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

Yet, it doesn’t tell the whole story.

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

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

Acts 7:17-22

17 “But as the time of the promise drew near, which God had granted to Abraham, the people increased and multiplied in Egypt 18 until there arose over Egypt another king who did not know Joseph. 19 He dealt shrewdly with our race and forced our fathers to expose their infants, so that they would not be kept alive. 20 At this time Moses was born; and he was beautiful in God’s sight. And he was brought up for three months in his father’s house, 21 and when he was exposed, Pharaoh’s daughter adopted him and brought him up as her own son. 22 And Moses was instructed in all the wisdom of the Egyptians, and he was mighty in his words and deeds.

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Acts 7 is about one of the first deacons of the Church, Stephen, who became the first martyr.

Acts 6 tells us how the Apostles chose Stephen and six other men to serve as deacons: ensuring charity was dispensed and handling any donations.

All of these deacons were beyond reproach and were Hellenistic — Greek — Jews.

As the Church at this time was centred at the temple in Solomon’s Portico, the Jews, including the religious leaders, could see and hear thousands of converts every day. They knew that the Apostles were teaching and doing miraculous healing, the way Jesus did. The threat to the Jewish authorities was expanding. It was bad enough that Jews from Jerusalem were becoming followers of Jesus, but now Jews from other nations were, too.

Stephen was brought to the temple council to defend himself against four charges of blasphemy: blaspheming God, Moses, the law and the temple. Acts 7 contains his address and the council’s action against him.

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

At this point, he accomplished two objectives: held his audience’s attention and defended himself against the charge of blaspheming God.

As Stephen relates his scriptural knowledge of the early patriarchs, he is also indicting his audience for rejection of Jesus as Messiah. His reason for mentioning Joseph was to get them to realise that Joseph was treated by his brothers the same way the Jews treated Jesus.

Stephen offered the first apologetic — defence of, reasoned case for — that Jesus is Messiah.

In today’s verses, Stephen begins his talk about Moses. Recall that Joseph was Pharaoh’s right hand man when a famine hit Israel and Egypt. Joseph’s brothers and his father Jacob were in Israel. The brothers went to Egypt for grain, the supply of which Joseph managed. Pharaoh invited the brothers to bring their families and Jacob to live in Egypt.

The historical setting for today’s verses is many generations later. The leaders of the twelve tribes have long since died. So has the kind Pharaoh. The people of Israel are still in Egypt, but greatly multiplied, so that they are now the size of a small nation. God was ready to return them to their own land, as He had promised Abraham (verse 17).

There was a problem. A new Pharaoh came to rule, one who did not know the great things that Joseph had done (verse 18). Consequently, he cared nothing for the Israelites. This new king made slaves out of the people of Israel and made them kill their children (verse 19) probably as a means of genocide.

Stephen mentions this because he is indicting the Jewish leaders of trying to kill the infant Church.

Matthew Henry offers this analysis (emphases mine):

Now Stephen seems to observe this to them, not only that they might further see how mean their beginnings were, fitly represented (perhaps with an eye to the exposing of the young children in Egypt) by the forlorn state of a helpless, out-cast infant (Ezekiel 16:4), and how much they were indebted to God for his care of them, which they had forfeited, and made themselves unworthy of: but also that they might consider that what they were now doing against the Christian church in its infancy was as impious and unjust, and would be in the issue as fruitless and ineffectual, as that was which the Egyptians did against the Jewish church in its infancy. “You think you deal subtly in your ill treatment of us, and, in persecuting young converts, you do as they did in casting out the young children; but you will find it is to no purpose, in spite of your malice Christ’s disciples will increase and multiply.”

This period in Israel’s history was the time when Moses was born (Exodus 2). Stephen described him as ‘beautiful in God’s sight’ (verse 20). Moses’s parents brought him up for three months hidden away at home. Then his mother placed him in a basket, which she made waterproof, and set him in the reeds by the river bank.

Pharaoh’s daughter found the basket and a servant opened it to find a crying baby. Moses’s sister was on the sidelines watching. She approached Pharaoh’s daughter, who was quite taken by this beautiful infant, and offered to find ‘a nurse from the Hebrew women’ to feed the baby (Exodus 2:7). This canny girl fetched her mother — Moses’s mother — and took her to Pharaoh’s daughter. Moses’s mother was paid to nurse her own son and when he was old enough, she took him to live in Pharaoh’s opulent palace. Pharaoh’s daughter took Moses as her own son and gave him that name because it sounds like the Hebrew for ‘draw out’, i.e. she drew him out of the water.

Now back to Acts, where Stephen said that Moses grew up to be well educated in Egyptian ways and very accomplished as an adult (verse 22).

John MacArthur describes Moses, saying that the ancient Jewish historian:

Josephus says that the history tells him that when Moses walked down the street, everybody stopped doing what they were doing just to look at him, because he was so striking and so handsome. So he was quite a man. But even as a baby he was exceedingly fair, handsome child.

So Moses was adopted as the son of Pharaoh, with all the benefits. You can imagine what kind of benefits went with being the son of Pharaoh. So he lived in the palace …

He was an amazing person. Not only exceedingly fair and handsome, not only with all of the ability that was his just by virtue of his birth and his inheritance physically, heredity, but what was his by the education that he got in Egypt. I mean, the Egyptians, they tell us, knew geometry and medicine and astronomy, and they were very advanced, and Moses was a remarkable man, with all of that natural ability coupled with the finest and most comprehensive education available in the ancient world. And he was going to be God’s deliverer, to lead Israel to the land of promise. He was mighty.

With this introductory discourse on Moses, Stephen cleared himself of the charge of blaspheming him. He paints a highly positive picture of the man. Of course, Moses was far from perfect as a leader of the twelve tribes, and there were times when he disobeyed God in memorable ways. However, MacArthur says:

But, you see, Stephen stays away from all that. He’s defending himself against blaspheming Moses, so he just praises him.

So far, so good. Stephen had more to say about Moses, which I’ll cover in future posts.

Next time: Acts 7:23-29

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

Yet, it doesn’t tell the whole story.

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

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

Acts 7:9-16

“And the patriarchs, jealous of Joseph, sold him into Egypt; but God was with him 10 and rescued him out of all his afflictions and gave him favor and wisdom before Pharaoh, king of Egypt, who made him ruler over Egypt and over all his household. 11 Now there came a famine throughout all Egypt and Canaan, and great affliction, and our fathers could find no food. 12 But when Jacob heard that there was grain in Egypt, he sent out our fathers on their first visit. 13 And on the second visit Joseph made himself known to his brothers, and Joseph’s family became known to Pharaoh. 14 And Joseph sent and summoned Jacob his father and all his kindred, seventy-five persons in all. 15 And Jacob went down into Egypt, and he died, he and our fathers, 16 and they were carried back to Shechem and laid in the tomb that Abraham had bought for a sum of silver from the sons of Hamor in Shechem.

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Last week’s post featured the first part of Stephen’s address. If you have not had a chance to read it, please do, as it explains his circumstances and why he speaks as he does.

In short, Stephen must defend himself against four charges of blasphemy by the temple court: blasphemy against God, Moses, the law and the temple. Last week’s verses demonstrate that not only did he capture the attention of his accusers but he also defended himself against the charge that he blasphemed God.

He goes further in his address with the following objectives. Matthew Henry’s commentary summarises them well (emphases mine below):

1. He still reminds them of the mean beginning of the Jewish nation, as a check to their priding themselves in the glories of that nation; and that it was by a miracle of mercy that they were raised up out of nothing to what they were, from so small a number to be so great a nation; but, if they answer not the intention of their being so raised, they can expect no other than to be destroyed. The prophets frequently put them in mind of the bringing of them out of Egypt, as a aggravation of their contempt of the law of God, and here it is urged upon them as an aggravation of their contempt of the gospel of Christ. 2. He reminds them likewise of the wickedness of those that were the patriarchs of their tribes, in envying their brother Joseph, and selling him into Egypt; and the same spirit was still working in them towards Christ and his ministers. 3. Their holy land, which they doted so much upon, their fathers were long kept out of the possession of, and met with dearth and great affliction in it; and therefore let them not think it strange if, after it has been so long polluted with sin, it be at length destroyed. 4. The faith of the patriarchs in desiring to be buried in the land of Canaan plainly showed that they had an eye to the heavenly country, to which it was the design of this Jesus to lead them.

The patriarchs in verse 9 are the sons of Jacob, each of whom led a tribe of Israel. They were jealous of Joseph whom they sold into slavery in Egypt. However, God was watching over Joseph, who had great problems. John MacArthur reminds us that Joseph:

went to work for a guy named Potiphar who had a wife who had her eye on Joseph. And she really liked Joseph. So she got him in a compromising thing. He was over there where she was, in her bedroom. And she started making advances to him, trying to seduce old Joseph. It’s your heart, Joseph.

And you know what he did? He ran. Smart thing, Joseph did. He put those old wheels in motion and he was gone. Didn’t fool around. Just avoid the temptation. He took off running. You know what happened? She got his coat. Mmm-mmm-mmm, incriminating evidence. So she reported that this thing had happened, that Joseph had, you know, done this to her, and she had his coat to prove it. And he wound up in the clink. False accusation. Put him in prison.

Why is Stephen talking about Joseph? Because there is a parallel there with Jesus:

You know how Jesus got captured and put in prison? By false accusation. They had a mock trial and they brought forth false witnesses. Just like Joseph.

Stephen’s words are brilliant (verse 10): God delivered Joseph ‘out of all his afflictions’. MacArthur explains:

Joseph got out. And when he got out of there, he went to the next place, to Pharaoh himself. Sat on the right hand of the Pharaoh, the king of the land.

Here is another parallel with Jesus:

Do you know that the men delivered Jesus, in fact they delivered Him into the grave, and God took Him out of the grave and exalted Him to His right hand. Joseph, again, is a picture of Jesus. Joseph found the lowest kind of humility and was lifted to the loftiest exaltation. So was Jesus Christ. Joseph is a picture of Jesus.

This is an excellent way of getting these men to come to the idea of Jesus. It’s a great apologetic — defence of, reasoned case for — Jesus being the Messiah.

MacArthur gives us a third parallel:

Joseph, rejected by Israel, his brothers, was accepted by Gentiles in Egypt. You got that one? Jesus, rejected by Israel, turned and founded His church among whom? Gentiles. Continues to be a picture of Jesus.

Stephen continued his account of Genesis by mentioning the famine affecting that part of the world (verse 11). Joseph had masterminded the pharaoh’s silos and was storing grain in them for the Egyptians. Word reached Joseph’s father Jacob that Egypt had grain set aside in reserve. Jacob sent Joseph’s brothers to Egypt in search of grain (verse 12). Here we have Joseph in the most exalted position, in charge of the grain stores while his brothers have nothing. MacArthur tells us:

When Joseph went to Egypt, famine came. And his whole family back there in Canaan found no sustenance. They had rejected their leader. Do you know what happened to Israel when they rejected Jesus Christ? They fell into a spiritual famine and they still exist in it, don’t they? Sure they do. The famine is a type of Israel’s blindness today. They have no spiritual sustenance at all. None at all.

Note that Stephen is careful to say that Joseph’s brothers did not meet him on their first visit to Egypt. However, they did meet on the second visit (verse 13), at which time Pharaoh also made their acquaintance. Again, this refers to Jesus:

When is Jesus going to be made known to Israel? At His first coming? At His second. It’s the same type again. The first time, rejected, sold for envy. The second time, accepted.

Joseph summoned Jacob and his eleven sons — along with their families — to Egypt (verse14). All of Israel was in Egypt. MacArthur tells us:

That’s a picture of the fact that at the Second Coming when Jesus is revealed, who’s going to get saved? Part of Israel? All Israel. Romans 11, “All Israel shall be saved.” Again, perfectly typified in the life of Jesus, the whole picture of Christ.

Jacob died in Egypt (verse 15) but was buried:

at Machpelah in a cave up at Hebron.

Genesis 50 tells us:

12 So Jacob’s sons did as their father commanded. 13 They carried his body to the land of Canaan and buried it in the cave in the field of Machpelah near Mamre. Abraham had bought this cave and field from Ephron the Hittite to use as a burial place. 14 After Joseph buried his father, he returned to Egypt, along with his brothers and everyone who had gone with him to bury his father.

His sons were buried in the tomb Abraham bought from Hamor’s sons in Shechem (verse 16).

MacArthur says:

And there is a picture of Israel entering into the kingdom relationship.

Therefore, Stephen’s purpose in telling the story of Joseph, was to point out that the Jewish leaders were gravely sinful in rejecting Jesus.

Stephen was not finished. His address continues next week with Moses.

Next time: Acts 7:17-22

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

Yet, it doesn’t tell the whole story.

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

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

Acts 7:2b-8

“Brothers and fathers, hear me. The God of glory appeared to our father Abraham when he was in Mesopotamia, before he lived in Haran, and said to him, ‘Go out from your land and from your kindred and go into the land that I will show you.’ 4 Then he went out from the land of the Chaldeans and lived in Haran. And after his father died, God removed him from there into this land in which you are now living. Yet he gave him no inheritance in it, not even a foot’s length, but promised to give it to him as a possession and to his offspring after him, though he had no child. And God spoke to this effect—that his offspring would be sojourners in a land belonging to others, who would enslave them and afflict them four hundred years. ‘But I will judge the nation that they serve,’ said God, ‘and after that they shall come out and worship me in this place.’ And he gave him the covenant of circumcision. And so Abraham became the father of Isaac, and circumcised him on the eighth day, and Isaac became the father of Jacob, and Jacob of the twelve patriarchs.

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Before we come to today’s reading, it is worthwhile recapping Acts 6, which is part of the three-year Lectionary readings for St Stephen’s feast day. He was the first martyr.

Because the first Pentecost took place during the Jewish feast of the first harvest, Jews from all over the ancient world had gathered in Jerusalem.

Among them were many new converts, including Jews from Greece, the Hellenists (Acts 6:1). The Hellenists complained that their newly converted widows were receiving less in charity than the widows of Jerusalem and surrounds. Whether this was a sound complaint, we do not know. However, the Apostles decided that keeping track of charity and collecting funds for the new Church would limit the time they spent teaching and healing.

Therefore, they instituted deacons to take on the charity work — to ‘serve tables’ (Acts 6:2). The word ‘deacon’ is not used as such in Acts 6, but this essentially was what the position involved. Matthew Henry tells us that the Greek words for serving tables are

diakonein trapezais–to be deacons to the tables, Acts 6:2.

The Twelve directed all the disciples — which now included several thousands of converts — to name seven men who were (Acts 6:3):

of good repute, full of the Spirit and of wisdom …

Henry explains:

These must be, First, Of honest report, men free from scandal, that were looked upon by their neighbours as men of integrity, and faithful men, well attested, as men that might be trusted, not under a blemish for any vice, but, on the contrary, well spoken of for every thing that is virtuous and praiseworthy; martyroumenous–men that can produce good testimonials concerning their conversation. Note, Those that are employed in any office in the church ought to be men of honest report, of a blameless, nay, of an admirable character, which is requisite not only to the credit of their office, but to the due discharge of it. Secondly, They must be full of the Holy Ghost, must be filled with those gifts and graces of the Holy Ghost which were necessary to the right management of this trust. They must not only be honest men, but they must be men of ability and men of courage; such as were to be made judges in Israel (Exodus 18:21), able men, fearing God; men of truth, and hating covetousness; and hereby appearing to be full of the Holy Ghost. Thirdly, They must be full of wisdom. It was not enough that they were honest, good men, but they must be discreet, judicious men, that could not be imposed upon, and would order things for the best, and with consideration: full of the Holy Ghost, and wisdom, that is, of the Holy Ghost as a Spirit of wisdom. We find the word of wisdom given by the Spirit, as distinct form the word of knowledge by the same Spirit, 1 Corinthians 12:8. Those must be full of wisdom who are entrusted with public money, that it may be disposed of, not only with fidelity, but with frugality.

Henry says that the seven men chosen were not among the disciples at the first Pentecost but those who had converted and received the Holy Spirit afterwards. Furthermore, their names were Greek, implying they were Hellenists (Acts 6:5). Perhaps this was a better way of ensuring charity was distributed equally to Hebrew and Hellenist alike.

Henry tells us more about these men:

Nicolas, it is plain, was one of them, for he was a proselyte of Antioch; and some think the manner of expression intimates that they were all proselytes of Jerusalem, as he was of Antioch. The first named is Stephen, the glory of these septemviri, a man full of faith and of the Holy Ghost; he had a strong faith in the doctrine of Christ, and was full of it above most; full of fidelity, full of courage (so some), for he was full of the Holy Ghost, of his gifts and graces. He was an extraordinary man, and excelled in every thing that was good; his name signifies a crown. Philip is put next, because he, having used this office of a deacon well, thereby obtained a good degree, and was afterwards ordained to the office of an evangelist, a companion and assistant to the apostles, for so he is expressly called, Acts 21:8. Compare Ephesians 4:11. And his preaching and baptizing (which we read of Acts 8:12) were certainly not as a deacon (for it is plain that that office was serving tables, in opposition to the ministry of the word), but as an evangelist; and, when he was preferred to that office, we have reason to think he quitted this office, as incompatible with that. As for Stephen, nothing we find done by him proves him to be a preacher of the gospel; for he only disputes in the schools, and pleads for his life at the bar, Acts 6:9,7:2. The last named is Nicolas, who, some say, afterwards degenerated (as the Judas among these seven) and was the founder of the sect of the Nicolaitans which we read of (Revelation 2:6,15), and which Christ there says, once and again, was a thing he hated. But some of the ancients clear him from this charge, and tell us that, though that vile impure sect denominated themselves from him, yet it was unjustly, and because he only insisted much upon it that those that had wives should be as though they had none, thence they wickedly inferred that those that had wives should have them in common, which therefore Tertullian, when he speaks of the community of goods, particularly excepts: Omnia indiscreta apud nos, præter uxores–All things are common among us, except our wives.–Apol. cap, 39.

The Apostles prayerfully laid their hands on this group of seven men (Acts 6:6), which also included (Acts 6:5):

Prochorus, and Nicanor, and Timon, and Parmenas …

Thus ordained, the first deacons went about their duties.

Stephen was filled with such grace and faith that he performed (Acts 6:8):

great wonders and signs among the people.

Henry tells us that wonders and signs were not restricted to the Apostles:

It is not strange that Stephen, though he was not a preacher by office, did these great wonders, for we find that these were distinct gifts of the Spirit, and divided severally, for to one was given the working of miracles, and to another prophecy, 1 Corinthians 12:10,11. And these signs followed not only those that preached, but those that believed. Mark 16:17.

A group of devout Jews from abroad — Greece, Asia Minor and freemen (freed slaves) from Rome — took issue with Stephen’s actions (Acts 6:9). However, he responded with such divinely inspired wisdom that they had nothing more to say. So, they took their hostility further and made up lies about him, saying he had blasphemed Moses and God (Acts 6:11). Having cooked up a lie, they then used it to agitate the scribes and elders in the temple (Acts 6:12), which produced the desired result. Stephen was brought up before the council at the temple. Acts 6:15:

15 And gazing at him, all who sat in the council saw that his face was like the face of an angel.

This brings us to Acts 7, which begins with the high priest asking Stephen to explain himself.

John MacArthur tells us about the charges of blasphemy levelled against Stephen:

He had been charged with blasphemy against God, Moses, the law and the Temple, the most sacred things in the mind of any Jew. And he had to answer the charge. But he knew what he believed, and he knew why he believed it. And he answered it. And I think it’s important to notice that he answered the charge with Scripture. He defended the faith not in vagaries of philosophy, not in logic, but in verbal testimony to the Scripture. And he even quotes it repeatedly verbatim, which shows something of what he must’ve known about Scripture.

Historical Jewish tradition says that the great rabban Gamaliel — from last week’s post on Acts 5:33-42 — trained Stephen in Scripture. Gamaliel certainly taught St Paul and he might well have taught Barnabas also.

Stephen’s speech is a magnificent lesson in apologetics, a defence of the Christian faith, not being sorry for it, as apology generally means today.

Before we look at it in more detail, MacArthur posits that Stephen’s ministry to the Hellenists was a means of moving the thrust of the new Church along and out of Jerusalem:

It was now time for operation number two, which was Judea and Samaria, moving out from Jerusalem. Now, Stephen became the key to this thrust, for many reasons. In the first place, they needed to get better organized in order to step out. The church was falling into some internal problems because they weren’t structured right, so in chapter 6 they got organized. They chose seven Spirit-filled men to handle the business of the church so the apostles could be free to preach and to pray …

And so Stephen was important to the progress of the church because he was taking over responsibility that freed the church to go. Secondly, he was important because he was a preacher, a New Testament prophet, and he preached to foreign Jews. So he began to extend this from the Palestine Jews to the Hellenist, or Grecian, Jews, who would come into Jerusalem.

Ultimately, Stephen’s ministry ended in martyrdom, which further assisted the Church at that time:

immediately following his death, chapter 8, verse 1 says, “And Saul was consenting unto his death. And at that time there was a great persecution against the church which was at Jerusalem.” The death of Stephen precipitated the persecution of the church. And, as you know, when the church gets persecuted, the church gets going.

And so the persecution came, and immediately they were all scattered abroad throughout the regions of Judea and Samaria, which is right on target, right on schedule, exactly where God wanted them to go. Phase two begins to move. And it isn’t because God sent them out there directly. It’s because the people in Jerusalem started persecuting them and they fled to those places.

Stephen’s speech explains early Jewish history concerning the covenant and promises that God fulfilled for the people of Israel. Today’s reading is only the first part, relating how Abraham was called by God from Mesopotamia to inhabit a new land (verses 2, 3).

Note that Stephen addressed those gathered as ‘brothers and fathers’. In other words, ‘I am one of you’. Left unspoken for now is that he understood that God wanted them to believe in Jesus, the Messiah.

He also referred to ‘the God of glory’ and ‘our father Abraham’, further evidence that he was not blaspheming and that he had reverence for the Almighty and the great persons in Scripture.

Stephen went on to say that Abraham accepted God’s instructions and moved to Haran, then on to the present land ‘where you are now living’ (verse 4). Yet, God didn’t leave Abraham an inheritance of land, but told him it would belong to his offspring (verse 5). This was incredible, because Abraham and his wife Sarah had no children. She was sterile. Furthermore, they were advanced in age. So, Abraham spent time alone with their servant Hagar. Nine months later Ishmael was born. However, Ishmael was not part of God’s plan for Abraham.

Yet, Abraham’s faith was such that, even though his understanding of that plan was imperfect, he did not question God or His design for him and his people.

Then, as Stephen related (verses 6, 7), God had more news for Abraham: his offspring would be slaves to others, toiling in a foreign land for 400 years. (MacArthur tells us that it was 430.) Then, His people would be released from bondage and come to worship Him in their own land.

God made a covenant with Abraham, one of circumcision (verse 8) for every male in his family down through the generations, including slaves and foreigners. Abraham circumcised Isaac eight days after he was born. Circumcision continued with Isaac’s son Jacob and so on, encompassing all twelve tribes of Israel and their descendants.

What Stephen did here was to express his faith in God’s sovereignty. MacArthur explains:

Stephen’s saying, “I realize the destiny of Israel’s in the hands of God.” Do you see what he’s saying? That’s what he’s recognizing. “I know that God is running the show. I believe in the God of Israel, who called Abraham, who took the children of Israel into Egypt, who brought the plagues on Pharaoh and got them out of Egypt, who presented the great deliverer, Moses. I believe it all,” is what’s saying. He’s establishing himself in relation to the God of Israel.

This accomplished two things for those listening to Stephen in court:

He has captured their attention by reciting the history they love to hear. And I’ll bet you he was a dynamic speaker. It says that they couldn’t resist his spirit. And I think they just ate it up. And the second thing he accomplished was, he defended himself against the charge that he blasphemed God. He did believe in God. He did not believe God was unholy, unsacred. He believed God was the holy God of glory, the very God of Israel.

What Stephen was moving towards by recounting their common history as Jews was this:

The third thing he wants to do is indict them for sinfulness and rejection. The fourth thing is to present Messiah.

The story continues next week.

Next time: Acts 7:9-16

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.

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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 1The 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 5:7-11

After an interval of about three hours his wife came in, not knowing what had happened. And Peter said to her, “Tell me whether you[a] sold the land for so much.” And she said, “Yes, for so much.” But Peter said to her, “How is it that you have agreed together to test the Spirit of the Lord? Behold, the feet of those who have buried your husband are at the door, and they will carry you out.” 10 Immediately she fell down at his feet and breathed her last. When the young men came in they found her dead, and they carried her out and buried her beside her husband. 11 And great fear came upon the whole church and upon all who heard of these things.

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Last week’s post concerned the first part of this shocking episode: Ananias’s death, a sentence God carried out through Peter for deceiving Him and the Holy Spirit.

If you haven’t already read it, I strongly recommend doing so, because it concerns the sometimes fatal folly of humans trying to pull one over on the Holy Trinity. Not recommended. In the case of Ananias, it was his sin unto death: the last one before God decides to pull the plug on someone’s life in cases of egregious offence.

Acts 5:6 tells us that young men wrapped up Ananias’s body and carried it out — implying out of the city — for burial. Matthew Henry explains that they:

buried it decently, though he died in sin, and by an immediate stroke of divine vengeance.

Three hours later after the death of Ananias, Sapphira, his wife, walked in (verse 7). She did not know what happened nor that Peter, the Apostles and others present knew the two had consciously not given all the money from their property sale to the congregation. They kept some back for themselves.

Given those circumstances, both our commentators surmise that she thought she was in for a lot of love, given the donation. She was, in John MacArthur’s estimation:

expecting to get in on the laurels.

Henry tells us that all this took place at Solomon’s Porch of the temple in Jerusalem, because the next few verses took place there, the subject of next week’s entry about the signs and wonders done.

He thought that the original idea came from Sapphira herself:

perhaps … first in the transgression, and tempted her husband to eat this forbidden fruit.

Peter confronted her about the amount of money from the property sale. She agreed with what he said (verse 8) and, therefore, lied to him. He then asked her a question similar to the one he posed to Ananias (verse 9). How could the two of them have agreed to test the Holy Spirit? He then told her that the men who buried her husband were ready to take her body, too!

Henry explains the couple’s thought process (emphases mine):

Ananias and his wife agreed to tell the same story, and the bargain being private, and by consent kept to themselves, nobody could disprove them, and therefore they thought they might safely stand in the lie, and should gain credit to it. It is sad to see those relations who should quicken one another to that which is good harden one another in that which is evil …

That they agreed together to do it, making the bond of their relation to each other (which by the divine institution is a sacred tie) to become a bond of iniquity. It is hard to say which is worse between yoke-fellows and other relations–a discord in good or concord in evil.

Peter made sure that, before Sapphira breathed her last, she was aware of her sin — testing the Holy Spirit:

It seems to intimate that their agreeing together to do it was a further tempting of the Spirit; as if, when they had engaged to keep one another’s counsel in this matter, even the Spirit of the Lord himself could not discover them. Thus they digged deep to hide their counsel from the Lord, but were made to know it is in vain. “How is it that you are thus infatuated? What strange stupidity has seized you, that you would venture to make trial of that which is past dispute? How is it that you, who are baptized Christians, do not understand yourselves better? How durst you run so great a risk?”

Henry gives us examples from the Old Testament where people tested God:

That they tempted the Spirit of the Lord; as Israel tempted God in the desert, when they said, Is the Lord among us, or is he not? after they had seen so many miraculous proofs of his power; and not only his presence, but his presidency, when they said, Can God furnish a table? So here, “Can the Spirit in the apostles discover this fraud? Can they discern that this is but a part of the price, when we tell them it is the whole?” Can he judge through this dark cloud? Job 22:13. They saw that the apostles had the gift of tongues; but had they the gift of discerning spirits? Those that presume upon security and impunity in sin tempt the Spirit of God; they tempt God as if he were altogether such a one as themselves.

As soon as Peter made Sapphira aware of her sin, she dropped dead at his feet (verse 10). It could be a combination of being found out and the sudden knowledge that her husband dropped dead was too much for her. All this, in Henry’s words:

struck her as a thunderbolt and took her away as with a whirlwind.

The Holy Spirit was working powerfully through Peter, giving him the discernment, the right words to say and the most effective delivery.

Henry advises us not to consider every sudden death as being divine punishment:

We must not think that all who die suddenly are sinners above others; perhaps it is in favour to them, that they have a quick passage: however, it is forewarning to all to be always ready. But here it is plain that it was in judgment.

He also does not think they were eternally saved, either:

Some put the question concerning the eternal state of Ananias and Sapphira, and incline to think that the destruction of the flesh was that the spirit might be saved in the day of the Lord Jesus. And I should go in with that charitable opinion if there had been any space given them to repent, as there was to the incestuous Corinthian. But secret things belong not to us. It is said, She fell down at Peter’s feet; there, where she should have laid the whole price and did not, she was herself laid, as it were to make up the deficiency.

The young men, having just returned, came in to remove her body to bury it beside her husband’s. Henry points out:

it is not said, They wound her up, as they did Ananias, but, They carried her out as she was, and buried her by her husband; and probably an inscription was set over their graves, intimating that they were joint-monuments of divine wrath against those that lie to the Holy Ghost.

Not surprisingly, those who learned of these deaths from attempting to deceive God and the Holy Spirit were struck with ‘great fear’ (verse 11).

This whole event really should be in the three-year Lectionary. If it scares people — the clergy’s great and near-universal fear — so much the better!

We in the West have such a blessing of creature comforts that we have forgotten the wrath of God! Woe betide us!

MacArthur says:

Oh, there are lessons here, what are they? God hates sin. Especi­ally sins in Christians’ lives. Second, God punishes sin. I Peter 4:17, says Judgement must begin at the house of God. And if God cares about the sins of the saints that much and punishes them that stringent­ly, I say to you who are unbelievers, beware of the judgement of God upon you. And so we see lessons, powerful, speaking to our hearts.

Some will wonder whether the Apostles kept the money that Ananias brought them. Henry thought so:

I am apt to think they did … What they brought was not polluted to those to whom they brought it; but what they kept back was polluted to those that kept it back.

The tone of Acts 5 changes in the verses that follow and we return to the glorious wonders that the Holy Spirit made possible in the earliest days of the Apostolic Era.

Next time: Acts 5:12-16

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 4:22

For the man on whom this sign of healing was performed was more than forty years old.

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It is curious that the compilers of the three-year Lectionary would leave one line out of the two-chapter story of Peter’s healing the lame man.

The story begins in Acts 3. Peter and John were going to the temple to pray at 3 p.m. A well known man — lame from birth — was at the Beautiful Gate of the temple every day asking for alms (emphases mine):

And Peter directed his gaze at him, as did John, and said, “Look at us.” And he fixed his attention on them, expecting to receive something from them. But Peter said, “I have no silver and gold, but what I do have I give to you. In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, rise up and walk!” And he took him by the right hand and raised him up, and immediately his feet and ankles were made strong. And leaping up, he stood and began to walk, and entered the temple with them, walking and leaping and praising God. And all the people saw him walking and praising God, 10 and recognized him as the one who sat at the Beautiful Gate of the temple, asking for alms. And they were filled with wonder and amazement at what had happened to him.

Peter then gave the people a sermon in Solomon’s Portico. What he said is similar to his first sermon on the first Pentecost in Acts 2.

To those who witnessed the miracle, he said, in part:

13 The God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, the God of our fathers, glorified his servant[b] Jesus, whom you delivered over and denied in the presence of Pilate, when he had decided to release him. 14 But you denied the Holy and Righteous One, and asked for a murderer to be granted to you, 15 and you killed the Author of life, whom God raised from the dead. To this we are witnesses. 16 And his name—by faith in his name—has made this man strong whom you see and know, and the faith that is through Jesus[c] has given the man this perfect health in the presence of you all.

17 “And now, brothers, I know that you acted in ignorance, as did also your rulers. 18 But what God foretold by the mouth of all the prophets, that his Christ would suffer, he thus fulfilled. 19 Repent therefore, and turn back, that your sins may be blotted out, 20 that times of refreshing may come from the presence of the Lord, and that he may send the Christ appointed for you, Jesus, 21 whom heaven must receive until the time for restoring all the things about which God spoke by the mouth of his holy prophets long ago.

For this, the Sadducees arrested Peter and John and held them overnight (Acts 4:1-3). Regardless, the Holy Spirit was at work:

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

It is quite possible that there were thousands more when women and children were added in.

The elite of the priesthood, including Caiaphas and Annas the high priest, confronted the two apostles the next day. Peter said they worked the miracle in the name of Jesus:

11 This Jesus[a] is the stone that was rejected by you, the builders, which has become the cornerstone.[b] 12 And there is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men[c] by which we must be saved.”

Note that verse, because it refutes the modern claim that anyone spiritual can be saved, regardless of their religion. Not true!

The priests were taken aback by Peter and John’s boldness then recognised them as His disciples (verse 14). They wondered what further action they should take against the two. They went through the same thought process that they did with Jesus. By whose power do they work these miracles? What can the priests do when everyone is marvelling at the miracle? So, the priests told them not to speak anymore about Jesus Christ:

19 But Peter and John answered them, “Whether it is right in the sight of God to listen to you rather than to God, you must judge, 20 for we cannot but speak of what we have seen and heard.”

John MacArthur gives us a glimpse as to what Jerusalem must have been like at that moment:

Now there’s 20,000 people running all over Jerusalem proclaiming Him. And it just got worse … And here they hope that they had gotten rid of Him when they killed Him and now they hope they can get rid of Him by shutting up Peter and John.

And roughly two millennia later, the same circumstances still apply, which is rather curious:

And you know, even today as I was in Israel the thing that struck me the most, I think, the most…the clearest thing that I could see in terms of just kind of identifying certain factors, the thing that overwhelmed me every day was that right in the middle of Judaism which rejects Jesus are all of the things that relate to Jesus.

just imagine having to live in Israel and one bus load after another of pilgrims coming to see the places where Jesus was. There goes another one. They’re all over the place. And everybody’s carrying around little olive wood New Testaments and little Jesus symbols, and everywhere you go in the midst of Israel there are churches with crosses and Jesuses everywhere. They cannot get rid of Jesus. No matter how they try. They can’t.

This brings us to today’s verse, which is important in the context of Peter’s healing the lame man.

Recall that Acts 3:2 tells us he was lame from birth. At age 40, particularly in those days without medical advancement which is still relatively recent (19th century), there was no hope for his condition. Matthew Henry, who died in the early 18th century, appreciated this:

The older he grew the more inveterate the disease was, and the more hardly cured.

Henry adds that the fact that the man is older gives his testimony about his lameness and healing all the more resonance. He could speak with a modicum of wisdom that people would respect.

It is for this reason that I wonder why the Lectionary compilers would omit it. It’s only one sentence!

Henry also related the man’s physical cure to repentance and conversion, which is a practical application of this miracle:

If those that are grown into years, and have been long accustomed to evil, are cured of their spiritual impotency to good, and thereby of their evil customs, the power of divine grace is therein so much the more magnified.

The Holy Spirit was working powerfully through Peter and John. The Book of Acts is a testament to that divine power of the first Pentecost. The two apostles went back to tell their friends all that the high priests said. Everyone prayed aloud (verse 24) and asked for boldness!

29 And now, Lord, look upon their threats and grant to your servants to continue to speak your word with all boldness, 30 while you stretch out your hand to heal, and signs and wonders are performed through the name of your holy servant Jesus.” 31 And when they had prayed, the place in which they were gathered together was shaken, and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and continued to speak the word of God with boldness.

This is why Acts is such a meaningful book of the New Testament. Acts 4 continues:

33 And with great power the apostles were giving their testimony to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and great grace was upon them all. 34 There was not a needy person among them, for as many as were owners of lands or houses sold them and brought the proceeds of what was sold 35 and laid it at the apostles’ feet, and it was distributed to each as any had need.

God wanted the Church to expand and made conditions perfect in order for this to happen.

The chapter ends with this:

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.

Those first months of the Church must have been an incredible time for the disciples and the converts. We are blessed to have a divinely inspired account of it.

Next time: Acts 5:1-6

Today’s painting is ‘The Nativity’ by Federico Barocci (Baroccio), who was born in the first half of the 16th century and died in 1612. He painted ‘The Nativity’ in 1597. I found this thanks to The Four Mass’keteers and featured it in my 2009 Boxing Day post.

All being well, we have now finished our Christmas cards and present wrapping. We can now focus on our Saviour’s humble birth on earth. Past posts of mine may be helpful in this respect:

The Christmas story in Matthew’s Gospel (hermeneutics)

Christmas Eve — Matthew 1:18-25 (with commentary from Albert Barnes)

The Christmas story according to St Luke

The Christmas story in Luke’s Gospel (hermeneutics)

Angel imagery in Christmas carols (Dr Paul Copan on how the Bible portrays them)

I hope your Christmas Eve is pleasant and peaceful.

Posts so far this week have focused on the O Antiphon readings for the Octave before Christmas which began December 17 and runs through December 23.

December 24 is the eighth day, and Christmas Eve Vigil readings are used in anticipation of Christmas Day.

If you have missed them, so far, this week’s posts have covered December 17, 18, 19, 20 and 21.

Each day has an O Antiphon connected with it: verses from the Old Testament that foretell the birth of the Christ Child. The O Antiphons date back centuries before the Reformation — to the reign of Charlemagne. That said, Protestants will also find these verses useful in contemplation of Christmas Eve and Christmas Day.

The O Antiphons spell out SARCORE. These are an aide memoire, because, reversed, they spell out in Latin ero cras, which means

I shall be [with you] tomorrow.

The Bible verses behind SARCORE — ero cras — are as follows:

  1. “O Sapientia, quae ex ore altissimi…” (O Wisdom from on high…)
  2. “O Adonai et dux domus Israel…” (O Lord and leader of the house of Israel…)
  3. “O Radix Jesse qui stas in signum populorum…” (O Root of Jesse who stood as a standard of the people…)
  4. “O Clavis David et sceptrum domus…” (O Key of David and scepter of our home…)
  5. “O Oriens, splendor lucis aeternae…” (O Dayspring, splendor of eternal light…)
  6. “O Rex gentium et desideratus…” (O longed-for King of the nations…)
  7. “O Emmanuel, rex et legifer noster…” (O Emmanuel, our king and law-giver…)

Two verses that focus on Jesus as King of the nations are Isaiah 9:6 and Isaiah 2:4, discussed respectively in the following posts for December 22:

The O Antiphon for December 22

December 22: another O Antiphon for this day (2014)

On December 23, we consider Emmanuel, which means ‘God is with us, dwelling among us’. Two pertinent verses are Isaiah 7:14 and Isaiah 33:21, explained respectively in the posts below:

The O Antiphon for December 23

December 23: another O Antiphon for this day

I hope the O Antiphon verses and expositions have helped increase our anticipation of Christmas and, more importantly, knowledge of our Lord Jesus.

Posts so far this week have focused on the O Antiphon readings for the Octave before Christmas which began December 17 and runs through December 23.

December 24 is the eighth day, and Christmas Eve Vigil readings are used in anticipation of Christmas Day.

If you have missed them, so far, this week’s posts have covered December 17, 18 and 19.

Each day has an O Antiphon connected with it: verses from the Old Testament that foretell the birth of the Christ Child. The O Antiphons date back centuries before the Reformation — to the reign of Charlemagne. That said, Protestants will also find these verses useful in contemplation of Christmas Eve and Christmas Day.

The O Antiphons spell out SARCORE. These are an aide memoire, because, reversed, they spell out in Latin ero cras, which means

I shall be [with you] tomorrow.

The Bible verses behind SARCORE — ero cras — are as follows:

  1. “O Sapientia, quae ex ore altissimi…” (O Wisdom from on high…)
  2. “O Adonai et dux domus Israel…” (O Lord and leader of the house of Israel…)
  3. “O Radix Jesse qui stas in signum populorum…” (O Root of Jesse who stood as a standard of the people…)
  4. “O Clavis David et sceptrum domus…” (O Key of David and scepter of our home…)
  5. “O Oriens, splendor lucis aeternae…” (O Dayspring, splendor of eternal light…)
  6. “O Rex gentium et desideratus…” (O longed-for King of the nations…)
  7. “O Emmanuel, rex et legifer noster…” (O Emmanuel, our king and law-giver…)

The verse that best describes our Saviour as the Key of David is Isaiah 22:22, an exposition of which can be found in the following post:

The O Antiphon for December 20

On December 21, we consider Lord Jesus as the Dayspring, splendor of eternal light, as described in Isaiah 9:2, discussed below in:

The O Antiphon for December 21

In the northern hemisphere, December 21 — Winter Solstice — is the shortest day of the year. By now, those of us living in this part of the world long for light — and lots of it.

There is one supreme Light, Sun — and Son — whom we should seek, Jesus Christ.

December 21 is also the feast of St Thomas.

I extend my prayers and best wishes to all of us who were born on this special day; may you have a day free of combination gifts (birthday-Christmas)!

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