Thessalonica, became the best church, and probably one of the reasons was it existed in terrible persecution. Paul couldn’t even get back to see them. “We went to Berea” – and what happened there? – You say, certainly, those noble guys wouldn’t give him trouble. You’re right, they didn’t. But guess what? Verse 13, “The Jews of Thessalonica had knowledge that the Word of God was preached by Paul at Berea, and they came there also.” – and did the same thing. So, here comes a gang, 60 miles away, from Thessalonica, and they stirred up trouble.

Boy, Satan if he doesn’t have local people, he imports ’em. “And they dogged his steps.” Paul, in 1 Thessalonians 2:14-16, talks about how the “Jews have dogged his steps all his life. And they stirred up” – the word, stirred, at end of verse 13, is like a wind, shaking, just shook the whole city. Well, Paul had to leave again. You know, I really think, just as a little insight into Paul; I think was the low point in Paul’s life, up to point, as a Christian.

Let’s look at what happened to Paul’s entourage. In Philippi, he was with Luke, Silas and Timothy, but:

He had left Luke at Philippi.

That was so Luke could shepherd the church there.

The next post will be about Berea, where Paul left Silas and Timothy for a while to minister to the new church.

What follows are the Lectionary readings for Year B for the Fourth Sunday of Easter, with many familiar scriptural references.

Emphases mine below.

The first reading from Acts 4 concerns the imprisonment of Peter and John for preaching so powerfully at the temple in Jerusalem. This would have been shortly after the first Pentecost:

But many of those who had heard the word believed, and the number of the men came to about five thousand.

The ever increasing number of converts angered the Sadducees.

Acts 4:5-12

4:5 The next day their rulers, elders, and scribes assembled in Jerusalem,

4:6 with Annas the high priest, Caiaphas, John, and Alexander, and all who were of the high-priestly family.

4:7 When they had made the prisoners stand in their midst, they inquired, “By what power or by what name did you do this?”

4:8 Then Peter, filled with the Holy Spirit, said to them, “Rulers of the people and elders,

4:9 if we are questioned today because of a good deed done to someone who was sick and are asked how this man has been healed,

4:10 let it be known to all of you, and to all the people of Israel, that this man is standing before you in good health by the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom you crucified, whom God raised from the dead.

4:11 This Jesus is ‘the stone that was rejected by you, the builders; it has become the cornerstone.’

4:12 There is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among mortals by which we must be saved.”

The Psalm is familiar to nearly everyone:

Psalm 23

23:1 The LORD is my shepherd, I shall not want.

23:2 He makes me lie down in green pastures; he leads me beside still waters;

23:3 he restores my soul. He leads me in right paths for his name’s sake.

23:4 Even though I walk through the darkest valley, I fear no evil; for you are with me; your rod and your staff– they comfort me.

23:5 You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies; you anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows.

23:6 Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life, and I shall dwell in the house of the LORD my whole life long.

The Epistle was written by John, the Gospel author. Note the theme of love but also the exhortation against sinning. John often referred to his converts as ‘little children’ because they were young in faith:

1 John 3:16-24

3:16 We know love by this, that he laid down his life for us–and we ought to lay down our lives for one another.

3:17 How does God’s love abide in anyone who has the world’s goods and sees a brother or sister in need and yet refuses help?

3:18 Little children, let us love, not in word or speech, but in truth and action.

3:19 And by this we will know that we are from the truth and will reassure our hearts before him

3:20 whenever our hearts condemn us; for God is greater than our hearts, and he knows everything.

3:21 Beloved, if our hearts do not condemn us, we have boldness before God;

3:22 and we receive from him whatever we ask, because we obey his commandments and do what pleases him.

3:23 And this is his commandment, that we should believe in the name of his Son Jesus Christ and love one another, just as he has commanded us.

3:24 All who obey his commandments abide in him, and he abides in them. And by this we know that he abides in us, by the Spirit that he has given us.

The Gospel reading is also well known, that of the Good Shepherd. Note the message of Gentiles — ‘other sheep’ — in verse 16:

John 10:11-18

10:11 “I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.

10:12 The hired hand, who is not the shepherd and does not own the sheep, sees the wolf coming and leaves the sheep and runs away–and the wolf snatches them and scatters them.

10:13 The hired hand runs away because a hired hand does not care for the sheep.

10:14 I am the good shepherd. I know my own and my own know me,

10:15 just as the Father knows me and I know the Father. And I lay down my life for the sheep.

10:16 I have other sheep that do not belong to this fold. I must bring them also, and they will listen to my voice. So there will be one flock, one shepherd.

10:17 For this reason the Father loves me, because I lay down my life in order to take it up again.

10:18 No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have power to lay it down, and I have power to take it up again. I have received this command from my Father.”

Those last two verses are also important to remember. Errant clerics, agnostics and others often downplay or distort the power that God gave His Son.

I hope that everyone reading this has a blessed, happy Sunday.

Forbidden Bible Verses will appear soon.

On Tuesday, April 17, 2018, former first lady Barbara Pierce Bush left this mortal coil from the comfort of her family’s home in Texas.

May she rest in peace.

Along with many over the past week, my condolences go to the Bush family, who will sorely miss her wisdom, wit, vim and vigour.

The Conservative board on Reddit had a great portrait of her along with a prescient quote of hers about life:

At the end of your life, you will never regret not having passed one more test, not winning one more verdict or not closing one more deal. You will regret time not spent with a husband, a friend, a child or a parent. 

Mrs Bush was an Episcopalian.

Many years ago, my Episcopalian rector, also since deceased, told our congregation in at least one sermon that he met many people on their deathbeds who regretted not taking chances in life. The one thing they asked time and again was, ‘What if I’d only done this or that?’

It is unlikely that Barbara Bush had any such regrets.

I’m sorry that she never got to sit down with President Trump for a cup of tea and a natter in 2016. They would have got on well. And, yes, she would have made a better presidential candidate than her son Jeb in 2016, but that’s all water under the dam now.

Millions of Americans appreciate Mrs Bush’s dignified, high-WASP tenure as First Lady between 1989 and 1993. By all accounts, she was also a marvellous wife, mother and friend.

May God keep her close to Him for eternity.

Further reading:

Presiding Bishop offers tribute to Barbara Bush

Former first lady Barbara Bush, wife and mother of presidents, dead at 92

Barbara Bush on George H. W. Bush: ‘Still in love with the man I married 72 years ago’

Barbara Bush: Lesser-known facts about former first lady

Live stream: Public viewing for Barbara Bush

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

Yet, it doesn’t tell the whole story.

My series Forbidden Bible Verses — ones the Lectionary editors and their clergy 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 16:35-40

35 But when it was day, the magistrates sent the police, saying, “Let those men go.” 36 And the jailer reported these words to Paul, saying, “The magistrates have sent to let you go. Therefore come out now and go in peace.” 37 But Paul said to them, “They have beaten us publicly, uncondemned, men who are Roman citizens, and have thrown us into prison; and do they now throw us out secretly? No! Let them come themselves and take us out.” 38 The police reported these words to the magistrates, and they were afraid when they heard that they were Roman citizens. 39 So they came and apologized to them. And they took them out and asked them to leave the city. 40 So they went out of the prison and visited Lydia. And when they had seen the brothers, they encouraged them and departed.

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My last post was about the conversion and baptism of the purple goods seller Lydia and her household in Philippi. Lydia ‘opened her heart’ to Paul’s words. Lydia was the start of the church in Philippi, and that was the church Paul addressed in his letters to the Philippians.

Acts 16:16-34 is the Year C reading for the Seventh Sunday after Easter. A summary follows, because it provides the context for today’s verses. The four men — Paul, Silas, Timothy and Luke (the author of Acts) — were on their way to pray when a slave girl with divination powers approached them. Her owners made a lot of money from her divination:

17 She followed Paul and us, crying out, “These men are servants of the Most High God, who proclaim to you the way of salvation.” 18 And this she kept doing for many days. Paul, having become greatly annoyed, turned and said to the spirit, “I command you in the name of Jesus Christ to come out of her.” And it came out that very hour.

Paul was angry, because she had an evil spirit within her. John MacArthur explains (emphases mine):

a “spirit of divination.” The literal Greek…I want you to get this, a most fascinating thing…the literal Greek is, she had a spirit, a python. That’s the same as a python snake, the same term…a spirit, a python, or a python spirit. You say, well, what is a python spirit? Well, in Greek mythology…and this is all mythology…in Greek mythology, there’s a place called Pytho, and Pytho was at the foot of Mount Parnassus. Now, at Pytho, there was a dragon. The dragon guarded Pytho…that area…and the dragon’s name was Python. Stay with me. This dragon guarded the oracles of Delphi. Now you may have heard of that. Delphi was a place where oracles were given. Now, you say, what’s an oracle? I’ll give you the definition. The term “oracle,” which is an occult term, means either a place where mediums consult demons or it means the revelation the demons give themselves. So it can refer to the place or the demonic revelation. The oracles at Delphi…Delphi was a place that was a monstrous temple and in this temple were all these medium priestesses and these priestesses were conjuring up demons and giving out information. Now, you say, what about the dragon? Well, supposedly, long ago in Greek mythology, this dragon guarded these oracles. Apollo, who was the third son of Jupiter in mythology, came down and slew the dragon. All of the oracle power of the dragon was then transferred to Apollo and he took on the name Pythias. And so the python idea ties in with Apollo who received the dragon’s power and was able, then, to contact these demon spirits at Delphi. Now, let me say this just so you’ll understand. They believed, the people in this world believed, in that world of that day, they believed that the gods were alive. They believed in Apollo and Jupiter and Venus and Mars and all those people, Cupid and everybody else. Now, they believed that Apollo…that Apollo spoke through the oracles at Delphi. And so the term python means any kind of medium contact with the god Apollo. This girl, then, was one of the thousands of priestesses from Delphi who were called pythons because they were plugged into Apollo whose other name was Pythias. Now, if you’re confused, don’t feel bad; I am, too (laughter). But, nevertheless, people would consult this girl, or these priestesses…and they had temples all over the place. In fact, it got to be a universal kind of worship. They would consult these priestesses and they would then think that Apollo, the god, was giving them the information. Now, we know who it really was, right?…Satan and his demons. Let me give you another footnote that’s just absolutely fascinating. The term “python” then became synonymous with ventriloquist and is used as such. Ventriloquists were called pythons. You say, why. Do you know what a demon-possessed medium is? He is a dummy for a demon ventriloquist. She was nothing but a demonic Charlie McCarthy (laughter)…essentially the same thing…nothing but a mouth through which a demon spoke…and this is the word ventriloquist. In Isaiah 8:19, the Bible says that the people were to watch out for mediums that peep and mutter and the word in the Greek…it’s in Hebrew in the Old Testament, but the Greek translation, they use the word [engastrímythos]which means ventriloquist. They were to watch out for ventriloquist demons who used the voice of humans. You say, then that girl was a dummy and demons talked through her.

When her owners found out Paul had, via divine means, driven the demon out of her, they were furious. They had lost a steady stream of income. So, they dragged Paul and Silas into the marketplace in Philippi and denounced them. The crowd turned into a mob and magistrates joined in:

22 The crowd joined in attacking them, and the magistrates tore the garments off them and gave orders to beat them with rods.

MacArthur says this was no ordinary beating:

Now, the magistrates had a group of guys that were local police. They were called lictors … and they were a kind of policeman. They carried around, for the purpose of punishment in these places where Greek people live, like, a pile of rods wrapped together. They were like birch rods, very hard. And they would wrap them all together. And in the middle they would insert an axe. And the axe was for the purpose of capital punishment when it was needed. On the spot, they could execute. When they didn’t need the axe, they laid the axe aside, take the bundle of rods and just flail people with them. Well, that’s what they decided to do. This was a Roman punishment. Incidentally, Paul got it three times. “Thrice was I beaten with rods,” II Corinthians 11:25…three times. It’s a fantastic thing to even conceive of this kind of a beating. And Paul says in II Corinthians 11:23, he says “in stripes above measure.” There were so many wounds inflicted by this mass of sticks flailing away that you couldn’t count them. No trial, no nothing!

Paul and Silas were then thrown in the inner prison and put in the stocks under constant guard.

Around midnight, the prisoners listened to Paul and Silas sing hymns and pray when a mighty earthquake shook the foundations of the prison. The doors opened and the shackles unfastened. The guard was terrified, because if any prisoner escaped, he would be executed. He considered killing himself before that happened:

28 But Paul cried with a loud voice, “Do not harm yourself, for we are all here.”

Once the cell was lit again, the guard trembled with fear and fell down in front of Paul and Silas, asking what he must do to be saved:

31 And they said, “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved, you and your household.”

During the earthquake, the guard had been asleep at home, which MacArthur says would have been next to the prison. He was beside himself in rushing to the prison only to find it in such a state. Then, of course, there were the consequences he would face from the Roman governor if anyone had escaped. The guard had those uncontrollable shakes from extreme fear that take time to dissipate.

Paul and Silas spoke ‘the word of the Lord’ to the guard and his household. The guard washed their wounds — no doubt many — after which, Paul and Silas baptised him and his household:

34 Then he brought them up into his house and set food before them. And he rejoiced along with his entire household that he had believed in God.

What an amazing story.

At that point, the church in Philippi had two groups that could then meet: Lydia and her household and the guard and his. God had a plan.

Now on to today’s verses.

When daylight broke, the magistrates sent the police to the jailer saying that Paul and Silas could walk free (verse 35). The jailer relayed the news to Paul (verse 36).

Paul expressed his indignation at the treatment that he and Silas — both Roman citizens — received. That beating was meant for Greeks, non-Romans under Roman rule. Paul stood on principle and told the guard that the police could release him and Silas themselves (verse 37).

MacArthur tells us more:

You see, it was forbidden under Roman law to ever corporeally inflict a wound on a Roman citizen. That was against the law. All a Roman had to do was say, I am a Roman citizen and they couldn’t put one wound on his body. That was the right of Roman citizenship. You know what happened? They had violated Roman law. You say, well, why didn’t Paul say it earlier? God didn’t want him to, because if they hadn’t got beaten, they wouldn’t have got to jail. If they hadn’t got to jail, this whole family wouldn’t have gotten saved. But here, Paul now says, I am a Roman. Now, he says, they threw us in prison, now are they gonna thrust us out so quietly and privately? “Nay, verily”…well, he is really in control…he says, “let them come themselves and fetch us out.” He says, you go tell those boys I got something to say to them.

This is why the magistrates were afraid when the police reported back to them (verse 38). They could have lost their jobs or worse. So, ‘they’ in verse 38 refers to the magistrates, who personally apologised to Paul and Silas before escorting them away with a request to leave Philippi (verse 39).

Before they left the city, they stopped by to meet with Lydia and her fellow converts to encourage them in the faith (verse 40).

MacArthur makes interesting points about this story. One is that Timothy and Luke were not jailed because they fit a Gentile profile. Another is that, when Paul returned to Philippi, the authorities never bothered him again. Another interesting point is this:

Isn’t that beautiful to see Paul care for his flock? And incidentally, he left Luke there to care for them, too.

Acts 17 returns to the third person, meaning that Luke was no longer with Paul, Silas and Timothy.

The establishment of the church in Philippi followed the same fascinating pattern as many of the churches featured in Acts: emotionally moving conversions, demons (although not always), persecution and strengthened faith.

In closing, this is what Matthew Henry had to say about Philippi, with words of encouragement for present-day clergy:

Though the beginnings here were small, the latter end greatly increased; now they laid the foundation of a church at Philippi, which became very eminent, had its bishops and deacons, and people that were more generous to Paul than any other church, as appears by his epistle to the PhilippiansLet not ministers be discouraged, though they see not the fruit of their labours presently; the seed sown seems to be lost under the clods, but it shall come up again in a plentiful harvest in due time.

Next time — Acts 17:16-21

The Second Sunday of Easter was traditionally referred to as Low Sunday, because Christians had celebrated the greatest day of the Church year the week before and settled down into a more normal worship rhythm.

Earlier, though, it was called Quasimodo Sunday, because of the Latin introit: ‘Quasi modo geniti infantes, rationabile, sine dolo lac concupiscite’. This translates to: ‘As newborn babes, desire the rational milk without guile’ and was intended for those baptised the week before. Read more below, and, yes, there is a connection between this particular Sunday and Victor Hugo’s Hunchback of Notre Dame:

Quasimodo Sunday — seriously

In the Catholic Church, this particular day is now known as Divine Mercy Sunday.

What follows are the three-year Lectionary readings for Year B from Vanderbilt Divinity Library. Emphases mine below.

The theme of the first three readings is unity and fellowship.

The first reading is from the Book of Acts and is about the purity of the Church in Jerusalem in the earliest days following the first Pentecost. Because the immense power of the Holy Spirit was at work, everyone willingly came together to share what they had:

Acts 4:32-35

4:32 Now the whole group of those who believed were of one heart and soul, and no one claimed private ownership of any possessions, but everything they owned was held in common.

4:33 With great power the apostles gave their testimony to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and great grace was upon them all.

4:34 There was not a needy person among them, for as many as owned lands or houses sold them and brought the proceeds of what was sold.

4:35 They laid it at the apostles’ feet, and it was distributed to each as any had need.

This is the Psalm:

Psalm 133

133:1 How very good and pleasant it is when kindred live together in unity!

133:2 It is like the precious oil on the head, running down upon the beard, on the beard of Aaron, running down over the collar of his robes.

133:3 It is like the dew of Hermon, which falls on the mountains of Zion. For there the LORD ordained his blessing, life forevermore.

The second reading follows. Most churches are likely to select either the reading from Acts or this one from the letters of John, the Gospel author. Note John’s continuation of the theme of light, which he used so widely in his Gospel:

1 John 1:1-2:2

1:1 We declare to you what was from the beginning, what we have heard, what we have seen with our eyes, what we have looked at and touched with our hands, concerning the word of life–

1:2 this life was revealed, and we have seen it and testify to it, and declare to you the eternal life that was with the Father and was revealed to us–

1:3 we declare to you what we have seen and heard so that you also may have fellowship with us; and truly our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ.

1:4 We are writing these things so that our joy may be complete.

1:5 This is the message we have heard from him and proclaim to you, that God is light and in him there is no darkness at all.

1:6 If we say that we have fellowship with him while we are walking in darkness, we lie and do not do what is true;

1:7 but if we walk in the light as he himself is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin.

1:8 If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us.

1:9 If we confess our sins, he who is faithful and just will forgive us our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness.

1:10 If we say that we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us.

2:1 My little children, I am writing these things to you so that you may not sin. But if anyone does sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous;

2:2 and he is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the sins of the whole world.

The Gospel reading is the same for this particular Sunday, regardless of Lectionary year. It is the story of Doubting Thomas, Thomas the Apostle. The following posts discuss the Gospel in more detail, accompanied by classic paintings:

Doubting Thomas — John 20:19-31

Doubting Thomas: When seeing is believing

John 20:19-31

20:19 When it was evening on that day, the first day of the week, and the doors of the house where the disciples had met were locked for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.”

20:20 After he said this, he showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord.

20:21 Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.”

20:22 When he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit.

20:23 If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.”

20:24 But Thomas (who was called the Twin), one of the twelve, was not with them when Jesus came.

20:25 So the other disciples told him, “We have seen the Lord.” But he said to them, “Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands, and put my finger in the mark of the nails and my hand in his side, I will not believe.”

20:26 A week later his disciples were again in the house, and Thomas was with them. Although the doors were shut, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.”

20:27 Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here and see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it in my side. Do not doubt but believe.”

20:28 Thomas answered him, “My Lord and my God!”

20:29 Jesus said to him, “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.”

20:30 Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not written in this book.

20:31 But these are written so that you may come to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that through believing you may have life in his name.

That is one of my favourite New Testament readings. There is much to ponder, not only about Thomas but also Jesus’s message about forgiveness. The last two verses are tremendously powerful. Jesus gave His disciples too many glorious signs to reasonably mention. Therefore, let us focus on what has been documented for us in the Gospels that we may come to a deeper faith.

Forbidden Bible Verses returns next week.

In 2012, I excerpted a series of articles by the Revd James A Fowler of Christ in You Ministries on a concept he calls Resurrection theology.

As we are in Eastertide for the next 50 days — until Pentecost — readers might enjoy reading excerpts of what Revd Fowler wrote:

Remembering the reality of the risen Christ

Are we bypassing the risen Christ?

A call for Resurrection theology

Christianity IS the Risen Christ

Unlocking the meaning of the Gospel

The extension of the risen Christ

A Lutheran minister, the Revd Rod Rosenbladt, wrote along similar lines, although he did not use the term Resurrection theology:

A Lutheran application of Resurrection theology

It’s really essential that we Christians remember the Resurrection as often as the Crucifixion — every day.

I was glad to hear our vicar read the following verses from 1 Corinthians 15 at Easter this year. He also told us to spread this message. (Already done.) This is the heart of the matter (emphases mine):

The Resurrection of the Dead

12 Now if Christ is proclaimed as raised from the dead, how can some of you say that there is no resurrection of the dead? 13 But if there is no resurrection of the dead, then not even Christ has been raised. 14 And if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain. 15 We are even found to be misrepresenting God, because we testified about God that he raised Christ, whom he did not raise if it is true that the dead are not raised. 16 For if the dead are not raised, not even Christ has been raised. 17 And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins. 18 Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished. 19 If in Christ we have hope[b] in this life only, we are of all people most to be pitied.

Both the Crucifixion and Resurrection had to occur in order for our salvation.

Believers feel elation on Easter, the Church’s greatest feast day. Paul’s words and Resurrection theology can help us maintain that elation the rest of the year.

Rather than considering Easter as just one day and Eastertide as just one season, we would do better to contemplate the Resurrection at every opportunity.

jesus-christ-the-king-blogsigncomMay my readers have a very happy and blessed Easter!

Jesus rose from the dead on the third day, as He said.

He lives and reigns forevermore.

A lot of people do not know that. I read some startling commentary on the subject during Lent. A growing number of people think that when Jesus died on Good Friday, that was the end of His story. Oh, no, not at all. If it were, what would be the point of Easter?

I’ve written a lot about Easter over the past several years:

Easter: the greatest feast in the Church year

Easter Sunday: Thoughts on this greatest of days

Happy Easter — He is risen!

The significance of Easter to the Church (various questions answered)

Easter poems from an inspired Anglican, the Revd George Herbert

George Herbert: 17th century poet and priest

Part I of a Martin Luther Easter sermon: the story of Christ’s Resurrection

Part II of a Martin Luther Easter sermon: the fruits and benefits of Christ’s Resurrection

Easter: the drama and glory of the Resurrection (John MacArthur explains Gospel accounts)

Holy Week and Easter — the two-part story

The road to Emmaus — a great Easter story

Judge Andrew Napolitano on the meaning of Easter (great, especially from a layman)

Easter, the egg and the hare (one of the fullest accounts about Easter symbolism)

Mary Magdalene and the legend of the egg (Christian — not pagan!)

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The Year B readings from the three-year Lectionary for Easter Day follow. Emphases mine below.

The Old Testament reading foretells the joy:

Isaiah 25:6-9

25:6 On this mountain the LORD of hosts will make for all peoples a feast of rich food, a feast of well-aged wines, of rich food filled with marrow, of well-aged wines strained clear.

25:7 And he will destroy on this mountain the shroud that is cast over all peoples, the sheet that is spread over all nations; he will swallow up death forever.

25:8 Then the Lord GOD will wipe away the tears from all faces, and the disgrace of his people he will take away from all the earth, for the LORD has spoken.

25:9 It will be said on that day, Lo, this is our God; we have waited for him, so that he might save us. This is the LORD for whom we have waited; let us be glad and rejoice in his salvation.

The post below discusses the Psalm:

Psalm 118, Christ’s Passion and Eastertide

Psalm 118:1-2, 14-24

118:1 O give thanks to the LORD, for he is good; his steadfast love endures forever!

118:2 Let Israel say, “His steadfast love endures forever.”

118:14 The LORD is my strength and my might; he has become my salvation.

118:15 There are glad songs of victory in the tents of the righteous: “The right hand of the LORD does valiantly;

118:16 the right hand of the LORD is exalted; the right hand of the LORD does valiantly.”

118:17 I shall not die, but I shall live, and recount the deeds of the LORD.

118:18 The LORD has punished me severely, but he did not give me over to death.

118:19 Open to me the gates of righteousness, that I may enter through them and give thanks to the LORD.

118:20 This is the gate of the LORD; the righteous shall enter through it.

118:21 I thank you that you have answered me and have become my salvation.

118:22 The stone that the builders rejected has become the chief cornerstone.

118:23 This is the Lord’s doing; it is marvelous in our eyes.

118:24 This is the day that the LORD has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it.

There is a choice of two Epistles.

One is from Acts, more about which below. These were Peter’s words to Cornelius, the God-fearing Roman he converted (more here, here, here, here, here and here):

Epistle for Easter in Year C — Acts 10:34-43 (2016)

Acts 10:34-43

10:34 Then Peter began to speak to them: “I truly understand that God shows no partiality,

10:35 but in every nation anyone who fears him and does what is right is acceptable to him.

10:36 You know the message he sent to the people of Israel, preaching peace by Jesus Christ–he is Lord of all.

10:37 That message spread throughout Judea, beginning in Galilee after the baptism that John announced:

10:38 how God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and with power; how he went about doing good and healing all who were oppressed by the devil, for God was with him.

10:39 We are witnesses to all that he did both in Judea and in Jerusalem. They put him to death by hanging him on a tree;

10:40 but God raised him on the third day and allowed him to appear,

10:41 not to all the people but to us who were chosen by God as witnesses, and who ate and drank with him after he rose from the dead.

10:42 He commanded us to preach to the people and to testify that he is the one ordained by God as judge of the living and the dead.

10:43 All the prophets testify about him that everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name.”

The other choice is Paul’s discussion of the Resurrection:

1 Corinthians 15:1-11

15:1 Now I would remind you, brothers and sisters, of the good news that I proclaimed to you, which you in turn received, in which also you stand,

15:2 through which also you are being saved, if you hold firmly to the message that I proclaimed to you–unless you have come to believe in vain.

15:3 For I handed on to you as of first importance what I in turn had received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the scriptures,

15:4 and that he was buried, and that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the scriptures,

15:5 and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve.

15:6 Then he appeared to more than five hundred brothers and sisters at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have died.

15:7 Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles.

15:8 Last of all, as to one untimely born, he appeared also to me.

15:9 For I am the least of the apostles, unfit to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God.

15:10 But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace toward me has not been in vain. On the contrary, I worked harder than any of them–though it was not I, but the grace of God that is with me.

15:11 Whether then it was I or they, so we proclaim and so you have come to believe.

There is also a choice of Gospel readings, one of which is from Mark. Dr Gregory Jackson, my Lutheran pastor cyberfriend, wrote about it two years ago, excerpted below:

The Easter story: reflections on Mark 16:1-8

Mark 16:1-8

16:1 When the sabbath was over, Mary Magdalene, and Mary the mother of James, and Salome bought spices, so that they might go and anoint him.

16:2 And very early on the first day of the week, when the sun had risen, they went to the tomb.

16:3 They had been saying to one another, “Who will roll away the stone for us from the entrance to the tomb?”

16:4 When they looked up, they saw that the stone, which was very large, had already been rolled back.

16:5 As they entered the tomb, they saw a young man, dressed in a white robe, sitting on the right side; and they were alarmed.

16:6 But he said to them, “Do not be alarmed; you are looking for Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. He has been raised; he is not here. Look, there is the place they laid him.

16:7 But go, tell his disciples and Peter that he is going ahead of you to Galilee; there you will see him, just as he told you.”

16:8 So they went out and fled from the tomb, for terror and amazement had seized them; and they said nothing to any one, for they were afraid.

The other choice is from John’s Gospel. John wrote about himself below:

John 20:1-18

20:1 Early on the first day of the week, while it was still dark, Mary Magdalene came to the tomb and saw that the stone had been removed from the tomb.

20:2 So she ran and went to Simon Peter and the other disciple, the one whom Jesus loved, and said to them, “They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we do not know where they have laid him.”

20:3 Then Peter and the other disciple set out and went toward the tomb.

20:4 The two were running together, but the other disciple outran Peter and reached the tomb first.

20:5 He bent down to look in and saw the linen wrappings lying there, but he did not go in.

20:6 Then Simon Peter came, following him, and went into the tomb. He saw the linen wrappings lying there,

20:7 and the cloth that had been on Jesus’ head, not lying with the linen wrappings but rolled up in a place by itself.

20:8 Then the other disciple, who reached the tomb first, also went in, and he saw and believed;

20:9 for as yet they did not understand the scripture, that he must rise from the dead.

20:10 Then the disciples returned to their homes.

20:11 But Mary stood weeping outside the tomb. As she wept, she bent over to look into the tomb;

20:12 and she saw two angels in white, sitting where the body of Jesus had been lying, one at the head and the other at the feet.

20:13 They said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping?” She said to them, “They have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid him.”

20:14 When she had said this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing there, but she did not know that it was Jesus.

20:15 Jesus said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping? Whom are you looking for?” Supposing him to be the gardener, she said to him, “Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have laid him, and I will take him away.”

20:16 Jesus said to her, “Mary!” She turned and said to him in Hebrew, “Rabbouni!” (which means Teacher).

20:17 Jesus said to her, “Do not hold on to me, because I have not yet ascended to the Father. But go to my brothers and say to them, ‘I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.'”

20:18 Mary Magdalene went and announced to the disciples, “I have seen the Lord”; and she told them that he had said these things to her.

Although these Gospel accounts appear contradictory, they can be put in chronological order. GotQuestions.org has a good explanation as does CompellingTruth.org. The latter source gives us further information, which also helps to explain St Paul’s aforementioned letter:

1. An angel rolls away the stone from the tomb before sunrise (Matthew 28:2-4). The guards are seized with fear and eventually flee.
2. Women disciples visit the tomb and discover Christ missing (Matthew 28:1; Mark 16:1-4; Luke 24:1-3; John 20:1).
3. Mary Magdalene leaves to tell Peter and John (John 20:1-2).
4. Other women remain at the tomb; they see two angels who tell them of Christ’s resurrection (Matthew 28:5-7; Mark 16:5-7; Luke 24:4-8).
5. Peter and John run to the tomb and then leave (Luke 24:12; John 20:3-10).
6. Christ’s First Appearance: Mary Magdalene returns to the tomb; Christ appears to her (Mark 16:9-11; John 20:11-18).
7. Christ’s Second Appearance: Jesus appears to the other women (Mary, mother of James, Salome, and Joanna) (Matthew 28:8-10).
8. At this time, the guards report the events to the religious leaders and are bribed to lie (Matthew 28:11-15).
9. Christ’s Third Appearance: Jesus privately appears to Peter (1 Corinthians 15:5).
10. Christ’s Fourth Appearance: Jesus appears to Cleopas and companion (Mark 16:12-13; Luke 24:13-32).
11. Christ’s Fifth Appearance: Jesus appears to 10 apostles, with Thomas missing, in the Upper Room (Luke 24:36-43).
12. Christ’s Sixth Appearance: Eight days after His appearance to the 10 apostles, Jesus appears to all 11 apostles, including Thomas (John 20:26-28).
13. Christ’s Seventh Appearance: Jesus appears to 7 disciples by the Sea of Galilee and performs the miracle of the fish (John 21:1-14).
14. Christ’s Eighth Appearance: Jesus appears to 500 on a mountain in Galilee (Matthew 28:16-20; Mark 16:15-18; 1 Corinthians 15:6).
15. Christ’s Ninth Appearance: Jesus appears to His half-brother James (1 Corinthians 15:7).
16. Christ’s Tenth Appearance: In Jerusalem, Jesus appears again to His disciples (Acts 1:3-8).
17. Christ’s Eleventh Appearance: Jesus ascends into Heaven while the disciples look on (Mark 16:19-20; Luke 24:50-53; Acts 1:9-12).

I hope that helps to clarify the readings and give the story of our Lord’s Resurrection.

He is risen!

Have a blessed Easter!

Good Friday is the most solemn day of the Church year, as we contemplate our Lord’s horrifying, humiliating death on the Cross for our sakes.

CranachWeimarAltarCyberbrethren

The following post explains more about the above painting by the Renaissance artists Lucas Cranach the Elder and Lucas Cranach the Younger, father and son. Lucas Cranach the Younger finished the painting in 1555. It is the centre altar painting in St Peter and Paul (Lutheran) Church in Weimar, Germany.

Meditations on the Cross

The next three posts are about Martin Luther’s perspective on the Crucifixion:

Martin Luther’s ‘How to Contemplate Christ’s Sufferings’: the false views

Martin Luther’s ‘How to Contemplate Christ’s Sufferings’: the true views

Martin Luther’s ‘How to Contemplate Christ’s Sufferings’: the comfort

Three contemporary pastors explain aspects of the Crucifixion in this post:

Good Friday: in whom can we trust? (John 18:12-27)

Readers might also find the following of interest:

The greatest reality show ends with a popular vote

Barabbas: an inspiration for liberation theology?

Reflections on the Crucifixion

The next two posts discuss Good Friday and Easter:

Easter: the drama and glory of the Resurrection (John MacArthur, explains Jesus’s relatively short time on the cross)

Holy Week and Easter — the two-part story

I hope all believers are able to devote time in their busy day to prayerfully contemplate Jesus Christ’s suffering and death so that we might enter into eternal life with Him.

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