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The Fifth Sunday after Trinity — Sixth Sunday after Pentecost — is July 4, 2021.

Readings for Year B can be found here.

The Gospel reading is as follows (emphases mine):

Mark 6:1-13

6:1 He left that place and came to his hometown, and his disciples followed him.

6:2 On the sabbath he began to teach in the synagogue, and many who heard him were astounded. They said, “Where did this man get all this? What is this wisdom that has been given to him? What deeds of power are being done by his hands!

6:3 Is not this the carpenter, the son of Mary and brother of James and Joses and Judas and Simon, and are not his sisters here with us?” And they took offense at him.

6:4 Then Jesus said to them, “Prophets are not without honor, except in their hometown, and among their own kin, and in their own house.”

6:5 And he could do no deed of power there, except that he laid his hands on a few sick people and cured them.

6:6 And he was amazed at their unbelief. Then he went about among the villages teaching.

6:7 He called the twelve and began to send them out two by two, and gave them authority over the unclean spirits.

6:8 He ordered them to take nothing for their journey except a staff; no bread, no bag, no money in their belts;

6:9 but to wear sandals and not to put on two tunics.

6:10 He said to them, “Wherever you enter a house, stay there until you leave the place.

6:11 If any place will not welcome you and they refuse to hear you, as you leave, shake off the dust that is on your feet as a testimony against them.”

6:12 So they went out and proclaimed that all should repent.

6:13 They cast out many demons, and anointed with oil many who were sick and cured them.

Commentary comes from Matthew Henry and John MacArthur.

In today’s reading, we have two episodes in the ministry of Jesus: a visit to His hometown of Nazareth and His commission to the Apostles to preach and heal.

Matthew Henry’s commentary says that this was His second trip to Nazareth in His ministry. Luke’s account of His first visit said that the Nazarenes wanted to throw Jesus off a cliff:

He had been in danger of his life among them (Luke 4:29), and yet he came among them again; so strangely doth he wait to be gracious, and seek the salvation of his enemies.

MacArthur says that these trips to Nazareth illustrate the danger of unbelief:

We think about faith as powerful, don’t we? Faith moves mountains. But I want you to understand that unbelief is powerful as well. Unbelief is a great force. The power of unbelief is so great that it extends throughout all eternity. In fact, it has massive force, unbelief does.

Unbelief is the source of many of Western society’s maladies today. Many of our churches and clergy are contributing to unbelief and the havoc it wreaks.

In last week’s reading from Mark 5, Jesus was in Capernaum, His base at the time, healing the woman with the haemorrhage and raising Jairus’s daughter from the dead.

Now He was leaving Capernaum and returning to Nazareth, with His disciples accompanying Him (verse 1).

When He left Capernaum in Galilee, that was the end of His ministry there.

John MacArthur explains:

Now we need to note that at the end of verse 42 in chapter 5, the general response of the crowds around Galilee is summed up, “Immediately they were completely astounded.” That has to do with the resurrection of Jairus’ daughter from the dead. But it is also a kind of general summation statement of how Jesus was received in Galilee. Primarily the response was curiosity and astonishment. That does not equal faith, that does not equal repentance, therefore it doesn’t equal salvation. But there was interest and there was curiosity. There were lots of thrill seekers and people who wanted to be healed and delivered from demons, and who wanted to see the exhibitions of the great power of Jesus. And they were literally astounded as well at His teaching.

And we could say then the general attitude was one of superficial acceptance

Jesus went out from there, meaning Capernaum where He had based His Galilean ministry up to this point. This marks a crisis, by the way, in the history of Capernaum. At this point when He leaves, He never comes back to reestablish Himself there. It’s no more His home, no longer is the center of His Galilean ministry. Only occasionally does He visit there, and only in passing. Capernaum has heard enough and seen enough, plenty to be responsible for believing.

Furthermore, they don’t need more information. They don’t need more revelation. And, additionally, the growing power and hostility of the Pharisees and the scribes makes it dangerous for Him to go there. And then there’s the nearness of Herod’s residence in Tiberias not far away, which made it nearly impossible for Him to be in Capernaum. And furthermore, Capernaum was doomed.

Listen to Matthew 11: “He began to denounce the cities” – verse 20 – “in which most of His miracles were done, because they didn’t repent. ‘Woe to you, Chorazin! Woe to you Bethsaida! For if the miracles had occurred in Tyre and Sidon which occurred in you, they would have repented long ago in sack cloth and ashes. Nevertheless I say to you, it’ll be more tolerable for Tyre and Sidon in the day of judgment than for you.’ That is to say, it’ll be more tolerable in hell for idolatrous Gentiles than it will be for religious Jews who rejected Christ.

‘And you, Capernaum’ – verse 23 – ‘will not be exalted to heaven, will you? You will descend to Hades; for if the miracles that occurred in Sodom which occurred in you, it would have remained to this day. Nevertheless I say to you, it’ll be more tolerable for the land of Sodom in the day of judgment than for you. In hell it would have been better for you to be a homosexual pervert living in Sodom than to be a synagogue-attending, self-righteous Jew living in Capernaum.’” That town is cursed.

On the Sabbath, Jesus preached in the synagogue in Nazareth, astounding the congregation with His wisdom; they also knew of His healing power (verse 2).

Henry surmises that Jesus would have preached sooner, during the week, had the Nazarenes shown up:

It seems, there was not such flocking to him there as in other places, so that he had no opportunity of preaching till they came together on the Sabbath day …

MacArthur says that, even on the Sabbath, not many showed up:

no large crowd appears there, no large crowd.

Although those gathered were amazed by what Jesus said, they identified him as being the carpenter ‘Son of Mary’ and naming His step-brothers and step-sisters (verse 3), a way of condemning Him once more. As such, they ‘took offence’, rejecting the messenger.

MacArthur explains the word in Greek:

End of verse 3: “They took offense at Him.” Skandalizō, they were scandalized by Him. It was an absolute blasphemy in their minds that He would claim to be God, the Son of God. This is scandalous. This is the same word you’ll find in 1 Corinthians 1 where the gospel is a stumbling block, a skandalon to the Jews.

Repeatedly the Scripture talks about how they stumbled over the reality of Jesus and over the gospel. This is adamant antagonism. This is the attitude of an unbeliever when pressed with the truth, when the truth is obvious and the truth is relevant. He tries to obscure the obvious, elevate the irrelevant, and then turn on the messenger.

MacArthur has much to say about this verse, beginning with the perspective of His family members:

He had no acceptance at all in His hometown, none, not even from His intimate family. His family’s attitude is conveyed to us back in Mark 3:21; they thought He’d lost His mind. They thought He was a maniac. For all that they knew, He grew up there for thirty years as a quiet carpenter, and now all of a sudden, He’s catapulted Himself on to the public scene. He hadn’t done miracles as such in Nazareth, but the word about the miracles was running rampant all over everywhere.

They were trying to process all of this with a great measure of skepticism and thought that He had lost His mind, and actually they found Him in verse 31: “His mother and brothers arrived, and standing outside sent word to Him and called Him.” The objective was to get Him out of the public situation He was in and save both the public from His madness and Himself as well. We read in John chapter 7 that His family did not believe in Him, His brothers did not believe in Him.

Luke tells us about His earlier visit. You can turn to Luke chapter 4. He had an earlier visit. And by the way, that chapter 4, verses 16 to 30 of Luke, is one of the great texts in all the gospel record

And right away, somewhere at the beginning, He comes to Nazareth where He had been brought up. And as was His custom, He always did this, every Sabbath day He went to the synagogue. He was faithful to do that, to worship.

He entered the synagogue on the Sabbath and stood up to read. This was traditional. This is what the visiting rabbis were invited to do when they came to town. And He had such a reputation already building up, they wanted to hear about Him. Word had come from Judea during the first year, and now more word from Galilee. He opens up the book of the prophet Isaiah – we won’t go into the detail – He reads from it two messianic prophecies about the Spirit of the Lord being upon the Messiah. The Messiah arriving to preach the gospel and proclaim release to the captive, sight to the blind, and freedom to the oppressed, and proclaim the favorable year of the Lord. He then closed the book, gave it back to the attendant, sat down. Everybody was looking at Him. They were fixed on Him. And He said in verse 21, “Today the Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.” Wow. And that’s only what He began to say. The rest was He told them He was the Messiah. He told them He was the Messiah.

Verse 22: “They were speaking well of Him” – how could they not? – “and wondering at the gracious words which were falling from His lips. But they were puzzled and said, ‘Is this not Joseph’s son?’ And Jesus says, ‘No doubt, you just want more magic, you just want more miracles.’ So you’re going to say to yourself, ‘Whatever was done at Capernaum, do it here.’ But He said, ‘I know your attitude.’ – verse 24, and here’s the first use of this axiom, this truism – ‘No prophet is welcome in his own hometown. All experts come from out of town.’” We all understand that.

And then as His sermon unfolds, He basically says, “I am the Messiah. I am here to preach the gospel to the poor, prisoners, blind, and oppressed – the people who are spiritually poor, spiritually in prisons, spiritually blind, spiritually oppressed.” In other words, “The people who know they’re trapped in sin and death, I’m here to preach the gospel.”

The implication is, “You’re not going to receive it, because you’re just like previous generations”

Well, the response in verse 28 was, “They were filled with rage at this indictment, leaving themselves to be righteous.” This was unacceptable. “They got up,” – in verse 29 – “drove Him out of the city, led Him to the brow of the hill on which their city had been built in order to throw Him down the cliff.” Wow. One sermon and they wanted Him dead. And these are the people who knew Him best, in a small village, His own family involved. They tried to kill Him after one sermon; but passing through their midst, He went His way.

So that was the attitude of Nazareth toward Him. And this is His second and last visit before us – and you can go back now to Mark. Nothing has changed with their attitude, except that at this time they don’t try to kill Him. This is about, however, final rejection, the final rejection of Nazareth. It’s kind of a microcosm of His final rejection in Jerusalem by the whole nation.

There are two other aspects of that verse which MacArthur covers admirably.

One is the reference to Him as the ‘Son of Mary’, meaning that, in their eyes, He is an illegitimate son, because they know that Joseph did not father Him:

Now when we think about Nazareth, we have all kinds of imagination as to what that place was like; and maybe I can help you with it a little bit. It is in its ancient configuration about sixty acres on a rocky hillside on the road to nowhere. The best guess is the town had about five hundred residents, not exactly a booming metropolis, about five hundred residents. It is so obscure that it is never mentioned in the Old Testament, never mentioned in the Jewish Mishnah, never mentioned in the Jewish Talmud, never mentioned by Josephus. And no church ever appeared there until the fourth century A.D. Our Lord returns to this little, small town for one final visit to the people who were most familiar with Him. If you grow up for thirty years in a town of five hundred, you know everybody, and everybody knows you

In Luke 4:22, He is referred to this way: “Is not this Joseph’s Son?” That’s how you referred to people in a respectable way. You referred to someone as the Son of the father. We still have that today, right? When you get married, you take the man’s name: “You are the son of” …

But here He is called Son of Mary.

Some have speculated maybe Joseph was dead. But even if Joseph was dead, you would still refer to Him genealogically as the son of Joseph. It’s very possible that they’re calling Him the Son of Mary, because they’re slandering Jesus for what they’ve come to believe is an illegitimate birth, an illegitimate birth.

The other aspect is their labelling of Him as a ‘carpenter’. Today, people would say, ‘He’s a common tradesman!’ MacArthur explains the word in Greek:

This is meant to be a demeaning expression. Carpenters is the word tektōn, tektōn. We get the word “tech” from that. We get “architect” from that, somebody who builds an arc, arch. It refers to a builder. The word tektōn could refer to a mason, a stone mason, a smith, somebody who worked with metal, a ship builder, a sculptor. Even physicians were referred to by that term. It’s a very, very broad term; and what would be best to say would be that He was a builder. A builder of what, we don’t know; but He was a builder.

The early church held that Joseph and Jesus were carpenters who made yokes and plows. That we find in A.D. 155, about a hundred years, of course, after the main part of the New Testament era; and this from Justin’s dialogue with Trypho where he refers to Jesus and Joseph as those who made yokes and plows. Well, that’s a tradition we really don’t know, but He was a builder; and from their perspective, He wasn’t a part of the elite, He wasn’t a part of the clergy. And so they focused on what is irrelevant

James we know about; he became the leader of the Jerusalem church, and eventually wrote the epistle of James. And Jude we know about, because he wrote the epistle of Jude. They were the half-brothers of Jesus. As far as Joses and Simon, we don’t know anything about them.

And then it mentions, “Are not His sisters here with us?” So there were sisters, plural. We don’t know exactly how many. Matthew says, “All His sisters,” which would take it beyond two, and make it three or more. So, you know, Mary may have had ten children, who knows? She was not a perpetual virgin, by the way. But they’re stuck on the idea that this is a nobody from a nowhere family, with a perhaps an illegitimate birth, who’s a common am haaretz, man of the dirt, man of the earth. This is typical of unbelief to focus on the irrelevant.

Jesus stated, once again, that prophets are accepted everywhere but in their hometowns — even by their own family and in their own house (verse 4).

What an indictment that is.

MacArthur says:

If Joseph was dead, He had only one person in that house who believed in Him. Not His brothers, not His sisters. They came to believe after the resurrection, according to the book of Acts. But at this time, they don’t. He was believed to be a prophet outside of town. You can look through the New Testament. Look up the word “prophet” and see how many times it’s used to refer to Christ. He is deemed a prophet again, and again, and again, and again, and again …

With that, Jesus could do no great miracles in Nazareth, other than laying hands on a few sick people and curing them (verse 5).

MacArthur makes these points about unbelief:

Unbelief obscures the obvious, it elevates the irrelevant, and it resents the messenger. And that resentment comes from hatred of the message. It attacks the messenger. And, of course, Christ lived that out , didn’t He? They killed Him because He was the messenger of the most wonderful message ever preached.

One final characteristic of unbelief: Unbelief spurns the supernatural. Unbelief spurns the supernatural. Verse 5: “He could do no miracle there except that He laid His hands on a few sick people and healed them.” He shut down the whole supernatural operation. Same thing is stated in Matthew 13:58.

Mark tells us that Jesus was ‘amazed’ by the unbelief in Nazareth, so He left to teach in other villages (verse 6).

MacArthur points out the use of the Greek word for ‘amazed’, or ‘wondered’ in some translations:

… verse 6, “He wondered at their unbelief.” “Wondered,” thaumazō is the Greek verb. It appears about thirty times in the New Testament usually to describe the people’s reaction to Him.

The Bible doesn’t say that Jesus wondered, or was astonished, or was amazed, except for two times: here, and on an occasion when He was amazed at the faith of a centurion – as recorded both by Matthew and Luke. The Bible tells us the people were constantly amazed at Him. They were astonished at Him. But only those two times was He amazed at them. Once with the centurion He was amazed at his faith. Here, He is amazed at the unbelief in His own hometown.

Now we proceed to the next episode in the ministry of Jesus, which was to send out the Apostles, two by two, giving them authority over unclean spirits, or demons (verse 7).

Henry says that this was so that one could give the other encouragement and moral support:

That Christ sent them forth by two and two; this Mark takes notice of. They went two and two to a place, that out of the mouth of two witnesses every word might be established; and that they might be company for one another when they were among strangers, and might strengthen the hands, and encourage the hearts, one of another; might help one another if any thing should be amiss, and keep one another in countenance. Every common soldier has his comrade; and it is an approved maxim, Two are better than one. Christ would thus teach his ministers to associate, and both lend and borrow help.

Jesus instructed them to be as humble as possible, as He Himself was: no food, no money, no bag, no material belongings except for a staff (verse 8). They are also to wear only one tunic and sandals (verse 9).

Henry adds that this time of mission was probably a short one:

they must go in the readiest plainest dress they could, and must not so much as have two coats; for their stay abroad would be short, they must return before winter, and what they wanted, those they preached to would cheerfully accommodate them with.

MacArthur provides us with context, pointing out that the crowds following Jesus were huge, so He decided to briefly invest the Apostles with His powers to help meet demand:

He is past the halfway point now in His ministry. He is headed to the cross. There are only a few months left in the Galilee ministry. There were three tours of Galilee; He is about to launch the third and final one, in the winter of the next to the last year of His life on earth. Up to this point, He has done it all: all the preaching, all the teaching, all the healing, all the deliverance from demons, all the raising of the dead, He has done. Everybody, in order to experience His teaching and experience His power, had to be where He was.

That made the crowds larger, and larger, and larger, and the larger they got, the more limiting and confining they became, and the harder it was to get to everyone. Galilee, as I said, only has a little time. In chapter 10 of Mark, and verse 1, Jesus goes to Judea, where He spent the last year of His ministry, Judea being the southern portion of the land of Israel. Not much time left, only time for one brief Galilean tour. The pressure of time, the tremendously increasing crowds, make it clear to Him that He needs to divide the responsibility.

He can multiply Himself twelve times, if He will delegate the truth and delegate the power to the apostles and send them out, so that this final opportunity, this final gracious extension of ministry, is vastly more pervasive, as they take up His place and His role from town to town and village to village. He has to diffuse the single nature of His ministry, diffuse the single crowd phenomenon, and take the message to the towns and villages in a multiplied fashion. It’s time now for these men, who have been in training by being with Him, day after day, 24/7, for months, for no doubt well over a year.

In Luke 10, He sent out more from His group of disciples:

Luke tells us, in the tenth chapter of Luke, that later on, He selected 70 more of His followers, and sent them out on a short-term mission, so He had a lot of disciples to choose from.

Jesus instructed the Apostles to lodge in only one house in every place they visited (verse 10).

He said that if a town or village rejected them, they were to shake the dust off their feet in that place upon leaving, thereby condemning it (verse 11). Shaking the dust off one’s feet as testimony against someone was an ancient Jewish practice against Gentiles that everyone would have understood. 

Henry says of the gesture:

Whosoever shall not receive you, or will not so much as hear you, depart thence (if one will not, another will), and shake off the dust under your feet, for a testimony against them. Let them know that they have had a fair offer of life and happiness made them, witness that dust; but that, since they have refused it, they cannot expect ever to have another; let them take up with their own dust, for so shall their doom be.” That dust, like the dust of Egypt (Exodus 9:9), shall turn into a plague to them; and their condemnation in the great day, will be more intolerable than that of Sodom: for the angels were sent to Sodom, and were abused there; yet that would not bring on so great a guilt and so great a ruin as the contempt and abuse of the apostles of Christ, who bring with them the offers of gospel grace.

MacArthur tells us:

The Gentiles were considered to be unclean; it had reached racist proportions. And when you went outside Israel, and you came back in, you stopped on the edge, and you took your sandals off, and you shook all the Gentile dirt into the Gentile land before you stepped into Israel. And then you shook your robe, because you’ve been kicking up Gentile dirt, and it would be all over you, from your head to your foot.

You shook out your hair, you shook out your robe, you shook out your feet; this was showing disdain for the Gentiles. You didn’t want to bring Gentile dirt, and contaminate the land of Israel. When you’ve been to a place, and you’ve been healing, and you’ve been validating the message that you preach, and you’ve been casting out demons, and perhaps you raised a dead person, and they reject you, you give a testimony, a martirition. You give – it became martyr when used in a Christian sense – you give a testimony to them.

Your testimony they will understand, because you’re going to the lost sheep of the house of Israel. You say to them, “You’re no better than a Gentile town, country. You’re unclean, and you’re under judgment.” In Matthew 10, which is the parallel – which is much, much more extensive instruction, and we’ll refer to that in a minute – says here – this is Matthew recording this: “in whatever city or village you enter, and inquire who’s worthy in it, stay at his house until you leave the city.” Check where you go first.

The Twelve went forth to proclaim repentance (verse 12).

Henry says that this is where good ministry begins (emphases in the original):

Note, The great design of the gospel preachers, and the great tendency of gospel preaching, should be, to bring people to repentance, to a new heart and a new way. They did not amuse people with curious speculations, but told them that they must repent of their sins, and turn to God.

They were able to cast out demons and cure the sick by anointing them with oil (verse 13).

MacArthur explains the significance of anointing with oil (emphases mine):

… oil – olive oil was used medicinally. Luke 10:34, that’s what the good Samaritan used, didn’t he? Pour oil on the suffering man. But in the Old Testament, olive oil was used symbolically by the Jews. Whenever there was anointing, it was a symbol of God’s presence; when a king was anointed, when a priest was anointed, it was symbolic of divine presence. So, I think maybe a good way to understand this would be that Jesus didn’t need to do this, because He didn’t need a symbolic divine presence; He was divine presence.

But since they were just men, they were deferring to the perceivable reality that this was an indication that their power came from God, and they used the symbol that people were used to, that was a symbol of the presence of God, the anointing of God. They knew that they weren’t the source of the power, they were just the channel of it. And by that simple symbol, they, in a familiar way, passed the glory back to the Lord Himself.

I hope this helps to better explain the ministries of Jesus and the Apostles.

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

Yet, it doesn’t tell the whole story.

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

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

Acts 5:33-42

33 When they heard this, they were enraged and wanted to kill them. 34 But a Pharisee in the council named Gamaliel, a teacher of the law held in honor by all the people, stood up and gave orders to put the men outside for a little while. 35 And he said to them, “Men of Israel, take care what you are about to do with these men. 36 For before these days Theudas rose up, claiming to be somebody, and a number of men, about four hundred, joined him. He was killed, and all who followed him were dispersed and came to nothing. 37 After him Judas the Galilean rose up in the days of the census and drew away some of the people after him. He too perished, and all who followed him were scattered. 38 So in the present case I tell you, keep away from these men and let them alone, for if this plan or this undertaking is of man, it will fail; 39 but if it is of God, you will not be able to overthrow them. You might even be found opposing God!” So they took his advice, 40 and when they had called in the apostles, they beat them and charged them not to speak in the name of Jesus, and let them go. 41 Then they left the presence of the council, rejoicing that they were counted worthy to suffer dishonor for the name. 42 And every day, in the temple and from house to house, they did not cease teaching and preaching that the Christ is Jesus.

——————————————————————————————–

Very little of Acts 5 is in the three-year Lectionary.

More’s the pity, because this chapter reveals much about the Church in infancy, as these events happened shortly after Pentecost.

The end of Acts 4 mentions a godly convert:

36 Thus Joseph, who was also called by the apostles Barnabas (which means son of encouragement), a Levite, a native of Cyprus, 37 sold a field that belonged to him and brought the money and laid it at the apostles’ feet.

Acts 5 opened with the stories of deceitful husband and wife Ananias and Sapphira, who attempted to imitate Joseph’s example by pledging money from a property sale. However, they decided to keep a share of the proceeds for themselves. Peter accused them of deceiving God and the Holy Spirit. They were so convicted that God took their lives, first Ananias, then Sapphira.

After their deaths, the Church’s purity was restored. The Apostles, particularly St Peter, attracted more converts with their healing miracles, performed through the gift of the Holy Spirit.

Even the high priest and the Sadducees could not contain the Twelve. An angel of the Lord released our holy men from prison. Following the angel’s instructions, they returned to Solomon’s Portico — or Porch — to continue preaching and healing.

When the temple captain and prison officers brought them back for a hearing, they went peaceably. Once before the council, they were charged with disobedience. This is the only part of Acts 5 that is in the Lectionary:

29 But Peter and the apostles answered, “We must obey God rather than men. 30 The God of our fathers raised Jesus, whom you killed by hanging him on a tree. 31 God exalted him at his right hand as Leader and Savior, to give repentance to Israel and forgiveness of sins. 32 And we are witnesses to these things, and so is the Holy Spirit, whom God has given to those who obey him.”

The council members heard Peter and were furious. They wanted to kill the Apostles (verse 33). They were angry that he was telling them the truth, one they preferred to forget.

Matthew Henry explains the unrelenting dynamic that was going on in their minds (emphases mine):

instead of yielding to it, they raged against it, and were filled, 1. With indignation at what the apostles said: They were cut to the heart, angry to see their own sin set in order before them; stark mad to find that the gospel of Christ had so much to say for itself, and consequently was likely to get ground. When a sermon was preached to the people to this purport, they were pricked to the heart, in remorse and godly sorrow, Acts 2:37. These here were cut to the heart with rage and indignation. Thus the same gospel is to some a savour of life unto life, to others of death unto death. The enemies of the gospel not only deprive themselves of its comforts, but fill themselves with terrors, and are their own tormentors. 2. With malice against the apostles themselves. Since they see they cannot stop their mouths any other way than by stopping their breath, they take counsel to slay them, hoping that so they shall cause the work to cease. While the apostles went on in the service of Christ, with a holy security and serenity of mind, perfectly composed, and in a sweet enjoyment of themselves, their persecutors went on in their opposition to Christ, with a constant perplexity and perturbation of mind, and vexation to themselves.

John MacArthur says the same thing of the Gospel truth:

It’s a sword and it rips men open. Convicts them. And they just couldn’t stand it. The word “deperianto” means violently agitated. Cut to the heart. They were just torn up inside. You say, “What got them all messed up?” The persistent preaching of these Christians.

A highly learned Pharisee, Gamaliel, stepped up and asked that the Apostles be removed from the area (verse 34). (Incidentally, there is only one famous person I can think of who had this name: Warren Gamaliel Harding, US president from 1921-1923. He was a Baptist who died in office. His administration was scandal-ridden.)

Who was the Gamaliel from Acts 5?

Henry tells us:

This Gamaliel is here said to be a Pharisee by his profession and sect, and by office a doctor of the law, one that studied the scriptures of the Old Testament, read lectures upon the sacred authors, and trained up pupils in the knowledge of them. Paul was brought up at his feet (Acts 22:3), and tradition says that so were Stephen and Barnabas. Some say he was the son of that Simeon that took up Christ in his arms, when he was presented in the temple, and grandson of the famous Hillel. He is here said to be in reputation among all the people for his wisdom and conduct, it appearing by this passage that he was a moderate man, and not apt to go in with furious measures. Men of temper and charity are justly had in reputation, for checking the incendiaries that otherwise would set the world on fire.

Henry saw the value of moderation in all things, especially in making decisions. MacArthur says that Gamaliel was working on the wrong premise. More about that later in this post.

MacArthur has more on Gamaliel:

Now he’s an eminent man. It says he was a teacher of the law and in the Talmud, which is the rabbinical writings of the Judaism[;] the Talmud calls him Gamaliel, the Elder, and the word rabban is a word that it’s not like Rabbi, it’s saved for only seven men, the seven most eminent teachers of Israel. He was the first one who ever got that title, so he’s a pretty sharp guy. He was the greatest teacher of his day. He was the grandson of Hillel. There were two great Rabbis. Any Jew will tell you the two great Rabbis Hillel and Chaim, those two Rabbis founded the two branches of Phariseeism one a little more conservative than the other. Hillel was the little more liberal wing. He was the grandson of Hillel. His heritage was good; he was a sharp guy. The old writing[s] tell us he had great earning, he was noble, he studied Greek literature, he was culturally so far advanced from the other Rabbis they weren’t even in the same ballpark with him. He was called the Beauty of the Law. He died 18 years before the sack of Jerusalem in 70 A.D. and in the Mishna it says, “Since Rabban Gamaliel, the Elder, there has been no more reverence for the law, and purity and abstinence died out at the same time.” So he was a very dominating guy. They felt that when he died everything went with him.

Interestingly enough in Acts 22:3, it says that the apostle Paul studied at his feet. So Paul had the best teacher of Judaism that was alive at that time, maybe one of the greatest that ever lived.

MacArthur also gives us valuable information about the organisational set up of the temple:

Now Gamaliel was a Pharisee and you’ll remember that the Sadducees controlled the Sanhedrin, the Sanhedrin was the 70-member counsel that ruled Jerusalem. But within the framework of the 70-member counsel there were Pharisees, it was just that the Sadducees had the rule, had the money, they were the political collaborationists. They were the ones that had sided with Rome. They were the ones that you might say were the theological liberals. They were concerned with social customs, they were concerned with getting along with Rome, they were very liberal in theology, they didn’t believe in the resurrection, and they didn’t believe in angels and that’s why God made sure that the Apostles preached the resurrection and got let out of prison by an angel because He was defying their theology.

But nonetheless, they were the theological liberals; they were the political liberals, whereas the Pharisees were the traditionalists. They were purists as regarding the law; they were nationalists as regarding Israel. They believed that Israel should exist apart from any connection with Rome. They were the ones who would have joined in any rebellion to get Rome off their necks because they were isolationists, nationalistic, whereas the Sadducees were political collaborators with Rome and they were theological liberals and they look at it from an economic standpoint, prestige standpoint, etc. etc. Very much like the dichotomy today between evangelicals and liberals.

So they were poles apart religiously and they were poles apart politically, which made for an interesting kind of dialogue within the framework of the Sanhedrin. Now the Sadducees were very influential with the Sanhedrin and very influential with Rome, but very uninfluential with the people. The people’s group were the Pharisees. They were the ones that really swayed the people. Now this is very important because it adds a little bit of kind of undercurrent by play to this thing that’s going to happen in a second.

Josephus says, and Josephus was a non-Christian historian about the time of Christ, who commented on a lot of things that were going on then, and Josephus says that because of the popularity of the Pharisees with the people, the Sadducees would always acquiesce to their demands.

In short, the Sadducees listened to Gamaliel, not only because of his wisdom, but also because he had his finger on the public pulse.

Gamaliel warned straightaway that careful consideration must be given in the handling of the Apostles (verse 35). Henry has this analysis:

It is not a common case, and therefore should not be hastily determined. He calls them men of Israel, to enforce this caution: “You are men, that should be governed by reason, be not then as the horse and the mule that have no understanding; you are men of Israel, that should be governed by revelation, be not then as strangers and heathens, that have no regard to God and his word.

MacArthur disagrees. Of Gamaliel, he says:

although he comes across theological, I think in the back of his brain is a political thought because if this is the best he can come up with in theology he’s hurting.

Gamaliel asked the council to remember two political and religious radicals of their lifetime: Theudas and Judas the Galilean (not the betrayer).

Theudas, he reminded them, claimed to be someone important and was able to assemble 400 men to do his bidding. He was then killed — possibly by the authorities — and his movement stopped (verse 36).

Around the time of Theudas, Judas the Galilean started an uprising in the days of the census and unfair taxation. He, too, met his death and so did his movement (verse 37).

What was Gamaliel talking about? Henry fills us in on events that took place around the time when Jesus was born, so, 30+ years before. However, Henry also points out there were another politically motivated men by these names, which makes the timeline tricky to place:

Observe, [1.] The attempt he made. It is said to be after this, which some read, besides this, or, Let me mention, after this,–supposing that Judas’s insurrection was long before that of Theudas; for it was in the time of the taxation, namely, that at our Saviour’s birth (Luke 2:1), and that of Theudas, whom Josephus speaks of, that mutinied, in the time of Cuspius Fadus; but this was in the days of Claudius Cæsar, some years after Gamaliel spoke this, and therefore could not be the same. It is not easy to determine particularly when these events happened, nor whether this taxing was the same with that at our Saviour’s birth or one of a later date. Some think this Judas of Galilee was the same with Judas Gaulonites, whom Josephus speaks of, others not. It is probable that they were cases which lately happened, and were fresh in memory. This Judas drew away much people after him, who gave credit to his pretensions. But, [2.] Here is the defeat of his attempt, and that without any interposal of the great sanhedrim, or any decree of theirs against him (it did not need it); he also perished, and all, even as many as obeyed him, or were persuaded by him, were dispersed. Many have foolishly thrown away their lives, and brought others into the same snares, by a jealousy for their liberties, in the days of the taxing, who had better have been content, when Providence had so determined, to serve the king of Babylon.

MacArthur gives us his version of historical events:

There are too many guys named Theudas to remember who this is. We don’t have any idea. Josephus talks about a later Theudas who had a rebellion, but his rebellion was so different from the characteristics here and it came so many years later that we know it’s not the same guy

After this man rose up Judas of Galilee,” and this one we do know a little bit about. This fellow led a revolt about 6 A. D. You remember that Herod the Great died in 4 A. D., I guess, 4 B. C. I can’t remember which, and after he died there about ten thousand robbers that popped up. They popped up all over everywhere. It just came to be a common thing see. 4 B. C. he died. It was kind of a common thing and they were just running around in the country.

A lot of times these little groups of robbers would get together and they’d find a leader and they’d crown him a king and they’d start a little revolution. Well one of these guys was Judas and in 6 A. D. he led a rebellion during the time of the census or the taxation under Quirinius, which just gives you a historical footnote. But his position was this: he said God is king; therefore to pay taxes to Rome is blaspheming God. None of us shall pay taxes anymore and he started spreading this around. Well this was a big threat to Rome so immediately the Roman IRS got activated and came down and stomped all over Judas and his people. And it’s interesting that verse 37 says, “In the days of those in the registration he drew away many people after him. He also perished and all even as many as obeyed him were dispersed.”

MacArthur says that after the Judas of 6 AD:

out of that movement came a group of people known as the Zealots. Did you ever read about the Zealots in the Bible? The Zealots were the super super nationalistic people, really believed in the purity and the isolation of Israel. And they grew out of Judas’ rebellion. So it wasn’t just as ineffective as [Gamaliel] said.

Gamaliel told the council to leave the Apostles alone and see if their following and their message peters out (yes, pun). If it is a temporal movement, he said, it will die out of its own accord (verse 38).

However, he added, if this is a movement borne of God, then it is better to leave the Apostles alone rather than to experience divine wrath (verse 39).

MacArthur does not like that reasoning at all:

That is one of the dumbest messed up principles I’ve ever read. Parts of it are true and that’s what’s so insidious. That’s the way all the cults are, you know. They’re right just enough to mess you up. They’re like a clock that doesn’t work. They’re right on twice a day. And so his advice is let them alone and it’ll all work out.

You know what principle being interpreted is? Listen. Whatever succeeds is of God; whatever fails is not. That’s what he’s saying isn’t it? When you put 38 and 39 together he says if it’s of God it’ll succeed, if it isn’t it won’t. So whatever succeeds is of God, whatever fails is not. That is a dumb principle. If you live by that principle you will be a mess. I’ll say this. It’s true in an ultimate sense, right? At the coming of Christ whatever is of God will remain, whatever isn’t will be wiped out. But it’s only true in an ultimate sense. That’s sure no way to evaluate something that’s going on in that moment. I mean there are kinds of successful [movements] that God hates. Illustration number one: the Sanhedrin. I mean if that principle is true, none of them would even be there. They say if it’s of God it’ll remain. They’re looking at each other here we all remain. They didn’t even know God. If we applied that principle that meeting couldn’t have taken place.

MacArthur went to mention bad religious and political movements that are a century, sometimes more than a millennia old, which are definitely not borne of God.

Henry’s assessment is a more charitable:

It is uncertain whether he spoke this out of policy, for fear of offending either the people or the Romans and making further mischief. The apostles did not attempt any thing by outward force. The weapons of their warfare were not carnal; and therefore why should any outward force be used against them? Or, whether he was under any present convictions, at least of the probability of the truth of the Christian doctrine, and thought it deserved better treatment, at least a fair trial. Or, whether it was only the language of a mild quiet spirit, that was against persecution for conscience’ sake. Or, whether God put this word into his mouth beyond his own intention, for the deliverance of the apostles at this time. We are sure there was an overruling Providence in it, that the servants of Christ might not only come off, but come off honourably.

I see merit in both, but agree more with Henry’s regarding providential intervention.

In any event, the Sanhedrin heeded Gamaliel’s advice (verse 39).

So, what happened to Gamaliel? Henry tells us:

The tradition of the Jewish writers is that, for all this, he lived and died an inveterate enemy to Christ and his gospel; and though (now at least) he was not for persecuting the followers of Christ, yet he was the man who composed that prayer which the Jews use to this day for the extirpating of Christians and Christianity. On the contrary, the tradition of the Papists is that he turned Christian, and became an eminent patron of Christianity and a follower of Paul, who had formerly sat at his feet. If it had been so, it is very probable that we should have heard of him somewhere in the Acts or Epistles.

Interesting!

Although Gamaliel presented a reasonable approach, the rage of the council was such that they themselves were not about to let the Apostles go off lightly. So, in addition to ordering them not to speak of Jesus any more, they had the Twelve scourged (verse 40). MacArthur describes this horrific punishment, which Jesus Himself endured before the Crucifixion:

Deuteronomy 25 tells about it. It’s a sad thing.

The Mishna says a guy would take the hands of the person and strap him to two posts like this. He would strip his shirt off. The stone was set behind the man or in front of the man on which the guy stood and he had to swing with all his might, the Mishna said. He wrapped the leather around his hand, two big long wide broad pieces of leather from the navel to the ground, that long, and they gave him one-third of the stripes on the front and two-thirds on the back and he did it to every one of those believers there. Then that brought us to the third and final reaction and we’ll close with this.

The Apostles must have been in unimaginable, unbearable pain afterwards.

However, as they left the council, bleeding, they rejoiced! They were so happy that their tormentors considered them worthy enough to suffer in the name of Jesus (verse 41). Henry expands on this:

(1.) They reckoned it an honour, looked upon it that they were counted worthy to suffer shame, katexiothesan atimasthenai–that they were honoured to be dishonoured for Christ. Reproach for Christ is true preferment, as it makes us conformable to his pattern and serviceable to his interest. (2.) They rejoiced in it, remembering what their Master had said to them at their first setting out (Matthew 5:11,12): When men shall revile you, and persecute you, rejoice and be exceedingly glad. They rejoiced, not only though they suffered shame (their troubles did not diminish their joy), but that they suffered shame; their troubles increased their joy, and added to it. If we suffer ill for doing well, provided we suffer it well, and as we should, we ought to rejoice in that grace which enables us so to do.

They duly returned to their ministry in Jerusalem, not only speaking in the temple but also going from house to house (verse 42). Henry explains:

Though in the temple they were more exposed, and under the eye of their enemies, yet they did not confine themselves to their little oratories in their own houses, but ventured into the post of danger; and though they had the liberty of the temple, a consecrated place, yet they made no difficulty of preaching in houses, in every house, even the poorest cottage. They visited the families of those that were under their charge, and gave particular instructions to them according as their case required, even to the children and servants.

Also:

They did not preach themselves, but Christ, as faithful friends to the bridegroom, making it their business to advance his interest. This was the preaching that gave most offence to the priests, who were willing they should preach any thing but Christ; but they would not alter their subject to please them.

Henry has this reminder:

It ought to be the constant business of gospel ministers to preach Christ; Christ, and him crucified; Christ, and him glorified; nothing besides this but what is reducible to it.

MacArthur has a good analogy, comparing a robust Church to the effervescence of a fizzy drink:

We went somewhere the other day for lunch and somebody said, “I’d like to have a Coke.” Well I’m sorry the carbonation machine doesn’t work and the Coke is flat.” And I kept thinking, “Oh that is just about how I often feel about the church.” What happened to the fizz? I mean there’s no effect. So much of our Christianity is in the walls, isn’t it? And where’s the influence?

This is what the early church had was influence. Everywhere they went the world shook because their step was so heavy and it shook for God. You remember they said of them, “These who turned the world upside down have come to our city also.” See! Influence. They became the issue. Boy, when Christianity gets to be the issue that’s exciting.

Clergy really do need to remember this. Forget the soft platitudes. Give us meat.

And, we laypeople can draw a lesson from this too, whether we teach, work with young people or are parents or guardians. Make Christianity come alive for children. Start them off early with Bible stories and explain their importance. Explain the life of Christ in the way the Apostles did and they will not stray from a love for our Saviour, our only Mediator and Advocate.

Next week, we will read of another great preacher of Jesus: Stephen — possibly one of Gamaliel’s students — who ended up being the first martyr.

Next time: Acts 7:2b-8

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

Yet, it doesn’t tell the whole story.

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

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

Acts 5:27-28

27 And when they had brought them, they set them before the council. And the high priest questioned them, 28 saying, “We strictly charged you not to teach in this name, yet here you have filled Jerusalem with your teaching, and you intend to bring this man’s blood upon us.”

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Last week’s entry described the surprise of the captain of the temple and the prison officers discovering the escape of the Apostles from prison. An angel of the Lord freed them.

When we left off last week, the captain of the temple and the prison officers took the Apostles away once more. However, they were gentle, because they feared that the crowd might stone them (verse 26).

The Apostles appeared before the council, where the high priest questioned them (verse 27). Matthew Henry tells us they considered the Twelve:

as delinquents.

John MacArthur says this was a momentous occasion for the Apostles:

here they are right back and the stage is set for sermon number two to the Sanhedrin, and the attendance has grown because now the senate is there. This is even better.

The high priest charges them with three offences (verse 28): disobeying the order not to preach about Christ Jesus, filling Jerusalem’s people with enthusiasm for Him and accusing the Jewish hierarchy of sentencing Him to death.

Henry offers this analysis (emphases mine):

Thus those who make void the commandments of God are commonly very strict in binding on their own commandments, and insisting upon their own power: Did not we command you? Yes, they did; but did not Peter at the same time tell them that God’s authority was superior to theirs, and his commands must take place of theirs? And they had forgotten this. 2. That they had spread false doctrine among the people, or at least a singular doctrine, which was not allowed by the Jewish church, nor agreed with what was delivered form Moses’s chair. “You have filled Jerusalem with your doctrine, and thereby have disturbed the public peace, and drawn people from the public establishment.” Some take this for a haughty scornful word: “This silly senseless doctrine of yours, that is not worth taking notice of, you have made such a noise with, that even Jerusalem, the great and holy city, is become full of it, and it is all the talk of the town.” They are angry that men, whom they look upon as despicable, should make themselves thus considerable. 3. That they had a malicious design against the government, and aimed to stir up the people against it, by representing it as wicked and tyrannical, and as having made itself justly odious both to God and man: “You intend to bring this man’s blood, the guilt of it before God, the shame of it before men, upon us.”

Henry points out the hypocrisy of these accusations:

See here how those who with a great deal of presumption will do an evil thing yet cannot bear to hear of it afterwards, nor to have it charged upon them. When they were in the heat of the persecution they could cry daringly enough, “His blood be upon us and upon our children; let us bear the blame for ever.” But now that they have time for a cooler thought they take it as a great affront to have his blood laid at their door. Thus are they convicted and condemned by their own consciences, and dread lying under that guilt in which they were not afraid to involve themselves.

MacArthur says the Apostles would have willingly agreed with the charges brought upon them:

So the first indictment was disobedience. The second charge they made against them was that they had accused them of the death of Christ. Notice it at the end of the verse: “And you intend to bring this man’s blood on us.” You’re saying all over the place that we are guilty. That’s right. That’s exactly what we’ve been saying. You guys have really gotten it right. Your charges are totally accurate. We’ve been disobedient and we’ve been indicting you

They had the indictment right. They were disobedient and in fact they were accusing them of crucifying Christ. Then this wonderful commendation in the middle of the verse: “And behold you have filled Jerusalem with your doctrine.” Praise the Lord! That’s what we’ve been trying to do. Mission accomplished! Saturation evangelism! What a commendation.

Episodes such as these make Acts an irresistible book of the New Testament. With the Holy Spirit descending upon them at that first Pentecost, the Apostles were spiritually on fire — and unabashedly taking the Good News to the temple!

They were teaching and healing with a consistent and singular message, as the angel who freed them directed (Acts 5:20):

20 “Go and stand in the temple and speak to the people all the words of this Life.”

MacArthur retraces Peter’s consistent indictment of the religious authorities in Acts:

Chapter 2:23 he says, “You have taken and by wicked hands crucified.” Chapter 2:36 he says, “Let all the house of Israel know assuredly that God hath made that same Jesus, whom you have crucified, Lord and Christ.” Chapter 3:15, “You killed the Prince of life.” Chapter 4: verse, I think it’s 10 and 11, “Be it known unto you all, all the people of Israel that by the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom ye crucified.” Sure, we’ve been saying that all along. You did it.

He also points out the hypocrisy of the religious leadership:

But have you forgotten Matthew 27:25? Jesus was to be crucified and they all screamed crucify Him, crucify Him and then they said this, “His blood be,” where, “On us.” They wanted it. Peter is not accusing them of anything that they didn’t desire to be accused of.

However, something else troubled the Jewish hierarchy: the miracle of the Apostles’ prison escape. It was too much for them to handle:

… there’s no question about the miracle of the escape. You know what? They don’t dare to ask them about it because they don’t want to hear about it. They’re so sick of hearing about miracles they’re already so messed up in their minds that another miracle would just really be too much to handle. So in all of that conversation they don’t even ask them how in the world they got out of jail. You know, my mind is made up. Don’t confuse me with facts.

MacArthur explains that the Apostles experienced this great Spirit-driven power because they had a pure church, after the Lord took the lives of deceivers Ananias and Sapphira, his wife:

So you see the effective evangelism of the early church was built on purity, power, and persecution. Let me give you a fourth one and then we’ll wrap it up. And I changed it while I was sitting here. The fourth one in your outline is preaching. Put down persistence. That’s a better word for it. That reflects what it’s really saying.

Persistence! And this again is the idea of the cork that keeps popping back up. They just never quit.

The next few verses, providing the proof of persistence, are in the three-year Lectionary, but without the rest of Acts 5, the average pewsitter is lost in a big cloud of ‘So what?’ Understanding all of Acts 5 makes the next few verses really powerful. Consider all of the following verses highlighted:

29 But Peter and the apostles answered, “We must obey God rather than men. 30 The God of our fathers raised Jesus, whom you killed by hanging him on a tree. 31 God exalted him at his right hand as Leader and Savior, to give repentance to Israel and forgiveness of sins. 32 And we are witnesses to these things, and so is the Holy Spirit, whom God has given to those who obey him.”

Peter went back to righteously defy the religious leaders with truth. He was following the directives of God, not those of men.

May we follow his example in our own lives, trusting in the Holy Spirit to provide the right words at the right time.

Next time: Acts 5:33-42

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

Yet, it doesn’t tell the whole story.

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

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

Acts 5:22-26

22 But when the officers came, they did not find them in the prison, so they returned and reported, 23 “We found the prison securely locked and the guards standing at the doors, but when we opened them we found no one inside.” 24 Now when the captain of the temple and the chief priests heard these words, they were greatly perplexed about them, wondering what this would come to. 25 And someone came and told them, “Look! The men whom you put in prison are standing in the temple and teaching the people.” 26 Then the captain with the officers went and brought them, but not by force, for they were afraid of being stoned by the people.

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Today’s passage is a continuation of last week’s, wherein an angel of the Lord released the Apostles from prison for preaching and healing in Christ’s name. The angel told the Twelve to return to Solomon’s Portico — Solomon’s Porch — at the temple (Acts 5:20):

20 “Go and stand in the temple and speak to the people all the words of this Life.”

This is the first of the miraculous prison stories of Acts. An angel freed Peter again in Acts 12. An earthquake freed Paul and Silas from prison in Acts 16. God wanted the Church to expand. Prison was not going to stop the divine plan.

Acts 5:21 tells us that the high priest and the religious leaders around him sent for the Twelve to be brought from prison before them.

The prison officers went to the cell, but did not find them (verse 22). John MacArthur calls this:

the great escape.

Matthew Henry surmises the Apostles’ absence was all the more confusing because:

It is probable that they found the common prisoners there.

No doubt the officers were fearful that the religious leaders would accuse them of being lax, so they quickly said that everything was secure, yet there was ‘no one inside’ (verse 23). Having no more information available, we do not know whether Henry’s assumption is correct or whether all the prisoners escaped. It seems unlikely that the angel would have also released common criminals. Perhaps by ‘no one inside’, the officers meant the Twelve. It is impossible to know for certain.

Hearing this, the religious leaders were ‘perplexed’ (verse 24). That is probably an understatement. Henry explores the permutations going through their minds. First, they were they figuring out how the Apostles escaped imprisonment. Secondly, they also wondered what the impact of this meant long-term (emphases mine):

They were extremely perplexed, were at their wits’ end, having never been so disappointed in all their lives of any thing they were so sure of. It occasioned various speculations, some suggesting that they were conjured out of the prison, and made their escape by magic arts; others that the keepers had played tricks with them, knowing how many friends these prisoners had, that were so much the darlings of the people. Some feared that, having made such a wonderful escape, they would be the more followed; others that, though perhaps they had frightened them from Jerusalem, they should hear of them again in some part or other of the country, where they would do yet more mischief, and it would be yet more out of their power to stop the spreading of the infection; and now they begin to fear that instead of curing the ill they have made it worse. Note, Those often distress and embarrass themselves that think to distress and embarrass the cause of Christ.

Worse came when someone told the leaders that the men were back preaching and healing in the temple (verse 25). Think of it, these men — released — have not sought shelter elsewhere as ordinary ex-prisoners often do. They are right back where they were arrested: in plain view. Henry says:

Now this confounded them more than any thing.

It scared them, too. MacArthur says:

They were scared to death and they couldn’t stop this thing and they knew they couldn’t stop it. And they knew that their authority was being disregarded, heresy was being preached. God was opposing them by miracles.

Nonetheless, they wanted to get to the bottom of this, so the captain of the temple and the officers went to bring the Twelve in. However, they did it peaceably (verse 26). This was because they feared the wrath of the people, especially that of the new converts.

The Apostles did not mind going with them, because they knew that whatever might happen, God was watching over them and would protect them, just as He had sent the angel to free them.

MacArthur has a good analysis:

… I mean just think of the thrill of going through a jail cell when it was locked. Not too many have that opportunity for several reasons. They don’t usually get in, hopefully, but nevertheless there was no resistance. They could have resisted at that point very easily, but they went so willingly. And probably on the way Peter is plotting out his sermon outline because he knows that the Lord is going to give him a second, this is the second service that they’ll be holding in the Sanhedrin. He’s probably getting it all outlined, of course, and figuring out the order of worship, or whatever.

The story continues next week.

Next time: Acts 5:27-28

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

Yet, it doesn’t tell the whole story.

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

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

Acts 5:17-21

The Apostles Arrested and Freed

17 But the high priest rose up, and all who were with him (that is, the party of the Sadducees), and filled with jealousy 18 they arrested the apostles and put them in the public prison. 19 But during the night an angel of the Lord opened the prison doors and brought them out, and said, 20 “Go and stand in the temple and speak to the people all the words of this Life.” 21 And when they heard this, they entered the temple at daybreak and began to teach.

Now when the high priest came, and those who were with him, they called together the council, all the senate of the people of Israel, and sent to the prison to have them brought.

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Last week, we read about the very early Church in Jerusalem restored to purity after the deaths of the duplicitous Ananias and Sapphira.

The Apostles, led by Peter, preached in Solomon’s Portico at the temple. Peter, in particular, healed many sick people. With his powerful preaching immediately following on the first Pentecost, he converted thousands of men and more — uncounted — women and children, according to John MacArthur. So many had converted by now, they were impossible to count (Acts 5:14):

14 And more than ever believers were added to the Lord, multitudes of both men and women …

And these believers had pure hearts and minds, because everyone by then knew about Ananias and Sapphira. If you were dishonest, God took your life.

The high priest saw all this activity. So did the men around him, the Sadducees. All were deeply jealous of the Apostles (verse 17). It seems an odd reaction, until we consider Matthew Henry’s explanation. They:

saw their wealth and dignity, their power and tyranny, that is, their all, at stake, and inevitably lost, if the spiritual and heavenly doctrine of Christ should get ground and prevail among the people.

The Sadducees — rationalists to the core — despised the divine supernatural, most of all Christ’s Resurrection. They were also the elite who brokered agreements with the Romans so the Jews could live in peace. Therefore, they thought they had Jesus crucified and buried once and for all. To now see daily crowds in Solomon’s Portico hearing about the Resurrection of Christ and seeing healing miracles was too much for them. They were not about to succumb to the Apostles. They were going to put a stop to their ministry. Henry tells us (emphases mine):

When they heard and saw what flocking there was to the apostles, and how considerable they were become, they rose up in a passion, as men that could no longer bear it, and were resolved to make head against it, being filled with indignation at the apostles for preaching the doctrine of Christ, and curing the sick,–at the people for hearing them, and bringing the sick to them to be cured,–and at themselves and their own party for suffering this matter to go so far, and not knocking it on the head at first. Thus are the enemies of Christ and his gospel a torment to themselves. Envy slays the silly one.

The high priest — Annas or Caiphas — arrested the Apostles and imprisoned them among base criminals (verse 18).

So we see here that the message of Christ offends, deeply.

MacArthur says:

If you’re going to live for God in this world, a godly life, a pure life, you’re going to be bumping into the system, and you’re going to irritate the system, and you’re going to get persecuted

The only thing that Jesus is talking about when he’s talking about suffering and bearing His reproach is confronting the world so much and with such effect that the system reacts violently and you get some flack back. And that’s exciting. And you ought to be happy about that.

Then a wondrous, supernatural thing happened. An angel of the Lord opened the prison doors and freed the Twelve (verse 19).

This is the first of the miraculous prison stories of Acts. An angel freed Peter again in Acts 12. An earthquake freed Paul and Silas from prison in Acts 16. God wanted the Church to expand. Prison was not going to stop the divine plan.

Matthew Henry says there was spiritual symbolism in this act:

This discharge of the apostles out of prison by an angel was a resemblance of Christ’s resurrection, and his discharge out of the prison of the grave, and would help to confirm the apostles’ preaching of it.

Returning to today’s passage (verse 20), the angel told the Apostles to go back to the temple and

speak to the people all the words of this Life.

The angel did not say to lie low or to leave Jerusalem. No.

They were to return to Solomon’s Portico, stand resolutely and speak boldly — to the people. To the people, not to the hierarchy to try and convince them of the reality of Christ.

From this, we can see why and how the elites are so far above themselves that the vast majority of humankind does not concern them in the slightest.

Henry elaborates:

To whom they must preach: “Speak to the people; not to the princes and rulers, for they will not hearken; but to the people, who are willing and desirous to be taught, and whose souls are as precious to Christ, and ought to be so to you, as the souls of the greatest. Speak to the people, to all in general, for all are concerned.”

Also note that the angel said to speak ‘all the words’ — not just the comfortable, convenient ones.

Which brings us to the angel’s word ‘Life’. What did it mean in that context? What does it mean today?

Ultimately, it refers to the Resurrection of Christ which brings us eternal life.

Henry explains what it meant for the Apostles:

This life which you have been speaking of among yourselves, referring perhaps to the conferences concerning heaven which they had among themselves for their own and one another’s encouragement in prison: “Go, and preach the same to the world, that others may be comforted with the same comforts with which you yourselves are comforted of God.” Or, “of this life which the Sadducees deny, and therefore persecute you; preach this, though you know it is this that they have indignation at.” Or, “of this life emphatically; this heavenly, divine life, in comparison with which the present earthly life does not deserve the name.” Or, “these words of life, the very same you have preached, these words which the Holy Ghost puts into your mouth.” Note, The words of the gospel are the words of life, quickening words; they are spirit, and they are life; words whereby we may be saved–that is the same with this here, Acts 11:14. The gospel is the word of this life, for it secures to us the privileges of our way as well as those of our home, and the promises of the life that now is as well as of that to come. And yet even spiritual and eternal life are brought so much to light in the gospel that they may be called this life; for the word is nigh thee.

MacArthur says:

Men are dead. And they’re groping in this kind of deadness to find reality and it isn’t there and the only thing they really need is life and there’s only one who can give life and that’s Jesus, who said, “I am the way, the truth and,” what? “The life.” Of whom John said, “He that hath the Son,” what? “Hath life.” And to come alive is what it is to be saved. All of a sudden you sense God and you’re alive to His world and you’re a part of what He is and what He’s doing. And this is life. And it doesn’t say tell the people all the words that add to their life. Christianity is not a part of life, it is life and apart from it you’re dead.

Encouraged, the Apostles returned at dawn to the temple to teach (verse 21). The temple opened at daybreak, so the Twelve went in as soon as they could.

While the Apostles continued their marvellous ministry, the high priest convened with his council before calling the Twelve from the cells. He was unaware that his prisoners had resumed their holy work.

MacArthur tells us:

you can see the austerity of this occasion. They’re getting ready now to deal with these upstarts. “The high priest came, and they that were with him,” he had this little gang that trailed around, that were kind of attached to him theologically, “And they called the council together,” that’s the Sanhedrin, the ruling elders of Israel, and then they got in addition to that, which is the senate,” which is grusia, which has to do probably with all of the elder, older Jews, the wise older men who in years past had served in many capacities and they called together this kind of a Senate of wise men made up of many Pharisees.

So they had all of the brain trust of Israel meeting together to dispense with these guys and then they sent to the prison to have them brought. You go and you bring the prisoners. We’ll deal with them.

Henry gives us the numbers:

they called together, pasan ten gerousianall the eldership, that is (says Dr. Lightfoot), all the three courts or benches of judges in Jerusalem, not only the great sanhedrim, consisting of seventy elders, but the other two judicatories that were erected one in the outer-court gate of the temple, the other in the inner or beautiful gate, consisting of twenty-three judges each; so that, if there was a full appearance, here were one hundred and sixteen judges. Thus God ordered it, that the confusion of the enemies, and the apostles’ testimony against them, might be more public, and that those might hear the gospel who would not hear it otherwise than from the bar. Howbeit, the high priest meant not so, neither did his heart think so; but it was in his heart to rally all his forces against the apostles, and by a universal consent to cut them all off at once.

The story continues next week.

Next time: Acts 5:22-26

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

Yet, it doesn’t tell the whole story.

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

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

Acts 5:12-16

Many Signs and Wonders Done

12 Now many signs and wonders were regularly done among the people by the hands of the apostles. And they were all together in Solomon’s Portico. 13 None of the rest dared join them, but the people held them in high esteem. 14 And more than ever believers were added to the Lord, multitudes of both men and women, 15 so that they even carried out the sick into the streets and laid them on cots and mats, that as Peter came by at least his shadow might fall on some of them. 16 The people also gathered from the towns around Jerusalem, bringing the sick and those afflicted with unclean spirits, and they were all healed.

——————————————————————————————–

The last two posts were about the deaths of Ananias and his wife Sapphira who thought they could deceive God and the Holy Spirit by denying the fledgling church of full proceeds from a property sale that they had pledged to the Apostles.

John MacArthur summarises this succinctly:

… it was just at that point that Satan struck, and tragedy hit … the great sin that threaten­ed to be a blight on the church, the sin of Ananias and Sapphira who lied to the Holy Spirit, in an effort to gain religious prestige and to be thought of as spiritual. They did things that were extremely carnal, and God had to discipline them in the face of the whole church, and He did it by just executing them right there, they dropped dead on the spot. And God pointed out the severity of sin, in the fellowship of the church. God did the disciplining there, because they needed to learn a graphic lesson. And so the cancer that had swept into the church so briefly was immediately operated on by God and put out.

This was the only blot on the landscape of the earliest days of the Church. MacArthur takes us through the magnificent Spirit-led growth that resulted after the first Pentecost as Acts describes it (emphases mine):

In 2:41 for example it says, there were added 3,000 souls, in Acts 2:47 it says, the Lord added to their number daily such as should be saved. In Acts 4:4 it says, the number of men came to be about 5,000, and in addition to the men would be the women and children. In chapter 5 verse 14 it says, and more than ever believers were added to the Lord, multitudes of men and women.

With Ananias and Sapphira buried, the Church is pure once again:

A holy instru­ment is a powerful weapon in the hand of God, you see. God really only works in a positive way through holy instruments. And the church that is to reach the world must be pure. It must be a church that deals with sin. A church that is pure in the world fits the first qualifi­cation for effective evangelism. Now God did the purifying in the case of chapter 5 there, and I think God still does some purifying in the church. We read in the Book of Hebrews that everyone whom He loves He chastens. He scourges every son. So God is still doing some chasten­ing, and it may just be that God is still killing some Christians too.

This brings us to today’s verses. MacArthur says we can read them as two different sets. He says there is a ‘parenthesis’ from the second sentence in verse 12 through verse 14. In fact, Matthew Henry’s version of the Bible actually has parentheses in these places.

These are the two things we glean from this passage:

12 Now many signs and wonders were regularly done among the people by the hands of the apostles. 15 so that they even carried out the sick into the streets and laid them on cots and mats, that as Peter came by at least his shadow might fall on some of them. 16 The people also gathered from the towns around Jerusalem, bringing the sick and those afflicted with unclean spirits, and they were all healed.

And they were all together in Solomon’s Portico. 13 None of the rest dared join them, but the people held them in high esteem. 14 And more than ever believers were added to the Lord, multitudes of both men and women,

Let’s look at them as we have them in divinely inspired Scripture.

Thanks to the Holy Spirit, the first sentence in verse 12 tells us that all the divine healing and miracles Jesus did was transmitted into the hands of the Apostles at that time. Matthew Henry explains:

The miracles they wrought proved their divine mission. They were not a few, but many, of divers kinds and often repeated; they were signs and wonders, such wonders as were confessedly signs of a divine presence and power.

Henry draws our attention to the words ‘among the people’:

They were not done in a corner, but among the people, who were at liberty to enquire into them, and, if there had been any fraud or collusion in them, would have discovered it.

All were together in Solomon’s Portico, therefore, out in the open air at the temple. The sentence has more resonance in the King James Version:

and they were all with one accord in Solomon’s porch.

Henry tells us:

The church was hereby kept together, and confirmed in its adherence both to the apostles and to one another

He addresses the seeming incongruity of Jesus’s followers being allowed to worship openly in the temple grounds:

God inclined their hearts to tolerate them there awhile, for the more convenient spreading of the gospel; and those who permitted buyers and sellers could not for shame prohibit such preachers and healers there.

This is where Christian worship began — before St Paul’s conversion. Henry says we should heed this example:

early was the institution of religious assemblies observed in the church, which must by no means be forsaken or let fall, for in them a profession of religion is kept up.

Verse 13 might need clarification. Who were ‘the rest’ who did not join in? Who were those — ‘them’ — the people held in such high esteem?

Henry tells us that those present, filled with the Holy Spirit, deferred to the Apostles as the Twelve had the divine gifts of healing. MacArthur’s take is slightly different. He thinks St Luke wrote here about non-Christians:

You know why people didn’t line up with that movement? That was dangerous! I mean you could drop dead in that deal. You know who they got into their movement? They got only the people who were really committed, true? You better believe it. Nobody but nobody is going to swing into that move­ment in a hypocritical attitude. Nobody is going to get into that deal unless they are really sold out to Jesus Christ, totally, it’s too ris­ky. I mean they can spot sin, and what happens to sinners? They drop dead. Can you imagine how the rumors flew? Boy, don’t go near those guys, there are really….. that’s strong stuff. You get in there and mess around and it’s over. You see, the pure church that deals with sin, keeps itself pure because it keeps the tares out. Do ya get it? You see, people don’t flock to join that kind of a movement

And with this purity and power of the Apostles came the high esteem from the converts. Henry tells us:

Observe, The apostles were far from magnifying themselves; they transmitted the glory of all they did very carefully and faithfully to Christ, and yet the people magnified them; for those that humble themselves shall be exalted, and those honoured that honour God only.

Verse 14 is important because we read that women were welcome in the Church. Jesus’s followers intermingled and worshipped together. They were religious equals, unlike in the Jewish system where women had to worship separately in the Court of Women in the temple at Jerusalem. (Even today, conservative synagogues still separate women from men.) They were also not obliged to participate in certain religious feasts.

And, all the while, the Church grew and grew in Jerusalem. MacArthur says:

It grew so fast, they couldn’t count it anymore, they stopped counting.

It grew because:

it was a pure church and as a result of being a pure church, it grew. Now when we start talking about evangelism, people, we do not start talking about evangelism when we leave this place with a little tract in our hand, we start talking about evangelism right here. As we work within our own lives, and amidst our own congregation on the principles of purity. That’s where evangelism begins.

It is difficult to imagine the tremendous crowds bringing in the sick, hoping to just have a bit of Peter’s shadow cast over them for healing (verse 15). MacArthur says a man’s shadow was very important culturally in that part of the world:

It’s an interesting thing, the Orientals you know, believed that a man’s shadow carried his influence, and parents would run and take their little children into the shadow of great men. And just as much, parents would grab their little children and snatch them and pull them away from the shadow of someone they disliked, in Oriental fantasy. But none the less expressed here, it doesn’t say Peter’s shadow healed anybody. It just says they believed that if Peter’s shadow passed by, this was a part of their Oriental belief. But boy, they sure thought something of Peter, they really did. I studied this, and I asked my­self the question, I don’t see anybody runnin’ to get into my shadow. And I thought well, that’s sure a principle that we oughta apply in all of our lives. Is there something about us that causes people to run to us? Is there something so attractive and dynamic about the power of God expressed in our lives that people want to run to be with us? Pray to God it would be so.

Henry interprets Peter’s shadow spiritually:

God expresses his care of his people, by his being their shade on their right hand; and the benign influences of Christ as a king are compared to the shadow of a great rock. Peter comes between them and the sun, and so heals them, cuts them off from a dependence upon creature sufficiency as insufficient, that they may expect help only from that Spirit of grace with whom he was filled. And, if such miracles were wrought by Peter’s shadow, we have reason to think they were so by the other apostles, as by the handkerchiefs from Paul’s body (Acts 19:12), no doubt both being with an actual intention in the minds of the apostles thus to heal;

Verse 16 underscores that all the ailing or those with unclean spirits who were presented were healed. That also means the healing was immediate and complete, as it was with Jesus.

Henry has this observation:

… distempered bodies and distempered minds were set to rights. Thus opportunity was given to the apostles, both to convince people’s judgments by these miracles of the heavenly origin of the doctrine they preached, and also to engage people’s affections both to them and it, by giving them a specimen of its beneficial tendency to the welfare of this lower world.

This period in the Church’s history is the Apostolic Era. It lasted for a limited period of time. MacArthur explains:

God does healing miracles today, but not through these same gifts, since these have passed away. These were only for the beginning of this age and incidentally if you study your Bible correctly you’ll find that at the beginning of all the major ages of the Bible, miracles were a part of the initiation. There is no promise that miracles would continue in this age, they are not even promised for the end of the age. People say well, it’s the end of the church age, so miracles are happen­ing. You won’t find that in the Bible anywhere. Nowhere does it say that the church age is going to end in a burst of miracles. The test­imony of the Holy Spirit says at the end of the church age, watch this, there will be apostasy, lawlessness, departure from the faith, false religions, delusions, doctrines of devils and all the way down, every­thing but miracles. It says there will be signs and wonders however, divine miracles, it says there will be signs and wonders, Second Thess­alonians 2. They will be lying wonders, propagated by whom? Satan. So if you’re looking for miracles today, expect the source to be Satan. And we’re seeing them. Now of course this full thing isn’t until the tribulation, but we’ve already begun to see the mystery of iniquity working right now, haven’t we? Some of these lying wonders that are happening under demonic influence.

During the Apostolic Era, the Holy Spirit worked through the Apostles, enabling the Church to grow and expand from Jerusalem to the Near East. True faith and utmost purity enabled it to spread to northern Africa and to Europe.

Next time: Acts 5:17-21

Bible read me 2The three-year Lectionary that many Catholics and Protestants hear in public worship gives us a great variety of Holy Scripture.

Yet, it doesn’t tell the whole story.

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

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

Matthew 26:30-35

Jesus Foretells Peter’s Denial

30 And when they had sung a hymn, they went out to the Mount of Olives. 31 Then Jesus said to them, “You will all fall away because of me this night. For it is written, ‘I will strike the shepherd, and the sheep of the flock will be scattered.’ 32 But after I am raised up, I will go before you to Galilee.” 33 Peter answered him, “Though they all fall away because of you, I will never fall away.” 34 Jesus said to him, “Truly, I tell you, this very night, before the rooster crows, you will deny me three times.” 35 Peter said to him, “Even if I must die with you, I will not deny you!” And all the disciples said the same.

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The Last Supper had just ended (verse 30).

Jesus had sent Judas away long before then and commemorated Passover with the remaining eleven apostles in instituting the Sacrament of His Body and Blood.

Passover supper concluded with a hymn, a sung Psalm. John MacArthur tells us:

After the main meal of the lamb, the bitter herbs, and the sauce, the unleavened bread, they would take a cup, then they would sing the hallēl, which would be the latter part of the hallēl, Psalm 115 to 118.  Then they would take the fourth and final cup, and then they would sing the final song, which was Psalm 136, called the great hallēl.  And every verse in Psalm 136 ends with the same line, “For His mercy endureth forever – for His mercy endureth forever – for His mercy endureth forever” – every one of them.  So they would have sung that. 

Hallēl means ‘to praise’. Hallelujah is is the plural imperative of hallēl.

MacArthur describes the walk Jesus and the apostles took to the Mount of Olives. We often think they were alone in a quiet Jerusalem. However, as it was Passover, the streets were teeming with faithful Jews (emphases mine):

… the leaving was very significant.  It was nearly midnight.  They go out of this upper room, down the stairs, out into the street, and the city is alive as if it was midday.  It is alive because it is Passover time.  It is the time of the feast of unleavened bread, and there’s activity everywhere and people are hurrying around.  Some are in the midst of eating their Passover meal.  Remember, the Galileans and the Pharisees ate it late Thursday night.  Some are still eating it, so the lamps are burning in the houses.  Some are getting ready to have it the next day, the Judeans and the Sadducees, and so, they’re getting the preparations ready.

The temple gates will be thrown open at midnight for the special festival.  And so people are surging toward the temple wanting to get in that place.  Visitors are everywhere; people negotiating for a place to have the Passover the next day, who had come from out of town, animals being collected and carried all around to be sacrificed the next day.  It’s alive, even though it’s night, and so they’re pushing their way, no doubt, through this kind of crowd at night, down the eastern slope of the temple mount.  They’ve crossed the Kidron valley, where the little brook is running as full as it ever runs because of winter rain, and it’s even more full because of the blood of all the thousands of animals that have been slain, and the blood runs out the back of the temple, down the slope, into the stream to be carried away.  And so the disciples, eleven of them now, and Jesus cross that in the dark, and they ascend the Mount of Olives, headed for a very familiar place that they have gone to many times called the Garden of Gethsemane, which means “olive press;” Mount of Olives, many olive trees, and a place called olive press.

People in the city didn’t have gardens in the city.  There was no place for that.  They had gardens out on the slopes around the city, and they would cultivate those, and those would be the gardens that belonged to the people that lived in the city.  And Jesus went to a familiar place, and they were headed for that place, but it must have been up the slope a ways, and as they went up they needed to stop and rest – maybe in a similar place that they had stopped the night before when He gave them the great Olivet Discourse of Matthew 24 and 25 on His Second Coming. 

Jesus had something important to tell the apostles. He told them they would ‘all fall away’ because of Him that night (verse 31). Some older translations, such as the Bible Matthew Henry used, say ‘shall be offended’. In modern English, the connotation is ‘to desert’.

To illustrate His point, He cited Zechariah 13:7. I’m going to highlight that below and give you subsequent verses to better put it into context:

“Awake, O sword, against my shepherd,
    against the man who stands next to me,”
declares the Lord of hosts.

Strike the shepherd, and the sheep will be scattered;
    I will turn my hand against the little ones.
In the whole land, declares the Lord,
    two thirds shall be cut off and perish,
    and one third shall be left alive.
And I will put this third into the fire,
    and refine them as one refines silver,
    and test them as gold is tested.
They will call upon my name,
    and I will answer them.
I will say, ‘They are my people’;
    and they will say, ‘The Lord is my God.’”

MacArthur explains Zechariah in the prophet’s context then in Jesus’s. Note that MacArthur is using another version of the Bible, but the words will make sense in the same way:

In Zechariah 13, Zechariah is talking about some false prophets who will be wounded in their idol houses.  He’s talking about false prophets that God is going to come and wound in their idol houses.  In other words, God is going to judge false prophets.  And the prophet is speaking against those false prophets, who are worthy only of the judgment of God.  And then he comes right behind that in verse 7 and says, “I will smite the shepherd and the sheep of the flock shall be scattered abroad.”  And it might seem at first that he’s referring here to a false shepherd, that God is going to come down and smite a false shepherd – makes sense – and scatter all of the followers of that false shepherd.  And we might think that, except for the clear interpretation of Christ, who says, “The smiting is Me, and the flock is you.”  And so the smitten shepherd of Zechariah 13:7 has to be the Messiah, and the scattered flock has to be His people.  And if you understand that, you understand the meaning of Zechariah 13:7, and it makes sense out of that passage, especially as you look a little closer to it.

Now, look at Zechariah 13:7 for just a moment, and I’ll show you some interesting things.  It says, “Awake, o sword,” and this is God, Jehovah God speaking, “Awake, O sword, against My shepherd.”  Now, that tells you right away that it’s not a false prophet.  God is not slaying a false prophet whom He calls “My shepherd,” God’s personal representative.  God says, “My sword will slay My shepherd” – “Awake, O sword, against My shepherd.”  And then this most interesting phrase, “And against the man,” and he uses a Hebrew word here that is not the normal word, not the generic word, but means “mighty man” or “man of great strength.”  So first of all, the shepherd to be slain is called “the shepherd of God, My shepherd, a mighty shepherd.”  And then it says, “Who is My fellow.”  Literally, “the mighty man of My union,” or “the mighty man equal to Me.”  Marvelous statement, isn’t it?  Who is equal to God?  Christ.  Who was God’s shepherd?  Christ.  Who is the mighty shepherd?  Christ.

So clearly, Zechariah is turning a corner from the false, saying, “Yes, God will wound the false shepherd in the house of his idol, but God will also wound the true shepherd, and His sheep will be scattered as well.”  And the end of the verse, “And I’ll turn My hand on the little ones,” there will be a remnant – there will be a remnant.  What Zechariah was saying is the day is coming when God is going to smite His own shepherd, the Lord Jesus Christ, and the sheep are going to be scattered.  Now, the sheep I believe Zechariah has in mind is the nation Israel.  Israel went into chaos after the death of their Messiah.  Seventy A.D., the city was destroyed, the temple and everything else, and they’re still in the same chaos resulting from the rejection of Messiah.  But the disciples being scattered were sort of the first phase of the chaos that hit the nation Israel.  So Zechariah sees God smiting the shepherd, the nation disintegrating, and the first phase of it the Lord applies to this group of His own disciples, who will be scattered.

Jesus then said that when He was raised, He would go before the apostles into Galilee (verse 32). He was not only telling them what would happen but also making sure they were not filled with despair. Matthew Henry explains the verse in light of Zechariah:

Though you will forsake me, I will not forsake you though you fall, I will take care you shall not fall finally: we shall have a meeting again in Galilee, I will go before you, as the shepherd before the sheep.” Some make the last words of that prophecy (Zechariah 13:7), a promise equivalent to this here and I will bring my hand again to the little ones. There is no bringing them back but by bringing his hand to them. Note, The captain of our salvation knows how to rally his troops, when, through their cowardice, they have been put into disorder.

Then Peter piped up with another grand pronouncement of his loyalty and fidelity (verse 33). He said his faith was so much deeper than everyone else’s that night. They might fall away but he would remain steadfast until the end.

But Jesus knew what was going to happen, and it was not as Peter imagined. Jesus told him that before the rooster crowed, Peter would deny knowing Him three times (verse 34).

If you’re familiar with cockerels, they start crowing very early, between midnight and three in the morning, known to the ancient Jews as the rooster crow. Therefore, Peter’s denials would come in relatively quick succession that night.

Peter, however, was adamant in his loyalty. The other apostles also pledged their fidelity (verse 35).

The rest of the chapter — indeed, the rest of Matthew’s Gospel — is in the three-year Lectionary.

However, let’s remind ourselves of how events unfolded.

Jesus asked Peter, James and John to wait for Him while He went off alone to pray (verse 36):

39 And going a little farther he fell on his face and prayed, saying, “My Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as you will.”

What unspeakably deep sorrow He must have experienced at that moment.

Yet, when He returned, Peter, James and John were asleep:

40 And he came to the disciples and found them sleeping. And he said to Peter, “So, could you not watch with me one hour?

Jesus’s next words were — and continue to be — pivotal:

41 Watch and pray that you may not enter into temptation. The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak.”

The flesh is always weak. That has been an enduring fact starting with Original Sin.

Satan is always on hand to prey on our weakness. He doesn’t sleep. This is why we need to be alert, on guard against temptation.

Jesus went off to pray a second time. Even after his admonition about being watchful:

43 And again he came and found them sleeping, for their eyes were heavy.

He went off a third time to pray. When He returned, the apostles were asleep.

Jesus told them to rest later (verse 45):

46 Rise, let us be going; see, my betrayer is at hand.”

This should have been enough to penetrate and concentrate their minds, but it wasn’t.

Jesus had not finished speaking when a crowd of high priests and scribes armed with swords and clubs appeared with Judas (verse 47):

48 Now the betrayer had given them a sign, saying, “The one I will kiss is the man; seize him.” 49 And he came up to Jesus at once and said, “Greetings, Rabbi!” And he kissed him. 50 Jesus said to him, “Friend, do what you came to do.”[f] Then they came up and laid hands on Jesus and seized him.

‘One of those’ with Jesus — Peter, as John 18:10 identifies him — drew his sword, but Jesus told him to put it away:

52 Then Jesus said to him, “Put your sword back into its place. For all who take the sword will perish by the sword.

He said He does not need earthly defence; He has His Father in heaven and legions of angels (verse 53).

Matthew 26 ends with Peter’s three denials in the early hours of Good Friday morning:

Peter Denies Jesus

69 Now Peter was sitting outside in the courtyard. And a servant girl came up to him and said, “You also were with Jesus the Galilean.” 70 But he denied it before them all, saying, “I do not know what you mean.” 71 And when he went out to the entrance, another servant girl saw him, and she said to the bystanders, “This man was with Jesus of Nazareth.” 72 And again he denied it with an oath: “I do not know the man.” 73 After a little while the bystanders came up and said to Peter, “Certainly you too are one of them, for your accent betrays you.” 74 Then he began to invoke a curse on himself and to swear, “I do not know the man.” And immediately the rooster crowed. 75 And Peter remembered the saying of Jesus, “Before the rooster crows, you will deny me three times.” And he went out and wept bitterly.

Parallel verses for today’s reading are found in Mark 14:26-31.

Parallel verses for Matthew 26:34 are found in Mark 14:30, Luke 22:34 and John 13:38. Note that the links I have supplied are all from my Forbidden Bible Verses series. This means they do not appear in the three-year Lectionary. More’s the pity, because they teach us a valuable lesson as Christians.

It is hard not to be suspicious of churchgoers who boast of their faith. A few have commented on this site. They make themselves sound better than everyone else, just as Peter attempted to elevate himself above the other apostles. Matthew Henry has this observation:

Note, It argues a great degree of self-conceit and self-confidence, to think ourselves either safe from the temptations, or free from the corruptions, that are common to men. We should rather say, If it be possible that others may be offended, there is danger that I may be so. But it is common for those who think too well of themselves, easily to admit suspicions of others. See Galatians 6:1.

Peter was so puffed up with himself because he was in his comfort zone. No doubt boastful churchgoers are also in their own bubble. They live in a safe place. They have a roof over their heads. They feel no outside threat. They have food, family and friends. They have a church and a congregation they love. Their needs are met, which gives them a prideful, false confidence about their faith. Henry warns us:

Note, 1. There is a proneness in good men to be over-confident of their own strength and stability. We are ready to think ourselves able to grapple with the strongest temptations, to go through the hardest and most hazardous services, and to bear the greatest afflictions for Christ but it is because we do not know ourselves. 2. Those often fall soonest and foulest that are most confident of themselves. Those are least safe that are most secure. Satan is most active to seduce such they are most off their guard, and God leaves them to themselves, to humble them. See 1 Corinthians 10:12.

We need to be careful in Christian witness when we talk about ourselves!

Even John MacArthur grapples with human weakness, so we should all pay attention to what he says on the matter:

As much as we would like to think of ourselves as strong Christians, the fact of the matter is that, in and of ourselves, we are weak.  We would like to think that we could never be caught in a situation where we would deny the Lord, where we would deny His Word, where we would be ashamed to name His name or to be associated with Him.  But the truth of the matter is from time to time, we do just exactly that.  We are caught in an environment of unrighteousness, and we say nothing.  There is a time to speak of Christ, and we do not speak.  There is a time when someone would identify us as a Christian, and we shun such an identification for fear of social pressure or social ostracization.  There are times when we should be bold for the cause of Christ, and we are anything but bold.

I remember when I was young I used to think about how it would be when in the future I went to serve the Lord, and should He call me to a very difficult place, I was faced with death or denial of Christ.  I had read missionary stories about those people who affirmed their faith in Christ all the way to death, and I wondered whether I would do that, and I wanted so desperately to believe that I would.  I really wanted to be able to say, “I’d do that – I’d name Christ right down the wire, and if they were going to burn me at the stake, I’d keep naming the name of Christ.”  I wanted so much to be able to say that about myself, but I really had a lot of doubts.  And what gives me the doubts, and did then and still does, is that there are times when I don’t even say what I ought to say in a situation far less intimidating than death.  There are times when we just retreat from the identification with Christ that we should have.  There are times when as disciples, we desert, we go AWOL, we defect for shame’s sake.  We’d rather not be identified with Jesus Christ.  We just don’t want to step out and stand firm

How true.

America is the last bastion of Christianity, but the number of agnostics and atheists there is growing. It might become taboo one day to say one is a Christian, especially if one lives in a big city. It can affect the number of friends one has and even one’s employment.

There is a price to pay for Christianity, even when one lives in the West. I know. I have experienced it in the UK more often than not.

In closing, this is my final post on the Gospel of Matthew.

Let us recall how it ends. The Great Commission — which holds true for us — is Jesus’s command to the disciples after the Resurrection (Matthew 28:18-20). Note that He preceded them to Galilee (Matthew 28:16-17) as He said after the Last Supper (Matthew 26:32):

18 And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19 Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in[b] the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”

May God grant us His heavenly grace and may the Holy Spirit give us the fortitude to witness for the Gospel, through Jesus Christ our Lord, our only Mediator and Advocate. Amen.

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Next week, I will begin a study of the Book of Acts. There we will see what happened to Peter and Paul in their respective ministries.

Next time: Acts 2:12-13

Bible evangewomanblogspotcomThis is the final instalment of verses from Luke’s Gospel which have been excluded from the three-year Lectionary used in public worship.

Many churchgoers do not notice the truncation of the Scripture readings for Sundays and weekdays. Anytime we see an ellipsis in our church bulletins listing the readings for the day — … — we would do well to go back to the Bible and note carefully what has been omitted. Often, these are difficult verses, pointing to our own weaknesses in character and faith.

Today’s post is part of my ongoing series Forbidden Bible Verses, also essential to understanding Scripture.

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

Luke 24:11-12

11 but these words seemed to them an idle tale, and they did not believe them. 12 But Peter rose and ran to the tomb; stooping and looking in, he saw the linen cloths by themselves; and he went home marveling at what had happened.

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It was nearly two years ago to the day — March 16, 2013 — that I began going through the passages from Luke which do not appear in the three-year Lectionary. As with my similar studies of Mark’s and John’s Gospels, they are a revelation. You can read them all on my Essential Bible Verses page in canonical order.

These last two verses pertain to our Lord’s resurrection. The empty tomb is confusing and puzzling. His female disciples among the 72 went to the tomb to find it empty. They told the Apostles, likely to have been in their own homes and not together. Luke 24:10:

10 Now it was Mary Magdalene and Joanna and Mary the mother of James and the other women with them who told these things to the apostles,

The Apostles immediately dismissed their testimony. Why? Were they associating it with the notional female hysteria, emotion and fantasy? No doubt.

Yet, who was at the Crucifixion? Only one Apostle — John. The others were women.

Who denied Him, as our Lord had foreseen only hours earlier? Peter.

Who stayed away a week after the Resurrection before daring to show himself and, even then, in doubt? Thomas.

Yet, these eleven promised they would always be with Jesus. Matthew Henry wrote:

One cannot but be amazed at the stupidity of these disciples …

This is one reason why egalitarians in terms of marriage have a difficult time accepting male supremacy in all things where women and children are concerned. Men do not have all the answers. They need women — and not just for cooking, cleaning and childbearing.

Jesus’s female followers were there throughout in dangerous circumstances. The men were afraid, fearing imprisonment, torture or death. The women powered on regardless.

Verse 12 tells us that Peter had visited the tomb — but only after Mary Magdalene told him it was empty. The coast was clear. Henry chides the Apostle’s cowardice (emphases mine):

Peter hastened to the sepulchre upon the report, perhaps ashamed of himself, to think that Mary Magdalene should have been there before him and yet, perhaps, he had not been so ready to go thither now if the women had not told him, among other things, that the watch was fled. Many that are swift-footed enough when there is no danger are but cow-hearted when there is. Peter now ran to the sepulchre, who but the other day ran from his Master. 

Not only that, but Peter was every bit as sceptical as Thomas was eight days later. He entered the tomb to verify that it was empty and to see the linen cloths for himself. Henry:

He was very particular in making his observations, as if he would rather credit his own eyes than the testimony of the angels.

Students of the Bible must wonder why, with all of Jesus’s many words regarding death and resurrection, the Apostles did not grasp what had happened. Even when they encountered Him on the road to Emmaus later in Luke 24, they still didn’t understand fully. We see that temporal glory was still at the forefront of their minds:

21 But we had hoped that he was the one to redeem Israel. Yes, and besides all this, it is now the third day since these things happened. 22 Moreover, some women of our company amazed us. They were at the tomb early in the morning, 23 and when they did not find his body, they came back saying that they had even seen a vision of angels, who said that he was alive. 24 Some of those who were with us went to the tomb and found it just as the women had said, but him they did not see.” 25 And he said to them, “O foolish ones, and slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken! 26 Was it not necessary that the Christ should suffer these things and enter into his glory?” 27 And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself.

One cannot say any of us would be better. We focus on incidental or non-essentials instead of the essentials, then wonder why our churches are empty and why young people find Christianity irrelevant. Henry reminds us:

Note, A seasonable remembrance of the words of Christ will help us to a right understanding of his providence.

And:

There is many a thing puzzling and perplexing to us which would be both plain and profitable if we did but rightly understand the words of Christ, and had them ready to us.

Something to ponder in the approach to Easter.

Next time: Matthew 1:1-17

Bible and crossContinuing a study of the passages from Luke’s Gospel which have been omitted from the three-year Lectionary for public worship, today’s post is part of my ongoing series Forbidden Bible Verses, also essential to understanding Scripture.

The Bible passages in this series have been excluded from the three-year Lectionary used by many Catholic and Protestant churches around the world.

Do some clergy using the Lectionary really want us understand Holy Scripture in its entirety? I wonder.

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

Luke 22:35-38

Scripture Must Be Fulfilled in Jesus

35 And he said to them, “When I sent you out with no moneybag or knapsack or sandals, did you lack anything?” They said, “Nothing.” 36 He said to them, “But now let the one who has a moneybag take it, and likewise a knapsack. And let the one who has no sword sell his cloak and buy one. 37 For I tell you that this Scripture must be fulfilled in me: ‘And he was numbered with the transgressors.’ For what is written about me has its fulfillment.” 38 And they said, “Look, Lord, here are two swords.” And he said to them, “It is enough.”

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This is the last of St Luke’s account of the inner room where Jesus instituted the Last Supper.

The preceding verses has the account of His foretelling Peter’s denial of Him hours later.

It is difficult for the remaining eleven Apostles — Judas has gone to the authorities — to understand what is happening and what will happen within the next 24 hours.

Now Jesus is telling His closest followers that they must take certain precautions for the future. He will no longer be amongst them physically to protect them. They do not grasp the import of His message, although it will make sense to them within the coming weeks.

Jesus begins by asking them if they had ever needed anything temporal when they went out briefly on their own ministry (verse 35). They respond by saying they had what they needed, as He had said at the time.

My readers who have been following these readings from Luke’s Gospel, which I started analysing in March 2013, will recall that in Luke 9:1-6, our Lord did indeed send the Apostles out for a short time, investing them with the divine grace to preach and heal. My post on the passage, with John MacArthur’s exposition, is useful to those who would like to better understand this ministry.

Luke 9:1-6

Jesus Sends Out the Twelve Apostles

 1 And he called the twelve together and gave them power and authority over all demons and to cure diseases, 2 and he sent them out to proclaim the kingdom of God and to heal. 3 And he said to them, “Take nothing for your journey, no staff, nor bag, nor bread, nor money; and do not have two tunics. 4And whatever house you enter, stay there, and from there depart. 5And wherever they do not receive you, when you leave that town shake off the dust from your feet as a testimony against them.” 6 And they departed and went through the villages, preaching the gospel and healing everywhere.

Luke 10 begins with Jesus sending out the 72 disciples in the same manner:

Jesus Sends Out the Seventy-Two

10 After this the Lord appointed seventy-two[a] others and sent them on ahead of him, two by two, into every town and place where he himself was about to go. And he said to them, “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few. Therefore pray earnestly to the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest. Go your way; behold, I am sending you out as lambs in the midst of wolves. 4 Carry no moneybag, no knapsack, no sandals, and greet no one on the road. Whatever house you enter, first say, ‘Peace be to this house!’ And if a son of peace is there, your peace will rest upon him. But if not, it will return to you. And remain in the same house, eating and drinking what they provide, for the laborer deserves his wages. Do not go from house to house. Whenever you enter a town and they receive you, eat what is set before you. Heal the sick in it and say to them, ‘The kingdom of God has come near to you.’ 10 But whenever you enter a town and they do not receive you, go into its streets and say, 11 ‘Even the dust of your town that clings to our feet we wipe off against you. Nevertheless know this, that the kingdom of God has come near.’ 12 I tell you, it will be more bearable on that day for Sodom than for that town.

Jesus sent both groups out with few material comforts because He protected them from a distance. His blessing ensured that all would go well in their efforts. He also intended to show them that they, too, would be able to preach and heal in His name.

Back to today’s passage from Luke. Jesus now gives them different instructions: have a moneybag, take a knapsack and … buy a sword (verse 36).

That this passage does not find its way into the three-year Lectionary is deplorable. We need to know how Jesus’s presence and absence changed the conditions of His disciples’ ministry.

That said, even in churches where Scripture is studied in detail, John MacArthur says that he has never heard a sermon preached on these verses:

Perhaps you’ve never even read that passage. I don’t think in my life I’ve ever heard a message on that passage. And yet it is one of the most important ones in the New Testament for reasons that will become apparent to you.

But, people say, Jesus is — and was — non-violent, bar the cleansing of the temple. True. But then Jesus — by His all-human, all-divine nature — did not have to be violent.

He intended for the Apostles to arm themselves for self-defence, not for attacks.

Another Gospel passage which helps clarify what He is preparing them for is John 16:1-4, also spoken at the Last Supper (KJV below, emphases mine):

1These things have I spoken unto you, that ye should not be offended.

 2They shall put you out of the synagogues: yea, the time cometh, that whosoever killeth you will think that he doeth God service.

 3And these things will they do unto you, because they have not known the Father, nor me.

 4But these things have I told you, that when the time shall come, ye may remember that I told you of them. And these things I said not unto you at the beginning, because I was with you.

Incidentally, John 13-16 offers the fullest Gospel account of Jesus’s final words to His Apostles before the Crucifixion. In reading them, one really feels as if one were there at the Last Supper. These chapters are another reason why John’s Gospel is my favourite.

Returning to Luke, Matthew Henry’s commentary offers this analysis of Jesus’s instructions:

[1.] They must not now expect that their friends would be so kind and generous to them as they had been and therefore, He that has a purse, let him take it, for he may have occasion for it, and for all the good husbandry he can use. [2.] They must now expect that their enemies would be more fierce upon them than they had been, and they would need magazines as well as stores: He that has no sword wherewith to defend himself against robbers and assassins (2 Corinthians 11:26) will find a great want of it, and will be ready to wish, some time or other, that he had sold his garment and bought one. This is intended only to show that the times would be very perilous, so that no man would think himself safe if he had not a sword by his side.

In verse 37, Jesus tells the Apostles that He must fulfil Scripture. Here He cites Isaiah 53:12:

Therefore I will divide him a portion with the many,[j]
    and he shall divide the spoil with the strong,[k]
because he poured out his soul to death
    and was numbered with the transgressors;
yet he bore the sin of many,
    and makes intercession for the transgressors.

This is even more evidence that our Lord was meant to be crucified for our sins. Contrary to what revisionists or unbelieving ‘Bible scholars’ say, this was God’s plan for His Son from the beginning of the world. Nothing went wrong. Everything unfolded as He predestined.

MacArthur explains:

Our Lord Himself explicitly claims that He is the fulfillment of Isaiah 53, that is crucial…crucial to an understanding of the fact that Jesus knew who He was and why He had come. It is also the single most powerful New Testament interpreter of the meaning of Isaiah 53 because just the one quote, “He was numbered with the transgressors,” means that the whole chapter applies to Him because that phrase, “He was numbered with the transgressors,” which means that God treated Him as a sinner is repeated in different forms twenty times in Isaiah 53…twenty times in Isaiah 53 in one way or another, it says that Jesus was punished as a sinner…twenty times. This is just one of the twenty.

Luke 22:38 tells us that the Apostles found two swords. Jesus told them that they would suffice. This shows us that Jesus did not instruct them to spread the Gospel by violent means. However, He did expect them to be able to do His work, defending themselves when necessary.

A sword would also allow them to cut wood for fires and defend themselves against wild animals.

We might ask how the two swords just happened to be there. MacArthur surmises:

Probably one belonged to Simon the Zealot and the other one to the tax collector, Matthew. Don’t know. They would be the most likely people to have carried those things. But in the whole time they were with Jesus, they didn’t need any weapons. They would use them for purposes other than aggression.

However, just a few verses later in Luke 22, we read of Jesus’s betrayal and arrest on the Mount of Olives. Peter — the ‘one’ here — grabs a sword:

50 And one of them struck the servant[h] of the high priest and cut off his right ear.

Jesus rebukes the action and performs a final miracle before the Crucifixion:

51 But Jesus said, “No more of this!” And he touched his ear and healed him.

He acquiesced to His arrest because:

53  this is your hour, and the power of darkness.”

Next time: Luke 24:11-12

Bible croppedContinuing a study of the passages from Luke’s Gospel which have been omitted from the three-year Lectionary for public worship, today’s post is part of my ongoing series Forbidden Bible Verses, also essential to understanding Scripture.

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

Luke 9:46-48

Who Is the Greatest?

 46 An argument arose among them as to which of them was the greatest. 47But Jesus, knowing the reasoning of their hearts, took a child and put him by his side 48and said to them,  “Whoever receives this child in my name receives me, and whoever receives me receives him who sent me. For he who is least among you all is the one who is great.”

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Last week’s post discussed Jesus’s telling the disciples that He would soon be delivered into the hands of men. He was trying to prepare them for His death.

However, they were — according to the three Synoptic Gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke) — either bemused or afraid at hearing His words. He did not press the issue. He did not want those who were afraid to leave Him and miss the final period of His ministry during which He would further prepare them to carry on His work. Those who were confused by His words were still adopting the mindset of the Jews who expected a temporal Messiah, an earthly king.

Therefore, perhaps it is not surprising that this next episode in their lives together describes an argument over who among them was the greatest (verse 46). Preceding this argument was the Transfiguration (Mark 9, Luke 9) which Peter, James and John witnessed. Jesus had also invested the Twelve with the gifts of preaching and healing (Luke 9:1-6), so they probably also compared the number of people they healed spiritually or physically.

Again, examining the Synoptic Gospels together helps to shed more light on where they were and what exactly happened. As with witness statements, people remember different details.

Mark 9:33-37 reads as follows (emphases mine):

Who Is the Greatest?

 33And they came to Capernaum. And when he was in the house he asked them, “What were you discussing on the way?” 34But they kept silent, for on the way they had argued with one another about who was the greatest. 35And he sat down and called the twelve. And he said to them,  “If anyone would be first, he must be last of all and servant of all.” 36And he took a child and put him in the midst of them, and taking him in his arms, he said to them, 37 “Whoever receives one such child in my name receives me, and whoever receives me, receives not me but him who sent me.”

Matthew also tells us that they were in Capernaum (Matthew 17:24). Here is Matthew 18:1-6:

Who Is the Greatest?

 1 At that time the disciples came to Jesus, saying, “Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?2And calling to him a child, he put him in the midst of them 3and said, “Truly, I say to you, unless you turn and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. 4 Whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.

 5 “Whoever receives one such child in my name receives me, 6but whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him to have a great millstone fastened around his neck and to be drowned in the depth of the sea.

Viewed holistically — taking all three passages into account — it is clear that Jesus is unhappy with their self-exaltation. He denounces their personal pride and competition.

Matthew Henry observes:

Christ will have his disciples to aim at that honour which is to be obtained by a quiet and condescending humility, and not at that which is to be obtained by a restless and aspiring ambition.

Returning to today’s passage, Luke relates that Jesus brought a child to His side (verse 47). This was significant, because in the Jewish tradition of their time, children were viewed as being the lowest on the human scale. John MacArthur explains:

It’s a good thing God made them cute or we might pay no attention to them. They take, they don’t give. The rabbis used to say that they would teach no child under the age of 12 the Torah because it was a waste of their time. The Jewish rabbis at the time of Jesus disdained children, didn’t bother with them, considered children accurately the weakest, the most unaccomplished, the most vulnerable, the least in value, those who made virtually no contribution and wouldn’t waste their time with them since most of them wouldn’t even survive until adulthood because mortality rate was so high. It is in that framework that Jesus does what He does.

Jesus adopts a radical position for His time (verse 48) by telling the Twelve that if they considered a child seriously as someone to be taught and cherished in His name, they thereby receive Him. And if they received Him, they also received God the Father.

As for the question of who is the greatest, He told them that the least among them would be great. Therefore, he says that all in Heaven will be considered of equal value and worth. MacArthur says:

Everybody in the Kingdom is the greatest…everybody. In fact, on another occasion Jesus said that John the Baptist was the greatest man who lived up until his time, but nevertheless the least in the Kingdom is greater than John. Greatness is not relative in the Kingdom of God, there’s no such thing as a pecking order in the Kingdom of God. Greatness is absolute. You’re great because, if I can borrow from another theological category, your greatness is because God sees you covered with the righteousness of Jesus Christ and all believers covered with the same righteousness are therefore equal before God. So there’s no pecking order here.

And when the time comes on Judgment Day, we will not care who is the greatest, believe me. We will be so happy to be with our Lord that nothing else will matter.

Receiving children as human beings occurs in Mark 10:13-16 and Matthew 19:13-15.

The Apostles again dispute who among them is the greatest at the Last Supper (Luke 22:24-30).

Jesus gives us two important lessons here. One is to put away our pride. He wants us to harness the power of the Holy Spirit to humble ourselves. How can we become Christlike if we are throwing our egos around at every turn? On our own we can do nothing which the Lord considers great. It is only through the work of the Holy Spirit in tempering our desires and by receiving God’s grace that we can do any good.

Yet, with the fractured Christianity that so many of us practise these days and with all the self-centred messages we receive, humility goes into the dustbin. MacArthur says:

People are proud and so they feed their pride. And we now have turned pride into a virtue and so every way possible we want to make people feel proud. This is absolutely contradictory to what the Lord wants us to feel. So what you get when you get pride is destroyed relationships. If this society keeps pumping pride the way it is, it will be impossible to imagine any marriage that could last, any family that could stay together, any relationship that could survive because selfishness just destroys everything by ruining unity and by raising relativity so that there’s this pecking order and people feel inferior and superior to each other.

Third thing, and now you’re getting to the core of the deal, pride reveals depravity. Proud people are manifesting their core depravity.

This is why we need to ask the Holy Spirit for help in subduing our carnal desires. No matter what people say, pride is a fleshly desire — ‘look at me’, ‘respect me’ and so on. MacArthur says:

Now that you’re a Christian, pride isn’t gone permanently, have you noticed that? It remains although in that moment of regeneration, in that miracle of salvation, it was overwhelmed by the power of the Spirit of God, miraculously the dead was made to live, the blind was made to see, the prisoner was set free all by the sovereign and supernatural power of God. And God granted you faith to embrace Christ and that glorious miracle. At that moment pride was overcome. But you know what? Pride has been severely wounded, it has been given a death blow but it’s still kicking in the throes of death, it hasn’t yet died and it’s flopping around in you still, isn’t it? Sure it is

And the Holy Spirit is constantly having to subdue that pride. And the spiritual growth process, the process of sanctification is the progressive triumph of humility over pride. That’s how you can measure your spiritual development by the measure of triumph your humility has over your natural pride. Humility comes very, very hard, very hard. In fact, it can’t come apparently just through the teaching of Scripture. You can have lesson after lesson after lesson after lesson on humility, but that’s not enough.

This also extends to the way we bring up and teach our children. Are we teaching them to be pleasant and helpful, displaying a quiet confidence in their abilities?

Or are we teaching them to lord themselves over their peers and bully those whom they perceive to be inferior? Are we teaching them to brag about what they can do? Are we giving them absurd names so they can stand out from the rest? Are we telling them they should demand respect from others? If so, we are teaching them to encourage the sin of pride.

Pride hurts. Pride tears apart. Pride destroys. Think of the bullied children who hang themselves. Think of the divorce rate and destroyed families. Think of the mundane examples in which those who shout loudest win something (e.g. awards, benefits) they do not truly deserve. The perpetrators’ rewards are of this world, not of the next. Judgment will surely come. By then, contrition will come too late for them.

It’s hard to buck the trend of pride when it is all around us and encouraged. But buck it we must. Let us pray for the Holy Spirit’s help in combatting pride. Let us put away the notion of personal greatness.

Next time: Luke 9:49-50 

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