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

Yet, it doesn’t tell the whole story.

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

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

Acts 12:6-11

Peter Is Rescued

Now when Herod was about to bring him out, on that very night, Peter was sleeping between two soldiers, bound with two chains, and sentries before the door were guarding the prison. And behold, an angel of the Lord stood next to him, and a light shone in the cell. He struck Peter on the side and woke him, saying, “Get up quickly.” And the chains fell off his hands. And the angel said to him, “Dress yourself and put on your sandals.” And he did so. And he said to him, “Wrap your cloak around you and follow me.” And he went out and followed him. He did not know that what was being done by the angel was real, but thought he was seeing a vision. 10 When they had passed the first and the second guard, they came to the iron gate leading into the city. It opened for them of its own accord, and they went out and went along one street, and immediately the angel left him. 11 When Peter came to himself, he said, “Now I am sure that the Lord has sent his angel and rescued me from the hand of Herod and from all that the Jewish people were expecting.”

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Last week’s entry discussed St Luke’s — the author of Acts — account of Herod Agrippa’s beheading of James, the brother of John (the sons of Zebedee). Herod then went after Peter during Passover in order to please the Jews. He had Peter imprisoned and watched by 16 guards. Meanwhile, the church in Jerusalem prayed earnestly for his safety and that God would somehow release him.

John MacArthur preached that such prayer was an extreme spiritual effort. The Greek word used is ektenoce, which he explained is a medical term used when describing muscles stretched to their limit.

Matthew Henry believed that there was a rotating prayer vigil by the people for Peter (emphases mine):

It was an extended prayer; they prayed for his release in their public assemblies (private ones, perhaps, for fear of the Jews); then they went home, and prayed for it in their families; then retired into their closets, and prayed for it there; so they prayed without ceasing: or first one knot of them, and then another, and then a third, kept a day of prayer, or rather a night of prayer, for him, Acts 12:12. Note, Times of public distress and danger should be praying times with the church; we must pray always, but then especially.

It was nearing the time for Herod to release Peter for a show trial then sentence him to death (verse 6). That night, Peter was sleeping between two of the soldiers, chained to each of them. Sentries were outside guarding the prison.

An angel of the Lord appeared in Peter’s cell, a divine light brightening the area (verse 7). The angel gave him a sharp blow to awaken him immediately — and enough to function. When Peter stood, he found his chains broke and fell to the ground.

Herod thought his scheme was literally iron-clad, but God always has the upper hand on His creation, especially evildoers who think they are more powerful than He.

Furthermore, God does not forget His own. We see that clearly illustrated in this event. Henry tells us:

He seemed as one abandoned by men, yet not forgotten of his God; The Lord thinketh upon him. Gates and guards kept all his friends from him, but could not keep the angels of God from him: and they invisibly encamp round about those that fear God, to deliver them (Psalms 34:7), and therefore they need not fear, though a host of enemies encamp against them, Psalms 27:3. Wherever the people of God are, and however surrounded, they have a way open heavenward, nor can any thing intercept their intercourse with God.

The angel told Peter to put on his clothes and sandals and to wrap a cloak around himself. The King James Version is more specific:

And the angel said unto him, Gird thyself, and bind on thy sandals. And so he did. And he saith unto him, Cast thy garment about thee, and follow me.

Readers might recall Jeremiah 1:17-19 in the KJV:

17 Thou therefore gird up thy loins, and arise, and speak unto them all that I command thee: be not dismayed at their faces, lest I confound thee before them.

18 For, behold, I have made thee this day a defenced city, and an iron pillar, and brasen walls against the whole land, against the kings of Judah, against the princes thereof, against the priests thereof, and against the people of the land.

19 And they shall fight against thee; but they shall not prevail against thee; for I am with thee, saith the Lord, to deliver thee.

John MacArthur describes girding of the loins:

they used to wear an inner garment that hung very loosely and in the daytime they’d cinch it up with a belt. At night they’d loosen the belt and let it hang loose.

There is also a connotation of preparing to act. The Free Dictionary provides this definition:

gird (up) (one’s) loins
To summon up one’s inner resources in preparation for action.

Once Peter was dressed, he followed the angel but thought he was receiving a vision (verse 9). One can imagine he had probably dreamt of being released, and, in a possibly groggy state, believed this was too good to be true.

Henry reminds us of Psalm 126:1. I included the next two verses as this was probably how Peter felt later when he realised what had happened:

126 When the Lord restored the fortunes of Zion,
    we were like those who dream.
Then our mouth was filled with laughter,
    and our tongue with shouts of joy;
then they said among the nations,
    “The Lord has done great things for them.”
The Lord has done great things for us;
    we are glad.

Verse 10 tells us that they passed the first, then the second, guard. The iron gate opened by itself. As they went along one street, the angel suddenly left Peter. That was because Peter was now free and knew his surroundings.

Henry discusses the gate:

And probably the iron gate shut again of itself, that none of the guards might pursue Peter. Note, When God will work salvation for his people, no difficulties in their way are insuperable; but even gates of iron are made to open of their own accord. This iron gate led him into the city out of the castle or tower; whether within the gates of the city or without is not certain, so that, when they were through this, they were got into the street.

This is more than history. Henry gives us much to consider:

This deliverance of Peter represents to us our redemption by Christ, which is often spoken of as the setting of prisoners free, not only the proclaiming of liberty to the captives, but the bringing of them out of the prison-house. The application of the redemption in the conversion of souls is the sending forth of the prisoners, by the blood of the covenant, out of the pit wherein is no water, Zechariah 9:11. The grace of God, like this angel of the Lord, brings light first into the prison, by the opening of the understanding, smites the sleeping sinner on the side by the awakening of the conscience, causes the chains to fall off from the hands by the renewing of the will, and then gives the word of command, Gird thyself, and follow me. Difficulties are to be passed through, and the opposition of Satan and his instruments, a first and second ward, an untoward generation, from which we are concerned to save ourselves; and we shall be saved by the grace of God, if we put ourselves under the divine conduct. And at length the iron gate shall be opened to us, to enter into the New Jerusalem, where we shall be perfectly freed from all the marks of our captivity, and brought into the glorious liberty of the children of God.

The broken chains remained in the cell:

Tradition makes a mighty rout about these chains, and tells a formal story that one of the soldiers kept them for a sacred relic, and they were long after presented to Eudoxia the empress

When Peter was fully alert, he then realised that he had experienced a miracle that delivered him from Herod and the Jewish people who wanted the Apostle dead (verse 11).

This is the KJV:

11 And when Peter was come to himself, he said, Now I know of a surety, that the Lord hath sent his angel, and hath delivered me out of the hand of Herod, and from all the expectation of the people of the Jews.

The Bible MacArthur used for his sermon has the word ‘considered’. He provides this interpretation:

“And when he had considered,” I love that word considered soonhedon, soon means together and hedon means to see. To consider means to see together. It means to take all the parts of something and see it together in perspective.

Now we can see that Peter might have been thinking along the lines of Jeremiah 1:19 above.

The story continues next week.

Next time — Acts 12:12-17

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

Yet, it doesn’t tell the whole story.

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

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

Acts 12:1-5

James Killed and Peter Imprisoned

12 About that time Herod the king laid violent hands on some who belonged to the church. He killed James the brother of John with the sword, and when he saw that it pleased the Jews, he proceeded to arrest Peter also. This was during the days of Unleavened Bread. And when he had seized him, he put him in prison, delivering him over to four squads of soldiers to guard him, intending after the Passover to bring him out to the people. So Peter was kept in prison, but earnest prayer for him was made to God by the church.

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In Acts 11 — read here and here — St Luke described how the Church expanded into Gentile lands, particularly Antioch.

The end of the chapter mentions a famine affecting Judea during the Emperor Claudius’s reign. Paul and Barnabas, who were teaching in Antioch at the time, collected charitable donations from the church there which they personally delivered to the church in Jerusalem.

They were there as the events of Acts 12 unfolded.

A period of peace for the church in Jerusalem — Acts 9:31 — ended with Herod’s persecution of converts in Jerusalem.

This Herod is not the one who had John the Baptist beheaded. That was Herod Antipas. This Herod was Herod Agrippa I. He was Herod the Great’s grandson. Herod the Great was the one who ordered infant boys to be killed at the time of Christ’s birth.

The Herods were Edomites, descended from Esau who sold his birthright to Jacob. GotQuestions.org tells us that they were pagans until the Maccabean wars. (The Books of the Maccabees are not in Protestant editions of the Bible but are still in Catholic versions.) GotQuestions states:

During the Maccabean wars, the Edomites were subjugated by the Jews and forced to convert to Judaism. Through it all, the Edomites maintained much of their old hatred for the Jews. When Greek became the common language, the Edomites were called Idumaeans. With the rise of the Roman Empire, an Idumaean whose father had converted to Judaism was named king of Judea. That Idumaean is known in history as King Herod the Great, the tyrant who ordered a massacre in Bethlehem in an attempt to kill the Christ child (Matthew 2:16-18).

Herod the great sent young Herod Agrippa to Rome to study. He resided in the imperial court. Tiberius, the emperor at the time, was most fond of him. Agrippa studied alongside Tiberius’s son Drusus and the future emperor Claudius. Agrippa was tetrarch when Claudius was emperor.

Agrippa decided to persecute the church (verse 1), no doubt to curry favour with the Jews and, possibly, Rome.

He beheaded James, the son of Zebedee, John’s brother (verse 2). The King James Version tells us that Jesus called the two brothers the sons of thunder (Mark 3:17):

17 And James the son of Zebedee, and John the brother of James; and he surnamed them Boanerges, which is, The sons of thunder:

It is possible that having had such a moniker he was forceful in his preaching and made many converts, thereby angering Herod Agrippa. The Church designated him St James the Great.

Both Matthew Henry and John MacArthur say that James’s martyrdom could have been a fulfilment of Matthew 20:23. Not all versions have this expanded verse, but the King James Version does (emphases mine below):

20 Then came to him the mother of Zebedees children with her sons, worshipping him, and desiring a certain thing of him.

21 And he said unto her, What wilt thou? She saith unto him, Grant that these my two sons may sit, the one on thy right hand, and the other on the left, in thy kingdom.

22 But Jesus answered and said, Ye know not what ye ask. Are ye able to drink of the cup that I shall drink of, and to be baptized with the baptism that I am baptized with? They say unto him, We are able.

23 And he saith unto them, Ye shall drink indeed of my cup, and be baptized with the baptism that I am baptized with: but to sit on my right hand, and on my left, is not mine to give, but it shall be given to them for whom it is prepared of my Father.

John, possibly because he was at the Crucifixion, did not die a martyr but as an exile on Patmos.

However, James did receive a bloody death by beheading. That is what the two commentators are referring to.

Beheading someone was a rare occurrence in Jewish society. Matthew Henry says that the Romans considered using a sword more demeaning than an axe:

He was slain with the sword, that is, his head was cut off with a sword, which was looked upon by the Romans to be a more disgraceful way of being beheaded than with an axe; so Lorinus. Beheading was not ordinarily used among the Jews; but, when kings gave verbal orders for private and sudden executions, this manner of death was used, as most expeditious; and it is probable that this Herod killed James, as the other Herod killed John Baptist, privately in the prison.

John MacArthur adds another interesting detail:

according to the Talmud, people died of the sword when they had led people after false gods. They had accused then perhaps James of leading the people after false gods, a false god in Christianity, not the true God, and therefore they executed him. And the interesting thing about it, the irony is that it’s all political by Herod. That Herod is not anti church or anti Christian in the pure sense, he is just pro Herod and so it’s a political thing. He was a typical Roman playboy adventurer.

After beheading James, Herod Agrippa decided to go further and have Peter imprisoned during Passover, ‘the days of Unleavened Bread’ (verse 3). Recall that the whole of the Jewish world travelled to Jerusalem for Passover, so this would have attracted much attention.

He seized Peter and had him put in prison, guarded by 16 soldiers (verse 4). The squads referred to were comprised of four guards each. From the KJV:

And when he had apprehended him, he put him in prison, and delivered him to four quaternions of soldiers to keep him; intending after Easter to bring him forth to the people.

‘Quaternions’ begins with the number ‘four’ in Latin. Four multiplied by four is 16.

Both commentators point out that the KJV compilers should not have put ‘Easter’ in that verse, by the way.

While Peter was in prison, the church in Jerusalem prayed for him (verse 5). The KJV expresses their prayer as follows:

Peter therefore was kept in prison: but prayer was made without ceasing of the church unto God for him.

The church in Jerusalem understood the primacy of prayer, which we, today, so often forget, trivialise or ridicule. Yet, prayer can move mountains and, next week, we will see that it did for Peter.

It would not surprise me if they had round the clock prayer vigils. However, MacArthur says:

That word just doesn’t mean without ceasing nearly as much as it means intensely. It’s the word ektenoce. It comes in the form of ektenace and so forth and what it means it’s a medical term and it has to do with stretching a muscle to its limit. It means total effort. They were totally lost in prayer.

Herod Agrippa’s idea was to keep Peter in prison until Passover ended then put him on trial. Henry offers this analysis:

Herod’s design was, after Easter, to bring him forth unto the people. (1.) He would make a spectacle of him. Probably he had put James to death privately, which the people had complained of, not because it was an unjust thing to put a man to death without giving him a public hearing, but because it deprived them of the satisfaction of seeing him executed; and therefore Herod, now he knows their minds, will gratify them with the sight of Peter in bonds, of Peter upon the block, that they may feed their eyes with such a pleasing spectacle. And very ambitious surely he was to please the people who was willing thus to please them! (2.) He would do this after Easter, meta to pascha–after the passover, certainly so it ought to be read, for it is the same word that is always so rendered; and to insinuate the introducing of a gospel-feast, instead of the passover, when we have nothing in the New Testament of such a thing, is to mingle Judaism with our Christianity. Herod would not condemn him till the passover was over, some think, for fear lest he should have such an interest among the people that they should demand the release of him, according to the custom of the feast: or, after the hurry of the feast was over, and the town was empty, he would entertain them with Peter’s public trial and execution. Thus was the plot laid, and both Herod and the people long to have the feast over, that they may gratify themselves with this barbarous entertainment.

James was the second martyr in Acts, the first being Stephen (Acts 7), whose death involved Saul of Tarsus (Acts 8).

Acts is a fascinating book about the growth and expansion of the Church. It is indeed a treasure to read again and again.

Next time — Acts 12:6-11

Hand of God leedsacukBefore I get to my next Forbidden Bible Verses instalment, coming tomorrow, it is important to mention that the word ‘Christian’ appears in the Bible, specifically Acts 11:26.

I wrote about the first half of Acts 11 last week. The second half of Acts 11 is in the three-year Lectionary for public worship (emphases mine below):

The Church in Antioch

19 Now those who were scattered because of the persecution that arose over Stephen traveled as far as Phoenicia and Cyprus and Antioch, speaking the word to no one except Jews. 20 But there were some of them, men of Cyprus and Cyrene, who on coming to Antioch spoke to the Hellenists[c] also, preaching the Lord Jesus. 21 And the hand of the Lord was with them, and a great number who believed turned to the Lord. 22 The report of this came to the ears of the church in Jerusalem, and they sent Barnabas to Antioch. 23 When he came and saw the grace of God, he was glad, and he exhorted them all to remain faithful to the Lord with steadfast purpose, 24 for he was a good man, full of the Holy Spirit and of faith. And a great many people were added to the Lord. 25 So Barnabas went to Tarsus to look for Saul, 26 and when he had found him, he brought him to Antioch. For a whole year they met with the church and taught a great many people. And in Antioch the disciples were first called Christians.

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

This reading is not only interesting but also important to the development of the early Church. Before discussing it in full, I will go into the use of the word Christian in Antioch. The city was pagan, and those who did not convert used ‘Christian’ as a derogatory term. John MacArthur explains:

That’s a new name and it was a term of derision, iani, i-a-n-i had to do with the party of. A Caesariani would have to do with Caesar. Christiani would be of the party of Christ, and this was a derisive mocking term. Oh he’s a Christian. He’s one of those Christ-party ones. The fact that Agrippa said, “… persuadeth thou me to become a Christian. And Peter says in I Peter 4, “If any of you suffer for being a Christian don’t be ashamed.” That was a term of derision. Those blessed people turned it into something courageous or something lovely, didn’t they? And you know something people, you and I bear the name that they died to preserve in purity. You know so many people call themselves Christians so glibly. Listen, if you’re a Christian, my friend, wear it well. It was given to the finest.

It is not so different today, particularly in parts of Europe where Christians are derided every day. It’s one of the reasons why I very much enjoy the opportunity to bring Christianity as a topic into a dinner party conversation.

The first part of Acts 11 records Peter’s account of the Holy Spirit descending on the Gentiles — namely Cornelius and his household — which was followed by baptism. Peter had to justify this to the Jewish converts in Jerusalem, because they were angry with him for teaching and associating with Gentiles. These were hardliners, known as the circumcision party, who believed that one could only believe in Jesus by becoming a Jew first, including the rite of circumcision. Once Peter explained everything, they not only calmed down, they also praised God.

The second part of Acts 11 records the expansion of the Church further into Gentile territory. We also see the re-emergence of Barnabas. St Luke, the author of Acts, was truly divinely inspired to write such a fascinating account of the Apostles’ and the disciples’ work.

Verse 19 reminds us that after Stephen was made the first martyr for Christ in Jerusalem (Acts 7), which Saul of Tarsus (later Paul) was involved in (Acts 8), many of the Jews who converted there left the city. The original Apostles remained for those who stayed. Among those who left were Hellenist (Greek) Jews. The scattered converts went near and far to convert more Jews. They would have long been out of Jerusalem by the time Peter returned to the city after his visit with Cornelius. They probably would have been out for six or seven years at that time.

MacArthur explains their various journeys in light of verse 19:

Now Phoenicia is the coastal plain of Palestine right along the Mediterranean Sea. Two famous cities there: Tyre and Sidon. And from either of those port cities you could catch a ship and go west and you’d come to the island of Cyprus. So that’s what they did. They went up to Phoenicia, Tyre, and Sidon and some of them got on a ship and west to Cyprus.

Some of them didn’t go west they just kept going north. If you keep going north on the coast you come to Antioch. Antioch became the capital of Syria and Antioch was then a strategic place and some folks came there. But notice this: that they were preaching to Jews only. Why? Because they still believe that salvation was for the Jews and they were still hung up on a nationalistic view of salvation. But God was about to bust them out of the shell.

However, some spoke to the Gentiles — Hellenists — in Antioch of Jesus (verse 20).

MacArthur describes Antioch, a largely pagan city full of commerce, culture and depravity:

Now Antioch is a very interesting city, 15 miles or so from the mouth of the Euphrates River, founded in about 300 B.C., later was made a free city. And when it was made a free city under the Roman government in 64 A. D. it has its own self-government. It became the capital of the Province of Syria. It became very famous, grew like crazy. It was the third largest city in the world. First was Rome, then was Alexandria, then was Antioch, had 600,000 people at least. It was famous for culture, it was famous for business. It was just a very very very large city. The network of Roman roads crisscrossed Antioch so it was a place where the all the caravans of the East unloaded their wares and all the wharves and warehouses of Antioch. Cicero said it was a land of most learned men in liberal studies. But with all this good thing it was basically known as an evil city. In fact, Juvenal, a Roman writer said that the Euphrates River spilled its garbage into the Tiber, and what he meant was that Antioch corrupted Rome.

Now if Rome was rotten you can get an idea about how rotten that which corrupted Rome must have been. Antioch was gross to put it mildly. The people lived for their pleasures. One writer said that life there was a perpetual festival of vice revolving around the baths, brothels, the amphitheatre and the circus. And so it was an evil place.

There was a goddess by the name Daphne, who was supposed to be the lover of Apollo and they built a garden that was so big it was 10 miles in circumference and it was populated by prostitutes and you went in and indulged yourself in the garden and the prostitute activity and all kinds of sick immoralities. That was worship in the city of Antioch. When they wanted to expand their religious opportunities they hired magicians, sorcerers, charlatans and Babylonian astrologers made a fortune off the people of Antioch. So it was a vile place.

Converts preached to the pagans in the city and ‘the hand of the Lord was with them’ (verse 21). Many pagans — Gentiles — converted. MacArthur reminds us of the significance of ‘the hand of the Lord’ in Scripture:

It means two things: first of all it means power. The hand of the Lord means power. In Exodus 14:31, the Bible says, “And Israel saw that great work, which the Lord had done.” And the word work is the word hand. It expresses power and the Egyptians were shocked at what God had done. They said, “Look it is the finger of God.” His hand extended means power. But it always means power with blessing. There may be something happening in it, but ultimately He’s blessing. It may be something of an evil nature initially, but blessing is the end of it. And it’s more qualified in Ezra. Ezra 7:9, Ezra 8:18, Nehemiah 2: 2,8, 18. All of that in there you can read sometime not now. But in that passage you have the statement, “The good hand of the Lord.” And it’s repeated at least four or five times. The hand of the Lord then means blessing.

So the hand of the Lord is power for blessing. And so the hand of the Lord moved into Antioch with power that resulted in salvation, power with blessing. And look at the harvest. A great number believed.

News of these great conversions in Antioch reached Jerusalem. The church there sent Barnabas to join the disciples in Antioch.

Barnabas appeared early in Acts, specifically Acts 4:36-37:

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

Barnabas was one of the Hellenist Jews who converted in Jerusalem. There is a further explanation on him by John MacArthur in this post. In short, he was a kind, generous, devout man.

He also lacked prejudice. In my post on Acts 9:26-31, when Saul of Tarsus — the fiercest persecutor of the Church in Jerusalem — returned a convert and attempted to join the disciples, only Barnabas came to his defence. It was thanks to Barnabas’s efforts that they accepted Saul:

27 But Barnabas took him and brought him to the apostles and declared to them how on the road he had seen the Lord, who spoke to him, and how at Damascus he had preached boldly in the name of Jesus. 28 So he went in and out among them at Jerusalem, preaching boldly in the name of the Lord.

That passage states that Saul had to leave Jerusalem, because the Jews wanted to kill him. So, he went back to his native Tarsus for a few years.

When Barnabas arrived in Antioch, he was delighted to see such a manifestation of God’s grace, but some of the converts were discouraged — no doubt ridiculed, perhaps harmed. Barnabas encouraged — ‘exhorted’ — them to keep the faith (verse 23).

Here’s a note from MacArthur on the meaning of ‘exhortation’:

Positive encouragement. It’s not the idea of browbeating. There are some people who think they’re exhorting when all they’re doing is browbeating, crushing people. This is positive encouragement.

Through Barnabas’s exhortations, many more souls in Antioch were added to the Lord (verse 24).

There were so many converts now that Barnabas needed help from another powerful teacher. So, he left for Tarsus in search of Saul (verse 25). Barnabas also did not want to lose any of the converts. They had a hard time living in a depraved metropolis — not so different to big cities today:

First thing, he exhorted them to cling to the Lord. That’s the first thing necessary, I think, in dealing with a new Christian. You’ve led somebody to Christ, what’s the thing that concerns you the most? That they hold on to Christ, right? That their faith be real. You say, “I hope you mean this.” And then you begin to think, “Oh I hope they read the Word, right? and I hope they pray, and I hope it’s real.” Isn’t that what you think, always? Sure. That’s your first reaction when you lead somebody to Christ. I hope it’s real. I hope they hang onto to Christ and that they secure that faith by, that they secure that salvation by real faith …

Number two, if you are real, stay close to Jesus Christ. Practice His presence. You know the greatest joy for me when I lead somebody to Jesus Christ to see that person really getting involved with Jesus Christ. Isn’t that your joy? How many times have you led somebody to Christ and you can’t find them? Just discourages and breaks your heart. They’ve wandered off somewhere and you don’t know where they are. You try to track them down, it’s a sad thing. And so the first thing He does is come on, “Continue, continue,” He says. “Hold on to the Lord with all your strength.”

Once Barnabas found Saul, he brought him to Antioch. MacArthur says that Saul was preaching and teaching in and around Tarsus. He was not popular with many and got into a lot of trouble for his faith:

He went all over Cilicia starting churches. Well, in the meantime according to II Corinthians 11 says, he was being beaten up mercilessly and all the things that he suffered in II Corinthians 11, probably many of them or most of them even occurred in these years we don’t know about, the quiet years of Paul.

During that time he had really been working for the Lord and he was not easy to find. The word seek in the English doesn’t help you at all. What it means in the Greek is to search for something with difficulty. He couldn’t find him. Why? He probably long ago had been kicked out of Tarsus, and long ago kicked out of every other town that he traced him to. He finally caught up with him. He was so busy preaching. He might have been glad to get out of there by now and the Lord knew that and the timing was right.

This marks the beginning of the preaching duo of Saul and Barnabas. The two stayed with the expanding church in Antioch for a year (verse 26). We will read more about their ministry elsewhere in Acts.

The final verses of Acts 11 point to famine, backed up by historians of the day, and distant relief efforts made by the early Church, which created a framework so characteristic of Christianity: charitable giving to those far away who need help.

Prophets travelled from Jerusalem to Antioch (verse 27). One of them, Agabus, foretold a great famine that would overtake much of that part of the world during the reign of Claudius (verse 28).

MacArthur tells us more:

The Jerusalem church sent up some prophets. There were prophets in the New Testament. They were foundational like apostles Ephesians 2:20 tells us. And they spoke for God, and they preached, and their preaching is described in I Corinthians 14, if you want to check it out. But they preached and also spoke and sometimes predicted the future for God. They have ceased as an office.

The gift of prophecy still goes on, which is preaching. But the office of a prophet is ceased. But then it happened so some prophets came to Antioch and they stood up one of them come to speak for God and tell the church at Antioch some things they needed to know and his name was Agabus and he signified by the Spirit that there should be great famine throughout all the world, which came to pass in the days of Claudius Caesar. Incidentally, history says Claudius ruled from 41 to 54 and during the year 45 and 46 there were great famines in Israel. No crops came through, they all failed. Terrible famines are recorded by Chassidus, Josephus, Yesevias, Cassius, and there were times of famine.

The church in Antioch decided to give whatever they could to the church in Judea, sending it via Barnabas and Saul (verses 29, 30). Those who could give more generously did so. Those who gave what little they had out of necessity received no criticism.

In closing, I wanted to return to MacArthur’s recipe for church growth: doctrine and Scripture, about which I wrote the other day.

He is quite certain that is how Barnabas and Saul were able to increase the church in Antioch so dramatically:

Let’s see what they do? What kind of program they had? Boy I want to know because I got a church too. I want to find out what kind of program you need to get that thing going. And it came to pass for a whole year they assembled themselves together with the church, and had a lot of soup suppers, and had several contests, and lots of musical extravaganzas. That what it says? You say, that doesn’t say that. No, no. It says some of them together for one year and together they did what? Taught! You want to know what the church is for? It’s for teaching. If you never learn anything else about the church you learn that you’ve learned enough. The church is for teaching.

And I want to give you another salient point that I think you need to understand. When it came to pass that for a whole year they assembled themselves with the church. The word with is in, in the Greek it’s in. They assembled in the church. Apparently they had a large place where they all came together. The word assemble means they were all brought together. This idea that you can only teach in little groups isn’t so. Here in Antioch they had a big mass meeting where Paul and Barnabas taught them all the time for a year, that was their minister. You say well I’ll never forget one guy said one time he says, “What makes your church grow?” I said, “It’s just the teaching.” He says, “Oh that’ll never do it. I tried that. You got to do more than just teaching.” Well they spent a year teaching and the results are still going on. That’s my whole commitment. I don’t think the church really needs to set itself to do much else but teach. Teach. Teach. Teach. At every level, in every way, through every avenue, teach the Word of God.

The apostles said in Acts 6, “We will give ourselves continually to the ministry of the Word and prayer.” Teach. Teach. Teach. For one year they just taught and the fruit of their teaching, oh beloved fruit.

I really do wish today’s clergy realised this: preach the Word and they will come! No gimmicks necessary!

Forbidden Bible Verses continues tomorrow.

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

Yet, it doesn’t tell the whole story.

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

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

Acts 11:1-18

Peter Reports to the Church

11 Now the apostles and the brothers[a] who were throughout Judea heard that the Gentiles also had received the word of God. So when Peter went up to Jerusalem, the circumcision party[b] criticized him, saying, 3 “You went to uncircumcised men and ate with them.” But Peter began and explained it to them in order: 5 “I was in the city of Joppa praying, and in a trance I saw a vision, something like a great sheet descending, being let down from heaven by its four corners, and it came down to me. Looking at it closely, I observed animals and beasts of prey and reptiles and birds of the air. And I heard a voice saying to me, ‘Rise, Peter; kill and eat.’ But I said, ‘By no means, Lord; for nothing common or unclean has ever entered my mouth.’ But the voice answered a second time from heaven, ‘What God has made clean, do not call common.’ 10 This happened three times, and all was drawn up again into heaven. 11 And behold, at that very moment three men arrived at the house in which we were, sent to me from Caesarea. 12 And the Spirit told me to go with them, making no distinction. These six brothers also accompanied me, and we entered the man’s house. 13 And he told us how he had seen the angel stand in his house and say, ‘Send to Joppa and bring Simon who is called Peter; 14 he will declare to you a message by which you will be saved, you and all your household.’ 15 As I began to speak, the Holy Spirit fell on them just as on us at the beginning. 16 And I remembered the word of the Lord, how he said, ‘John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.’ 17 If then God gave the same gift to them as he gave to us when we believed in the Lord Jesus Christ, who was I that I could stand in God’s way?” 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.”

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Last week’s post concluded the visit of Peter to Cornelius’s house where the centurion and those present received the Holy Spirit then baptism.

I also wrote about Cornelius’s life afterwards. He was the first Italian saint, by the way. God gave him that vision so that he could accomplish great things in Christ’s holy name.

John MacArthur says that the events in Acts 11 — particularly the second half of the chapter, describing the establishment of the Church in Antioch — occurred seven years after the first Pentecost. He says that the Apostles did a lot of preaching and teaching to establish Church doctrine (emphases mine below):

Number one, apostolic authority had to be established. Now when God spoke to the early church through whom did He speak? The apostles, right? They were the teachers. They were the ones who were the spokesmen for God. And they were the ones who laid out the doctrine. It says that in 2:42, that they spent their time in the study of the apostles’ doctrine. God spoke to them and they spoke. They had no Bibles. They had no New Testaments. They hadn’t been written yet.

So when the early church came together what was their standard? I mean how did they know whether this is right, and this is wrong? How did they know how to do this, how to do that, what are God’s standards, what are these things unless they had to listen to the apostles through whom God spoke. And so there needed to be time for the apostles to lay down a solid doctrinal base. Can you imagine if they all got saved and then just shot out all over the world without any foundation? They would run into problems they wouldn’t be able to answer because they wouldn’t know what their own theology was. They wouldn’t have a Bible.

Yet, atheists believe that the first converts just bolted out with no rhyme or reason. I’ve heard it before, many times.

There is more:

What happened was for seven years the apostles laid that doctrinal foundation. They spoke, they taught, and these things were compiled and collected in the minds and hearts of men and the framework of doctrine was based as a foundation. And once that foundation was firm then somebody could start the building of the Gentile church on it. But they had to be able to run into a problem and turn around and say, “Hey, there’s an answer because the apostles have thus said.” You see. In other words doctrinal purity, friends, is at the very basis of a church. If it goes the whole building crumbles, right?

So we teach doctrine. That’s everything at the base and so there had to be doctrine and there wasn’t any Bible for everybody to read so they had to hang in and learn from the apostles. And then once it was in them in total they could move out and teach it to somebody else until such a time as the Scripture was completed. There were absolutes that had to be learned and they had to come to the apostles from God and the process was slow and it took time.

The second reason I believe there was a delay of many years before they moved out was because the right instruments had to be prepared. Nothing worse than sending out an unprepared person to do a job. It took time to mature these people

So the third thing you might add to that is that they needed time for prejudice to come down. And so for these reasons the Spirit of God delayed and at least seven years went by before they ever began to move toward Antioch, but believe me when the groundwork was done it was done right. And when that church moved out to build, they really built; they really built.

We wonder then, why St Luke, the author of Acts, did not make the timeline clearer. MacArthur explains:

… the average papari that they used, there was a paparus plant, a kind of a bulrush plant from which they made a long scroll, which they used to write on. This was before book form had come into vogue, and the longest ones that we could ever find; assuming that this would be about the maximum was 35 feet. Now that’s a good-sized scroll, 35-foot scroll. But on a 35-foot scroll you could probably crowd about the content of the book of Acts, 28 chapters to 30 chapters and that would be pushing it.

So Luke had a limited amount of space. He was going to put the whole thing on the scroll. He also had a tremendous amount of things to select from just from a human standpoint. There were many incidents in the church that had happened. There were many miracles. There were many signs and wonders done by the apostles and prophets. I imagine there were some fantastic conversion experiences. I just think about all the three thousand saved on the day of Pentecost. Just imagine what their testimonies could have been like. And all of the other thousands that were being saved all over the place, they could have been included.

As we know, they were not. However, St Luke did include the story of Peter and Cornelius — including their respective visions. We read three repetitions in Acts 10 and the first part of Acts 11:

There were so many fabulous things yet he spends all this space saying the same thing three times just filling a whole chunk of that scroll with this Cornelius account.

That means that Luke believed it was essential to the history of the early Church: the branching out and acceptance of Gentiles into membership.

This brings us to today’s reading.

Incredibly, news of what happened at Cornelius’s house in Caesarea travelled quickly back to the Apostles and other members of the church in Jerusalem (verse 1).

Upon Peter’s return to Jerusalem, he got an earful from the circumcision group who were deeply unhappy he associated and ate with Gentiles (verses 2, 3).

The circumcision party — group — believed that no one could become a Christian unless they became a Jew first. That included circumcision. As we saw from the past few weeks of Acts 10 study, there is no basis for that in Scripture. The Book of Hebrews discusses it in more detail.

MacArthur has more:

I just want you to pick up a few points. Keep in mind that as Peter comes back to report the word has already beaten him there and so they’ve already made up their preconceived ideas. That’s verse one. They’ve already heard and Peter’s going back into a storm. The ultra conservative Jews, particularly of the circumcision party, those former Pharisees who were now Christians who thought that Judaism was all in all and wanted everybody to become a Jew and get circumcised before he could become a Christian, they had already made up their mind that Peter made a wholesale sell out. Peter was probably on the outs because he’d even gone into Samaria and he’d preached all over Samaria and people got saved when the Holy Spirit came. So he was probably in trouble already and this was a wholesale washout on the part of Peter.

So when he came back they started a big argument. They really hassled him badly and they hassled him repeatedly. And you know orthodoxy can get mad. I remember when I was in Jerusalem they said don’t drive your cars in the orthodox section on the Sabbath unless you want it to get stoned. They get upset when someone violates the law, and I mean they got upset then too. And Peter had done exactly what their ceremonial law forbade and they were really upset that he would have anything to do with these Gentiles.

Verse 4 tells us about Peter’s mindset. He did not lord it over them, saying he was the rock on which the Church was built, as Jesus had told him. He approached them with the facts:

You know why? Because the issue explained itself. If the facts are on your side you don’t have to pull rank. Just recite the facts. He could have pulled spiritual rank. He could have said, “I was led of the Spirit,” you know which is a common statement for crackpots to make.

And, Peter went on to recite the facts ‘in order’ (verse 4). Verses 5-12 recount Peter’s vision and his obedience in journeying from Joppa to Caesarea with Cornelius’s men, which I discussed at length here and here.

Peter provided an interesting detail in verse 12, which we did not discover in Acts 10: six men from Joppa accompanied him. We knew there were men from Joppa who went with him, but we did not know the number.

MacArthur explains why there were six:

This is very important. Here’s a principle that you can grab a handle on and use: number one, he didn’t act alone. He took six people with him. Why? Because he didn’t want to be mistaken in what was going on. He wanted the testimony of six others to confirm his own. The Jews knew well Egyptian law and Egyptian law said that where there are seven witnesses the case is closed. And Roman law said that on any will or any testament there had to be seven seals, so seven became a kind of a number of sealing the authoritativeness of something. So Peter had six guys go along with him and that made seven and he was verifying in his own mind from the testimony of others that this thing in fact was true.

In verses 13 and 14, Peter related Cornelius’s vision as the centurion explained it to him, discussed in more detail here.

In verses 15 through 17, Peter explained to those in Jerusalem how the Holy Spirit descended on all present and that he saw no reason to deny baptism to Cornelius and the other Gentiles. I wrote about that last week.

So, Peter recounted the facts of the situation of how Gentiles were admitted into the young Church.

Peter’s legalistic critics fell silent (verse 18). Instead of arguing further, they glorified God and said:

Then to the Gentiles also God has granted repentance that leads to life.

We will see that, for now, that concluded the matter. However, the issue of Gentiles comes back in Acts 15.

The reason the Apostles needed to build a strong doctrinal foundation was, as MacArthur said, to open the Church to Gentiles and to prepare the Jews for that eventuality. MacArthur explains:

They couldn’t argue with the testimony of seven reputable witnesses. They couldn’t argue with the testimony of Jesus Christ. Peter built his foundation on the Word of Christ. And so they had nothing to say.

As for their statement about Gentiles, MacArthur tells us how significant that was:

That statement right there is one of the most shocking statements in Jewish history. That’s a statement for which Jonah, the failure for Jonah really in his whole life was the fact that he wasn’t willing to make that statement. And there weren’t very many Jews who were in the history of Judaism. What was the statement? Simply this: God also to the Gentiles granted repentance unto life. Shocking for a Jew to make that admission. Gentiles can get saved, guys. How can we argue? Look at what happened up there. Fantastic admission and people I want you to know that the importance of that statement is hardly able to be measured. You say why? Because until the Jews who were Christians made that statement they could never begin the work of evangelizing the Gentiles, you see. They had to come to that.

Matthew Henry points to this as a fulfilment of a prophecy of Zephaniah:

Now those who prided themselves in their dignities as Jews began to see that God was staining their pride, by letting in the Gentiles to share, and to share equally, with them. And now that prophecy was fulfilled, Thou shalt no more be haughty because of my holy mountain, Zephaniah 3:11. 2. They turned them into praises. They not only held their peace from quarrelling with Peter, but opened their mouths to glorify God for what he had done by and with Peter’s ministry; they were thankful that their mistake was rectified, and that God had shown more mercy to the poor Gentiles than they were inclined to show them, saying, Then hath God also to the Gentiles granted repentance unto life! He hath granted them not only the means of repentance, in opening a door of entrance for his ministers among them, but the grace of repentance, in having given them his Holy Spirit, who, wherever he comes to be a Comforter, first convinces, and gives a sight of sin and sorrow for it, and then a sight of Christ and joy in him.

I will cover the establishment of the church in Antioch separately. It is in the Lectionary, but it picks up where Acts 8 left off. It also brings back someone we have not read about since Acts 4: Barnabas.

Next time — Acts 12:1-5

If you have been reading my Forbidden Bible Verses series over the past few weeks, you are acquainted with Acts 10, starring St Peter and a Roman centurion named Cornelius.

Gerbrand van den Eeckhout, a student of Rembrandt’s, painted ‘Vision of Cornelius the Centurion’ in 1664. Eeckhout learned well from his master. (Image credit: Wikipedia)

If you are a newer subscriber, here are the posts about Cornelius and Peter:

Acts 10:1-8Cornelius, divine vision, angel, Peter, God-fearer

Acts 10:9-16Peter, divine vision, allegory, animals, Gentiles, forbidden food is now clean

Acts 10:17-23Peter, Holy Spirit, obedience, Gentiles, hospitality

Acts 10:24-29Peter, Cornelius, Jewish converts, Gentile converts

Acts 10:30-33Peter, Cornelius, Jew, Gentile, Jesus Christ

Acts 10:44-48 Peter, Cornelius, the Holy Spirit, baptism, Jew, Gentile

Acts 10 formally brought Gentiles into the Church, beginning with Cornelius, his family and friends.

John MacArthur tells us that Cornelius was a powerful man who believed in the God of Israel before he met Peter, who preached about Jesus Christ (emphases mine):

Now, Cornelius is a Gentile, a ruler, really in a real sense, because he ruled over a hundred men in the army of Rome

Cornelius was stationed in Caesarea and was part of the Italian Cohort (Acts 10:1).

It is strange that, having attended Catholic schools for nearly all of my academic career, I never heard of Cornelius — until I read the Bible in its entirety a few years ago.

I am not alone. Many Catholics have not heard of him.

Angelo Stagnaro wrote an article for the National Catholic Register in February 2017. I highly recommend reading ‘What Do We Know About St Cornelius the Centurion?’ It’s factual as well as being witty and warm.

Stagnaro opens by describing what happened at a Sons of Italy meeting he attended wherein the men and women assembled were thinking of a name for a new chapter of the organisation. The chapter had to be named after an Italian or an American with Italian ancestry.

Stagnaro offered what he thought was a brilliant suggestion:

How about St. Cornelius the Centurion?” I suggested.

“Who’s he?” came back the reply.

That’s not an uncommon question considering the Church has more than 17,000 saints and beati―no one could know all of them. So, I explained.

“St. Cornelius the Centurion is the first gentile, that is, non-Jew, who converted to Christianity. He’s Italian.”

All one-hundred people in the parish hall froze amid cannoli and snapped around to look at me. The gentleman leading the meeting had an almost panicked look on his face.

“Wait! What!?!” he demanded. 

“The first non-Jew to convert to Christianity was Italian,” I reiterated.

More accusatory silence.

“Where did you get this information?!” asked the group’s elected leader.

I was half expecting someone to yell out, “Leave the gun―take the cannolis.”

“From the Bible,” I replied, surprised at the crowd’s reaction

Stagnaro read them Acts 10 from his tablet.

The upshot is, how could so many Catholics — especially those with Italian heritage — not know of Cornelius? Stagnaro describes what it was like after the meeting ended (emphases in the original):

… twenty people came up to me after the meeting to verify what they thought I had said. 

“Why didn’t anyone tell me this before?

“I went to a Catholic school in an Italian parish and no one told me this!”

I know the feeling! I agree! How could it be?

Back to the life of Cornelius now. There was a lot of information for St Luke to put into the Book of Acts, so we do not hear any more about the centurion after Acts 10.

Wikipedia tells us (emphases mine):

Cornelius was a centurion in the Roman Empire’s Cohors II Italica Civium Romanorum which was stationed in Caesarea, the capital of Roman Iudaea province, to keep the Pax Romana.

Coptics believe that Cornelius retired from the Roman army after receiving the Holy Spirit and baptism:

Afterwards, Cornelius left the military service and followed the Apostles. St. Peter then ordained him a Bishop over the city of Caesarea of Palestine. He went there and proclaimed the Name of Christ, showing them the error of worshipping idols. Their minds were illuminated with the knowledge of God and they believed in Him. He strengthened them with the signs and miracles he performed before them and he baptized them all and among them was Demetrius the Governor. Then he departed in peace and received the crown of glory of the apostles.

We have no way of verifying if Cornelius performed these miracles, although the Orthodox Church in America also believe that he left the Roman army for ministry. Their site has a longer story about the conversion of Demetrius the Governor — or prince — excerpted below:

When the Apostle Peter, together with his helpers Saints Timothy and Cornelius, was in the city of Ephesus, he learned of a particularly vigorous idol-worship in the city of Skepsis. Lots were drawn to see who would go there, and Saint Cornelius was chosen.

In the city lived a prince by the name of Demetrius, learned in the ancient Greek philosophy, hating Christianity and venerating the pagan gods, in particular Apollo and Zeus. Learning about the arrival of Saint Cornelius in the city, he immediately summoned him and asked him the reason for his coming. Saint Cornelius answered that he came to free him from the darkness of ignorance and lead him to knowledge of the True Light.

The prince, not comprehending the meaning of what was said, became angry and demanded that he answer each of his questions. When Saint Cornelius explained that he served the Lord and that the reason for his coming was to announce the Truth, the prince became enraged and demanded that Cornelius offer sacrifice to the idols.

Cornelius asked to see the idols. Upon entering the temple, Cornelius said a prayer. Then:

There was an earthquake, and the temple of Zeus and the idols situated in it were destroyed. All the populace, seeing what had happened, were terrified.

Demetrius was furious and had Cornelius imprisoned. One of Demetrius’s servants told him that his wife and child had perished under the temple rubble. Some time later, a pagan priest, Barbates, told Demetrius that his wife and child had survived and could be heard praising the Christian God.

Demetrius, relieved and happy, rushed to the prison, said that he, too, believed in the one true God and freed Cornelius, asking him to try and rescue his family from the temple ruins. Cornelius went and prayed until Demetrius’s wife and child were able to emerge from the rubble.

Demetrius asked Cornelius to baptise him, his family and his entourage:

Saint Cornelius lived for a long time in this city, converted all the pagan inhabitants to Christ … Saint Cornelius died in old age and was buried not far from the pagan temple he destroyed. 

Again, we have no way of verifying this, except that he must have done something very special, because his feast day is commemorated in the Orthodox churches (September 13), the Catholic Church (February 2) and the Episcopal Church in the United States (February 4 or 7). In fact:

When Governor’s Island, New York, was a military installation the Episcopal Church maintained a stone chapel there dedicated to him.

These are the lessons that the Episcopal Church has for Cornelius the Centurion:

The Collect: O God, by your Spirit you called Cornelius the Centurion to be the first Christian among the Gentiles; Grant to your Church such a ready will to go where you send and to do what you command, that under your guidance it may welcome all who turn to you in love and faith, and proclaim the Gospel to all nations; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

Isaiah 56:6-8: The foreigners who join themselves to the Lord,
to minister to him, to love the name of the Lord,
and to be his servants,

all who keep the sabbath, and do not profane it,
and hold fast my covenant–

these I will bring to my holy mountain,
and make them joyful in my house of prayer;

their burnt offerings and their sacrifices
will be accepted on my altar;

for my house shall be called a house of prayer
for all peoples.

Thus says the Lord God,
who gathers the outcasts of Israel,

I will gather others to them
besides those already gathered.

Psalm 67Deus misereatur:

1 May God be merciful to us and bless us, *
show us the light of his countenance and come to us.

2 Let your ways be known upon earth, *
your saving health among all nations.

3 Let the peoples praise you, O God; *
let all the peoples praise you.

4 Let the nations be glad and sing for joy, *
for you judge the peoples with equity
and guide all the nations upon earth.

5 Let the peoples praise you, O God; *
let all the peoples praise you.

6 The earth has brought forth her increase; *
may God, our own God, give us his blessing.

7 May God give us his blessing, *
and may all the ends of the earth stand in awe of him.

The Epistle is Acts 10:1-18, which is the account of both Cornelius’s and Peter’s visions.

The Gospel reading is Luke 13:22-29:

Jesus went through one town and village after another, teaching as he made his way to Jerusalem. Someone asked him, “Lord, will only a few be saved?” He said to them, “Strive to enter through the narrow door; for many, I tell you, will try to enter and will not be able. When once the owner of the house has got up and shut the door, and you begin to stand outside and to knock at the door, saying, `Lord, open to us,’ then in reply he will say to you, `I do not know where you come from.’ Then you will begin to say, `We ate and drank with you, and you taught in our streets.’ But he will say, `I do not know where you come from; go away from me, all you evildoers!’ There will be weeping and gnashing of teeth when you see Abraham and Isaac and Jacob and all the prophets in the kingdom of God, and you yourselves thrown out. Then people will come from east and west, from north and south, and will eat in the kingdom of God.

Bill Kochman has a good article about Cornelius’s life and purpose. He points out that not many people in the Bible received visions. Therefore, God had a plan:

How often is it that people receive a heavenly visitation? The Scriptures seem to indicate that such events are reserved for those who have a very special calling from the Lord such as Moses, Gideon, Joseph and Mary, Zechariah, John the Baptist, Paul, etc. Another point worth considering is that Peter was the chief of the Apostles, yet the Lord didn’t think him too big or too busy, or too important to send to these lowly Gentile believers. In fact, the Lord specifically gave Peter his vision to convince him of the importance of his mission to Caesarea. The Lord knew that Cornelius and his family were an important part of His overall plans. Another fact to consider is that this family received the gift of the Holy Ghost. This is very important.

I hope we remember Cornelius’s faithful devotion to God, which brought him into contact with Peter.

I also hope we can draw inspiration from Cornelius’s example as a Christian.

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

Yet, it doesn’t tell the whole story.

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

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

Acts 10:44-48

The Holy Spirit Falls on the Gentiles

44 While Peter was still saying these things, the Holy Spirit fell on all who heard the word. 45 And the believers from among the circumcised who had come with Peter were amazed, because the gift of the Holy Spirit was poured out even on the Gentiles. 46 For they were hearing them speaking in tongues and extolling God. Then Peter declared, 47 “Can anyone withhold water for baptizing these people, who have received the Holy Spirit just as we have?” 48 And he commanded them to be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ. Then they asked him to remain for some days.

—————————————————————————————-

Last week’s post discussed Cornelius relating his divine vision to Peter, explaining why he — a Gentile — sent for him.

Peter, too, had a divine vision revealing that nothing — and, by extension, no one — is unclean.

Peter took heed and, immediately afterward, met Cornelius’s men who had just arrived at the house where he was staying. He went with the men without complaint from Joppa to Caesarea.

The Holy Spirit was working wonders in Peter after that first Pentecost. Acts 2 gives us his first sermon and says:

41 So those who received his word were baptized, and there were added that day about three thousand souls.

In Acts 3, Peter healed a lame beggar, who then went on to witness himself. Although Peter and John were arrested at the temple in Jerusalem (Acts 4):

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

There were thousands more, but it was not the custom in society to count women and children in those days.

These three posts explain how the Spirit transformed Peter into a great leader of the early church:

John MacArthur on St Peter

John MacArthur on Peter’s leadership qualities

More from John MacArthur on Peter’s leadership journey

Therefore, by the time Peter met Cornelius, the resulting experience was going to be powerful. And, so it was. Last week’s post has Peter’s sermon, which is included in the Lectionary, but, unless the clergyperson preaching about it puts it into context, a lot of the power behind it is lost.

In today’s reading we have Cornelius, a faith-filled Gentile — accompanied by his household and friends — who has just learned more about God and Jesus Christ from Peter.

Peter hadn’t stopped preaching when the Holy Spirit fell upon all assembled — the converts among the Jews from Joppa as well as Cornelius and his fellow Gentiles (verse 44).

Matthew Henry has a good analysis (emphases mine below):

When the Holy Ghost fell upon them–while Peter was preaching. Thus God bore witness to what he said, and accompanied it with a divine power. Thus were the signs of an apostle wrought among them, 2 Corinthians 12:12.

Also:

Though Peter could not give the Holy Ghost, yet the Holy Ghost being given along with the word of Peter, by this it appeared he was sent of God.

Now consider that there were many witnesses in that room — Jew and Gentile.

Henry also tells us that the God follows no prescribed method:

The Holy Ghost fell upon others after they were baptized, for their confirmation; but upon these Gentiles before they were baptized: as Abraham was justified by faith, being yet in uncircumcision, to show that God is not tied to a method, nor confines himself to external signs. The Holy Ghost fell upon those that were neither circumcised nor baptized; for it is the Spirit that quickeneth, the flesh profiteth nothing.

The Jewish converts were ‘amazed’ to see that the Holy Spirit was ‘poured out’ on the Gentiles (verse 45):

Those of the circumcision who believed were astonished–those six that came along with Peter; it surprised them exceedingly, and perhaps gave them some uneasiness, because upon the Gentiles also was poured out the gift of the Holy Ghost, which they thought had been appropriated to their own nation. Had they understood the scriptures of the Old Testament, which pointed at this, it would not have been such an astonishment to them; but by our mistaken notions of things we create difficulties to ourselves in the methods of divine providence and grace.

John MacArthur tells us:

Well, Jesus was in the business of smashing fences, and this was one that had to go; and so as you come to the 10th chapter of the Book of Acts, the Lord adds to the church Gentiles. The pagans who were despised by the Jews and who, incidentally, despised the Jews, as well, who were thought to be unclean, in whose home Jews would never go, whose food Jews would never eat, and so forth and so on. He includes them into the church, into the one body with the Jews. Now, this is not going to be an easy thing, but our Lord had already designed to build one body. As Ephesians 2 says, “To make one new man, to join together Jew and Gentile. As Ephesians 3 said, “The mystery of the church was Jew and Gentile one in Christ.”

MacArthur says this was not going to be easy, and we will see next week that Peter caught flak for it.

Then the group spoke in tongues and extolled God (verse 46). Henry explores what this means:

They spoke with tongues which they never learned, perhaps the Hebrew, the holy tongue; as the preachers were enabled to speak the vulgar tongues, that they might communicate the doctrine of Christ to the hearers, so, probably, the hearers were immediately taught the sacred tongue, that they might examine the proofs which the preachers produced out of the Old Testament in the original. Or their being enabled to speak with tongues intimated that they were all designed for ministers, and by this first descent of the Spirit upon them were qualified to preach the gospel to others, which they did but now receive themselves. But, observe, when they spoke with tongues, they magnified God, they spoke of Christ and the benefits of redemption, which Peter had been preaching to the glory of God. Thus did they on whom the Holy Ghost first descended, Acts 2:11. Note, Whatever gift we are endued with, we ought to honour God with it, and particularly the gift of speaking, and all the improvements of it.

Then Peter asked if anyone — the Jews present — would deny these Gentiles baptism (verse 47). St Luke, the author of Acts, does not describe their reaction, but I would not be surprised if there wasn’t a moment or two of stunned silence.

Henry analyses Peter’s question:

The argument is conclusive; can we deny the sign to those who have received the thing signified? Are not those on whom God has bestowed the grace of the covenant plainly entitled to the seals of the covenant? Surely those that have received the Spirit as well as we ought to receive baptism as well as we; for it becomes us to follow God’s indications, and to take those into communion with us whom he hath taken into communion with himself. God hath promised to pour his Spirit upon the seed of the faithful, upon their offspring; and who then can forbid water, that they should not be baptized, who have received the promise of the Holy Ghost as well as we? … Thus is there one unusual step of divine grace taken after another to bring the Gentiles into the church. How well is it for us that the grace of a good God is so much more extensive than the charity of some good men!

Peter then commanded his companions from Joppa to baptise the Gentiles (verse 48). By doing so, those men became an active part of welcoming Gentiles into the Church through baptism.

Henry has more:

The apostles received the commission to go and disciple all nations by baptism. But is was to prayer and the ministry of the word that they were to give themselves. And Paul says that he was sent, not to baptize but to preach, which was the more noble and excellent work. The business of baptizing was therefore ordinarily devolved upon the inferior ministers; these acted by the orders of the apostles, who might therefore be said to do it.

Verse 48 also tells us that the Gentiles asked Peter to remain with them for a time. Cornelius, as we saw at the beginning of Acts 10 a few weeks ago, had a devout thirst to know and love God better. His friends and family gathered there with him were sober of spirit and he rightly believed they should share in that experience themselves. Once the Holy Spirit had descended and they were baptised, it follows logically that they wanted Peter to teach and preach to them about the Jesus he knew. It must have been a spirtually enriching period of time for them, one which further deepened their faith.

In closing, I wanted to look deeper into the verb ‘poured’ in verse 45. John MacArthur has a beautiful analysis of living water used in Scripture:

John chapter 7 introduces us to the Spirit of God in a very unique way; and I’m gonna take this as kind of a kickoff point; and then show you how important it is for us to have the Holy Spirit and why I believe, unequivocally with no contradiction, that we absolutely, at the moment of salvation, receive the Spirit.

John 7:37, feast of tabernacles is going on. The…the pouring of the water, symbolizing, of course, God’s sustenance of Israel in the wilderness. People have been saying Isaiah’s words about drinking at the wells of salvation. And, at that moment, when everybody’s looking at water, Jesus stands up in verse 37 and says, “If any man thirst, let him come unto Me, and drink.” In other words, Jesus takes the whole illustration, the whole deal, and turns it to Himself and takes advantage of this. You know what He’s saying? He’s saying that if you’re thirsty, you can drink. You know that salvation could come at that day to those people if they would turn to Jesus Christ? They could’ve received the water. Remember the water that He gave the woman at the well? He said, “If you believe in Me, I’ll give you water, and you’ll never thirst again.”

And so there was the promise that they could have spiritual water, spiritual refreshment, a spring of pure cleansing water of life inside of them; but He goes a second step, 38, powerful statement. “He that believeth on Me.” Notice, what is the qualification? He that does what? Believeth on Me, no other qualification. “As the Scripture hath said, out of his heart shall flow rivers of living water.”

Now you have a twofold promise. Hang on here. No. 1, you’re gonna receive the water. No. 2, it’s gonna gush out of you. Not a trickle, but a what? Rivers, gushing rivers of water. Two promises. Spiritual refreshment for Me, and a flowing of the water of life that comes out of Me to the world. That’s evangelism, beloved. That’s what He’s talking about. “That the life that is in me by Christ flows out of me to reach others.” That’s the promise; but watch verse 39. Here’s the key.

But this spoke He of the Spirit, whom they that believe on Him should receive.” Future tense, it’s coming. “For the Holy Spirit was not yet given, because Jesus was not yet glorified.” Now watch here, your thought here for a moment. This is saying this…Jesus says, “People, you can now believe, and you can drink the water of life. Someday, you will gush with the water of life to the world; but that can’t happen until the Spirit comes in.” You see? Look at it again. “This spoke He of the Spirit, whom they that believe should receive; but He was not yet given.” The principle is this. All who believe will receive the Spirit.

And, the Holy Spirit is a free gift to all who believe that Jesus is Lord and Saviour:

And where is Christ right now? He’s right there where He can be to send the Spirit, and every moment in the man…in the life of a man, that very moment that he believes, wherever that man is in the world, the Spirit of God is dispensed to that man’s heart.

We need the Holy Spirit to guide us in our faith and to witness — as we are called, in our own ways — to the world. Without the Holy Spirit’s presence, we cannot love God, we cannot obey Him. Without the Holy Spirit, we will fall away from our Christian faith — and eternal salvation.

Next time — Acts 11:1-14

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

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

Acts 10:30-33

30 And Cornelius said, “Four days ago, about this hour, I was praying in my house at the ninth hour,[a] and behold, a man stood before me in bright clothing 31 and said, ‘Cornelius, your prayer has been heard and your alms have been remembered before God. 32 Send therefore to Joppa and ask for Simon who is called Peter. He is lodging in the house of Simon, a tanner, by the sea.’ 33 So I sent for you at once, and you have been kind enough to come. Now therefore we are all here in the presence of God to hear all that you have been commanded by the Lord.”

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Last week’s post pointed out how important it was for Peter to follow the divine vision he was given and go with Cornelius’s men — Gentiles — to the Roman centurion’s home in Caesarea. This was the fulfilment of God’s plan to open the Church to Gentiles. Christ was no longer exclusively for the Jews and those who maintained those traditions (Samaritans).

We left off last week where Peter, accompanied by Jewish converts from Joppa, arrived with Cornelius’s men in Caesarea. Peter asked Cornelius why he was summoned.

Cornelius related the vision he received (verses 30-32). I wrote about that vision a few weeks ago. The only wording difference is an updated version from Cornelius: ‘your prayer has been heard’ (verse 31).

He said that because now Peter was in front of him. Recall that when the angel appeared to Cornelius, he said (Acts 10:4): ‘Your prayers and your alms have ascended as a memorial before God’.

Matthew Henry offers insight as to how and where Cornelius might have prayed at home that afternoon (emphases mine below):

He was at the ninth hour praying in his house, not in the synagogue, but at home. I will that men pray wherever they dwell. His praying in his house intimates that it was not a secret prayer in his closet, but in a more public room of his house, with his family about him; and perhaps after prayer he retired, and had this vision. Observe, At the ninth hour of the day, three of the clock in the afternoon, most people were travelling or trading, working in the fields, visiting their friends, taking their pleasure, or taking a nap after dinner; yet then Cornelius was at his devotions, which shows how much he made religion his business; and then it was that he had this message from heaven. Those that would hear comfortably from God must be much in speaking to him.

Henry also has this to say about the angel’s appearance:

He describes the messenger that brought him this message from heaven: There stood a man before me in bright clothing, as Christ’s was when he was transfigured, and that of the two angels who appeared at Christ’s resurrection (Luke 24:4), and at his ascension (Acts 1:10), showing their relation to the world of light. [3.] He repeats the message that was sent to him (Acts 10:31,32), just as we had it, Acts 10:4-6.

As for Cornelius saying that his prayer was heard:

We are not told what his prayer was; but if this message was an answer to it, and it should seem it was, we may suppose that finding the deficiency of natural light, and that it left him at a loss how to obtain the pardon of his sin and the favour of God, he prayed that God would make some further discoveries of himself and of the way of salvation to him. “Well,” saith the angel, “send for Peter, and he shall give thee such a discovery.”

Cornelius went on to acknowledge his appreciation of Peter’s presence in his house and said that all there gathered in the presence of God awaited the Apostle’s words as the Lord commanded (verse 33). That demonstrates Cornelius’s faith and belief. The others around him would have been family members and trusted friends.

Henry has a beautiful analysis of the centurion’s words:

Observe, [1.] Their religious attendance upon the word: “We are all here present before God; we are here in a religious manner, are here as worshippers” (they thus compose themselves into a serious solemn frame of spirit): “therefore, because thou art come to us by such a warrant, on such an errand, because we have such a price in our hand as we never had before and perhaps may never have again, we are ready now at this time of worship, here in this place of worship” (though it was in a private house): “we are present, paresmen–we are at the business, and are ready to come at a call.” If we would have God’s special presence at an ordinance, we must be there with a special presence, an ordinance presence: Here I am. “We are all present, all that were invited; we, and all that belong to us; we, and all that is within us.” The whole of the man must be present; not the body here, and the heart, with the fool’s eyes, in the ends of the earth. But that which makes it indeed a religious attendance is, We are present before God. In holy ordinances we present ourselves unto the Lord, and we must be as before him, as those that see his eye upon us.

He then breaks down Cornelius’s request of Peter to speak as the Lord commanded:

Observe, First, Peter was there to preach all things that were commanded him of God; for, as he had an ample commission to preach the gospel, so he had full instructions what to preach. Secondly, They were ready to hear, not whatever he pleased to say, but what he was commanded of God to say. The truths of Christ were not communicated to the apostles to be published or stifled as they thought fit, but entrusted with them to be published to the world. “We are ready to hear all, to come at the beginning of the service and stay to the end, and be attentive all the while, else how can we hear all? We are desirous to hear all that thou art commissioned to preach, though it be ever so displeasing to flesh and blood, and ever so contrary to our former notions or present secular interests. We are ready to hear all, and therefore let nothing be kept back that is profitable for us.”

What a moment that must have been for everyone there.

John MacArthur has this take on salvation, submission and Peter’s reaction to what Cornelius said:

A man’s salvation is no accident. God orders the whole sequence, but men’s submissive will must move in. Where do you see the submission of Cornelius? In the word immediately. His will was ready. There are the first two things in salvation. Sovereign call and submissive will. Submissive will. You know what I love about that verse 33? He says, “We’re here present to hear all things that are commanded thee of God.” Cornelius says, “Peter, give us the whole shot. We want it all.” Boy, have you ever had an audience like that? Man, what evangelism. I mean he’s so used to fighting it in Jerusalem. Can you imagine all those open hearts. It must’ve taken him for a moment.

What do we see then this morning? We see how God works in salvation on the one hand, but demands submission in the will of a man.

And that theme of a submissive will to the sovereign call is one that runs through the entire set of New Testament letters, whether from Peter, Paul or John.

Peter spoke. This next reading is in the Lectionary at Epiphany (verses 34-38) and, more fully, at Easter, when all of the following is read. Peter’s message remained consistent with what he preached immediately after receiving the Holy Spirit at the first Pentecost (Acts 2), although he tailored it for a Gentile audience by omitting the Old Testament prophecies in detail:

34 So Peter opened his mouth and said: “Truly I understand that God shows no partiality, 35 but in every nation anyone who fears him and does what is right is acceptable to him. 36 As for the word that he sent to Israel, preaching good news of peace through Jesus Christ (he is Lord of all), 37 you yourselves know what happened throughout all Judea, beginning from Galilee after the baptism that John proclaimed: 38 how God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and with power. He went about doing good and healing all who were oppressed by the devil, for God was with him. 39 And we are witnesses of all that he did both in the country of the Jews and in Jerusalem. They put him to death by hanging him on a tree, 40 but God raised him on the third day and made him to appear, 41 not to all the people but to us who had been chosen by God as witnesses, who ate and drank with him after he rose from the dead. 42 And he commanded us to preach to the people and to testify that he is the one appointed by God to be judge of the living and the dead. 43 To him all the prophets bear witness that everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name.”

The account of Cornelius and his household concludes next week.

Next time — Acts 10:44-48

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

Yet, it doesn’t tell the whole story.

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

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

Acts 10:24-29

24 And on the following day they entered Caesarea. Cornelius was expecting them and had called together his relatives and close friends. 25 When Peter entered, Cornelius met him and fell down at his feet and worshiped him. 26 But Peter lifted him up, saying, “Stand up; I too am a man.” 27 And as he talked with him, he went in and found many persons gathered. 28 And he said to them, “You yourselves know how unlawful it is for a Jew to associate with or to visit anyone of another nation, but God has shown me that I should not call any person common or unclean. 29 So when I was sent for, I came without objection. I ask then why you sent for me.”

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Last week’s entry was about Peter pondering the vision he was given about all foods being clean when Cornelius’s men arrived to take him to Caesarea. Peter, a guest in Simon the tanner’s house in Joppa, provided the men with hospitality before setting off with them the next day.

I wrote last week that it was interesting that men from Joppa, converts, accompanied Peter and the Gentiles — Cornelius’s emissaries — on the journey (verse 23).

There is much significance behind that. Jews were not allowed to mix with Gentiles other than in the street or in commerce. Therefore, not only was it a big deal that Peter invited the Gentiles into Simon’s house for refreshment and sleep, but this commingling in travel would also further the mixing of the two groups.

Peter’s vision was now making sense to him, and he followed its instruction.

Both Matthew Henry and John MacArthur point out that this division between Jew and Gentile was never part of Mosaic law.

Henry tells us more and adds that there was similar animosity on the part of Gentiles (emphases mine):

It was not made so by the law of God, but by the decree of their wise men, which they looked upon to be no less binding. They did not forbid them to converse or traffic with Gentiles in the street or shop, or upon the exchange, but to eat with them. Even in Joseph’s time, the Egyptians and Hebrews could not eat together, Genesis 43:32. The three children would not defile themselves with the king’s meat, Daniel 1:8. They might not come into the house of a Gentile, for they looked upon it to be ceremonially polluted. Thus scornfully did the Jews look upon the Gentiles, who were not behindhand with them in contempt, as appears by many passages in the Latin poets.

We see this in verse 28, when Peter refers to his vision and rightly extends it from food to people, in this case, the Gentiles. Peter used the term ‘unlawful’.

MacArthur explains ‘unlawful’ and discusses ‘anathema’:

Notice the term unlawful. “You know that it is an unlawful thing.” Athematas, it means taboo. The Old Testament ceremonial law, of course, didn’t say that, but the rabbis added that. In fact, the rabbis said that defilement by going into a Gentile home was a seven-day defilement. Now the only seven-day defilement were contact…was contact with a dead body, but the Jews believed that the Gentiles put their aborted children down the drains. That when a Gentile woman had an abortion, she put the…the dead fetus down the drain, and so any contact with a Gentile home was contact with a defilement of a dead body. Therefore, that was a seven-day defilement; and because of the seriousness of such a defilement, Jews would not enter Gentile homes.

As for the the converts accompanying Peter and the Gentiles from Joppa to Caesarea, Henry said it was common. St Luke, the author of Acts, did not say whether Peter invited them or whether they invited themselves, however, everyone had good intentions:

Either Peter desired their company, that they might be witnesses of his proceeding cautiously with reference to the Gentiles, and of the good ground on which he went, and therefore he invited them (Acts 11:12), or they offered their service to attend him, and desired they might have the honour and happiness of being his fellow travellers. This was one way in which the primitive Christians very much showed their respect to their ministers: they accompanied them in their journeys, to keep them in countenance, to be their guard, and, as there was occasion, to minister to them; with a further prospect not only of doing them service, but of being edified by their converse.

Acts 11:12 says that six men from Joppa went. Whatever the circumstances were surrounding their decision to go, MacArthur says this was highly significant for the development of the Church. MacArthur thinks that Peter probably invited the men. We see God’s grace at work in giving them good and holy desires:

In fact, they became the key to the unifying of Jew and Gentile. You say, “What are you saying that for?” Just to say this. God not only led Peter through the direct voice of that… of the vision, through the very direct communication medium, but God led Peter through Peter’s own desires and Peter’s own ideas. God didn’t say, “Peter, take along six guys.” No, He didn’t do that at all. You say “Well, Peter just wanted to take ’em along?” Yeah, but where do you think he got that desire? God gave it to him, because God knew it was crucial to have them there.

Now, believe me, people, this is a great introduction as to how God works in the life of a believer. You and I don’t hear voices anymore. If we do, you come to see me. We don’t hear voices, and we don’t see visions, and God doesn’t do great, you know, skywriting…and give us all certain visions like in the old days. But how does God lead? He leads through our desires, and here we see exactly that. And mark it, people, it was just as important to have those guys there as it was for Peter to see that vision; but one of those came by God’s direct media. The other came by His indirect media, which is as He works in our hearts by His Holy Spirit to bring what He wants to do

It was critical that those Jewish Christians go, but there wasn’t any command. That’s how God works in us today. We…we don’t have the first half anymore. We just have that part. Philippians 2:13, “For it is God…I like this…who works in you both to will and to do of His good pleasure.” Don’t you like that? God is working in me to will and to do of His good pleasure

And I think that’s how He works if you’re the right vessel. Now, if your desires are all clogged up with your own self-desires, you got problems filtering it out.

Verse 24 describes the men arriving in Caesarea ‘the following day’. Most probably, everyone was on foot, including the Gentiles. We will see next week that verse 30 says Cornelius talked about having his vision four days before. He sent his men to Joppa to fetch Peter immediately afterwards. From this we can deduce that it was a two-day trip each way. Henry says:

It seems, it was above a day’s journey, nearly two, from Joppa to Cesarea; for it was the day after they set out that they entered into Cesarea (Acts 10:24), and the afternoon of that day, Acts 10:30. It is probable that they travelled on foot; the apostles generally did so.

Note also in verse 24 that Cornelius had gathered his relatives and close friends with him. He knew something spiritually life-changing was going to happen. Henry emphasises Cornelius’s generosity in wanting to share this special time with others whom he loved and trusted:

Note, We should not covet to eat our spiritual morsels alone, Job 31:17. It ought to be both given and taken as a piece of kindness and respect to our kindred and friends to invite them to join with us in religious exercises, to go with us to hear a sermon. What Cornelius ought to do he thought his kinsmen and friends ought to do too; and therefore let them come and hear it at the first hand, that it may be no surprise to them to see him change upon it.

Whether Cornelius was overly excited or completely overcome by Peter’s presence, we do not know. However, his instinct was to fall down before Peter and worship him (verse 25).

Peter immediately lifted Cornelius up and disabused him of such a notion (verse 26): ‘Stand up; I, too, am a man’.

Given Peter’s humility, then, it is amazing that the Catholic Church came up with the idea of considering him as the first pope and that he was to have successors. MacArthur goes into all of that, citing a German book on Catholic doctrine, and concludes:

But Peter wants no worship. It is wrong to worship Peter. He is no pope. He is nothing to be worshiped. He is a man. Get up off your feet. Quit kissing his toe. He’s a man…He disallowed it at the very start, and no Christian is ever to be worshipped. No saint…at all. In Acts 14:14, they started to worship Paul and Barnabas…They were all calling ’em Jupiter and Mercury and thinking they were gods, and Paul says in verse 15, “What are you doing? We are men of like passions with you. Get up. What’s all this nonsense?”

You wanna hear what Isaiah said? Isaiah 42:8, he said this, “I am the Lord. That is My name, and My glory will I not give to another.” Did you hear that? “I am the Lord. That is My name. I am the Lord. That is My name. I will not give My glory to another.”…There’s only one in the Bible who ever accepted worship. You know who that was? God. There’s only one in the New Testament who ever accepted worship. Who is that? Jesus Christ. Then who is He? God. Peter didn’t want the worship of anybody.

Peter, post-vision, willingly entered Cornelius’s house. The former observant Jew goes into a Gentile’s house. This is highly significant.

There he sees many people (verse 27) and tells them of his vision that he is not to consider anyone unclean (verse 28).

Peter added that he came willingly, ‘without objection’, and asked why he was summoned (verse 29).

Note Peter’s discernment. He asked why he should be there. He did not work on assumptions or suppositions.

The story continues next week, but the three recent posts below explain how the first Pentecost transformed Peter from being foolish and rashly spoken into a true spiritual leader and fisher of men:

John MacArthur on St Peter

John MacArthur on Peter’s leadership qualities

More from John MacArthur on Peter’s leadership journey

Next time — Acts 10:30-33

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

Yet, it doesn’t tell the whole story.

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

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

Acts 10:17-23

17 Now while Peter was inwardly perplexed as to what the vision that he had seen might mean, behold, the men who were sent by Cornelius, having made inquiry for Simon’s house, stood at the gate 18 and called out to ask whether Simon who was called Peter was lodging there. 19 And while Peter was pondering the vision, the Spirit said to him, “Behold, three men are looking for you. 20 Rise and go down and accompany them without hesitation,[a] for I have sent them.” 21 And Peter went down to the men and said, “I am the one you are looking for. What is the reason for your coming?” 22 And they said, “Cornelius, a centurion, an upright and God-fearing man, who is well spoken of by the whole Jewish nation, was directed by a holy angel to send for you to come to his house and to hear what you have to say.” 23 So he invited them in to be his guests.

The next day he rose and went away with them, and some of the brothers from Joppa accompanied him.

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Last week we read of Peter’s vision about all foods being clean. Peter was initially reluctant to accept this divine instruction, but, by the third time the vision was given to him, he complied.

I wrote recently about how the Peter of the Gospels was transformed once he received the Holy Spirit at the first Pentecost. He turned into a robust leader — fisher — of men in Christ’s holy name:

John MacArthur on St Peter

John MacArthur on Peter’s leadership qualities

More from John MacArthur on Peter’s leadership journey

Peter is about to make another life-changing move, which also impacted the life of the Church. This move was divinely ordained. God gave Cornelius, a God-fearing Gentile, a vision and the instruction to send his men from Caesarea to Joppa in search of Peter. Then He gave Peter a vision about all food being clean.

John MacArthur says:

God chose Cornelius. God just picked him out of all available Gentiles, God chose to do this in Cornelius’ life. God not only chose Cornelius, the receiver, God chose Peter, the messenger; and we learned something else about sovereignty and salvation. God not only chooses who will be saved, but He chooses how. He chooses vehicles to use.

Now this is not apart from man’s will, but it is in conjunction with man’s will. Nevertheless, God chose Cornelius, the receiver. God chose Peter, the messenger; and this is how salvation always begins …

Cornelius, then, was prepared by God. Then God, as we saw, began the preparation of Peter. Now how you gonna get a stubborn, died-in-the-wool, traditionalistic, nationalistic Jew to open up his heart and his arms to a Gentile? That’s a tough one. Well, God had to do a lotta work on old, crusty Peter to get him to the place where he’d ever pull off this thing, and He did. He sovereignly chose Peter, first of all, because he was available.

Now we take up today’s reading. Peter was still trying to figure out the vision when Cornelius’s men arrived at the house of Simon the tanner, where Peter was staying (verse 17). He was on Simon’s roof when he received the vision and was still up there when the men enquired of Simon whether Peter was staying there (verse 18).

Peter was still thinking about the meaning of the vision when the Holy Spirit told him to get off the roof and accompany the men whom the Spirit had sent (verses 19, 20).

Matthew Henry says that we sometimes find answers to the divinely imponderable through active service to God’s people:

Those that are searching into the meaning of the words of God, and the visions of the Almighty, should not be always poring, no, nor always praying, but should sometimes look abroad, look about them, and they may meet with that which will be of use to them in their enquiries;

I especially like this (emphases mine below):

for the scripture is in the fulfilling every day.

This is exactly what happened to Peter. The Holy Spirit got him off the roof before Simon’s servants had a chance to go look for him. The vision was about to make sense.

Peter went to meet the men and, after identifying himself, asked why they were looking for him (verse 21). Remember, these men were Gentiles. One of them was a Roman soldier, which might have been a bit scary for Peter had the Spirit not explained that He had sent them.

The men explained that they came on behalf of Cornelius (verse 22). They included the description of him being a ‘God-fearing man’ and ‘well spoken of by the whole Jewish nation’. That was important. Peter deciphered that Cornelius, although not Jewish himself, believed in the God of Israel, worshipped with the Jews, associated with them and gave alms as an observant Jew would. The men also told Peter of Cornelius’s vision and the direction from ‘a holy angel’ to go in search of him to hear what he had to say.

Peter invited the men into Simon’s house as his guests before he left with them the next day for Caesarea (verse 23). Interestingly, some of the male converts from Joppa accompanied them.

Think of it — a Jew willingly inviting Gentiles into a Jewish house. This was just not done. There was plenty of antipathy and suspicion between Jew and Gentile — yes, both sides, not just from the Jews — and St Luke, the author of Acts, documents this in the early Church. We will see how this unfolded in the next few chapters.

MacArthur reminds us:

Some Jews had said the Gentiles were created by God to be the fuel for the fires of hell. This is a very narrow view. If a Jewish boy married a Gentile girl, a funeral was held. The Gentiles, in return, looked on Jews as slave material, persecuted, oppressed, and killed them. In fact, the Gentiles commonly called Jews enemies of the human race. You can get a little bit of imagination of this kind of contempt about the Gentile to the Jew when you hear Pilate saying, almost with dripping sarcasm, “I surely am not a Jew, am I?” The disdain in his voice, and you can hear the same sting of…of Gentile hate in the voices of the owners of the slave girl, you know, who was used to make them money by sorceries. And when Paul and Silas came along and cast out the demon in Philippi, you can remember the words of those leaders. They said, “These men, being Jews, do just exceedingly trouble our city.” There was a…a great hatred among the Gentiles for the Jews, a deep disdain, as if they didn’t belong even in the framework of humanity.

However, the divine master plan was to bring Gentiles into the church — and Peter was God’s instrument in making this happen.

MacArthur says:

In Acts 10, God directs the momentous, historical event when the church extends itself from the Jews and the half-breed Samaritans to encompass Gentiles. This is the final phase in the expansion of the church.

He reminds us that our Lord knew since forever that Peter and Cornelius would be brought together for this purpose. When you think of it this way, it becomes even more exciting and amazing:

Cornelius is important because Christ chose him before the foundation of the world, and his salvation itself is important … We wanna see what God was doing in Cornelius’ life. So as we look at the history, we’re also gonna see the sequence of salvation as illustrated in the life of Cornelius, and I think what we have here is…is a very general pattern for how salvation happens in the life of anybody. So we not only see history, but so many times we know Scripture’s like a diamond. It has different facets, and every time you turn the light on, you see a new one …

Now, the first point in the sequence of salvation is sovereign call. Sovereign call. Now, this we found in verses 1 through 20, and that’s where we’ve been before, so we’ll not go all over those verses; but the first 20 verses illustrate to us sovereign call. What that means is God sovereignly is active in salvation. It all is initiated by God. It isn’t men running around saying, “Oh, I’ve found that there’s a God somewhere. I think I believe.” All on their own will, no, God is sovereign in salvation; and we saw in the first 20 verses that God chose Cornelius. God just picked him out of all available Gentiles, God chose to do this in Cornelius’ life. God not only chose Cornelius, the receiver, God chose Peter, the messenger

And from this sermon, he touched on the same subject, concluding:

God is forever and ever doing that, people. I hope you’re learning that in your life. Never to be impatient, impatient with God when He’s trying to teach you how to be obedient. And so immediately he does exactly what God told him to do, and this is exciting, because it helps us to see again that God uses human instruments. God just coulda come down and said, “Okay, Cornelius, zap, you’re saved.” But God uses human instruments. God wanted to use Peter.

The story continues next week.

Next time — Acts 10:24-29

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

Yet, it doesn’t tell the whole story.

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

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

Acts 10:9-16

Peter’s Vision

The next day, as they were on their journey and approaching the city, Peter went up on the housetop about the sixth hour[a] to pray. 10 And he became hungry and wanted something to eat, but while they were preparing it, he fell into a trance 11 and saw the heavens opened and something like a great sheet descending, being let down by its four corners upon the earth. 12 In it were all kinds of animals and reptiles and birds of the air. 13 And there came a voice to him: “Rise, Peter; kill and eat.” 14 But Peter said, “By no means, Lord; for I have never eaten anything that is common or unclean.” 15 And the voice came to him again a second time, “What God has made clean, do not call common.” 16 This happened three times, and the thing was taken up at once to heaven.

————————————————————————————————

Last week’s entry discussed the vision of Cornelius, a Roman centurion stationed with his family in Caesarea.

Cornelius was what the Jews called a ‘God-fearer’ (Acts 10:2), meaning that he was a Gentile who believed in the God of Israel and observed parts of Jewish law. He never became a full Jew but was welcome to worship and associate with the Jews. In the vision, an angel of the Lord told Cornelius to send his men to Joppa to fetch Peter and take him to Caesarea. The divine plan here was to make Cornelius the first fully Gentile convert. The Samaritan converts from earlier chapters of Acts were half-Jew and half-Assyrian.

Acts 10 is the introduction to Gentile conversion. John MacArthur describes how events in Acts unfolded (emphases mine):

We find that God prepares two people. First He prepares the Gentile, and then He prepares the Jew. The Gentile is Cornelius, and the Jew is Peter. It has to start somewhere, so it starts with two guys. It’s gotta be more than theory. It’s gotta happen, so He picks out two people, Cornelius and Peter, and He gives each one a special vision, which is like sort of training in preparation. Before they’ll ever come together, there’s gonna have to be a lot of soil tilled up, and so He begins with a vision here in the first eight verses or so to Cornelius, and then from verse 9 on, He gives a vision to Peter; and this, then, is the beginning of the Gentile inclusion in the church. By the time you hit chapter 11, the Gospel’s gone to Antioch and Gentiles are getting saved. By the time you come from there and you start moving ahead, you hit chapter 13, and all of a sudden Paul’s going full blast to the Gentiles, and the problem is…is moving out, and it’s becoming sublimated. The thing is really going, and Jews and Gentiles are coming together in Christ. Peter runs back to Jerusalem. Says, “You’ll never believe it. People, you’ll never believe it. They got the same gift we got.” See. And then the report comes, and the Jerusalem Council in Acts 15, which finally comes to the conclusion that they will accept them fully as those who belong to Jesus Christ. So it all begins here in chapter 10 …

So, this vision that God gave to Peter is about moving him away from regarding certain foods and people — Gentiles — as unclean. Matthew Henry has this terse comment:

Peter had not got over this stingy bigoted notion of his countrymen, and therefore will be shy of coming to Cornelius … The scriptures of the Old Testament had spoken plainly of the bringing in of the Gentiles into the church. Christ had given plain intimations of it when he ordered them to teach all nations; and yet even Peter himself, who knew so much of his Master’s mind, could not understand it, till it was here revealed by vision, that the Gentiles should be fellow-heirs, Ephesians 3:6.

Verse 9 tells us that as Cornelius’s men were on their way to Joppa, Peter went on the roof to pray. He had no idea what was coming next.

Recall that Peter was staying with Simon the tanner in Joppa. Simon was an unclean person in the eyes of the Jews because of his occupation.

Roofs in that era and in that part of the world were terraces — places where people congregated or enjoyed peace and quiet. Peter went on Simon’s roof to pray. No doubt he was observing Jewish patterns of prayer which meant he prayed several times a day.

The ‘sixth hour’ means this was at noon. Given the time of day, he was hungry. Henry has this observation:

From morning to night we should think to be too long to be without meat; yet who thinks it is too long to be without prayer?

How true.

While the midday meal was being prepared inside the house, Peter fell into a trance on the roof (verse 10). Henry explains:

probably he had not that day eaten before, though doubtless he had prayed before …

The trance was:

ecstasy, not of terror, but of contemplation, with which he was so entirely swallowed up as not only not to be regardful, but not to be sensible, of external things. He quite lost himself to this world, and so had his mind entirely free for converse with divine things; as Adam in innocency, when the deep sleep fell upon him. The more clear we get of the world, the more near we get to heaven: whether Peter was now in the body or out of the body he could not himself tell, much less can we, 2 Corinthians 12:2,3. See Genesis 15:12,Ac+22:17.

The hunger and the prayer was the perfect time for the divinely sent vision of a large sheet — like a tarp — with four corners, containing all manner of animals, reptiles and birds (verses 11, 12). There were no fish on it, because Jews are allowed to eat fish. It is a ‘neutral’ food, by the way, meaning it can be combined with meat or dairy in Jewish dietary law.

We talk about the four corners of the earth. Peter is seeing this before his eyes. This is not only about food, it is also about spreading the Gospel around the world via the Church. Jesus died and rose from the dead for everyone, not only the Jews.

Henry tells us:

Some make this sheet, thus filled, to represent the church of Christ. It comes down from heaven, from heaven opened, not only to send it down (Revelation 21:2), but to receive souls sent up from it. It is knit at the four corners, to receive those from all parts of the world that are willing to be added to it; and to retain and keep those safe that are taken into it, that they may not fall out; and in this we find some of all countries, nations, and languages, without any distinction of Greek or Jew, or any disadvantage put upon Barbarian or Scythian, Colossians 3:11. The net of the gospel encloses all, both bad and good, those that before were clean and unclean.

Also:

it may be applied to the bounty of the divine Providence, which, antecedently to the prohibitions of the ceremonial law, had given to man a liberty to use all the creatures, to which by the cancelling of that law we are now restored. By this vision we are taught to see all the benefit and service we have from the inferior creatures coming down to us from heaven; it is the gift of God who made them, made them fit for us, and then gave to man a right to them, and dominion over them. Lord, what is man that he should be thus magnified! Psalms 8:4-8. How should it double our comfort in the creatures, and our obligations to serve God in the use of them, to see them thus let down to us out of heaven!

A voice from heaven said, ‘Rise, Peter; kill and eat‘ (verse 13).

There is no instruction there about vegetarianism.

The Lord gave Peter a vision of animals and other edible creatures, not of plants.

Peter resisted the divine order by saying he had never eaten anything common — i.e. defiled — or unclean (verse 14). He obeyed Mosaic law as laid out in Leviticus.

MacArthur explains:

all of these dietary laws were given to Israel, and so, consequently, in the mind of a Jew, there was a division between clean animals and unclean animals; and no self-respecting kosher Jew would ever eat anything but clean animals; and Peter was this. He never touched anything but the clean, because that was the tradition. And you say, “Well, why did God make this distinction? Why did God make clean and unclean animals?” Well, No. 1, it is true, I think, that there are some animals who are perhaps more liable to carry epidemic-type diseases; and because of the fact that the preparation of food in those days wasn’t anything to what it became, God was kind of purifying Israel from at least the dominant threat of epidemic. Because, you see, they lived in a…in a community that was always close together. They moved in the wilderness in like a little garrison of people all jammed together. If an epidemic ever broke out, it could wipe ’em all out, and so God preserved their existence this way, although I think that’s only a minor point, because He coulda kept the diseases from them by His sovereign power.

The major point is this. God had them eating certain animals and not certain other animals for this primary reason. To distinguish them from … Gentile peoples. Now, in those days, social intercourse occurred at banquets. They didn’t have any of the entertainment we have today … feasting was how they had common relationships, so God just did this. God gave the Jews such distinct dietary laws that they couldn’t get together socially with Gentiles. Do you see? That was the point, because, as they went into the land of Canaan, it was so…so easy for them to get intermingled. Look what happened to ’em anyway. But God drew lines so that they would not be able, were they obedient to His standards, to be able to have a social kind of relationship with Gentiles, and that’s the point.

It is the same way today in much of the Jewish world. It’s a big deal for a Gentile to be invited to a Jewish home, especially for dinner or a party. It doesn’t happen that often.

The heavenly voice spoke again to Peter, rebuking him for calling God’s creatures common — defiled — or unclean (verse 15).

Henry explains that this vision represented the lifting of dietary law. Nothing is to be refused, especially living creatures. ‘Kill and eat’:

he has now, for reasons suited to the New-Testament dispensation, taken off that restraint, and set the matter at large–has cleansed that which was before polluted to us, and we ought to make use of, and stand fast in, the liberty wherewith Christ has made us free, and not call that common or unclean which God has now declared clean. Note, We ought to welcome it as a great mercy that by the gospel of Christ we are freed from the distinction of meats, which was made by the law of Moses, and that now every creature of God is good, and nothing to be refused; not so much because hereby we gain the use of swine’s flesh, hares, rabbits, and other pleasant and wholesome food for our bodies, but chiefly because conscience is hereby freed from a yoke in things of this nature, that we might serve God without fear.

MacArthur discusses the social importance of this freedom for the growth of the Church:

He is abolishing, I believe, the Old Testament Jewish dietary laws. Why? They were designed to separate the Jew from the Gentile. What is the body of Christ designed to do? Unite them. Therefore, this one social line barrier had to be removed for them to come together. You see, they had to learn to be able to socialize around the tables together, because they were now one. And, you know, in the early years of the church, you know, this was the problem that kept popping up. The Jews and the Gentiles who were both in the church wouldn’t eat together, and this is what Paul dealt with in Romans 14. That’s the whole reason Roman 14 is written, because the…you know what would happen? The Gentiles were abusing their privileges. They’d have Jewish converts over and serve ham. See? And Paul says, “Now, you don’t need to do that. Sure, you’re free, and there’s nothing unclean, but you don’t need to do that, because that’s purposely offending that Jew who doesn’t yet understand his liberties.”

But he also says to the Jew, “Don’t you try to make the Gentile conform to dietary laws that God has set aside.” See, God wanted to remove the barrier that had been built to keep from being impure. He wanted to take it down so they could be one in Christ, and so I believe that statement there is the statement that abolishes the Old Testament dietary laws. Now that doesn’t mean you’re supposed to eat everything. I…that’s obvious. You know, there’s supposed to be a sensibility in terms of what we eat, but, nevertheless, there are no ceremonial dietary laws to keep people apart, because He wants us together; and this was the beauty of what the early church finally found. That what they called the agap[e] or the love feast, they came together to eat. Beautiful.

St Luke, the author of Acts, wrote that this happened three times before the sheet with the living creatures was taken back to heaven (verse 16).

The number three, as used in the Bible, is one of divine completeness and perfection. Bible.org has more, including this:

the biblical writers often employed the number three or wrote in patterns of three to provide a special emphasis that sought to engage their hearers/readers in exploring the full significance of the events or details of the passage at hand.

Henry describes what happened during the vision:

The sheet was drawn up a little way, and let down again the second time, and so the third time, with the same call to him, to kill, and eat, and the same reason, that what God hath cleansed we must not call common; but whether Peter’s refusal was repeated the second and third time is not certain; surely it was not, when his objection had the first time received such a satisfactory answer. The trebling of Peter’s vision, like the doubling of Pharaoh’s dream, was to show that the thing was certain, and engage him to take so much the more notice of it. The instructions given us in the things of God, whether by the ear in the preaching of the word, or by the eye in sacraments, need to be often repeated; precept must be upon precept, and line upon line. But at last the vessel was received up into heaven. Those who make this vessel to represent the church, including both Jews and Gentiles, as this did both clean and unclean creatures, make this very aptly to signify the admission of the believing Gentiles into the church, and into heaven too, into the Jerusalem above.

Having seen this vision — although not quite understanding it — Peter was prepared to meet Cornelius. The story continues next week.

Next time — Acts 10:17-23

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