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Below are the readings for the First Sunday in Lent (Year B), from Vanderbilt University’s three-year Lectionary site. Emphases mine.

The Old Testament reading tells the story of God’s covenant with Noah and his descendants. God promised not to destroy Earth with a flood. The sign of His covenant is the rainbow. This is one of my favourite Bible passages:

Genesis 9:8-17

9:8 Then God said to Noah and to his sons with him,

9:9 “As for me, I am establishing my covenant with you and your descendants after you,

9:10 and with every living creature that is with you, the birds, the domestic animals, and every animal of the earth with you, as many as came out of the ark.

9:11 I establish my covenant with you, that never again shall all flesh be cut off by the waters of a flood, and never again shall there be a flood to destroy the earth.”

9:12 God said, “This is the sign of the covenant that I make between me and you and every living creature that is with you, for all future generations:

9:13 I have set my bow in the clouds, and it shall be a sign of the covenant between me and the earth.

9:14 When I bring clouds over the earth and the bow is seen in the clouds,

9:15 I will remember my covenant that is between me and you and every living creature of all flesh; and the waters shall never again become a flood to destroy all flesh.

9:16 When the bow is in the clouds, I will see it and remember the everlasting covenant between God and every living creature of all flesh that is on the earth.”

9:17 God said to Noah, “This is the sign of the covenant that I have established between me and all flesh that is on the earth.”

The Psalm reminds us of God’s infinite mercy and steadfast love:

Psalm 25:1-10

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

In the Epistle, Peter, in describing the New Covenant, points to both the themes in the Psalm and the reading from Genesis:

1 Peter 3:18-22

3:18 For Christ also suffered for sins once for all, the righteous for the unrighteous, in order to bring you to God. He was put to death in the flesh, but made alive in the spirit,

3:19 in which also he went and made a proclamation to the spirits in prison

3:20 who in former times did not obey, when God waited patiently in the days of Noah, during the building of the ark, in which a few, that is, eight persons, were saved through water.

3:21 And baptism, which this prefigured, now saves you–not as a removal of dirt from the body, but as an appeal to God for a good conscience, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ,

3:22 who has gone into heaven and is at the right hand of God, with angels, authorities, and powers made subject to him.

The Gospel recounts the baptism of Jesus by John the Baptist and Jesus’s subsequent exhortation to ‘believe in the good news’:

Mark 1:9-15

1:9 In those days Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan.

1:10 And just as he was coming up out of the water, he saw the heavens torn apart and the Spirit descending like a dove on him.

1:11 And a voice came from heaven, “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.”

1:12 And the Spirit immediately drove him out into the wilderness.

1:13 He was in the wilderness forty days, tempted by Satan; and he was with the wild beasts; and the angels waited on him.

1:14 Now after John was arrested, Jesus came to Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God,

1:15 and saying, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news.”

This is a powerful set of readings, well worth reflecting upon before church on Sunday.

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

Yet, it doesn’t tell the whole story.

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

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

Acts 15:22-29

The Council’s Letter to Gentile Believers

22 Then it seemed good to the apostles and the elders, with the whole church, to choose men from among them and send them to Antioch with Paul and Barnabas. They sent Judas called Barsabbas, and Silas, leading men among the brothers, 23 with the following letter: “The brothers, both the apostles and the elders, to the brothers[a] who are of the Gentiles in Antioch and Syria and Cilicia, greetings. 24 Since we have heard that some persons have gone out from us and troubled you[b] with words, unsettling your minds, although we gave them no instructions, 25 it has seemed good to us, having come to one accord, to choose men and send them to you with our beloved Barnabas and Paul, 26 men who have risked their lives for the name of our Lord Jesus Christ. 27 We have therefore sent Judas and Silas, who themselves will tell you the same things by word of mouth. 28 For it has seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us to lay on you no greater burden than these requirements: 29 that you abstain from what has been sacrificed to idols, and from blood, and from what has been strangled, and from sexual immorality. If you keep yourselves from these, you will do well. Farewell.”

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Last week’s post discussed James’s remarks to the Jerusalem Council. James spoke after Peter did, referring to him as Simeon. James’s opinion was that the church in Jerusalem should write to the Gentile churches stating the few restrictions by which they should abide:

19 Therefore my judgment is that we should not trouble those of the Gentiles who turn to God, 20 but should write to them to abstain from the things polluted by idols, and from sexual immorality, and from what has been strangled, and from blood.

Recall that the Judaisers — the circumcision party — wanted Gentile converts to abide by Mosaic law, especially circumcision. Paul, Barnabas, Peter and James were among those who said that was not what God intended for the Church.

The reference to blood had to do with the Gentile custom of drinking blood in pagan ceremonies.

The ‘what has been strangled’ part eventually went by the wayside, but while Gentile converts were living side by side with Jewish converts and Jewish people, it was deemed prudent that Gentiles not give offence to those who had grown up in a different tradition.

Matthew Henry’s commentary gives this explanation. ‘Shambles’ below was an ancient name for the street where butchers traded. York still has The Shambles, where butchers were located for centuries. Emphases mine below:

(1.) The matter of the injunction, which is according to the advice given by James, that, to avoid giving offence to the Jews, [1.] They should never eat any thing that they knew had been offered in sacrifice to an idol, but look upon it as, though clean in itself, yet thereby polluted to them. This prohibition was afterwards in part taken off, for they were allowed to eat whatever was sold in the shambles, or set before them at their friend’s table, though it had been offered to idols, except when there was danger of giving offence by it, that is, of giving occasion either to a weak Christian to think the worse of our Christianity, or to a wicked heathen to think the better of his idolatry; and in these cases it is good to forbear, 1 Corinthians 10:25, &c. This to us is an antiquated case. [2.] That they should not eat blood, nor drink it; but avoid every thing that looked cruel and barbarous in that ceremony which had been of so long standing. [3.] That they should not eat any thing that was strangled, or died of itself, or had not the blood let out … the apostles required no more of them than what was required of the proselytes of the gate, which was to observe the seven precepts of the sons of Noah

The Apostles, the elders — and, amazingly, the whole church — agreed to send carefully chosen men from the congregation to Antioch (Syria) to accompany Paul and Barnabas with the gist of James’s message (verse 22).

John MacArthur picks up on the unanimity among the Christians in Jerusalem:

They were not only pleased with the decision, they were pleased to send along two of their leaders. I’ll tell you something friends, and I’ll just digress for a minute. You know why it pleased all of those people? … if everybody is Spirit filled and Spirit controlled then everybody’s goin’ come out agreeing You say, that’s a different kind of church than I’m used to. Well you know what was the genius…what’d I tell ya was the genius of the early church? They were subject to the Spirit’s control

Verse 22 also tells us that Judas — not the betrayer, but another — and Silas were chosen as being leading men in the Jerusalem congregation. This is the only time we read about Judas Barsabbas, but St Luke, the author of Acts, thought it was important to mention him. Henry posits Judas might have been related to Joseph Barsabbas, a candidate for apostlehood (Acts 1:23).

MacArthur has more about Silas:

… of Silas we know very much. Silas, called Silas in the book of Acts is called Silvanus by Paul and Peter, and he wasthe guy who accompanied Paul on his second missionary journey, he was a citizen of Rome, he was the one who carried the first Epistle of Peter.

Some might ask why Paul and Barnabas didn’t just go back themselves. Why would they need Judas Barsabbas and Silas?

They sent these messengers, (1.) To show their respect to the church at Antioch, as a sister-church, though a younger sister, and that they looked upon it as upon the same level with them; as also that they were desirous further to know their state. (2.) To encourage Paul and Barnabas, and to make their journey home the more pleasant (for it is likely they travelled on foot) by sending such excellent men to bear them company; amicus pro vehiculo–a friend instead of a carriage. (3.) To put a reputation upon the letters they carried, that it might appear a solemn embassy, and so much the more regard might be paid to the message, which was likely to meet with opposition from some. (4.) To keep up the communion of the saints, and cultivate an acquaintance between churches and ministers that were at a distance from each other, and to show that, though they were many, yet they were one.

MacArthur says that by having Judas and Silas accompany them, Paul and Barnabas wanted to convey a message that came straight from the church in Jerusalem, not just the two of them:

Jerusalem sent two of its best, to give a solid report on what the decision was salvation’s by grace through faith, plus nothing! You tell ‘em that, not just Paul and Barnabas but you tell ‘em from us in Jerusalem. That’s our commitment.

He explains the Greek word used for ‘leading men among the brothers’, or ‘chief among the brethren’ in older translations:

The Greek word hegeomon, is an interesting word. It, it is the word for commander. We don’t usually think of church leadership as commanders.

It is the word used of the procurator of Judaea, it is the word used of the governor of a province. Keep this in mind beloved, God has always sent in the church authority.

Verse 23 gives us the greeting to the letter and the churches to which it was addressed. The greeting is as egalitarian as it can be — from brothers to brothers — considering Jerusalem was the head church and these were former Jews addressing Gentile converts. Jerusalem was not lording it over the newer outpost churches or the Gentiles there. The Holy Spirit was at work.

MacArthur explains the churches mentioned and omitted:

Now you say, it doesn’t talk about Cyprus and Galatia where they founded the churches, well they were extensions of Antioch. They would have been included in the Antioch. And the word Cilicia, you say, well when did the churches get founded in Cilicia? I’ll tell ya when, remember when the Apostle Paul was hustled out of Jerusalem ‘cause he caused so much trouble? I mean that was when he was a Christian, he brought down so much persecution that the Christians decided that he needed to get outa town. So they sent him to Tarsus, you know what he did? He went to Tarsus for a while and then he took off to Cilicia and founded churches.

The remaining verses in today’s reading give us the text of the letter.

The letter began with the problems the Judaisers were causing (verse 24). The Jerusalem church acknowledged the troublemakers were from there but with no instruction to say or do what they did. It’s a way of saying the church in Jerusalem accepted responsibility for these false teachers, which is rather humbling.

Note that the letter acknowledged the deep distress and mental turmoil the Gentiles were going through because of these horrible men and their egregious falsehoods: ‘troubled you[b] with words, unsettling your minds’. This was serious business.

MacArthur explains:

Now I want ya to notice the word, troubled, that is a very interesting word.

It is a different word than verse 19. You remember I told you the word trouble in verse 19 means to annoy or to hassle, it’s like a gnat, you know just, just a, just an annoyance, an irritation. Let’s not…irritate them by imposing some foolish ritual on them. But here the word is a tremendously strong word, it means to deeply upset, to deeply disturb, to perplex, to create fear. A very severe kind of response. In fact it is used in John 14, the very same word. Remember when Jesus said, “Let not your heart be troubled.” Those disciples were not just annoyed, they were really torn up. He had just announced His death, and they were shaking, they were horrified, they were in terror.

Knowing that, the letter stated, the church in Jerusalem met to discuss the matter and, having come to a unanimous agreement, decided to send two of their esteemed men to accompany the ‘beloved’ Paul and Barnabas (verse 25) who risked their lives for Christ (verse 26).

Those verses mean that the church of Jerusalem heartily approved of Paul, Barnabas as men and the way they presented the Good News to Gentiles. Henry has more:

[1.] “They are men that are dear to us; they are our beloved Barnabas and Paul–men whom we have a value for, a kindness for, a concern for.” Sometimes it is good for those that are of eminence to express their esteem, not only for the despised truth of Christ, but for the despised preachers and defenders of that truth, to encourage them, and weaken the hands of their opposers. [2.] “They are men that have signalized themselves in the service of Christ, and therefore have deserved well of all the churches: they are men that have hazarded their lives for the name of our Lord Jesus Christ (Acts 15:26), and therefore are worthy of double honour, and cannot be suspected of having sought any secular advantage to themselves; for they have ventured their all for Christ, have engaged in the most dangerous services, as good soldiers of Christ, and not only in laborious services.” It is not likely that such faithful confessors should be unfaithful preachers.

The letter from the Jerusalem church went on to say that those hearing it could equally rely on Judas and Silas to be faithful to those same teachings (verse 27).

The next sentence of the letter mentioned that their decision to send it seemed good to the Holy Spirit as well as to them (verse 28). The Jerusalem congregation considered the matter and their decision with seriousness in wanting to arrive at a decision of which the Holy Spirit would approve. The unanimity attested they had arrived at the correct decision.

The decision was exactly as James had put it: no further burden other than no idolatry, no blood, no strangled creatures and no sexual immorality (verse 29).

I really like how the letter ends: avoid these things and ‘you will do well. Farewell’.

The story continues next week.

Next time — Acts 15:30-35

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

Yet, it doesn’t tell the whole story.

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

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

Acts 15:12-21

12 And all the assembly fell silent, and they listened to Barnabas and Paul as they related what signs and wonders God had done through them among the Gentiles. 13 After they finished speaking, James replied, “Brothers, listen to me. 14 Simeon has related how God first visited the Gentiles, to take from them people for his name. 15 And with this the words of the prophets agree, just as it is written,

16 “‘After this I will return,
and I will rebuild the tent of David that has fallen;
I will rebuild its ruins,
     and I will restore it,
17 that the remnant[a] of mankind may seek the Lord,
    and all the Gentiles who are called by my name,
     says the Lord, who makes these things 18 known from of old.’

19 Therefore my judgment is that we should not trouble those of the Gentiles who turn to God, 20 but should write to them to abstain from the things polluted by idols, and from sexual immorality, and from what has been strangled, and from blood. 21 For from ancient generations Moses has had in every city those who proclaim him, for he is read every Sabbath in the synagogues.”

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Last week’s post discussed the proceedings of the Jerusalem Council, specifically Peter’s words to those assembled from both the pro-Gentile converts and the anti-Gentile converts, the latter being what is referred to in the New Testament as the circumcision party.

After hearing Peter’s words, the assembly fell silent (verse 12). John MacArthur says:

… you know why? Pretty tough to argue with that speech, pretty tough, they kept silence …

Then, Paul and Barnabas spoke of the signs and wonders God had wrought through them with the Gentiles (verse 12). St Luke, the author of Acts, did not detail this. First, because he already alluded to it in Acts 15:3-4. Secondly, he had also referred to this in Acts 14:27-28, Paul and Barnabas’s return to the church in Antioch (Syria).

MacArthur makes a good point (emphases mine):

“and they listened to Barnabas and Paul,” and you know what they were doing? “Declaring what miracles and wonders God had wrought among the Gentiles by them.” You say, well what is that supposed to mean? Watch this one, God, now get it, does not get involved in confirming by miracles false doctrine. Are you with me? Paul and Barnabas were traveling around preaching salvation by what? Grace and faith. God was attesting to their message by what? Miracles. God…I don’t see the Judaizers having any confirming miracles, do you? I don’t see God running around with the party of the circumcision confirming their witness by miracles. But everywhere Paul and Barnabas went they preached grace through faith, and you know what happened? They had miracle after miracle after miracle, God was confirming what they were saying. You say, well how do you know they were preaching grace? l3:38, “Be it known onto you, therefore, men and brethren, that through this man is preached to you the forgiveness of sins. And by Him all that believe are justified from all things, from which you could not be justified by the law of Moses.” That was their message, grace without law. And you know what? God kept doing miracles to prove that they were from Him. Do you understand that point? God only confirms true doctrine with miracles. God is not in the business of confirming false prophets.

Then James spoke, addressing the assembled as ‘brothers’, requesting them to listen to him (verse 13). Incidentally, we do not know which James this is. Neither Matthew Henry or John MacArthur says.

James referred to Peter as Simeon (Simon), recapping what Peter had just said (verse 14). However, note how James said it: God visiting the Gentiles to take from among them a people in His name. James backed that up by telling those assembled that this was something the prophets foretold (verse 15). That was no doubt directed towards the circumcision party.

James went on to cite Amos 9:11-12 (verses 16-18), rephrasing it a bit. This is what the verses say:

The Restoration of Israel

11 “In that day I will raise up
    the booth of David that is fallen
and repair its breaches,
    and raise up its ruins
    and rebuild it as in the days of old,
12 that they may possess the remnant of Edom
    and all the nations who are called by my name,”[a]
    declares the Lord who does this.

Matthew Henry has a beautiful exposition of these verses:

It is written, Amos 9:11,12, where is foretold, (1.) The setting up of the kingdom of the Messiah (Acts 15:16): I will raise up the tabernacle of David, that is fallen. The covenant was made with David and his seed; but the house and family of David are here called his tabernacle, because David in his beginning was a shepherd, and dwelt in tents, and his house, that had been as a stately palace, had become a mean and despicable tabernacle, reduced in a manner to its small beginning. This tabernacle was ruined and fallen down; there had not been for many ages a king of the house of David; the sceptre had departed from Judah, the royal family was sunk and buried in obscurity, and, as it should seem, not enquired after. But God will return, and will build it again, raise it out of its ruins, a phoenix out of its ashes; and this was now lately fulfilled, when our Lord Jesus was raised out of that family, had the throne of his father David given him, with a promise that he should reign over the house of Jacob for ever, Luke 1:32,33. And, when the tabernacle of David was thus rebuilt in Christ, all the rest of it was, not many years after, wholly extirpated and cut off, as was also the nation of the Jews itself, and all their genealogies were lost. The church of Christ may be called the tabernacle of David. This may sometimes be brought very low, and may seem to be in ruins, but it shall be built again, its withering interests shall revive; it is cast down, but not destroyed: even dry bones are made to live.

Note the mention of Edom in Amos 9:12:

Then Israel shall possess the remnant of Edom (so it is in the Hebrew); but the Jews called all the Gentiles Edomites, and therefore the Septuagint leave out the particular mention of Edom, and read it just as it is here, that the residue of men might seek (James here adds, after the Lord), and all the Gentiles, or heathen, upon whom my name is called. The Jews were for many ages so peculiarly favoured that the residue of men seemed neglected; but now God will have an eye to them, and his name shall be called upon by the Gentiles; his name shall be declared and published among them, and they shall be brought both to know his name and to call upon it: they shall call themselves the people of God, and he shall call them so; and thus, by consent of both parties, his name is called upon them.

These verses from Amos point to the fulfilment of God’s promise, with Gentiles brought into the Church:

This promise we may depend upon the fulfilling of in its season; and now it begins to be fulfilled, for it is added, saith the Lord, who doeth this; who doeth all these things (so the Seventy); and the apostle here: he saith it who doeth it, who therefore said it because he was determined to do it; and who therefore does it because he hath said it; for though with us saying and doing are two things they are not so with God. The uniting of Jews and Gentiles in one body, and all those things that were done in order to it, which were here foretold, were, [1.] What God did: This was the Lord’s doing, whatever instruments were employed in it: and, [2.] It was what God delighted in, and was well pleased with; for he is the God of the Gentiles, as well as the Jews, and it is his honour to be rich in mercy to all that call upon him.

James concluded, offering a ‘judgement’ — informed opinion, not a diktat — that the Gentiles should not have burdens (Mosaic law) imposed upon them (verse 19). That said, James thought that the Gentiles should be keeping the broader law, which is in the Ten Commandments: no idolatry, no sexual immorality.

He also added to that what has been strangled and also blood (verse 20). Henry says that even in the time of Noah — before the law of Moses — the Jews had an aversion to these two things. MacArthur says these two principles were a matter of fellowship. Today, we would not serve our Jewish friends pork, for example.

MacArthur also tells us that Gentiles drank blood:

Gentiles drank blood, did you know that? And in their pagan ceremonies, they drank it, couldn’t imagine anything worse, but they did. And so he says for the sake of fellowship, follow some principles. Now do you see what we’re seeing here? This is so beautiful. You can’t take grace and run with it. You can’t say oh, I’m saved by grace, I don’t have to do anything, everything is perfect, and then just take off and stomp all over everybody.

Verse 21 might appear puzzling, but it is saying that, since Moses is still preached in the synagogues, let us not, as followers of Christ, be offensive to the Jews.

MacArthur says we should not get carried away with Christian freedom:

There’s no need to violate these things just for the sake of freedom, that is what the Bible calls using your freedom as a cloak of maliciousness, you see.

Indeed.

Next week — Acts 15:22-29

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 have omitted — examines the passages we do not hear in church. These missing verses are also Essential Bible Verses, ones we should study with care and attention. Often, we find that they carry difficult messages and warnings.

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

Acts 15:6-11

6 The apostles and the elders were gathered together to consider this matter. And after there had been much debate, Peter stood up and said to them, “Brothers, you know that in the early days God made a choice among you, that by my mouth the Gentiles should hear the word of the gospel and believe. And God, who knows the heart, bore witness to them, by giving them the Holy Spirit just as he did to us, and he made no distinction between us and them, having cleansed their hearts by faith. 10 Now, therefore, why are you putting God to the test by placing a yoke on the neck of the disciples that neither our fathers nor we have been able to bear? 11 But we believe that we will be saved through the grace of the Lord Jesus, just as they will.”

—————————————————————————————————-

Last week’s post introduced the background to the Jerusalem Council, the topic of Acts 15.

John MacArthur says that many theologians consider the Jerusalem Council to be the Magna Carta of the Church.

Briefly, Pharisees who converted were telling Gentile converts they had to be circumcised and follow Mosaic law in order to be notionally proper Christians. Said Pharisees went so far as to disassociate themselves from the Gentile converts who were uncircumcised.

These Pharisees were known as the circumcision party and as Judaisers. Both terms are in the New Testament. A group from Judea was going to new churches in Gentile lands spreading this false teaching. John MacArthur and other Bible scholars think that they could have been trailing Paul and Barnabas, who established these new churches, and infiltrated after they left. Paul had to deal with this issue in his letters to the Galatians, Galatia being in Asia Minor. These were determined men, some of them were political zealots. Last week’s post has more information about them.

Today’s reading describes how the Jerusalem Council unfolded. Note (verse 6) how the elders and Apostles spontaneously gathered together to discuss this issue which, left unresolved, could have fractured the Church into two parts — a Jewish one and a Gentile one.

Matthew Henry says the Jerusalem Council shows the example that churches must resolve issues when they arise rather then letting them play out:

Here is a direction to the pastors of the churches, when difficulties arise, to come together in solemn meetings for mutual advice and encouragement, that they may know one another’s mind, and strengthen one another’s hands, and may act in concert.

Much debate had been taking place before Peter rose to speak (verse 7). Some translations use ‘disputing’, but MacArthur says:

the word doesn’t really mean fighting, it really means discussing, back and forth …

Judaisers were among those debating.

Luke, the author of Acts, did not tell us exactly when Peter spoke, but it was before the end, since Paul and Barnabas spoke next, followed by James. Henry’s commentary says of Peter (emphases mine):

He was not master of this assembly, nor so much as chairman or moderator, pro hac vice–on this occasion; for we do not find that either he spoke first, to open the synod (there having been much disputing before he rose up), nor that he spoke last, to sum up the cause and collect the suffrages; but he was a faithful, prudent zealous member of this assembly, and offered that which was very much to the purpose, and which would come better from him than from another … When both sides had been heard, Peter rose up, and addressed himself to the assembly

Peter said that ‘early on’ — meaning at the first Pentecost, which MacArthur says was ten years earlier — God chose him to be the first to preach to the Gentiles. Luke recounted this in Acts 10, with the conversion of Cornelius and those close to him. Up to then, either Jews or Samaritans (half-Jews) converted.

Henry points out that Peter spoke when he did because:

he had himself been the first that preached the gospel to the Gentiles.

Also, Peter was the first to get blowback for it when the ‘circumcision party’ criticised him afterwards in Jerusalem for converting Gentiles (Acts 11:1-18). The issue was resolved at the time. Henry’s commentary reminds us:

He put them in mind of the call and commission he had some time ago to preach the gospel to the Gentiles; he wondered there should be any difficulty made of a matter already settled: You know that aph hemeron archaion–from the beginning of the days of the gospel, many years ago, God made choice among us apostles of one to preach the gospel to the Gentiles, and I was the person chosen, that the Gentiles by my mouth should hear the word, and believe, Acts 15:7. You know I was questioned about it and cleared myself to the universal satisfaction; every body rejoiced that God had granted to the Gentiles repentance unto life, and nobody said a word of circumcising them, nor was there any thought of such a thing. See Acts 11:18. “Why should the Gentiles who hear the word of the gospel by Paul’s mouth be compelled to submit to circumcision, any more than those that heard it by my mouth? Or why should the terms of their admission now be made harder than they were then?”

Yes, everyone glorified God:

18 When they heard these things they fell silent. And they glorified God, saying, “Then to the Gentiles also God has granted repentance that leads to life.”

Peter went on to say that God knows men’s hearts — i.e. knows those who are His — and He went on to give the Holy Spirit to the Gentiles just as He had to the Jews (verse 8). He made no distinction between the two peoples and cleansed their hearts by faith (verse 9). And that was all. God attached no conditions. He generously gave them the free gift of the Holy Spirit. He generously gave them the free gift of grace to strengthen their faith. They were saved by faith through grace. No wonder people glorified God (Acts 11:18). That’s exciting news then and now! That’s what God continues to do.

Peter then asked, with that in mind, why were some of those assembled testing God, in effect, by asserting their conditions were higher than His by demanding Mosaic law, a law that the Jews couldn’t bear and one that does not save (verse 10).

Peter used the word ‘yoke’ — the heavy wooden brace put on an ox’s neck — to describe Mosaic law. Remember what Jesus said (Matthew 11:28-30):

28 Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.

29 Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls.

30 For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.

Peter concluded by affirming that ‘we believe’ — a reminder for the Judaisers — that both Jew and Gentile will be saved through the grace of the Lord Jesus (verse 11).

MacArthur points out:

God does not cleanse people from sin, whose salvation is not legitimate, right? … The Jews just kept doing more sacrifices without any relief of their consciences. Christ came along and clears the conscience, forgiveness is complete. So Peter says, look, he says they’ve already been purified by faith, what is law goin’ add to that? It’s done. Then Peter points out another fantastic evidence, that salvation is by free grace alone.

Salvation via faith through free grace is a marvellous note on which to close.

More on the Jerusalem Council next week.

Next time — Acts 15:12-21

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

Yet, it doesn’t tell the whole story.

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

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

Acts 15:1-5

The Jerusalem Council

15 But some men came down from Judea and were teaching the brothers, “Unless you are circumcised according to the custom of Moses, you cannot be saved.” And after Paul and Barnabas had no small dissension and debate with them, Paul and Barnabas and some of the others were appointed to go up to Jerusalem to the apostles and the elders about this question. So, being sent on their way by the church, they passed through both Phoenicia and Samaria, describing in detail the conversion of the Gentiles, and brought great joy to all the brothers.[a] 4 When they came to Jerusalem, they were welcomed by the church and the apostles and the elders, and they declared all that God had done with them. But some believers who belonged to the party of the Pharisees rose up and said, “It is necessary to circumcise them and to order them to keep the law of Moses.”

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Last week’s post was about Paul and Barnabas’s return to the church in Antioch — the one in Syria — on their return to Jerusalem.

This is an essential passage showing how close the Church came to splitting between Jewish and Gentile converts. As we see from the title, Acts 15 is all about the Jerusalem Council which prevented this split.

This is very important, especially for Christians who are enthralled by Hebraic Christianity.

First, a review of the reading, then an analysis to follow.

Some men had gone to Antioch from Judea to preach to the converted Gentiles that if they were not circumcised according to Mosaic law, they could not be saved (verse 1).

This, of course, was contrary to God’s will and to what Paul and Barnabas had preached in Antioch when they founded the church there. Consequently, Paul and Barnabas took against this false teaching, fiercely debating the issue with the false teachers. The church in Antioch appointed the two of them along with selected members of the church there to go to Jerusalem and sort the matter out once and for all (verse 2).

On their way, they visited the churches in Phoenicia and Samaria to tell the people of the many, many Gentiles who converted (verse 3), which made those listening very happy indeed.

When they reached Jerusalem, the church there formally greeted — ‘welcomed’ — them. Paul and Barnabas told how God worked through them to build strong churches in various faraway towns and cities, converting Gentiles as well as Jews (verse 4).

However, some Christians who were former Pharisees, objected saying that the Gentiles could not be saved unless they were circumcised (verse 5). The use of the word ‘party’ in that verse is the same as reference to a political party today. There are references to the ‘circumcision party’ in the New Testament. These are the same people. They are also referred to as Judaisers.

Judaisers believed that no Gentile man could truly become Christian without circumcision. Their reasoning was that, as the Messiah — Jesus — was promised to the Jews, every true Christian in their eyes had to follow Jewish law. Gentiles were not worthy, because they had not initially been included in the promise of a Messiah. Therefore, they had to follow Jewish law in order to be saved.

John MacArthur compares their false teaching to a house with an enclosed front porch (see no. 8). You can sit on the front porch all you like without ever being invited into the main house, where all the real activity takes place. The Judaizers were willing to welcome Gentiles to a certain extent, but they would have to stay on the front porch until they earned their way — via circumcision — into the inner sanctum, i.e. eternal salvation. Wrong.

There were some exceptions to this, but all had to do with either people who were part Jewish — the Samaritans — or Gentiles who had renounced paganism and worshipped with the Jews without getting circumcised, such as Cornelius and the Ethiopian eunuch.

Not surprisingly, the Gentile converts in Antioch, so happy that they, too, could be saved, were troubled by these false teachers from Judea. So were Paul and Barnabas.

MacArthur says that this was fracturing the church in Antioch, because the converted Jews would no longer eat with converted Gentiles or — worse — go to the Lord’s table with them. Even Peter fell for this when he went to Antioch. Paul was furious (emphases mine):

And you know a guy that you’d expect better out of really goofed up, and it’s Peter. In Galatians 2:11 Paul tells us what Peter did, Peter was at Antioch too, at the time that some of these people, whether the same group or not we don’t know, but some Judaizers showed up, of the circumcision party, that was the group that believed you had to get circumcised to get saved. “When Peter was come to Antioch,” verse 11 of Galatians 2, Paul said, “I withstood him to the face,” that must have been quite a confrontation, Peter was no slouch, “because he was to be blamed.”

There was also a political aspect here. Some of these Judaisers were Zealots, keen on overthrowing Roman rule by any means necessary. Some thought that by making Gentile Christian men get circumcised, they could increase their numbers in order to dominate Rome. Matthew Henry’s commentary posits that, if an insurrection were successful, some of those Zealots were quite willing to blame Gentiles, who would then have been imprisoned or killed:

But now that they hear the doctrine of Christ is received among the Gentiles, and his kingdom begins to be set up in the midst of them, if they can but persuade those that embrace Christ to embrace the law of Moses too they hope their point will be gained, the Jewish nation will be made as considerable as they can wish, though in another way; and “Therefore by all means let the brethren be pressed to be circumcised and keep the law, and then with our religion our dominion will be extended, and we shall in a little time be able to shake off the Roman yoke; and not only so, but to put it on the necks of our neighbours, and so shall have such a kingdom of the Messiah as we promised ourselves.”

John MacArthur says it is possible that the Judeans who were preaching falsely to the Gentiles might have been tailing Paul and Barnabas on their long journey, going to the churches after they left town:

… these guys may well have traversed the paths of Paul and Barnabas, if they did that they were pretty zealous, wouldn’t you say? If they went to all of that trouble? Transportation in those days being what it was, by foot, everywhere through the Taurus Mountains, the whole bit. If that did happen, and we can’t be dogmatic, but if it did they were zealous. Even their journey to Antioch alone gives some indication of their zeal. And along that line, I think they were probably, some of them at least sincere. Feeling that a whole lot of pagans who didn’t know anything about Judaism couldn’t jump in at the end of a process, they had to come the whole route, including Judaism and the law of Moses.

We find that, according to those in Jerusalem, not only was circumcision necessary, following Mosaic law was, too (verse 5).

MacArthur points out that this could have harmed the Church immeasurably, because there would have been a Jewish church and a Gentile church, which is not at all what God intends:

Now here you had a terrible, terrible potential disaster, because this was to impose legalism on the Gentiles, this could have been a…absolutely destructive, it could have created two churches, it could have created the Gentile church who would have maintained their salvation by grace, and the Jewish church maintaining their salvation by law, and you would have had two churches, the very thing our Lord prayed for that they may be what? One would have been violated from the very beginning. And so it became a crucial issue to deal with this.

MacArthur spends some time in his sermon explaining how St Paul had to tackle these same false teachings in his letters to the Galatians, warning against resubmitting to the yoke of bondage (Galatians 5:1) — ceremonial law. MacArthur has more on Paul — an ex-Pharisee himself — and Galatians:

In chapter 3 verse 11, just in case you didn’t get the message, he says, “But that no man is justified by the law in the sight of God, it is evident because,” even in Habakkuk, in the Old Testament it says, “The just shall live by,” what? by “faith. And the law is not of faith.”

You can’t mix the two. Over in chapter 5 verse 6, this is a clear statement, “For in Jesus Christ neither circumcision avails anything, nor uncircumcision, but,” what’s the next word? “Faith.” Now you see Paul in his own mind was clear on this issue, it wasn’t a problem for him.

Several years ago, when I first started my website, there was a book making the rounds on certain Protestant websites about living the ‘perfect’ life by following the Book of Leviticus. It was not written by a convert, but by a pastor who had always been in the Church. You can’t get saved by following the law. Divine grace is a free gift from God. Faith via grace saves us, not circumcision or, for the ladies, ritual baths. Nor do Mosaic dietary rules save. What did we see in Cornelius’s story? The Lord gave Peter a divine vision about food, before sending him off to preach to the Gentile, Cornelius.

In Galatians, Paul taught other lessons relating to Mosaic law. One was that we should not glorify in other people’s flesh, meaning that Judaisers were thrilled when a Gentile Christian began to follow the old law,. They were counting up the numbers of misled converts. The other lesson was that if the law supersedes Christ, then He died in vain:

In chapter 6 … “As many as desire to make a fair show in the flesh,” ha, they wanta show off their legalism, “they constrain you to be circumcised.” So he knew there were teachers doin’ this, “they make the issue in the flesh, they constrain you to be circumcised.” But look at 13, “For neither they themselves who are circumcised keep the law, but desire to have you circumcised, that they may glory in your flesh.” What does that mean?

That they made glory over the fact that you became a Jew. You see they have an exalted..’such an exalted view of Judaism, that the very fact that you had to become what they are to get saved, makes them think they’re somethin’. If everybody’s gotta come…become what I am to be saved, then I must really be somethin’. Paul says, “God forbid that I should glory in the flesh.” That’s what he means. I should glory only in what? “In the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, for in Christ Jesus (verse 15) neither circumcision avails anything, nor uncircumcision, but a new creature.” So law, legalism, ritual, ceremony, circumcision, the whole thing means nothing in salvation, absolutely nothing. Now in chapter 2 verse 21 of Galatians he kind of gives what might be a summary statement. “I do not make void the grace of God.” You know what happens if you add law to grace? You know what you do to grace? You make it void. “If righteousness came by the law, then Christ is dead in vain.”

MacArthur explains the essentials about grace and salvation:

If righteousness is ours through law, then we don’t need grace. In other words if I go in to the court and the judge says, you’re innocent, go free, I don’t need grace, right? I didn’t break the law. But if I go in to the court and the judge says, you’re guilty, go free, that’s grace. And every man is guilty. We’ve all broken the law, law can’t satisfy, we shattered the law, only grace. You can’t confuse law and grace, they don’t go together, if you add law to grace you don’t have grace. If you add grace to law for that matter you don’t have law. And so the Apostle Paul was clear, he just simply said there is no connection between the two. Nobody ever got saved by keeping the law all the law did was show you how bad you were, nobody ever was justified by the law, only by grace, and if ya try to mix the two you destroy grace. God wants to confirm every man a sinner and then give him grace.

In other words, there is no front porch — legalism — to salvation.

The story of the Jerusalem Council continues next week. Peter also makes a brief appearance.

Next time — Acts 15:6-11

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 have omitted — examines the passages we do not hear in church. These missing verses are also Essential Bible Verses, ones we should study with care and attention. Often, we find that they carry difficult messages and warnings.

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

Acts 14:24-28

Paul and Barnabas Return to Antioch in Syria

24 Then they passed through Pisidia and came to Pamphylia. 25 And when they had spoken the word in Perga, they went down to Attalia, 26 and from there they sailed to Antioch, where they had been commended to the grace of God for the work that they had fulfilled. 27 And when they arrived and gathered the church together, they declared all that God had done with them, and how he had opened a door of faith to the Gentiles. 28 And they remained no little time with the disciples.

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Last week’s post was about the stoning of Paul in Lystra, his genuinely miraculous recovery, his journey with Barnabas to Derbe — home of Timothy — then back to Lystra, Iconium and Antioch in Pisidia to appoint elders for each church and, with prayer and fasting, commend them to God.

All of this was in Pisidia, part of Anatolia — Asia Minor.

At this point, they were embarking on their lengthy return to Jerusalem, returning to other places where they had converted Gentiles and create a church body (rather than a building).

They left the region of Pisidia and travelled south to the coastal region of Pamphylia (verse 24). The main city was Perga, on the coast. This was a return trip. Paul and Barnabas established a church there (Acts 13:13-14a). They returned to preach the word once more (verse 25). Matthew Henry explains they wanted to make more converts:

making a second offer, to see if they were now better disposed than they were before to receive the gospel. What success they had there we are not told …

From Perga, they travelled to Attalia (present day Antalya). The Church is still alive and well, even though this is part of Turkey:

Some of the bishops attributed to the episcopal see of Attalea in Pamphylia may instead have been bishops of Attalea in Lydia (Yanantepe), since Lequien lists them under both sees.[11][12] No longer a residential bishopric, Attalea in Pamphylia is today listed by the Catholic Church as a titular see.[13]

Then Paul and Barnabas crossed the Mediterranean Sea to return to Antioch (verse 26), the Syrian city where Barnabas had established a church which grew to such an extent that he asked for Paul’s help (Acts 11). They found a thriving church:

where they had been commended to the grace of God for the work that they had fulfilled.

What a beautiful way St Luke, the author of Acts, had with words.

In Antioch (Syria), Paul and Barnabas shared the grace and Spirit-filled story of their journeys, the conversions, the persecution and the new churches. Particularly important was the opening of the Church to Gentiles (verse 27). No doubt, there was also a lot of preaching and prayer. We do not know how many of the congregation they met with. Henry has several possibilities:

It is probable that there were more Christians at Antioch than ordinarily met, or could meet, in one place, but on this occasion they called together the leading men of them; as the heads of the tribes are often called the congregation of Israel, so the ministers and principal members of the church at Antioch are called the church. Or perhaps as many of the people as the place would hold came together on this occasion. Or some met at one time, or in one place, and others at another.

John MacArthur has an interesting take, reminding us that our two preachers would have given God every glory and thanks for those churches:

Can you imagine when they hustled up the hills and arrived at Antioch and nobody had heard from them for a year and a half to two years? These are the two most beloved people in the church and they arrived and they probably looked emaciated and scrawny and scarred all up from beatings with rods and whips and stone. I mean they were a mess, and they arrived and what a joyous time. Can you imagine what a joyous time? You probably say, “I bet they had a testimonial banquet. Probably gave them a little plaque that said, ‘For successful missionary effort above and beyond the call of duty, Paul and Barnabas.” No such thing. Verse 27, “When they come and gathered the church together they reviewed all that they had done.” Is that what it says? Oh, it doesn’t say that. All that God had done with them. You know what they saw themselves as? Tools. God was the master carpenter.

Paul and Barnabas stayed with their disciples — and friends — some time in Antioch. Henry posits that this was:

longer than perhaps at first they intended, not because they feared their enemies, but because they loved their friends, and were loth to part from them.

That gives me the impression that they met as many church members and new converts as they could during that time. What a blessing that must have been for everyone.

MacArthur concludes:

If I came to the end of my life and if God said to me, “John, anything You want me to say I’d like to say” you know what I’d like Him to say? “John, you did it. I gave it to you to do and you did it.” That’s what I want here. Well – what? Done. I mean I want to do it. I like that. Paul came to the end of his life and says, “I’m ready to die. I did it. Finished the course, fought the good fight, kept the faith. Okay, Lord. I’m ready. I did it.”

Boy, I’ll tell ya, if we all did it what would be done? Do it, will ya? Whatever it is God is calling you to do, do it. You’ve got to have these characteristics – know your gifts, be bold, divine power, humility, persistence, follow-up, commitment, and give Him all the glory and do it.

Next time: Acts 15:1-5

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

Yet, it doesn’t tell the whole story.

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

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

Acts 14:19-23

Paul Stoned at Lystra

19 But Jews came from Antioch and Iconium, and having persuaded the crowds, they stoned Paul and dragged him out of the city, supposing that he was dead. 20 But when the disciples gathered about him, he rose up and entered the city, and on the next day he went on with Barnabas to Derbe. 21 When they had preached the gospel to that city and had made many disciples, they returned to Lystra and to Iconium and to Antioch, 22 strengthening the souls of the disciples, encouraging them to continue in the faith, and saying that through many tribulations we must enter the kingdom of God. 23 And when they had appointed elders for them in every church, with prayer and fasting they committed them to the Lord in whom they had believed.

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My last post on Acts, three weeks ago, was about Paul and Barnabas’s ministry in Iconium, which turned divisive, with the Jews trying to poison the Gentiles’ minds against the two preachers. Once they learned of a plot to assault and stone them, Paul and Barnabas left for Lystra.

In Lystra, also discussed in my post, the crowd listening to them nearly worshipped them as gods — Zeus (Paul) and Hermes (Barnabas) — and nearly offered them sacrifices. Paul and Barnabas had a most difficult time trying to convince the people that their blessings came from God, not false deities.

However, the Jews in Iconium were still furious with Paul and Barnabas. Jews from Antioch in Pisidia were equally enraged. Groups from both places — in Asia Minor (Anatolia), by the way — went to Lystra to stir the crowd up against the two men. They stoned Paul, because Barnabas was less of a threat, and ‘supposing’ he was dead, dragged him out of the city (verse 19).

John MacArthur tells us a bit about the author of Acts — St Luke’s — use of the Greek word for ‘supposing’ (emphases mine):

Now the word “supposing” is the word “namidsoe”. Now this word is an interesting word. It has two meanings. The first meaning is to have a custom, like it was a custom to do this or it was a custom to do that, but the second meaning is to suppose something. It is very obvious when it is used to mean accustom and when it is used to mean supposing. It is obvious from the context of any passage where it appears. Now it is used to mean supposing many times in the New Testament. Far and away the vast majority of those times – get this – it means to suppose something that is not true. Got that one? That’s the key to the interpretation. Far and away, in fact I think only two or three times, it is used otherwise. It is used far and away to mean to suppose wrongly and that is its use in the Book of Acts.

What happened to Paul in Lystra is interesting for two reasons.

First, it partially parallels what happened to Stephen, the first martyr, at the end of Acts 7. The Jews were so outraged at his apologetic for Jesus that they stoned him. They took him out of the city first, whereas they stoned Paul within the city limits then removed him.

Secondly, who was behind Stephen’s stoning? Saul of Tarsus — this same Paul who was stoned. Then, Saul had his Damascene conversion (Acts 9), discussed here, here and here. After Saul had been blind for three days, the Lord appeared to someone who did not know him, a Christian Damascene by the name of Ananias. The Lord told Ananias where to find Saul and to lay hands on him so that he would regain his sight. Ananias knew that Saul was a chief persecutor of Christians and he told the Lord of Saul’s fearsome reputation:

15 But the Lord said to him, “Go, for he is a chosen instrument of mine to carry my name before the Gentiles and kings and the children of Israel. 16 For I will show him how much he must suffer for the sake of my name.”

Now Paul had experienced what Stephen went through, albeit not fatally.

Another aspect of this stoning shows how fickle people can be. A short time before, they called Paul Zeus and wanted to worship him. Matthew Henry’s commentary puts it this way:

they were irritated to such a degree that the mob rose and stoned Paul, not by a judicial sentence, but in a popular tumult; they threw stones at him, with which they knocked him down, and then drew him out of the city, as one not fit to live in it, or drew him out upon a sledge or in a cart, to bury him, supposing he had been dead. So strong is the bias of the corrupt and carnal heart to that which is evil, even in contrary extremes, that, as it is with great difficulty that men are restrained from evil on one side, so it is with great ease that they are persuaded to evil on the other side. See how fickle and mutable the minds of carnal worldly people are, that do not know and consider things. Those that but the other day would have treated the apostles as more than men now treat them as worse than brutes, as the worst of men, as the worst of male-factors. To-day Hosanna, to-morrow Crucify; to-day sacrificed to, to-morrow sacrificed … Popular breath turns like the wind. If Paul would have been Mercury, he might have been enthroned, nay, he might have been enshrined; but, if he will be a faithful minister of Christ, he shall be stoned, and thrown out of the city. Thus those who easily submit to strong delusions hate to receive the truth in the love of it.

Some disciples — converts — followed the men taking Paul out of the city. Paul stood up (verse 20). They all re-entered Lystra. The next day, he and Barnabas went on to the nearby town of Derbe.

That Paul stood up and continued as normal demonstrates that a restorative — healing — miracle had taken place. Henry tells us (addition of a definition mine):

Though he was not dead, yet he was ill crushed and bruised, no doubt, and fainted away; he was in a deliquium, so that it was not without a miracle that he came so soon to himself, and was so well as to be able to go into the city. Note, God’s faithful servants, though they may be brought within a step of death, and may be looked upon as dead both by friends and enemies, shall not die as long as he has work for them to do. They are cast down, but not destroyed, 2 Corinthians 4:9.

MacArthur says that we can be sure that Paul had not died, that he was instead, as Henry describes, seriously injured:

the Holy Spirit is not in the business of minimizing resurrections. If this was a resurrection of the Apostle Paul I think you would have a lot more said about it that is said there, especially in the Book of Acts. The Book of Acts is dominated by a careful explanation of miracle after miracle after miracle. For the Holy Spirit to do a miracle like that and not make it clear means that the very purpose of the miracle is disallowed. What is a miracle for? A sign that points to the truth, but the sign there is so small you can’t even read it, and the Holy Spirit is in the business of making billboards. If this was a resurrection of Paul you’d have a lot more information about it than just there, and Luke is in the business of making clear cut, precise statements about miracles.

Derbe appears to be a footnote. Luke did not write much about it other than to say that Paul and Barnabas preached the Good News and made many disciples (verse 21). Paul did not write about Derbe, either.

Henry has an interesting detail about Derbe:

And it should seem that Timothy was of that city, and was one of the disciples that now attended Paul, had met him at Antioch and accompanied him in all this circuit; for, with reference to this story, Paul tells him how fully he had known the afflictions he endured at Antioch, Iconium, and Lystra, 2 Timothy 3:10,11. Nothing is recorded that happened at Derbe.

Derbe was also their final destination. After facing all the physical and mental persecution, they retraced their steps back to Lystra, Iconium and Antioch!

How dangerous was that? Most people would have said, ‘We don’t want to get killed. We went, we made disciples. They’ll be okay.’

MacArthur explains the determination of these men:

They went all the way back. Why? Because the Great Commission is not to make people Christians, it’s to make them what? Disciples. So it was dangerous to return. I mean they’d been kicked out of every town they’ve been in and it was taking their life in their hands but they believed so much in follow-up that they took their life in their hands.

They went back to the town where they’d been stoned, they went back to the towns where they’d been thrown out and their lives had been threatened. They went back fearlessly because they believed in follow-up. Sure it was dangerous. It was dangerous to go back but it was more dangerous for those new babes not to have meat and milk so they went back. I love that verse 21 ’cause that teaches follow-up. Don’t ever lead anybody to Jesus Christ that you’re not willing to nurture.

Verse 22 lists what follow-up entails: strengthening the disciples, encouraging their faith and telling them of the trials and tribulations of believing in Jesus Christ. (There is one final step in verse 23: organisation of the local church.)

The Cross offends. Even Baby Jesus offends! Everything about Christ offends those hostile to His everlasting Light.

Taking the follow-up steps one-by-one, strengthening — in some translations, ‘confirming’. MacArthur explains the Greek word for ‘confirming’:

Now the word “confirming” comes from a Greek word that really is made up of two wordsIt’s made of “epi” which means a pawn and “sterics” which means a prop or a support, and when they went back they went back to prop up the disciples.

You know a new babe can’t stand up, right? It’s like a new little baby. They just flop and lie there, and when you start to teach them to walk you’ve got to lift them and prop them up and hold their little arms and wiggle them around and get them to kind of get the feel of what it’s all about and away it goes after a while but that’s exactly the way it is as a Christian. You’ve got a baby and the baby is gonna have to be propped up. This word … is used four times in the Book of Acts to talk about propping up new believers. Acts 15:32, 15:41 and 18:23 in here, and it talks about each case of propping up the new believers. So they went back to prop them up. Literally it means to strengthen them, to help them to stand on their own, to be strong, and that’s the goal for every Christian minister, isn’t it?

The props — support — entailed:

Teaching doctrine, teaching principles, giving them props. That’s basic.

The next step is to encourage the new disciples in their faith. This is where exhortation — encouragement (not criticism) — comes in:

Now you can give them the doctrine but you don’t stop there, right? You don’t say, “Well we’ve had our doctrine for this morning. Goodbye.” You say, “What are you going to do about it?” And then you whammo and you get in there with the charge and all that, and that’s what’s in verse 22, “Confirming the souls of the disciples and then exhorting them.”

You know what exhorting means? It means to push a person toward a certain kind of conduct. It means to say, “Now here are the facts. Now go do it!”

That sounds a bit abrupt, but MacArthur reminds us that Paul was kind and patient:

Listen to what Paul says, 1 Thessalonians 2, “We were gentle among you.” That’s a good thing to remember in your exhortation. You don’t want to be like a bull in a china closet. “Gentle as a nursing mother and we being affectionately desirous of you we were willing to impart unto you not the Gospel of God only but our own souls.” We just gave ourselves. That’s part of it, isn’t it? Follow-up, giving yourself. Verse 9 he says, “We labored and travailed, laboring night and day” and the idea here is a painful work, just excruciating, agonizing in follow-up, and verse 11, “As you know how we exhorted and encouraged and charged every one of you as a father does his children that you should walk worthy.” That’s not teaching; that’s exhortation. Exhortation is teaching’s companion. Here’s the doctrine, now go do it! That’s exhortation. Exhortation is important, isn’t it?

The final point is setting the expectation for trial and tribulation. Think of what happened to the preachers in Acts. When they did not die or were stoned and otherwise persecuted, Satan was there with sorcerers to fill in the gaps. Imagine these converts witnessing the events that took place in their respective towns and cities. They must have been verbally and physically abused, too. Belief in Christ is costly.

MacArthur says:

In fact, Jude said, “You’re really gonna have to earnestly contend for the faith. Fight for it.” New babes, Satan tries to rip it away. The second thing he says, not only exhorting them but continue in the faith, this is beautiful, “We must through much tribulation enter the Kingdom of God.” A guy is going along in a pretty happy go lucky life, just winging it. All of a sudden he gets saved and he realizes he’s in a war. He’s saved, he’s come to Christ, there’s peace and joy, blessedness, and the guy gets saved and wham, smash, bam. I mean Satan belts him from every angle and problems that he can’t even believe and all kinds of things begin to trouble him and the guy doesn’t know what’s going on so immediately when dealing with a new Christian you must exhort him to anticipate … tribulation, trouble.

Get ready, my friend. You got saved, Satan’s coming, and he’s gonna unload, and I don’t think we’re fair with a new believer unless we tell him that. They need to be exhorted about the fact that tribulation is part of it. All that live Godly are gonna be suffering persecution and you’re gonna contend for the faith. You’re gonna fight for it

The whole system is against the Kingdom of God and when you enter the Kingdom you are one of the enemy of Satan and his hosts, and so people need to be exhorted to hang on and continue in the faith. From God’s standpoint salvation is secured eternally by sovereignty. From the human’s viewpoint it is secured visibly by continuance and so he says, “Get ready for trouble. It’s gonna come.” But I’ll tell you something, and I’ve said it before, if you don’t have trouble you don’t have victory, right? And who wants to live a life where there’s no victory? What a dull life. You say, “Yeah but there’s no battles.” That’s dull. I mean everybody wants to win. There’s got to be a contest if there’s gonna be a winner.

After the completion of these three steps — strengthening, encouragement and setting expectations for trouble — one more remains: organising the local church (verse 23). Paul and Barnabas appointed elders — senior leaders. MacArthur explains:

Organization. Now notice the interesting thing here, the ordained elders. Now elders are to rule in the church. Often the question is, “What kind of church government do you believe in? I believe in the kind of church government where the elders rule the church. You say, “Well does that mean that they just dictate?” No it doesn’t. It means they’re sensitive to the people and answerable to God.

Other translations of ‘appointed’ include ‘ordained’, which is a more straightforward verb. Paul and Barnabas ordained the elders. MacArthur gives us the ancient Greek ritual of ordination, which involved a consensus of raised hands among the congregation:

“ordained”, very interesting word in the Greek.

The term originally meant, “to select by a vote of raised hands.” Now people have always said, well, should a church vote on its leaders? The word progressed from that meaning and by the time Paul wrote this it meant simply to appoint or choose but it had a lingering significance of the raised hand idea, and incidentally it is used one other place in 2 Corinthians 8:19 and there it definitely does mean the idea of a congregation selecting. So the word means “to choose then with approval of the people by raised hands.” You know that’s probably how they did it.

It is likely that Paul and Barnabas chose the nominees, and the congregation voted with raised hands.

The second part of verse 23 is profound. Paul and Barnabas prayed and fasted after ordaining the elders. Henry says:

It is good to join fasting with prayer, in token of our humiliation for sin, and in order to add vigour to our prayers.

MacArthur says:

Boy, that’s a serious business, you know? Remember what Josiah said? “Like people, like priest. Nobody ever goes higher than its leadership” so they prayed with fasting, concentrated prayer, and I think people when you talk about fasting that’s where fasting really becomes what I think God intended it to be when you’re so lost in prayer over some spiritual battle or some spiritual issue that food becomes insignificant, and they poured out their hearts before God in prayer because they knew they had a critical decision in every town they went to. If they chose wrong leadership Satan could destroy what they had begun. Prayer and fasting.

Finally, Paul and Barnabas committed the elders to the Lord. Henry has a succinct, beautiful explanation of this:

When we are parting with our friends, the best farewell is to commend them to the Lord, and to leave them with him.

MacArthur tells us that Paul and Barnabas had done all they could humanly do:

You know I’ve spent myself on some people and I get down to the last and I say, “God, I’ve done everything I can do.” I’m giving this one over to the head of the church, Jesus Himself. You have to do that, don’t you? … I’m glad that that’s the final knot on the string of follow-up, aren’t you, that it’s God’s?

He tells us what Paul and Barnabas did next:

You say boy, they must’ve been tired. Tired? How about bruised? How about weary? How about overdone physically, mentally, emotionally, spiritually? How about wiped out? I mean they had had it. It’s just unbelievable what they had gone through, and this had been going on for at least a year and a half untiringly. Now they’re going back home. They finished. They’re going home. Gonna have to cross the Taurus Mountains again with all the robbers and all that stuff and fast rivers. Oh, brother.

Their story continues next week.

Next time — Acts 14:24-28

Epiphany Magi salesianity_blogspot_comEpiphany is on January 6, also known as Twelfth Night.

Before discussing the Old Testament reading for this day, I have a number of posts about Epiphany:

A Lutheran pastor reflects on the Epiphany

More Lutheran reflections on the Epiphany

Remembering the Epiphany in chalk

The Epiphany and the Bible

Why the Epiphany is so important — a Lutheran perspective

A Lutheran perspective on the Magi

Jesuit astronomer discusses the Star of Bethlehem (2016)

What to remember about Epiphany (2016)

Epiphany and king cake — a history

The three-year Lectionary Epistle reading is Ephesians 3:1-12. and the Gospel reading is Matthew 2:1-12.

The Old Testament reading is as follows:

Isaiah 60:1-6

60:1 Arise, shine; for your light has come, and the glory of the LORD has risen upon you.

60:2 For darkness shall cover the earth, and thick darkness the peoples; but the LORD will arise upon you, and his glory will appear over you.

60:3 Nations shall come to your light, and kings to the brightness of your dawn.

60:4 Lift up your eyes and look around; they all gather together, they come to you; your sons shall come from far away, and your daughters shall be carried on their nurses’ arms.

60:5 Then you shall see and be radiant; your heart shall thrill and rejoice, because the abundance of the sea shall be brought to you, the wealth of the nations shall come to you.

60:6 A multitude of camels shall cover you, the young camels of Midian and Ephah; all those from Sheba shall come. They shall bring gold and frankincense, and shall proclaim the praise of the LORD.

Note the last verse!

Commentary for these verses comes from Matthew Henry.

Whilst we can read this as strictly a history of the Jews coming out of captivity, this is also a prophecy of God’s covenant with the Church (emphases mine):

The long continuance of the church, even unto the utmost ages of time, was there promised, and here the large extent of the church, even unto the utmost regions of the earth and both these tend to the honour of the Redeemer. It is here promised, I. That the church shall be enlightened and shone upon, Isaiah 60:1,2. II. That it shall be enlarged and great additions made to it, to join in the service of God, Isaiah 60:3-8. III. That the new converts shall be greatly serviceable to the church and to the interests of it, Isaiah 60:9-13. IV. That the church shall be in great honour and reputation among men, Isaiah 60:14-16. V. That it shall enjoy a profound peace and tranquility, Isaiah 60:17,18. VI. That, the members of it being all righteous, the glory and joy of it shall be everlasting, Isaiah 60:19-22.

The Jews had divinely-given light bestowed on them when they were no longer captive. The Lord’s blessings truly bestowed on them, it was time for them to arise, shine and reflect that light to others (verse 1).

God is Light. Jesus is Light. There is no better light:

As far as we have the knowledge of God in us, and the favour of God towards us, our light has come. When God appears to us, and we have the comfort of his favour, then the glory of the Lord rises upon us as the morning light when he appears for us, and we have the credit of his favour, when he shows us some token for good and proclaims his favour to us, then his glory is seen upon us, as it was upon Israel in the pillar of cloud and fire. When Christ arose as the sun of righteousness, and in him the day-spring from on high visited us, then the glory of the Lord was seen upon us, the glory as of the first-begotten of the Father.

Also:

What is the duty which the rising of this light calls for: “Arise, shine not only receive this light, and” (as the margin reads it) “be enlightened by it, but reflect this light arise and shine with rays borrowed from it.” The children of light ought to shine as lights in the world. If God’s glory be seen upon us to our honour, we ought not only with our lips, but in our lives, to return the praise of it to his honour, Matthew 5:16; Philippians 2:15.

Even though darkness — extreme darkness — will cover the rest of the earth, God’s glory will rise and appear over His people, protecting them (verse 2):

What a foil there shall be to this light: Darkness shall cover the earth but, though it be gross darkness, darkness that might be felt, like that of Egypt, that shall overspread the people, yet the church, like Goshen, shall have light at the same time. When the case of the nations that have not the gospel shall be very melancholy, those dark corners of the earth being full of the habitations of cruelty to poor souls, the state of the church shall be very pleasant.

Nations and kings will be drawn to the light of God’s people (verse 3). Henry points out that this did not happen to the Jews, therefore, this prophecy was meant for the Church. As such, there is no one place that this will occur. Rather, people will be drawn to the light as Christians exhibit it:

There is no place now that is the centre of the church’s unity but the promise respects their flocking to Christ, and coming by faith, and hope, and holy love, into that society which is incorporated by the charter of his gospel, and of the unity of which he only is the centre–that family which is named from him, Ephesians 3:15. The gospel church is expressly called Zion and Jerusalem, and under that notion all believers are said to come to it (Hebrews 12:22. You have come unto Mount Zion, to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem), which serves for a key to this prophecy, Ephesians 2:19.

We have been reading in Acts about the purity of the early Church, despite rogue members, sorcerers and persecution. Thanks to that purity — that light — the Church expanded enormously in Gentile lands. That is what Isaiah prophesied:

The purity and love of the primitive Christians, their heavenly-mindedness, contempt of the world, and patient sufferings, were the brightness of the church’s rising, which drew many into it. The beauty of holiness was the powerful attractive by which Christ had a willing people brought to him in the day of his power, Psalm 110:3 …

Lift up thy eyes round about, and see them coming, devout men out of every nation under heaven, Acts 2:5.

Many will flock to join Christ’s followers, wanting to be part of their light (verse 4). And so it happened in Acts. The powerful, accurate — and doctrinal — teaching of Peter, Paul, Barnabas and the local leaders of the various churches they established drew thousands of followers. The reference to nursing refers to the yearning to be taught and fed the Gospel, as a nurse takes care of her young charges:

There shall come some of both sexes. Sons and daughters shall come in the most dutiful manner, as thy sons and thy daughters, resolved to be of thy family, to submit to the laws of thy family and put themselves under the tuition of it. They shall come to be nursed at thy side, to have their education with thee from their cradle.” The church’s children must be nursed at her side, not sent out to be nursed among strangers there, where alone the unadulterated milk of the word is to be had, must the church’s new-born babes be nursed, that they may grow thereby, 1 Peter 2:1,2. Those that would enjoy the dignities and privileges of Christ’s family must submit to the discipline of it.

Great things will happen as the Church expands and her people turn from worldly ways to abundant charity (verse 5):

Those that are brought into the church by the grace of God will be sure to bring all they are worth in with them, which with themselves they will devote to the honour and service of God and do good with in their places. (1.) The merchants shall write holiness to the Lord upon their merchandise and their hire, as Isaiah 23:18. “The abundance of the sea, either the wealth that is fetched out of the sea (the fish, the pearls) or that which is imported by sea, shall all be converted to thee and to thy use.” The wealth of the rich merchants shall be laid out in works of piety and charity. (2.) The mighty men of the nations shall employ their might in the service of the church: “The forces, or troops, of the Gentiles shall come unto thee, to guard thy coasts, strengthen thy interests, and, if occasion be, to fight thy battles.” The forces of the Gentiles had often been against the church, but now they shall be for it for as God, when he pleases, can, and, when we please him, will, make even our enemies to be at peace with us (Proverbs 16:7), so, when Christ overcomes the strong man armed, he divides his spoils, and makes that to serve his interests which had been used against them, Luke 11:22.

Verse 6 is in part a prophecy of the Magi, who travelled for many months to reach the Christ Child. As Gentiles, they knew nothing of God the Father, but they knew that a special birth had taken place and they followed the star to the right place. They paid homage to Him with gold, frankincense and myrrh.

As we know from the New Testament, countless Gentiles came to know God through learning of Jesus Christ. They gave offerings of goods and personal belongings to glorify the Lord by giving to His people in the Church.

Contrast that with today’s churches. Some are full. Most are not. Yes, people convert every day to Christianity, but more stay away. It is because many denominations have renounced purity or put it to one side, preferring to meet the world on earthly terms. Where a strong background in doctrine via the Bible is lacking, there is little hope. Let us pray that this situation begins to reverse itself.

We’re still in Christmastide (through January 6, Twelfth Night), so I am continuing — and concluding — a short series on Americans’ views of Christmas.

On Monday, I explained that there really is a war on Christmas: Jesus offends.

On Tuesday, I recapped Pew Research’s ‘5 facts’ about Christmas in the United States. That was the big picture.

Now we drill down into Pew Research Center’s detail, published on December 12, 2017: ‘Americans Say Religious Aspects of Christmas Are Declining in Public Life’.

In short, the people conducting the war on Christmas are winning. And, yes, there is a war on Christmas.

A summary with excerpts from Pew follow. Emphases mine below, unless noted otherwise.

The numbers of Americans celebrating Christmas are still over 90% per cent, however, less than half of those celebrating now consider December 25 as primarily a religious holiday:

Currently, 55% of U.S. adults say they celebrate Christmas as a religious holiday, including 46% who see it as more of a religious holiday than a cultural holiday and 9% who celebrate Christmas as both a religious and a cultural occasion. In 2013, 59% of Americans said they celebrated Christmas as a religious holiday, including 51% who saw it as more religious than cultural and 7% who marked the day as both a religious and a cultural holiday.

Americans are not bothered too much about the declining emphasis on the religious aspects of Christmas. Some of those polled perceived a de-emphasis; others did not:

Overall, 31% of adults say they are bothered at least “some” by the declining emphasis on religion in the way the U.S. commemorates Christmas, including 18% who say they are bothered “a lot” by this. But the remaining two-thirds of the U.S. public either is not bothered by a perceived decline in religion in Christmas or does not believe that the emphasis on the religious elements of Christmas is waning.

There is also a political party split on those perceptions:

A higher share of Republicans than Democrats express the view that the religious aspects of Christmas are emphasized less now than in the past (68% vs. 50%). And the partisan gap is even bigger when it comes to whether this perceived trend is seen as negative. Fully half of Republicans and those who lean toward the GOP say they are bothered “a lot” (32%) or “some” (20%) by a declining emphasis on the religious aspects of Christmas. Among Democrats, just one-in-five say they are bothered “a lot” (10%) or “some” (11%) by these changes.

There was also a political divide between the two parties’ adherents and church attendance at Christmas:

Nearly two-thirds of Republicans and those who lean toward the GOP say they will attend church on Christmas (65%). Among Democrats, 45% plan on attending religious services this year.

There was a slight religious split — between Protestant Evangelicals and other denominations — with regard to the seasonal greetings ‘Merry Christmas’ and ‘Happy Holidays’:

Most white evangelical Protestants say they prefer for stores and other businesses to greet their customers by saying “merry Christmas” during the holidays. But evangelicals are somewhat less likely to express this view today (61%) compared with 2012 (70%).

Within every other major Christian tradition, there are at least as many people who say the holiday greetings used by stores and businesses don’t matter to them as there are who say they prefer “merry Christmas.”

As for the biblical narrative, Pew asked their subjects about belief in four biblical Christmas details: the Virgin Birth, Jesus in a manger, the angel announcing His birth to shepherds and the arrival of the Magi. All results below are comparisons between 2014 and 2017. All show a decline.

Those who believe in the Virgin Birth have declined by seven per cent: 73% to 66%.

Those who believe that the Christ Child lay in a manger declined by six per cent: 81% to 75%.

Those who believe that the angel announced His birth to shepherds declined by seven per cent: 74% to 67%.

Those who believe the Magi visited Jesus declined by seven per cent: 75% to 68%.

The number who believe all four events took place dropped eight per cent: 65% to 57%.

Worryingly, fewer Christians believe these events took place:

Overall, the share of Christians who believe in all four of these elements of the Christmas story has dipped from 81% in 2014 to 76% today. This decline has been particularly pronounced among white mainline Protestants (see below for details).

The survey report did not say why, but the decline could be due in part to churches’ de-emphasis on the Bible in general. Many denominations are now social justice centres, nothing more.

The decline in three years’ time was most marked among Millennials, adults born after 1980. These are all big drops:

Millennials’ belief in the Virgin Birth fell from 67% to 55% — 12 points.

Their belief that Baby Jesus lay in a manger fell from 78% to 65% — 12 points.

Their belief that an angel announced His birth to shepherds fell from 68% to 54% — 14 points.

Their belief that the Magi visited Jesus fell from 75% to 57% — 15 points.

The percentage of Millennials believing all four events took place fell from 59% to 44% — 15 points.

WHY?

This generation is now raising children. What are these parents telling their offspring about Christ’s birth?

Something is very wrong with the Christmas picture in the United States.

End of series

December 31, 2018 is the First Sunday after Christmas. Readings for Year B of the three-year Lectionary are used.

The Gospel reading used in Year B is the one traditionally read on February 2 — Candlemas.

That said, this reading about Simeon and Anna witnessing the presentation of Jesus in the Temple describes what took place 40 days after Jesus’s birth, not eight days. Luke 2:22-40 recounts Mary and Jesus appearing with Joseph after Mary had undergone the customary ritual purification. They also presented a sacrifice.

Note the timeframe in Luke 2:

21 And at the end of eight days, when he was circumcised, he was called Jesus, the name given by the angel before he was conceived in the womb.

Jesus Presented at the Temple

22 And when the time came for their purification according to the Law of Moses, they brought him up to Jerusalem to present him to the Lord 23 (as it is written in the Law of the Lord, “Every male who first opens the womb shall be called holy to the Lord”) 24 and to offer a sacrifice according to what is said in the Law of the Lord, “a pair of turtledoves, or two young pigeons.”

There is so much to study and consider in this passage that I broke it down into two parts several years ago.

Luke 2:22-32 discusses Simeon’s prophecy and the obedience of the Holy Family to Jewish law.

Luke 2:33-40 recounts Anna’s piety and explains the meaning of her father’s name Phanuel/Penuel/Peniel.

The other readings for Christmas 1, Year B, follow.

Where used, this is the first reading:

Isaiah 61:10-62:3

61:10 I will greatly rejoice in the LORD, my whole being shall exult in my God; for he has clothed me with the garments of salvation, he has covered me with the robe of righteousness, as a bridegroom decks himself with a garland, and as a bride adorns herself with her jewels.

61:11 For as the earth brings forth its shoots, and as a garden causes what is sown in it to spring up, so the Lord GOD will cause righteousness and praise to spring up before all the nations.

62:1 For Zion’s sake I will not keep silent, and for Jerusalem’s sake I will not rest, until her vindication shines out like the dawn, and her salvation like a burning torch.

62:2 The nations shall see your vindication, and all the kings your glory; and you shall be called by a new name that the mouth of the LORD will give.

62:3 You shall be a crown of beauty in the hand of the LORD, and a royal diadem in the hand of your God.

The Psalm is as follows:

Psalm 148

148:1 Praise the LORD! Praise the LORD from the heavens; praise him in the heights!

148:2 Praise him, all his angels; praise him, all his host!

148:3 Praise him, sun and moon; praise him, all you shining stars!

148:4 Praise him, you highest heavens, and you waters above the heavens!

148:5 Let them praise the name of the LORD, for he commanded and they were created.

148:6 He established them forever and ever; he fixed their bounds, which cannot be passed.

148:7 Praise the LORD from the earth, you sea monsters and all deeps,

148:8 fire and hail, snow and frost, stormy wind fulfilling his command!

148:9 Mountains and all hills, fruit trees and all cedars!

148:10 Wild animals and all cattle, creeping things and flying birds!

148:11 Kings of the earth and all peoples, princes and all rulers of the earth!

148:12 Young men and women alike, old and young together!

148:13 Let them praise the name of the LORD, for his name alone is exalted; his glory is above earth and heaven.

148:14 He has raised up a horn for his people, praise for all his faithful, for the people of Israel who are close to him. Praise the LORD!

This is the Epistle:

Galatians 4:4-7

4:4 But when the fullness of time had come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under the law,

4:5 in order to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as children.

4:6 And because you are children, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, “Abba! Father!”

4:7 So you are no longer a slave but a child, and if a child then also an heir, through God.

The aforementioned Gospel follows the Epistle.

The reading from Galatians is timely. The other day I wrote about an anti-Christmas guest editorial published in Australia and in the Washington Post in 2014. In short, WaPo tweeted the link to it again in 2017. The author, who lectures in Religious Studies at the University of Sidney, posits that there is no evidence Jesus lived among us. He says that Paul and other New Testament writers spoke of a ‘celestial Jesus’. The man’s former professor wrote a rebuttal for Australia’s ABC saying that Paul emphasised Jesus’s human qualities. He even cites Galatians 4:4.

Paul was not describing a celestial Jesus but One who came to earth as our Redeemer and Saviour.

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